Military History / Recce Town Expand/Collapse



?Active: 1972 - present

Country: South Africa

Branch: Joint Operations Devision

Type: Special Forces

Role: Reconnaissance, Sabotage, Underwater Demolition, Counter-Terrorism

Nickname: Recces



Motto: We fear naught but God

4 Special Forces Regiment is based at Langebaan, along the west coast north of Cape Town, provides South Africa its seaward Special Forces capability. The unit was established at Langebaan in 1978. In 1995 the Regiment consisted of three operational commandos (companies) and a Special Forces Amphibious and Urban School. The Unit Emblem is a Viking Helmet, above the Compass Rose. As this Regiment specialises in a Seaborne capability, the Viking helmet alludes to the units proficiency in this element.

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

The South African Special Forces currently consists of:

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. A soldier must meet very high requirements to even attend Special Forces Selection. In accordance with SANDF regulation, only South African citizens are permitted.

The Operator's Prayer: (The following is the official prayer of the "operators" of the South African Special Forces)

Heavenly Father,King of the world,I know that  all things are in Your hands,whatever happens to me.

As a Special Forces  Operator,I am prepared to suffer hardship. I am ready to endure danger, unrest, pain and hurt.

I am going to be hungry and thirsty. I am prepared to face the  enemy fearlessly, Lord. I am weak. I cannot depend upon my own strength; I do  not want to trust in my own abilities. Lord, my God, let me trust in you alone. 

And, above all, faith to do my work fearlessly - always.


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 too 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 travelled to a spot 160 km 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 vicinity. 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 team's 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 travelled.


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.


Picture: Typical RPG unit

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.


Picture: Typical RPD machine gun

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.?


Picture: Cpt. Wynand du Toit (left) and then Foreign Affairs minister Pik Botha (Photo taken by Jan Hamman: 1987)??