Establishment of 1 Reconnaissance Commando
A period photo taken
by an operator of the
at Oudtshoorn as used
by 1 Reconnaissance
Establishment of 1 Reconnaissance Commando
While the concept of a special force developed in the command structure of the SADF, a group of soldiers
were developing themselves along a new approach, which had been introduced and effectively demonstrated by
elements within the Defence Force and outside, such as the Hunter Group – a group of ex-soldiers and civilians
who volunteered for after-hours training, based at Doornkop outside Johannesburg. Later the Army would
adopt many of the training concepts that the Hunter Group was advocating, thus changing the Army’s policy
from passive defence to aggressive defence. The SADF eventually abandoned the passive defence training,
which had been in place since after World War II, in light of the ever-increasing unconventional threats on its Breytenbach, Maj E. Webb, Sgt van Zyl, Sgt J. Kruger, Sgt Smit, Frank Bestbier, Sgt T. I. Floyd, WOII M. L.
borders by insurgent Communist elements. As a result of this, the School of Infantry – based at Oudtshoorn Potgieter and G. J. Viviers, amongst others. During later years, more and more South African Special Forces
– established the Irregular Warfare Branch (a think tank) to explore new ways of training soldiers, as well as would go to Rhodesia for cross-training with ‘C’ Squadron SAS. Initially they were deployed with the SAS on
exploring unconventional warfare methods such as guerrilla tactics, etc. They had little contact with the members operations, but later independently in their own areas of operation in Rhodesia.5 Unofficially they became known
Rhodesian SAS cap
emblem. Much cross-
undergoing special operations training at the School of Infantry, as the expertise required to train these members as ‘D’ Squadron, under the command of a South African officer. Since the formation of ‘D’ Squadron, an SADF
training between was not to be found in the country at that time. colonel was always attached as a liaison officer to the Rhodesian Combined Operations HQ.
Rhodesian and South
African forces took First Counter-Insurgency Operation by Elements of the SaDF ‘D’ Squadron
place. Selous Scouts Operation Blue Wildebeest was the code-name for the heliborne assault on a SWAPO training base at
were para trained in WOI Moorcroft, former Sergeant Major of the Army states in his article on the formation of ‘D’ Squadron that
Bloemfontein, with the
Ongulumbashe in Owamboland. The operation was in support of the South African Police, and took place on as far back as 1967, the Chief of the Army and founding member of 1 Parachute Battalion, Lt Gen Willem Louw
SAS undergoing navy 26 August 1966 with (then) Captain J. D. Breytenbach in command of the SADF support element. After a brisk decided that the South African Army should have a Special Force capability like the Rhodesian SAS. Contact
diving and pathfinder contact, two insurgents were killed and many captured. was made with Maj Dudley Coventry, OC ‘C’ Squadron SAS, for advice on the matter. Coventry duly visited
South Africa, and when asked to determine a location for a South African Special Forces unit, he recommended
First Cross-Training with the Rhodesians Oudtshoorn because of the suitable terrain. Coventry submitted a report stating that ‘C’ Squadron would select
During 1967, Captain Breytenbach was allowed to select 12 paratroopers who and train South African candidates and give them an insight into Special Forces operations; give them the
would accompany him to Rhodesia to be trained by the British (Rhodesian) knowledge to run their own selection and train soldiers to become Special Forces members. The ultimate aim
SAS. They were attached to ‘C’ Squadron for six months, while they passed the was to work together on operations with ‘C’ Squadron. Capt Jan Breytenbach then left for Salisbury with a few
rigorous SAS selection course, and completed various survival, tracking and officers and NCOs who had been specially selected to undergo SAS selection. This small group spent some time
advanced demolition courses. The designation ‘C’ originated when the Rhodesians acclimatising before undertaking an SAS selection course in Inyanga. Together with the Rhodesians candidates,
were deployed in Malaya during the 1950s as the Malayan Scouts; the British they started on the same selection course. After selection, some of the South Africans returned to South Africa,
SAS already consisted of an ‘A’ and ‘B’ Squadron, thus the Rhodesian contingent having failed. Three officers and four NCOs remained after the ‘all in’ phase. The South Africans then carried
became ‘C’ Squadron. The group sent to Rhodesia consisted of Capt J. D. out formal training in demolitions, bush craft, tracking, survival, minor tactics, radio work and escape and
evasion. Some training took place in the Zambezi Valley. Maj Coventry made a written recommendation that
this group of South Africans should become the nucleus of the South African Special Forces. This group of South
Africans then carried out operations in Biafra in 1969, behind Nigerian lines, and trained guerrillas of the Biafran
Organization of Freedom Fighters.
In 1974, Breytenbach decided that the time was right to work with ‘C’ Squadron and liaised with OC Maj
Brian Robinson in this regard. The idea, approved by Gen Loots and his Rhodesian counterparts, was that two
five-man teams would work with ‘C’ Squadron for six months on external operations, to be integrated with ‘C’
Squadron call signs, and their tactical headquarters being at Macombe. In 1977, a need was identified to give
young badged Recce operators an opportunity to undertake external operations with the SAS. Loots asked Lt
Gen Peter Walls, and it was agreed that 1 and 5 Recce would send teams to work with ‘C’ Squadron on external
operations. However, due to ‘C’ Squadron being heavily committed, Lt Col Jake Swart and Brian Robinson
decided to allocate an operational area to the Recces, in support of ‘C’ Squadron. The cover story was that an
additional SAS Squadron was being formed, and thus ‘D’ Squadron came into being in October 1977. They did
not wear any distinctive insignia of their own. Service in ‘D’ Squadron rotated between 1 Recce (Alpha or Bravo
Groups) and 5 Recce. In January 1978, 1 Recce under command of Hannes Venter, took over duties from 5 Recce
in Rhodesia. Moorcroft served as a Commando Sergeant Major. During this period six members of ‘D’ Squadron
The jump cage, or aapkas, at 1 Para where the early A group of South African Recce operators in Rhodesia. were killed in action, and several wounded. The members of ‘D’ Squadron killed in action have their names
parachute courses were held. inscribed on the ‘C’ Squadron memorial plinth.
A Collector’s Guide to the South African Special Forces Establishment of 1 Reconnaissance Commando
Some of the members who passed the first SAS selection course were Capt J. D. Breytenbach, Maj Ferreira, Pep van Zyl, Johnny Kruger, A merit certificate
Tillie Smit, and Eddie Webb. Some who passed the second SAS selection course were J. J. Moorcroft, T. du Plessis, Nic Visser, D. de for best student on
course, awarded to
Beer, Vingers Kruger, and Kernaas Conradie. Some members of the first group who operated with ‘C ‘Squadron were Breytenbach,
one of the members
Floyd, Oberholzer, Tippet, and Wannenburg and in the second, Moorcroft, du Plessis, de Beer, Kruger and Conradie. who underwent Navy
diver training at
The Oudtshoorn Group at the School of Infantry SAS Simonsberg – the
The first special grouping within the SADF was initiated under various cover names, which served on a Naval Training Unit.
sub-unit structure of the School of Infantry at Oudtshoorn. At one time this group was known as the
Irregular Warfare Branch.1 This caused confusion in that there already existed an Irregular Warfare
Branch at the School of Infantry. Later they were known as the Special Research Section.1 The
initial purpose was to conduct specialised infantry training for units of the South African Army. A very early diving course; Gavin Christie
They then became known as the Operational Experimental Team, conducting operational at centre.
research and advising the Army on operational training, and giving specialised instruction to
units going to the border. The eleven members who founded the Operational Experimental
Team were: J. D. Breytenbach, D. P. Lamprecht, J. R. More, P. J. van Vuuren, T. Floyd, Pep
van Zyl, M. J. Potgieter, J. J. Moorcroft, J. L. Conradie, D. de Beer, J. J. P. Fourie, later joined
by N. Visser, P. W. van Heerden, D. B. Tippet, F. G. Wannenburg and one Oberholzer. This
sub-unit would later perform specialised operational tasks for the SADF. Initially this group
operated under the administrative command of the School of Infantry but, as Chief of the Army
troops, they later came under the direct command of the Southern Cape Command HQ. Later the
eleven members, including some who trained with the Rhodesians, formed Alpha Group in 1970,2 still
under the administrative command of Southern Cape Command; this group formed 1 Reconnaissance The first South African seaborne operation took place in
The cloth shoulder flash Commando in 1972. 1972. Although not totally successful, the foundation for an Dropping through a ship’s anchor shaft
worn at the School of
amphibious capability was established. During Operation makes for a quick getaway.
Infantry in 1968.
The First Special Operation Conducted by Elements of the SaDF Savannah in 1975/76, the need to deploy a seaborne force was
During 1968, four paratroopers, Capt J. D. Breytenbach, WO F. C. van Zyl, Sgt consequently recognised. Thus a seaborne sub-group, known
T. I. Floyd and Sgt M. J. Potgieter – were selected to assist the Biafrans in their war as C Group at 1 Reconnaissance Commando in Durban,
against Nigeria, as they had far more training and experience than most South African was formed. During 1977 a decision was made to form
soldiers. They operated as a training team, functioned as advisors and finally led a specialised unit for water-originated operations. The
guerrilla elements in battle behind enemy lines. After South Africa’s involvement in Langebaan lagoon and especially the Donkergat
Biafra ended, Breytenbach and a small team were sent to France, where they spent time area provided ideal training conditions.
with the French Special Forces. In March 1970 they returned to South Africa. The
‘success’ of the Biafra operation helped Maj Gen Loots and the Chief of the Army, Lt
Gen Louw, illustrate the necessity of the SADF having a special operations capability. The best student trophy of the Navy Diving
School, awarded to the first Army diver
Gen Hiemstra, Chief of the SADF, still opposed the concept thus no formal unit was course.
established at that time.
South African Navy Diving School.
The members of group were nicknamed the ‘Dirty Dozen’ and consisted of Cmdt J.
D. Breytenbach, Maj D. P. Lamprecht, Maj P. J. van Vuuren, Capt J. R. More, WOI
T. I. Floyd, WOII F. C. van Zyl, WOII M. J. Potgieter, S/Sgt J. L. Conradie, S/Sgt J.
Members of the course were S/Sgt. J. J. Moorcroft, J. Moorcroft, Sgt D. L. de Beer and Cpl J. J. P. Fourie, and behind the scenes Capt
WOII F. C. van Zyl, 2Lt A. G. Jones, Sgt. J. J .P. M. Kinghorn4 contributed his valuable organisational skills. They would later be the
Fourie, Sgt. D.L. de Beer. Cmdt. J. D. Breytenbach founding members of 1 Reconnaissance Commando.
(front centre), pictured here with their naval
First Naval Diving Course for army Members
From April – May 1970, Cmdt J. D. Breytenbach and six members of his group left
for Simon’s Town to attend a 12-week diving course with the South African Navy.
Members on the course were Cmdt J. D. Breytenbach, WOII F. C. van Zyl, S/Sgt J. J.
Moorcroft, Sgt D. L. de Beer, Sgt J. . P. Fourie (diving supervisor) and 2Lt A. G. Jones
(doctor/Navy). This group later went to France to update their skills at the French
Special Forces attack diving school at Ajjacio, Corsica. There they were also trained
in clandestine air infiltration techniques. Approval was granted for Army personnel
who qualified at the Navy Diving School to wear the Army Divers insignia from June
The second diving course took place from January – April 1971, with the second
team consisting of Maj D. Lamprecht, P. van Vuuren, Maj J. More, S/Sgt J. J.
Conradie, WOII M. J. Potgieter and WOII T. Floyd. This group would also later
train with the airborne group at French Special Forces in Cercottes. When Admiral
Ship’s Diver Course 040 101 SB 8501 held at the H. Bierman took over as Chief of SADF and Lt Gen Magnus Malan as Chief of the
Navy Diving School from 29 April 1985 to 7 June Army, this select unit at Oudtshoorn was officially recognised and formally constituted
1985. Col van der Spuy is standing top right. as 1 Reconnaissance Commando (1RC) in 1972. (Two alternate names proposed at the
time but not adopted were, South African SAS and 7 South African Infantry.)8 It was
administered by the Army but tasked by Directorate Military Intelligence.
South African Navy (SAN) Diving School bullion wire blazer badge –
Afrikaans. Note that the SAN in the scroll should actually read SAV South African Navy Diving Branch bullion wire blazer
(* Letter of Authorisation AQ/834/June1970) (Suid-Afrikaanse Vloot). badge – English.
A Collector’s Guide to the South African Special Forces Establishment of 1 Reconnaissance Commando
South African Recce operators serving with the Rhodesian SAS. An operator wearing a foreign uniform, probably Renamo.
The following operators were killed in action during service with the Rhodesians:
1. L/Cpl C. de Wilzem 5 Reconnaissance Commando 4 Jan 1978 (ambush)
Members of 2RC preparing for Operation Kropduif – the attack on Eheke. 2. L/Cpl C. I. Menigke 5 Reconnaissance Commando 4 Jan 1978 (ambush)
3. Cpl M. A. I. Ganhao 1 Reconnaissance Commando 28 Jan 1978
Special Forces Concept Misdirected 4. Lt J. H. du Toit 1 Reconnaissance Commando 11 Feb 1978
While much was achieved with the establishment of 1RC, the senior military command still did not understand 5. Rfn A. Shilemba 5 Reconnaissance Commando 2 Sept 1978
the purpose or correct application of a special force. Maj Gen F. Loots, SSO Spec Ops, eventually resigned in 6. Sgt H. G van der Merwe 5 Reconnaissance Commando 21 Sept 1978
June 1973 over this issue, when a follow-up operation into Tanzania was cancelled due to pure ignorance on the
part of the military command at that time. The newly created 1RC, under command of Cmdt J. Breytenbach, Involvement with the Resistance Movements in angola
had not been developed as planned and was placed under the command of the Chief of the Army, who deployed The coup d’ état of 25 April 1974 in Portugal resulted in the signing of the Alvor Accord on 15 January 1975. The
them as a conventional infantry force. signatories to this accord were Portugal and the liberation movements: MPLA (Movimento Popular de Libertaçâo de
When Maj Gen Loots returned to service in August 1974, he was dismayed to find 1RC in a bad way. In the Angola – Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola), FNLA (Frente Nacional de Libertaçâo de Angola – National
words of Gen Malan: “1RC is dead.” There was no special operations training being undertaken, no specialised Liberation Front of Angola) and UNITA (Uniâo Nacional para a Independéncia de Angola – The National Union for
equipment or uniforms had been obtained and not even a budget in place to do so. No further special operations the Total Independence of Angola). According to the terms of this agreement, Angola was to gain independence on 11
had been undertaken other than those initiated by Maj Gen Loots. The morale of the men was very low, with November 1975 with lawful representatives of MPLA, FNLA and UNITA forming an interim government. Due to lack
many wanting to leave Special Forces. of common goals and actions, this interim government disintegrated and ceased to exist by 11 August 1975.
After evaluating the situation, Maj Gen Loots appointed Cmdt J. C. Swart as OC 1RC on 13 January 1975 The first serious conflict between FNLA and MPLA took place on 25 March 1975 in Luanda. By 25 July, the MPLA
and Cmdt J. Breytenbach transferred, later establishing 32 Battalion. The main problem was still to clarify was in control of the city and requested military assistance from the Soviet Union. It was decided that Cuba would
and validate the concept of special operations, and with it a special force, to the military command. In 1975 provide the bulk of military advisers for training and support while the USSR would foot the bill. On 27 July 1975,
Gen M. Malan, Chief of a meeting was held with the Chief of the Defence Force, Gen Magnus Malan, who approved the concept FNLA declared war on the MPLA, while UNITA declared war on the MPLA on 21 August 1975. With the Angolan
the Army at inception of
in principle. Thereafter, Maj Gen Loots had to present the concept to the Supreme Command. After initial declaration of independence on 11 November 1975, a full-blown civil war erupted between the three liberation
the Special Forces.
disapproval of the concept and much debate, they eventually accepted the proposal. movements.
A budget was prepared and approved, Special Forces was placed under the command of the Chief of the South Africa did not want a strong Communist presence in Angola, as it had some interest in the hydro-electric
Defence Force and developed as originally planned fom 1976. However, Special Forces were still deployed scheme at Calueque in southern Angola. South Africa entered the conflict on the side of UNITA and FNLA on 23
conventionally until the attack on Eheke on 28 October 1977, when five operators were killed during a October 1975, after being requested to help by the FNLA and at the behest of the America CIA. The Republic of South
conventional attack. Maj Gen Loots confronted the Chief of the Defence Force, Gen Constand Viljoen, on Africa agreed to provide advisers and instructors. Training camps were established on 15 September 1975 at Mpupa
this, and eventually convinced him of the importance and relevance of Special Forces. Thereafter they were for the FNLA, on 29 September 1975, at Capolo for UNITA and another for the FNLA on 15 October 1975 at
withdrawn from a conventional application and applied in special operations only. Menongue (formerly Serpa Pinto). The nucleus of these training groups consisted of Special Forces members.
Their legacy would later be the formation of Bravo Group, which would evolve into 32 Battalion. They
Cross-Training with the Selous Scouts would also play an important role in the life of 31 Battalion/201 Battalion (the ‘Bushman Battalion’).
During 1975, the South African Police were withdrawn from support operations in Rhodesia, and South African Historical animosity between the Bushmen and blacks prompted the Bushmen to enlist as
Special Forces were tasked to take their place. The nature of the war in southern Africa soon made it clear that fletchas with the DGS, the Portuguese security police. After the coup in Portugal, the Portuguese
black soldiers must be employed to effectively combat the insurgents. No one in the SADF had any experience in started to withdraw from Angola. Anyone attached to the DGS fled south, to escape being killed or
working with black soldiers or of pseudo operations for that matter. The Selous Scouts, who were past masters in imprisoned. Thirty-nine fletchas crossed the border to Rundu in the Caprivi Strip. The SADF soon
pseudo operations, were approached and asked for assistance. In March 1976, 15 operators from B Group (1RC) realised their potential for future operations. During September 1974, they were moved to Camp Alpha
in separate groups were sent to Wafa Wafa, the Selous Scouts’ training base at Kariba, to attend a ‘dark’ phase in the Western Caprivi, under the code-name Project Alpha, which was placed under the command of
(pseudo) course. Thereafter they remained for deployment with Selous Scouts pseudo groups to gain operational General Officer Commanding Special Forces. On 2 November 1974, the first 21 Bushmen joined Project
experience. Towards the end of December 1976, the group left Rhodesia to return to South Africa. Since the Alpha. The aim was to train and deploy them offensively against SWAPO. Alpha was officially recognised
A Selous Scout Rhodesians trained the South Africans in pseudo operations and gained invaluable operational experience, the as a battalion and on 9 September 1976, was designated 31 Battalion. On 23 September 1976, camp Alpha
beret badge. South Africans reciprocated by presenting courses in diving and parachuting for the Rhodesian Selous Scouts. officially changed to Omega. During 1976/77, two reconnaissance wings (recce wings) were established, one for 31 A 201 Battalion
In December 1977 a group of 55 Recces was temporarily sent to Rhodesia to operate in the Gaza Province for Battalion and the other for 32 Battalion. Both these scouting wings were trained by 1 Reconnaissance Commando, (formerly 31
three months. They deployed with the Rhodesians and then later on their own; this deployment was mostly via and initially executed operations from Fort Doppies in the Caprivi as infantry reconnaissance. Battalion) recce
freefall/HALO methods. A lot of bush warfare experiance was gained during this period. They were replaced by wing flash.
A Collector’s Guide to the South African Special Forces Establishment of 1 Reconnaissance Commando
The First South african Pseudo Course Some Miscellaneous Enemy Forces Insignia
The first basic course was conducted in South Africa by the team trained by the Selous Scouts and lasted six
weeks, from 7 March 1977 to 17 April 1977, during which they trained 46 black soldiers, who were drawn from
31 Battalion and 32 Battalion. Only 22 candidates passed this course. This team of 15 pseudo instructors are
considered to be the founding members of 5 Reconnaissance Commando.
In 1980, the Rhodesian Central Intelligence Organisation and the Rhodesian SAS (no longer ‘C’ Squadron, as the
British had withdrawn from Rhodesia; in June 1978 ‘C’ Squadron (Rhodesian) SAS became 1 SAS Regiment) and
ceased their involvement in Mozambique, due to the changing political situation in Rhodesia. During the 1980s,
South African Special Forces, specifically 5 Reconnaissance Regiment, got involved in the training and operation of
the Mozambican National Resistance Movement. It is reported that the instructors who conducted para training
with the MNR, or Renamo, (controlled by Military Intelligence) even had their own unofficial wings.
An MPLA/FAPLA badge. The emblem for Umkhonto The emblem for APLA, the
Frelimo army badge.
we Sizwe (Spear of the military wing on the Pan
Koevoet and Special Forces Nation), of MK (Military Africanist Congres (PAC).
Koevoet (crowbar), the SAP COIN component, was first accommodated at Fort Rev. For a short while between Kommand) the military
1979 and 1980, some members of Koevoet also received some very basic training at Fort Doppies. However, this wing on the African
arrangement was short-lived after the GOC of Special Forces had a fallout with them over their way of doing National Congress (ANC).
things and asked them to leave.
Union Medal — the Enemy Forces
crossed swords One of the many enemy forces faced by the South Africans, particularly in the Angolan ‘Border War’ and to a
indicate a combat lesser extent in Mozambique were the Russians. Although this was mostly in terms of the billions of dollars of
role. The same
equipment they provided to South Africa’s many opponents, it also included thousands of their regular troops,
swords, is issued to advisers and Special Forces (Spetsnaz).
non-combatants. From as early as 1961 the USSR started supplying weapons and advisers to the Marxist MPLA in Angola. From
1975, after the first South African invasion of Angola, the Soviets helped in delivering 22 infantry and motorised
Cuban brigades. Included were 1,500 Soviet military specialists and special forces. This would rise to over 3,500 Gilt metal with lucite, Brass Soviet Star beret badge, East German pilot cap
Yugoslav Star beret worn by various liberation badge. These pilots flew
by the end of the conflict.
badge, worn by several Cuban troops were groups during the Border War, many of the Mig-23s
By current Russian estimates they lost over 700 Spetsnaz soldiers in the war in Angola alone, aside from taken off an enemy soldier in and -27s in the Angolan
liberation groups during heavily deployed
conventional infantry losses. Some 3,500 Soviet soldiers were also stationed in Mozambique, including five the Border War. in Angola. Oshikango in 1977. conflict.
groups of Spetsnaz troops.
(Authors’ note: This information and the photographs below were kindly obtained and printed with the
permission of Maxim Gladkov and his team from their ex-Angolan war veterans website. A fascinating,
informative and well-run website which is highly recommended: www.veteranangola.ru.)
Message from Col. J. D.
Breytenbach on the occasion of
the 1RR colour parade held at
Durban 1 Oct 1993.
BG SM/G/307/2 dated 19 Apr
1991, Annex. A. The East German electronic warfare teams managed to
File Army A/AOM/6/1 locate several South African operators by electronically A South West People’s
historical records in Chief of pinpointing their location while deployed on operations in Organisation (SWAPO)
Army files:1VK. Angola and South West Africa. cap badge.
Soviet military advisers attached to the first FAPLA
Interview J. D. Breytenbach –
tactical brigade at Cuito Cuanavale in October/November SA National Museum of Military
1989. Note the soldier on the right with the blue and Soviet military personnel and armour, Angola February History function 1999
white-striped airborne / Spetsnaz vest. 1987. 5
Interview D. L. Scales 28 Mar
Interviews with Recce
operators who wish to remain
Unpublished manuscript, M.
G. de Klerk.
Proposals made by
Directorate of Mobilisation at
Army HQ 1972.
* According to WOI Koos GRU and Spetsnaz were
Moorcroft. deployed against South African
ground forces, over and over.
Soviet cap and beret badge.
Russian GRU – Military Intelligence.
Soviet, Cuban and FAPLA soldiers examine spent
APILAS Armbrust and RPG anti-tank weapons left
behind by successful Special Forces anti-tank hunting Soviet and FAPLA personnel posing in front of a Mil
teams, November 1989. Mi-24 Hind, used in the successful evacuation of a team
behind UNITA lines.