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, Lohatla Army Battle School
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 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

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
SADF temporary vehicle marker for Combat Group Juliet

Operation Reindeer

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

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

61 Mech was primarily involved in these operations.

SADF Operation Sceptic Commemorative medallion
SADF Operation Sceptic Commemorative medallion
SADF Operation Hooper participation bar
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
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

During September 1991 61 Mech Bn Gp, which was based at Rooikop in Namibia, 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:

Operations after relocation

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:

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



Armoured Personnel Carrier[edit]


Anti Aircraft[edit]

Personal Weapons[edit]

Fighting Vehicles[edit]



Standard Dress

SADF era 61 Mech Battalion insignia
SADF era 61 Mech Battalion insignia

Ops Badge

See also: List of Badges of the South African Army § 61 Mechanised Battalion Operational Service Badge

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.


[1]: 1034 

61 Mechanised Battalion Group Leadership
From Commanding Officers To
1978 Cmdt Frank Bestbier[a] 1978
November 1978 Cmdt Johan Dippenaar Jan 1981[b]
1981 Cmdt Roland de Vries SD SM MMM[c] 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[d][e][f] 1979
1980 Ds Braam le Roux[d] 1980
1981 Ds Koos Rossouw[d] 1982
1983 No permanent Appointment 1983
1984 Ds Johan van Niekerk[d] 1986
1986 Ds Schalk Pienaar 1986
1987 Ds Johan van Niekerk[d] 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

Main article: Honoris Crux

Further developments

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

Theoretically the three units would have formed 60 Brigade, South Africa's highly mobile brigade level response to a full conventional attack on South West Africa.

See also


  1. ^ Veggroup (Battle Group) Juliet
  2. ^ "In November 1978 I was appointed SO 1 Operation Planning at 2 Military Area Head Quarters (later to be known as Sector 10 headquarters) at Oshakati, as well as the commander of the newly established mechanized unit, which was to be stationed at Oshivello. I immediately started to plan for the establishment of this new mechanized unit." http://www.61mech.org.za/years/1979 and he handed over to Roland De Vries in Jan 1981
  3. ^ Later Major General
  4. ^ a b c d e Rest in Peace
  5. ^ Gereformeerde Kerk, Tsumeb
  6. ^ 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. Archived from the original on 23 November 2014. 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