South-West Africa Territorial Force

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South-West African Territorial Force
Insignia of the South West African Territorial Force.svg
SWATF Insignia
Active 1977–1989
Country South Africa South-West Africa
Branch South African Defence Force
Size 10,100 (1981)
22,000 (1987)
Part of Department of Defence for South-West Africa
Garrison/HQ Windhoek, South-West Africa
Namibia, with a long Atlantic coastline, borders Angola, Botswana, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe

The South-West Africa Territorial Force (SWATF) was an auxiliary arm of the South African Defence Force and comprised the armed forces of South-West Africa (now Namibia) from 1977 to 1989.[1] It emerged as a product of South Africa's political control of the territory which was granted to the former as a League of Nations mandate following World War I.[2]

History and Background[edit]

From 1966 until 1989, South African security forces waged a long and bitter counterinsurgency conflict against indigenous nationalists in what was then South-West Africa, represented by the Marxist South-West African People's Organisation (SWAPO). As the guerrilla war intensified, however, it became clear that civilian police alone were not enough to cope with SWAPO incursions and escalating unrest. Consequently, military units were deployed for the first time; 60,000 South African combat troops were engaged in South-West Africa by the late 1970s.[3]


As part of a general policy of military and social reform, Pretoria initiated the establishment of local defence and police agencies for its protectorate beginning in 1977.[1]


A start was also made with the regrouping of existing units into four formations:

  • a Formation Headquarters Staff,
  • a Reaction Force (conventional),
  • an Area Force (unconventional) and
  • an Air Force.

As regards the latter, the South African Air Force would remain responsible for aerial operations although provision was made for an air commando squadron consisting of private and commercially qualified air crews. Their main function was to assist the South African Air Force in reconnaissance and communication flights and to provide operational officers for the operational service.

SWATF Uniform, Rank Structure, Corps Emblems and Proficiency Badges[edit]

The first major step in the establishment of an independent territorial defence force in SWA was the introduction of a new uniform on 6 September 1979 through which SWA units could be distinguished from SADF units.

SWATF Nutria bush fieldwear

The rank structure of the SWATF was identical to that of the SADF. The insignia however differed considerably.

Rank insignia of the South West African Territorial Force
Warrant officers and other ranks Formation warrant officer Warrant officer class 1 Warrant officer class 2 Staff sergeant Sergeant Corporal Lance corporal Private

South West African Territorial Force
SWATF Warrant Officer Chief Formation.jpg
SWATF Warrant officer Class 1 RSM.jpg
SWATF Warrant Officer Class 2.jpg
SWATF Brassard Staff Sergeant.jpg
SWATF Brassard Sergeant.jpg
SWATF Brassard Corporal.jpg
SWATF Brassard Lance Corporal.jpg
No insignia
Rank insignia of the South West African Territorial Force
Officer ranks Major general Brigadier Colonel Commandant Major Captain Lieutenant Second lieutenant

South West African Territorial Force
SWATF Lieutenant General.jpg
SWATF Major General.jpg
SWATF Colonel.jpg
SWATF Commandant.jpg
SWATF Major.jpg
SWATF Captain.jpg
SWATF First lieutenant.jpg
SWATF second lieutenant.jpg

SWATF Corps emblems

SWATF Proficiency badges

SWATF Beret Bars


The new South West African Territorial Force was officially created on 1 August 1980, from South-West African citizens already serving with the South African Defence Force.[4] For all practical purposes, SWATF remained firmly integrated into existing SADF command structures.[1] Its primary goal was protection of the territory of SWA from SWAPO incursions.[5]

The SWATF was placed under the control of the Department of Defence for South-West Africa, but was always headed by a SADF general. There was also a joint SWATF/SADF committee established for "planning, liaison, and coordination" efforts.[4] By 1981, SWATF's total strength numbered some 10,100 men, organised into both tribal-based battalions (including separate units for Ovambo, Herero, and Coloured ethnic groups) and multiethnic units partially manned by at least 10,000[6] white South-West African personnel.[1][7]

Operationally, the SWATF was further divided into a Permanent Force infantry component, logistic/administrative divisions, a training wing, and a Citizen Force, which included at least three motorised infantry battalions.[4] The 'permanent force' comprised mostly volunteer auxiliaries and national servicemen, who formed eight battalions.[4] A militia system was also developed for local security, including over twenty 'area protection units'.[1]

By 1987, SWATF had an estimated establishment of 22,000 troops, including additional units of engineers, signals personnel, mounted troops, a parachute battalion, and a commando squadron.[8]

SWATF Commanders[edit]

Military Units[edit]

  • SWATF General Headquarters


  • Eight full-time battalions
    • 31 Bushman Battalion (became 201 Battalion) HQ at Omega Base
      SWA 31 Battalion emblem
    • 32 Battalion at Buffalo.
      SADF 32 Battalion SSI.svg
    • 33 Eastern Caprivi Battalion, (became 701 Battalion)
      SWATF 701 Battalion emblem
    • 34 Kavangoland Battalion, (became "202 Battalion")
      SWATF 202 Battalion emblem
    • 35 Ovamboland Battalion,
      SWA 101 Battalion emblem
      (became 101 Battalion) The Quick reaction force.
    • 36 Bushman Battalion, (became "203 Battalion")
      SWATF 36 203 Battalion emblem
    • 37 Kaokoland Battalion, ("became 102 Battalion")
      SWATF 102 Battalion emblem
    • 41 Multi-ethnic Regiment Windhoek ("became 911 Battalion") (As 911 Battalion – it became known as "Swing Force" due to its ability to operate as a conventional unit or as a Counter-insurgency (COIN) unit.
      SWATF 911 Battalion emblem
      It recruited from South-West Africa at large and deployed predominantly as a reserve force. An infantry element, a mechanised contingent, artillery, and a regiment of Eland armoured cars was included.[10] The unit was never mobilised en masse.


  • Reaction Force Brigade, mainly a Citizen and cross corps force, 91 Brigade had a motorised sub-brigade composing two (later three) infantry battalions, an armoured car regiment, and an artillery regiment. The Brigade also included a training battalion and a mobilization center.
    SWATF 91 Brigade emblem

SWATF 91 Brigade structure updated

  • Logistics Brigade

SWATF Logistics Brigade Structure

SWATF Special Forces[edit]

Although SWATF relied heavily on South Africa's special forces, over time it developed its own capability.

1 SWA Recon Regiment started out as a sub unit under the command of the Commanding General SWATF in 1982, staffed mainly by ex South African operators.

  • 1 SWA Specialist Unit,
    SWATF 1 Spes emblem
    at Otavi – containing trackers, dogs, horses and dirtbikes.

By 1984, 1 SWA SPES was based at Omaruku and at Omathoni together with 32 Battalions Recce Wing.

By 1987, 1 SWA Parachute Battalion and 32 Battalion's Recce Wing were amalgamated to become 2 SWA Specialist Unit or 2 SWA SPES and relocated to Luipersvallei, Windhoek.

SWATF Special Forces

It must also be noted that most frontline battalions, such 31, 36 and 101 also had their own Recon Wings

SWATF 101 Battalion Recon Wing emblem

101 Battalion Recon Wing emblem

SWATF Aircrews[edit]

While the SWATF relied heavily on the South African Air Force for combat and heavy logistics transportation, it did have its own Air Wing, which consisted mainly of civilian aircraft.

1 SWATF Commando Squadron

1 SWA Commando Squadron was established as 112 Air Commando on 24 September 1963 in Windhoek. The unit was staffed by volunteer civilian aircraft. From 1968, control of 112 Commando squadron passed from the SA Army to the SAAF and it was transferred to Light Aircraft Command. In 1970, it was disbanded, but in 1980 it was re-established as part of the SWATF.

SWATF Aircrew emblems

SWATF Medical Command[edit]

SWATF Medical Command emblem


Primarily all SWATF members received their initial training at 2 SA Infantry Battalion at Walvis Bay, (considered South African territory at that stage) [11]

Advanced training, NCOs and Officer development however occurred at the SWA Military School at Okhandja

  • SWA Military School
    SWATF Military School emblem

South West African Military Operations Sectors[edit]

By 1979, South West Africa was subdivided into Operational Sectors. Three Frontline Sectors, 10, 20 and 70 fell under direct South African Army Command. Four additional Sectors, 30, 40, 50 and 60 covered the rest of South West Africa and was commanded directly by SWATF officers from 1980.

SWATF Sector emblems

Frontline Sectors[edit]

Frontline Sectors were used for the massing of forces in preparation for external operations into Angola, acting as a buffer with the rest of the territory and reaction to immediate threats.

SWATF Northern Sector Map

Sector 10[edit]

(Kaokoland and Owambo) - HQ Oshakati

Consisted of four modular battalions:

  • 51 Battalion at Ruacana,
    51 SWATF Battalion
  • 52 Battalion at Oshakati,
    SWATF 52 Battalion emblem
  • 53 Battalion at Ondangwa
    SWATF 53 Battalion emblem
  • 54 Battalion at Eenhana.
    54 SWATF battalion

Modular Battalions main function was internal operations. Sub units were attached according to the requirements of a specific situation, i.e the "modular nature". Their main responsibility was to secure their assigned area in which they conducted cordon and search operations, patrols, checkpoints, mine sweeping and the protection of roads and water systems.

Other units in this Sector included:

  • SWATF 101 Battalion at Ondangwa,
  • SWATF 102 Battalion at Opuwa,
  • 25 Engineering Squadron at Oshakati,
  • 5 Maintenance Unit at Ondangwa,
SWATF Oshivello Training Unit emblem
  • a training unit at Oshivelo,
SWATF Sector 10 Signals Unit emblem
  • Sector 10 Signals Unit and
  • The SADF's 61 Mechanised Battalion at Omuthiya

Sector 20[edit]

(Kavango and Western Caprivi) - HQ Rundu

55 Battalion at Nepara.

SWATF 55 Battalion

32 Battalion at Buffalo.

SADF 32 Battalion SSI.svg
  • SWATF 201 Battalion at Omega base,
  • SWATF 202 Battalion at Rundu and
  • SWATF 203 Battalion at Mangeti.

Sector 70[edit]

(Eastern Caprivi) - HQ Mpacha

SWATF 701 Battalion,

SWATF 701 Battalion emblem

, at Mpacha with attached SWATF armoured car and artillery battery.

  • SA Navy Marine Company was utilized for river patrols.

Special Service Companies for Quick Reaction[edit]

These frontline Sectors also had immediate reaction forces (Special Service Companies) to deal with any attack and were primarily infantry company strength and fully motorised.

SWATF Reaction Forces

  • 905 SSC was based at Nepara in Sector 20 and deployed on Buffels.
  • 906 SSC was based at Omahoni in Sector 20 and deployed on Buffels. Local Kwanyama troops made up the bulk of the personnel.
  • 907 SSC was base at Madimbo in Sector 70 and deployed on Buffels but converted to Cassspirs later.

Countrywide Sectors[edit]

Apart from the Frontline Sectors, four additional Sectors existed. 26 Area Force Units, similar to the South African commando system, was established for these less vulnerable parts of the territory.

Sector 30[edit]

HQ Otjiwarongo (Citadel).

301 Bn at Otjiwarongo.

SWA 301 Battalion emblem

SWATF Otjiwarongo AME (Area Force Unit - Area Mag Eenheid), Outjo AME, Grootfontein AME, Tsumeb AME, Herreroland AME, Ethosa AME, Otavi AME, Damaraland AME and UIS PL. Its area of responsibility was likewise the Grootfontein, Tsumeb, Otavi, Outjo, Otjiwarongo, Hereroland and Damaraland regions.

SWATF sector 30 Area Force Units

Other Units in this Sector:

SWATF 101 Workshop Grootfontein
  • SWATF 101 Workshop, Grootfontein
SWATF Northern Logistics Command Provost Unit emblem
  • SWATF Northern Logistics Command Porvost Unit, Grootfontein

Sector 40[edit]

HQ Windhoek.

SWATF Alte Feste AME, Khomas AME, Hochl AME, Okahandja AME, Omaruru AME, Swakopmund AME, Rehoboth AME, Katatura AME and Khomasdal AME.

SWATF Sector 40 Area Force Units emblems

Other Units in this Sector:

SWATF Regiment Windhoek emblem
  • Regiment Windhoek
SWATF 1 SWA Provost emblem
  • 1 SWA Provost Unit

Sector 50[edit]

HQ Gobabis.

SWATF Aranos AME, Auob AME, Bo-Nossob AME, Aminius PL, Gobabis AME, Rietfont AME, Mariental AME and Maltahohe AME.

SWATF Sector 50 Area Force Units

Sector 60[edit]

HQ Keetmanshoop.

SWATF Karasburg AME, Keetmanshop AME, Hoop AME, Bethanien AME, Oranjemund AME, Luderitz AME and Namaland AME.

SWATF Sector 60 Area Force Units

SWATF Equipment[edit]


Counter Insurgency[edit]

A lot of effort was used to chase after insurgent groups that had crossed over the Angolan border. These Insurgents were on foot, but knew the land and moved fast. There have been stories of the insurgents moving incredible distances with little supplies, whilst being chased and if cornered putting up a good resistance to their followers. Adrenaline injections were found at some of the incident scenes after a fire fight.

These insurgents were normally tracked by using trained trackers, who directed the reaction force. In some instances a stopper group was choppered in to cut off the insurgents before they reached the border.

SWATF Demobilization[edit]

Under UN resolution 435, the United Nations Transition Assistance Group was mobilised, while SWATF was demobilized, its strength in the last years of operation was at about 22000.

Special arrangements were made for two San units of SWATF, as they originated from local tribal communities. They were thus allocated land near their previous bases.

All citizen force units were demobilized.

The SWATF was completely demobilized on 1 June 1989.

Withdrawal of some units to South Africa[edit]

UN Resolution 435 additionally called on South Africa to reduce its forces in Namibia to 12000 before the start of any peace process and finally to 1500 by 1989.

Several thousand San, fearing reprisal or intimidation, left for South Africa with the SADF.

SWA 31 Battalion emblem
SWATF 36 203 Battalion emblem

32 Battalion, whose members to a large extent could not claim Namibian citizenship, also withdrew to South Africa completely.

SADF 32 Battalion SSI.svg


  1. ^ a b c d e Duignan, Peter. Politics and Government in African States 1960–1985. pp. 345–377. 
  2. ^ "SWAPO – SWATF/Koevoet". Retrieved 30 April 2013. 
  3. ^ Fryxell, Cole. To Be Born a Nation. pp. 1–357. 
  4. ^ a b c d Modern African Wars (3) : South-West Africa (Men-At-Arms Series, 242) by Helmoed-Romer Heitman (Author), Paul Hannon (Illustrator) Osprey Publishing (28 November 1991) ISBN 1-85532-122-X and ISBN 978-1-85532-122-9
  5. ^ "Military Chronicle of South-West Africa". Retrieved 30 April 2013. 
  6. ^ Tonchi, Victor; Lindeke, William; Grotpeter, John. Historical Dictionary of Namibia. p. 405. 
  7. ^ FishEagle (21 February 2010). "I Luv SA: The Namibian Border War: an appraisal of the South African strategy (Part 6)". Retrieved 30 April 2013. 
  8. ^ "". Retrieved 30 April 2013. 
  9. ^ a b c d "SWATF Operations". Retrieved 23 December 2014. 
  10. ^ Helmoed-Römer Heitman. Modern African Wars: South-West Africa (1991 ed.). Osprey Publishing. p. 17. ISBN 978-1855321229. 
  11. ^

Further reading[edit]

See also[edit]