Edwin Swales VC DFC, a South African Hero whose legacy has been eroded!

Edwin (Ted) Swales VC DFC is one of South Africa’s greatest sons,  yet the South African politicians  of today,  have removed his name from the well known “Edwin Swales Drive” named in honour of him in Durban and re-named it after a contemporary “struggle” cadre.  The legacy of Maj. Swales VC DFC is under threat, and there is very good and noble reason not to forget him, this is his story, kindly contributed to by David Bennett.

A very short biography :    Major Edwin Swales, VC, DFC, SAAF (1915 – 1945)  by David Bennett

Edwin Essery Swales : Born in Inanda, Natal, 3 July 1915. Attended Durban High School, Jan. 1930 to Dec.1934. Worked for Barclay’s Bank, DC&O, in Durban 1935 to 1939. He joined the Natal Mounted Rifles, 1935 and left 31 May 1939 as a W.O.II. Rejoined N.M.R. on 4 September 1939.

He served in Kenya; Abyssinia; Italian Somalia; British Somalia and Eritrea. Then (1941) in North Africa. In 1942, he left the army to join the S.A. Air Force. Swales received his wings at Kimberley in 1943. Then seconded to the Royal Air Force in 1943, he attended Flying Training School at  R.A.F. Little Rissington, 1944. Later sent to the elite R.A.F. Pathfinder Force, 582 Squadron, Royal Air Force, at Little Staughton in July 1944.

Swales was awarded an immediate D.F.C. on 23 December 1944 following a bombing raid on Cologne. After a raid on Pforzheim on 23 February 1945, Swales was killed in action, crashing near Valenciennes, France and he was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross.

Swales is now buried in the War Cemetery at Leopoldsburg, near Limburg, Belgium, Plot No.8, Row C, Grave No.5. (Although he had originally been buried at Fosse’s USA Cemetery). The headstone of Swales’ grave shows the Springbok head, common to the graves of all South Africans, as well as the Victoria Cross engraved on it. The legend on the headstone states:

Edwin Swales was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, on 23 December, 1944.  The citation reads:

The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the following award in recognition of gallantry and devotion to duty in the execution of air operations:-

Captain Edwin Swales, (6101V) S.A.A.F. 582 Sqn. :-

The Distinguished Flying Cross:

“This Officer was pilot and Captain of an aircraft detailed to attack Cologne in December, 1944. When approaching the target, intense anti-aircraft fire was encountered. Despite this, a good bombing attack was executed. Soon afterwards the aircraft was attacked by five enemy aircraft. In the ensuing fights, Capt. Swales manoeuvred with great skill. As a result his gunners were able to bring effective fire to bear upon the attackers, one of which is believed to have been shot down. Throughout this spirited action Captain Swales displayed exceptional coolness and captaincy, setting a very fine example. This Officer has completed very many sorties during which he has attacked a variety of enemy targets.”           (Official D.F.C. Citation)    

Edwin Swales was killed on 23 February, 1945, and he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross – the 3rd and last Pathfinder pilot to be so honoured (all alas, posthumous). It had been Swales’ 43rd operational flight for 582 Squadron, R.A.F. Here is the citation:

The KING has been graciously pleased to confer the VICTORIA CROSS on

the under-mentioned officer in recognition of the most conspicuous bravery:-

Captain Edwin Swales, DFC (6101V) S.A.A.F. 582 Sqn. (deceased):

 “Captain Swales was ‘Master Bomber’ of a force of aircraft which attacked Pforzheim on the night of February 23, 1945. As Master Bomber he had the task of locating the target area with precision and of giving aiming instructions to the main force of bombers in his wake.

Soon after he reached the target area he was engaged by an enemy aircraft and one of his engines was put out of action. His rear guns failed. His crippled aircraft was an easy prey for further attacks. Unperturbed, he carried on with his allotted task; clearly and precisely he issued aiming instructions to the main force. Meanwhile the enemy fighter closed the range and fired again. A second engine of Captain Swales’ aircraft was put out of action. Almost defenceless, he stayed over the target area issuing his aiming instructions until he was satisfied that the attack had achieved its purpose. It is now known that the attack was one of the most concentrated and successful of the war.

Captain Swales did not, however, regard his mission as completed. His aircraft was damaged. Its speed had been so much reduced that it could only with difficulty be kept in the air. The blind-flying instruments were no longer working. Determined at all costs to prevent his aircraft and crew from falling into enemy hands, he set course for home. After an hour he flew into thin-layered cloud. He kept his course by skilful flying between the layers, but later heavy cloud and turbulent air conditions were met. The aircraft, by now over friendly territory, became more and more difficult to control; it was losing height steadily. Realising that the situation was desperate Captain Swales ordered his crew to bale out. Time was very short and it required all his exertions to keep the aircraft steady while each of his crew moved in turn to the escape hatch and parachuted to safety. Hardly had the last crew-member jumped when the aircraft plunged to earth. Captain Swales was found dead at the controls.

Intrepid in the attack, courageous in the face of danger, he did his duty to the last, giving his life that his comrades might live”

(Official V.C. Citation)

Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris, KCB, OBE, AFC, Chief of Bomber Command, Royal Air Force, following the loss of Edwin Swales, wrote a letter to Swales’ mother, Mrs. Olive Essery Swales, saying, inter-alia:

…… On every occasion your son proved himself to be a determined fighter and resolute captain of his crew. His devotion to duty and complete disregard for his own safety will remain an example and inspiration to us all …..

Memorial to Edwin Swales at the secondary school he attended as a student, Durban High School (DHS)

In conclusion 

It is our humble opinion, that whilst it is important to segments of South Africa’s population to remember their heroes it should not come at the expense of other national heroes.

Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu, after whom Edwin Swales VC Drive is now named,  was a operative of the African National Congress militant wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, and whilst it is important to the current ANC ruling party to highlight the sacrifice of its heroes, it should not come at the sacrifice of Maj. Swales’ legacy – one of a handful of South African World War 2 Victoria Cross winners, and one whose extremely brave deeds were awarded in a war which was to liberate the entire western world of tyrannical and rather deadly racial political philosophy as well as dictatorial megalomaniacs supporting such ideology.

In fact to rectify the situation, the Durban City Council should actually consider a monument or statue in the centre of Durban to Edwin Swales and allow him to take his rightful place as a true son of South Africa and one of our all time greatest military heroes, as is the case for many Victoria Cross winners the world over.  That his actions and deeds are taught to South African youth, pride in our WW2 history established and his sacrifice not forgotten.  Lets hope they see their way clear to do this.

Note:    The papers from the South African Air Force, promoting Edwin Swales from Captain to Major, only reached the British authorities after his death, and after the award of the Victoria Cross was gazetted, hence the rank of “Captain” being used in the VC citation. However, he is referred to as a Major.

Thank you to David Bennett for both photograph and content contribution.

Recovering an irreplaceable aircraft – Capt. I.C. du Plessis HC

7 June 1980. The South African Air Force Mirage F1AZ 237 of Captain Isak C. du Plessis on the runway at Ruacana, after making an emergency landing when he sustained substantial battle damage.

His SAAF Mirage was part of a 16 ship F1AZ force attacking a SWAPO base near Lubango in Angola, it was damaged by two SA-3 ground to air missiles. Losing hydraulic pressure, the use of the nozzle flaps and the navigation computer he radioed for aid.

Whilst Capt. du Plessis struggled to keep the Mirage airborne, Captain “Budgie” Burgers flying a Impala as Telstar radio relay for the mission realised that the aircraft would not make it back to its base at AFB Ondangwa.  He used his considerable navigation experience in the operational area to redirect Capt. du Plessis, using bearings, to AFB Ruacana – a closer forward air base.

Capt. du Plessis managed to land the stricken aircraft at the Ruacana forward airstrip located in South West Africa (now Namibia) without the use of the nose-wheel whilst performing a flapless landing.

Capt. I.C. du Plessis awarded an Honoris Crux – 2nd type for bravery in the recovery of an irreplaceable stricken aircraft and airmanship.

John Nettleton VC – an unknown South African Victoria Cross recipient

Rare that we see an image of a South African Victoria Cross recipient in action, but this is one such image. Flying this exact Avro Lancaster bomber is a Natal lad – Squadron Leader John Dering Nettleton VC.  Now, not many South Africans have heard of him – and why is that?

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Lancaster B Mark I, L7578 ‘KM-B’, of No.97 Squadron RAF, piloted by Squadron Leader J D Nettleton of No. 44 Squadron RAF, flying at low-level over the Lincolnshire countryside during a Squadron practice for the low-level attack on the M.A.N. diesel engineering works at Augsburg. 97 Squadron lent L7578 temporarily to 44 Squadron, who repainted the aircraft with Nettleton’s unit code-letters. Nettleton actually flew R5508 on the operation.

Nettleton is another true South African hero and recipient of the Victoria Cross (VC), the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. His VC was one of five awarded to South Africans in World War 2 – however very little is known of their stories in South Africa.

Of South Africa’s VC winners during World War 2 only two are commonly referred to, they are Quentin Smythe VC – see Profiling a true South African Hero – Sgt. Quentin Smythe VC  and Edwin Swales VC – see  Edwin Swales VC DFC, a South African Hero whose legacy has been eroded! The reason these two are more commonly known is largely because Quentin Smythe VC served in The South African Army and Edwin Swales VC – although a SAAF member attached to the Royal Air Force, had strong ties to his Alma Mater – Durban High School (DHS) who have largely driven his legacy in Durban.  But what of the other three; George Gristock VC, Gerard Norton VC and our hero today, John Nettleton VC?

Simply put, after the war, the National Party came to power in 1948 they almost immediately dismissed all South Africans who had served in the war as ‘traitors’ to the country for supporting what they saw as ‘Britain’s war’.  During the war the Nationalists had vocally supported Nazi Germany (as Germany had supported the Boer cause during the 2nd Anglo Boer War and Afrikaner nationalism was grounded on punitive British measures taken out on the Boers during this war), many Nationalists had even adopted national socialism and embarked on sedition during the war (see “Mein Kampf shows the way to greatness for South Africa” – The Ossewabrandwag).

For the Nationalists, on the top of the list of ‘traitors’ were the South Africans who distinguished themselves winning Victoria Crosses whilst serving in ‘British’ Regiments or Arms of Service.  These were men, who in the eyes of the Nationalists, served the hated British and were not to heralded as heroes, lest their deeds specifically influence young South Africans.  For this reason very little in South Africa is named or honoured in the names of Gristock, Norton or Nettleton.

So lets pull away this veil and reveal some true South African heroes whose very noble exploits and deeds in ridding the world of Nazism all of us as can stand very proud of.  What better way to start with John Nettleton VC – this is his story.

John Nettleton

Avro Lancaster flown by Squadron Leader J D Nettleton, about to cross the western perimeter of RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire with bomb doors open during a practice run.

John Dering Nettleton was born on 28 June 1917 in Nongoma, Natal Province, South Africa, the grandson of Admiral A T D. Nettleton, he was educated at Western Province Preparatory School (WPPS) in Cape Town from 1928-30, Nettleton served as a Naval cadet on the General Botha training ship and then for 18 months in the South African Merchant Marine. He took up civil engineering, working in various parts of South Africa.

Commissioned in the Royal Air Force in December 1938, he then served with Nos. 207, 98 and 185 Squadrons before joining 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron flying the Handley Page Hampden. He took part in a daylight attack on Brest on 24 July 1941 and in a series of other bombing raids and was mentioned in dispatches in September 1940.

John

John Dering Nettleton VC

Nettleton was promoted Flying Officer in July 1940, Flight Lieutenant in February 1941 and was a Squadron Leader by July 1941. No. 44 Squadron was based at RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire at this time and had taken delivery of Lancasters in late 1941

.In 1942 a daylight bombing mission was planned by RAF Bomber Command against the MAN diesel engine factory at Augsburg in Bavaria, responsible for the production of half of Germany’s U‑boat engines. It was to be the longest low‑level penetration so far made during World War II, and it was the first daylight mission flown by the Command’s new Avro Lancaster.

Nettleton’s citation for his Victoria Cross is quite explanatory of the attack and the rest of the story picks up from here:

Citation:

medalSquadron Leader Nettleton was the leader of one of two formations of six Lancaster heavy bombers detailed to deliver a low-level attack in daylight on the diesel engine factory at Augsburg in Southern Germany on April 17th, 1942. The enterprise was daring, the target of high military importance. To reach it and get back, some 1,000 miles had to be flown over hostile territory.

Soon after crossing into enemy territory his formation was engaged by 25 to 30 fighters. A running fight ensued. His rear guns went out of action. One by one the aircraft of his formation were shot down until in the end only his and one other remained. The fighters were shaken off but the target was still far distant. There was formidable resistance to be faced.

With great spirit and almost defenceless, he held his two remaining aircraft on their perilous course and after a long and arduous flight, mostly at only 50 feet above the ground, he brought them to Augsburg.

Here anti-aircraft fire of great intensity and accuracy was encountered. The two aircraft came low over the roof tops. Though fired at from point blank range, they stayed the course to drop their bombs true on the target. The second aircraft, hit by flak, burst into flames and crash-landed. The leading aircraft, though riddled with holes, flew safely back to base, the only one of the six to return.

Squadron Leader Nettleton, who has successfully undertaken many other hazardous operations, displayed unflinching determination as well as leadership and valour of the highest order

Citation ends.

Nettleton survived the incident, his damaged Lancaster limping back to the UK, finally landing near Blackpool. His VC was gazetted on 24 April 1942.

Nettleton

Squadron Leader J D Nettleton VC signing his autograph for a factory worker on a visit to open a munitions factory, North Wales.

Nettleton died on 13 July 1943, returning from a raid on Turin in Italy by 295 Lancasters. His Lancaster took off from Dunholme Lodge and was believed to have been shot down by a fighter off the Brest peninsular. FW 190s of 1./SAGr.128 and 8./JG 2 scrambled from bases near Brest in the early hours of 13 July, and at 06:30am intercepted the bomber stream.

A total of eight bombers were claimed, and at least three Lancasters were almost certainly shot down by the German fighters, one of whom was Nettleton. His body and those of his crew were never recovered. All are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial.

ROYAL AIR FORCE BOMBER COMMAND, 1942-1945. (HU 92988) The Acting Commanding Officer of No. 44 Squadron RAF, Squadron Leader J D Nettleton (sitting, second from left) and his crew, photographed on their return to Waddington, Lincolnshire, after leading the low-level daylight attack on the M.A.N. diesel engineering works at Augsburg on 17 April 1942. For his courage and leadership during the raid Nettleton was gazetted for the award of the Victoria Cro... Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205127125

Group photograph of Squadron Leader J D Nettleton (sitting, second from left) and his crew, photographed on their return to Waddington, Lincolnshire, after leading the low-level daylight attack on the M.A.N. diesel engineering works. 17 April 1942.

The truly unfortunate thing about these heroes is that due to political prejudice – starting with the National Party from their election to power in 1948 (post WW2) and now the current political dispensation in South Africa, the African National Congress (ANC) – these VC recipients are almost unclaimed and unknown.   The result is that very little is commemorated to their memories in South Africa today.

With no known grave there are very few memorials to John Nettleton VC in South Africa, no roads or state institutions are named after him, nothing really significant in his own country acknowledges him (other than the General Botha training ship which have a acknowledgement to this one of the two ‘sailor’ airmen to serve in the RAF).  Like his fellow General Botha training ship compatriot ‘Sailor Malan’, this ‘sailor’ – John Nettleton was also proud to wear the ‘South Africa’ shoulder title on his Royal Airforce uniform (as with all the South African pilots who served in the RAF – see The RAF ‘South Africa’ title worn during The Battle of Britain) and by that simple gesture there is no doubt to where his heart and loyalty lay.

His link to South Africa is so lost to memory that it has even been lost to the British, his name was not even included in the South Africans listed on the Victoria Cross Winners dome at the Commonwealth Gates memorial in central London.  It’s not just John Nettleton’s name that is missing from this memorial, there is a very long list of other South African VC recipients unaccounted for on this memorial, such has been the complete disregard.

As South Africans (in South Africa and in the United Kingdom) this has to be addressed, we should hang our collective heads in shame in the way we have treated our national heroes, and if this website goes a way to helping increase awareness of these unsung South African heroes then so much the better.

Nettleton 3

Head and shoulders War Commission portrait of Squadron Leader John Nettleton. He wears his RAF tunic, bearing the medal ribbon of his Victoria Cross, as well as his South Africa shoulder badge. At this time Nettleton commanded 44 Rhodesia Squadron.


Researched and written by Peter Dickens, references and extracts wikipedia and Imperial War Museum.

Image copyrights – Imperial War Museum

‘Proccy’ – South Africa’s ‘Bravest of the Brave’

Honouring South African heroes and this is one of South Africa’s greatest – in fact he is the highest decorated South African in our military history. Many people don’t know that South Africa has its own World War 1 flying ace and Victoria Cross winner, and this ‘small’ hero comes with some very ‘big’ credentials, he is regarded as the all time highest decorated South African in terms of sheer seniority of the bravery decorations he won (there is a distinction between ‘most’ decorated i.e. number of decorations and medals –  and the ‘highest’ decorated).

Proc1Andrew Beauchamp-Proctor, known to his colleagues and friends simply as ‘Proccy’, was South Africa’s leading First World War flying ace, claiming a staggering 54 aerial victories to his name.

He was born on 4 September 1894 in Mossel Bay, South Africa, and was studying engineering at the University of Cape Town when war broke out. He joined the Union of South Africa Army – the Duke of Edinburgh’s Own Rifles and took part in the German South West Africa campaign, before being demobilised in August 1915 with an honorable discharge. He promptly went to work with the South African Field Telegraph and re-enrolled in university. He managed to complete his third year of college before re-enlisting again, this time with the Royal Flying Corps (he was one of “The Thousand” – the first South Africans to go to England for combat service on the Western Front).

Royal Flying Corps

Andrew Beauchamp-Proctor joined the Royal Flying Corps in March 1917, he was commissioned upon his arrival in England and underwent pilot training.  Despite being only 5′ 2″ tall, so short that he had to use two leather cushions in order to see out of a standard cockpit, he proved an excellent pilot and on completion of training was posted to 84 Squadron in late July 1917.  The squadron, commanded by Major William Sholto Douglas (who would later become OC Fighter Command during the Second World War) was equipping with the then-new S.E.5a.

On 23 September 1917, the 84 Squadron went to France and became one of the most effective scout squadrons in the RFC/RAF (Royal Air Force) during 1918. The squadron would be credited with a victory total of 323 aerial victories, and would produce 25 aces. However, Beauchamp-Proctor would be pre-eminent, with almost triple the number of successes of the second leading ace. He was not particularly esteemed as a flier, but was a deadly shot.

Beauchamp-Proctor’s piloting skills can be judged by the fact he had three landing accidents before he ever shot down an enemy plane. He continued to fly the SE5 with modifications to the aircraft’s seat and controls, something his Philadelphia-born American squadron mate, Joseph “Child Yank” Boudwin, who stood only two inches taller also had to use. The alterations to relatively primitive controls could have contributed to Beauchamp-Proctor’s poor airmanship.

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Captain Andrew Beauchamp-Proctor by Ivan Berryman

His initial confirmed victory did not come until the turn of the year. On 3 January 1918, he sent a German two-seater ‘down out of control’. He then claimed four more victories in February, becoming an ace on the final day of the month. Only one of his five victories resulted in the destruction of an enemy; the others were planes sent down as ‘out of control’.

March brought four more victories; three of them were scored within five minutes on 17 March. He tallied one kill in April.

proccyAmong his 11 victories for the month of May were 5 on 19 May. On that morning, he knocked an enemy observation plane out of the battle; fifteen minutes later, he destroyed a German Albatros D.V. scout. That evening, at about 6:35 PM, he downed three more Albatros D.Vs. By 31 May, his roll had climbed to 21 victims—16 fighters and five observation aircraft. By this point, he had destroyed six enemy planes single-handed, and shared the destruction of two others. He drove ten down out of control, and shared in another ‘out of control’ victory. Two of his victims were captured. Certainly a creditable record, and like many other aces, with no conquests over balloons.

The next day marked a change of focus for him; he shot down an observation balloon. Balloons, guarded by anti-aircraft artillery and patrolling fighter airplanes, were very dangerous targets. Commonly they were hunted by coordinated packs of fighters. For the remainder of his career, he would choose to try to blind the enemy by concentrating on shooting down kite balloons and observation aircraft. Also notable is the drop in his “out of control” victories; from here on out, the record shows destruction after destruction of the enemy. His June string would only run to 13 June, but in that time, he would destroy four balloons, an observation two-seater and a fighter. Only one fighter went down out of control. On 22 June, he was awarded the Military Cross (MC).

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July would pass without incident. On 3 August, he was granted one of the first ever Distinguished Flying Crosses (DFC).

The break in his victory string lasted almost a month, as he went on home leave and helped a recruitment drive for the RAF. On 8 August, he returned and resumed with tally number 29, another balloon.

On 9 August, Beauchamp-Proctor was leading No. 84 Squadron on a patrol over their base at Bertangles, with the diminutive American Joseph “Child Yank” Boudwin and a ‘Giant’ – the six-foot-four tall fellow South African from Germiston – Hugh ‘Dingbat’ Saunders as his wingmen (‘Dingbat’ Saunders would go to become another South African ace, Air Marshal and Knight of the realm – but that is a different story for another day).

This unusual threesome of two very short chaps ‘Proccy’ and ‘Child Yank’ ‘and one very tall chap ‘Dingbat’ got involved in a heated engagement at 2:00 pm, that involved them in combat against Fokker D.VII fighters of JG I , led that day by the future Nazi Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring.

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Hermann Göring in his Fokker D.VII fighter during WW1

After World War 1, Hermann Göring was to become Adolf Hitler’s right hand man and one of the most powerful figures in the Nazi party that ruled Germany from 1933 to 1945 and took Germany to its darkest place in history.  But that was well in the future, over the western front battlefields of World War 1 Göring was a veteran fighter pilot, and fighter ace, he was even a recipient of the The Blue Max (the highest German bravery award). He was also eventually the last commander of  the famous ‘flying circus’ Jasta 1, the fighter wing once led by ‘The Red Baron’ Manfred von Richthofen.

Unfortunately for both our two South Africans ‘Proccy’ and ‘Dingbat’ and the American ‘Child Yank’ – and the entire world really, none was unsuccessful at bagging Herman Göering and adding him to their kill totals.

‘Proccy’ would eventually claim an additional 14 aircraft, and by the end of the month of August with his claims list extended to 43. One memorable day was 22 August; he attacked a line of six enemy balloon over the British 3rd Corps front. He set the first one afire with his machine guns and forced the other five to the ground, the observers taking to their parachutes. His 15 kills for August would include 5 balloons, all destroyed, and two more two-seater planes. He was now up to 43 victories.

His September claims would be all balloons – four of them.

In the first few days of October, he would destroy three more balloons and three Fokker D.VII  fighters, one of which burned. Another D.VII spun down out of control.

On 8 October, he was hit by ground fire and wounded in the arm, ending his front line service. In all ‘Proccy’ Beauchamp-Proctor’s victory total was 54; two (and one shared) captured enemy aircraft, 13 (and three shared) balloons destroyed, 15 (and one shared) aircraft destroyed, and 15 (and one shared) aircraft ‘out of control’ His 16 balloons downed made him the leading British Empire balloon buster.

On 2 November, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order, followed by the Victoria Cross on 30 November.  His Victoria Cross citation explains in detail:

Victoria Cross (VC)

Between 8 August 1918, and 8 October 1918, this officer proved himself victor in 26 decisive combats, destroying 12 enemy kite balloons, 10 enemy aircraft, and driving down 4 other enemy aircraft completely out of control. Between 1 October 1918, and 5 October 1918, he destroyed 2 enemy scouts, burnt 3 enemy kite balloons, and drove down one enemy scout completely out of control.

medalOn 1 October 1918, in a general engagement with about 28 machines, he crashed one Fokker biplane near Fontaine and a second near Ramicourt; on 2 October he burnt a hostile balloon near Selvjgny; on 3 October he drove down, completely out of control, an enemy scout near Mont d’Origny, and burnt a hostile balloon; on 5 October, the third hostile balloon near Bohain. On 8 October 1918, while flying home at a low altitude, after destroying an enemy 2-seater near Maretz, he was painfully wounded in the arm by machine-gun fire, but, continuing, he landed safely at his-aerodrome, and after making his report was admitted to hospital.

In all he has proved himself conqueror over 54 foes, destroying 22 enemy machines, 16 enemy kite balloons, and driving down 16 enemy aircraft completely out of control. Captain Beauchamp-Proctor’s work in attacking enemy troops on the ground and in reconnaissance during the withdrawal following on the Battle of St. Quentin from 21 March 1918, and during the victorious advance of our Armies commencing on 8 August, has been almost unsurpassed in its brilliancy, and as such has made an impression on those serving in his squadron and those around him that will not be easily forgotten.

Capt. Beauchamp-Proctor was awarded Military Cross on 22 June 1918; D.F. Cross on 2 July 1918; Bar to M.C. on 16 September 1918; and Distinguished Service Order on 2 November 1918

The bravest of the brave

To make him the ‘highest’ decorated South African in history, as there is already a small group of South Africans who won the ‘highest decoration’ i.e. Victoria Cross in World War 1 (14 officially in total) and World War 2 (5 in total), Beauchamp-Proctor would also need to have another ‘next’ most senior decoration, he did this with obtaining a Distinguished Service Order (DSO) and a Military Cross (MC).  This puts him on the same level as Percy Hansen, who also won a VC, DSO and MC, the difference, the one which places Beauchamp-Proctor at the top, is that he won the Military Cross twice (with bar) in addition to another decoration – the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC).

The citations for these decorations are impressive enough on their own, there are as follows:

Military Cross (MC)

MilitaryCrossWW1For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. While on offensive patrol he observed an enemy two-seater plane attempting to cross our lines. He engaged it and opened fire, with the result that it fell over on its side and crashed to earth. On a later occasion, when on patrol, he observed three enemy scouts attacking one of our bombing machines. He attacked one of these, and after firing 100 rounds in it, it fell over on its back and was seen to descend in that position from 5,000 feet. He then attacked another group of hostile scouts, one of which he shot down completely out of control, and another crumpled up and crashed to earth. In addition to these, he has destroyed another hostile machine, and shot down three completely out of control. He has at all times displayed the utmost dash and initiative, and is a patrol leader of great merit and resource.

MC citation, Supplement to the London Gazette, 22 June 1918

Military Cross (MC) Bar

barFor the award of a Bar to the Military Cross ( MC ) i.e. winning a second Military Cross in addition to Andrew Beauchamp-Proctor’s first MC.

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty while leading offensive patrols. He has lately destroyed three enemy machines, driven down one other completely out of control, and carried out valuable work in attacking enemy troops and transport on the ground from low altitudes. He has done splendid service.

London Gazette, 18 September 1918

Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC)

Lt. (T./Capt.) Andrew Weatherby Beauchamp-Proctor, M.C.DFCLG

A brilliant and fearless leader of our offensive patrols. His formation has destroyed thirteen enemy machines and brought down thirteen more out of control in a period of a few months. On a recent morning his patrol of five aeroplanes attacked an enemy formation of thirty machines and was successful in destroying two of them. In the evening he again attacked an enemy formation with great dash, destroying one machine and forcing two others to collide, resulting in their destruction.

DFC citation, Supplement to the London Gazette, 3 August 1918

Distinguished Service Order (DSO)

Distinguished_Service_Order_correctA fighting pilot of great skill, and a splendid leader. He rendered brilliant service on 22 August, when his Flight was detailed to neutralise hostile balloons. Having shot down one balloon in flames, he attacked the occupants of five others in succession with machine-gun fire, compelling the occupants in each case to take to parachutes. He then drove down another balloon to within fifty feet of the ground, when it burst into flames. In all he has accounted for thirty-three enemy machines and seven balloons.

DSO citation, Supplement to the London Gazette, 2 November 1918

That’s a lot of hefty decorations for gallantry and bravery and it makes Beauchamp-Proctor ‘the bravest of the brave’ when it comes the very bravest men South Africa has ever produced.

Post War

Proc2He was discharged from hospital in March 1919 and embarked on a four-month-long lecture tour of the USA, before returning to England and qualifying as a seaplane pilot with a permanent commission as a Flight Lieutenant in the RAF.

After his VC investiture at Buckingham Palace in November 1919 he was awarded a year’s leave, and this enabled him finish his BSc degree in Engineering.

Beauchamp-Proctor died during a training accident at RAF Hendon in England, on the 21st June 1921 whilst preparing for an air-show.  His aircraft went into a vicious spin after performing a slow loop, and he was killed in the ensuing crash. At least one observer remarked that the loss of control and subsequent crash of the aircraft could have been linked to Proctor’s diminutive size, as noted earlier because of his size, Beauchamp-Proctor had to sit on a cushion to operate his aircraft and the cushion fell out during the loop, rendering him in a difficult position to adequately operate his aircraft and recover the manoeuvre.  He was buried in Mafeking (his home town) in South Africa, following a state funeral.

In Conclusion

There still exists a little confusion over Beauchamp-Proctor’s given name. For decades he was listed as “Anthony” but more recent scholarship indicates “Andrew”, which  is the name on his tombstone.  Whether ‘Proccy’ was an Andrew or Anthony, it matters not a jot, this man epitomised ‘dynamite in a small package’ – ‘Proccy’ was and still remains the bravest of all South Africans to have been awarded gallantry decorations – without any doubt – the ‘Bravest of the Brave’.

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Links to other South African World War 1 Victoria Cross recipients

Reginald Hayward VC  “Superhuman powers of endurance and courage” Reginald Hayward VC

William F. Faulds VC Taking gallantry at Delville Wood to a whole new level; William Faulds VC MC

Sherwood Kelly VC “…. a Herculean of Irish-South African origin with a quite remarkable disregard for danger”.

Percy Hansen VC One Lucky Charm wins the Victoria Cross; Percy Hansen VC, DSO, MC

Other South Africans in 84 Squadron during WW1

Hugh ‘Dingbat’ Saunders – Sir ‘Dingbat’ the Knight


Researched and written by Peter Dickens

Image copyright Imperial War Museum Collection.  Portrait by Cowen Donson, Imperial War Museum collection copyright.  Painting Captain Andrew Beauchamp-Proctor by Ivan Berryman – Granston Fine Art.

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.

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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:-

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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

 

The SADF’s finest hour

The tragedy of the MS Oceanos can be regarded as the finest hour for the SADF and more specifically one where both the South African Navy and South African Air Force proved their mantra as the best in Africa and more.  It is also regarded as one of the greatest and most successful maritime rescues ever undertaken – anywhere in the world.

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Not only was every soul saved, the SAN and SAAF personnel conducted themselves in great regard with a number of medals awarded for bravery, and even a Honoris Crux Gold awarded to Able Seaman Paul Burger Whiley (one of only six ever awarded).

On 3 August 1991, the Oceanos set out from East London heading to Durban. Unwittingly she headed into highly dangerous sea conditions with 40-knot winds and 9 m swells.

At approximately 21:30 while off the Wild Coast, a muffled explosion was heard and the Oceanos lost her power following a leak in the engine room’s sea chest , the ship was left adrift and then started to sink. The crew at this stage did not conduct themselves with great decorum and reports indicated that they were quite prepared to save themselves and abandon the passengers.

Nearby vessels responded to the ship’s SOS and were the first to provide assistance. The South African Navy along with the South African Air Force launched a seven-hour mission in which 16 helicopters were used to airlift the passengers and crew to a site south of Coffee Bay. Of the 16 rescue helicopters, 13 were South African Air Force Pumas, nine of which hoisted 225 passengers off the deck of the sinking ship. All 571 people on board were saved.

To see just how dramatic this sinking was, here’s the original footage – think, if the South African Navy and Air Force hadn’t acted as they did what the cost in lives would have been:

Of the many awards and citations of bravery, one stands out. Able Seaman (AB) Paul Wiley from the SAS Scorpion was presented with the Honoris Crux Gold Decoration by the then Minister of Defence, Mr R.P. Meyer on the 6 March 1992.

He was cited as the first diver to be lowered aboard the MV Oceanos, and although he was severely beaten against the ship’s superstructure, he reached the deck.
Under extremely trying conditions he then succeeded in creating order and stability among the passengers. He then started hoisting passengers, on the first lift he accompanied a survivor up to the helicopter, after which it took a further 10 minutes of nerve-racking hovering to get him back on the deck.

During this maneuver, after being severely battered against the railing of the ship he was flung out of the hoisting strap and fell to a deck lower than intended. Thereupon a male survivor also fell out of a hoisting strap and fell 40 meters into the mountainous swells. AB Whiley, disregarding his own life, dived into the treacherous seas and on reaching the semi-conscious passenger, revived him and assisted him into a rescue craft.

Not quite finished Paul Whiley then swam back to the sinking ship and was confronted with the further difficulty of climbing back on board. Whilst scaling a ladder draped over the ship’s side, he was repeatedly beaten against the ship’s hull. However, his perseverance paid off and he managed to return to the deck to continue his vital task. After six hours aboard the Oceanos Able Seaman Whiley was one of the last persons to be hoisted from the stricken vessel.

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Roelf Meyer, the Minister of Defence, presenting the Honours Crux (Gold) to AB Paul Whiley at Silvermine on the 6 March 1992

This rescue proves beyond any shadow of doubt the exemplary level South Africa’s statutory forces had become by the early 1990’s.  This rescue cannot be politicised –  there are no “struggle heroes” in it, it has nothing to do with any political mantra or policy –  it stands as a pure example of the heroism, skill and professionalism of the statute forces of the time.  It truly is the SADF’s finest hour.

Honours

Consider this, the Honoris Crux is the highest SADF award for bravery and three levels of this award were issued, for accounts of bravery in the extreme, just on the MS Oceanos alone on the 4 August 1991, were the following:

Honoris Crux (Gold): AB. Paul Burger Whiley (as per the account above)

Honoris Crux (Silver): AB. Gary Ian Scoular.

 

Honoris_Crux_(1975)Honoris Crux: Lt.-Cmdr. André Geldenhuys; PO. Frans Hugo Mostert; LS. Darren Malcolm Brown; LS. Luke James Dicks.  All from the South African Navy, all from the Divers School.

In addition to Honoris Crux, consider the following decorations for bravery and actions above the call of duty which were also won on that day by South African Air Force personnel:

Air_Force_Cross_(CA)The Air Force Cross decoration recipients: Kmdt. Eric Brennan Elphick; Kmdt. Anthony Charles Hunter; Maj. Phillip Fenwick; Maj. Anthony Wright Johnson; Maj. Martin Johannes Hugo Louw; Maj. Hermanus Frederik Steyn; Maj. André Stroebel; Capt Anton Botha, Capt. René Martin Coulon; Capt. Peter Evans Hanes; Capt. Charles Glen Goatly; Capt. Hendrik; Capt Jacques Hugo; Capt. Tarri Jooste; Capt. Johannes Meintjies; Capt.. Slade Christoper Thomas; Capt. Francois Johann Weyers; Lt. Mark Graig Fairley; WO2 William James Riley; F/Sgt  Norman Herbert Askew-Hull; Capt. Len Pienaar; F/Sgt Frans Campher; F/Sgt Daniël Francois Bezuidenhout; F/Sgt. Daniël Roedolf Jacobs; F/Sgt Christoffel Jacobus Pedlar;  F/Sgt. Philip Davey Joseph Scott; F/Sgt. Frans Schutte; F/Sgt. Willem Hendrik Steyn.

Mentioned in Dispatches.

South African Air Force: Brig. T.J.M. de Munnink, SD; Brig. R.S. Lord, SD; Col. G.A. Hallowes; Col. B.J. Kriegler; Col. L.E. Weyer; kmdt. D.B. Janse van Rensburg; Maj. W.H.W. van Wyk.  South African navy: Capt. (Naval). P.C. Potgieter; Capt. (Naval). R.D. Stephen; Cdr. A.G. Absolom; WO1 P. Hutchinson.

In conclusion

Quickly forgotten now as these fine men and woman are now painted as “Apartheid Forces” and great deeds such as this rescue are confined to a history nobody references or even considers anymore.

However this rescue is still regarded as the greatest and most successful sea rescue of its kind – to have ever been undertaken in modern maritime history. Under current cut-backs and capability restraints it is unlikely that the South African National Defence Force can ever replicate such a rescue if presented with it again.

It stands directly in the way of the current ANC’s political narrative and therefore it is another ‘inconvenient truth’ to be ‘passed over’ when referring the Permanent Force and National Service Conscript heroes of South Africa.


Written and researched by Peter Dickens

‘Severely wounded, he single-handedly attacked a machine gun nest and an anti-tank gun’; Quentin Smythe VC

487590_145585105611230_766406177_nNow this is a very notable South African, and a true hero – Sgt Quentin George Murray Smythe VC,  who won the Victoria Cross in the Western Desert on 5 June 1942.  The Victoria Cross (VC) is the highest military decoration awarded for valour “in the face of the enemy” to members of the British armed forces and various Commonwealth countries (of which South Africa is one).

Quentin George Murray Smythe, was born in Nottingham Road, Natal, South Africa on 6 August 1916 as son of Edric Smythe. He was the grandson of the First Administrator of Natal, Charles Smyhte. Quentin Smythe attended the Estcourt High School in Estcourt. After his education he started farming in Richmond.

During the Second World War,  Quentin Smythe served with the 1st Battalion Royal Natal Carabineers, 1st SA Infantry Division, South African Forces in the East Africa Campaign against the Italians before moving to the Western Desert against the German and Italian Axis Forces.

On May 26, 1942, Rommel’s Afrika Korps attacked the British Army ( which had just been weakened by losing two divisions, an Armoured Brigade and some squadrons of the Desert Air Force to the Far East ) in order to pre-empt a new British offensive. The Germans hoped to capture Tobruk and, ultimately, to drive the British back to Alexandria, although this attempt was finally checked at El Alamein by Auchinleck the next month.

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A German gun crew manning a 3.7 cm Pak 36 anti-tank gun in the Western Desert, during the Gazala offensive, June 1942.

The initial attack caught the British off-balance, but they recovered and fought back, forcing the Germans to take up a defensive position, which became known as ‘The Cauldron’. Unfortunately, the British were at this stage equipped with tanks and guns which were inferior to the Germans’, and after a number of desperate battles they had to fall back.

For related articles on this retreat – know as the ‘Gazala Gallop’ see “General Pienaar, tell your South African Division they have done well”; The Battle of El Alamein and the Fall of Tobruk “Defeat is one thing; Disgrace is another!” South Africa’s biggest capitulation of arms – Tobruk

On June 5 the South African forces were holding a position in the north of the line (which consisted of defensive “boxes” separated by minefields), and when Rommel launched a heavy attack in the northern sector he encountered strong and determined resistance. The cost in casualties on both sides was high. Smythe, who was then a sergeant, realised that there was no officer to command his platoon and took charge himself, leading his men in an attack on the enemy’s strong point at Alem Hamza, 20 miles south of Gazala

His citation in attacking Axis Forces says just about everything as to how this hero earned his VC and reads as follows:

medalNo. 4458 Sergeant Quentin George Murray Smythe, South African Forces.

For conspicuous gallantry in action in the Alem Hamza area on the 5th June,

“1942. During the attack on an enemy strong point in which his officer was severely wounded; Sergeant Smythe took command of the platoon although suffering from a shrapnel wound in the forehead. The strong point having been overrun, our troops came under enfilade fire from an enemy machine-gun nest. Realising the threat to his position, Sergeant Smythe himself stalked and destroyed the nest with hand grenades, capturing, the crew. Though weak from loss of blood, he continued to lead the advance, and on encountering an anti-tank gun position again attacked it single-handed and captured the crew. He was directly responsible for killing several of the enemy, shooting some and bayonetting another as they withdrew.

After consolidation he received orders for a withdrawal, which he successfully executed, defeating skilfully an enemy attempt at encirclement.

Throughout the engagement Sergeant Smythe displayed remarkable disregard for danger, and his leadership and courage were an inspiration to his men.”

Citation was gazetted on 11 September 1942, see this rare Associated Press video of the actual award ceremony where Sgt. Smythe received his Victoria Cross from Maj. General Dan Pienaar.

When Sgt. Smythe VC returned to South Africa, he returned a national hero, he had won the country’s first Victoria Cross in the Second World War. In all five South African’s won the Victoria Cross during World War 2, of which there are only two very well known recipients, these been our hero today, Quentin Smythe VC and Edwin Swales VC (see Edwin Swales VC DFC, a South African Hero whose legacy has been eroded!)

The remaining three are George Gristock VC, Gerard Norton VC and John Nettleton VC (you can read more on John Nettleton – see John Nettleton VC – an unknown South African Victoria Cross recipient)

Sgt Smythe is well known because he enjoyed great media attention and was presented to the Premier Jan Smuts and this PAHÉ footage captures the occasion.

On leaving the Department of Defence he returned to farming in the Richmond area of Natal. He was an outstanding marksman, a passionate conservationist and animal lover. He died from cancer in Durban, aged 81 in October 1997 and was buried with military honours by his Regiment – The Natal Carabineers.  He left three sons, a daughter and 11 grandchildren.

His Victoria Cross is now part of Lord Ashcroft’s collection and is kept in the Imperial War Museum in London.


Researched by Peter Dickens. Image Copyrights – Imperial War Museum.  Video copyrights Associated Press and British PATHÉ respectively.