Welcome to the Army … TREE AAN!

The beginning of the new year in the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s (even the early 1990’s) meant the dreaded “January Intake” and thousands of white South African men would be starting the new year in uniform.  This cartoon by Keith and Lorna Stevens in ‘Bytvas’ perfectly captures the surprise awaiting the new national servicemen  at their respective intake mustering points.

In reality the yelling Army corporals at the mustering points were usually “campers” (civilian force members who had completed the initial national service period) from Reception Depot units (RCD/OVD) attached to the various regional commands – the RCD/OVD units were responsible for the two annual “intakes” and the security of the convoys of recruits to all the respective training units, the largest such unit was 15 RCD/OVD which was attached to Witwatersrand Command (the largest catchment area).

Such was the radical changeover from “civvie street” that to every person who ever served as a conscript in the SADF – the first day in the SADF is emblazoned in their memories forever.

“Tree Aan” is the Afrikaans command to “form up” on parade.

Image copyright – Keith and Lorna Stevens

The story of Nancy the Springbok

‘Nancy’ the 4th Regiment Mascot of the South African Forces. Delville Wood. 17 February 1918. The story of Nancy is quite extraordinary.

Nancy is the only animal in military history to be accorded full funeral honours and to be buried in an Allied war cemetery. This is the story of  famous springbok mascot of the 4th South African Infantry Regiment who died of pneumonia at Hermeton in Belgium during the severe winter of 1918 during World War I.

No more appropriate mascot could have been found. The SA Brigade badge was a springbok head, surrounded by a circle with the motto: “Union is Strength – Eendracht Maakt Macht”.

At her funeral, the firing party fired their volley. As the echoes died slowly away on this quiet afternoon, the regimental bugler, Private A E Petersen, stepped forward; a few seconds later the familiar notes of the Last Post sounded. Once or twice the bugler faltered but nobody seemed to notice. Bugler Petersen sounded the last note and there were tears in his eyes as the officers saluted, then trudged back to their cold and muddy trenches around the village.

Nancy began her army career in March 1915, when her owner, Mrs McLaren Kennedy of the farm Vierfontein in the Orange Free State, took her to Potchefstroom. Nancy was the family pet and was just over a year old when Mrs Kennedy volunteered her for war service.

“I feel,” she wrote to General Tim Lukin, “that if Nancy were adopted by a South African regiment as a mascot, she would keep the memories of South Africa alive.” A few days later she had a reply. It was a telegram from General Lukin: “Delighted with your offer,” it said. “Please bring her.”

And so began Nancy’s army training. She was put in the charge of Private Petersen and during the following six months was taught to respond to all the regimental calls, as well as conduct herself with dignity on the parade ground and on ceremonial occasions.

At the beginning of September, the regiment was ordered to entrain for Cape Town prior to sailing in HMT Balmoral Castle for service overseas. Mrs Kennedy was invited to Potchefstroom to say farewell to Nancy.

On their arrival in England, the regiment continued its training, and set sail for Egypt early the following year. The heat and rolling sand dunes were more to Nancy’s liking than the English winter. At Mex Camp in Alexandria, where her unit was completing its training, Nancy was always the centre of admiring crowds.

And then one morning she failed to turn up for parade. She had parted her rope leash and was absent without leave. By midday, her disappearance was regarded as serious, she was posted up in regimental orders as AWOL, and the news of her absence had spread to all the camps in the area. That afternoon, Bugler Petersen was given a special pass to proceed to Alexandria, in case Nancy had made for the city. At sundown a despondent Bugler Petersen returned to camp, but he would not give up the search.

With Nancy still AWOL the following morning, the matter became serious – both from a sentimental and a morale point of view. All parades were cancelled and a house-to-house search was started. There had been a suspicion that Nancy may have met her end as dinner to some Egyptian family. The search ended at sundown when the men returned dejectedly to their camp. It was on the third day, as the men were parading for their midday meal, that the sound of cheering broke out in the lines. Earlier a `patrol` of skirling pipers was sent out; each piper went in a different direction into the desert in the hope that the music of the bagpipes would succeed where all else had failed. As all regimental calls in the camp had been sounded on the pipes and Nancy had already learnt how to step it out in an orderly fashion in front of the pipe band when on parade. The pipe music worked like magic.

The next moment Nancy appeared, prancing as if nothing was amiss. Where she had been remained a mystery, despite the fact that thousands of troops had kept a look out for her.

After the Egyptian campaign, Nancy accompanied the regiment to France and disembarked with them at Marseilles in April 1916. Owing to a contagious sickness which broke out on the Oriana, the regiment was put into quarantine until May, when they left for Steenwerck, the Brigade Headquarters. A month later, the regiment was moved to the village of Sailly-le-Sac, about two miles behind the front lines. It was here that Nancy, who had been under heavy fire on scores of occasions, became a casualty when the Germans began the heavy bombardments during the Battle of the Somme.

While the SA Brigade had been near Armentieres, a shell had exploded in the transport lines where Nancy had been tethered close to the Quarter Master`s store. In fright she had bolted and broken her left horn against a wall. This horn was permanently out of alignment and started to grow downwards at an angle. However, there was no sick leave for Nancy, just “light duty”. They could not give her kitchen fatigues so she was allowed to roam about the headquarters.

The highlight of Nancy’s distinguished military career and war record happened on 17 February 1918 when she attended her last ceremonial parade. She proudly led four battalions of the South African Brigade to the first Delville Wood service, prancing on her thin little legs. It’s as if she knew that she was the darling of every soldier on parade and of those they were coming to honour.

The parade was not only the last for Nancy but it was also the last for General Lukin in France.

Nancy caught pneumonia during the severe winter of that year and, although devotedly cared for by Bugler Petersen and all the medical personnel of the headquarters, died on November 26. Her death was announced in General Orders – probably the only occasion in military history that this was done. All parades were cancelled. There were only a few of the original members of the regiment still on active service and they were detailed to form the firing party.

Nancy’s head and skin were sent to London to be treated, and then dispatched to Sir William Dalrymple who had it mounted and presented to the regiment. From the wall of the Officers’ Mess at the Transvaal Scottish Regimental Headquarters, she kept a critical eye over the officers. She has since been promoted and is now a member of the War Museum in Johannesburg.

Reference SAMVOA website.  Image copyright – Imperial War Museum

SA Navy losses as HMS Barham explodes

Nothing drives home the peril of serving on a fighting ship harder than this British Pathe newsreel footage of the sinking of the HMS Barham, it is simply jaw dropping.

Made even more poignant for us as South Africans if you consider we are witnessing the loss of the following South African naval personnel in this tragedy.

BAKER, Dennis E W, Ordinary Seaman, 68617 (SANF)
GLENN, Paul V, Ordinary Seaman, 68906 (SANF)
HAYES, Richard T, Ordinary Seaman, 68499 (SANF)
MORRIS, Cyril D, Ordinary Seaman, 68932 (SANF)
UNSWORTH, Owen P (also known as R K Jevon), Ordinary Seaman, 69089 (SANF)
WHYMARK, Vivian G, Ordinary Seaman, 69024 (SANF)

During the Second World War, South African Navy personnel – known at the time as the “South African Naval Forces” (SANF) were seconded to serve on ships in the Royal Navy.

It is our duty as South African veterans never to let selective history and the mist of time obscure the brave contributions of our countrymen during this war, and it is our duty as South African military veterans to continually educate and keep this memory alive.

HMS Barham was a Queen Elizabeth-class battleship of the Royal Navy She was sunk during the Second World War on 25 November 1941 by the German submarine U-331north of and off the coast of Sidi Barrani, Egypt.

Prior to this HMS Barham visited Durban, South Africa, in June 1941 for extensive repairs at the Victoria Graving Dock. The repairs where due to damage sustained in the Crete bombing. She sailed from Durban on the 31st July 1941.

Video copyright British Pathe

The South African Air Force discovered Auschwitz extermination camp

Little known historic fact but it was a South African Air Force reconnaissance aircraft which first discovered and then photographed the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp. This is one of the aerial photos.

Mosquito XVI aircraft of No. 60 Squadron South African Air Force operating from Foggia Airfield Complex, Southern Italy in 1944, carried out detailed large-scale photographic surveys of German held areas, eventually ranging over the Alps and deep into Germany and German occupied territory.

During one of these missions in Spring 1944, a SAAF 60 Squadron plane piloted by Lt. C.H.H Barry and his navigator Lt. I McIntyre photographed Auschwitz when they went to photograph the rubber refinery plant next to the camp. They were reconnoitring the plant which was earmarked for bombing by the USAAF (USA Air Force).

When the photos of the complex next to the plant were analyzed, they found rows of people lining up in the camp. The photos also showed chimneys and all the other characteristics of a camp for prisoners. This, with other intelligence, brought them to the conclusions that extermination camps existed.

This image is an enlargement of part of a photo of Auschwitz-Birkenau taken by the SAAF on Sortie no. 60PR/694.

Birkenau25August1944

Clearly seen on this image is the selection process of a recently arrived transport visible on the ramp has been completed, and those selected to die are being to taken to Crematorium II. Also visible is a cultivated garden in the courtyard of Crematorium II, the open gate into it, and Crematorium III. The basement undressing rooms and gas chambers of both complexes can also be seen.

When these photo’s were taken by 60 Squadron SAAF, the Squadron was working for the USAAF heavy bomber Squadrons in Italy, so the South Africans handed the film to the Americans to analyse and strategise. Kept secret for a long time, these annotated images of the film were only finally released by the Central Intelligence Agency in 1979.

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Mosquitos mark XVI of No 60 Squadron South African Air Force, at San Severo Airfield, part of the Foggia Airfield Complex, Southern Italy, 1944. The red and white stripes on the tail fin (known as Barber Shop stripes) served as identification to Allied fighter pilots (especially American pilots) who mistook them for enemy aircraft, incorrectly thinking they where German Me 410’s.

Auschwitz was operational as an extermination camp from May 1940 to January 1945, it held mainly Jews as well as Poles, Romani and Soviet Prisoners of War.  In all it is estimated that 1.1 million people were murdered there.

Extermination of human beings deemed undesirable to Nazi German doctrine began on an industrial level at Birkenau in March 1942 when the first gas chamber was established called the “red house” (called Bunker 1 by SS staff). A second brick cottage, the “white house” or Bunker 2, was converted some weeks later. These structures were in use for mass killings until early 1943. Himmler visited the camp in person on 17 and 18 July 1942. He was given a demonstration of a mass killing using the gas chamber in Bunker 2.

In early 1943, the Nazis decided to increase the gassing capacity of Birkenau to an elevated industrial level. Crematorium II, which had been designed as a mortuary with morgues in the basement and ground-level incinerators, was converted into a killing factory by installing gas-tight doors, vents for the Zyklon B  (a highly lethal cyanide based pesticide) to be dropped into the chamber, and ventilation equipment to remove the gas thereafter. It went into operation in March. Crematorium III was built using the same design. Crematoria IV and V, designed from the start as gassing centers, were also constructed that spring. By June 1943, all four crematoria were operational. Most of the victims were killed using these four structures.

Towards the end of the war, Himmler, fearing the discovery of this most dark Nazi program of extermination and in need of labour for the German war machine ahead of the Soviet and Allied advances, ordered the evacuation of all concentration camps, charging camp commanders with making sure that “not a single prisoner from the concentration camps falls alive into the hands of the enemy.” 

On 17 January 1945, 56,000–58,000 Auschwitz detainees, of whom two-thirds were Jews, were evacuated under guard, most on foot, in severe winter conditions. Thousands of them died in the subsequent death march west.

Auschwitz was eventually liberated on 26 and 27 January by the Red Army (Soviet Russian), the soldiers found 7,500 prisoners alive and over 600 corpses. Among items found by the Soviet soldiers were 370,000 men’s suits, 837,000 women’s garments, and 7.7 tonnes (8.5 short tons) of human hair.

The Auschwitz complex with its false Nazi message “arbeit macht frei” (work sets you free) stands today as a sinister reminder of the cruelty of man, it is a very dark stain on the human race.

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Written by Peter Dickens, additional research from Sandy Evan Hanes.

South Africa’s own WW1 Flying Ace

Honouring South African heroes and this is one of South Africa’s greatest. Many people don’t know that South Africa has it’s own World War 1 flying ace and Victoria Cross winner, and this is him!

Andrew Beauchamp-Proctor was the highest scoring South African ace during the First World War, claiming 54 victories. He was an engineering student at Cape Town University when war broke out, but left his studies to join the the Duke of Edinburgh’s Own Rifles, seeing action in German South-West Africa before being discharged in 1915.

After completing his studies, Beauchamp-Proctor joined the Royal Flying Corps, going to France with 84 Squadron in September 1917. He claimed his victories in 1918 and was particularly known for destroying German observation balloons. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his many victories and excellent service record after also being awarded the DSO, MC and bar, and DFC. He died in a flying accident in 1921.

Image copyright Imperial War Museum Collection.

Job Maseko; one very remarkable South African war hero

Job Maseko is a very notable South African hero of the Second World War.  He was a member of the South African Native Military Corps (NMC) and was decorated with the Military Medal for gallantry.  So how is it that a NMC member, a corps not allowed to officially carry firearms, gets to into the fight and wins this decoration.  Simply put he single-handedly blew up an enemy ship.  Read on for the story of a very remarkable man.

Job-MasekoJob Maseko was employed as a delivery man in Springs before he volunteered for service in the Second World War and joined the South African Native Military Corps (NMC). After completion of basic training, he was sent to North Africa, attached to the 2nd South African Infantry Division.  Members of the NMC took up any support role in the Division which did not require the handling of a firearm.  They were given a vast range of different roles – anything from drivers, military cooks, engineers, stretcher bearers to bomb loaders.  South African race laws at the time provided that serving ‘black’ men could not carry firearms, they were however issued spears as a ‘traditional weapon’ for guard and ceremonial duty, but that was about it (see related Observation Post Dress and Bearing of the South African Native Military Corps).

269A86C0B4724B0689CF66931FBE0163128 000 ‘Black’ South African soldiers volunteered to take part in World War 2 (nearly 40% of the standing army) and members of the NMC often found themselves in perilous circumstances and were exposed to the rigours and dangers of war as much as any another soldier.  Some of these restrictions on the use of weapons quickly went out the window when in a combat zone, and somewhere along the line Job Maseko also learned a bomb making skill (see related Observation Post  ‘Armed’ SA Native Military Corps in WW2 – this Corps screams out for a definitive work!).

The fall of Tobruk

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General Klopper

In 1941 the Australians had held Tobruk for 9 months, until Rommel’s withdrawal of his Axis forces to the west.  Tobruk secured, by 1942 the Allied Middle East Command decided to leave a smaller ‘temporary’ force to hold Tobruk while a new strike force was built up near the frontier.  The task of defending Tobruk was left to the South Africans. The new  garrison was to be formed by the 2nd South African Infantry Division with General Klopper, a farmer from the Orange Free State before the war, and a major general of only one month’s standing, given command of Tobruk.  In addition, units of British and Indian detachments fell under South Arican command defending Tobruk.  Into this deployment also fell our hero – Job Maseko.

It is generally understood that by this stage Tobruk’s defences were in a poor shape with much of the armour and artillery taken away to the new frontier, the Western and Southern sides of the port were well defended by the South Africans, but the East side was weak, and it proved to be fatal.

As usual, Rommel had devised a ruse for capturing Tobruk. Only his infantry approached the western perimeter, while his mobile forces swept on past, to give the impression that the German and Italian armour was heading straight for the Egyptian border (sending radio messages to that effect to complete the ruse).  He then swung his mobile armoured forces around and attacked Tobruk from its weak point – the eastern perimeter.

Rommel’s zero hour was 05h20 on 20 June 1942. As dawn broke long black lines of tanks, trucks and infantry slowly started to move forward. As it grew louder and closer to Tobruk waves of German Stukas and Ju 88’s aircraft appeared overhead (Rommel pressed every single Axis airplane in service in North Africa into taking Tobruk).

As the heavy artillery began to fire, the planes released their bombs and quickly got out of the way for the next wave, operating a shuttle service between the defence perimeter and El Adem airfield, 10 miles away. They pounded a gap open 600 yards wide. Behind them, under cover of artillery barrage and half-hidden by smoke and dust, German and Italian sappers raced forward to lift mines and bridge the tank traps with tanks and infantry racing through the gaps. As they move forward, they lit green, red and purple flares and the Stukas dropped their bombs just ahead of the advancing, multi-coloured smoke screen while the other planes and artillery blasted the South African rear (the seaward side of the port) with shells and bombs.

Tobruk, Rommel, Bayerlein, Panzer III

Rommel and German armour entering Tobruk

Into this desperate fight for survival went everyone, including members of The Native Military Corps. Job Maseko worked as a stretcher bearer, doing profoundly dangerous work, rescuing wounded men, as the defence of  Tobruk became more desperate, Job and other black colleagues were given rifles and expected to fight on the front line with everyone else.

Inside Tobruk the situation was chaotic. General Klopper – his HQ’s bombed out, his radio and telephone wrecked and his code booked destroyed, lost the last vestige of control.  Tobruk fell by the evening. Job Maseko became a prisoner of war (POW) on 21 June 1942 when Major-General  KIopper, surrendered to Rommel at Tobruk with 32000 men, including 10,722 South Africans of the 2nd Infantry Division, of whom 1,200 were members of the Native Military Corps.  It was the single biggest capitulation of South African forces in the country’s history – before or since.

Tobruk, Rommel, Bayerlein, englische Kriegsgefangene

Erwin Rommel inspecting South African POW after Tobruk falls

Job and many others were forced to march across the desert to an Italian POW camp.  The Italian treatment of South African prisoners of war was nothing short of diabolical, however an even worse treatment was reserved for Black members of the South African Native Military Corps in captivity.  German and Italian forces displayed a complete disregard for the rights of coloured or black POWs as they did not view them as regular troops.

One account recalls how black soldiers were shot by drunk German guards while been marched to the POW camp, and the account goes further to say that in Tobruk camp, black South African POWs were forced “under threat of death” to do war work, which was contrary to the Geneva Convention.

Another report claims Indian and Black prisoners at Tobruk were not allowed to take cover whenever the Allied bombers later bombed the port, furthermore their food was totally inadequate – they were only given one packet of biscuits per day and water rations were kept to a minimum.

Bei Tobruk, britische Kriegsgefangene

Allied POW at Tobruk

There were also examples of Black South African POW escaping from the camp perimeter with their white counterparts to scrounge for food in the town, and Job Maseko was one.  The Black POWs, as they were put to war work in the harbour (something most their white counterparts were excluded from) – mainly offloading ships.  Desperate for food they would sometimes return to the camp with ‘acquired’ sacks of corn meal (mieliemeal), one account from De Lisle recalls that the unfortunate consequence was that hungry English and  South Africans white POW would lay siege to their tents (the Black POW) at night to beg for their food.

The diabolical treatment of Black POW forced Job Maseko to taken action against his captors, to quote him “because of our ill-treatment by the enemy, especially the Italians, and because I felt it a duty in this way to assist my own people”.

73349_185692058267201_843696134_nAs with his Biblical namesake, Job was made of tough stuff and with the help of some comrades whilst on mundane prisoner duties to go down to the docks, Job created a bomb using a condensed milk tin, cordite taken from bullets and an extremely long fuse.

Job placed his home-made bomb deep inside the bowels of a German freight ship (and “F” Boat) that was docked in the harbour at Tobruk.   He skilfully placed it next to fuel barrels for maximum effect, lit the fuse and made good his escape.  Had he been caught, as a Black POW,  he would have certainly been put to death if not tortured first.

Job waited and later the ship shuddered from a huge internal explosion and sank almost immediately into the harbour.  After the war Job Maseko was able to point out the exact place where the ship was berthed and sure enough divers found it on the sea bed.

He later escaped from Tobruk and walked, for three long weeks though the desert and through enemy lines, all the way to El Alamein, he intended joining the battle there as he had fixed an old German radio he had found which informed him about General Montgomery’s epic and tide turning battle at El Alamein.  We still await the full historical account of this remarkable man as very little is known to this day, rest assured historians are now writing it.

For his actions, Job Maseko was later presented with the Military Medal (MM) by Major-General F H Theron. The following extract enshrines his heroism, bear in mind when reading this, it is made even more remarkable in that Job Maseko as a ‘black’ African could only be deployed in a non combat role:

The King has been graciously pleased to approve the following award in recognition of gallant and distinguished service in the Middle East:-

military-medal-gvi-full-size-replacement-copy-medal-100-pMilitary Medal
No N 4448 L/Cpl Job Masego [sic) – Native Military Corps

Citation
For meritorious and courageous action in that on or about the 21st July, while a Prisoner of War, he, Job Masego, sank a fully laden enemy steamer – probably an “F” boat – while moored in Tobruk Harbour.

This he did by placing a small tin filled with gunpowder in among drums of petrol in the hold, leading a fuse therefrom to the hatch and lighting the fuse upon closing the hatch.

In carrying out this deliberately planned action, Job Masego displayed ingenuity, determination and complete disregard of personal safety from punishment by the enemy or from the ensuing explosion which set the vessel alight.’

The Victoria Cross Controversy 

For his actions Job Maseko was initially recommended for a Victoria Cross but according to Neville Lewis, the first official war artist for South Africa during the Second World War, Job Maseko was awarded the Military Medal instead as he was ‘only an African’.  It is hoped that actions currently been taken by the SANDF Military Attache in the United Kingdom to redress this issue with British government and re-open his case so it will be met with a correct interpretation of Job Maseko’s actions without the ‘race’ factor as part of the deliberation, and his actions considered as one worthy of the Victoria Cross or not (as may be the case).

Later in Life

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Black ex-South African POW in Tripoli awaiting repatriation after the war

After been released Lance Corporal Job Maseko returned to South Africa.  “Apartheid” was to be implemented a few short years after the war ended in 1948 when the Nationalists came to power beating Smuts.  Job Maseko’s legacy slipped away from the general consciousness – along with many deeds of South African servicemen in World War 2, black and white.  He became a poor man and died in 1952 when he was accidentally hit by a train.  He was so broke at the time he was buried with borrowed money in the Payneville Township Cemetery in Springs.  A very sad way to see the end of a national hero.

Today, to honour this unassuming hero, the community of KwaThema near Springs has a primary school in the township named after him. The main road linking the town of Springs to KwaThema Township has also been named after him.  He is honoured at both the Delville Wood museum in France and the South African Museum of Military History in Johannesburg, A South African fighting ship the SAS Kobie Coetzee has also now been renamed the SAS Job Maseko in recognition of this very brave South African.

He can truly take the mantle of a proper South African warrior and stands shoulder to shoulder with all the other great South Africans who have earned the highest accolades of gallantry.


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens, References wikipedia, The incredible true tale of Job Maseko – the man who sunk a ship whilst a prisoner by Stephen Liddell. Narratives from North Africa: South African Prisoner of War experience following the fall of Tobruk, June 1942 by Karen Horn. Artwork credits: .  Job Maskeko official portrait by Neville Lewis. Job Maseko holding explosive by Tim Johnson, copyright Tim Johnson website: http://www.timjohn.co.za

 

Drunk Ratel ….

South West Africa/Namibia border 1987, 61 Mechanised Infantry Battalion Group and Charlie Squadron is joyriding in a SADF “Ratel” (honey badger) Infantry Fighting Vehicle  (IFV) .. the picture says a thousand words.

Some say, the driver is still getting an oppie .. all we know is he’s called the Stig!

This example stands testament to many instances of highly valued military equipment wrecked by 19 year old odd National Servicemen taking full advantage of having a little fun.