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 Regiments.
In 2002, the South African Special Forces community celebrated the 30th anniversary of the establishment of a Special Forces capability in South Africa.
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. Out of this number, more than 80
Operators were killed in action during the Angolan war.
the beginning of 2003, fewer than 900 persons had ever Qualified as
South African Special Forces Operators - fewer people than have ever
successfully climbed Mount Everest. Out of this 900, more than 200
Since the inception of Special
Forces in South Africa, retired and serving 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), and this ceremony holds a
special significance for Operators - especially during times of war.
its history, the South African Special Forces has been a non-racial
entity, and always had approximately equal numbers of black and white Qualified Operators.
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.
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 is still the most
highly decorated military entity in South Africa in respect of Bravery
Medals since the end of the Second World War.
South African Special Forces Operators are highly qualified in all
aspects of Land, Airborne and Seaborne skills, tactics, operations and
deployments; and are able to and have Operated in virtually all
possible terrain and climatic conditions.
Forces Operators usually wore beards because they were unable to shave
during their deployments. Shaving would waste precious water, and the
enemy would be able to smell the shaving cream or soap if it was used. The
beards also helped with camouflage of the face for both black and white
Operators, as the sun would not reflect off a beard like it would off a
shaven face. 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.
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
war, the average weight of kit carried by Special Forces Operators is
60kg to 80kg. For long-distance deployments or Small Team operations,
the average weight of kit carried is 100kg. The heaviest kit carried by
Small Teams or Long deployment Operators is 130kg.
An unofficial form of achievement within the South African Special Forces is when an Operator has completed a " Gunston
500" - named after the Surfing Championship. In the South African
Special Forces context, a "Gunston 500" entails conducting an operation
behind enemy lines, where one walks for 500 kilometres or more with
full kit. Many Operators, and most who took part in the Angolan war, have completed at least one or many
" Gunston 500's" .
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.
reconnaissance of enemy targets and fixed positions, Special Forces
Reconnaissance Teams usually comprise 2 to 4 Operators. They conduct
reconnaissance on enemy bases from direct line of sight positions right
on the edge of the bases, and would penetrate inside the bases. These
bases comprised and can comprise anything from several hundred up ten
thousand plus enemy soldiers.
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 to
escape capture or death. The distances over which E&E was applied
in such situations - on foot - has varied from 20 km to over 1000km.
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.
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 one in five chance of long-term
survival, due to the nature, frequency and number of operations which they conducted.
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, due
to their Killed in Action and Wounded in Action statistics, retirements
Forces Operators have never had equal of superior numbers to the enemy
when attacking enemy fixed positions, and have always been heavily
outnumbered in all their engagements.
the Angolan war, amongst 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
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 they returned.