The Baptist is beheaded at the instigation of a Jesus “disciple”
Reading the New Testament, the surface impression one gets is that the most influential Jewish sects in first century Palestine were the Sadducees, the Pharisees, and the Scribes, the Sadducees taking primacy because they were aristocrats and dominated the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council. Indeed, the incumbent high priest of the Jerusalem temple, Joseph Caiaphas, was a Sadducee.
The truth of the matter, however, is that the most influential and popular sect was none of the above but the Essenes. It was the Essenes among whom the kingly messiah, Jesus, and the priestly messiah, John the Baptist, belonged. And in private, all the major political players of the day – Herod Antipas, Herod Agrippa, and Joseph Caiaphas himself were Essenes although this was only in a nominal sense and not in a philosophical sense. Essene membership lent legitimacy to high-profile public office: no single holder of such office felt secure if was neither a member nor an affiliate of the Essene sect. Note that the Essenes were found throughout Palestine although their main base was the Judean wilderness.
Yet the problem with the Essenes was that they had two centres of power as of AD 29. There was a governing council headed by John the Baptist and a shadow governing council headed by Jesus. There were two bulls in the same kraal. Whereas John’s father Zechariah and Jesus’s father Joseph had gotten along so well as the dynastic nobles, their sons were adversarial thanks to John’s intransigency and his uncompromising stance. Clearly, one of the two factional heads had to give. Sadly, it was John who was forced to.
Now, whilst John was his party’s unequivocal head, Jesus wasn’t. Jesus was simply a honorary leader by virtual of his being the Davidic heir. Remember, the highest ranking Essene was not the Davidic heir; it was the Zadok, a descendent of Aaron. John the Baptist, however, had decided to forego the dynastic Zadokite position and instead opted for the elective one, that of Pope, or Father. What that meant was that one of his appointed deputies, called the Holy Spirit, who was No. 3 in the hierarchy, was his electable successor. His No. 2, the Son (the Davidic messiah), was not eligible for position of Pope just as Joseph was not eligible for the Zadokite position. A Davidic heir could not be Father.
After the split, John the Baptist had relieved Jesus and appointed James, his younger brother, as the Son. But he had not appointed somebody else to replace Nathaniel (Jonathan Annas), who now belonged to the Jesus faction, as the Holy Spirit. In the event, therefore, Nathaniel, still held the status of Holy Spirit. The reason John had not demoted him was most likely because he came from the influential Annas family, who were represented in the John faction by Joseph Caiaphas, a brother-in-law of Nathaniel. John’s hand must have been stayed by politics.
It was Nathaniel who was the effective head of the Jesus party. Jesus was to his party what the Queen is to England, whereas Nathaniel was to the party what David Cameroon is in British politics.
BAPTIST STEPS ON HEROD’S SHOES
In AD 26, John the Baptist had postulated that Palestine would be self-governing by AD 30, a development that was referred to as the Restoration. Since this prophecy was not fulfilled, his detractors made an issue out of it largely for political expediency and particularly that he boasted, according to his own words as recorded in a Dead Sea Scroll titled Hymns of Thanksgiving, that he was a “discerning interpreter of wonderful mysteries”. The unavailing prophecy was the excuse the Jesus party used to break away from him and form a rival party in AD 29. As such, John’s position as Pope practically teetered on the brink.
In order to give him enough rope to hang himself, the Jesus party gave John one more year, from April 30 AD to end of March 31 AD for his prophecy to possibly bear out (he had said Heaven would intervene miraculously to liberate Palestine from the Roman yoke). But the Baptist had already effectively lost his sway at Qumran and Nathaniel was already being hailed as the de facto Pope, with his coronation being not a matter of “if” but “when”. The Baptist was still wildly popular with the grassroots and the fundamentalist Essenes: it was with the political Essenes, who he derided as “seekers-after-smooth-things”, that he fell out.
John knew knives were already out for him so he decided to hit back both viscerally and justifiably. As far as he was concerned, the instigator of the upsurge of feeling against him was Herod Antipas, the tetrarch (quarter king) of Galilee and Perea, who had substantial influence in the Jesus party as he was its virtual patron just as Herod Agrippa, his young nephew, was the virtual patron of John’s party. It was Antipas that John targeted in his counter-attack.
Sometime between the years 24 and 28 AD (the exact date is not known for certain), Antipas married Herodias, his niece and sister to Agrippa. This marriage was problematic in a number of ways. First, it was an elopement as Herodias was already married to her other uncle. This was Thomas, a half-brother to Antipas and a member of the so-called 12 disciples of Jesus (Thomas’s official name was Prince Herod Phillip I and most historians have therefore confused him with another Phillip [Herod Philip II], who at the time was ruler of Iturea and Trachonitis).
Thomas even already had a daughter with Thomas, whose name was Salome. Herodias’s marriage to Antipas therefore amounted to polyandry – a situation where a woman gets married to two men, the reverse of polygamy. Secondly, the marriage was not only morally reprehensible but it went against the Law of Moses. LEVITICUS 18:6 said, "Do not have sexual relations with your brother's wife, for this would violate your brother”. The penalty for such a transgression was death. Thirdly, the marriage went against the wishes of Herod the Great, the deceased father of Thomas and Antipas. When she was young, Herodias had been promised in marriage to Thomas by King Herod.
Fancing himself as the new Elijah, who had rebuked the King and Queen of Israel – Ahab and Jezebel – to their face, John made a vocation of vitriolically condemning the unlawful marriage. Ostensibly for that purpose, he even stationed himself in eastern Galilee, Herod Antipas’s domain, though he was strategic enough to base himself at the border with the Decapolis so that he could easily escape across the Jordan River if Antipas decided to go after him. This attitude did not help John but only served to mark him out as the tetrarch’s enemy No. 1.
Meanwhile, in the Hymns of Thanksgiving, the unflappable and headstrong Baptist, who is referred to in the Dead Sea Scrolls as the Teacher of Righteousness amongst other titles, made the following remonstrative entries as a dare to the people ganging up against him: “I have been a snare to those who rebel but healing to those of them who repent … To traitors, thou has made of me a mockery and scorn but a counsel of truth and understanding to the upright of way. I have been iniquity to the wicked … but to the elect of righteousness Thou hast made me a banner …”
No prize to guess who the Baptist meant by “rebels”, “traitors”, and “the wicked”.
BAPTIST BEHIND BARS
In March AD 31, John the Baptist was finally nabbed at the orders of Herod Antipas. The legendary Jewish historian Flavius Josephus relates that he was imprisoned without trial at Machaerus, a fortified castle located at the southern borders of Perea.
Machaerus was not a prison: it was a hilltop palace belonging to Antipas. That Antipas had John detained there signalled two things. First, he did hold the Baptist in high esteem notwithstanding his vitriol against him. John was the most esteemed figure by mainstream Jewry at the time and thus the circumstances of his incarceration had to reflect his stature. Prison for him simply meant lack of freedom: his actual circumstances were equivalent to that of Nelson Mandela at Victor Vester Prison, which amounted to three or four-star treatment. John was allowed visitors and continued to write texts for the Dead Sea Scrolls. Second, Antipas feared that john’s detention might precipitate a rescue attempt by the Zealots although this was most unlikely given that the three Zealot top-brass – Judas Iscariot, Simon Zealotes, and Theudas Barabbas – all belonged to the Jesus party, of which Antipas was a patron. To ensure that the rescue attempt was practically a non-starter, Antipas circumscribed John at the most secure location in the entire country.
With the imprisonment of John, Nathaniel officially became the acting Pope. The top three Essenes were now Nathaniel as the Father; Jesus as the Son; and Simon Zealotes as the Holy Spirit. What were Jesus’s feelings about the imprisonment of his great cousin? They are recorded in MATTHEW 11, where Jesus sounds very distraught and acknowledges John as the greatest man who ever lived. Jesus also pronounces “woes” against four cities, which was a code for people in his party who had something to do with the fate of his cousin. As a naturally good-hearted being, he sorrowed for the Baptist but as we have already demonstrated, he did not exercise much sway in his own movement being only a ceremonial leader. The wielders of real power were the likes of Nathaniel, Simon Zealotes, and Judas Iscariot, all of whom were anti- the Baptist.
Yet to the Baptist’s loyalists, it was Jesus who was responsible for the fate of their leader. The scribes of the Dead Sea Scrolls refer to Jesus as the “Wicked Priest”. Jesus did certainly rooting for the position of Essene High Priest (so that he could have real authority as opposed to the nominal authority he presently had) following the incarceration of the Baptist though vainly so. The scribes of the Dead Sea Scrolls had even before John’s imprisonment accused Jesus of “working with the men of Ephraim and Manasseh (Simon Zealotes and Theudas Barabbas) who shall seek to lay hands on the Priest (the Baptist) and the men of his council at the time of trial which shall come upon them”.
Meanwhile, whilst in detention, John the Baptist wrote the following psalm as recorded in a Dead Sea text: “I seek Thee (God) and sure as the dawn. Thou appear as perfect Light to me. Teachers of lies (the Jesus Party) have smoothed Thy people with words and false prophets (the Jesus Party) have led them astray. They perish without understanding for their works are folly. For I am despised by them and they have no esteem for me that Thou mayest manifest Thy might through me. They have banished me from my land like a bird from its trees. All my friends and brethren are driven far from me and hold me for a broken vessel.”
It is clear from the above psalm that the Baptist had hope in the midst of his travails. Sadly, his fate was already sealed partly of his own making.
BAPTIST IS NO MORE
In September AD 31, John was killed by beheading, after only six months in prison. We know he was killed in that year because one of the Dead Sea Scrolls speaks of a period of 40 years that elapsed between the death of the “Teacher of Righteousness” and the “end of the heretics”. This was anticipated by the puritan Essenes, who were unflinchingly loyal to John, at around AD 70. AD 70 was the year Jerusalem was stormed and razed to the ground by Roman general Flavius Titus.
The Baptist was not killed in the barbaric manner most Christians have come to believe – his head delivered on a silver platter to a loathing queen – but he certainly was terminated by decapitation. To those of us of our day who are accustomed to seeing the Jihadi Johns of this world fiendishly brandishing the head of an executed hostage, beheading may appear like a most gruesome way of extinguishing somebody’s life. In Jesus’s day, beheading was the most dignified procedure of execution available that could have been chosen for John. It was an easier way to die than to be hanged, drawn and quartered, garotted, impaled, flayed or burnt alive, torn limb from limb, crucified, or stoned to death. Of these methods of execution in fact, stoning was the most preferred method practiced by Jews in the first century and earlier. That Herod Antipas consented to dispatch John by way of decapitation was a attestation of the esteem in which he held him.
Antipas did not intend to kill John: he did so only after being craftily coaxed. Indeed, John’s death continued to haunt him for the rest of his life. The gospels depict him as a person wracked with grief and guilt over John’s demise (MATTHEW 14: 9/MARK 6:26). According to some extra-biblical records, he was prepared to release John if he retracted what he had said about him and promised never to repeat it. In all fairness, John’s obsessive diatribe against the tetrarch amounted to sedition: it was like calling for the death of a monarch since the penalty for the kind of marriage Antipas had entered into with Herodias was death according to the Law of Moses. True to form, however, the Baptist was adamant: he made it clear he stood by what he said and would never desist from saying the same thing again. John’s greatest weakness was an implacably stubborn will.
If Antipas was cajoled into killing John, who schemed it all and who was the instrument of the plot? Well, it was not the tetrarch’s wife Herodias and his step daughter Salome as the surface narrative of the gospels suggest. It was a disciple of Jesus. Exactly who it was we reveal next week.
A wife, uncle, and two in-laws fall at the hands of Judah’s despot
The pre-eminent Jewish chronicler, Flavius Josephus, said of Herod the Great that he was “blessed with every gift of looks, body, and mind” but he was a “slave to his passions”. This was in the context of a gloating bloodlust.
His sword knew no sacred cows: neither his own kids, wives, in-laws, next of kin, nor bosom friends were immune from it. He is on record as pestering Caesar Augustus with a barrage of letters seeking permission to execute his own flesh and blood, prompting the Roman emperor to at one time quip that, “It is better to be Herod’s pig than his son”, which was apt: as a “Jew”, Herod did not eat pork and therefore in the event that he kept any pigs, they would never have to be killed.
You are by now well-apprised of the death of Hyrcanus II by the same Herod, General Atiku, in 30 BC. Hyrcanus, a Hasmonean ruler of Judah twice over, was actually the grandfather of Mariamne I, Herod’s most beloved wife and his second of up to 10 wives. It was Mariamne’s own mother Salome, who dreading Herod’s pathological savagery, pitched Mariamne to Herod in the hope that that would insure her family from Herod’s murderous caprices.
Now, Mariamne, General, was as much a stunning beauty as her younger brother Aristobulus III was breathtakingly good-looking. Having tied the knot with Herod in 37 BC, Mariamne had prevailed over her husband to install Aristobulus as High Priest. The post had fallen vacant on the death of Antigonus in 37 BC and Herod had appointed one Ananel, who had no ties whatsoever to the Hasmoneans, the first such in more than a century, in his place. Unable to resist the spirited entreaties of his beloved wife, who had also lobbied Queen Cleopatra of Egypt and her beau Mark Anthony, Herod gave in and replaced Ananel with Aristobulus, who was only 16 years old, in 36 BC.
Because of his enormous charisma and overall affability, Aristobulus was a hit with the masses despite his tender age and Herod was envious of the young man’s rock star-like popularity. To make doubly sure the young man did not harbour a seditious ace up his sleeve, the morbidly paranoid Herod had his spooks watch on both Aristobulus and his mother round the clock. Sensing imminent danger, Aristobulus contacted Cleopatra, asking for a pre-emptive safe passage to Egypt and there enjoy absolute freedom. When Herod got wind of this, he decided to get rid of Aristobulus as he did not wish him to be a perennial thorn in his flesh from the utter safety of self-imposed exile.
The opportunity came at a banquet in Jericho which was organised by Aristobulus’ mother. There, Herod had one of his henchmen cause Aristobulus to drown during a dusk time horseplay in a swimming pool. Of course Herod would forever maintain the drowning was accidental when everybody knew it was in truth a tactical elimination. Poor Aristobulus was only 17 years old having been born in 56 BC. He was the last Hasmonean High Priest and was replaced by the previously deposed Ananel, who was to remain in that position till 29 BC.
HEROD ACQUITTED OVER THE ARISTOBULUS DEATH
It need not be over-emphasised, General, that Mariamne and her mother Alexandra did not take Herod’s line over the all too untimely demise of Aristobulus lying down. If he had reckoned that with the death of Aristobulus he had gotten rid of potentially the most potent threat to his omnipotence, he was totally mistaken. Herod had actually simply fanned the flames of intrigue against him, for mother and daughter confronted him and accused him of murdering their boy in cold blood.
Nor did the two Iron Ladies end matters there: Alexandra wrote a lachrymal letter to Cleopatra to get her to bring her influence to bear on Mark Anthony so that Herod paid dearly and likewise for his nefarious act. Anthony, who at the time was the Roman colossus in charge of the whole of the Middle East, was persuaded and during a visit to Laodicea (in modern-day Turkey, though some accounts say it was Rhodes in Cyprus), he commanded Herod to report to him forthwith and exculpate himself over the affair.
Although Herod put a brave face on the matter, General, he was rather unsure of his eventual fate after the trial. He also suspected rightly or wrongly that Anthony had a thing for the voluptuously beautiful Mariamne and the last thing Herod wanted was for any other man to bed his beloved Mariamne even in death. So before he set off for Laodicea, Herod instructed his uncle Joseph, who was married to his sister Salome, to make sure that in the event that Anthony sentenced him to death, he should immediately put her to the sword. He also detailed a certain Sohemus, a most trusted aide, to stand sentry over the entire womenfolk at the palace.
Herod, however, had the nine lives of a cat, General. Using his immense rhetorical skills and the time-honoured palm greasing, he won himself an acquittal. Meanwhile, the Judean rumourville was abuzz with chatter that Herod had been summarily executed by Anthony, as a result of which people became spendthrifts of their tongues.
Both Joseph and Sohemus disclosed to Mariamne the instructions Herod had left them with in relation to her fate once he was no more. Mariamne was both livid and distraught that her husband regarded her as so easily expendable when outwardly he cherished her beyond words. To her mind, his arrangements with Joseph had nothing to do with love but sprang from sheer monstrosity. She probably thanked God that he was dead, but the fact of the matter was that he was not and when he at long last turned up, she did not want to have anything to do with him, including the conjugation which he so eagerly pined for after such an extended absence.
HEROD KILLS HIS WIFE AND HIS UNCLE
Now, if Herod had a kind of Svengali, General, it was his youngest sister Salome. Salome (65 BC-10 AD) was the most powerful woman at Herod’s court. A sly, scheming, and manipulating vixen, she arguably more than any other living being had the most sway in a negative sense on her brother, who took practically whatever she said as gospel truth.
Let us nevertheless, General, take stock of the fact that the bulk of what we learn about Salome comes from Flavius Josephus, who himself relied on the writings of Herod’s court historian Nicolaus of Damascus. For one reason or the other, Nicolaus did not see eye to eye with Salome and it is therefore possible that much of what Nicolaus relates of her is embellished to smear her before the court of history. Upon his return, Herod was told of the rumours of his death and so was surprised to find Mariamne alive when Joseph and Sohemus should in the circumstances have had her killed if indeed they were loyal to him. In fact, Joseph had even put Mariamne and Alexandra into the safe custody of Roman legions stationed in Judea just in case Jewish malcontents who abhorred Herod turned their wrath on them.
But there was more. Salome reported to Herod that Mariamne, who she hated like the plague, had had sexual relations with both Joseph and Sohemus, this being Mariamne’s reward to them for dishing out to her the dirt on Herod, and that she had on several occasions before attempted to poison him. Now, no one would hump Herod’s most beloved wife and get away scotfree. It is therefore small wonder that Herod straightaway ordered the execution of Joseph and Sohemus. Joseph was 61 years old at the time of his death in 34 BC, having been born in 95 BC. In the case of Mariamne herself though, he had her subjected to a formal court trial not on charges of adultery but of attempted regicide.
Herod had hoped that the court would acquit her, whereupon he would make bygones be bygones so great was his love for the woman, but sadly for him, General, she was found guilty and sentenced to death. Even then, Herod tactfully dilly-dallied on signing the writ of execution and simply had his wife detained at a fortress for some time until Salome prevailed over him to execute her at long last. Writes Josephus: “Thus, with the death of the noble and lovely Mariamne ended the glorious history of the Hasmonean High Priest Mattathias and his descendants.”
For a long time to come though, General, Herod was haunted by the death of his wife to the point of even sometimes coming across as if he had lost his mind. “When Herod realised what this meant (the death sentence passed on Mariamne), he tried in vain to have the verdict changed, but Salome did not rest until the death penalty was carried out,” Josephus informs us. “Herod was heartbroken; nothing could comfort him for the loss of his lovely wife.
For seven years he refused to have her body buried, and held it, embalmed, in his palace. Afterwards, he became so melancholy and despondent, nothing interested him or could arouse any enthusiasm in him for living … He was so far conquered by his passion, that he would order his servants to call for Mariamne, as if she were still alive, and could still hear them … He tried hard to forget his trouble by going hunting and banqueting, but nothing helped. Herod built new cities and erected temples and palaces. He also named a tower in honour of Mariamne.”
HEROD SLAYS SISTER’S EX-HUBBY
Mariamne’s death was not the only one which Herod perpetrated through the instrumentality of Salome. There were actually several and included those of her own husband Costobarus. Salome was married four times, to her uncle Joseph (45 BC); Costobarus (34 BC); Sylleus (circa 27 BC); and Alexas (20 BC).
Like the Herod clan, Costobarus was of Idumean stock. It was Costobarus Herod had made governor of Idumea and Gaza and upon Joseph’s death had him tie the knot with Salome, with the couple eventually siring two children, Berenice and Antipater III. Costobarus, though, soon began to harbour monarchical ambitions of his own and wrote to Cleopatra beseeching her to persuade Mark Anthony to make Idumea independent of Herod and install him (Costobarus) as Rome’s client King of the territory.
Of course upon learning of this, Herod was not amused. It was Salome who pleaded with him not to put her husband to the sword. Next time, however, a dumped Costobarus was not so lucky. Seven years after their marriage, Salome and Costobarus parted ways and a possibly hurt Salome decided to exact vengeance. She informed her brother that he had been harbouring two fugitives from Herodian justice for a full 12 years at his own farm.
The two were simply known as the Sons of Baba. Baba ben Babuta, their father and clan patriarch, was related to the Hasmonean ruler Antigonus, who Herod had replaced and killed in 37 BC with the help of Roman legions. Baba and his sons had resisted Herod at the time, with his sons henceforth persisted in insurrectionist activity against Herod. Baba himself had been captured and blinded by Herod but spared anyway as he no longer posed any threat. Writes Josephus: “Now the Sons of Babas were of great dignity, and had power among the multitude, and were faithful to Antigonus, and were always raising calumnies against Herod, and encouraged the people to preserve the government to that royal family (the Hasmoneans) which held it by inheritance.”
Costobarus had provided the Sons of Baba an indefinite lair “supposing that their preservation might be of great advantage to him in the changes of government afterward”. Following the Salome tip, Herod had Costobarus and the Sons of Baba summarily executed “so that none was left alive of the family of Hyrcanus (the Hasmonean), and the kingdom was wholly in Herod’s power, there being no one of high rank to stand in the way of his unlawful acts” per Josephus.
We may use the information we receive from them, and they may use the information we share with them, to help operate and market services’. WhatsApp is now reserving the right to share data it collects about you with the broader Facebook network, which includes Instagram, regardless of whether you have accounts or profiles there, claiming it needs it to help operate and improve its offerings. More broadly, almost all of the $21.5 billion in revenues which Facebook generated in the third quarter of 2020 came from advertising and there is currently none in WhatsApp.
The company now wants to be able to serve more targeted ads to people on Facebook and Instagram by also garnering their usage habits on WhatsApp and enabling businesses take payments via WhatsApp for items that were selected on other Facebook sites. For long-time users, the option to share data with Facebook was made available in 2016, but it was just that: optional and temporary. It was now to become mandatory for everybody from Feb. 8 but owing to a massive backlash, the company has delayed that to May 15 to try and persuade users to sign up to the new Ts and Cs.
WhatsApp on Monday attempted to address the uproar over privacy concerns with a post on its website, explaining that the update was designed to aid businesses on its platform, as it reiterated in Friday’s post.
“We want to be clear that the policy update does not affect the privacy of your messages with friends or family in any way. Instead, this update includes changes related to messaging a business on WhatsApp, which is optional, and provides further transparency about how we collect and use data.”
These new terms have caused an outcry among technology experts, privacy advocates, billionaire entrepreneurs and government organisations and triggered a wave of defections to rival services. Elon Musk has urged his followers to switch to Signal and the governments of Turkey and India have threatened to block the app if it insists on proceeding.
Elsewhere too, in spite of Whatsapp protestations, millions of its users are already migrating to alternative platforms. Signal saw 7.5 million downloads last week, a 4,200% spike since the previous week and large swaths of users also jumped to Telegram, as the platform gained 9 million new users last week, up 91% from the previous week. Both apps are now topping Google and Apple’s app stores,
Facebook could possibly learn a lesson from history here. Every past empire – Aztec, Mayan, Greco-Roman, Sumerian, Mongol, Chinese, Ottoman and more recently British, all saw their star rise, their glory swell, their boundaries grow and yet each eventually fell, often the instigators of their own downfall.
To understand its influence and control one only has to check out the un-smart sector of the mobile phone industry which for some time has offered handsets a small step up from the basic starter sets with Facebook and Whatsapp as default screen app settings. These limited internet access options have allowed millions of users to connect with affordable data bundle packages.
And for Google smartphone subscribers, the search engine automatically connects its base to Whatsapp and Facebook – one big, happy family. Facebook is also seamlessly linked to Paypal offering contact-less charges for its boosted post advertising, a somewhat sinister partnership which accesses their Paypal log-in and authorisation details without the need to inform the payee – the transaction is simply deducted automatically from the registered credit card. This is Big Brother with a blue logo.
The bottom line here is that if you have any privacy issues at all – and you probably should – you might as well make the switch now before you are forced to sign away your rights in May. And the plus part is that both Signal and Telegram have the technological edge over Whatsapp anyway, the latter even being accessible on multiple platforms simultaneously, not just on your phone. Empires take time to crumble and Facebook is not in imminent danger but information is a weapon that can be used in any war, even a virtual conflict, so don’t give this giant any more ammunition than it already has.
Seventy-seven years ago, on the evening of December 2, 1943, the Germans launched a surprise air raid on allied shipping in the Italian port of Bari, which was then the key supply centre for the British 8th army’s advance in Italy.
The attack was spearheaded by 105 Junkers JU88 bombers under the overall command of the infamous Air Marshal Wolfram von Richthofen (who had initially achieved international notoriety during the Spanish Civil War for his aerial bombardment of Guernica). In a little over an hour the German aircraft succeeded in sinking 28 transport and cargo ships, while further inflicting massive damage to the harbour’s facilities, resulting in the port being effectively put out of action for two months.
Over two thousand ground personnel were killed during the raid, with the release of a secret supply of mustard gas aboard one of the destroyed ships contributing to the death toll, as well as subsequent military and civilian casualties. The extent of the later is a controversy due to the fact that the American and British governments subsequently covered up the presence of the gas for decades.
At least five Batswana were killed and seven critically wounded during the raid, with one of the wounded being miraculously rescued floating unconscious out to sea with a head wound. He had been given up for dead when he returned to his unit fourteen days later. The fatalities and casualties all occurred when the enemy hit an ammunition ship adjacent to where 24 Batswana members of the African Pioneer Corps (APC) 1979 Smoke Company where posted.
Thereafter, the dozen surviving members of the unit distinguished themselves for their efficiency in putting up and maintaining smokescreens in their sector, which was credited with saving additional shipping. For his personal heroism in rallying his men following the initial explosions Company Corporal Chitu Bakombi was awarded the British Empire Medal, while his superior officer, Lieutenant N.F. Moor was later given an M.B.E.