Supriya Ghosh

31 Battalion (SWATF)

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Country  Namibia,  South Africa
Type  Light Infantry
Allegiance  South Africa
Role  Counter Insurgency
31 Battalion (SWATF)
Active  1974 Alpha Group, 1975 Battalion
Branch  South African Army  Namibia Army

31 Battalion was a light infantry battalion in the South African Army and in later years became part of the SWATF.


Tribal origin

The majority of this unit stem from two San tribes, namely the Khwe and !Xun. 31 Battalion started out as Alpha Group in 1974. It was renamed 31 Battalion in 1975.

31 Battalion was initially headquartered at Alpha Base and later Omega Base.


The South West Africa Territory Force SWATF renumbered battalion numbers according to their geographical positioning on the border. The prefix 10 pertained to battalions operating to the west of the Kavango River, 20 to the Kavango or central region and 70 to the eastern region. Under this system, 31 Battalion was renamed 201 Battalion in 1980.


By the late 1980s, 201 Battalion comprised:

  • a HQ,
  • Support Company,
  • a Maintenance Workshop,
  • 2 Operational Groups of 3 tracker companies (early 80's 2 companies) each with 3 Platoons, 6 teams, 25 – 30 men each with 3 Buffel APCs and,
  • a Reconnaissance Wing, 6 Tracker Groups of 5 or 6 men.
  • Tours

    Two companies of 201 Battalion were always in the bush for six-week tours, while the remaining companies rested and retrained at Omega. After the bush tour, these companies returned to Omega and their place would be taken by the other half of the battalion. At least half of the battalion would be on operations at all times and the rotational schedule insured that fresh troops were in the bush hunting SWAPO at all times.

    Operation Savannah

    During Operation Savannah in Angola, members were deployed in a conventional role as Battle-Group Alpha, part of Task Force Zulu, and advanced approximately 2,000 kilometers in a month.


    Some of the San were trained as parachutists and served as Recces behind enemy lines. Others were attached to various units as trackers and guides.

    Similar to its historically closely related twin unit 32 Battalion, it was a permanently operational unit and had its own in-house reconnaissance wing

    The recce wing was used primarily for surveillance or clandestine missions in its operational area. This involved dangerous behind-the-line incursions-such as in the bush looking for SWAPO bases or arm caches, or gathering information and intelligence on SWAPO units moving in the area. These operations required stealth, steady nerves, and well-trained, disciplined troops. To be successful, their presence would have to remain undetected by SWAPO or by SWAPO sympathizers.

    Withdrawal of 31 Battalion to South Africa

    The Battalion reverted to its 31 Battalion name in 1989 when it transferred back to the SADF.

    UN Resolution 435 called on South Africa to reduce its forces in Namibia to 12,000 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.

    The soldiers of 31 Battalion and their families were settled near Schmidtsdrif in the Northern Cape.


    Sunday, 7 March 1993, 31 Battalion was disbanded at a public ceremony in the Cape Province.

    About 1000 soldiers were transferred to other units in the Northern Cape and would help patrol the Namibian border.

    Roll of Honour

    201 Battalion


    31 Battalion (SWATF) Wikipedia

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