The South African Recces—their motto “Iron Fist From the Sea”—are one of the most accomplished units in the history of special operations, but their successes have largely been ignored by the history books until recently. Why do you think this is?
Probably due to the fact that nobody knew what we really did, because all our actions and operations were claimed by the country’s resistance movement. That actually suited us very well, and helped us maintain our safety and secrecy. One might argue our success was due in part to our anonymity. Nobody, and specifically the Russians, thought we had the capabilities we did.
Could you tell us a bit about how the Recces were selected and trained?
The history of the selection of recces will always be an interesting point of discussion, as it changed dramatically over the years. I was instrumental in establishing the selection course.
The course was only an instrument to evaluate the potential of a recce candidate (he did not became a recce just because he passed the selection). The candidate that passed the selection would then start training for nine months, and he had to have had a success rate of 85 percent during his training to pass and become a qualified operator in the recces. To become a seaborne operator, he had to pass another six months of training and evaluation.
Why was 4 Recce created by the South African Defence Force (SADF)? What specific capabilities did 4 Recce bring to the table?
First, it must be remembered that, although it was a totally seaborne unit, 4 Recce was considered a unit of the Army—not the Navy. Due to the type of war and the support the enemy ground forces got from the Russians and the Cubans, the attacking of logistical strategic targets become very important. The unit was created to attack strategic targets identified by our intelligence. We had to change the configuration of the Daphne submarine and the strike crafts to accommodate the recces—all of which was done in great secrecy.
All our training, equipment, and tactics were conceived and procured by ourselves using the experience we had acquired from previous operations. We were only 45 strong during the heat of the war, but the men we had were highly qualified in diving, boat handling, underwater explosives, and other tactics at sea and land. We also qualified as saboteurs by learning to identify and destroy strategic targets used by our enemies.
Technically and tactically speaking, what do you think were the greatest operational accomplishments of 4 Recce?
Changing the country’s naval capabilities to a covert seaborne force,
developing training and selections modules to excel at top-secret seaborne operations, and selecting and training fighters that were very proud of what they did and never wanted any recognition for it.
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