81 Armoured Brigade (South Africa)

81 Armoured Brigade was a Formation of 8th Armoured Division (South Africa), a combined arms force consisting of armour, mechanised infantry, and mechanised artillery.

81 Armoured Brigade
SADF era 81 Armoured Brigade emblem.png
81 Armoured Brigade emblem
Country South Africa
Allegiance South Africa
Branch South African Army
TypeArmoured Brigade
Part ofSouth African Composite Brigade
GarrisonMerino and Poynton Buildings in Pretoria, Durban
Nickname(s)81 Brigade
Motto(s)Manu ferrea (a iron hand)
EngagementsSouth African Border War
81 Armoured Brigade Command BarSADF era 81 Armoured Brigade Command Bar.jpg



16 BrigadeEdit

81 Armoured Brigade was activated on 1 August 1974 but can trace its origins back to an older structure in the late 1960s, called 16 Brigade, under the control of Northern Transvaal Command. On 1 August 1974, through a reorganization of the Army's conventional force, the name was changed to 81 Armoured Brigade.[1]

Initial StructureEdit

Under this reorganisation, the following units were transferred to the new command:

Structure SADF 81 Armoured Brigade

Higher CommandEdit

81 Armoured Brigade resorted under the new 8 Division.

SADF era Brigade level Sergeant Major insignia

Units mechanised and armouredEdit

The Brigade's philosophy was to be up-armoured and highly mobile. All units in the Brigade irrelevant of their Corps was either to be armoured or mechanised. In light of this the Saracen armoured car was used for the last time by Regiment Northern Transvaal and the new Ratel Infantry Fighting Vehicle was introduced. Mechanised elements were also introduced to 17 Field Artillery where the Sexton, a 25-pounder artillery gun mounted on Sherman chassis was introduced. Mechanised infantry was a new concept in 1975, the biggest change being the increase in tempo and close proximity to armour in battle. In 1976, 40 command group members of Regiment Northern Transvaal underwent mechanised conversion training at 1 SAI. Pretoria Regiment was also busy converting at the same time to a modernised version of the Centurion Tank, the Oliphant at the School of Armour. 2 Light Horse, the Brigades armoured car regiment, was attached following Operation Savannah to service in South West Africa and therefore was not involved in the mechanisation program at that stage.

Brigade Training and ExercisesEdit

81 Armoured Brigade conducted its first training exercise at the General de Wet Training Range, Tempe, near Bloemfontein in September 1975 with Exercise Mainstay. Three combat groups were activated. Over a period of three months, the area was allocated from one combat group to the next.

  • Alpha Combat Group: The Natal Mounted Rifles under command of Commandant Palframan commanded the first combat group.
  • Bravo Combat Group: The second combat group was commanded by the Pretoria Regiment under command of Commandant Holztrager
  • Charlie Combat Group: The Regiment Northern Transvaal controlled the third combat group. The General de Wet training range was quickly deemed too small for modern armoured mechanised exercises at Brigade level.

Because of the limitations of the General de Wet Range, a new Training Area was opened in the next year to accommodate large scale conventional war training, namely Army Battle School at Lohatla. The honour to use the new property for the first time rested with 81 Armoured Brigade, who conducted the following brigade exercises (Ex) over the next few years:[2]

Name From Date To Date
Ex Maremane 1 11 Oct 1978 10 Nov 1978
Ex Blinkspies 1 26 Aug 1979 21 Sep 1979
Ex Applause 4 2 Nov 1980 3 Dec 1980
Ex Mamba 3 20 Aug 1981 18 Sep 1981
Ex Eland 1 and 2 Apr 1983 Jul 1983
Ex Octavo 24 Sep 1986 22 Oct 1986
Ex Ferratus 18 Aug 1987 9 Oct 1987
Ex Vlak Water 1 Sep 1989 22 Sep 1989
Ex Linear 13 Oct 1989 17 Oct 1989
Ex Manu Ferrea 13 Aug 1990 7 Sep 1990
Ex Desert Fox 2 Apr 1991 30 Apr 1991

Operational DeploymentEdit

By 1984 various combat groups of 81 Armoured Brigade conducted operational service largely in the counter insurgency role. The most important of these was probably Combat Group Foxtrot. After retraining, combat groups left Lohatla for Oshivello and Ongiva under the command of the Joint Monitoring Commission. Some of these operations included:

  • The Brigade's Regiment Northern Transvaal A and B companies supported 102 Battalion at Opuwa.
  • The brigade acted as the "Force in Being" (Conventional Reserve Force) in 1984. Three Combat Groups were deployed in the Operational Area (Sector 10).
  • From 15 July 1988 to 19 September 1988 The Brigade participated in a sub operation of Operation Prone namely Operation Pact. Under command of Brigadier Chris Serfontein, the OC of Sector 10, the entire Brigade under command of Colonel Jan Lusse was deployed in Owamboland as mobile reserve during the final phases of implementation of UN Resolution 435, which led to the independence of South West Africa/Namibia.[3]
  • The Brigades sub-elements, Pretoria Regiment and Regiment Molopo was used in Operations Hooper and Moduler.

Presentation of National ColoursEdit

The climax of 81 Armoured Brigade was on 1 Aug 91 when the then Chief of the Army Lt Genl G.L. Meiring handed over National Colours to the following CF units of the Brigade (Unit Commanders and Regimental Sergeant Majors indicated):

Units receiving National Colours
Unit Commander RSM
17 Field Regiment Cmdt H.J. Bootha WO1 A.B. Brink
SA Irish Regiment Cmdt J.J. Joubert WO1 R.L. Ohlsen
1 Regiment Northern Transvaal Cmdt T. Phillips WO1 C.J. Waldeck
Pretoria Regiment Cmdt C.W.F Grobler WO1 C.F. Krugel
2 Light Horse Regiment Maj W.F. Hume WO2 B.J. Brooks
15 Field Engineer Regiment Cmdt L. Maree WO2 W.A. Du Plessis
81 Signal Unit Maj L. van Dyk WO1 J.J.A. Coetzee
20 Maintenance Unit Cmdt A.D. Alberts WO2 J.C.H Vorster
32 Field Workshop Cmdt A. Botha WO1 J.J. Van Staden
5 Forward Delivery Squadron Capt A.K. Möller Ssgt C.M. Vermaak[a]

WO1 Sampie Claasen of Northern Transvaal Command trained members for the parade which he did excellently. The Brigade was congratulated by Chief of the Army for a spectacular parade.

This was the final official act by 81 Armoured Brigade and the climax on a 17-year illustrious history.


With the independence of Namibia, the conventional threat dissipated and the SA Army Command began a process of rationalisation. Brigade headquarters were now focussed on counter-insurgency support to regional commands. SA Army Implementing Instruction 3/91 gave orders for the disbandment of 81 Armoured Brigade, which happened on 29 Nov 1991. The CF Units under command were reorganised as follows:

Unit Action Unit
SA Irish Regiment under command Northern Cape Command
1 Regiment Northern Transvaal under command of 8 South African Division
Pretoria Regiment under command of 8 SA Division
2 Light Horse Regiment under command of 8 SA Division
17 Field Regiment amalgamate with Transvaal Staats Artillery
15 Field Engineer Regiment amalgamate with 10 Engineer Regiment
81 Signal Unit amalgamate with Northern Cape Command Signal Unit
20 Maintenance Unit amalgamate with 15 Maintenance Unit of 8 SA Division
32 Field Workshop under command of Army Battle School


SADF era 81 Armoured Brigade insignia


81 Armoured Brigade Leadership
From Brigade Commanders To
1974 Brigadier F.E.C van den Berg 1974
1974 Colonel P.J. Schalkwyk 1978
1978 Colonel A.P.R. Carstens 1978
1978 Commandant D. van H Nel[b] 1978
1978 Colonel J.C.J. Nel 1981
1981 Colonel H.B. Smit 1984
1984 Colonel W.G. Lombard 1988
1988 Colonel J.F. Lusse 1990
1991 Colonel P.Genis 29 Nov 1991[c]
From Brigade Warrant Officers To
1 August 1974 WO2 P.W. Du Plessis[b] 5 February 1979
6 February 1979 WO1 C.F.A Rörbeck 7 October 1979
8 October 1979 WO1 N.J.J. Vorster 10 August 1984
6 August 1984 WO1 R.D. Oosterlaak 31 August 1990
1 September 1990 WO1 H.A. Carstens[d] 29 Nov 1991[c]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ 8 Division Troops
  2. ^ a b Acting in the post
  3. ^ a b Brigade disbandment
  4. ^ Citizen Force


  1. ^ Englebrecht, Leon (9 February 2010). "Fact file: The SA Armoured Corps". DefenceWeb. Retrieved 8 October 2022.
  2. ^ Liebenberg, Cmdt L.F.; Phillips, Cmdt C.T. 81 Pantser Brigade: Historiese Oorsig 1974 – 1991.
  3. ^ Wikipedia Operation Prone

External linksEdit