South African Special Forces Operators are known internationally by their nickname of “Recces”.
This is the abbreviated form of the original name of the Special Forces Regiments – the Reconnaissance Commandos.
In 2012, the South African Special Forces community celebrated the 40th anniversary of the establishment of a Special Forces capability in South Africa.
To become an operator you had to complete the following cycle successfully:
* Operational training cycle
* Eventually your first deployment
The operational training cycle comprised for most operators of the following courses:
* Basic Parachute Training
* Water Orientation (small boats)
* Bush Craft & *Tracking
* Know your enemy
* Air Orientation
* Minor tactics
Minor tactics was normally followed by a first operational deployment as many saw this as still part of the operator getting qualified. Only now was the operators badge awarded since its inception.
By the conclusion of the war in Angola in 1988, out of the more than 100,000 persons who had applied to attend the Pre-Selection interviews to attempt the Special Forces Operators Training Cycle, fewer than 480 had qualified as Special Forces Operators.
In this Graphical Representation, each dot represents one applicant, with only the green dots representing those who ultimately qualified.
At the beginning of 2014, just over 1,000 persons had ever qualified as South African Special Forces Operators. Out of the 1,000, around 200 are deceased.
Click on the image below to view the Memorial Page.
Since the inception of Special Forces in South Africa, some Special Forces Operators observe the Saint Michael ceremony every September. Saint Michael is the protector and Patron Saint of Paratroopers, (every Qualified Operator is also a qualified Paratrooper) This ceremony affords time for reflection and is usually an opportunity for a good party!
Throughout its history, the South African Special Forces has been a non-racial entity and in some units even had more black than white Qualified Operators at times.
The most highly decorated Special Forces Operator to date is a black Operator from 5 Reconnaissance Regiment, who was awarded the Honoris Crux Gold in 1980.
Cpl. Gabriel Fernando
Despite the fact that Special Forces Operators are held to a much higher standard than the rest of the military when it comes to the awarding of medals, the South African Special Forces Operators are still the most highly decorated military entity in South Africa in respect of Bravery Medals since the end of the Second World War. More than 47 medals have been awarded, some as recently as 2014.
Click on the image below to view the Honors and Awards Page
All South African Special Forces Operators are highly qualified in most aspects of warfare skills, tactics, operations and deployments. Seaborne Operators are skilled in Seaborne tactics, having passed their basic Operators Training Cycle. Operators are able to and have operated in virtually all possible terrain and climatic conditions.
Special Forces Operators were allowed to wear beards whilst deployed on operations. Similarly, the long hair as seen in some photographs of the Recces is as result of the long periods the Operators spent behind the enemy lines on operations, where they could not cut their hair.
During war, Operators could expect to be physically deployed in actual operations against the enemy – primarily behind enemy lines – for an average of 9 to 10 months per year. Many Operators did this for 10 to 15 years.
During war, the average weight of kit carried by Special Forces Operators would vary from 60kg to 80kg. For long-distance deployments or Small Team operations, a total kit weight of 100kg was not uncommon. The heaviest recorded kit weight carried by an operator on a long term deployment, including weapons and webbing, was 130kg.
An unofficial form of achievement within the South African Special Forces is when an Operator has completed a very tough assignment behind enemy lines, traversing vast distances on foot with full kit. This usually ensured acceptance by the more senior operators.
During the Angolan war 95% of all Special Forces operations were carried out behind enemy lines – over distances of anything from 10 km to 2000 km behind the enemy lines.
During reconnaissance of enemy targets and fixed positions, Special Forces Reconnaissance Teams usually comprised of 2 to 4 Operators. They conducted reconnaissance on enemy bases from direct line of sight positions right on the edge of the bases and would penetrate inside the bases at times if so required. These bases and areas usually comprised of very large numbers of enemy soldiers.
During the Angolan war, Special Forces Reconnaissance Teams who entered into contact with enemy forces during reconnaissance missions, or during infiltration or exfiltration, had to conduct Escape and Evasion tactics to escape capture or death.
Historically, more than 55% of all Operators were at one time or another Wounded in Action – some on multiple occasions. Very often, they dressed and treated their wounds themselves, and seldom left the field or operations for treatment.
The South African Special Forces have the highest statistical Killed in Action ratio of any South African military unit since the battle of Delville Wood during the First World War. During the Angolan war, an Operator had statistically only a 20% chance of long-term survival, due to the nature, frequency and number of operations which they conducted.
The first South African soldier Killed in Action at the beginning of the Angolan / former South West Africa war was a Special Forces Operator and the last South African soldier Killed in Action at the end of the Angola / former South West Africa war was a Special Forces Operator.
During the entire Angolan war, the total strength of all the Special Forces Regiments combined was never more than 200 to 250 Operators at any one time. The composition of a Special Forces Regiment differed substantially from that of a normal military regiment.
Special Forces Operators have never had equal or superior numbers to the enemy when attacking enemy fixed positions, and have always been heavily outnumbered in all their engagements.
During the Angolan war, among the Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces against which South African Special Forces Operators worked were Russians, Ukrainians, East Germans and others. Also present were Cubans, North Koreans, Vietnamese, and various other Soviet-aligned forces. These included Regular Army, Air Force, Navy and Special Forces elements of these forces.
During the later stages of the Angolan war, the Soviet Union diverted much of its war materiel meant for Afghanistan to Angola – including the most sophisticated Russian arms outside the Soviet Union itself. Angolan airspace became classified as the most hostile airspace in the world, with the Soviets having total air superiority for virtually the whole war. This meant that Special Forces Operators never had the possibility of re-supply, support or evacuation on the majority of their operations and once they were in, they were completely and utterly alone until their return.