Most people are familiar with the British SAS and American Navy SEALs. Some may have heard of the Rhodesian Light Infantry and Selous Scouts, but nearly lost to contemporary military history is the South African Recces. These white, black, and interracial soldiers pulled off some of the most hair-raising operations that you have never heard of, largely due to politics. When mentioning South African Defense Forces in a college paper, my professor politely reminded me that I should never reference apartheid-era structures as something we should seek to emulate. That sounds like throwing the baby out with the bathwater to me.
Thankfully, a few members of the South African Special Forces community have begun to come forward in recent years and commit their memories to paper for us. Koos Stadler, author of “Recce: Small Team Missions Behind Enemy Lines,” got off to an early start in the reconnaissance business as a young conscript in the SADF. Later, he went on to Recce selection, completed Special Forces training, and became a member 5 Recce (5 Reconnaissance Commando). Stadler’s ultimate goal was to become part of “small teams,” which were two-man Recce elements who did strategic reconnaissance deep inside communist-held territory.
In the 1980s, the Cold War was alive and well for a strategic target like South Africa. The ANC (and their armed wing called MK) were launching terrorist attacks against South Africa. Neighboring countries like Angola were launching attacks into southern West Africa, and the Cuban and Russian militaries deployed advisors on the ground there. Thousands of Antonov supply planes flew in to resupply the communist forces and MIGs flew over SWAPO (guerrilla)-held territory.