Hugo Biermann

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Hugo Hendrik Biermann

, SD , OBE

Admiral Hugo Biermann.jpg
Born (1916-08-06)6 August 1916
Died 27 March 2012(2012-03-27) (aged 95)
Cape Town, South Africa
Allegiance  South Africa
Service/branch  South African Navy
Years of service 1945–1976
Rank Admiral
Service number 01222819PE
Commands held

Peggy Cruwys (wife)

R Adm Stephanus Biermann

Admiral Hugo Hendrik Biermann SSA SD OBE GCIH (6 August 1916 – 27 March 2012) was a former Chief of the South African Navy who later served as Chief of the South African Defence Force, the only Naval officer to have served in this post.

Early life[edit]

Biermann's father, also named Hugo Hendrick, joined the Orange Free State postal service at the age of 12[1] and later joined the SA Railways and Harbours as a telegraphist.[1]:page 3 Born in Johannesburg, Biermann started school in the Transvaal until his father was transferred to Cape Town[1]:page 4 and he completed his schooling at Jan van Riebeck High School[2] After leaving school at the age of 16 he join the South African Training Ship General Botha [1]:page 5

Biermann was one of four children. His brothers Phillip and Stefanus (Chips) served on whalecatchers that had been converted to minesweepers during World War II.[3] His brother Stefanus reached the rank of Rear Admiral in the SA Navy.[3]

Merchant Marine[edit]

After two years training on the South African Training Ship General Botha from 1932 to 1933,[4] he entered the British Merchant Navy as a cadet and served until 1938 when he was transferred to the Maritime Department of the South African Railways and Harbours.[5]

Naval career[edit]

He began his naval career in 1938 as a sub-lieutenant in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. In January 1940 he was called up for full-time service and transferred to the Seaward Defence Force. Promoted lieutenant in mid 1941 he commanded HMSAS Imhoff,[6] HMSAS Roodepoort and HMSAS Aristea before being promoted to Lieutenant Commander in command of the salvage vessel HMSAS Gamtoos.[7]

The crew of the HMSAS Gamtoos cleared several Mediterranean ports of sunken and scuttled ships, and at Marseilles, Biermann blew a hole in the harbour wall so that he could enter the Vieux Port[8] and begin work. The Gamtoos went on to salvage the Sidi Aissa, towing it away to clear the valuable graving dock at La Ciotat by 14 December 1944. This earned Lt Cdr Biermann the Order of the British Empire, an honour he shared with the entire ship's company[9]

The citation for his OBE reads:

After the War[edit]

After the war and with the establishment of the South African Navy (Permanent Force) in May 1946, he was appointed Lieutenant-Commander and Captain of the Algerine class minesweeper, SAS Bloemfontein, commissioning her in Devonport on 8 September 1947[11]:182 and as Senior Officer of the minesweeping squadron.

In 1950, he was transferred to Defence Headquarters and served on the staff of the then Director-General of the SA Naval Forces. Two years later he attended the British Naval Staff Course at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, and was appointed as naval attaché at South African House, London with the rank of Commander.[5]

Frans Erasamus reshuffle[edit]

Minister Frans Erasmus embarked on a process of ridding the Defence Force of officers associated with the Smuts government and replacing them with others whom he considered more Nationalist, one which Afrikaners would feel more at home.[12]

In 1952 Erasmus posted Brigadier Pieter de Waal as a Military attache to the United States, replacing him with Biermann,[12]:59 one of only seven Afrikaans officers in the Navy in 1948. Then Commander Biermann was appointed naval and marine chief of staff on 1 December 1952 and promoted to the rank of Commodore, jumping two ranks.[2] During his tenure the Simonstown Agreement was signed on 30 June 1955. He held that rank until 1 April 1957, with the handing over of the Simon’s Town Naval Base, he was promoted to Rear-Admiral.[13]:318

On 1 December 1965, Rear-Admiral Biermann was promoted to Vice–Admiral and Chief of the Navy, the first time this title was used in South Africa.[14]

In 1972, he took over the position of Commandant General, South African Defence Force[15] and promoted to Admiral, the first time this rank was used in the South African Navy. The title was changed to Chief of the South African Defence Force a year later.

In 1977 he authored "The South African Response." The Southern Oceans and the Security of the Free World: New Studies in Global Strategy (1977).

The navy's submarine base was named after him.

Contribution to Yachting in South Africa[edit]

Following the success of Bruce Dalling and the yacht Voortrekker in the 1968 Single-Handed Trans-Atlantic Race,[16] Admiral Biermann, then chairman of the Springbok Ocean Racing Trust, suggested that South Africa hosted an ocean race of its own.[17]

The South African Ocean Racing Trust (as the SAORT became known) selected the Iate Clube do Rio de Janeiro, who were willing to co-operate in the organising of the race and the race would be known as the Cape to Rio. The first race was organised for 1971, with the organisers anticipating at most 15 entries into the race.[17] However the race attracted a large amount of interest and 58 boats entered the 1971 race.[17]

Awards and Decorations[edit]

He received the Star of South Africa Decoration on 13 May 1960 in recognition of his exceptionally meritorious services, as well as the Order of May To Naval Merit in the grade of "Grand Cross Admiral Guillermo Brown from Argentina[5] and the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Infante Dom Henrique of Portugal.[5] He was the first recipient of the Southern Cross Decoration, which he received upon his retirement as Chief of the SADF in 1976[18]

Personal life[edit]

In 1940 Biermann married Margaret (Peggy) Cruyws.[1]:page 6 She died in 2008 at the age of 90.[19] The couple had two children, Hugo Hendrik and Diana. Biermann died at the age of 95 at a retirement home, Silvermine Village, near Cape Town. He was buried with full military honours.[20]:11[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Williams, Roger (October 2003). "Admiral H H Biermann". Naval Digest. 9. 
  2. ^ a b "Admiral Hugo Biermann - The Telegraph". The Daily Telegraph. London. 14 May 2012. Retrieved 2013-05-14. 
  3. ^ a b "Chips Biermann obituary". Cape Argus. 21 February 2003. Retrieved 23 October 2014. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ a b c d "A sad farewell to Admiral H.H. Biermann SSA, SD, OBE 01222819 PE". Archived from the original on 2012-05-31. Retrieved 2012-04-27. 
  6. ^ Gomm, N (1973). "From the Ships Log of H.M.S.A.S Imhoff". Scientia Militaria, South African Journal of Military Studies. 1. 3. 
  7. ^ "Obituary in newsletter" (PDF). The South African Institute of Marine Engineers & Naval Architects. 
  8. ^ Admiral Hugo Biermann | The Times
  9. ^ Weinerlein, Vic (June 2006). "HMSAS GAMTOOS, 1942-1945 A South African salvage vessel in the Second World War". The South African Military History Society Military History Journal. 5. 13 (5). 
  10. ^
  11. ^ Du Toit, Allan (1992). South Africa's fighting ships past and present. Ashanti Publishing. ISBN 978-1874800507. 
  12. ^ a b Boulter, Roger Stephen (1997). "F.C. Erasmus and the politics of South African defence, 1948-1959". 
  13. ^ Race and U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War. Taylor & Francis. 1998. ISBN 978-0-8153-2958-9. 
  14. ^ Fact file: Chiefs of the South African Navy | DefenceWeb
  15. ^ Fact file: Chiefs of the SANDF,past and present | DefenceWeb
  16. ^ Morgan, Brad (9 July 2008). "Sailing legend Dalling passes away". Sport. for Brand South Africa by Big Media Publishers. Retrieved 2009-07-23. 
  17. ^ a b c Hocking, Anthony (1972). Yachting in Southern Africa. Purnell. p. 131. ASIN B001OZHFF8. 
  18. ^ "South African Defence Force: 1975-2003". SA Honours and Awards. 
  19. ^ "‘Moeder van die vloot’ (90) oorlede / Mother of the Navy passes away". Die Burger. 31 December 2008. Retrieved 18 September 2015. 
  20. ^ "People's Post False Bay". 17 April 2012. 
  21. ^ "Obituary". Daily Telegraph. 
Military offices
New title Chief of the South African Defence Force
1973 – 1976
Succeeded by
Magnus Malan
Preceded by
Rudolph Hiemstra
Commandant General of the SADF
1972 – 1973
Renamed C SADF
New title Commander Maritime Defence (COMADEF)
1965 – 1972
Succeeded by
James Johnson
New title Chief of the South African Navy
1966 – 1972
Succeeded by
James Johnson
New title Naval Chief of Staff
1955 – 1966
Renamed Chief of the Navy
Preceded by
Pieter de Waal
Naval & Marine Chief of Staff
1952 – 1955
Renamed Naval Chief of Staff