Puneet Varma (Editor)

61 Mechanised Battalion Group

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Covid-19
Active  1978 – 2005
Allegiance  South Africa
Country  South Africa
Branch  South African Army
61 Mechanised Battalion Group
Type  Mechanised Battle Group
Part of  South African Infantry Corps

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.

Contents

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.

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. 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.

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.

Relocation to South Africa and Lohatla Army Battle School

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

    61 Mech was primarily involved in these operations.

    Disbandment

    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.

    Organisation

    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.

    Ops 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. The badge had a yellow backing and was awarded initially only for cross border operations into Angola. 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.

    Companies

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

    Honoris Crux recipients

  • du Toit, J.J. Lt, 1980, Operation Sceptic
  • Rutherford, G.T. LCPL, 1980, Operation Sceptic
  • van der Westhizen, D.R. 2nd Lt, 1981, Operation Carrot
  • Anderson, L.A. Maj, 1981, Operation Daisy
  • Steyn, S.S. 2nd Lt, 1982, Operation Daisy
  • le Roux, H.C. 2nd Lt, 1983, Operation Phoenix (South Africa)
  • Macaskill, A. 2nd Lt, 1984, Operation Askari
  • Kooij, J. 2nd Lt, 1987, Operation Modular
  • Bremer, H.M. 2nd Lt, 1987, Operation Modular
  • Green, G.W. Rfn, 1987, Operation Modular
  • Further developments

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

    References

    61 Mechanised Battalion Group Wikipedia


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