THE AIRFORCE - CRASHBOATS
During WW2 the SAAF operated crash boats were responsible for the saving of almost 600 lives around the coast of South Africa. The workhorses of this force where the 20 Miami class launches purchased from America from 1942 onwards. These vessels were a development of the Mafia rum runners and were flat- bottomed, hard chine hulled boats made out of plywood and madapolin cloth nailed together with copper nails. They had four 550 hp Kermouth engines and achieved a speed of 42 knots. They ran on 100 octane aviation petrol.
These vessels gave sterling service, but as the war ended the Motor Boat bases were closed down, one by one. The boats were sold off to civilians and many are still to be seen in South African waters as private or public launches. Finally only the Langebaan based 1 Motorboat Squadron remained, equipped with 4 Miami class vessels. It's reason for existence was it's close proximity to the Air Force gunnery and bombing ranges around the Saldanha area.
By the late 1950's it was becoming evident that the range of the Miami class was insufficient. The Air Force thus decided to purchase some new vessels and approached Krogerwerft in Rendsburg, who had made such launches for both the German goverment and the RAF, to supply two boats.
The final design was a 30 metre launch, displacing 87 tonnes and powered by two V12 Maybach-Mercedes diesel engines of 2240 hp each - giving a top speed of about 33 knots. The vessels were equipped with an operating table (thankfully never used) and a thermal bath system (also never used operationally as survivors seemed to fare better when shoved into the engine room to be re-heated, as it were). The first ship, R30, also known fondly as "Brigitte", the name of the daughter of Herr Bauer the MD of Krogerwerft who launched her, arrived in Cape Town aboard a cargo vessel in 1961. She was unloaded and the men of 1 Motorboat Squadron sailed her up to Langebaan with an Alouette helicopter hovering about taking photographs.
There she came around Schaapen Island, doing about 18 knots - she was *huge*, almost three times more displacement than the Miamis. And had a black hull and grey upperworks. She dwarfed the jetty at Langebaan. Next year her sister, R31 turned up and two of the Miamis were sold.
With these two vessels the No 1 Motorboat squadron of the SAAF (which later became the Marine Craft Unit) forged an enviable record. No distress call was ever unanswered. When other vessels refused to put to sea these boats would go out looking for the lost, the ship wrecked and the distressed mariners around our coast. The Shackletons were often the crashboat's "eye in the sky" and they worked together in the rescue function on almost every rescue.
The Unit itself was the smallest independent unit in the SADF, with 28 men and four crash boats plus 5 smaller inshore rescue and service vessels. They were aided by a small number of National Servicemen in the later years. All servicing, slipping etc. was done at the base. The morale of this unit was repeatedly remarked upon by any number of Chiefs of the SAAF. Very few unit transfers took place and so everybody knew everbody else. They became one of the most professional military outfits the SAAF ever saw.
In due course the MCU became ever more an uncomfortable squadron within the SAAF structure (SAAF storemen were also getting pissed off having to order marine stores) and so it was arranged that in 1969 that the South African Navy would take the unit over - lock, stock and barrel as a going concern. R30 became P1552 and R31 became P1551. A regrettable choice as many a holiday maker at Langebaan would enquire as to why the SAN had chosen to name the vessels PISS 1 and PISS 2? The unit itself became SAS Flamingo and continued to give sterling service by continuing with the work they had always done in the SAAF, providing range clearance duties, target towing and the rescue function. The last two Miami boats, R18 and R9 where sold and replaced by two Fairey Marine Tracker craft - P1554 and P1555.
In the eighties the base itself, coveted by the recces who wanted it, was closed and the unit moved to Saldahna where it became absorbed into SAS Saldahna. In 1988 Brigitte was lost when she was run into Tooth Rock at speed - an almost unforgivable action as Tooth Rock had been an Air Force firing range since WW2 and crash boats had done range clearance duty here since their inception.
Some of the rescues they effected were the stuff movies are made of - yet they seldom made the papers. Who can forget the heroic action of WO Baxter who rowed a small rubber raft in 40 foot swells with a howling 65 knot gale from a crash boat to a stricken tanker that desperately needed medical supplies to take it to them? Who then made a return trip to fetch the doctor and deliver him as well? No medals were dished out for this event - in fact the unit never had anybody who could recommend such medals. Not once in the history of the South African Airforce's Crashboat Squadrons did they fail to respond to a request for help. No matter how bad the weather, or how slim the chances - the men of the Crashboat Squadrons sailed if they were called upon to do so.
Truly this unit stood by its motto "We serve to save".
Researched by Eugene L Griessel ([email protected])