Job Maseko: The South African World War Two Hero Who Sank A German Ship With Bomb Made From Milk-Can

Job Maseko was a South African soldier during World War II, who sank a German Ship with a bomb made from a milk can. This single action landed him in the spotlight, though he was not properly rewarded and acclaimed due to his skin color.

Before World War II, Job Maseko worked as a miner in Springs, South Africa, before he volunteered for service with the Native Military Corps. Upon completion of basic training, Maseko was sent to North Africa with the 2nd South African Division.

Maseko became a prisoner of war (POW) on 21st June 1942 when Major-General Hendrik Klopper, commander of the South African 2nd Infantry Division surrendered the Tobruk Garrison with 32,000 men, including 10,722 South Africans of the 2nd Division, of whom 1,200 were members of the Native Military Corps to a German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel.

The Germans separated their newfound prisoners by race. The white troops were sent to POW camps in Europe while black prisoners were retained in Italian camps in Africa, where they were forced to work as manual laborers under harsh and deplorable conditions. The prisoners were tasked with loading and unloading supplies from German freight ships in the port of Tobruk.

With the knowledge he acquired from working in gold mines in South Africa, while unloading cargo from a German freight ship, Job Maseko got three of his friends to distract the attentive German guards while he was busy below the deck making a bomb. He filled a small milk tin with gunpowder and placed it among jerry cans of gasoline in the ship’s hold. While he and his fellow captives were offloading the ship, Maseko hurriedly lit the fuse and left the ship. Thus, on 21st July 1942, the ship sank in a devastating wreckage. The following day, the POWs were questioned over the act of smoking while on board the ship. They responded that cigarettes were forbidden.

At large, Maseko walked for three weeks surviving discomfort through the deserts and whisked past enemy lines to El Alamein. In October 1942, Maseko participated in the defeat of his German and Italian captors as a member of the Native Military Corps in the Second Battle of El Alamein. Members of the Native Military Corps did not handle any sophisticated firearms but were allowed to carry traditional weapons and serve as non-combatants including laborers, guards, or serve in a medical role. Maseko was a stretcher bearer and his duty was to rescue wounded inflicted by bullets. After the battle of El Alamein, Maseko was sent to the 8th South African Armored Division and was listed as a recipient of the Military Medal (MM) for “meritorious and courageous” for his brave actions in Tobruk on 11 March 1943. He rose to the ranks of Lance Corporal during his service. The award was bestowed on him by Major-General Francois Henry Frank Theron while in Italy with the armored division. Aside from being nominated for the MM medal, Maseko was supposed to have been recommended for the Victoria Cross, but a senior military officer had discouraged the idea of giving such a befitting honor to a “black man.” This claim was made by South African war artist Neville Lewis. Therefore, he was awarded the MM instead.

Over 80,000 black South Africans served in the Native Military Corps (NMC). They had to undergo poverty and misery after the war as they were treated fairly. White Soldiers received housing and land, while the Blacks were only given bicycles, boots, and sometimes a suit as compensation for their sacrifice.

Struck by a train in a tragic accident, war hero and Lance Corporal Job Maseko died a poor man in 1952 at the young age of 36. he was buried with borrowed money in the Payneville Township Cemetery in Springs.

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