SAS Jan Smuts goes under the cutting torch

Dec 17, 2003
Author: P&S

Work has begun on cutting up the first missile carrying strike craft to enter service with the South African Navy, SAS Jan Smuts (P1561) near the syncrolift at Salisbury Island, Durban.

SAS Jan Smuts was laid down at the Israel Shipyards in Haifa, Israel and launched on 18 February, 1977. The vessel was subsequently commissioned into the South African Navy on 8 July 1977 and served constantly until being taken out of commission a few years ago.

The ship was initially known only by her pennant number P1561 but was later named SAS Jan Smuts in honour of the former prime minister and minister of defence, after the decision to name the nine strike craft after ministers in the Union or Republic governments. Jan Smuts was the only one of nine in the Strike Craft Flotilla to retain her original name post 1994.

SAS Jan Smuts attained a form of fame or notoriety depending on one’s point of view, when, in the company of SAS Frans Erasmus (P1565, later renamed SAS Isaac Dyobha), she intercepted a US Navy battle group led by the nuclear powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz and accompanied by two cruisers California and Texas. The incident took place on 14 January 1980 as the US group rounded the Cape and caused something of a diplomatic stir, although it was subsequently played down by both sides.

According to what is publicly known of the incident the two small strike craft went virtually undetected before intercepting the US battle fleet as it rounded the Cape, resulting in the Nimitz having to take evasive action. The official report on the incident simply stated that South Africa reserved the right to monitor at close quarters all foreign warships passing along its coast.

Although it has never been admitted, it seems likely the US Navy was caught napping with the unexpected arrival and high speed (34 knots plus) of the two strike craft as they sped through the battle group.

Old hands in the SA Navy still refer to the ‘incident’ with more than a degree of pride.

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