Job Maseko: An Underappreciated War Hero Who Singlehandedly Sank A German Ship

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There is almost no records on the early years of Job Maseko expect that he worked as a miner and deliveryman in the town of Springs in South Africa till he enlisted to join the army. After the successful completion of his basic training, he was recruited to join the 2nd South African Division in North Africa. During the Second World War, Maseko’s Division was a fortress unit charged with defending the Tobruk Harbor on Libya’s eastern Mediterranean coast.

On June 21, 1942, the commander of the South African 2nd Infantry Division, Major-General Hendrik Klopper surrendered the Tobruk Garrison with 32,000 men to the Deutches Afrika Korps led by German General and Military Theorist, Johannes Erwin Eugen Rommel. Maseko and other members of the Garrison including 10,722 South Africans of the 2nd Division of which 1,200 were Native Military Corps members became Prisoners of War (POW).

Painting of Job Maseko by Alfred Neville Lewis

Racism being prevalent in the early 19th Century, the Germans categorized their prisoners by race. White prisoners were sent to POW camps in Europe, but the people of color were sent to Italian POW camps around Africa were they were made to work under horrible conditions as manual laborers. Maseko, however, remained at Tobruk where the prisoners were made to load and offload supplies from German freight ships.

On July 21, 1942, Maseko hiding below the deck of a freight ship began to make explosives with his experience and exposure to explosives while working as a miner. He got three of his fellow prisoners, Andrew Mohudi, Sam Police and Koos Williams to distract the German guards as he carried out his plan. Using a milk can, a long fuse and cordite he extracted from ammunitions on the ship. Maseko stashed this makeshift bomb among jerry-cans of diesel in the ship’s compartment. While offloading the last load, Maseko stealthily lit the fuse with blew and set the ship ablaze sinking it.

Maseko escaped the Italian POW camp in Tobruk and for three weeks walked through enemy lines on the desert to El Alamein. In October, 1942, he was able to locate the 1st South African Infantry Division joining as a stretcher bearer during the Second Battle of El Alamein between the Allies and Axis. After helping his Division to defeat the Germans, Maseko was transferred to the 6th South African Armored Division.

Here, he was nominated for the Victoria Cross for Valor but a senior military officer deemed a black person unworthy of such honor, it was relegated to the Military Medal for gallantry (MM). While away in Italy, the MM was bestowed on Maseko by Major-General Francois Henry Frank Theron on March 11, 1943, for his exceptional feat at Tobruk.

After the end of the Second World War, as it is the story of most African ex-servicemen’s re-entry into civilian life was tedious for Maseko. Their skill and experience garnered through war were almost utterly useless and their standard of living they were used to dwindled. This was however much harsh in British South Africa where the Apartheid based rule of pension payment required that colored pensioners should be paid three-fifths, and black pensioners to be paid two-fifths of the amount. For Maseko life in post-war South Africa was no different from pre-war South Africa as hardships never subsidized.

On March 7,1952, Maseko was struck by a train killing him instantly. He was so poor that his funeral was funded through borrowing and donations. He was buried in the Paynesville Township Cemetery in Springs, South Africa.

Video credit: Hidden History

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