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South Africa

Full Name 50 Union of South Africa
Alliance Allies - Minor Member Nation or Possession
Possessing Power United Kingdom
Entry into WW2 4 Sep 1939
Population in 1939 10,160,000
Military Deaths in WW2 11,900


ww2dbaseAlthough there was unanimity between Premiere J. B. M. Hertzog and General Jan Smuts about the right of South Africa to remain neutral in war, their views were not identical as to what would happen if Britain were to be attacked. In a fateful Cabinet meeting of 2 September 1939, Hertzog declared that he was going to remain neutral, and under no circumstances would he allow South Africa to enter the war. Two days later, in the Assembly he repeated that South Africa would not be plunged into a war unless the circumstances of the country itself demanded such action. But by 80 votes to 67 the Prime Minister's neutrality motion was defeated and, consequently, South Africa would, on 6 September, join Britain, France and the other Commonwealth nations in declaring itself to be in a state of war with Germany. Hertzog resigned and Smuts became Premiere.

ww2dbaseOn the outbreak of war Smuts organised an army, and sent it to man Kenya's northern border to defend the Union against any southward movement from Abyssinia (Ethiopia) by the Italians. A central and other flying schools were soon established for the training of pilots and in the south Atlantic and Indian oceans the Union maintained a large number of small craft which were mainly engaged in mine-sweeping, anti-submarine searches and other general patrol activities. In harnessing her industries to wartime manufacturing South Africa had several valuable assets, including the heavy engineering industries which had been created to serve the needs of the mining industry and the railways and harbours administration, as well as plenty of electric power, an established iron and steel industry, and unlimited supplies of coal, iron, manganese and other raw materials.

ww2dbaseThe Union had, by the beginning of 1941, raised an army of 120,000 men, fully armed and equipped. This force was soon considerably augmented and it played an historic part in the Abyssinian and Libyan campaigns. The air force and the small naval force were also equipped in the Union. In June 1942 two brigades of the 2nd South African Division with two composite South African battalions and four batteries of artillery, were trapped in Tobruk and made prisoners of war by the Germans but, under Major General Daniel Pienaar, Springbok armoured units would contribute to the Eighth Army's great advance under General Harold Alexander through Libya and into Tunisia. Then in early February 1943 the House of Assembly and Senate approved a Prime Minister's motion to permit Union troops to serve outside the African continent. Later, in 1943, at the general election the Smut's Government was given a clear vote of confidence by the electorate which surprised even its most sanguine supporters; for it was a vote recorded after 4 years of war and in the face of some bitter and relentless opposition.

Last Major Update: Oct 2015

Brand, QuintinJackie MoggridgeSmuts, Jan

Marmon-Herrington Armored Car


Basuto workers cleaning a Master aircraft at No. 23 Air School at AFB Waterkloof, Pretoria, South Africa, Jan 1943

South Africa in World War II Interactive Map

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Visitor Submitted Comments

1. ravhura justice takalani says:
30 Oct 2015 03:45:32 AM

can you pls help me with my grandfather information rergerding warld war 2 becouse he was one fo soders who fight .i need to claim his fund
2. Merriam Mokoena says:
28 Jun 2017 07:20:55 AM

My Uncle Peter Ndoda Khumalo.We are unveiling his tombstone on 23Sept 2017.I like to make a speech about him. He worked for African Life. He lived in Dune village JHB.I need any information about him concerning world war II
3. Bruce Gordon says:
4 Sep 2017 02:38:52 AM

Please change the South African flag on this page. It was not in existence in WW2 and is considered an anathema by South Africans today.
4. Commenter identity confirmed C. Peter Chen says:
11 Sep 2017 05:27:36 AM

Bruce, we had contacted you in private on this topic last week, but just want to note the summary here as well. WW2DB uses the tricolour (established by the Nationality & Flag Act of 1927) on its page for South Africa and all dominions, rather than the Union Jack, in order to give each dominion a distinct identity as far as vexillology is concerned. Thanks for visiting WW2DB and hope we will continue to receive your support.
5. Anonymous says:
5 Oct 2017 11:37:03 PM

Please keep the existing flag. It was the flag between 1928 and 1994. As the new and old flags mean different things to different people, it's best to be historically correct, and not necessarily politically correct.
6. Kgwadi Thobane says:
17 Aug 2018 09:11:00 AM

My grandfather, JM Thobane force N/224 served in NMC Italy and died in there from Tuberculosis. His middle name is misspelled as it is written Mothubatse in place of Mapalakanye. His wife's name is written Siteng in place of Reneilwe Mohube Thobane.

How can we correct that and get his photos?

He was in Unit 2: Transvaal Regiment
7. John Neilson says:
27 Dec 2018 09:05:15 AM

My dad and mom both served in the 2nd world war in Africa and Europe.
I would love to know more about their rank and area served.
Father: Ernest James Neilson
Mother: Susarah Jacoba Carolina Davel
Many thanks
8. Paul Hannah says:
1 Jan 2019 04:08:51 PM

Hertzog was not Premiere (sic) He was Prime Minister Smuts was his deputy.
9. Grand Son says:
2 Jan 2019 02:25:29 AM

My Grand grand father was last seen when he was took by apartheid police to join force for world war 2 please help with the informantion
name is Tikane Sebokwane
10. Frank says:
11 Jan 2019 12:03:38 PM

My dad was a paratrooper in WW2. He ended the war as a Major and was twice wounded during his deployment in Europe and Egypt. He was involved in the opening ceremony of Jan Smuts airport. How do i find out what his roll in the opening ceremony of the airport was.
11. Tantaswa Ntswam says:
17 Jan 2019 01:46:23 PM

My Great Grandfather Pearce Reve was a soldier at the WW2 but we never hear about the role played by Africans in the war specifically how it benefited this country. Why our history doesn't have such information. What has been done for the families of the former soldiers in this day in history. Who did they fought for , history can't be buried. Why do we have to ask about this information? why is it not available?
12. Colin Bosman says:
3 Mar 2019 06:42:30 AM

I'm looking for the campaign records of my late father ABEL ALBERTUS BOSMAN who served in Egypt and North Africa during WW2 around 1940 to 1943
13. Ben Modieginyana says:
4 Mar 2019 08:02:17 PM

I am looking for my grandfather Nkole Modieginyana who participated in ww2 in italyo
14. Candice Porter says:
11 Mar 2019 05:12:14 AM

I'd like to find records of my Grandfather, John Hamilton Rennie. He was in the air force during WW2
15. Ellen says:
17 Mar 2019 04:37:22 AM

I would like to inform about my grandfather. John Alfred Burton
Records that he served during WW2
16. Juan Coetzer says:
2 Apr 2019 03:19:40 AM

Looking for any details on
Johannes Jacobus Isak Stephanus Coetzer in Ww2.
I know he was involved in repairs on tanks.
17. Ellen says:
3 Apr 2019 04:38:47 AM

My late grandfather served during World War 2...I do not have any info, would just like to confirm this.
Where do I start..
18. Carol Gower says:
22 Apr 2019 08:18:08 AM

Looking for information about
1. James Melville Sweetman
2. Aiden Sweetman
Both served in the war - from South Africa.
I am looking for the Military History on them, or any other Sweetnam/man
19. Vals says:
23 May 2019 06:54:00 AM

I am looking for information on my late grandfather, Emil William Arbuckle. He served in WW2 and was a prisoner of war but I don't anything else about him
20. Fiona Lee says:
23 May 2019 10:45:41 AM

my Grandfather ran away to war at 16 years old under the pseudonym Eric Jones. His real name was Alan Charles Watson DOB 26 Jan 1924. He was injured in Italy with the 6th aarmoured division B squadron. I would like any info on him
21. Dale Stroebel nee Miller says:
6 Jun 2019 12:12:42 AM

Clayton Stanley Miller served in WW11 in RAF under Montgomery up Africa into Italy. I know he loaded aircraft with ammunition...born 19/6/1922 - died 21/4/1986. Many thanks
22. Lucas Sebokwane says:
13 Jun 2019 11:30:09 PM

23. Gab says:
4 Jul 2019 03:31:46 PM

Mr W Wallace information please I only have a picture of him with Philip Bochie at the Cenotaph in Johannesburg
24. Anonymous says:
12 Aug 2019 08:15:51 PM

Madimetja Drievoet Tlala WW2 Transvaal area
25. Mark Schwartz says:
16 Sep 2019 07:40:30 AM

Hi there

I am looking for information related to volunteers during WW2. Was there a maximum age for would-be volunteers, and is there a searchable database for these volunteers.

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South Africa in World War II Photo Gallery
Basuto workers cleaning a Master aircraft at No. 23 Air School at AFB Waterkloof, Pretoria, South Africa, Jan 1943

Famous WW2 Quote
"Goddam it, you'll never get the Purple Heart hiding in a foxhole! Follow me!"

Captain Henry P. Jim Crowe, Guadalcanal, 13 Jan 1943