Today, Cape Point is a haven for relaxation and exciting exploration – hiking routes connect visitors to tranquil secluded beaches, a variety of wildlife roam peacefully along the open fynbos plains, and a number of dramatic viewpoints offer unique perspectives on the vast ocean surrounding the prominent peninsula. But this wasn’t always the case, and a quick look back into the mid-20th century at Cape Point reveals some fascinating details, and remnants of a wartime era, which are still visible around the park to this day.
The iconic old Cape Point lighthouse was built in the 1850s, but it wasn’t until 1915 that construction on the first widely accessible road to Cape Point began. This led the way for the region to be used primarily for recreational purposes, albeit without any significant infrastructure or buildings.
World War II
But when World War II arrived, this recreational atmosphere was displaced, as supply and merchant ships rounding the crucial corridor adjacent to Cape Point became easy targets. Ships carrying cargo and war supplies were forced to travel past this treacherous coastline in order to reach north Africa and the middle east, and German forces identified Cape Point as a critical location at which to intercept them.
German submarines moved to occupy much of the region, and together with recently developed powerful U-Boats, they sank a significant number of merchant ships off the coast of Cape Point, particularly between 1942 and 1943.
Before radar was widely available, much of the important military monitoring was done from strategic observational points across the coastline, and three key fortresses were built at strategic locations throughout Cape Point to warn of impending enemy attacks and defend the nearby naval base of Simonstown.
These fortresses and bunkers, though now somewhat dilapidated, are still visible today, the most dramatic of which is the Diaz Point post, which for obvious reasons, offers some of the most dramatic views inland and of the surrounding waters.
Secret Radar Stations
As radar reached widespread usage in the 1940s, purpose-built radar stations replaced the out-dated observational points. These too are visible at key locations throughout the reserve, the most visited and accessible of which is situated on De Gama Peak, on the way to the old Cape Point lighthouse. It was developed and manned by the South African Defence Force Special Signal Services (SSS), but today simply serves as a spectacular lookout point.
Fascinating WWII Finds
Aside from the ruins of observational points, radar stations and bunkers, historians, anthropologists and regular visitors have stumbled across other fascinating remnants from the war, including large craters, machine gun cartridges and shells, including the famous unexploded remains of a 25 pound artillery shell.
So next time you’re wandering the quiet beaches, or hiking the cliff side trails, keep an eye out for more than just the dramatic views – you may stumble across some impressive relics from Cape Point’s fascinating and important military past.