The South African Naval Museum celebrates 30 years
The origins of the Naval Museum date back to 1966 when a naval historical collection was displayed at the Castle in Cape Town. In the mid 1970’s this collection was transferred to the Martello Tower in Simon’s Town and thereafter, Fort Wynyard where it was enlarged to include a much wider display of naval associated artifacts. With the decentralization of museums from the former Directorate Military Museums to the Arms of Service in June 1987, the SA Navy Museum (Martello Tower) was transferred to the functional control of the SA Navy, while Fort Wynyard was transferred to the Western Province Command (Army).
Investigations to establishment of a museum for the SA Navy in Simon’s Town were launched during 1988 and the project, dubbed Project Oubos was registered at Navy Headquarters. It was eventually decided that the most appropriate location for the new museum would be the former Royal Navy Mast House that dates back to 1815 and the adjacent Dutch Store House that dates back to 1743. Both buildings are located in the historic West Yard of Naval Base Simon’s Town.
Apart from the SAS Assegaai (see below) other significant items that have been allocated to the museum include the navy yacht Voortrekker of Bertie Reed fame and a Second World War Marine Tender (MT2800). The future placement of these large items is dependent on the allocation of additional (indoor) space to the museum.
SAS Assegaai Submarine Museum
In November 2003 the South African Navy decommissioned the last of its three Daphne Class submarines, the SAS Assegaai (formerly the SAS Johanna van der Merwe), in preparation for the introduction of the new Type 209 Submarines. A submission was made to the Chief of the Navy and the Naval Board to preserve the SAS Assegaai as an exhibit at the SA Naval Museum in Simon’s Town.
Approval was duly given and during December 2010 the submarine (still in the water) was opened to the public on a trial basis. Africa’s first submarine museum, officially opened in Simon’s Town on 1 March 2011 by Chief of the Navy, Vice Admiral Mudimu. The project managing team consisted almost entirely of retired Naval Officers and volunteers that provided guided tours through the submarine on a daily basis. The main purpose of the project is to preserve the submarine as a museum and to promote technology and science among the youth. The official opening marked the first step in the Assegaai’s eventual placement ashore.
A Memorandum of Agreement was duly signed in May 2022 between the Navy and the Naval Heritage Trust, who has been entrusted with the project. This will see the relocation of the submarine ashore to an area near Cole Point and its eventual reopening to the public in 2024.
Curators of the SA Naval Museum
Cdr W.M. Bisset – 1985 to May 2002
Capt Manning (Res) (acting) – May 2002 to Aug 2002
Cdr E. Wesselo (Res) – Sept 2002 to Dec 2004
Cdr W.M. Bisset (Res) – (acting; relieved Cdr Wesselo for two months Sept and Oct 2004)
Cdr A. Dutton – Jan 2005 to Oct 2008
Cdr C. Pratten – Nov 2008 to Jan 2010
WO1 A. Wessels (acting) – Jan 2010 to March 2011
Cdr L. Steyn – April 2011 to presently
On 29 March former and current curators and staff gathered to celebrate the 30 years existence of the museum. The new ‘30 years logo’ was unveiled, which also adorned the birthday cake and 30 cupcakes. In his speech the first curator, Cdr ‘Mac’ Bisset, who is regarded as the ‘father of the museum’ congratulated the current curator, Cdr Leon Steyn and his staff on the achievement and wished them well for the future.