South Africa's Battle of the Atlantic: 1939-1945: A Survey of the Cape Peninsula's WWII Heritage

ECU Author/Contributor (non-ECU co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Ian P Harrison (Creator)
East Carolina University (ECU )
Web Site:

Abstract: In 1939 , the Union of South Africa was caught unprepared for war. With the full weight of the Commonwealth's resources dedicated to the defense of the British Isles , the Union Defense Force (UDF) was tasked with defending the Empire's vital supply lines through the Southern Ocean. Although the Union joined the war on the side of the Allies , ethnic and political turmoil left the extent of its participation in question. With Allied shipping under attack from German submarines , the Special Signals Service (SSS) was formed to develop and deploy a chain of Range and Direction Finding (RDF - aka. Radar) defenses along the South African coastline. Furthermore , a series of High Frequency Direction Finding (Huff-Duff) stations were constructed to intercept and decode high-band radio transmissions from enemy submarines. In the years following the end of the war , however , these sites were slowly abandoned to the mercy of destructive forces , with only a handful having received any form of modern archaeological documentation. As these sites continue to deteriorate , so too does their historic and community value , as well as the potential of future archaeological research to glean meaningful scientific insight. As such , fifteen World War II sites throughout South Africa's Cape Peninsula were surveyed and documented for this thesis. Condition reports and digital records were created for each site , establishing a baseline from which to monitor future degradation. In addition to the standard recording methods , several metrics were logged for each site including: structural integrity , legal protection status , and site accessibility. Through the comparison of sites according to these metrics , this study is able to draw baseline conclusions for long-term survivability. Despite various levels of legal heritage protection across the survey dataset , only structures with active conservation programs survived better than those with any degree of legal protection but no conservation. Further , remote sites were significantly less affected by cultural processes than those located nearby metropolitan areas. In addition to this archaeological recording , an archival search for primary source materials relating to RDF stations and coastal defenses was conducted from several document repositories throughout the Cape Peninsula. As part of this process , a survey of newsprint sources was conducted in order to ascertain the influence of the U-boat war on the maritime landscapes of the Cape. In this way , the actions of South African civilians were gauged as they reflexively responded to the perceived risks of the surrounding maritime landscape.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2019
WWII, WWI, Radar, RDF, Huff-Duff, coastal defense, conservation, Western Cape, Special Signals Service, SSS, Union Defense Force, UDF, historic structure, historic preservation, Cape Town, Maritime Cultural Landscape, MCL, heritage, defense

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