61 Mechanised Battalion Group

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61 Mechanised Battalion Group
SADF 61 Mech flash badge.jpg
61 Mechanised Battalion emblem
Active1978 – 2005
Country South Africa
Allegiance South Africa
Branch South African Army
TypeMechanised Battle Group
Part ofSouth African Infantry Corps
GarrisonOtavi, Tsumeb, Omuthiya
Nickname(s)61 Mech
Motto(s)Mobilitate vincere
EngagementsSouth African Border War
Battle honours
Cuito Cuanaval
South West Africa/Angola 1976-1989
Mavinga II
Mavinga III
61 Mechanised Battalion Group Memorial

61 Mechanised Battalion Group was a unit of the South African Infantry Corps; although it was classed as mechanized infantry, it was a combined arms force consisting of infantry, armour and artillery.


Combat Group Juliet[edit]

General Constand Viljoen, Chief of the Army, formulated a plan in 1978 to introduce a mechanized combat group to Ovamboland in the then South West Africa, to conduct operations against SWAPO. Combat Group Juliet was then formed under the command of Commandant Frank Bestbier.

SADF temporary vehicle marker for Combat Group Juliet

Operation Reindeer[edit]

The Battle Group first saw action in Operation Reindeer in early May 1978, launching an attack on SWAPO’s Western Front headquarters and logistics base, at Chetequera, 15 km north of the South West African border, with a mechanized assault force.[1]:76 This attack formed part of Operation Reindeer during which paratroopers attacked a separate target at Cassinga, some 300 km into Angola. After Operation Reindeer it was decided to establish a permanent conventional mechanized combat unit in the operational area and Commandant Johann Dippenaar was appointed to set up this unit.

By January 1979, the Battle Group was renamed 61 Mechanised Battalion and became part of the regular order of battle. 61 Mech served for over a decade in the territory fighting both a guerrilla war against the South-West Africa People's Organisation, as well as taking part in conventional operations against Cuban and Angolan forces.[2]

South West Africa Headquarters of 61 Mech[edit]

A tactical headquarters for 61 Mech was initially established at Otavi but during April 1979 this was moved to Tsumeb. 61 Mech was eventually resettled at Omuthiya, with a base headquarters in Tsumeb.

Further operations[edit]

61 Mech was primarily involved in these operations.

SADF Operation Sceptic Commemorative medallion
SADF Operation Hooper participation bar
61 Mech was part of the Sector 10 response to the Cuban buildup and SWAPO incursions, known as the Merlyn Forces in 1989 South West Africa

Relocation to South Africa and Lohatla Army Battle School[edit]

The start of 1992 saw 61 Mech resettled at the Army Battle School in Lohatla, South Africa. 61 Mech remained part of C Army’s Reserve, under operational command of 60 Brigade HQ and administratively supported by the Army Battle School. During this time, C Army amended the organisation of the Battle School to execute two functions concurrently:

  • first, continuing to administer the facility as a large training institution for reserves and full-time forces as it had been in the past;
  • second, to provide the headquarters for a virtual Rapid Deployment Force (including 61 Mech), as part of its permanent order of battle.

Operations after relocation[edit]

61 Mech was primarily involved in these operations.


By 2005, 61 Mech was disbanded and its infantry elements merged into 8 South African Infantry Battalion at Upington after moving from Lohatla. The Armour and Artillery components were merged into other existing regular units of their respective corps.


61 Mech was organised along the following lines:

  • two infantry companies, which were equipped with the Ratel-20 Infantry Fighting Vehicle,
  • if necessary, a third infantry company was attached. On many occasions this was a company from 1 Parachute Battalion who were attached as a motorised company in Buffels
  • an armoured car squadron initially equipped with Eland Armoured Cars. During 1980 the Elands were replaced by the Ratel-90 and later the Rooikat Armoured Fighting Vehicle,
  • a support company consisting of an anti-tank platoon in Ratel-90s,
  • an 81mm mortar platoon in Ratel-81s,
  • an anti-aircraft troop and
  • an artillery battery equipped with the G5 howitzer. Firepower was further augmented by the addition of the self-propelled version (G6 Rhino).
  • In 1988 61 Mech also received the first combat-deployed squadron of Olifant MBTs, to counter the ever-escalating FAPLA tank threat

61 Mech was primarily tasked as the Army's Immediate Response Unit, due to its versatility.



  • Eland 60
  • Eland 90
  • Olifant MBT

Armoured Personnel Carrier[edit]

  • Buffel


  • G2
  • G5
  • G6

Anti Aircraft[edit]

  • Ystervark

Personal Weapons[edit]

  • R1
  • R4
  • R5
  • FN Mag
  • 60mm patrol mortar
  • RPG

Fighting Vehicles[edit]

  • Ratel 20
  • Ratel 60
  • Ratel 81
  • Ratel 90
  • Ratel Command
  • Ratel ZT3


  • Samil 20
  • Samil 50
  • Samil 100
  • Rinkhals ambulance


Standard Dress[edit]

SADF era 61 Mech Battalion insignia

Ops Badge[edit]

61 Mech awarded a small badge called the Operational Badge for those in or attached to the unit who deployed with the unit on operational duties.[3]:14 The badge had a yellow backing and was awarded initially only for cross border operations into Angola.[3]:14 A subsequent version with a green backing was suggested which was to be for internal duties. This version was never authorised and the yellow badge was awarded for all operational deployments. The badge consisted of a dagger with three diagonal lightning bolts in red across it. A subdued version was produced for wear on nutria (brown's) uniforms. With the introduction of camouflage, a new version was produced on green thatching.

This knife point always faced the heart of the wearer.[4]


Each company or element in the Battalion (group) had its own flag and identifying badge.



61 Mechanised Battalion Group Leadership
From Commanding Officers To
1978 Cmdt Frank Bestbier[a] 1978
1981 Cmdt Johan Dippenaar 1982
1981 Cmdt Roland de Vries SD SM MMM[b] 1982
1983 Cmdt Gert van Zyl 1983
1984 Cmdt Ep van Lill 1985
1985 Cmdt Kobus Smit 1987
1988 Cmdt Mike Muller 1990
1991 Cmdt Gerhard Louw 1993
1994 Cmdt Hannes van der Merwe 1995
1995 Cmdt Danie Laas 1996
1996 Cmdt Jaap Steyn 1999
1999 Lt Col Ettienne Visagie 2005
From Regimental Sergeants Major To
1979 WO1 M.C. Barnard 1981
1981 WO1 H.G. Smit 1985
1985 WO1 Tjaart van der Walt 1986
1986 WO1 Kobus Kemp 1992
1993 WO1 J.A.B. van Zyl 1993
1994 WO1 G.P. Barnard 1995
1996 WO1 A.H. du Toit 1999
1999 WO1 H.A. van Zyl 2005
2005 WO1 D.D. Lewis 2005
From Chaplains To
1978 Ds Landman Vogel[c][d][e] 1979
1980 Ds Braam le Roux[c] 1980
1981 Ds Koos Rossouw[c] 1982
1983 No permanent Appointment 1983
1984 Ds Johan van Niekerk[c] 1986
1986 Ds Schalk Pienaar 1986
1987 Ds Johan van Niekerk[c] 1987
1987 Ds Marius Cornelissen 1987
1988 Ds Anton Kemp 1990
1990 Ds Stoffel Helmut 1990
1991 Ds Fanus Hansen 1996
1997 Pastor Pieter Bezuidenhout 2005

Honoris Crux recipients[edit]

Further developments[edit]

From 61 Mech's success, 62 Mechanised Battalion Group and 63 Mechanised Battalion Group, were developed, encompassing similar battlegroup principles.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Veggroup (Battle Group) Juliet
  2. ^ Later Major General
  3. ^ a b c d e Rest in Peace
  4. ^ Gereformeerde Kerk, Tsumeb
  5. ^ For 1978 and 1979 the appointment was not permanent


  1. ^ a b Steenkamp, Willem; Heitman, Helmoed-Romer (2016). Mobility Conquers. The Story of 61 Mechanised Battalion Group 1978-2005. Helion & Company. ISBN 978-1-911096-52-8.
  2. ^ de Vries, Roland (2015-11-13). "THE INFLUENCE OF THE RATEL INFANTRY FIGHTING VEHICLE ON MOBILE WARFARE IN SOUTHERN AFRICA". Scientia Militaria - South African Journal of Military Studies. 43 (2). doi:10.5787/43-2-1129. ISSN 2224-0020. Retrieved 22 September 2016.
  3. ^ a b Wall, Dudley, Col (2007). "Starting Out" Collecting South African Militaria (3rd ed.). Just Done Productions Publishing (published 15 October 2007). ISBN 978-1-9201-6970-1. Retrieved 14 December 2014.
  4. ^ Steenkamp, Willem; Heitman, Helmoed Roemer (2016). Mobility Conquers: The Story Of 61 Mechanised Battalion Group 1978-2005 plate iii (Hardcover). Helion & Company (published 1 September 2016). ISBN 978-1-911096-52-8. Retrieved 6 November 2016.

Other sources[edit]

External links[edit]