The imminent departure of the name SAS Immortelle from the SA Navy (SAN) roster of shore facilities signals the end of an important part of South Africa’s naval history.
SAS Immortelle was SAN headquarters base in Pretoria, where the three other SA National Defence Force (SANDF) services – the SA Air Force (SAAF), SA Army and SA Military Health Service (SAMHS) – also have headquarters units.
The change of name to SAN Headquarters Unit was made public by Vice Admiral Monde Lobese, SA Navy Chief, when addressing a medal parade in KwaZulu-Natal recently. The name change, he said, was approved by Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thandi Modise with the “relevant processes and system adjustments” underway to consign SAS Immortelle to the history books.
Immortelle was one of the first three ships assigned to the SAN forerunner – the SA Naval Service (SANS) – in 1922. Commander Leon Steyn, Officer-in-Charge, SA Naval Museum, told defenceWeb HMSAS (Her Majesty’s South African Ship) Immortelle, along with minesweeping trawler HMSAS Sonnebloem and hydrographic survey vessel, HMSAS Protea, were the nucleus of the SANS fleet. HMSAS Protea should not be confused with the hydrographic survey vessel SAS Protea (A324) taken into service in 1972, 15 years after the HMSAS Protea was placed in reserve.
Due to the Great Depression of 1929-1935, all three these ships were withdrawn – Immortelle and Sonnebloem were returned to the Royal Navy (RN) in 1934 when the SANS virtually ceased to exist, until the SANS became the Seaward Defence Force (SDF) in 1939 with the approach of the Second World War. The SDF in turn was transformed in 1942 to become the South African Naval Forces (SANF – renamed to SA Navy in 1951).
“During World War II, two anti-submarine and minesweeping whalers again bore the names Immortelle and Sonnebloem serving until the end of the war when they were returned to their owners.
“The flowers bloomed again in the latter half of 1980, when Ministerial approval (which would have been General Magnus Malan at the time) was granted for the naming of the South African Naval Headquarters Unit in Pretoria to SAS Immortelle. Naval Headquarters moved from Simon’s Town to Pretoria in January 1977. On 23 September 1986, similar approval was given to rename Naval Command West Headquarters Unit, at Silvermine, SAS Sonnebloem. Its existence was short lived due to rationalisation and the unit was disbanded in 1990,” Steyn told this publication.