32 Battalion (South Africa)

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This article is about a South African military unit. For other uses, see 32 Battalion (disambiguation).
"The Terrible Ones" redirects here. For the novel in the Nick Carter-Killmaster series, see The Terrible Ones (novel).
32 Battalion
SADF 32 Battalion SSI.svg
Unit insignia
Active 1975–1993

South Africa South Africa

SADF Army Flag 1973-1994.gif
Branch South African Army
Type Light Infantry
Part of South African Defence Force
Nickname Os Terríveis (The Terrible Ones)
Engagements South African Border War
Disbanded 26 March 1993
Founder Colonel Jan Breytenbach
Subsequent commanders Colonels Gert Nel, Deon Ferreira (nickname Falcon), Eddie Viljoen (nickname "Big Daddy")
Battalion Flag SADF 32 Battalion Flag.svg

32 Battalion (sometimes nicknamed Buffalo Battalion or Portuguese: Os Terríveis for The Terrible Ones) was a light infantry battalion of the South African Army founded in 1975, composed of black and white commissioned and enlisted personnel. It was disbanded on 26 March 1993[1]


After the victory of the Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (MPLA) in the Angolan War of Independence in 1975, many troops of its main rival, the Frente Nacional de Libertação de Angola (National Liberation Front of Angola, FNLA), found refuge in the then South African-controlled South West Africa.[2]

32 Battalion uniforms. Members of the unit often impersonated Angolan security forces.

From these troops, Colonel Jan Breytenbach together with Commandant Sybie van der Spuy formed a unit that was initially known as Bravo Group but later renamed 32 Battalion. Initially, Bravo Group consisted of two infantry companies, a mortar platoon, an anti-tank section and a machine gun platoon, but 32 Battalion was expanded to 6 infantry companies, a recce wing, and a support company consisting of 81 mm mortar, anti-tank and machine gun sections.

Unlike other South African Defence Forces (SADF) units, 32 Battalion was mainly deployed in southern Angola, acting as a buffer between the SADF's regular forces and its enemies. The unit was also used to assist the anti-communist movement of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). Although it was mainly used as a counter-insurgency force it was eventually also used as a semi-conventional force, especially during the later phases of the war – particularly at the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale.

The battalion consisted of around 600 riflemen and NCOs (non-commissioned officers) (mostly Angolan nationals associated with the former FNLA) and mainly South African officers, although commissioned military personnel from countries such as Australia, Rhodesia, Portugal and the United States were active with the battalion, especially in its early stages. As time progressed a number of SNCOs (senior non-commissioned officers – sergeants and above), distinguished themselves and were commissioned.[3]

After Namibian independence in 1989, the unit was withdrawn to South Africa where it was used in the counter-insurgency role and later also in the South African townships. At the end of its era in Namibia, the unit had developed into a conventional battle group. Apart from the infantry companies and the recce company, the battalion was strengthened by a battery of 120 mm mortars, a squadron of Ratel ZT-3 and 90 mm tank destroyers and a troop of 20 mm anti-aircraft guns mounted on Buffel infantry vehicles. Although the main bulk of the battalion was based at Buffalo on the banks of the Okavango River, the HQ was in Rundu, 200 km to the east[citation needed].

The Phola Park Incident[edit]

On 8 April 1992 members of 32 Battalion were involved in an incident in Phola Park, Gauteng where members of the public were shot and killed.[4] The incident drew widespread criticism, specifically from the African National Congress (ANC)[5] and prompted the Minister of Defence to request an investigation by the Goldstone Commission.


As one of the results of the negotiations between the National Party and the ANC, the unit was disbanded in March 1993 and its members were retired to the town of Pomfret, South Africa.[6]

The guys who did so much dying and fighting for this country were just sort of disbanded on the spur of the moment. It just isn't right. I think it is terrible. I think they were betrayed, quite honestly.[7]

—Colonel Jan Breytenbach

Many members of the unit later helped to found or joined private military companies such as Executive Outcomes and Sandline International, which ironically fought on the side of the Angolan government against UNITA.

Equatorial Guinea coup[edit]

Some of the participants in the alleged 2004 Equatorial Guinea coup d'état attempt were former members of 32 Battalion.[8][9] Because they were arrested in Zimbabwe, it is not clear whether any of those arrested had full knowledge of their final destination or the alleged coup d'état.[citation needed]

Battle honours[edit]

The battalion was one of the most decorated units during the South African Border War, with a total of 13 Honoris Crux medals for bravery awarded to its members, second only to the South African Special Forces Brigade, whose members were awarded 46 Honoris Crux medals during the same period.

In fiction[edit]

In the film Blood Diamond, Leonardo DiCaprio's Rhodesian character "Danny Archer" was a former member of 32 Battalion.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Nortje, Piet (2003). 32 Battalion. Zebra Press. p. 280. ISBN 978-1-86872-914-2. 
  2. ^ De Lancey, Blaine (November 1992). "…meanwhile, in South Africa, the bloody capitalist-apartheid regime remains…". Syracuse University. Retrieved 2008-10-25. [dead link]
  3. ^ International Defence and Aid Fund, January 1982
  4. ^ "An interm report on the conduct of members of 32 Battalion at Phola Park on 8 April 1992". Goldstone Commission of Inquiry Regarding the prevention of Public Violence and Intimidation. Human Rights Institute of South Africa. 1992-06-10. Retrieved 2008-11-27. [dead link]
  5. ^ "Statement on Battalion 32's rampage through Phola Park". Department of Information and Publicity. 1992-04-10. Retrieved 2008-11-27. [dead link]
  6. ^ "South Africa - Pomfret". Retrieved 2007-01-03. 
  7. ^ "Buffalo Soldiers". Carte Blanche. 2003-11-16. Retrieved 2008-11-27. 
  8. ^ Terblanche, Christelle; Peter Fabricus (2004-03-14). "Koevoet, 32 battalion and the coup plot...". Independent Online. Retrieved 2008-10-25. 
  9. ^ Timberg, Craig (2004-09-25). "African Coup Plot Leaves Kin Bereft". Washington Post Foreign Service. Retrieved 2008-12-01. 
  10. ^ Nortje, Piet (2003). 32 Battalion. Zebra Press. pp. 85–88. ISBN 978-1-86872-914-2. 

External links[edit]