53 Battalion HQ at Ondangwa (1982)

This picture was scanned in from a book called `This is Namibia: A pictorial Introduction' (p. 30) published by International Defence and Aid Fund for Southern Africa (IDAF), which no longer exists. Date of publication is given as `December 1984', so, logically, the photo would have been taken prior to that. Originally captioned `unknown base' I asked for information, and received the following in 2003:

Jonathan Ayliffe writes:

Unless I'm very much mistaken, it's an early picture of 53 Battalion HQ at Ondangwa, just before the Ondangwa Airforce Base on the main Oshakati road in Sector 10.

When I say "early" I mean possibly 1981 or '82, or maybe even before.

That's because I was based there from late '83 until mid '85 and we had some metal / prefab buildings that I don't see in the picture (namely admin offices, extensions to the sickbay, "POW cages" and signallers' bunker). Those buildings were new-ish - I'd say 2 or 3 years old when I got there in '84. So I'd date the picture at pre- 1981 or '82.

53 Battalion was at the time the most operationally active (and operationally successful) SADF Battalion in Sector 10. It was under the command of Commandant "Mucho" Delport. The 2IC was a Major Barnard. The RSM was AO1 Oldewage.

The 53 Battalion HQ commanded the company-sized "outer bases" of:

Etale (at Alpha-tower on the Angola border)


Okatope (home of SwaSpes - motorcycle and horse mounted troops)



53 Battalion (under Delport) also exercised significant strategic control over the deployment of nearby 101 Battalion (also based in Ondangwa), which was made up of local Owambo troops. 101 Battalion fielded the "Romeo Mike" (Reaksie Mag) teams - a SADF imitation (and intense rival) of Koevoet. Romeo Mike teams (under command of Capt Derek E- and Capt Tom F-) managed, for a time, to match Koevoet's extraordinary successes in the Sector 10 area. The Romeo Mike radio callsigns all began with MD (Mike Delta) – the initials for Mucho Delport - they were his pet project.

I'll try and write some more notes about the goings on there - I don't know much about other places in the Operational Area, I was based solely (18 months) at 53Bn, Ondangwa, so I have quite a narrow field of knowledge.

I mentioned Capt. Derek E- and Capt. Tom F-(both later promoted to Major) from 101 Battalion (Romeo Mike teams). The modus operandi of the Romeo Mike teams was basically identical to Koevoet - including the rather severe intimidation and interrogation techniques. There were allegations of atrocities committed by Romeo Mike, just as in the case of Koevoet. Given the fact that now, some Koevoet commanders seem to prefer to lie low ("disappear under the radar") in the new SA, I don't know what the position is with these 2 characters. They may not wish to linked to Romeo Mike, I don't know.

I personally found E- and F- to be interesting characters very funny, seemingly invincible, somewhat larger-than-life, and quite famous in their region for their sheer effectiveness - attaining extraordinary numbers of SWAPO kills (as I said, on a par with Koevoet) at a time when conventional SADF forced were just plodding away, guarding installations, getting stoned and stepping on landmines.

I never met a National Service (or even Permanent Force) senior officer who enjoyed the business of "being in the bush" much as they did. It was rare to find infantry Captains (and Majors) who would get frustrated and irritable if they couldn't be out in the bush (as they did) - most senior officers preferred a desk job and good food.

Interestingly, I found a book on the SA border war (I think written by a guy called Hooper), [Presumably `Beneath a Visiting Moon' or `Koevoet'.] and spotted a black and white photograph in the book of Tom F- and Derek E- sitting in the back of one of their Casspirs. They are not identified in the caption.

Published: 20 June 2003.

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