Abraham Mohale, Junior Curator, DITSONG: National Museum of Military History

Background of Lance Corporal Job Maseko

Among the many artefacts housed at the DITSONG: National Museums of Military History in Saxonwold, Johannesburg, are two items which relate to a particular South African recipient of a military medal during the Second World War. The one is a painting of Job Maseko, and the other a German wireless set, and the story binding them together is both interesting and enlightening. Job is known for his heroic, meritorious and courageous action on about 21 July 1942, when he sank a fully laden enemy steamer at Tobruk harbour in North Africa while a prisoner of war (POW). An innovative Job Maseko manufactured a long fuse from string and cordite and attached this to a jam tin that he had filled with more cordite obtained from cartridges, which could be picked up in the trenches and sand. For his heroism and braveness Maseko was awarded a Military Medal by Major General F.H. Theron and given a military rank of Lance Corporal. According to Neville Lewis, the first official South African war artist during the Second World War, Maseko was recommended for a Victorian Cross but, being considered only an African, he was awarded the Military Medal instead.

Figure 1: Portrait painting of Lance Corporal Job Maseko (Art Collection, DITSONG: National Museum of Military History).

Figure 2: Job Maseko’s Military Medal (MM) (Medal Collection, DITSONG: National Museum of Military History).

Lance Corporal (No N 4448) Job Maseko was awarded a Military Medal (MM) for his meritorious and courageous action in sinking a German vessel, while he was a prisoner of war at Tobruk in Libya, North Africa, on 21 July 1942. In carrying out this deliberately planned action, Maseko displayed ingenuity, determination and complete disregard of personal safety from punishment by the enemy or from the ensuing explosion, which set the vessel alight. This rare and precious medal was later purchased from his widow and is now part of the medal collection of DITSONG: National Museum of Military History.In his honour, the township of Kwa-Thema near Springs (Gauteng Province) has a primary school named after him. The main road linking Spings to Kwa-Thema was also named after him. In 1997 the South African Navy renamed the missile attack craft SAS Kobie Coetzee as the SAS Job Maseko. Lance Corporal Job Maseko died in 1952 after being struck by a train and was buried with borrowed money in the Payneville township cemetery of Springs, He was a true hero and yes, definitely worthy of the honour bestowed upon him by the South African military community.

Figure 3: Photograph of the radio used by Job Maseko and other prisoners of war during World War II.

Maseko was sent to work in a wireless workshop about 1,6km outside Tobruk, where he was able to observe the assembly of numerous radio sets. He also gained the knowledge how to use them. To discourage escape attempts, the prisoners of war were told that Cairo and Moscow had fallen into German hands, and the war was nearing an end. Even in the event of an escapee surviving the harsh desert conditions, they would almost certainly be recaptured and probably shot for their effort. Escape was therefore futile. Job Maseko was sceptical of this propaganda especially as he had seen British aircraft in the skies above his camp, and he was determined to learn the truth. Having familiarised himself with the assembly and function of the German radios, Job stole a radio set after numerous excursions at night and hid it in the cellar of a small brick hut. There was a hole through the roof and cement floor, and he gained access to the cellar by means of a rope ladder.

It was unlikely that his guards would search the cellar because it obtained an unexploded aerial bomb. Here Maseko is believed to have assembled the wireless set, tuned into Cairo frequency and received news that dispelled the propaganda. Cairo was not in enemy hands and the battle of El Alamein on 23 October 1942 had sent the Axis forces into retreat. Upon hearing this news, Maseko decided to risk escape. Together with Samuel Masiya, he made his escape from Tobruk. Assisted by the local senussi (a member of a North African Muslim religious fraternity) and obtaining water from the radiators of broken down vehicles, they marched through the desert for twenty-three days before joining up with the British lines. Eventually, on the 16 November 1942, they were picked up by an officer of the South African armoured cars near El Alamein and were taken to a transit camp where they were brought to the attention of Colonel H. O. Sayer and Major Fred Rodseth. He told them about the conditions of the prisoners of war at Tobruk and the details of their escape. When he heard about the sinking of the ship single-handedly by an African prisoner of war, Colonel Sayer pretended not to believe him and ordered Maseko to accompany him to Tobruk, which had been recaptured by British on 14 November, to confirm the story. The story was confirmed when Maseko took them to the wireless set, which had remained undetected in the cellar of the hut and it was still in working order. Later Major Rodseth was permitted to acquire it and returned with it for the ‘Non-European Army services display’ at the South African National Museum of Military History (now DITSONG: National Museum of Military History) in Johannesburg.

Figure 4: German leaflet with instructions of how to operate the Wehrmacht Radio Receiver WR 1/

German radio instructions translated in English  

The wireless (radio) set instructions are written in German with English translation roughly as follows: 

  1. Connect the antenna and counterweight red sockets. Antenna high or laid makeshift antenna if necessary wire laid as high as possible above the ground. Counterweight wire laid on the floor or conductive connection with the ground water (gas or water pipe). Insert the mains plug into the socket.
  2. Switch the voltage selector to mains and slowly turn it to the red sector, If the instrument deflects to the left, plug the power plug into the socket the other way around. If the instrument jumps back to zero, switch voltage selector off and repeat the process. If the instrument remains at zero and the device does not work although voltage is present at the socket, check the 400 ma fuse; see changing the fuse.
  3. If there is no lighting network available, switch the voltage selector to ”batt”; the instrument pointer must be within the red sector and, when the blue button is pressed, within the blue sector otherwise check the contact of the instrument remains when pressing the blue button at zero; check the 30MA fuse, see changing the fuse.


1.Select “waveband’’.

(most of the stations are on” mitte ).

  1. Turn the volume.
  2. Set the station on the scale with the tuning button.
  3. Set the desired volume with the volume controller.
  4. If necessary, use the sound screen to reduce interference by changing over to dark reproduction.
  5. In the event of interference on medium or long wave station from other transmitters:
  • Plug the antenna into the trap-circle antenna and
  • Slowly turn lock-out circuit tuning one after the other in lock out circuit area position 1 and 2 with a coin until the point with the slightest fault is found.
  1. Record transfer
  2. Set the waveband switch to” tonabn”, connect the electronic pickup to the pickup sockets, check correct connection by swapping the ends.
  3. Connect the shielding of the pick up to the “antenna socket (switch off antenna and counterweight if necessary to reduce hum).
  4. Operate the volume control and “tone fade” as for reception.


Voltage selector to off, only in this position can the backpack lid be put on.

Battery change:

Set the voltage selector to off and disconnect the mains plug from the lighting network.

  • Heating battery (middle compartment)
  • pull out the battery holder with the old batteries.
  • Remove the contact plate by loosening the cord screws and removing the nuts and attach it to new batteries in the same way (see note on battery holder)
  • Pierce the red cover plate of the new battery with a needle
  • If no batteries are used, screw the contact plate into the battery holder (see note: battery holder)
  • Anode battery (upper compartment) unbuckle the battery and pull out the strap.
  • Loosen the plug by turning the insulating cap to the left, pull it out and connect it to the new battery accordingly. black- red+ 90 volts
  • If a new battery is not inserted, press the plug firmly into the rubber socket (see note on the flap)

Fuse change:

Set the voltage selector to off and disconnect the power plug from the lighting network.

  •  Take out the chassis (See tube replacement 7 and 2)
  • Replace the blown fine fuse operating fuses are attached to the top of the chassis. Replacement fuses are located inside the device in the box above the loudspeaker, if the fuse is blown the wire in the glass tube is interrupted, pay close attention to the values of the fuses
  • Replace the chassis.

The instructions continue to explain how one had to change the tubes, how to insert the radio and fit it into an army vehicle. The instructions are vivid and clear but very technical. Job Maseko mastered the art of assembling the wireless set by observing and applying more effort and dedication. He obtained this experience while working at a wireless workshop just outside Tobruk. It enabled him to observe the assembly of numerous radio sets and he also gained the knowledge to use them. Especially the German army radio, which he later stole.


Lance Corporal Job Maseko’s name remains immortal. The German army radio, his Military Medal (not on display) and the painting of him are displayed at the DITSONG: National Museum of Military History. These objects will continuously remind people about the spirit of human triumph against adversity. His African background will always teach the students of history that Africa did not just add numbers or those Africans who participated did not only become assistants of the Second World War but contributed immensely and even painfully without recognition. Lance Corporal Job Maseko is an epitome of human sacrifice against all odds. He is a true, selfless, courageous and committed militant of that time. Maseko achieved by sharing and risking his life for others. I also agree with everyone that advocated for him to get the highest honour of the Victorian Cross and not only the Military Medal, as well as a valueless rank title of Lance Corporal and a life without pension benefits until his tragic death.


  • Copy of the extract from a supplement to the London Gazette, No. 35934, 11 March 1943.
  • Copy of statement of sabotage at Tobruk by N.4440 L/cpl Job Maseko attached to DMR ,2 SA Division, Tobruk, 24-11-1942 in file 920 Maseko, Job (mm) in Archives of DITSONG: National Museum of Military History.
  • Article written by journalist Z B Molefe, The Sowetan, 6 March 1981.
  • Forgotten hero by B Mendelowitz in Drum Magazine, 23 March 2000.
  • “Springs delivery boy blew up enemy ship” Col HO Sayer sabotage at Tobruk in Springbok, June 1957, 6-7.
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