|CAPTAIN QUENTIN SMYTHE, VC,
Royal Natal Carabineers, South African Forces,
Dies aged 81, October 1997
|Obituary from a South African newspaper|
|Captain Quentin Smythe VC, has died in South Africa, aged 81. He won a VC in Libya in June 1942; the first VC won by a South African in the Second World War, and Smythe was the last surviving South African VC when he died.
On May 26, 1942, Rommel's Afrika Korps attacked the British Army ( which had just been weakened by losing two divisions, an Armoured Brigade and some squadrons of the Desert Air Force to the Far East ) in order to pre-empt a new British offensive. The Germans hoped to capture Tobruk and, ultimately, to drive the British back to Alexandria, although this attempt was finally checked at El Alamein by Auchinleck the next month.
The initial attack caught the British off-balance, but they recovered and fought back, forcing the Germans to take up a defensive position, which became known as 'The Cauldron'. Unfortunately, the British were at this stage equipped with tanks and guns which were inferior to the Germans', and after a number of desperate battles they had to fall back. On June 5 the South African forces were holding a position in the north of the line ( which consisted of defensive "boxes" separated by minefields ), and when Rommel launched a heavy attack in the northern sector he encountered strong and determined resistance. The cost in casualties on both sides was high. Smythe, who was then a sergeant, realised that there was no officer to command his platoon and took charge himself, leading his men in an attack on the enemy's strong point at Alem Hamza, 20 miles south of Gazala.
[ London Gazette, 11 September 1942 ]. Alem Hamza, Libya, 5 June 1942, Sergeant Quentin George Murray Smythe, Royal Natal Caribineers, South African Forces.
Although handicapped by a wound in his forehead, causing much loss of blood, Smythe managed single handedly to obliterate a machine gun post, taking all the surviving crew prisoner. Then, again single-handedly and armed only with rifle and bayonet, he promptly did the same with an enemy anti-tank gun crew, after which he consolidated the position. However, because of the deterioration of the situation elsewhere, Smythe found himself ordered to withdraw. In spite of a vigorous attempt by the enemy to cut him off, he managed to lead his men back to their lines. It was for this action Captain Smythe was awarded the Victoria Cross.
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Iain Stewart, 22 March 1998