Fact file: Heroine-class diesel-electric submarine


The Heroine-class diesel-electric boats are the first true submarines to be acquired by the Navy, meaning they perform better underwater than surfaced. The Daphne-class in use until 2003 by contrast, were submersibles – they handled better surfaced than submerged.

SAS Manthatisi (S101) seen entering False Bay for the first time at the end of her delivery cruise, April 2006.  

Submarines of the class:



Start of construction



SAS Manthatisi1 (S101)2

Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft, Thyssen Nordsee Werke, Kiel

May 22, 2001.

June 15, 2004.

November 3, 2005.

SAS Charlotte Maxeke


Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft, Thyssen Nordsee Werke, Emden.

November 12, 2003.

May 4, 2005.

March 14, 2007.

SAS Queen Modjadji I3


Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft, Thyssen Nordsee Werke, Emden.

November 11, 2004.

October 31, 2007

March 14, 2007.



Heroine-class diesel-electric submarine (SSK4)




Prime contractor:

German Submarine Consortium (now ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems).


R5.354 billion.

Associated project names:




Major dimensions & weights:

  • Displacement:

  • Growth potential:

  • Length:

  • Pressure hull diameter:

  • Beam:

  • Draught (surfaced):

  • Diving depth, max:


  • 1454mt (surfaced), 1594 (submerged).

  • Not known.

  • 62m.

  • 6.2m.

  • 7.6m.

  • 5.8m.

  • 250m (crush depth about 570m).



Main machinery:


Four MTU 12-valve 396 diesels, delivering 2.8mW (3800hp) to four alternators.


One Siemens electric motor delivering 3.7mW (5032hp) to a single shaft.


  • Speed:

  • Range, nautical miles:

  • Endurance:


  • 10 kts surfaced, 21.5kts dived.

  • 400 submerged, 11 000 cruising.

  • Stores for 50 days.


  • Countermeasures:

    • Decoys:

    • ESM/ECM:





  • Combat management system:

  • Weapons control:

  • Radars:

    • Surface search:

    • Fire control:

    • IFF:

    • Navigation:

  • Sonar:




  • Other:




  • Not known.

  • Grintek Avitronics UME100, electronic warfare processor with omnidirectional radar warning receiver with integrated GPS antenna, ESM direction finding antenna with integrated GPS antenna.

  • STN Atlas ISUS90 TCS.


  • I-band.

  • Not known.

  • STN Atlas 90-45 integrated sonar system, consisting of an cylindrical hydrophone array, passive ranging sonar, intercept sonar, flank array sonar and own noise monitoring system (a mine detection system is optional.

  • Zeiss non-hull penetrating optronic mast with improved bearing measurement and passive range finder accuracy as well as optical clarity. The binocular eyepiece has built-in displays for bearing, range target height and periscope height above water. The periscope mast has an integrated EWS and GPS antenna. The sensor is stabilised in elevation and fitted with a day/night TV camera with digital recording facility. The camera picture can be displayed and stills can be taken.


  • Missiles:

    • SSM:

    • SAM:










  • Guns:

  • Torpedoes:


  • Mines:



  • None, but can be fitted with any of several systems available.

  • None, but can be fitted with Diehl BGT/ThyssenKrupp Marine System IDAS (Interactive Defence and Attack System for Submarines), a short-range fibre-optic guided weapon based on the IRIS-T missile5. Fired via the torpedo tube, the missile’s primary target would be air threats such as antisubmarine helicopters or maritime patrol aircraft. Secondary targets could be surface vessels or coastal targets.

  • None, light arms can be carried aboard.

  • Eight 533mm (21 inch) bow tubes with 14 torpedoes.

  • Fitted for, but not with.



Expected life-time:

35 years.



Project Wills is part of the Strategic Defence Package. The boats are the first true submarines to be acquired by the Navy, meaning they perform better underwater than surfaced. The Daphne-class in use until 2003 by contrast, were submersibles – they handled better surfaced than submerged.


The T209 is reportedly relatively cheap to operate in comparison with the Daphne and surface ships. The boat’s company of 30 compares well with the 65 of the Daphne.


Heroine-class tasks will include:

  • Local /combat search and rescue

  • surveillance, reconnaissance and intelligence gathering

  • Covert fishery protection

  • Anti-smuggling and anti-piracy

  • Protection of offshore assets

  • Command and control post (local sea area)

  • Picture compilation and data transfer

  • Non combat evacuation operations

  • Over the horizon targeting

  • Surface strike

  • Protection of maritime trade

  • Anti-submarine warfare/defence


In 2006 then Senior Officer Submarines Captain Malcolm Farre told reporters the Navy opted not to exercise an option for a towed array sonar as other operators advised its capabilities were only marginally better than the flank array sonar but at quite a price in cost and efficiency as the system was clumsy. The flank array sonar is new to the SA Navy and will take some years to fully master, Farre said. He quoted a period of five to seven years.


The optronic mast replaces the traditional second search or observation periscope6. The optronic mast is controlled with a joystick from the ISUS console. “(A) comprehensive communications suite is available in the CIC (combat information centre, operations room), which enables the transmission and reception of signals across the radio frequency spectrum and enables communication with both the operational command, and the international maritime frequencies. The CIC equipment is supported by a navigation data management system which allows the close monitoring of not only the navigation of the submarine, but also the accurate observation of shipping movements and targets.”


Earlier, Edwards noted that the ISUS 90-45 was a fully integrated combat management information system. Located in the CIC, it incorporates data from a variety of acoustic, electronic and optronic sensors. “This information is then displayed in order to assist the crew in assisting the operator with the detection, analysis, classification and tracking of targets, and can simultaneously track numerous targets.”


Farre also addressed crew readiness, an issue that has surfaced several times in intervening years. He sought to assure the public that the crew of all three boats had been drilled to the highest safety standards by some of the best instructors in the Deutsche Marine and NATO, but added that would take another 12 to 18 months to drill them to war standard after that basic training.


Light was also shed on the mishap that befell the Manthatisi during training off Norway in January 2006. At the time it was described as an “unspecified technical malfunction”. According to the answer to a Parliamentary question, a subsequent technical investigation discovered two separate electronic sensors in two separate mechanical-electrical systems had malfunctioned during a snorting exercise.


“The malfunctioning of the said sensors made it impossible for the submarine to maintain depth while snorting. It was, therefore, decided to stop snorting. Linked to this, the snort mast, which is designed to lower automatically, failed to do so. The prudent action of the officer commanding (Commander Kretschmer) was to return to harbour and rectify [the malfunction]. …the problem was the result of the highly unusual simultaneous malfunction of two electrical sensors. The Board of Inquiry into the incident found no human error.”


The answer also confirmed that, contrary to early reports, water had not entered the submarine: “The only water that entered the submarine was the water that entered via the snort mast into the drains tank. This is part of the normal and designed operation of the snort mast system.” Some damage was done to the light-plate fixed tube of the snort mast. The answer added that all costs of the repair were carried by the GSC and that the repairs had “no financial impact on the DoD.”


Farre said the government set two main criteria in selecting the T209. The submarine firstly, had to be of a proven design. The T209 has been around since the 1970s and has never suffered a serious design mishap. Secondly, there had to be adequate logistic support, even if support from the primary supplier was interrupted. A dozen navies use about 60 of the type meaning it has a wide global footprint and parts could likely be sourced elsewhere than from source if necessary.


Cabinet in 2006 decided to name the boats for three heroic women in honour of the 50th anniversary of the Woman’s March against the iniquity of pass laws on August 9, 1956. This continued a SA tradition to name submarines after noteworthy women. The Daphnés were named for women the National Party regime thought significant: Maria van Riebeeck, Johanna van der Merwe and Emily Hobhouse.


The Manthatisi is named for an 18th Century Batlokwa chieftainess who led her people in a series of campaigns during the Difaqane (Wars of Extinction) that raged from 1821 to 1824. A Navy press release at the naming ceremony noted this was a ruthless period in our history. “Lesser tribes were swallowed up or wiped out by the amaZulu, amaNdebele, Batlokwa and Basotho. The Barolong and Barwa (People of the South, or San or Bushmen) whose paintings can still be seen … simply disappeared or were driven away.” Some historians have called the destruction of the Barwa people a genocide. Manthatisi was eventually defeated by the Griquas under Andries Waterboer at Kuruman. She then settled at Vailima near Vicksburg.


Charlotte Maxeke was a missionary and an early opponent of the racist pass law system. She received a missionary education in the Eastern Cape and went on to teach in Kimberley7. Some years later she visited the US with a choir and afterwards stayed behind to study at the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s (AMEC) Wilberforce University in Cleveland. There she became the first South African black woman to receive a baccalaureate degree. Maxeke returned to SA to help found the AMEC here and served as an organiser for the Women’s Missionary Society in Johannesburg. A move to Pietersburg (now Polokwane) followed. There she met her future husband, the Reverend MM Maxeke, an AMEC minister. A failed attempt to start a training college in Pietersburg led to the establishment of a more successful project at Evaton on the Witwatersrand. The Maxekes went on to teach and evangelise in other places, but finally settled in Johannesburg.


Later she set up an employment agency for Africans in Johannesburg and was the first black woman to become a parole officer for juvenile delinquents. Aside from missionary work, Maxeke was involved in politics from as early as 1913 when she led a fairly successful campaign in the Orange Free State against the carrying of passes by women. In 1918 she was important in the founding of the Bantu Women’s League of the South African Native National Congress (SANNC) and led a delegation to Prime Minister Louis Botha to discuss the pass system for women the same year. Protests followed the next year. Maxeke also involved herself in protests against low wages and helped found the Industrial and Commercial Worker’s Union (ICU) in 1920. Maxeke has often been honoured as the “Mother of Black Freedom in South Africa” and had an ANC nursery school named after in Tanzania. She died in 1939. In 2008 Johannesburg Hospital was renamed in her honour.


The Modjadji is named for Rain Queen Maselekwane Modjadji I, who ruled the Balobedu people from 1800 to 1854. Tradition has endowed the Rain Queen with magical powers and immortality and apparently helped inspire British colonial author Rider Haggard’s novel’s She and King Solomon’s Mines. These powers – that include control over clouds and rain – were said to be sufficient to awe Zulu King Shaka and marauding Swazi bands8. The Modjadji or Balobedu queendom is located in the Moletotsi valley near Tzaneen in SA’s northern Limpopo Province. Succession is matrilineal. “Modjadji” means “ruler of the day”.


The Type 209 design beat several other offers, including a French offer to upgrade the three Daphnés and a fourth, which was to be donated. A Franco-Spanish consortium also offered two Daphnés as interim vessels while they constructed the Navy a number of CN2000 Scorpéne submarines. Sweden offered the Type 192, an export version of the Gotland-class submarine and Italy proposed Fincantieri’s S1600 design; while Russia suggested its Project 636 Kilo-class boat.

The need for submarines9


Submarines form a crucial part of any balanced navy. A modern conventional submarine can operate independently for weeks, and is virtually “invisible” to most surface ships and aircraft. When dived, it is largely unaffected by the threats that surface forces typically face.


A submarine’s inherent stealth makes it an excellent vessel to counter other submarines and warships. Its mere presence in a hostile situation can be enough to keep a surface fleet alongside. Even powerful aircraft carrier groups have to operate with caution in submarine waters, or avoid them altogether. This stealth factor also makes them highly suited for obtaining information on illegal activities in one’s own waters.


Because of the discreet nature of submarines, their immediate use in an operational area can be non-threatening. They can be sent to an area, and then withdrawn, without raising tensions in that area. In this regard, the waters along the South African coast are ideally suited for submarine operations. The different thermal layers found at varying depths, where the “barrier” formed between hot and cold water affects sonar beams, gives them a distinct tactical and operational advantage over surface vessels.


Submarines are therefore force multipliers for the Navy. Without them the Navy would have to have more surface ships to provide the same level of defence and deterrence. Their small crews and low fuel consumption also make them relatively cheap to operate, in comparison with surface combatant.

Concerning the defensive posture of the South African National Defence Force, submarines rate amongst the most significant in the country’s inventory of defence systems. As has been discussed, the mere presence of a South African submarine is a reminder to potentially hostile naval force to keep clear of our territorial waters.


In summary, the relatively small number of submarines that the Navy operates helps keep the surface force modest in terms of numbers and sophistication, thus reducing the overall costs of South Africa’s maritime defence. They give the Navy credibility in the international naval environment and force larger, more powerful navies to take cognizance of their presence.  Used wisely, they are our country’s ultimate strategic defence mechanism.

Ian Uys, South African Military Who’s Who, 1452-1992, Fortress Publishers, Germiston, 1992, p150.

Notes Modjadji II c1800-1895 had several run ins with ZAR authjorities, p157.




1 Named on her arrival at Simon’s Town on April 7, 2006.

2 The pennant numbers follow those of the Spear (Daphné) class submarines (S97, 98 and 99) retired in 2003.

3 Arrived in SA on May 21, 2008.

4 Submarine, conventionally (non-nuclear) powered, antisubmarine warfare capable.

5 Recently adopted as interim short-range air-to-air missile by the SA Air Force for the Gripen advanced lightweight fighter aircraft

6 Caryn Edwards, Things to come: The Type 209 submarine, Salvo, Armscor’s corporate journal, Issue 1, 2006, p11.

7 TRH Davenport, South Africa. A modern history. London, 1999, p. 237; E.J. Verwey (ed), New dictionary of South African biography. Pretoria, 1995, pp. 168- 170

8 http://www.prominentpeople.co.za/modjadji-queen.aspx, http://tzaneen.co.za/ice/modjadji_history.htm


9 SA Navy, Articles and Papers, The Requirement for submarines, www.mil.za, 2002.