Obituary from a South African newspaper

Captain Quentin Smythe VC, has died in South Africa, aged 81, in October 1997. He won his Victoria Cross 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.

For the award of the Victoria Cross

[ London Gazette, 11 September 1942 ]. Alem Hamza, Libya, 5 June 1942, Sergeant Quentin George Murray Smythe, Royal Natal Caribineers, South African Forces.

For conspicuous gallantry in action in the Alem Hamza area on the 5th June 1942. During the attack on an enemy strong point in which his officer was severely wounded: Sergeant Smythe took command of the platoon although suffering from a shrapnel wound in the forehead. The strong point having been overrun, our troops came under enfilade fire from an enemy machine-gun nest.

Realising the threat to his position, Sergeant Smythe himself stalked and destroyed the nest with hand grenades, capturing the crew. Though weak from loss of blood, he continued to lead the advance, and on encountering an anti-tank gun position again attacked it single-handed and captured the crew. He was directly responsible for killing several of the enemy, shooting some and bayoneting another as they withdrew.

After consolidation he received orders for a withdrawal, which he successfully executed, defeating skilfully an enemy attempt at encirclement.

Throughout the engagement Sergeant Smythe displayed remarkable disregard for danger, and his leadership and courage were an inspiration to his men.

Medal entitlement of Captain Quentin Smythe, Royal Natal Caribineers, South African Forces

  • Victoria Cross
  • Good Service Medal Silver ( South Africa )
  • Good Service Medal Bronze ( South Africa )
  • 1939 - 45 Star
  • Africa Star
  • War Medal ( 1939-45 )
  • Africa Service Medal ( 1939-45 )
  • Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal ( 1953 )
  • Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal ( 1977 )

VC Deaths

Go to VC UK flag Home Page

pain tin Iain Stewart, 22 March 1998