“Wounded 27 times”; When re-naming a fighting ship makes sense!

We are usually up in arms when things get re-named in South Africa, as more often than not it’s usually a political motivation that underpins it ahead of actually honouring South Africans highly deserving of it.   But now and again we get it right, and the renaming of the SAS Oswald Pirow in 1997, a South African Navy fighting strike craft, to her new name the SAS René Sethren is a case in point.

So why was Oswald Pirow singled out to get his name taken down from an honour bestowed on him and who the heck is René Sethren?  It’s almost guaranteed that most modern South Africans would have no clue who Sethren was, most would properly just assume he was this or that ‘struggle hero’.

Far from it, Rene Sethren is a hero all South Africans can stand very proud of, but more of him later, what’s the issue with Oswald Pirow?

Oswald Pirow

In a nutshell Oswald Pirow was an Afrikaner Nationalist who served as a Minister of Parliament and Minister of Defence under the nationalist Hertzog coalition.  He was pivotal in creating South African Airways and famously prosecuted Nelson Mandela in the Treason Trial.

But he had a very dark side, he was also an ardent full-blown Nazi, prior to World War 2 he launched the Nazi New Order ideology in South Africa, he adored and met both Hitler and Mussolini, and his disposition to Nazism as an ideology did not end with the end of the war, in fact with the election of the National Party in 1948 he felt more empowered in his beliefs and it ramped up somewhat.

10460708_459305080905896_5196244094119877880_n

Oswald Pirow (in civilian dress) inspecting Nazi German forces

After the war Pirow went into collaboration with the infamous British Fascist Party leader Oswald Mosley to write a joint paper on the separate development of white and black races in all of Africa along the lines of white supremacy and black subjugation – the idea to feed ‘white’ African southern states from ‘black’ North African states with exploited migrant labour.

So, naming a South African strike vessel after him was going to be very controversial, it applauded all the old South African Navy veterans and serving personnel who went to war against the very ideology Oswald Pirow followed.  They had watched thousands of South Africans make massive sacrifices including the ultimate one, fighting on British and South African vessels against Nazism, and now they watched an insular nationalist government name a fighting vessel after an ardent flag waving Nazi.

505808586

Oswald Pirow and Oswald Mosley

Not a military man either, Pirow had never served in the military other than to be a Minister of Defence, he had no military credentials and he was hated by the South African jewish community, the war veteran community and South African black community – in fact ‘hated’ would be an understatement.

Hardly a ‘hero’, the naming of his SAN Strike Craft vessels after Ministers of Defence called ‘Minister Class’ would be controversial from the get-go, a simple case of political one-upmanship and the case of Oswald Pirow the nationalists would be seen as rubbing the South African navy veterans noses in it for supporting Britain in World War 2.

So, no surprise really as to why the ‘Minister Class’ of defining strike craft and Oswald Pirow’s name had to go. But thankfully, this time in a breath of fresh air, the South African Navy decided on a simple hero, and not political one-upmanship, when it came to re-naming the SAS Oswald Pirow.  They chose CPO (Stoker) René Sethren, but who the heck is he and what did he do?

René Sethren

sethrenChief Petty Officer (Stoker) René Sethren CGM has a story which is simply jaw dropping to say the least. René Sethren left school after Std 7, a keen boxer and highly astute he joined South Africa’s fledgling navy as a stoker in 1940, rising in rank eventually to Chief Petty Officer (Stoker).

On the 30th June 1941, a small flotilla of ships including South African mine-sweepers is on convoy from Mersa Matruh approaching Tobruk in the midst of the fighting around Tobruk between Rommel’s German and Italian Axis forces and the British and Commonwealth Forces, with South Africans right at the centre of it defending Tobruk and El Alamein.

As they close in on the coast the convoy comes under fire from German shore batteries and is also attacked by a number of German Stuka dive bombers, JU87’s and Messerschmidt 109’s.

Enter one small South African ship, HMSAS Southern Isles, a converted whaler, performing anti submarine, patrol and general support duties in the Mediterranean during the Second World War, and its stoker René Sethren.

34302702_10156203070971480_3394612786343444480_n_Fotor

HMSAS Southern Isles

Five German JU-88’s attacked the HMSAS Southern Isles, luckily with no real damage, then came a little lull in the fighting, during which a single JU-87 which had been attacking a convoy merchant called the ‘Cricket’ nearby made a close pass to the HMSAS Southern Isles and was shot down by the Southern Isles’ rear gun.

But that was not the end of it, a bigger and more fierce attack was to come.  The convoy came under attack from 50 enemy aircraft, 8 of which were concentrated on any one ship in the convoy.   The commander of the HMSAS Southern Isles described it as “The sky appeared to rain bombs”.

As a result of this action there are by then a number of casualties on the upper deck. In order to assist those fighting off the attacking Stuka aircraft Chief Petty Officer (Stoker) René Sethren is sent up from his normal station shovelling coal in the engine room, he had been at this task for a 12 full hours.  René is also a qualified reserve machine gunner and he was urgently needed, his best friend who had been manning the ships’ twin Lewis anti-aircraft machine gun was dead lying next to gun. René immediately took over the gun, standing on ammunition boxes to train his gun he starts a non stop volley of fire against the attacking German aircraft.

At this stage a German JU88 aircraft joined the Stuka attack and strafed the ship’s upper deck with its machine guns. Sethren is seen to fall after he was hit by machine gun bullets from the JU88 (he had 8 separate bullet wounds  – read that again – shot 8 times).

ju-88-7

Junkers JU-88

Notwithstanding his wounds he muscles up some superhuman strength and stands up, and unbelievably he again engages the attacking aircraft with the Lewis gun. At the conclusion of the battle Rene Sethren is found to have more than just the eight bullet wounds, in fact medics count a total of 27 wounds in one arm, both legs and his side.

Conspicuous_Gallantry_Medal_(Flying)_(UK)For his actions he is awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal – the highest award won by a South African rating in World War 2, the only South African to be awarded this medal and one of only 243 men who had been awarded the medal prior to that day since its introduction in 1855.

Rene Sethren received his gallantry decoration from King George V. His wounds are so extensive he spends 18 months recovering in hospital, his boxing career over and because of his injuries he is unable to ever go to sea again.

In conclusion

Wow, now that is a man we can stand around of, that is the sort of person we can name a fighting ship after.  No politics, just pure gallantry from a simple rating, an engine stoker – an inspiration to any person serving in the navy.  In every respect the right person to re-name the SAS Oswald Pirow strike craft after.

The Warrior Class South African Ship René Sethren started on her final voyage in October 2001 leaving  Durban harbour for the South African Navy’s fleet headquarters in Simonstown to be finally decommissioned after 22 years of service, with a fitting name to a proud fighting legacy.

s-l1000_Fotor

SAS René Sethren

Related Work and Links

Oswald Pirow;  South Africa’s ‘Neuordnung’ and Oswald Pirow

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

HMSAS Parktown; The feisty South African minesweeper that went down fighting – HMSAS Parktown

HMSAS Treern;  The last South African Navy ship to be lost in action; HMSAS Treern

HMSAS Bever; “Under a hail of shells”; Recounting the bravery and loss of HMSAS Bever

HMSAS Southern Floe; ‘A sole survivor and a ship’s crest’; the South African Navy’s first loss – HMSAS Southern Floe

Military Heroes; Tainted “Military Heroes” vs. Real Military Heroes


Written and researched by Peter Dickens.  References, Day by Day SA Naval History by Chris Bennett. Allan du Toit’s  ‘South African Fighting Ships Past and Present’.

The day the SAAF nearly killed Jan Smuts

Not a lot of people know this, but the South African Air Force (SAAF) nearly killed General Jan Smuts in a ‘Blue on Blue’ incident – military speak for when you fire on your own forces. The incident also says a lot of Jan Smuts’ character – so what happened?

Prior to the war, Oswald Pirow was the Defence Minister under the Hertzog regime, he was also a key player in the establishment of South African Airways (SAA).  As an ardent supporter of Nazi Germany and the Nazi cause himself he had a keen relationship with Nazi Germany.  He toured Germany on military inspections,  also buying German military hardware on a number of occasions.  As a result  both SAA and the SAAF at the beginning of the war found themselves equipped with German-made aircraft.

One particular aircraft was a German-made bomber made by Junkers, and it was used by both Axis forces in World War 2 and by South African forces – it was the Ju-86.  The difference between the two were slight adaptations and markings.

East African Campaign

At the onset of Word War 2, the South African Air Force’s 1 Squadron moved north in May 1940 for operations against the Italians in East Africa, 6 Hawker Fury fighter aircraft were part of the unit’s equipment.  Arriving in Mombasa, Kenya in June 1940, 6 ex-RAF Fury Is were added to their equipment that August, with 16 more arriving between October and January 1941.

On October 27, 1940, the Furies first saw combat for the first time when 4 Italian Ca.133s from 8 Gruppo, and 25 Squadriglia, attacked their airfield.

216_1

SAAF 1 Squadron Hawker Fury

During October, 2 Squadron was formed out of 1 Squadron, with 9 Furies. On October 31, Hawker Furies from this unit came very close to shooting down two SAAF Ju-86s carrying some very important VIP’s travelling to the SAAF air-base to consult on South Africa’s conduct in the war to date.  The VIP’s included General Jan Smuts (South Africa’s Prime Minister and Commander-in-Chief), Sir Pierre van Ryneveld, Major General Alan Cunningham, and Major General Galmen-Austen.  So here is what happened.

Blue and Blue

Within twelve hours of arriving at Nairobi, General Smuts, General Cunningham and the Chief of the South African General Staff were on their way by road to Gilgil, here they were given a rousing reception by 2nd S.A. Infantry Brigade Group whose troops were inspected by General Smuts before his party lunched in the Brigade Officers’ Mess. The party then drove on to Nakuru airfield to meet Lieutenant-Colonel S.A. Melville and men of No. 1 Bomber Brigade and 40 Squadron, SAAF.

On 31 October 1940 General Smuts’ party left at sunrise, not in the Lodestar they arrived in but in a Junkers 86 bomber of the South African Air Force piloted by Captain D. B. Raubenheimer and accompanied by a second Junkers 86 carrying war correspondents, the formation also included a Dragon Rapide and an escort of two Hurricanes.

The aircrafts were making straight for Garba Tulla but changed course because General Smuts had been specially asked to fly over Archer’s Post airfield, headquarters of No. 11 Bomber Squadron, SAAF.

Later on 31 October 1940 the  South African Air Force Ju-86 bomber/transports carrying the VIP contingent did not follow specified procedures to identify themselves as ‘friendly’, as they passed over Archer’s Post. The formation did not signal the specified recognition signal, which consisted of lowering the undercarriage and waggling the wings.

p1

SAAF Ju-86

Under the impression that the formation was Italian, three SAAF Hawker Furies of 2 Squadron’s ‘D’ detachment, led by Captain J. Meaker, were scrambled and intercepted the formation.

Captain Meaker brought his formation into position quickly and closed to open fire on the bombers. As he manoeuvred to engage the right hand aircraft he noticed that it had twin rudders and climbed slightly to look at its markings, which he immediately recognised. He pulled up and away to the right, but Lieutenant Doug Pannell, flying on his leader’s starboard side, took this to indicate that Captain Meaker had finished his attack.

Meaker had no radio so could not warn the other two Fury that they were SAAF aircraft and he watched in horror as Lt. Pannell went in on attack and opened fire, Pannell only realised his mistake as he broke away.

The pilot of the third Fury did not open fire, and fortunately the Junkers was not shot down.

The Ju-86 aircraft were painted green, still in their original Luftwaffe colour. All SAAF Ju-86 had a 600 series number had a solid nose cone.  They however carried the distinctive South African Orange White and Blue markings and the British and Commonwealth roundel scheme.

Picture6.jpg.opt836x456o0,0s836x456

SAAF Ju-86

Close Call

When they landed 8 bullet holes were found in the fuselage and wing root of the SAAF Ju-86 Smuts was flying in, one of the bullets had even passed between Jan Smut’s legs.   In Smuts’ typical stoic, calm and implacable nature he even made light of the entire incident and there were no recriminations to the SAAF pilots involved.

Smuts had been in two previous wars, the 2nd Anglo Boer War and the 1st World War, it was not the first time he had come under fire and he understood the hazardous nature of warfare, his horse had even been shot out from under him Moodernaar’s Poort during the 2nd Anglo Boer War.

Later in the Second World War the SAAF aircraft fleet was modernised somewhat and equipped with more distinctive Allied Hawker Hurricane and Spitfire fighters, Smuts was to regularly use an American made Lockheed Lodestar when visiting South African troops on the ground and air-bases.

smuts 2

Field Marshal Smuts standing in front of the aircraft in which he made his flying visits. It was an ex-South African Airways Lockheed Lodestar, which retained its natural metal finish when it became No 234 of the South African Air Force. IWM Copyright

In Conclusion

There are still some Afrikaners in the South African conservative right who would wish that the SAAF had indeed killed Jan Smuts, but in truth is he was a very popular World War 2 leader.  His popularity did not only extend the Allied forces, mainly British, American and other Commonwealth countries, it also extended to South African forces involved in World War 2 and domestically, especially amongst white volunteers fighting the war, half of which were of Afrikaner extract.

Smuts’ contribution to the outcome of the Second World War is immeasurable, his membership of the Imperial War Cabinet and his position as Winston Churchill’s personal advisor went a long way to winning the war for the Allies.  An early death of Smuts would have had ramifications on how the war was fought and won.

It also remains a fact that even after the war when Smuts still maintained a high degree of popularity domestically, and when he lost the General Election to the Afrikaner Nationalists in 1948, he still commanded a majority vote from the white electorate and only lost the election on a constitutional seat basis.

Related work

Oswald Pirow; South Africa’s ‘Neuordnung’ and Oswald Pirow

Jan Smuts; “The force of his intellect has enriched the wisdom of the whole human race”- the death of Jan Smuts.

Jan Smuts; A true statesman, Jan Smuts addressing the British Parliament – 1942


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens,  with thanks and contribution from Sandy Evan Hanes and Warren Williamson.  References include ‘Jan Smuts – Unafraid of Greatness’ by Richard Steyn,  Image copyright of Smuts next to Lockheed – Imperial War Museum, Image of SAAF Ju-86 courtesy Tinus Le Roux’s SAAF Legends website.

South Africa’s ‘Neuordnung’ and Oswald Pirow

Oswald_Pirow

Oswald Pirow

So when is it right to re-name a national landmark road?  We’re all up in arms that Edwin Swales VC Drive, named after our famous Victoria Cross winner for gallantry in World War 2 was re-named as Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu Drive after a controversial Umkhonto we Sizwe operative.  But what of Oswald Pirow Street in Cape Town, is there a case to justify this street name change?

Read on for a little more on who Oswald Pirow really was, learn some more on South African “hidden” military history; the Pro Nazi paramilitary organisations who sought to destabilise South Africa and the Union during the Second World War and bring South Africa into a one party ‘Fuhrer’ state run along ‘national socialism’ lines.

In all there were three movements which supported Nazi Germany and embraced its ideology in South Africa, the Ossewabrandwag, the SANP Greyshirts (see Pro Nazi movements in wartime South Africa – the SANP “Greyshirts”) and the ‘global’ Nazi movement – The ‘New Order’ – led by our subject for the day, the well-known South African Nationalist Politician and Public Prosecutor – Oswald Pirow.

10460708_459305080905896_5196244094119877880_n

Oswald Pirow in Nazi Germany, November 1938  in Berlin inspecting a honour guard from the German Luftwaffe (Air Force), to his left is Wilhelm Canaris, to his right Ernst Seifert.

In a relatively little known part of South African history, Oswald Pirow was sent on ‘quasi-official’ visits on behalf of the Hertzog government to Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.  His mission was one of appeasement, to meet with Hitler, Ribbentrop and Goering and try to establish Anglo-German rapprochement as well as assure them of South Africa’s neutrality under the Hertzog government.

Pirow’s solution to easing British and German tention prior to tyhe war, which he proposed to Hitler, was for the British to agree with the Nazi policy of “Drang nach Osten” (meaning yearning or ‘thrust’ towards the East for ‘living space’ as Hitler put it in his book ‘Mein Kamph’) and in return Hitler should allow all the Jewish people living in Germany to leave.  In reality this offer would never have happened as it would have required Britain, by way of a parliamentary agreement, to renege on its commitment to Poland as an ally.  However, Pirow also had another mission, that of building a South African partnership for a post war Nazi world.

So how is it that these lessor known South African missions and special envoy on ‘quasi official’ visits come about, what was he doing and what made Oswald Pirow tick?

Background

Oswald Pirow was born in Aberdeen (Cape Province, South Africa) on 14th August 1890, and was the grandson of a German missionary and son of a Doctor. Pirow studied law in Potchefstroom, Germany and London, and then practised as an advocate in Pretoria.  Oswald spoke perfect German and was insistent that only German was spoken by his family at home in South Africa (it was said by those who knew them that the Pirow family was more German in identity than South African).

He came to fame as a lawyer defending the Communist ring-leaders and instigators of The Rand Revolt in 1922 (see South Africa’s very own Communist Revolution – The Rand Revolt of 1922), an odd start for him as he became an ardent hater of anything Communist and would later come up with plans to ‘eradicate’ communism from the planet in its entirety (not just South Africa).

He made several unsuccessful attempts to enter parliament and finally in 1924 he was elected for Zoutpansberg. Smuts defeated him in 1929 in Standerton but he returned to Parliament and in the same year and he was appointed Minister of Justice in General Hertzog’s cabinet. The Hertzog government was in coalition, so it could not fully unleash Nationalist proposals for a Republic (of which Pirow was a keen supporter).

As Justice Minister, typical to form as a fierce anti-communist he passed the first anti-communist legislation in South Africa. In 1933 he was appointed Minister of Railways and Harbours, and from 1933 to 1939 he was Minister of Defence.

25074984_2060834677478853_5650117780720895916_o

Oswald Pirow (in civilian dress) on tour inspecting German military capability in 1938

Unofficial Envoy 

In 1936 Pirow attended the Olympic Games in National Socialist (Nazi) Germany and in 1938 again visited Europe, including Spain, Portugal and Germany. These visits confirmed his admiration for this new style of government in Europe and, in particular, for National Socialism (Nazism). A vehement anti-communist – Pirow vowed to legislate communism out of existence, he also became an admirer of Adolf Hitler – especially after meeting him in 1933.

11425451_459347364235001_7335473098897133162_n

Oswald Pirow ( left) at a reception of the Nazi Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop in conversation with Erhard Milch (right) and Walter Hevel on November 19, 1938

During this tours he also met Benito Mussolini, António de Oliveira Salazar and Francisco Franco and became convinced that a European war was imminent, with a resounding Nazi victory assured.  The future Pirow predicted was one of global nazism and it was a future he liked.

The Nationalists were strongly in favour of Nazi Germany, primarily as the antagonists for war in their eyes were the British, and they simply hated the British.  This hatred stemmed from the punitive deportation and containment measures used by The British against Boer families along with the destruction of their farmsteads during The 2nd Anglo-Boer War.

Publicly the Nationalists declared neutrality as to Nazi Germany and to the impending war with Germany, whilst covertly their members (and even leaders) in the tens of thousands joined pro Nazi organisations like the Ossawabrandwag and the SANP Grey Shirts, which very publicly nailed their colours to mast strongly in support of Nazi Germany.

When General Jan Smuts committed South Africa to war against Nazi Germany, Pirow found his position in government as a Minister of Parliament and especially as Minister of Defence untenable. He had given his support in 1939 to Hertzog’s neutrality policy and had been on appeasement missions to Nazi Germany in support of them.  He then resigned along with Hertzog and took no part in Smuts’ reformatted war-time government.

South Africa’s ‘New Order’ 

By September 1940, with Nazi Germany on the ascendancy having invaded most of Western Europe, Pirow launched the South African version of the “New Order” within the breakaway National Party – the Herenigde Nasionale Party (HNP), backing a Nazi style dictatorship.

His new political grouping took its name from his 1940 ‘New Order in South Africa’ pamphlet in which Pirow embraced the ideology of Nazi globalisation.

To understand what the concept of the “New Order” was – the New Order (German: Neuordnung) was the political order which Nazi Germany wanted to impose on the conquered areas under its dominion.

The establishment of the New Order was publicly proclaimed by Adolf Hitler and entailed the creation of a pan-German racial state structured according to Nazi ideology to ensure the supremacy of an Aryan-Nordic master race, massive territorial expansion into Eastern Europe through its colonization with German settlers, the physical annihilation of the Jews and others considered to be “unworthy of life”, and the extermination, expulsion, or enslavement of most of the Slavic peoples and others regarded as “racially inferior”.

third-reich-2

Hitler’s New Order for Africa

Hitler’s ‘New Order’ plan involved global expansion, it focussed primarily on Eastern Europe (‘living space’) however it also extend to Asia, India, South America and North America in ‘post war’ fascist dominated world. Like any plan for globalisation, Africa also played a role in the New Order.

Hitler’s overall intentions for the future organisation of Africa was based on a plan which divided the continent into three big parts. The northern third of Africa was to be assigned to Germany’s Axis partner – Italy. The central part of Africa would fall under German rule. The remaining southern sector would be controlled by a pro-Nazi Afrikaner state built along racial grounds.

Foreign Minister Ribbentrop had communicated this plan with South African leaders sympathetic to Nazism, and a key channel for this communication were his meetings with Oswald Pirow whilst he was on his ‘quasi official’ South African State visits to Nazi Germany on behalf of the Hertzog government.

25188738_2060834724145515_6204150310272340344_o

Oswald Pirow as a special South African envoy inspecting German Infantry and military capability in 1938

Ribbentrop informed the Afrikaner Nationalist leaders that once Germany had won the war, Germany was to reclaim its former colony of German South-West Africa (now Namibia), then a mandate would be given to an Afrikaner Nationalist led South Africa as a sort of ‘war compensation’ which would include the territorial acquisitions of the British protectorates of  Swaziland, Basutoland (Lesotho), Bechuanaland (Botswana) and the colony of Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe).

On the division of French African colonies between the Spanish and Italian governments Hitler refused to provide any official promises during the war, fearful of losing the support of Vichy France

Decline of Pirow’s New Order 

240px-DFMalanPortret

Dr. DF Malan

DF Malan, leader of the National Party initially tolerated the actions of Oswald Pirow’s South African adaption of the 3rd Reich’s ‘New Order’ however very soon Malan came to realise what the extreme ideology of  The New Order was about and he immediately saw it as a divisive influence on the Afrikaner nationalist movement.

Fearful of a split in Afrikaner nationalism over support for extreme Nazism and for Hitler’s plans for the African ‘new order’, at the Nationalists Transvaal party congress of August 1941, DF Malan forced through a motion ending the New Order’s propaganda activities, particularly their insistence on a one-party state on a ‘Führer’ principle.

To understand more about the National Party and its associations to pro Nazi movements do follow this link “Mein Kampf shows the way to greatness for South Africa” – The Ossewabrandwag

Although restricted by DF Malan, the New Order continued to exist and Pirow and 17 of his New Order supporters continued to be associated with the HNP and continued to attend their caucus meetings.

The New Order  finally broke from the HNP altogether in 1942 after both D.F. Malan and J.G. Strijdom publicly rejected the Nazis.

Partnership with Sir Oswald Mosley 

537202579

Oswald Mosley

With the outcome of the war firmly against Nazi Germany, Oswald Pirow’s political career within the Afrikaner Nationalists was effectively over, he returned to legal practice, and during this time became a friend of Sir Oswald Mosley.

Mosley was ex-British MP and an infamous British Nazi, he led the British Union of Fascists (BUF), a Neo-nazi British organisation following the edicts of the ‘New Order’ in the United Kingdom.

Mosley was imprisoned at the outbreak of World War 2 in 1940 for his extreme views in support of the enemy (Nazi Germany) and the BUF was outlawed. He was released in 1943.

Oswald Pirow and Mosley, having similar political views decided to collaborate together and they developed an idea for the division of Africa into exclusively black and white areas.

505808586

Oswald Pirow and Oswald Mosley

The two met after Pirow read a copy of Mosley’s book ‘The Alternative’ and by 1947 they were in discussion over founding an anti-communist group to be known as the “enemies of the Soviet Union” (although this plan never reached fruition).

buf_flag

Mosley’s British Union of Fascists (BUF) Flag

The two Oswalds co-operation started in earnest when Pirow visited Mosley in London in April 1948 and spent the weekend at his house.  In collaboration with Mosley, Oswald Pirow started writing articles for the Union Movement journals and The European, some of which were reprinted in German magazine Nation Europa.

In addition to writing for far right wing publications, the two Oswalds came up with what were known as the Mosley-Pirow Proposals, which advocated the extension of the South African National Party’s Apartheid ideology and concept to include the entire continent of Africa.  The idea they came up with was that two-thirds of sub saharan Africa would be advocated for ‘Black States’ and one-third would be for ‘White states’.  Where the two of them differed on their concept of ‘Eurafrica’ (which they coined) is that Pirow felt that ‘sweated labour’ would need to be forced whereas Mosley felt that unskilled Labour, needed in the ‘white states,’ was to be traded for from the ‘black states’ in return for technical assistance at some ‘later stage’.

The relationship with Pirow and Mosley started to break down after their ‘Eurafrica proposals’ were launched. Pirow came to realise that virtually nobody took Mosley seriously, people generally dismissed both him and his economic and political treatise out of hand as an extreme oddity.

The Treason Trial

Nelson Mandela, treason trial, Pretoria, 1958

Nelson Mandela at The Treason Trial 1956

Very famously Pirow, now back in South Africa and back in his legal guise, acted as the public prosecutor during the Treason Trial of 1956. The Treason Trial was a trial in which 156 people, including Nelson Mandela, were arrested in a raid and accused of treason in South Africa in 1956. The main trial lasted until 1961, when all of the defendants were found not guilty. During the trials, Oliver Tambo left the country and was exiled. Some of the defendants, including Nelson Mandela were later convicted in the Rivonia Trial in 1964.

Following the Treason Trial Pirow largely lived in retirement, publishing several books, especially on JB Hertzog of who he was an admirer, he also wrote books on wildlife and adventure books for boys. He died of heart failure. He was cremated and his ashes are kept at his Valhalla Farm residence near Pilgrim’s Rest.

11401548_459339007569170_7553625890068332822_n

Influence on Apartheid 

Oswald Pirow’s influence in South African politics and Apartheid is far-reaching. The Tomlinson Commission – which investigated the validity of the idea Apartheid was not a new creation, and its findings were based in part on findings made by the Native Economic Commission in 1932 and on preparatory work done by Oswald Pirow.

Very little is known in South Africa today of the frustration and disillusionment returning South African combatants from World War 2 felt and the motivation behind their eventual mass protests against Apartheid policies in the 1950’s (known as the ‘Torch’ Commando rallies – attracting  tens of thousands of war veterans – see The Torch Commando led South Africa’s first mass anti-apartheid protests, NOT the ANC!).

Effectively the returning South African statute force veterans had gone to war to rid the world of Nazism, only to come home and in a few short years find significant “home grown” Nazi’s in government or playing a key role in public prosecution (as was the case with Pirow) when the National Party narrowly beat Smuts’ United Party into power in 1948.

The likes of famous World War 2 heroes like Adolph “Sailor” Malan would have none of it and they took to the streets in the first mass protests against Apartheid and the Nationalist government who had only come into power a couple of years before hand and where already removing the cape coloured vote from the register – see Sailor Malan; Fighter Ace & Freedom Fighter!.

The Torch Commando and veteran protests where ultimately suppressed by The National Party (including Sailor Malan) and the Nationalists where free to promote their heroes – Oswald Pirow had the foreshore road in Cape Town named after him  as well as a South African navy strike craft – the SAS Oswald Pirow – much to the disillusionment of many of South Africa’s war veterans, the disenfranchised voters and the South African Jewish community.

Re-naming 

Since 1994, proposals were to put forward to re-name the strike craft and Cape Town’s foreshore road.

The SAS Oswald Pirow was re-named the SAS Rene Sethren after a famous Navy stocker Rene Sethren who was on board a South African minesweeper in World War 2. In June 1941 his ship was escorting a convoy to Tobruk when they came under heavy attack from enemy planes. He took over an anti-aircraft gun and did not stop firing until the attack was over. He was wounded 27 times during the attack and fortunately survived, he received his gallantry decoration from King George V.

It was also discovered that although Dr Christiaan Barnard had performed the world’s first heart transplant nothing in the way of Cape Town’s streets honoured this, since 2011 most Captonians now know this landmark road which was ‘Oswald Pirow Street’ as ‘Christiaan Barnard Street’.

Oswald Pirow

There is an argument that says we should not be re-naming things in the interests of preserving history, with all its spots, however world over institutions named after Nazis have been re-named and/or scrubbed of anything glorifying this history.  Munich – the birthplace of Nazism is virtually clean of any old references, such is its blight to the entire human race caused by this ideology, and in this respect South Africa has acted no differently.

What is surprising is that even during the 70’s and the 80’s, the National Party were unapologetic in the glorification of individuals so closely associated to National Socialist ideology and Nazism, no matter how hurtful to the vast majority of South Africans, well after the horrors of this ideology had been exposed and universally condemned (even in South Africa).

Pirow was allowed to continue as the State Prosecutor and advise Apartheid policy, his controversial plans for the Nazification of Southern Africa were just glazed over and conveniently swept under the rug – the modern South African generation would grow up fairly oblivious of Oswald Pirow’s really dark past.

11406645_459696484200089_3957396089513991556_o

Display of the SAS Oswald Pirow at the SA Naval Museum, it was renamed the renamed SAS Rene Sethren on April 1, 1997


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens.

Feature photo copyright the German Federal Archives copyright. ‘Very Deeply Dyed in Black’ Sir Oswald Mosley  and the Resurrection of British Fascism After 1945 by Graham Macklin. NSDAP Office of Colonial Policy  Brian Bunting’s 1964 book, The Rise of the South African Reich.  Ribbontrop’s proposals to South Africa, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,  by William Shirer, 1974 edition.

Published by New York: Crest, 1962, New York (1962