Military Wiki
South African Special Forces Brigade
Special Forces Insignia and Beret
Active 1972–present
Country South Africa South Africa
Allegiance SADF 1973-1994 SANDF 1994-present
Branch Joint Operations Division
Type Special forces
Role Reconnaissance, Sabotage, Underwater demolition, Counter-terrorism

4th Special Forces Regiment
("Iron fist from the sea")[1]

5th Special Forces Regiment
("We fear naught but God")[2]
Special Forces School
Garrison/HQ Speskop, Pretoria, Gauteng
Nickname(s) Recces

The South African Special Forces Brigade (popularly known as "Recces") is the only Special Forces unit of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF).

On 1 October 1972, 1 Reconnaissance Commando was created at Oudtshoorn, South Africa. It was relocated a few years later to Durban, South Africa. This was the first South African Special Forces unit.

The South African special forces played a significant role in the country's 30 year long border war in Namibia and Angola.

South African Special Forces now consists of Special Forces Headquarters in Pretoria, 4 Special Forces Regiment in Langebaan, 5 Special Forces Regiment - Phalaborwa and the Special Forces School in Murrayhill.

4 Special Forces Regiment specialise in maritime-related activities, whereas 5 Special Forces regiment specialises more in overland techniques, especially long-range infiltration.

The Brigade is directly under the command of the Joint Operations Division of the SANDF, and unlike other similar forces worldwide, is not a part of the South African Army.


The first South African Special Forces unit, 1 Reconnaissance Commando, was established in the town of Oudtshoorn, Cape Province on 1 October 1972. On 1 January 1975, this unit was relocated to Durban, Natal,[4] where it continued its activities as the airborne specialist unit of the special forces.

Later, two additional Reconnaissance Commandos were formed:

  • 4 Reconnaissance Commando, specialising in seaborne operations, was established in the coastal town of Langebaan, Cape Province.
  • 5 Reconnaissance Commando was established at the Duku-Duku camp in Natal, but was later moved to Phalaborwa in the Transvaal province.

On 1 January 1981, a re-organisation of Special Forces took place, as part of which the Reconnaissance Commandos and other special forces were transformed into an independent formation, directly under the command of the (then) South African Defence Force (instead of the South African Army). As part of the re-organisation, the various Reconnaissance Commandos were also given the status of regiments. In the latter part of the same decade, a Special Forces headquarters and a Special Forces stores depot were also added to the Special Forces structure.

Between the years 1981 and 1990, Special Forces was home to unconventional operations such as Project Barnacle, the Civil Cooperation Bureau and other operations conducted under the aegis of 7 Medical Battalion Group.

In 1991, the structure of the special forces underwent another change, when the special forces headquarters was disbanded and a Directorate Reconnaissance, reporting directly to the Chief of the Army, was established instead.

Another organisational change followed in 1993, when the Directorate Reconnaissance became 45 Parachute Brigade. As a result of this, all the units were renamed: 1 Reconnaissance Regiment became 452 Parachute Battalion, 4 Reconnaissance Regiment became 453 Parachute Battalion and 5 Reconnaissance Regiment became 451 Parachute Battalion.

The special forces organisation was changed to its current structure in 1996. The Special Forces Brigade, as it is presently known, consists of 4 and 5 Special Forces Regiments as well as 1 Maintenance Unit, which provides logistic support.

As part of the military transformation process, 1 Special Forces Regiment was disbanded in 1996.[citation needed]


Member of the South African Special Forces performing a ceremonial parachute jump

The South African "Recces" were deployed to many local hot spots during the late 1970s and early 1980s, particularly Angola.

The main enemy then was South West Africa’s People Organization whose armed wing PLAN, was a guerrilla organization fighting for an independent Namibia.

One of the "Recces"' most effective operations came in 1982: Operation Mebos penetrated deep into Angola and destroyed the SWAPO Headquarters. In Operation Askari, in the winter of 1984, the "Recces" cut off almost all supply lines to and from the SWAPO in Angola. In 1985, a "Recce" team undertook the controversial Operation Cabinda, a failed attempt to sabotage Angolan oil installations run by Gulf Oil.

In early summer of 1985, another "Recce" team under the command of SADF Captain Andre Diedericks crossed into Angola’s Cuando Cubango province, and with UNITA's help, protection and escort was secretly deployed around Menongue area. The team had at their disposal the 9K31 “Strela-1” AA system manned and operated by the team members. Team’s mission was to carry out covert combat operations, code names "Catamaran 1," "Catamaran 2" and "Cerberus" with the goal to disrupt air traffic in Cuando Cubango province by shooting down air transports, combat aircraft and gunships using the AA system. On 11 June 1985, roughly 80 km from Menongue, the team shot down Angolan airplane, a light utility aircraft, Britten-Norman BN-2 “Islander”. The "Islander", en route from Menongue to Cuito Cuanavale with a crew of 2 and 5 passengers was also carrying 69 million kwanzas (Angola’s currency), several months of salary for FAPLA’s 16th Brigade’s personnel based in Cuito Cuanavale. When the "Islander" fell to the ground the money was stolen and the remains of the dead passengers had been pillaged by UNITA soldiers attached to protect the "Recce" team. On 25 November 1985, the same "Recce" team had also shot down an “Aeroflot” Antonov AN-12, cargo airplane. The AN-12 transport en route from Cuito Cuanavale to Luanda carrying 8 crew members and 13 passengers crashed approximately 43 km south-east of Menongue. All people on board (twelve Soviet and nine Angolan nationals) died in the crash.[5]


The Ultimate Challenge, as South African Special Forces Selection is often called, is considered one of the harder special forces selection courses in the world.[6] A soldier must meet very high requirements to even attend Special Forces Selection. In accordance with SANDF regulation, only South African citizens are permitted.

Pre-selection training

This includes all aspects of psychological and physical tests. For the psychological tests, soldiers will be given written tests and oral interviews with Special Forces NCOs. A soldier must be self-controlled and mature. Soldiers are ejected from the course if there is any suggestion of mental instability. The Physical Test includes 40 continuous push ups, 67 sit ups in two minutes, fireman lift, three-kilometre run in full gear in thirteen minutes, a rope climb (to show upper body strength ), 40 shuttle runs in 95 seconds and wall scaling. A student must scale a 10-foot-high (3.0 m) wall, complete a fifteen-kilometre march in less than 120 minutes and perform 120 shuttle kicks.

Parachute selection course

Basic Parachute School is one of the most demanding. All Special Forces candidates who aren't parachute-qualified will have to attend this course.

Special Forces selection

Selection is an event during which candidates are placed in an extremely mentally and physically demanding set of situations and circumstances, through which they must pass. It is in duration approximately a week. For the duration of Selection, the candidates do not sleep or eat, and have no rest period at all. Only an extremely small percentage of persons who begin Selection ever pass it. In some years, no-one has managed to pass Selection, and there are other cases where only 1 or 2 persons out of an entire Selection group pass.

Training cycle

Once past the Selection process, he will be placed on a training cycle to acquire the skills required. These include: air co-operation, water orientation, obstacle crossing, bushcraft, tracking and survival, demolitions and tactics in urban as well as rural areas.

Advanced Airborne Training: a recruit will be taught about military free-fall such as HALO and HAHO. They will also learn about helicopter operations – how to rappel fast down a rope out of helicopters. Combat extraction is also taught, along with learning how to set up a LZ.

Land training consists of many things: including sniping, demolitions and reconnaissance. Bushcraft and survival is also taught. Climbing and photography are taught to new recruits. Urban and rural combat is perhaps the newest training – developed quite recently, this training provided South Africa with a new counter-terrorist force. Medical and communications training is also given to those who wish to become qualified.

Maritime training consists of the use of small boats, underwater demolitions, swimming, diving, beach reconnaissance and navigation.

Operator's Badge

All South African Special Forces operators receive the Operator's Badge, which is given only to those members who have completed all the qualifications as an Operator. It consists of an inverted Commando Knife within a laurel wreath, which is meant to symbolise both special forces (the knife) and victory (the wreath).

Standard operator badges are silver, but a gold badge with an embedded diamond is awarded to Operators with more than 10 years of active service.


Further reading

External links

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).