The Southern Cross Medal of 1952 is a South African military decoration which was instituted by the Union of South Africa in 1952. Awarded for outstanding devotion to duty during peacetime and war for award to all members, irrespective of rank, of the Union Defence Force (later the SADF) or other armed forces attached to or serving with or rendering service to the UDF. The Post Nominal title of “SM” is used.
This was an extremely sought after award and held in the highest reverence by all branches of the SADF. It is an exceptional design incorporating the Stars of the Southern Cross constellation. The Southern Cross is one of the best-known asterisms in the night sky, and the most familiar star pattern in the southern hemisphere.
Composed of five stars forming the shape of a cross, it is the most distinctive feature of the constellation Crux, the smallest constellation in the sky. The Southern Cross is notable for containing two bright stars, Acrux and Gacrux, which point the way to the Southern Celestial Pole.
The award was manufactured in 925 sterling silver by the South African Mint (SAM) in Pretoria. The medal is numbered on the rim (bottom) and is not named. The ribbon is worn with the orange stripe furthest from the left shoulder.
This award was initially available to all ranks, however with the introduction of the Pro Merito Medal (PMM) in1967 it was primarily reserved for officers. The initial distinction in 1967 between the two awards was not popular with other ranks of the SADF.
Although the statutes allowed for the award to other armed foreign forces, no example of such an award has surfaced.
The award ceased in 1975 and was replaced by a new series of awards.
Types of Award
The Obverse of all types of the decoration is the same. The difference between the various types is found between the reverse of the award.
1st type EIIR Issue (Elizabeth II)
This type has the EIIR cypher on the reverse and would have been award from 1952-1961. Only 199 medals struck
2nd Type Republic Coat of Arms
This type reflects the South African Republic Coat of Arms on the reverse and awarded 1961- 1975. Only 399 medals struck. All numbers observed are below 599
3rd Type Republic Coat of Arms
This type has the South African Republic Coat of Arms on the reverse and was awarded 1961- 1975 and includes the SAM mint mark. The difference between type 3 and type 2 is the uniface suspender and the SAM mint mark. Type 3, all appear to be numbered between 600 and 650 and outside of the range of the issue. Only 50 Type 3 appear to have been struck.
Once the roll of awards is completed and compared to the army orders, we will be able to determine the cut off of awards between Type 1 and 2
There is no bar awarded for a second award.
This high-quality decoration was issued in a simple, nondescript white cardboard box. The serial number of award stamped on the box. In many cases the name of the recipient and the General Army Order number handwritten by the medal issue department in Pretoria. All stock of these medals were held by the SADF hence the strict control on the serial numbers.
Miniature medals were not issued to non-commissioned officers.
The Southern Cross Medal was awarded for outstanding devotion to duty during peacetime and war. Awarded to all members, irrespective of rank, of the Union Defence Force (later the SADF) or other armed forces attached to or serving with or rendering service to the UDF.
There is always a citation for the award in the service file. They are found in the individual’s service records held by the SADF in either English and Afrikaans. Deeds vary from essential military tasks, distinguished service and some political style awards.
The recommendation was submitted at the unit level. This had to then be approved at divisional level and sent for final approval by the General in command of the Army, Navy or Airforce. Many recommendations were not approved and a select few “downgraded” to the newly created PPM after 1967. These actions caused resentment in the eyes of many deserving members. Some members, although recommended on numerous occasions, did not achieve a final sign off.
An example of multiple recommendations for the SM was for Commandant SN Brace SAAF. Comdt Brace was a long-serving and decorated in the officer of the SAAF in WW2 and Korea, receiving a Protea Commendation and MBE for WW2, followed by a US Bronze Star and Korean Award for Korea. Commandant Brace was the SAAF engineering officer selected to oversee the technical aspects of the Sabre Jets purchased from Canada. Despite two recommendations over a period of time, the powers that be did not deem him to merit the award of an SM. Compare his actions to a few “political awards” covering very mundane duties such as being a “good manager” of the SADF rugby team and one will understand his resentment. These ‘political’ type awards drew extreme and vocal criticism from more deserving candidates
The recommendation is rather bland, citing his long service and superior abilities over a period of time as Staff Officer Planning and Control and a Chief Technical Officer of the SAAF. No mention is made of his outstanding services in Korea and the three months he spent in Canada arranging the delivery of the Sabre Jets to the SAAF. Stanley Brace was an English speaking career officer who joined the SAAF pre WW2 and it is surprising that his citation is in Afrikaans.
Amongst, one of the early awards in 1969 was a young army Brigadier who despite no WW2 or Korean War serve later became Chief of the SADF and Minister of Defence during the South African border wars.
“General Magnus André de Merindol Malan, SSA, OMSG, SD, SM, MP (30 January 1930 – 18 July 2011) was a pivotal military man and politician during the last years of apartheid in South Africa. He served respectively as Minister of Defence in the cabinet of President P. W. Botha, Chief of the South African Defence Force (SADF), and Chief of the South African Army. Rising quickly through the lower ranks, he was appointed to strategic command positions. His tenure as chief of the defence force saw it increase in size, efficiency and capabilities. As PW. Botha’s cabinet minister, he posited a total communist onslaught, for which an encompassing national strategy was devised. This entailed placing policing, intelligence and aspects of civic affairs under the control of generals. The ANC and Swapo were branded as terrorist organizations, while splinter groups (UNITA, RENAMO and LLA) were bolstered in neighbouring and Frontline States. Cross-border raids targeted suspected bases of insurgents or activists, while at home the army entered townships from 1984 onwards to stifle unrest” – reference Wikipedia
Another fascinating award is to Brigadier Ben De Wet Roos, who saw the lights of Luanda in the Angolan war and fought the first Cubans deployed to Africa in 1975. If not for the Cuban involvement at this critical point in time the political map of Africa could be a very different picture.
“In 1975, after the MPLA debacle at Catengue Angola, the Cubans became very aware of the South African intervention. On 4 November Castro decided to begin an intervention on an unprecedented scale “Operation Carlota“. The same day, the first aeroplane with 100 heavy weapon specialists, which the MPLA had requested in September, left for Brazzaville, arriving in Luanda on 7 November. On November 9 the first 100 men of a contingent of a 652-strong battalion of elite Special Forces were flown in. The 100 specialists and 88 men of the special forces were dispatched immediately to the nearby front at Kifangondo. They assisted 850 FAPLA, 200 Katangans and one Soviet advisor. On 8 November, with the help of the Cubans and the Soviet advisor, FAPLA decisively repelled an FNLA-Zairian assault in the Battle of Kifangondo. The South African contingent, 52 men, commanded by General Ben de Wet Roos that had provided for the artillery on the northern front had to be evacuated by ship on the 28 November 1975.” Reference Wikipedia
Brigadier Roos went on to serve in South African National Intelligence (NIS) where he was awarded the Star of South Africa – Commander Grade (non-military).
Order of Precedence
With effect from 6 April 1952, when the Southern Cross Medal and several other new decorations and medals were instituted, these new awards took precedence over all earlier British orders, decorations and medals awarded to South Africans, except for the Victoria Cross. Only the Victoria Cross takes precedence before all other awards. The other older British awards continued to be worn in the order prescribed by the British Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood.
The position of the Southern Cross Medal (1952) in the official order of precedence was revised three times after 1975, to accommodate the inclusion or institution of new decorations and medals. First upon the integration into the South African National Defence Force on 27 April 1994, again in April 1996, when decorations and medals were belatedly instituted for the two former non-statutory forces, the Azanian People’s Liberation Army and Umkhonto we Sizwe, and finally upon a new set of awards on 27 April 2003.
In my opinion, it is because of the high stature of the award, it remained unchanged on all three occasions.
Over 40 years, I have never encountered this award worn in the wrong order of precedence.
Number of Awards and Awards numbers
South African UDF/SADF awards, since 1952, are numbered and not named. A register of serial number and names of the recipient of SM was maintained at Defence Head Quarters Medals & Decorations Section. I had sight of this, and other records, in the late 1980s. These registers have; unfortunately, they have since been misplaced.
Luckily it is possible to rebuild the register of SM’s, using Government Gazettes and Army Orders contained in the files of known recipients. The army orders detail the name and medal number for each award. This task is currently underway thanks to the collaboration of a fellow collector. A full roll of names linking to their award numbers and award dates and will be ready for publication, with the permission of the collector, in a future article.
In addition, almost every presentation of the award was featured in Commando, the official magazine of the SADF. In collecting circles we call this “putting a face to the name” and therefore every recipient can be physically identified by a photo.
On 1 June 1960, eight years after the institution of the award the first 119 were issued. These are all Type 1 EIIR awards.
From the details obtained to date, and example of first five awarded as follows:
|No of Award||Type||Name||Rank|
|1||1st Type EIIR||HJ Zinn||Comm-General|
|2||1st Type EIIR||JN Bierman||Comm-General|
|3||1st Type EIIR||SA Engelbrecht||Major-General|
|4||1st Type EIIR||JSJ Van Der Merwe||Brigadier|
|5||1st Type EIIR||CH Hartzenberg (see below)||Brigadier|
General Sybrand Englebrecht, an explosives expert, was recalled for service during the Border War Period and was awarded the Chief of the SADF Commendation Medal for services to the SA Special Forces known as the “Recces”. As Chief of the Army in 1960, General Englebrecht was awarded medal no 3.
According to the information available on the date of this article medal, no 587, awarded on 27th June 1975 is the last known award issued.
|No of Award||Type||Name||Rank|
|587||2nd Type (Rep)||HJW van Achterbergh||Cdr(T/Capt)|
The serial number of each award is detailed on each Army Orders. From the Army Orders, it has been determined that no 587 is the last award gazetted. Medal no 588 is in the author’s possession. This is in a replacement group to Kmdt FA Swemmer USDFC USAM – SAAF. Swimmer’s medals were stolen, and he obtained a replacement set with a new SM. His original medal was no 520
It is safe to assume that all awards numbered below 587 would have been issued. In addition, the serial numbers are continuous. ie when the Type 2 awards were released, the same number series continued and did not restart from 1. As collectors, we need to congratulate Meds and Decs for controlling the number series.
Known reissues of the SM due to Medal Damage
There is an inherent flaw in the manufacture of the medals regarding the application of the enamel. It flakes off over time or is easily damaged. Of the first 119 issued many were noted as “enamel damage”. These awards were returned and repaired by the SAM. However, the practice of fixing the medals was not always followed, and some damaged awarded were replaced with new and later serial numbered awards. The award is rarely found without enamel damage.
Two such replacements have been identified to date; however, when the serila number roll is complete, the precise details of what was replaced or reissued will be available.
No 5 (EIIR) 1st Type awarded to Brigadier CH Hartzenberg SAAF was replaced with medal no 120. This group is known to be in collectors hands.
No 102(EIIR)1st Type awarded to Naval Captain DW Robertson SANF was replaced with medal no 200 2ndtype. Based on the fact that award 200 is Republic we can confirm that the maximum Type 1 EIIR awards would be 199.
Based on the numbers on the last Army Order of 1975, being no 587 and clear examples of reissued damaged awards we can conclude that there are less than 587 award in total.
It was typical that when the SADF issued new awards, examples of such awards would be sent for safekeeping and display to the National Herald, Central Chancellory and specific Museums including the National War Museum in Johannesburg. Usually, these were low numbered awards, under serial number 20. The medal serial number would have been noted in the SADF control registers. The SM on display at the National War Museum is unnumbered and therefore we will assume unnumbered meals are all for display puposes.
Illustration of awards
In 1975, a new series of awards rendered, what is, in my opinion, the most beautiful of all the SADF decorations redundant.
Below fine illustrations of the award, combined of other service medals.
With only 500 plus awards this is truly a rare piece of history. The above illustrations show the various combination of this award with WW2, Korean and the Angolan Border War Period medals and decorations.
I wish to thank a fellow collector, Gavin Cohen in Australia for sharing the exceptional SD SM WW2 and Korean Grouping to Kmdt Swardt SAAF. As a young collector, I was fortunate enough to meet Kmdt Swardt and it is, therefore, my great pleasure to present his group.