By 1670 this burgher force had grown into a regional defence system, forerunner to the first burgher commando formed in 1715. The commando system - an unique South African military organization - proved itself in various campaigns against hostile tribes and finally in the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), although the Boer republics were eventually defeated.
With British rule established in the former Boer republics, the
commando system was abolished. In its stead, volunteer army units along
British lines were raised in the Transvaal from the so-called Uitlander
(outlander) units that had served with the British forces during the war.
In Natal, the volunteer units were converted into a citizen force backed
up by a reserve from which reinforcements would be selected by ballot when
needed. The Cape Colony reverted to a purely regular force of mounted riflemen.
A new milestone in the history of the Army was reached on 1 April 1913 with the establishment of the Permanent Force. The five army regiments of the Permanent Force, known as the South African Mounted Rifles (SAMR), were organized along the lines of the old Cape Mounted Rifles and had police and military duties. The expansion of the Army was taken a step further with the creation of the Active Citizen Force (ACF), the Coast Garrison Force and the Rifle Associations on 1 July 1913.
The young Union Defence Force had its first baptism of fire on 4 July 1913 when a detachment of the SAMR together with a large police force and two squadrons of the (Imperial) Royal Dragoons clashed with strikers on Market Square in Johannesburg. Further skirmishes followed on the next day, which prompted the Government to issue call-up instructions for 2 800 members on 6 July. The strike was called off on the same day, however, before these ACF members could be sent into action.
In January 1914 the UDF's army units were ordered into action for the second time when an industrial strike broke out on the Rand and martial law had to be declared. These forces acquitted themselves well of their task and the strike was suppressed without the aid of British Imperial Garrison troops.
Following the German surrender in South West Africa in July 1915, a volunteer army brigade was dispatched to German East Africa where a British force was encountering strong and effective opposition from General Von Lettow-Vorbeck's elusive forces. The German commander proved to be a formidable foe who used mobile guerrilla tactics to great effect. To make matters worse, the topography and poor climate took their toll and more than 12,000 South African soldiers had to be repatriated, suffering from various tropical diseases and dysentery. The German forces in East Africa finally laid down their arms in November 1918, by which time over 2,000 South African soldiers had died.
During the war an infantry brigade, comprising four battalions, was also raised for service with the British forces in France. The brigade - known as 1 SA Brigade and 5,800 strong - arrived in Britain in November 1915 and was almost immediately diverted to Egypt to assist the British forces defending the Suez Canal.
Shortly after landing at Alexandria early in January 1916, the South African battalions were engaged in a pitched battle at Agagia, which ended in a complete rout of the Turkish-Sanussi forces.
The successful conclusion of the Egyptian campaign paved the way for 1 SA Brigade's deployment in France. Forming part of the 9th (Scottish) Division, 1 SA Brigade at the beginning of July 1916 took part in the Somme offensive and, in particular, the fighting for Trones Wood, Bernafey Wood, Longueval and Delville Wood. In these battles, which lasted from 5 to 20 July 1916, the South African Brigade was almost wiped out, emerging from the carnage with a strength of just 29 officers and 751 men out of a total of nearly 4,000 who had entered the battle.
The South African forces in France were again thrown into battle in the area of Butte de Warlencourt in October 1916. The following year the brigade took part in the Battles of Arras and the 3rd Battle of Ypres, suffering heavy casualties on both occasions. In 1918 the brigade was once again all but wiped out in the German summer offensive, but was later reformed in time to take part in the final Allied offensive in France which ended the war.
The South African ground forces also fought with distinction in
the Allied campaign against the Turks in Palestine. In the summer of 1916
six siege batteries of South African heavy artillery, together with a brigade
of field artillery and a detachment of the SA Cape Corps, were deployed
In February 1922, a strike by coal miners on the Rand degenerated into a series of violent clashes between police and strikers, with the latter forming their own commandos. On 9 March army units were instructed to intervene and martial law was declared the following day. Several ACF units and certain reservists were also called up.
After a series of extremely violent clashes between the strikers and the UDF, law and order were restored and the strike was called off on 18 March. A total of 43 UDF and police force members were killed during the clashes.
The strike was barely over when the UDF was ordered to South West Africa to suppress the Bondelswarts uprising. The rebels surrendered to the SA Army Task Force on 2 June 1922.
Two major reorganizations of the UDF occurred in 1922 and 1926 as a direct result of the need to economize in view of the prevailing recessionary economic climate.
On 12 July 1922 the South African Defence Amendment Act (Act 22 of 1922) was promulgated, giving effect to an earlier decision to reconstitute the Permanent Force. In this respect the system of five dispersed mounted constabulary units (South African Mounted Rifles) would be reduced to a single regiment of mounted riflemen. A number of units and corps were officially established, including the SA Field Artillery, SA Permanent Garrison Artillery, SA Engineer Corps and the SA Ordnance Corps. Existing infantry units fell under the Active Citizen Force and were not reorganized into a corps.
Despite the establishment of the new corps, the actual size of the UDF and especially the Army shrank still further during this period as a result of pay cuts, resignations, retrenchments and discharges.
A new veld-coloured khaki uniform was introduced in the SA Army in 1922.
In 1926 the necessity for still deeper cuts in expenditure on defence led to yet another reorganization of the UDF. The last remaining regiment of the SAMR was disbanded and sections of artillery distributed to various stations in the Union. The military districts were reduced from sixteen to six.
In 1928 the overall situation in the Army improved slightly with the establishment of one mounted and three infantry brigades. The Great Depression placed great pressure on the Defence Budget, however; with effect from 31 December 1929 no fewer than 49 ACF units were disbanded and, between 1 July 1930 and 30 June 1934, continuous ACFtraining ceased altogether. Nor did the Defence Rifle Associations escape the austerity measures - in 1931 alone, 54 Rifle Associations were disbanded, ammunition quotas of DRA members were halved and the allowances paid to DRA commandants were reduced.
In another organizational development in 1933 the new Directorate Technical Services was established which relieved Quartermaster General (QMG) of all responsibilities con- nected with technical questions. In October, the General Staff Section at DHQ passed under the control of the new Director of Military Operations and Training. There were thus now five major sections at DHQ under the overall control of the Chief of the General Staff (CGS):
* Director Military Operations and Training.
* Quartermaster General.
* Director Technical Services and
* Director Medical Services.
Another administrative change to occur in 1933, was the redesignation of the six military districts as Commands.
One of the more successful experiments in combating the ravages of the Great Depression occurred in 1933, with the establishment of the Special Service Battalion (SSB) at Roberts Heights (later Voortrekkerhoogte) on 1 May. The unit was established to provide employment and training for the many youths left destitute by the Depression.
The SSB was to prove a great success and an invaluable source of trained personnel to the Army in subsequent years.
During the course of 1934 the economy of the Union began to show a sustained upward trend, to the extent that a significant increase in the defence budget was subsequently approved for the first time in many years. During the parliamentary debate on the Defence vote for 1934-1935, the Minister of Defence, Oswald Pirow, announced a five year expansion plan for the UDF that envisaged the formation of nine ACF brigades and was aimed at increasing the strength of the PF and ACF to 56,000, with a further national reserve of 100,000 riflemen. The increase in funds had a quite significant effect on the training facilities and efficiency of the Army.
The Commando system was also reorganized in 1937 and at Defence headquarters Lt Gen A.J.E. Brink was appointed as Chief Commandant of CF Commandos. He was directly responsible to the Minister of Defence for the training and discipline of Commando members.
Other administrative changes in 1937 included the creation of a Directorate of Operations and Intelligence (DOI) under the CGS, and the replacement of the Director Military Operations and Training by a Director of Army Training.
In 1938 the Minister of Defence announced plans for the further extension and improvement of the UDF, for which purpose a total of 5 million pounds spread over three years was to be made available. Before these plans could be fully implemented, however, the Second World War broke out in 1939.
Other administrative changes in 1937 included plans for the further extension and improvement of theranks, while the ACF comprised only 918 officers and 12,572 other ranks.
Once the decision to enter the war had been taken, the first priority was to make arrangements for a greatly expanded UDF needed to sustain South Africa's war effort.
In September 1939 ACF units were authorized to accept volunteers (in addition to those in the age group 17 to 21 ) for the duration of the war. In February 1940 the ACF was reorganized on a totally voluntary basis as a result of strong opposition from a section of the nation that did not favour the Union's participation in the war. Soldiers willing to serve anywhere in Africa took the Africa Oath and were issued with a strip of orange cloth (the orange flash) which was worn at the outer aspect of the shoulder strap.
Despite an initial shortage of equipment, the recruitment campaign for the reorganized ACF proceeded very satisfactorily, and within a short period three divisions had been established. These included 1 SA Division under Maj Gen G.E. Brink, comprising 1, 2 and 5 Brigades; 2 SA Division consisting of 3, 4 and 6 Brigades under Maj Gen l.P. de Villiers, and 3 SA Division comprising the reserve brigades and commanded by Maj Gen M. Botha.
The 1st SA Division was destined to serve in East and North Africa while 2 SA Division would operate in North Africa. The 3rd SA Division was stationed in the Union.
A large number of other combat and support corps and units were also formed including the SA Tank Corps, the SA Veterinary Corps and mounted units.
The first major campaign of the South African forces during the Second World War took place in East Africa. Italian forces had overrun British Somaliland by the middle of 1940, and were advancing southwards into Kenya. The UDF's 1 SA Division was accordingly despatched to East Africa to assist the British forces under Lt Gen Alan Cunningham along a 800 mile front against the advancing Italians.
The 1st SA Division's 1 SA Brigade, which under Brig Gen D.H. Pienaar arrived in Kenya in June 1940, achieved the first South African victory of the war by defeating the Italian forces at El Wak on 16 December 1940.
In January 1941, 1 SA Division (without 1 SA Brigade, which had been attached to 12 African Division) was ordered to advance to the Abyssinian frontier, with the object of outflanking the Italian positions on the MegaMoyale escarpment. British Somaliland, while the Divisional HQ and 5 SA Brigade were despatched to Egypt. The 2nd SA Brigade proceeded to advance towards Abyssinia against relatively light opposition before it too was ordered to Egypt.
In the meantime 1 SA Brigade, along with the rest of 12 African and 11 African Divisions, in February 1941 made a dash for the Juba River and the port of Kismayu. The attack soon turned into a triumphant advance on Addis Ababa itself and, following the collapse of enemy resistance along the Juba River front the combined British and South African forces broke through to Mogadishu and Harar. Addis Ababa was captured on 5 April 1941. The Division's advance met with little resistance and Mega fell to the South African forces on 18 February, with 1,000 prisoners taken. The Division's victory prompted Gen Cunningham to deploy 2 SA Brigade into Italian resistance was finally broken after further operations in which 1 SA Brigade played a leading role. On 19 May 1941 the Duke of Aosta, Viceroy of Italian East Africa, surrendered with 5,000 men, the remnant of the Italian forces in Eritrea. At this point 1 SA Brigade was rested prior to transfer to Egypt.
Italian forces in the lakes region south of the capital and in the Gondar region still refused to capitulate, however. A South African contingent, consisting of 1 Natal Mounted Rifles, 1 Field Force Battalion and various South African artillery, light tank, and support units participated in operations against the Italians with rare distinction. At the end of November the last Italian forces in East Africa laid down their arms.
Although the UDF combat units had performed admirably throughout the campaign in East Africa, the various South African support units also contributed to the final victory. The sterling efforts of the engineer, road construction, motor transport, and medical units in supporting the combat units over vast distances in inhospitable terrain and an equally unpleasant climate, deserve special mention.
The UDF now transferred its attention to the North African theatre, where it was planned to deploy two full divisions in support of the British forces which at this stage were confronted with Rommel's Afrika Korps.
Fresh from the campaign in East Africa, 1 SA Division had been deployed at Mersa Matruh in Egypt. Arriving directly from the Union towards the end of June, 2 SA Division was deployed to El Alamein.
During the British 8th Army's offensive against the German forces in Libya, in an effort to relieve the beleaguered Tobruk garrison, 1 SA Division was ordered to advance past Sidi Rezegh towards Tobruk in support of the British 7th Armoured Division.
After initial successes the 8th Army's attack broke down and, after fierce fighting, 5 SA Infantry Brigade was overrun and annihilated by Rommel's armoured forces at Sidi Rezegh. Although this was a severe blow, the Brigade's gunners destroyed 72 enemy tanks. The 1st SA Brigade, too, became involved in heavy fighting in the Sidi Rezegh area over the period 28 November - 1 December 1941.
The 2nd SA Division had, in the meantime, been attached to 13 Corps and its brigades played a dominant role in the capture of Bardia, Sollum and Halfaya. These battles cost the South Africans approximately 500 casualties, but they took a total of 14 000 German and Italian prisoners.
Sustained attacks by the 8th Army eventually forced the enemy to retreat from the Gazala Line, and contact was re-established with Tobruk. The two South African divisions were now deployed in an endeavour to reinforce the 8th Army's defensive positions in Libya against an expected German counter-offensive. The 1st SA Division was deployed along the Gazala Line while 2 SA Division (minus 3 SA Infantry Brigade) was despatched to Tobruk to take over the harbour town's fortress. In May Rommel launched his counter-offensive, decisively defeating the British tank forces in the area of Knightsbridge, El Adem and Bir Hacheim, and driving the 8th Army into headlong retreat back towards the Egyptian frontier. The 1st SA Division managed to reach the Egyptian frontier without serious loss. But Tobruk was cut off and on 21 June the fortress garrison under Maj Gen Klopper was forced to surrender. Altogether 10,722 South Africans were taken prisoner, which meant in effect that 2 SA Division had ceased to exist.
Rommel wasted little time in capitalizing on his success at Tobruk, driving straight for Alexandria and capturing Mersa Matruh. The 8th Army, however, rallied and by September Rommel's offensive had broken down. This enabled the Allied forces to launch a major offensive and on the night of 3 October 1942 the final and decisive battle of El Alamein commenced with an artillery barrage which lasted several hours. South African artillery units alone fired 62 000 rounds of 25-pounder ammunition during the night. The massive artillery barrage cleared the way for an infantry and armoured assault on the German positions around El Alamein, with 1 SA Division one of the four attacking divisions.
The 8th Army's El Alamein offensive succeeded beyond expectations and by the beginning of November Rommel's forces were in headlong retreat. Tobruk was recaptured and by the end of November the German forces had been cleared from Libya.
With its services no longer required in North Africa, 1 SA Division returned to the Union at the beginning of 1943. The price of victory had been high, however. Total South African casualties in North Africa were 23,625, including 14,242 POWs and 2,104 soldiers killed in action.
South African forces also took part in the British invasion of Madagascar in 1942, which was designed to forestall the possibility of a Japanese assault upon this strategically located island.
The 7th SA Infantry Brigade under Brig G.T. Senescall landed at the naval base of Diego Suarez on the northern tip of the island on 25 June 1942. The brigade moved into camp at Sakaramy and prepared defensive positions. In September the South African brigade took part in a large-scale operation aimed at capturing the southern half of the island from its Vichy French occupants. Although little opposition was encountered, topographical and climatic conditions were arduous and malaria casualties high.
The Vichy Governor surrendered on 2 November 1942 and the South African troops returned to the Union on 7 December 1942, having sustained a total of only 18 casualties during the campaign.
The last major theatre of operations in which South Africans were involved during the war was the Allied campaign to reconquer Italy. On 1 February 1943 the first-ever SA Armoured Division - the 6 SA Armoured Division - was formed in the Union under the command of Maj Gen W.H. Evered-Poole. The division had been specifically formed to take part in the Allied invasion of Italy.
After a few weeks of intensive preparation at Zonderwater, the Division moved to Hay Paddock near Pietermaritzburg in early April to wait for a convoy north. On 18 and 19 April 1943, the Division set sail for Egypt, where it was to undergo training in preparation for the Italian campaign.
On arrival at Suez, the Division was trans- ported to a camp which had been especially pitched at Khatatba, some 60 miles from Cairo. For the next twelve months 6 SA Armoured Division engaged in an exhaustive training programme designed to bring its various units to the peak of battle efficiency for the difficult task that lay ahead.
Finally, nearly a year after arriving in Egypt, the Division crossed to Italy in April 1944 and concentrated in the Altamura-Matera-Gravina area. The conditions facing the Division were very different from those that 1 and 2 SA Divisions had encountered in North Africa. It would have to operate in mountainous country ideally suited to defensive warfare, and attack positions manned by a skilful and stubborn enemy. In summer, rain and mud, and in winter snow and intense cold would impede mobile warfare, while there was little scope for turning movements. This type of war would make heavy demand on all arms, but particularly the Engineers.
The Division remained in the Matera area until late May, when it was ordered forward to the battle area around Cassino.
The 6th SA Armoured Division in fact arrived at Cassino just too late to participate in one of the biggest and most decisive battles of the Italian campaign. Since January the US 5th and British 8th Armies had been trying in vain to capture the German positions around Monte Cassino, which were frustrating the Allied advance on Rome. Monte Cassino was an imposing peak of the southern Appenines, and it dominates access to the Liri Valley, which was the only viable route through the Appenines that the Allies could follow to Rome. As it happened, just as 6 SA Armoured Division was being readied for action, the German positions at Cassino were overrun in a massive Allied offensive.
The capture of Cassino opened the way to Rome for the Allies, and the entire 6 SA Armoured Division, with 11 Armoured Brigade leading the way, was ordered forward to assist in the capture of the city. After a rapid advance against relatively light opposition, the South Africans entered Rome on 6 June 1944. The fall of Rome, however, did not by any means signify the end of the fighting in Italy. In fact the next two months were to see some of the sternest fighting of the campaign to date, as the Germans doggedly resisted an all-out Allied drive towards Florence.
Cellano, en route to Florence, was captured on 10 June after a particularly fierce battle in which the 11 SA Armoured Brigade performed heroically.
Eventually, after a long hard slog of eight weeks through Cellano, Orvieto, Chiuse, Sinalunga and finally along the Divisional Green Route through Radda, Mecatale, and across the Greve River, 6 SA Armoured Division entered Florence on 4 August in the vanguard of the Allied advance.
The capture of Florence afforded the Division a well-earned rest lasting six weeks. The respite was used to good effect with the Division's equipment and vehicles being stripped and overhauled. In the meantime congratulatory messages were received from, among others, the C-in-C General Sir Harold Alexander and the Army Commander Lt Gen Sir Oliver Leese.
There remained much to be done, however. The Germans were still firmly entrenched along the Arno River and the formidable Gothic Line extending from the west coast of Italy across to the Adriatic. The 6th SA Armoured Division was given the task of pushing the Germans back on the Gothic Line behind Pistoia. For this part of the campaign, the armoured units were used as mobile reserves reinforcing the SA Division's 12 Motorized Brigade and 24 Guards Brigade. In fact often during the following months the armoured units were forced to adopt the role of infanteers, as the German Gothic Line ran for much of its length along the northern Appenines range which was so mountainous as to be quite unsuitable for tank warfare. In addition, the onset of winter and the accompanying bad weather further restricted the use of tanks.
Nevertheless, despite these natural handicaps, 6 SA Armoured Division acquitted itself admirably throughout the grim winter as the Allied forces relentlessly rolled back the Gothic Line along the Appenines. By the end of winter, the Allied forces stood poised to make the decisive break-through along the remainder of the Gothic Line which would lead to the capture of Bologna, the crossing of the Po and the eventually collapse of German resistance in NE Italy.
In the final weeks of the war 6 SA Armoured Division was allowed to revert to its true armour role. By the beginning of May the German resistance in Italy had effectively ceased, and a last-minute dash by 6 SA Armoured Division to Milan proved unnecessary as on arrival on 2 May 1945 the South Africans were informed of the unconditional surrender of all German forces in Italy.
With the war in Europe officially over. the first units of the 6th Armoured Division began returning home towards the end of May 1945.
After the demobilization process had been completed in 1946, it was decided to establish the South African Armoured Corps as a unit of the Permanent Force on 18 October that year. As no specific corps existed for infantry units at the time, it was decided to divide the South African Armoured Corps into two sections: Armour and Infantry.
As part of the post-war reorganization, the Defence Rifle Associations were disbanded in 1948 and replaced by a new Commando organization with a strength of 90,000 men. It was also decided to establish and maintain two complete army divisions in the UDF: namely 1 SA Infantry Division and 6 SA Armoured Division, consisting of 1, 2, 3, 12, and 13 (CF) Infantry Brigades and the (PF) 11 Armoured Brigade. The divisions were formally established with effect from 1 July 1948, but with the exception of 11 Brigade they were disbanded on 1 November 1949, mainly as a result of difficulties in obtaining volunteer recruits to man the CF Brigades.
The 11th Armoured Brigade was itself disbanded on 1 October 1953. In the early 1950s the Union undertook, however, to provide one armoured division for active service in the Middle East in the event of war in the region. To this end some 200 Centurion main battle tanks were ordered, and the first were delivered in July 1952.
In another significant development the pro- posed system of gymnasiums was approved in 1949 and early in 1950 the first intake of trainees reported for training at the Army Gymnasium.
On the command and control level, the post of Deputy Chief of the General Staff (DCGS) was transformed in 1948 into that of Director General Land Forces (DGLF), and in 1951 the Director General of Land Forces were redesignated Army Chief of Staff.
In 1953 the two sections of the South African Armoured Corps were disbanded, and all infantry and armoured unit personnel were placed on a common seniority list as members of the SA Armoured Corps. However, with the disbandment of the SA Instruction Service in 1954 the South African Infantry Corps was established in January 1954.
When the Marine Corps was dissolved on 1 October 1955, the Anti-Aircraft Artillery once more became a branch of the South African Artillery Corps. This organizational dispensation lasted until 1984 when the SA Anti-Aircraft became an independent Corps.
In 1956 a further reorganization was made necessary by the considerable increase in the number of citizens balloted for training in some areas. The Army was accordingly reorganized to consist of thirty two Afrikaans-medium units including six field regiments, two medium regiments, three LAA regiments, five infantry regiments, five tank units and four armoured car regiments. The new structure also included twenty English-medium units three field regiments, one medium regiment, one AA regiment, ten infantry battalions, four tank units and one armoured car regiment. The changes were implemented with effect from 22 September 1956.
During Exercise Oranje, conducted in 1956, the Army successfully used its Centurion main battle tanks for the first time in a simulated nuclear war situation. In the same year 100 Centurion tanks were sold to Switzerland, however, and in later years the South African Defence Force had to go to great lengths to obtain new Centurion tanks.
The new Defence Act (Act 44 of 1957) resulted in yet another reorganization of the Defence Rifle Commandos in 1958. In fact, the Rifle Commandos were replaced by Commandos which were organized on the lines of the infantry battalion system.
The Commandos were also given a clearly defined role within the
defence organization, and Commando members would receive functional training
to equip them for their allotted task. Commando officers would forthwith
also enjoy equal status with their counterparts in the Citizen Force.
A noteworthy event in respect of the six battalions and three armoured car troops was the reorganization of 2 Mobile Watch as 1 Parachute Battalion on 1 April 1961 and its reallocation to the SA Infantry Corps with immediate effect. This unit was the forerunner to two additional CF parachute battalions established in the seventies. Other infantry battalions that were established on 1 January 1962, include
* 2 SA Infantry Battalion (Walvis Bay);
* 3 SA Infantry Battalion (Lenz);
* 4 SA Infantry Battalion (Voortrekkerhoogte);
* 5 SA Infantry Battalion (Ladysmith), and
* 6 SA Infantry Battalion (Grahamstown).
On 8 December 1962 the Commandant-General (CG) approved in principle a programme for the expansion of the SA Army, and in 1964 a large number of additional CF units were established to ensure that sufficient units would be available in the event of mobilization. A school for dog-handlers and their dogs was opened in 1964 and in May 1965 CG approved in principle the establishment of 51 additional CF units in cadre form with effect from 1 April 1965. Sixteen of these cadre units would be converted into functioning units in 1966.
The utilization of other race groups as a source of manpower also became a priority in the early 1960s. Thus authority was given for the training of Coloureds and in September 1963 the South African Cape Corps (SACC) Training Centre was established at Eerste-rivier near Cape Town.
As far as conventional formations were concerned, 7 SA Division and 17, 18 and 19 Brigades were established on 1 April 1965. Difficulties with manning levels saw the disestablishment of 7 SA Division on 1 November 1967 and its replacement by the Army Task Force (HQ) and 16 Brigade.
To improve training in the Commandos, a Commando Combat School was established on 1 November 1967 at Kimberley. In 1968 it was renamed the Danie Theron Combat School.
As part of the Army's expansion several arms procurement programmes
were launched in the early 1960s. These included the local production of
the French Panhard AML-90 and AML-60 armoured cars under licence.
In 1973 two new infantry units were also established: 7 Infantry Battalion (Bourke's Luck) and 8 SA Infantry Battalion (Upington), as well as 11 Commando (Kimberley), which to a great extent took over the functions of the Danie Theron Combat School's training wing. In 1973 the SADF also took over responsibility for the defence of SWA from the SA Police, and during the succeeding months the SA Army became involved in combat operations for the first time since the Second World War, clashing with groups of SWAPO terrorists infiltrating into South West Africa.
It was decided in 1974 to organize the Army's conventional force into two divisions: 7 SA Infantry Division (71, 72 and 73 Motorized Brigades) and 8 SA Armoured Division (81 Armoured Brigade, 82 Mechanized Brigade and 84 Motorized Brigade). The HQ's of the two divisions were established on 1 August 1974, and they form the basis of the organization of South Africa's conventional forces to this day.
The CF and Commandos were reorganized in the 1970s to play a more effective part in counter-insurgency (COIN) operations. In 1975, following the re-evaluation of the role of commands which had taken place the previous decade, the planning and conduct of COIN operations was decentralized to the territorial commands. Each officer commanding of a territorial command was given responsibility for measures to prevent insurgency as well as to conduct active COIN operations within his territorial boundaries. For this purpose the commandos in his area as well as a number of specially allocated CF units were placed under his direct command, thus forming an independent COIN force.
The establishment of a Bantu Training Centre for Black Permanent Force members at Baviaanspoort near Pretoria on 21 January 1974 heralded a new era in the history of the South African Army. This unit moved to Lenz on 1 December 1 975 and was renamed 21 Battalion. As a corps school the unit originally assisted in the training of 1 Transkei Battalion, 1 Ovambo Battalion and members of the Venda Defence Force. In subsequent years a number of Black infantry battalions were established in the Army, including 111 Bn, 113 Bn, 116 Bn, and 121 Bn. As of 1 January 1987, the training policy of the SA Army dictates that all Blacks have to attend promotional and qualification courses at the appropriate training centres and corps schools.
In 1975 the operational efficiency of the SADF was put to the test when it was ordered to intervene in the Angolan civil war on the side of the nationalist movements fighting the Communist-backed MPLA. In a Blitzkrieg the SA Army Task Force Zulu recaptured the south western corner of Angola after Perreira de Eca, Rocades and several other towns were captured.
In Central Angola, Combat Group Foxbat defeated the enemy at Liumbala, while Task Force Zulu was victorious at Cacula and Catengue, forcing the enemy to abandon the Bengueia front. Task Force Zulu and Combat Group Foxbat also halted the enemy in the Santa Comba area on the Cela front and were victorious at the battle of Ebo. In eastern Angola, Combat Group X-Ray (later renamed Combat Group Orange) defeated the enemy at Xangongo and Luso.
The victory of Task Force Zulu and Combat Group Foxbat at the battle of Bridge 14 on the central front is famous. The battle took place after the South African forces had advanced to Quibala. However, they had to cross the Nhia River at Bridge 14 (which had been destroyed by the enemy) and here a group of engineers repaired the bridge while a fierce battle was raging. Thereafter the bridge could be crossed and the advance on Cassamba and Almeida continued. After the capture of these towns the South African forces were ordered to break off the attack on Quibala.
Early in 1976 the South African forces were finally ordered to withdraw and on 25 January 1976 the withdrawal was practically completed Citizen Force units deployed as four combat groups in the south of Angola to protect the Calueque/Ruacana water scheme and the refugee camps, however, left Angola as late as 27 March 1976.
After the withdrawal of the South African task force from Angola in 1976, SWAPO's terrorist onslaught against SWA/Namibia intensified, and the SADF was committed to defending the people of SWA from the intimidation and terrorist tactics of SWAPO.
At first the SADF was content with a passive defence of the territory, but in 1978 the SADF's ground forces changed to a more offensive strategy of cross-border pre-emptive strikes against SWAPO bases in Angola.
Examples of these are: Operation Reindeer against bases at Cassinga and Chetequera in May 1978, cross-border operations into Zambia from bases in the Eastern Caprivi (1978), and Operations Safraan and Rekstok (1979).
Important new developments in major weapons systems took place in the 1970s. In 1976 the Ratel infantry combat vehicle was introduced, followed by the G5 medium gun and upgraded versions of the Olifant main battle tank and the Eland-90 and Eland-60 armoured cars in the late 1970s.
The first formation-level conventional warfare exercise - known
as Exercise Kwiksilwer - was held in 1978. The same year also saw the formation
of the three parachute battalions into 44 Parachute Brigade with its head-quarters
at Bloemfontein and the creation of the SA Army Battle School at Lohatlha
in the northern Cape.
These operations were a prelude to further conflicts during Operations Carnation and Protea in 1981. Operation Protea, launched in August 1981, was a large-scale operation involving mechanized units. Large quantities of sophisticated armaments were captured or destroyed, and the enemy's entire logistics system in southern Angola disrupted. Two major cross-border operations were launched against SWAPO bases in Angola during 1982: Operations Super and Meebos. When a strong SWAPO force infiltrated Ovambo in February 1983, the South African forces successfully counteracted with Operation Phoenix. At the end of 1983 it became clear that SWAPO was planning a full-scale infiltration for early 1984. During Operation Askari, which started as a pre-emptive strike on 6 December 1983, the South African forces also clashed with FAPLA and Cuban forces near Cuvelai. The enemy forces were driven off leaving 324 dead.
In the early 1980s it became clear that the sheer size of Northern Transvaal Command's territory made command and control as well as logistical functions extremely difficult. These as well as other security considerations led to the decision to subdivide Northern Transvaal Command into three Commands in 1984:
* Northern Transvaal Command (Pretoria).
* Eastern Transvaal Command (Nelspruit)
* Far North Command (Pietersburg).
The two new Commands are regarded as theatres and as such also have responsibility for conventional operations within their areas.
As a result of widespread unrest in the RSA during 1984 and 1985 a state of emergency was declared in several magisterial districts. The SA Army and other Arms of the Service were called in to assist the SA Police in restoring stability and maintaining law and order. In the last two months of 1985 terrorists infiltrated South Africa from across the Limpopo River and Far North Command had to cope with a landmine war.
During 1987 the Army was involved in several relief operations. These included aid to the flood disaster areas in Natal and elsewhere by means of the supply of equipment (tents, vehicles, sand bags, food, and so on), the distribution of supplies to isolated outlying areas, the salvaging of vehicles and the evacuation of residents.
In 1987 the MPLA Government launched Operation Second Congress in an attempt to defeat UNITA. The aim of the FAPLA forces was to advance from Cuito Cuanavale and capture Mavinga which was to serve as a base from where an offensive could be launched against Jamba, the UNITA head- quarters. In order to check FAPLA's south- ward advance to Mavinga south of the Lomba River, the South African forces and the SWA Territory Force supported UNITA during Operation Moduler (1 July - 15 December 1987). During fierce clashes the South African G-5 gun howitzer was used with devastating effect. Suffering heavy casualties and losing large quantities of equipment at the Lomba River, FAPLA's offensive broke down and a general retreat was started.
Taking the initiative, the South African forces supported UNITA in its advance to the Cuito Cuanavale region. At this stage South African tanks were deployed operationally for the first time since the Second World War. Here the G-5 gun howitzer was once more used with great effect during the bombardment of the enemy positions.
Following further limited actions in December 1987, an offensive was launched on 13 January 1988 and eventually FAPLA's 21 Brigade withdrew from the area. In February attacks by the South African/UNITA alliance against FAPLA's 59 Brigade and FAPLA positions south of the Tumpo River and at Dala proved equally successful. Sustaining heavy losses, the FAPLA forces were effectively pinned down.
Although FAPLA had an active air offensive and reconnaissance capability, they never succeeded in disrupting the advancing South African/SWA Territory Force/UNITA alliance.
SA Army units also played an active role in Operations Packer and Displace (1988). During Operation Packer 82 Mechanized Brigade, which was instructed to protect the eastern bank of the Cuito River inflicted heavy losses upon the FAPLA forces once more. As result Operation Displace could be commenced with and during this phase the South African forces withdrew from Angola.
In 1988 the SA Army played a major part in relief operations, such as those undertaken during the flood disaster in the Orange Free State and Natal. OFS Command established a special emergency centre at its headquarters while an emergency unit was set up at Air Force Base Bloemspruit from where food and blankets were distributed to flood victims. In Natal members of 5 SAI Battalion used motorized rubber boats to come to the aid of flood victims.
Negotiations between South Africa, Angola and Cuba which started in London during May 1988, heralded the beginning of a new peace initiative. This led to the signing of two accords in December 1988 providing for the withdrawal of all Cuban forces from Angola and the implementation of the negotiated settlement plan for South West Africa/Namibia on 1 April 1989.
On this date the phased withdrawal of South African military personnel and equipment from South West Africa/Namibia started. For the SA Army, it meant a large-scale operation involving thousands of troops and materiel. The planned withdrawal of South African forces was thrown into jeopardy however when a large number of heavily armed SWAPO terrorists crossed the border into South West Africa. The restriction to base of South African army units was lifted and as the fighting intensified, these units were recalled to the battlefield.
In their last military action in South West Africa/Namibia, these units acquitted themselves well of their task. They fought well and the terrorists were routed within nine days.
This signified the end of the Border War and after the election in November 1989, the last South African troops returned to South Africa.
Further steps in the rationalization of the Army included inter alia the disbandment of 4 Electronic Workshop, 6 Signal Unit, 5 Military Works Unit and the SADF Zevenfontein Horse Breeding Farm while the State President's Unit was deactivated.
Two new units were established in 1990, viz 31 Battalion and Far
North Command Maintenance Unit. Conventional and counter-insurgency units
of the Part-time Force were also rationalized to three conventional and
three counter-insurgency formations.