Robey Leibbrandt

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Sidney Robey Leibbrandt was a South African Olympian sportsman, who during World War 2 acted as an Abwehr agent for the Third Reich against the British Empire in South Africa. He was convicted of High Treason in 1943 in a South African court and imprisoned for 5 years.

Early life and sports career[edit]

Leibbrandt was born in Potchefstroom, in the Transvaal on 25 January 1913, the third of six children of Meyder (Meider) Johannes Leibbrandt (born 19.04.1878, Smithfield – died 17.06.1954, Pretoria). His father was of German descent, and his mother was Irish.[1] Leibbrandt's father had fought with the Afrikaner forces in the Second Boer War, and was subsequently a Sergeant-Major in the South African Army, but in 1914 on the outbreak of World War 1, he had objected to an order to invade German South-West Africa in a military campaign against the imperial German forces there, stating that it was his belief that "Germans should not war against Germans".[citation needed]

In the late 1920's Robey Leibbrandt established himself as an accomplished pugilist, representing South Africa at the British Empire Games in 1934, and at the Olympics in Berlin in 1936.

Robey Leibbrandt
Medal record
Men's Boxing
Representing  South Africa
British Empire Games
Bronze medal – third place 1934 London Light Heavyweight
  • 1934: Leibbrandt won the light heavyweight bronze medal for South Africa at the 1934 Empire Games,.[2]
  • 1936: He also represented South Africa at the Berlin Olympics in 1936. He competed in the light heavyweight class, he was not able to fight the bronze medal bout to Francisco Risiglione and finished fourth.
  • 1937: He became South African heavyweight champion on 31 July 1937 in Johannesburg, beating Jim Pentz.
  • 1948: He returned to boxing in 1948, winning two fights.[3]

III Reich military service[edit]

Following his stay in Germany for the 1936 Berlin Olympics, during which he had been deeply impressed with Adolf Hitler and the III Reich State, Leibbrandt returned to Berlin in 1938 to study at the Reich Academy for Gymnastics, and remained when World War 2 began in 1939, he subsequently volunteered with the Wehrmacht, with which he became the first South African to be trained as a Fallschirmjäger, and a glider pilot. Leibbrand was subsequently seconded the Brandenburgers sabotage training course for irregular warfare agents at Abwehr II (Abwehrschool "Quenzgut") near Brandenburg an der Havel, west of Berlin.[4]

In 1940 Leibbrandt fathered with a German woman a son named Bernd, born in Austria in July 1940.[5]

Abwehr agent[edit]

After Leibbrandt had completed his irregular warfare training he was assigned by the Abwehr to take part in 'Operation Weissdorn' (Operation Hawthorn), a plan for a coup d'état against the Government of South Africa led by Prime Minister Jan Smuts, which had taken South Africa into the war as a part of the British Empire.

Leibbrandt left Germany on 5 April 1941 under the agent code-name Walter Kempf. In June 1941 after a sea voyage down the North and South Atlantic Oceans he was put ashore from an Abwehr operated captured French sail-boat called Kyloe, captained by Christian Nissen, on the Namaqualand coast north of Cape Town. Once back in South Africa Leibbrandt made contact with what he hoped would be pro-Nazi elements among the Afrikaner populace known as the Ossewabrandwag, but its leader Johannes Van Rensburg was found to be unsympathetic to his mission.[6]

Insurgency campaign, capture, trial & imprisonment[edit]

Leibbrandt assembled a paramilitary force of less than 60 men from the Ossewabrandwag, recruited during a series of Hitlerite style speeches that he made in the Orange Free State and the Transvaal. Leibbrandt’s group launched a series of small-scale guerrilla warfare operations against infrastructure targets, dynamiting power lines and railway tracks, and cutting telephone and telegraph cables. During an engagement with South African Army troops in late 1942, Leibbrandt was recognised, and consequently became a fugitive,[7] he was captured in Pretoria in late December 1942 after a tip-off given to the authorities.

During his trial on charges of High Treason, Leibbrandt refused to participate except to state that he had acted for "Volk & Fuhrer", and to make a Nazi salute. On 11 March 1943 Leibbrandt was sentenced to death. After hearing the sentence pronounced, Leibbrandt shouted "I welcome death!", to the receipt of some cheering from a handful of supporters in the court's public gallery. To avoid making Leibbrandt a martyr and risk increasing pro-Nazi sympathies amongst the Afrikaners, the sentence was commuted to life imprisoment by Prime Minister Jan Smuts.[8]


In 1948 Leibbrandt had his sentence quashed in a general amnesty enacted by the newly National Party Government under the leadership of Daniel François Malan, a party that had opposed South Africa's involvement into World War 2 on the side of the British Empire, and had a policy of neutrality in the conflict; when Leibbrandt was released from prison he was met at its entrance by a small crowd of Afrikaners, who treated him as a "folk hero".[9]

In the late 1940's he returned briefly to professional boxing, winning a handful of fights.

Leibbrandt remained politically active in later life, founding the 'Anti-Communist Protection Front' in 1962, and producing a series of pamphlets entitled Wake up South Africa.[10]


Leibbrandt died on 1 August 1966 at Ladybrand from a heart attack in his 54th year, his body was buried in Ladybrand Cemetery.[11]

Personal life[edit]

Leibbrandt fathered a son named Bernd with Edda Matusch in Austria in July 1940. Post-war in South Africa he married Margaretha Botha, the marriage producing a son named Ludwig (b.1951-d.1954).[12]

Further reading[edit]

  • George Cloete Visser: OB: Traitors or patriots?, Macmillan South Africa (1976), ISBN 978-0869540305
  • Saint-Loup: Les Voilliers fantome d'Hitler, Presses de la Cité, Paris (1973)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 'A South African Traitor & Operation Weissdorn', 16 June 2016, The Observation Post - South African Contemporary Military History website.
  2. ^ "The Commonwealth Games". Archived from the original on 23 July 2008. Retrieved 20 July 2006.
  3. ^ "SuperBoxing". Retrieved 20 July 2006.
  4. ^ 'The Observation Post - South African Contemporary Military History', website. 'A South African Traitor & Operation Weissdorn' 26 June 2016.
  5. ^ Entry for Bernd Liebbrandt in
  6. ^ Bunting, Brian (1969). The Rise of the South African Reich. ISBN 0-14-041012-0. Archived from the original on 12 October 2009.
  7. ^ Whiteing, Charles (July 2002). "Robey Leibbrandt and Operation Weissdorn". The South African Military History Society KwaZulu-Natal Branch Newsletter (326).
  8. ^ 'A South African Traitor & Operation Weissdoen', 16 June 2016, 'The Observation Post - South African Contemporary Military History' website.
  9. ^ 'A South African Traitor & Operation Weissdorn', 16 June 2016.
  10. ^ "List of Collections". University of the Free State Library. Retrieved 20 July 2006.
  11. ^ Entry for Robey Leibbrandt in
  12. ^ Entry of Robey Leibbrandt in