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Nairobi, Kenya
I an ex member of both 7 and 8 Squadron's of the Rhodesian war spending most of my operational time on Seven Squadron as a K Car gunner. I was credited for shooting down a fixed wing aircraft from a K Car on the 9 August 1979. This blog is from articles for research on a book which I HAVE HANDED THIS MANUSCRIPT OVER TO MIMI CAWOOD WHO WILL BE HANDLING THE PUBLICATION OF THE BOOK OF WHICH THERE WILL BE VERY LIMITED COPIES AVAILABLE Contact her on yebomimi@gmail.com The latest news is that the Editing is now done and we can expect to start sales and deliveries by the end of April 2011

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Sunday, August 10, 2008

RECCES IN RHODESIA


PHOTO kind permission Dominique Hoyet
During my time on Seven Squadron I had the oppourtunity to work with South Africa's Reconnaissance Regiments, mainly in the South East of Rhodesia, Madimba in South Africa(carrying out Firefoce training) and in the Russian Front operating from Mabalahuta into Gaza Province of Mocambique. I am still friends with many of those operators to this day. An interesting point to note is that they brought thier own bushmen trackers along with them on operations into Mocambique.
This is a document describing the South African RECCES:-
RECCES

The first Reconnaissance Regiment was founded in Durban on October 1st 1972 as a small specialized SAS or Selous Scouts type unit capable of operating deep inside enemy territory to obtain valuable intelligence on enemy movements, positions and numbers. Col. Jan Breytenbach commanded this new unit designated 1 Recognizance Commando or 1 Recce. Soldiers serving in this unit went on to form the core of additional Recce groups. The "Regiments" the Recce units consist of few men termed "operators". These men are highly trained, shun the spot-light and are rarely filmed or photographed.

Up until recently, the units of the Reconnaissance Regiments were 1 Recce based at Durban in Natal Province; 2 Recce (Citizen Force) based at Voortrekkerhoogte in the Transvaal; 4 Recce based at Langebaan in Cape Province; and 5 Recce based at Phalaborwa in the Transvaal. Of interest is the fact that 3 and 6 Recce were formed in 1980, at the end of the Rhodesian War, from former Rhodesian SAS and Selous Scouts. These were disbanded in 1981 and the men were absorbed by the remaining units.The units are now known as 451, 452, 453 Parachute Battalion (thanks to Henri for this info).

The Recces are trained to act in tiny units or individually, far in the field with little support. The operators mission is to gather strategic and tactical intelligence about the enemy behind his lines. Stealth and the ability to blend into the surrounding bush are essential elements of the operators repertoire. They occasionally participate in special aggressive operations in the enemy's rear territory, destroying targets, harassing troops and causing small scale havoc. Recce units usually operate in 5 or 6 man teams, though it is known than 2 man reconnaissance teams have operated inside Angola. Each Team-member is a specialist in a particular field such as navigation, tracking, demolition, medic, signaler etc. The men are cross-trained so as not to be dependent on one individual and are able to carry out all tasks proficiently

Applicants for selection for Recce training must meet stringent requirements. He must be prepared to enlist for 3 years in the Permanent Force for three years after his National Service commitment is over. The applicant must be between 18 and 35 years old and be physically and mentally fit. He needs to have appropriate military skills which can be built upon, must hold a matric, and wish to serve his country in a special way and seek an outstanding military career. He must be a South African Citizen, have no criminal record, and be fluent in English and Afrikaans. Once accepted, the applicant can specialize in a particular field such as medical training, signals, logistics, weapons, diving, boats, demolition, or research and development. Some 700 prospects apply from all branches of the South African Defense Forces, and only about 45 are accepted.

TRAINING

Recce Training consists of a pre-selection phase (3 days), Special Forces Orientation (two weeks), selection (three days), training (42 weeks) and specialization.

The pre-selection phase stars with a day of psychological testing. The applicant undergoes a complete psychological and medical exam, and an interview to convince the selection board that he would contribute to the team and fit in as a member. If he is successful, a very exacting one-day physical test commences. It includes competing a variety of tasks including a 30 km march, wearing all kit and carrying a rifle and 30 kg sandbag within 6 hours.; an eight km run carrying all kit and rifle in 45 minutes; 40 push-ups, eight chin-ups, and 68 sit-ups in a time-limit; 40 shuttle runs of 7 metres each in 90 seconds; and a swim of 45 metres in a specific time. The third day includes a routine march. When a candidate is deemed satisfactory and completes the pre-selection course, he will begin the Special Forces Orientation Course which includes two weeks of advanced infantry skills and physical training. PT is eight hours per day as preparation of the selection course. 20 % drop out rate is expected at this point in the process.

The Selection Process includes three days of survival and bush orientation training. Rations, water and sleep are limited by the instructors. Physical Training is continuous and testing occurs often. Candidates are evaluated for adaptability, discipline, navigation skills, fears of animals or situations, care of weapons and equipment, memory, powers of observation and ability to move in the bush. Special watch is kept on the candidate to evaluate whether he has the ability to work successfully with other candidates under stress, and the development of a team mentality.

The final 42-week training course consists of an individual phase; a basic parachuting course; training in minor tactics (foreign and platoon weapons instruction, survival, urban warfare, and vehicle movement training); water orientation (small boat instruction, basic diving, swimming, and survival); air orientation (static parachute jumping, rappelling, fast rope decent, forward air control and direction, and helicopter drills); and basic demolitions and explosives training. The parachute training consists of physical training and parachute training. Extensive endurance and body- building training is initially conducted for ten 40-minute periods every day to ensure candidates are in top physical condition and to evaluate their reaction to this stressful phase. Speed marches progress from five km to 25 km with full kit, rifle, all timed and evaluated by instructors. An exercise on the parade ground is marching while suspending a 25 kg cement globe called the "marble" above the head. By the time the second phase is done, 40 to 50% of the class will have dropped out. To complete parachute training the Recces will make static line jumps from 150 metres and then progress to free-fall jumping, and HALO (High Altitude Low Opening jump.

Navigation techniques are taught and the students are required to navigate through swamps and waterways. Various team-building exercises are held including races and forced marches over sand carrying heavy weights. Team work and leadership qualities are watched for by the instructors. Candidates are rated on their ability to work under stress, resistance to cold, adaptability, stamina, co- ordination, and general fitness. They are tested frequently for psychological, physical, and psycho-motor skills and the ability to think and react well under extreme mental pressure.

A extreme phase of testing begins with a forced march of 38 kms. Well into the march, the soldiers are allowed to fill water bottles, while the instructors try to entice them to quit by offering food or ice-cold drinks. When the men reach their destination they are given rations that have been made inedible by soaking in diesel fuel. A variety of additional tortures thought up by instructors are also applied to the candidates to test their resolve. This may seem cruel, but it is all voluntary, and the men's safety is assured by doctors, training cadre, and psychologists monitoring every step the candidates make.

When the final rendezvous is made, the men sink down to rest thinking it is all over. at this point a new marching order of 30 kms is issued. Those that proceed are taunted with more offers of food and drink as well as transport to ease their tired bodies if they just call it quits. The ordeals are far from over. They might be "captured" and treated as a prisoner by the trainers dressed as terrorists, or have to solve mind-bending puzzles while exhausted and starved. Those who finish this phase are considered "operators", while those that fail at any point are sent to other SADF units, no disgrace for at least they have tried.

OPERATIONS

The Recce operators use highly specialized and personalized gear and uniforms as well as both Western and Eastern-bloc weapons and ordnance. Often the operators utilize South African made copies of camo uniforms used by other countries and their allies. They are worn to blend into foreign troops when on covert operations. Recce missions are covert and highly secretive by nature, and must remain so in order to safe guard the lives of the men involved. One mission is known all to well to South Africans. May 1985 saw a covert mission by Recces blown when the 9 operators were discovered over 2,000 kms inside Angola in the province of Cabinda, known for its rich oil deposits. The battle resulted in two South Africans killed and their leader, identified as Capt. Wynand du Toit captured.

The remaining half-dozen soldiers escaped safely to South Africa. The official story from the government is as follows:

On May 13 1985, a South African Navy strike craft carrying the Recce team as well as a back-up team left Saldanha Bay and traveled to a spot 160 kms off the Angolan coast near its border with Zaire. The mission was to confirm the existence of ANC terrorist bases and SWAPO bases near Cabinda. Reports indicated this area as containing a major ANC training base from which insurgents returned to South Africa. The area contains oil storage installations run by the Angolans and Gulf Oil, and because of this, several large military bases are in the vecinity. Speculative reports had mentioned US Veterans and ex-SAS guarding the installations.

The plane brought the soldiers close to the coast in the darkness of May 19. An advance scouting party was sent to gather intelligence on terrain where the party would land, rowing ashore in rubber dinghies. No hostile movement or activity was noticed so the rest of the team landed on the night of May 20th. Under ideal cloudy skies, the Recce teams trip was slowed by the need to launch their boats farther from shore than anticipated. The longer journey, as well as rough seas threw off the precise timing of the mission. Near shore, Capt. du Toit noticed a small fishing vessel in the area of the landing zone and the occupants were on shore around a fire. This forced the team to wait off-shore until the boat left the area. They were now three hours behind schedule, and the danger of being detected grew. Upon landing the boats were hidden and a rendezvous point set up.

The men climbed a bluff and followed a route that skirted a small village and led to a road. They miscalculated the distance to the road and turned back losing an hour of valuable time. Du Toit decided to continue and reach the lay over position in a densely wooded area within the two hours prior to dawn. South African Intelligence and aerial photographs showed an uninhabited area, but in fact it was surrounded by camouflaged FAPLA bases. The hide was finally reached as day broke. This proved to be far from ideal as a hiding place as it was not part of the jungle but an island of dense growth some distance from the jungle.

The Recce's hid in the undergrowth and spread into a defensive perimeter, one man at an observation post several yards to the North with a view of the course they had traveled. As dawn broke, the features of a well hidden FAPLA base became clear some 1,000 yards from the hide position. A few hours later, a small FAPLA patrol could be seen following the tracks they had left the night before. They team watched as the patrol withdrew, and then came back with a larger patrol which passed the hide. At 5:00 pm a three man patrol followed the team's trail directly to the thicket where the Recce's were hidden. They stopped short of entering the brush, and returned to their base. Meanwhile a second patrol approached the hide from the other direction, and opened up heavily on the hidden position. As RPG rockets struck their position Capt. du Toit ordered the withdrawal of his troops.

They had no choice but to double back on the trail that brought them to this position the previous night. Two of the men were wounded as they exited the trees. FAPLA troops deployed 50 yards west of the site opened up with RPD machine guns RPG and many AK-47s. The team turned north, pursued by FAPLA soldiers. Another group of Angolan soldiers advanced from the west, flanking the Recce's, they could only go east now. They could see a group of trees, but needed to cross 40 yards of waste high grass to get to this cover. Du Toit took two men and made his way through the grass as the rest of the team hid in the thicket. The small team drew fire as over 30 troops moved onto the exposed position. Corporal van Breda was killed as his two comrades fought on. The fighting continued for a full 45 minutes. The two men started to run out of ammunition and were wounded. Corporal Liebenberg was killed, and du Toit nearly so, though he remained conscious. The contact was over, and two of South Africa's finest soldiers were dead.

While du Toit lay on his stomach, FAPLA soldiers approached thinking he was also dead. While stripping his equipment, they realized he was alive and shot him through the neck. He remained awake with wounds in his neck, shoulder and arm as the FAPLA soldiers began to savagely beat him. The soldiers ranted that he was a mercenary, while du Toit explained that he was in fact a South African officer, which surprised the soldiers greatly, though they were unaware he was a member of the notorious Recces. After being abused, he was finally taken to Cabinda for medical treatment then to a Luanda hospital.

The remaining six Recce operators carefully made their way north where they regrouped and made contact with their plane. They were picked up and returned safely to South Africa. Their escape was due in part to being ignored after the Angolans captured du Toit.

After denying that South Africa used soldiers in Angola, on May 23rd, it was announced at a press conference that the SADF had small groups of soldiers deployed in northern Angola. The soldiers tasks were to gain information on "hostile elements which threaten the Safety of South West Africa and South Africa" such as SWAPO, the ANC and "Russian surrogate forces". Regarding du Toits team the statement was "At this moment there is concern because contact has been broken. This element was gathering information about ANC bases, SWAPO bases, as well as Cuban involvement with them in the area south and north of Luanda."

The Angolans played the propaganda for all it was worth. They showed footage of the two dead Recce's and of Capt. du Toit, and they were all identified. On the 24th Pik Botha stated he was eager to talk about the incident and have du Toit returned. He blamed the excursion on Angola's aid to the ANC insurgents after repeated warnings to desist.

Angola had du Tout deliver a statement to cast doubt on the information gathering aim of his mission. The Angolans tried to make it appear that South Africa was trying to blow up oil installations and cripple the Angolan economy. Du Toit read out a statement haltingly describing how he and his group had been on a mission to blow up a key oil depot in order to cause a "considerable economic set back to the Angolan government...We were not looking for ANC or SWAPO, we were attacking Gulf Oil." The attack was to be credited to Unita, and to this end they were carrying Unita leaflets. Psychologists examining the footage stated that du Toit had been brainwashed after isolation and serious wounds and abuse.

Du Toit was finally released after 837 days of solitary confinement in an Angolan prison in a complicated prisoner exchange arrangement. The Recce's as a unit have been since reorganized and are now under the control of the Chief of the Army.


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I welcome comments from everyone on my book Choppertech.
I am interested especially on hearing from former ZANLA and ZIPRA combatants who also have thier story to tell.