Military heraldry
November 2006 / December 2013

Naval heraldry

THE SA Navy was founded in 1922. Like many other Commonwealth navies, the SAN has been heavily influenced by the Royal Navy, and its heraldry reflects that influence.

During World War II, a few ships and shore establishments adopted ships' badges. This was formalised, along Royal Navy lines, after the war.

Badges are displayed in stylised frames of golden cable, ensigned of a name plaque, above which is a naval crown (until the mid-1950s), the lion crest from the old national arms (mid-1950s - 2003), or the secretary bird crest from the present national arms (2003- ).

Diamond-shaped frames were used in the 1940s, but they were changed to circular frames in the 1950s. Navy HQ and the former regional commands had pentagonal frames, and one of the reserve units had a shield-shaped frame.

Headquarters and bases

South African Navy badges Navy HQ - Naval Command West - Naval Base Cape Town - Naval Base Simon's Town.

South African Navy badges Durban Naval Dockyard - Simon's Town Naval Dockyard - SAN Armaments Depot - SAN Museum.

Crossed seaxes are the distinctive feature of headquarters unit badges. The former Navy HQ badge had a lion's face above the seaxes. On the former regional commands' badges, the lion was replaced by flowers, e.g. the disa of Naval Command West.

The badges of Naval Base Cape Town and Naval Base Simon's Town were derived from the municipal arms of those towns.

Supporting units

The badges of both Naval Dockyard Durban and Naval Dockyard Simon's Town depict an anchor surmounted by a cogwheel enclosing a charge related to the town, namely the 'star of Natal' and the Martello Tower respectively.

Some badges allude to the unit's function. Examples are the bows and arrows in the badge of the SA Naval Armaments Depot, and the trident and quill pens in the SAN Museum badge. One must hasten to add that the SAN's armaments are more modern than the badge might suggest!

Ships and 'stone frigates'

All seagoing ships, as well as 'stone frigates", i.e. land-based units which are named as ships, have badges.

Until 1971, badges were always individual, but since then class badges have been designed for some classes of ships, and they are simply differenced for individual vessels or units.

.... SAS Bluff - SAS Simon v d Stel - SAS Vrystaat - SAS Windhoek - SAS Donkin - SAS President Kruger.

.... SAS Haerlem - SAS Jan Smuts - SAS Maria v Riebeeck - SAS Umgeni.

Many badges are derivative. The gunnery school SAS Bluff's badge included the artillery's lightning flash symbol. SAS Simon van der Stel's badge displayed Van der Stel's personal arms. The 'tree of liberty' from the Orange Free State provincial arms appeared on the badge of SAS Vrystaat. SAS Windhoek's badge is based on the town's arms.

Other badges allude to the name, e.g. SAS Donkin's badge depicted the Donkin Memorial in Port Elizabeth, and SAS President Kruger's bore charges from the SA Republic arms.

SAS Haerlem had a more imaginative badge, inspired by anti-submarine netting.

The strike craft, which were named after defence ministers, had a basic badge depicting a Viking longboat. Each ship was identified by the design on the sail. SAS Jan Smuts, for instance, displayed a trefoil on the sail.

'Daphne' class submarines had a badge displaying a trident surmounted by a lozenge bearing a design referring to the person after whom the sub was named. An example was SAS Maria van Riebeeck, where the lozenge was based on the lady's paternal arms.

'River' class minehunters have a badge depicting a bridge spanning a river. In chief is a charge identifying the individual ship, such as the acacia tree in the badge of SAS Umgeni.

References :
  • Bennett, C.H. & Soderlund, A.G.; South Africa's Navy (2008).
  • Calendars, illustrated with ships' badges, issued by Castrol in the 1980s and '90s.
  • Du Toit, A.F.; South Africa's Fighting Ships (1992).
  • Goosen, J.C.; South Africa's Navy - the First Fifty Years (1972).
  • Smith, H.H.; Badges of the Ships of the SA Navy (1980).

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