“We fought as one, black and white”; the South African Native Military Corps ‘at arms’

Now what is truly remarkable about this photograph?  Well it shows a bunch of armed South African soldiers during World War 2 who by all accounts never carried a firearm and by directive were not allowed to either.  These are members of the South African Native Military Corps (NMC), and it’s proof positive that there is no such thing as skin colour or ‘Segregation’ legislation when under fire.

sanmmc

This photograph was taken by Warren Loader’s Grandfather Noel Edgar Fuller while serving with The Royal Durban Light Infantry (DLI) B Coy in North Africa during WW2. What makes this photo remarkable is the DLI L/Cpl is standing next to three armed members of the South African Native Military Corps (NMC).

So, visual proof that .303 Lee Enfields were issued to some members of the NMC, but what is the validity of this rare photograph?

Official Policy

163497_146794905490250_702739084_nDuring the Second World War the South African government of the day held out that members of the NMC could only function in non-combatant roles, and were not allowed to carry firearms whereas funnily members of the Cape Corps (Cape Coloured members) where fully armed and enrolled in combatant roles.  In terms of the race politics of the day, on the arming of Black soldiers at the beginning of war, Smuts’ government had to bow to the pressures of his opposition, the Nationalists, led by DF Malan.

The Nationalists were vociferously opposed to black South Africans in the army at all, even unarmed. As Dr D.F. Malan was to be quoted in Parliament: “To every Afrikaner, the use of black troops against Europeans is abhorrent.”

Faced with all this opposition in Parliament from the official opposition bench Smuts had little choice, he needed men to fight, and had to tap South Africa’s black population for resources.  So he found a way by striking compromise, they could carry traditional weapons in the form of spears and knobkerries.

The president of the ANC in the war years, Dr AB Xuma, responded: “They are expected to fight aeroplanes, tanks and enemy artillery with knobkerries and assegais. What mockery.”

Arming the Native Military Corps with Spears 

So, in a counter-intuitive move to the National Party’s objections and statements to the Smuts government, the Native Military Corps were trained in traditional weapons (other than firearms) which they were allowed to carry.  This was a long spear, and bear in mind spears are very deadly (as the British fighting at the Battle of Isaldwana found out) – but lets face it, spears were very out of date in the context of modern war, but they pressed on and in training the South African Native military corps even trained to charge with the spear, even through tear-gas screens.

24955656_2059510197611301_4990790189144305175_o

South African Native Military Corps members charging with traditional spears into a teargas screen

Secretly arming the some Native Military Corps members with Firearms 

All this political segregation and racial discrimination became quite irrelevant when serving in combat areas and in many instances serving Regiments, Units and Sections of the South African Army quite quickly issued firearms to their NMC ‘support’ members – and this photo of DLI members stands testament of such practice.

Thier lives – Black or White, depended on it, and logic prevailed.  As is often the case in combat, the man who joins you in the fight is your brother – irrespective of the colour of his skin – in combat there is no such thing as racial segregation in a foxhole.

The caption written on Noel Edgar Fuller’s photo is “our Lance Corporal and his two native pals”. Quite a lot can be seen and said to this remarkable snapshot into the attitude of the time versus the attitude of soldiers.

Job Maseko MM

Job-Maseko

Job Maseko MM

In addition to snapshots like Noel’s one, there are actual accounts of South African Native Military Corps getting into the fight at the Fall of Tobruk, and it produced one highly decorated South African from the SA NMC.

During the Fall of Tobruk, over 1200 NMC members found themselves in a frontal attack by Rommel and his Axis forces.  Many of them were quickly issued rifles and ammunition and got into the fight alongside their white compatriots. Job Maseko was one and he ferried ammunition to the other NMC members who had been issued rifles and were in the thick of the fighting.

After the Fall of Tobruk (South Africa’s greatest capitulation of arms, Job found himself and other NMC members taken prisoner of war.  Made of stern stuff, whilst been put to work by the Germans on the Tobruk dock loading and off-loading Axis suppliers, Job secretly created a bomb using a condensed milk tin, cordite taken from bullets and an extremely long fuse.  His intention, sink a ship!

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.

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.

Sergeant Petrus Dlamini

Now consider this remarkable first hand account of armed Native Military Corps soldiers in the thick of the fight at El-Alamein

The Germans ran away. Now we were having short magazine guns, we pushed them. They said we went 300 miles … (we were in the) 8th Army led by (British Field-Marshal Bernard). Montgomery. Those Germans never came back. We fought as one; black and white soldiers.” — Sergeant Petrus Dlamini speaking about the battle of El Alamein to filmmaker Vincent Moloi

After 1948 this history was held back from the ‘White’ population and to a very large degree from the ‘Black’ population for political expediency ,it is only been recounted now with the very few remaining NMC members.  In effect South Africans were denied the opportunity to know their own history.

All that is starting to change now. From their recollections we know that, although black soldiers left South Africa armed only with spears, when they got “Up North” (to the North and East African campaigns) many were armed with rifles.  We also know now some even fought alongside white soldiers in the thick of battle.

Sergeant Petrus Dlamini spoke of being at Sidi Rezegh, Mersa Matru, Tripoli, Garowe in then Abyssinia and El Alamein before he went by boat to Italy with the South African 1st Division. He remembered doing guard duty in North Africa.

He says: “There, at Garowe, we were guarding as a sentry. We were guarding with assegai.” But just a few months later, Dlamini adds: “It was said — I heard a rumour — that the superiors [commanding officers] of South Africa, England and Australia said we must be given guns. Those guns were taken from the Italians in Kenya. They gave them to us and we were taught how to put ammunition and we were training with guns”.

Lee enfield

Short Magazine .303 Lee Enfield No. 4 Mk 1, standard issue

“Then we went to El Alamein and they took these [Italian] guns that were not right and they gave us short magazine Lee-Enfield .303. We got them at El Alamein.”  The Lee-Enfield .303 short magazine was the standard rifle issued to all British and Commonwealth troops.

This has been verified in an article in the South African Historical Journal by historian LWF Grundling, who says: “Recruits received rifle musketry training, which was seriously handicapped by the defective Italian rifles with which they were issued.”

30806253_2129588687270118_9148612884307489711_o

General Sir Pierre van Ryneveld

According to this research it was General Sir Pierre van Ryneveld himself who instructed the commanding officers in North Africa to arm black soldiers with Lee-Enfield rifles before El Alamein.  No small player, General Sir Pierre van Ryneveld was the Chief of General Staff (which today is known as Chief of the South African National Defence Force) and led the South African war effort in the Second World War.

But this does not seem to have been mentioned in despatches (possibly because of the petty race political ramifications back in South Africa of the Nationalists).

Sergeant Dlamini said: “In the front line we were accompanied by whites. When we go to fight the Germans we were mixed.”

He spoke vividly of the battles he was in. Moloi recorded his description of the battle of El Alamein.

“It was like bees, those German planes together with our planes, the Royal Air Force and the South African Air Force. Many died there. Shots were like falling rain. They would hit here and here where you are sitting. When you are sleeping in your trench you would hear sounds of bombs all the time, when you wake up you would see those injured and those who are dead.”

Dlamini says they were with the 8th Army. as they pushed the Afrika Korps and Axis forces out of Africa, he goes on “It [the 8th Army] pushed. Ai! Man! It was terrible, soldiers were lying dead, black and white, but the Germans were retreating and we kept following them. The Germans ran away. Now we were having short magazine guns. We pushed them. They said we went 300 miles … 8th Army led by Montgomery. Those Germans never came back. They went down together with the Italians you see.”

998120_170186736484400_630113539_n

Rare original colour photograph of a NMC Field Kitchen in North Africa campaign, note the high degree of integration of the South African soldiers represented.

Dlamini added: “We were one. We fought as one; black and white soldiers. Here in South Africa (before we went up north) we were treated differently. Blacks were sleeping this side, whites on the other side. When we arrived in Egypt we mixed. If we made a queue, in front would be a white person, behind would be a black person then a white person. We were one.”

And, perhaps explaining why he had not spoken of his experiences before, he added: “You know the heart of a soldier. Your feelings die. You are always angry.”

Besides Moloi’s interviews with Dlamini, and with several other black World War II veterans, almost no records of the wartime experiences of black soldiers exist. And as it’s probably too late now to collect more, Moloi’s transcribed and translated interviews are a national treasure.

Lucas Majozi DCM

581520_199581196878287_2116978767_n

Lucas Majozi DCM

Adding to Job Maseko’s gallantry, another NMC man was to attain hero status during the Second World War was Lucas Majozi, a man who performed a feat very similar to Pvt. Desmond Doss (who has a movie ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ made over his gallantry and US ‘medal of honour’), and like Doss, as an unarmed medic Lucas time and again exposed himself and walked into the hell of machine gun fire as an unarmed medic to rescue a large number of critically injured ‘white’ South African soldiers on the battlefield during the Battle of El Alamein, so much so he became riddled with bullets himself and eventually collapsed.

This is South Africa’s own ‘hacksaw ridge’ and movies should be made of it, Lucas Majozi should be elevated to the highest accolades of gallantry we have to offer today.  He remains the NMC with the highest decoration to this day – the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

Politically inconvenient ‘Sacrifice’

600x951It’s an often ignored fact and statistic – one which most certainly the National government after 1948 did not want widely published, lest national heroes be made of these ‘Black’ men.  Simply put the ‘Black’ contributions to World War 1 and World War 2 were quite literally erased from the narrative of the war after 1948 and dismissed by the incoming Apartheid government as ‘traitors’ (a tag also suffered by their ‘White’ counterparts) for serving the ‘British’.

Bear in mind when reviewing what this actually means to the prevailing opinions by many South Africans of the war (White and Black)  – approximately 40% of the standing South African servicemen in WW2 where persons of “colour”.  In all more than 146,000 whites, 83,000 blacks, and 2,500 people of mixed race served in the standing forces of the Union of South Africa at this time.  Mull that over for a minute.

The sacrifice of the men of the Native Military Corps no less significant – if you think that as ‘non combatants’ this corps came through unscathed by war, also think again – this is the honour role of those NMC members who laid down their lives during the war, their sacrifice is literally quite eye-opening:

In total approximately 1655 Native Military Corps members died during World War 2, read that again – One Thousand Six Hundred and Fifty Five ‘Black’ South African soldiers died during World War 2.  That’s almost three times the number who died on the SS Mendi during World War 1, and that’s only from one ‘Corps’.

Put into context, nearly as many South Africans died during the entire 23 years of fighting during the Border War in the 70’s and 80’s when approximately 2013 South African service personnel died – from all arms of the military …. yet, here we are talking about only ‘one’ single Corps of Black South Africans and only five years of conflict.  Consider that the book shelves on South African history are stuffed full of books on the Border War and not one single book is dedicated to the history of the South African Native Military Corps in World War 2.  There is also almost nothing by way of definitive work on the unit history on the internet.

In Conclusion

It must be noted that this policy of arming NMC was not a universal one and only seemed to have been actioned with certain members in front line units or when combat situations demanded it, in reality reason finally prevailed.

It also seems that once high intensity combat operations abated these rifles were handed back. For the most part many NMC members went through the war in non-combatant roles and unarmed in roles like supply truck drivers, medics, chefs, bomb loaders, engineering labour (rail and bridge-building) etc.

It is unfortunate that after the war, and when the Nationalists ascended to power in 1948, that the NMC was disbanded and history scrubbed.  They were excluded from national parades and would sit under a tree and tell their stories to anyone prepared to listen.  Their stories really becoming fable in the Black community only, any record of NMC using weapons was generally written out the state’s historical narrative, interviews with them disregarded and these priceless historical nuggets are only starting to re-surface now in a post Apartheid epoch.

269A86C0B4724B0689CF66931FBE0163

NMC Insignia

The history of the South African Native Military Corps needs to resurface – it’s screaming out for more definitive works and information access – this featured photograph alone calls for it.  We need to fundamentally rethink who and what has been sacrificed to military conflict by South Africans of all ethnic origins, we need to completely re-dress how we honour them and we need to take some serious perspective.

Related Work and Links:

Native Military Corps Dress and Bearing: Dress and Bearing of the South African Native Military Corps

Job Maseko; Job Maseko; one very remarkable South African war hero.

Lucas Majozi; “With bullets in his body he returned … into a veritable hell of machine gun fire”; Lucas Majozi DCM

Skin colour in combat;  Skin colour is irrelevant in a foxhole!

Native Military Corps honour roll;  NMC Honour Roll, Delville Wood official website


Written by Peter Dickens.  Image copyright of NMC members holding weapons to Warren Loader, used with his kind permission.  Paintings of Job Maseko and Lucas Majozi by Neville Lewis copyright.  Quotes obtained from ‘Memories of black South African soldiers who bore arms and fought in War II’ by Marilyn Honikman

Springboks and Diggers … part of the Anzac ‘mateship’ legacy

Iconic image of Commonwealth forces in North Africa during World War 2. Easily identified by their distinctive headgear, South African and Australian soldiers enjoy a game of cards in a gun pit. The South Africans where know as ‘Springboks’ and the Australians known as ‘Diggers’ – a nickname they both inherited during World War One.

The distinctive headgear as shown is quite interesting, so too the unique military bond and history of that exists between South Africa and the Anzac alliance, Australia and New Zealand.

SA PithSouth African.  The South Army (and Air Force) was issued with a “Polo” style “Pith” helmet.  Made from cork it was not intended to protect the head from flying bullets and shrapnel, that was the purpose of the British Mk 2 Brodie helmet (also issued to South Africans). The pith helmet was worn mainly as sun protection when not in combat.

slouch-hat-ww2Australia.  The Australian army wore the “slouch hat”, also intended for sun protection when not in combat, like the South Africans they where issued with the British “Brodie” Mk2 steel helmet when in combat.

The “slouch” hat also has a little South African history to it.  The word ‘slouch’ refers to the sloping brim. The brim is made from rabbit-fur felt or wool felt and is always worn with a puggaree.

History has it that the origins of the Slouch Hat began with the Victorian Mounted Rifles; a hat of similar design had been worn in South Africa by the Cape Mounted Rifles for many years before 1885. The design of the Victorian Mounted Rifle hat originated from headgear of native police in Burma where Lieutenant-Colonel Tom Price had recognised its value.

The Victorian hat was an ordinary bush felt hat turned up on the right side. The intention of turning up the right side of the hat was to ensure it would not be caught during the drill movement of “shoulder arms” from “order arms”.

sagaieIn addition to Australians, believe it or not some South African units also wore the “slouch hat”.  Most notable was the South African Native Military Corps members, who made up about 48% of the South African standing army albeit in non frontline combat roles during both WW1 and WW2.  The legacy of the “slouch” in the modern South African National Defence Force is however now on the decline and little remains now of its use, a pity as it would be a gracious nod to the very large “black” community contribution to both WW1 and WW2.

150281In an iconic Australian War Memorial photograph to demonstrate this unique association,  a Australian soldier working on the Beirut-Tripoli railway link is seen here chatting with two members of a South African Pioneer Unit (SA Native Military Corps) also working on the railway. The photo is designed to show off their similarities of dress and bearing and promote mutual purpose.

Of interest – The Gun in the pit

8493892_2Interestingly the gun in the pit is not South African standard issue.  Instead it is a British made Hotchkiss Portative MK 1, which was used by the Australians, dating back to World War 1, so it is probably their gun pit.  Of French design the MK I was a .303 caliber machine gun, used in ‘cavalry/infantry’ configuration, with removable steel buttstock and a light tripod. This gun is normally fed from either flexible “belts” or strips like you see in the featured image. Normal Hotchkiss Portative strips hold 30 rounds each.

Camaraderie 

Because of mutual historic, military, language, British Dominion and cultural ties here was certainly was plenty of camaraderie between the South Africans and the Anzac Australians and New Zealanders during the war. Lots of informal rugby and cricket matches were played at any good opportunity, games of cards (seen here), exchanging of “souvenirs” (especially badges, sun helmets and slouch hats), occasional punch ups in Cairo pubs fuelled by beer which were soon forgotten and forgiven.  Generally good old good old fashioned soldierly fun and “band of brothers” stuff.

Tobruk

Because the South Africans were responsible for the “fall of Tobruk” in World War 2, a city the Australians fought to hold with such tenacity before handing it over to the South Africans to defend, as a South African you might also come into some light-hearted but pointed “sledging” from an Australian military veteran, even to this day.

ANZAC Remembrance

Modern South Africa does not extensively praise, idolise and remember her statutory armed forces and the origins of their fighting legacy anything near the Australians and New Zealanders do to their forces now.   This has manifested with the inclusion of hundreds of South African veterans residing in Australia in National Anzac Day parades held around Australia and New Zealand, and it is because of this unique bond forged by our forefathers in WW1 and WW2 that they are welcomed with open arms.

Related work and links

Tobruk; “Defeat is one thing; Disgrace is another!” South Africa’s biggest capitulation of arms – Tobruk

Diggers and Springboks WW1; Springboks and Diggers … part of the Anzac ‘mateship’ legacy

Gallipoli; One Lucky Charm wins the Victoria Cross, DSO and MC


Written by Peter Dickens. Featured image copyright IWM collection, insert image copyright Australian War Memorial photograph

German Fighter Ace befriends a Black South African POW & defies the Nazi status quo!

This is an extraordinary featured photograph for a variety of reasons. This is Hauptmann (Captain) Hans-Joachim Marseille, the German WW2 Fighter Ace known to the Axis Forces as “The Star of Africa” on the extreme left and Corporal Mathew ‘Mathias’ Letulu, a South African Prisoner of War who was pressed into becoming his ‘batman’ (personal assistant to an officer) in 1942 but eventually became his close and personal friend, is seen on the extreme right of the photograph.

31944142_10156143712001480_6772314735959343104_n

It’s quite intriguing that Hans-Joachim Marseille had a South African assistant on the one hand when on the other hand he was the most feared of the German Pilots in the North African campaign, arguably one of the best combat pilots the world has ever seen,  he clocked up quite a number of South African Air Force “kills” in his enormous tally of destroying well over 100 Allied aircraft – consisting mainly of aircraft from the Royal Air Force (RAF), the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and the South African Air Force (SAAF).

It’s equally a measure of Hans-Joachim Marseille as a man in that he directly baulked against the Nazi policies of racial segregation and openly befriended a Black man, especially amazing considering his role as a senior commissioned officer in the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) and hero of the Reich.

Over time, Marseille and “Mathias” Letulu became inseparable. Marseille was concerned how Letulu would be treated by other units of the Wehrmacht and once remarked

“Where I go, Mathias goes.”

Marseille secured promises from his senior commander, Neumann, that if anything should happen to him (Marseille) Cpl “Mathias” Letulu  was to be kept with the unit. Unusual behaviour for a German officer in the Third Reich, but Marsaille was no card carrying member of the Nazi party, in fact he despised them.

No ardent Nazi

In terms of personality Hans-Joachim Marseille was the opposite of highly disciplined German officer, he was “the funny guy” and almost kicked out of Luftwaffe several times for his antics. The only reason he wasn’t was because his father was a high ranking WW I veteran and an army officer and Hans-Joachim Marseille tested how far this protection would go.

If you look “misbehaving scoundrel” in dictionary there should be an image of Hans’ smirking face next to it. On one occasion he actually strafed the ground in front of his superior officer’s tent. He could have been court marshalled for that alone, but by  then he was starting to demonstrate his superior pilot skills as an upcoming Fighter Ace.

He hated Nazis and he despised authority in general and always had strained relations with his authoritarian father who was the model of a strict Prussian officer. Hans was truly the opposite of his father.

His American biographers Colin Heaton and Anne-Marie Lewis recall in ‘The Star of Africa’ that he once landed on the autobahn simply to relieve himself. Tired of his undisciplined behaviour, a superior officer had him transferred to North Africa in 1941. Here he thrived, his dazzling record earned him the Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds, and acclaim at home. But the record suggests he was no ardent Nazi.

He listened to banned Jazz music openly, drank a lot and sometimes showed up to service smelling of booze and in hangover, he was a known womanizer, going against Nazi ideology in every possible manner – and getting away with it.

An incident happened which really shows the metal and attitude of the man. It occurred when Hans-Joachim Marseille was summoned to Berlin as Hitler wanted to present him with decorations.  As a gifted pianist Marseille was invited to play a piece at the home of Willy Messerschmitt, an industrialist and the designer of the Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter Marseille had achieved so much success in.

Guests at the party included Adolf Hitler, party chairman Martin Borman, Hitler’s deputy and Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe, Hermann Göring, head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler and Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels. After impressing them with a display of piano play for over an hour, including Ludwig van Beethoven’s Für Elise, Marseille proceeded to play American Jazz, which was considered degenerate in Nazi ideology. Hitler stood, raised his hand, and said “I think we’ve heard enough” and left the room.

Magda Goebbels found the prank amusing and Artur Axmann recalled how his “blood froze” when he heard this “Ragtime” music being played in front of the Führer.

But a more telling incident of his attitude to Nazism was to come. On one occasion when he was summoned to Germany, he noted that Jewish people had been removed from his neighbourhood (including his Jewish family Doctor who delivered him) and grilled his fellow officers as to what happened to them – what he then heard were the plans for the Final Solution – the extermination of the Jews of Europe. This shocked him to the core and he actually went AWOL (Absent without Leave), he became a de facto deserter and went to Italy were he went into hiding ‘underground’.

The Nazi German Gestapo (Secret Police) however managed to track him down and forced him to return to his unit where other pilots noticed that he appeared severely depressed, concerned and wasn’t anything like his normal happy self that they were used to.

Friendship with Corporal Mathew Letulu

Marseille’s friendship with his ‘batman’ (personal helper) is also used to show his anti-Nazi character. In 1942 Marseille befriended a South African Army prisoner of war, Corporal Mathew Letulu. Marseille took him as a personal helper rather than allow him to be sent to a prisoner of war camp in Europe.

“Mathias” was the nickname given Corporal Mathew Letulu by his captors. Cpl Letulu was part of the South African Native Military Corps and was taken as a Prisoner of War (POW) by the Germans on the morning of 21 June 1942 when Tobruk and the defending South Africans under General Klopper were overrun by Field Marshal Erwin Rommel.

‘Black’ POW where treated differently to White ‘POW’ by Nazi Germany, instead of mere confinement under the conventions, Black POW were but to unpaid ‘labour’ assisting the Nazi cause, resistance to which was a grim outcome.  Letulu was put to work by the Germans – initially as a driver. The vehicle belonged to 3 Squadron of Jagdgeschwader – or Fighter Wing – 27 (JG 27) based at Gazala, 80km west of Tobruk. Here, Letulu came to the attention of the reckless and romantic Hans-Joachim Marseille.

By this time Letulu had advanced a little in his lot to a helper in 3 Squadrons club casino, where he took a particular liking to Marseille.  In need of personal assistants for officers (known in the military as a “batman”) some POW’s where snapped up by German Officers, Hans-Joachim Marseille was no different and Cpl Letulu was taken on initially as his batman, but very quickly became a close friend.

Marseille knew that as his kill score grew, the chance of him being pulled from the front lines increased every day, and if he was to be taken away, Cpl “Mathias” Letulu, who because he was a black man, might be in danger given the Nazi racial philosophy. With utmost seriousness, he had his fellow pilot Ludwig Franzisket promise to become Mathias’ protector should Marseille lose the capability to be in that role.

Corporal Letulu also knew that by sticking with Marseille he stood a better chance of surviving the war and eventually escaping, and because they viewed each other in an extremely positive light, Letulu made Marseille’s life in the combat zone as comfortable as possible.

The following on their unique bond comes from “German Fighter Ace – Hans-Joachim Marseille, The life story of the Star of Africa” by Franz Kurowksi.

“Through few odd twists of fate Hans had Mathew assigned to his personal assistant but he treated him in every way like a friend, having long talks with him and possibly even sharing alcohol and listening to music together, just hanging out like a couple of friends who happened to be in a war and on different sides.

Besides Mathew, Hans would often see other captured Allied pilots and talk to them in English and socialise. Hans would also violate a direct order not to notify the enemy of the fate of their pilots – he would take off solo with a parachute note explaining the names of the captured pilots and that they were alive and well.  As he flew over enemy airfields to drop these notes he would be attacked by AA fire, so he was risking his life to let the families of his enemy pilots know that the pilots were alive and well – or dead, removing their MIA (Missing in Action) status.  According to various sources he was like that. Person who believed in chivalry who’s country was taken over by Nazis.

Eventually Hans would become even protective of Mathew especially against the Nazis”

The “Star of Africa”

Hans-Joachim Marseille’s record of 151 kills in North Africa where nothing short of staggering – he destroyed Allied (RAF, SAAF and RAAF) squadrons shooting down One Hundred and One (101) Curtiss P-40 Tomahawk/Kittyhawk fighters, 30 Hawker Hurricane fighters, 16 Supermarine Spitfire fighters, Two Martin A-30 Baltimore bombers, One Bristol Blenheim bomber; and One Martin Maryland bomber.

color Hans-Joachim Marseille with Hawker Hurricane MkIIB of 274. Squadron RAF, North Afrika - 30.3.42 (coloured)

Hans-Joachim Marseille with Hawker Hurricane MkIIB of 274. Squadron RAF, North Afrika – 30 March 1942 (coloured)

As a fighter pilot Marseille always strove to improve his abilities. He worked to strengthen his legs and abdominal muscles, to help him tolerate the extreme ‘G forces’ of air combat. Marseille also drank an abnormal amount of milk and shunned sunglasses, to improve his eyesight.

To counter German fighter attacks, the Allied pilots flew “Lufbery circles” (in which each aircraft’s tail was covered by the friendly aircraft behind). The tactic was effective and dangerous as a pilot attacking this formation could find himself constantly in the sights of the opposing pilots. Marseille often dived at high-speed into the middle of these defensive formations from either above or below, executing a tight turn and firing a two-second deflection shot to destroy an enemy aircraft.

Marseille attacked under conditions many considered unfavourable, but his marksmanship allowed him to make an approach fast enough to escape the return fire of the two aircraft flying on either flank of the target. Marseille’s excellent eyesight made it possible for him to spot the opponent before he was spotted, allowing him to take the appropriate action and manoeuvre into position for an attack.

In combat, Marseille’s unorthodox methods led him to operate in a small leader/wingman unit, which he believed to be the safest and most effective way of fighting in the high-visibility conditions of the North African skies. Marseille “worked” alone in combat keeping his wingman at a safe distance so he would not collide or fire on him in error.

In a dogfight, particularly when attacking Allied aircraft in a Lufbery circle, Marseille would often favour dramatically reducing the throttle and even lowering the flaps to reduce speed and shorten his turn radius, rather than the standard procedure of using full throttle throughout. Emil Clade said that none of the other pilots could do this effectively, preferring instead to dive on single opponents at speed so as to escape if anything went wrong.

Marseille’s  South African associations went beyond his bond with Cpl “Mathias” Letulu and was far more lethal in respect to South African pilots.  In the weeks before the two met, Marseille is credited with shooting down three SA Air Force pilots west of Bir-el Harmat on May 31, including Bishops’ old boy Major Andrew Duncan (who was killed), and three days later, another six South African Air Force “kills” in just 11 minutes, three of whom were high-scoring aces. One of them, Robin Pare, was killed in the combat.

Death of Hauptmann Hans-Joachim Marseille

On 30 Sep 1942, Marseille’s brilliant total record of 158 career-kills came to an end (151 of them with JG 27 in North Africa).

After the engine of his Bf 109G fighter developed serious trouble, he bailed out of the aircraft close to friendly territory under the watchful eyes of his squadron mates. To their horror, Marseille’s fighter unexpectedly fell at a steep angle as he bailed out, the vertical stabilizer striking him across the chest and hip. He was either killed instantly or was knocked unconscious; in either case, his parachute did not deploy, and he struck the ground about 7 kilometers south of Sidi Abdel Rahman, Egypt.

3a6ef2df55c9625ceb0ce191332402c5

Messerschmitt Bf 109F-4 , Hans Joachim Marseille, colorised picture.

His friend and fellow JG 27 pilot and Knights Cross recipient Hauptmann Ludwig Franzisket along with the squadron surgeon Dr. Winkelmann, were the first two to arrive on the scene, bringing Marseille’s remains back to the base.

Mathias was the first to greet them, and the following is accounted from a memoir by Wilhelm Ratuszynski.

Although the heat didn’t encourage any activity, something told Mathias to wash Hans’ clothes. Hans liked to change into a fresh uniform after the flight. He always liked to look presentable. Mathias opted to use gasoline this time. They wash would dry in just few minutes.

Usually, this was done by scrubbing uniforms with sand to rid it of salt, oil and grime. Everything was in short supply. Being a personal batman for Hans-Joachim Marseille, the most famous Luftwaffe pilot, had its advantages. For instance he was given a little of aircraft fuel for washing. Mathias liked being Jochens servant and he liked Jochen himself.

They were friends. Mathias had barely started his chore, when the sound of approaching aircraft signaled to ground personnel to change torpidness for activness. Mathias put the lid on the soaking uniforms and started to walk towards the landing aircraft. He was looking for familiar plane which supposed to have number 14 painted in visible yellow on fuselage. It was supposed to land last. He noticed that three planes were missing, and last one to touch down had different number on it.

Unalarmed, he turned toward Rudi who had already jumped on the ground from wing of his 109. He saw Mathias coming and cut short his conversation with his mechanic. His face was somber when he looked at Mathias and slowly shook his head. And Mathias understood immediately. He kept looking straight into Rudi’s face for few more seconds, slowly turned and walked away. He noticed a strange sensation. No anger, sorrow, grief, nor resignation. He was calm yet something gripped his throat. Muscles on his neck tightened and he found it hard to swallow. He walked for few minutes without noticing others who were staring at him. He came to Jochen’s colorful Volks (volkswagen car) called “Otto” and sat behind steering wheel. For a moment he looked like he wanted to go somewhere, but climbed out and approached the soaking uniforms.

He looked at the canvas bag with initial H-J.M laying right beside it. He reached into his breast pocket for matches. Slowly but without any hesitation he struck a match and threw it on the laundry. Flames that burst out added to the already scourging heat. At that moment last rotte was flying in. Mathias intuitively lifted his head, following them. The lump in his throat got bigger.

While the entire squadron was devastated at the loss of such a great fighter ace, Mathias, despite having known Marseille only for a short time, was deeply depressed at the loss of a dear friend.

Marseille was initially buried in a German military cemetery in Derna, Libya during a ceremony which was attended by leaders such as Albert Kesselring and Eduard Neumann. He was later re-interned at Tobruk, Libya.

 Ludwig Franzisket

After Marseille’s death,  as promised to his friend, Hauptmann Ludwig Franzisket took Cpl Letulu in, and in turn he became his personal servant. Cpl Letulu remained with the Squadron even after Franzisket was forced to bail out whereby he too struck the vertical stabilizer, shattering a leg in the process. After been nursed to health, Franzisket returned to his Squadron and Cpl Letulu continued serving him in Tunisia, Sicily, and finally Greece.

By the summer of 1944 the situation there had grown critical with a British invasion of the Greek continent imminent. The chance had come to “smuggle” Cpl. “Mathias” Letulu into one of the hastily established POW camps, where he could then be “liberated” by the British. Franzisket planned this coup together with Hauptmann Buchholz. “Mathias “became “Mathew” again and was a corporal in the South African Division. Everything went off without a hitch. He was set free by British troops in September of 1944 and allowed to return home at the end of hostilities.

Reunion 

By coincidence, after the war, former members of JG 27 learned that Cpl “Mathias” Letulu was still alive. They immediately sent him an invitation, paid for the journey and other expenses, and finally, at the tenth reunion of the Deutsches Afrikakorps in the fall of 1984, they were once again reunited with their old South African friend.

The former pilots were elated to see him and invitations rained from all around. The following words, spoken in German as a tribute to Hans-Joachim Marseille by “Mathias” Letulu at the happy conclusion of his odyssey, and it gives some insight into the bond which had united Letulu with his German friend:

“Hauptmann Marseille was a great man and a person always willing to lend a helping hand. He was always full of humor and friendly. And he was very good to me.

In 1989, a new grave marker and a new plaque was placed at his grave site; Marseille’s surviving Luftwaffe comrades attended the event, including his Allied friend – Mathew “Mathias” Letulu who flew out specifically from South Africa to attend the ceremony.

Related work and links:

Rommel’s aide-de-camp;  Rommel’s aide-de-camp was a South African

Jack Frost, The South African Air Force’s highest scoring Ace – Jack Frost


Researched by Peter Dickens

Dress and Bearing of the South African Native Military Corps

Another rare and wonderful original colour photo. During WW2, Great Britain used the Commonwealth to train pilots from all over the world, under a scheme called the Commonwealth Joint Training Plan, a key part of this plan included Waterkloof in Pretoria.

Here a South African soldier from the ‘Native Military Corps’ (NMC) is seen on guard duty at No. 23 Air School at Waterkloof, Pretoria, South Africa, January 1943. The NMC where attached to the South African Army and the South African Air Force in ‘non-combat’ roles.

Conventions of time excluded “Black” soldiers from been armed with firearms,  however “traditional” weapons (spears and assagais) where settled on as a compromise (see below UDF issued weapons for the NMC).

390301_120229184313__MG_0155

At the time the government was only willing to utilise Black South African manpower in non-combatant roles such as drivers, mechanics, carpenters, chefs, engineers, stretcher bearers including medical aids and general administration roles. Although it was not uncommon in cases of emergencies that the members of the NMC where provided with firearms to defend positions from enemy attacks (especially during the North Africa and Italy campaigns).

Note the slouch hat worn by all Native Military Corps members (also worn by the South African Native Labour Corps in WW1) and the “Red Oath” Volunteer tabs on his epaulettes, worn by all members of the South African Armed Forces who volunteered to take part in WW2 and join the services (from all ethnic and cultural origins).

This picture is an excellent example of this corps weapon, uniform, dress and bearing.  The NMC insignia consisted of an African Elephant with the South African coat of arms and encapsulated in a wreath.

269A86C0B4724B0689CF66931FBE0163

As war was declared in 1939 the need for manpower from South Africa increased.  During 1939 at the ANC passed a resolution of Loyalty to the British Commonwealth and Black South African political and traditional leaders expressed their willingness to support Jan Smuts’ declaration of war against Nazi Germany and get behind South Africa’s war efforts, on the condition that they would be able to win concessions and greater political recognition for “Black” South Africans after the war.

The “Native Military Guards” (which went on to become the NMC)  was established in 1940 and had 4 Battalions:

1 st Battalion: amaZulu’s from Zululand now KZN
2nd Battalion: Africans from Northern Transvaal now Mpumalanga & Limpopo
3rd Battalion: amaXhosa from Transkei (Previous Homeland) Eastern Cape
4th Battalion (Witwatersrand Battalion) Were made up of Africans in Urban Areas

Unfortunately a few years after the war, in 1948, the National Party came to power and did not honour any concessions agreed by the ANC with the Smuts government – setting “Black” political representation in South Africa back somewhat and disregarding the fine legacy, sacrifice and history of the NMC and its members.

 

Image Copyright – Imperial War Museum Collection Copyright.

“With bullets in his body he returned … into a veritable hell of machine gun fire”; Lucas Majozi DCM

26731192_771151183084761_2191212210362043742_n

Lucas Majozi DCM

A very notable South African hero. The highest decoration awarded to a Black South African soldier during the Second World War was the DCM (Distinguished Conduct Medal) awarded to Lucas Majozi (1916-1969).  Read on for the story of one of South Africa’s bravest.

Lucas Majozi volunteered to fight in the 2nd World War, however as he was a black man, race politics in South Africa dictated that he could only join the Native Military Corps (NMC) in a non-combat role, which meant he and all other South African ‘Bantu’ fighting in World War 2 could not carry a firearm – unlike the Cape Coloured Corps, which could carry firearms and take a combat role.  This did not however keep the Native Military Corps away from the perils of fighting and NMC were often fight right in the middle of the fighting.  To read up a little more of this, see Observation Post ‘Armed’ SA Native Military Corps in WW2 – this Corps screams out for a definitive work! .

So how does an unarmed NMC soldier get to win one of the highest accolades for bravery in World War 2?

The answer lies in Lucas Majozi’s personality and character, he was a proper South African warrior and although he would be unarmed he volunteered to become a medic working as a stretcher bearer in the thick of fighting to bring wounded men back from harm to aid stations, an extremely dangerous job.  Like another Native Military Corps hero – Job Maseko, Lucas Majozi by his actions was also to become one of South Africa’s fighting legends.  To read more on Job Maseko and his remarkable bravery read this Observation. Post: Job Maseko; one very remarkable South African war hero

So lets have a look at Lucas Majozi, his account is a truly inspirational one, a very remarkable act of bravery and courage.

nmc

Bardia, taken earlier 31st December 1941, black stretcher-bearers in action under fire (photo : R.Masters from The Kaffrarian Rifles of FL Coleman).

The end of the beginning 

The DCM was the second highest British award for gallantry after the Victoria Cross. It was awarded to Lucas Majozi for the great bravery that he displayed during the game-changing 2nd battle of El Alamein which commenced on 23 October 1942 when the British 8th Army under command of General Bernard Montgomery attacked the German/Italian forces under command of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel.

The Battle of El Alamein plays such a significant in the outcome of World War 2, Winston Churchill once remarked; “before Alamein, we never had a victory – after Alamein we never had a defeat” and more famously that Alamein marked the ‘end of the beginning‘ of World War 2.

Operation Lightfoot

The 1st South African Division played a spearhead role. It had to breach the German minefield which had been sown with more than half a million mines – with a dab of military humour this part of the 2nd Battle of El Alamein was called ‘Operation Lightfoot’.  South African sappers were to play a significant role opening up the minefield to allow the Allied and South African forces to push through.

General Montgomery’s basic idea was that the Australians and Highlanders were to force a northern corridor through the Axis (German/Italian) minefields while the New Zealanders and South Africans were to do the same in the southern sector.

alamein 1

A 25-pdr gun firing during the British night artillery barrage which opened Second Battle of El Alamein, 23 October 1942. Imperial War Museum Copyright

The 1st Infantry Division (South Africa), under the overall command of General Dan Pienaar was tasked attack on a two-brigade front to secure the southern end of Mieiriya Ridge. The Indian 4th and Northumbrian 50th Divisions were deployed to their south and to the north was the 2nd New Zealand Division.

The South Africans were to attack towards the south-west with 2nd SA Infantry Brigade (under the command of Brig. W.H.E. Poole) on the right and the 3rd SA Infantry Brigade (under the Command of Brig. R. Palmer) on the left. The 1st SA Infantry Brigade was deployed further south and was responsible for creating an anti-tank screen to protect the left flank of the South African attack.

Our hero – Lucas Majozi was deployed with Brig. Poole in the 2nd SA Infantry Brigade to attack the South West, and he was in support of the 1st and 2nd Field Force Battalions (FFB) which were basically South African Infantry Corps battalions.

Crumbling Actions

Operation Lightfoot started at 2140 on 23 October with a five-hour fire plan, the start of which signified H-Hour for the infantry assault.  General Pienaar had deployed each of the lead brigades, with on battalion leading for the first phase to the “red line”  – after a pause of an hour and a quarter, the two trailing battalions would pass though to the final objective on Miteiriya Ridge.  By 08:00, the following morning on 24th October the South African objective, Miteiriya Ridge was finally secured, after a very long night of fighting and a very high rate of attrition by way of casualties (the rate of attrition was on a World War 1 scale dubbed ‘crumbling actions’ by General Montgomery who chose this tactic). By the evening of 26 October (as from the H-Hour on the 23rd), the South Africans had suffered 600 casualties (the British had 2000 casualties as well as 1,000 Australians 1000 New Zealanders).

alamein2

El Alamein 1942: Wounded British soldiers wait on stretchers for attention at an Advanced Dressing Station. A Royal Army Medical Corps officer gives a drink to one of the wounded (Imperial War Museum Copyright)

Into all these  ‘crumbling actions,’ of high rates of attrition and loads of casualties comes Lucas Majozi and his remarkable tale of individual bravery.

Pinned down in the Axis minefield 

The South African 1st and 2nd Field Force Brigades (FFB), as soon after the battle began, became pinned down in the German Axis forces minefield by intense German machine gun and artillery fire. The South African infantrymen suffered very severe casualties.

Throughout the night of 23 October, the stretcher-bearers worked under heavy enemy fire, tending to the wounded and evacuating them from the battlefield.  Amongst these Black NMC non-combatant medics rescuing their White combatant counterparts was Lucas Majozi (see related article Skin colour is irrelevant in a foxhole!).  His citation says everything about his actions:

The DCM for Lucas Majozi

Citation given to Lucas Majozi, NMC, for the Distinguished Conduct Medal is given below: No N 17525 Cpl Lucas Majozi, NMC, a Zulu from Zastron, Orange Free State att. FFB – Distinguished Conduct Medal.

Screen Shot 2017-12-10 at 13.56.07

Lucas Majozi

‘On the night of October 23-24, Majozi accompanied his company into action as a stretcher-bearer. In the later stages of the action when he was within 100 yards of the enemy and under heavy fire, he thought nothing of his personal safety and continued to evacuate casualties assisted by co-bearers.

He was then wounded by shrapnel, but he continued evacuating the wounded. Told by a medical corporal to go back to the regimental aid post, he replied that there were many wounded men still in the minefield.

He went back, and with the assistance of other stretcher-bearers, he brought back more wounded. After his co-bearer had become a casualty, he did not waver, but carried wounded men back alone on his back to the aid post.

When he was eventually told by the Company Commander to go back, he smilingly refused and remained on duty, working incessantly till he collapsed next morning through sheer exhaustion, stiffness, and loss of blood. His extreme devotion to duty and gallant conduct under continuous enemy fire throughout the night saved the lives of many wounded men who would otherwise have died through loss of blood or possible further wounds.’

Here is a copy of the original signal:

19095677_1542172835815645_8910920999632652268_o

Aftermath 

The British and Commonwealth forces, including the South Africans were able to break out of their initial objectives by the 2nd of November 1942 and the Axis forces were turned in retreat, a retreat from which they never recovered.

To get a full appraisal of the South African actions at El Alamein, follow this link “General Pienaar, tell your South African Division they have done well”; The Battle of El Alamein

Praise 

10624891_529650280538042_8160589725628105777_n

General Dan Pienaar

At a parade in Egypt after the battle of El Alamein, the commander of the 1st South African Division, Major-General Daniel Hermanus Pienaar (popularly known as Dan Pienaar) said of Lucas Majozi:

‘This soldier did most magnificent and brave things. With a number of bullets in his body he returned time after time into a veritable hell of machine gun fire to pull out wounded men. He is a man of whom South Africa can well be proud. He is a credit to his country.’

Post War

581520_199581196878287_2116978767_n

Lucas Majozi DCM ‘Official Portrait’

After the war, Majozi returned to the town of his birth, Zastron. In 1948 he joined the South African Police (SAP), attaining the rank of sergeant.  Like all returning South Africa World War 2 heroes (white and black) his legacy and great deed was to be sidelined by the incoming Nationalist government in 1948 and his story lost to many future generations – even today.

In particular the two Black NMC men – Majozi and Maseko who received bravery decorations were somewhat downplayed over the Apartheid years by the Nationalist government and not honoured as national heroes.

Lucas Majozi died in 1969.  The South African National Museum of Military History is in possession of both this portrait by the famous artist, Neville Lewis and his medal group.  His legacy today is marked by a display at the Delville Wood Museum in France, the SA National History Museum in Saxonwald, a street in Zastron is also named after him.  The MOTH (Memorable Order of Tin Hats) Shellhole (clubhouse) for military veterans in Riebeek Kasteel (Western Cape) is also called the Majozi Shellhole in his honour.

Many say he should have received the Victoria Cross (the highest award for gallantry) but did not because he was a black man and due to race politics was not recommended for one – in either event his case should be reviewed by the British issuing authority with the perseverance of the South African National Defence Force attache in London.

He remains a true South African warrior and hero deserving of more of our praise and recognition.


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens. Photographic references Imperial War Museum and Wikipedia. Lucas Majozi DCM official portrait by Neville Lewis – accredited state artist.