Commander Leon Steyn
SA Naval Museum

SAS SKILPAD was an unlikely man-of-war, that started its war career in service of Nazi Germany’s Kriegsmarine and continued to feature on the South African Navy list of vessels until 1957.

The ship of 48,77 meters and 962 tons (full displacement) was built in 1936 as the German trawler Polaris, but was requisitioned by the German Kriegsmarine in 1939 at the start of the Second World War. The trawler was fitted out by the Germans with concealed torpedo tubes and equipped with super heaters in the boiler room to improve its speed.
Captured by the Royal Navy early in the war and commissioned as HMS Spindrift, it was converted to a “controlled minelayer”. The vessel was transferred to Saldanha on the Cape West Coast, under the command of the Royal Navy’s South Atlantic station in Simon’s Town and responsible for the controlled minefield defences in South African coastal waters.
Spindrift was handed over to the SA Naval Forces on 5 July 1943 at Simon’s Town and crewed entirely by the South African Naval Forces. When the war ended the vessel was left in Saldanha. The series of photos shown above, was recently recovered from the SA Naval Museum Archives (for scanning) and shows the frigate HMSAS Transvaal making preparations in Saldanha bay, to tow the Spindrift to Durban in 1948. There it was laid up in care and maintenance at Salisbury Island as part of the Reserve Fleet. The vessel was appropriately renamed SAS Skilpad in 1951. The name was an apt reflection of her (lack of) speed. Skilpad’s top speed (now without the super heaters) was a mere 9 knots!
Skilpad sank at her berth at Salisbury Island in the early morning hours of 22 July 1953 during a north-easterly gale. Although considerable efforts were made to raise her again, the ship never went back to sea again and was eventually sold for scrap in May 1957.

Source: Allan du Toit, South Africa’s Fighting Ships, 1992, pp.145-147.
Photos: SA Naval Museum Archives – HMSAS Spindrift being towed from Saldanha to Durban by HMSAS Transvaal, 1948.