African Special Operations Insignia #1 – The Namibian Police Special Reserve Force

This is the first in a series of articles looking at the insignia worn by various African nation’s airborne and special operations units. Please like and follow the page to be kept updated of future installments.

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The Special Reserve Force (SRF) is a specialist SWAT type unit within the Namibian Police Force (Nampol), tasked with responding to high risk operations that cannot be handled by conventional police units. It is based on the South African Police Service Special Task Force (which will be the subject of a future article). The SRF were initially designated the title Special Task Force when first raised as an adjunct to the Namibian Police Special Field Force, a somewhat notorious paramilitary police unit, that at the time was comprised largely of ex combatants from the former People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN), the military wing of SWAPO and former South West African Territorial Force (SWATF) personnel. In 1996 the Nampol Special Task Force was disbanded but then reformed in the late 1990’s, early 2000 and renamed the Special Reserve Force. The unit, which is also sometimes referred to as the Special Reserve Force Division (SRFD) operates out of the National Police Headquarters at Windhoek and is believed to number around 300 personnel. Working alongside other agencies, their role includes crowd control, VIP protection, hostage resolution, counter terrorism plus search and rescue operations.

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Nambian Police Special Reserve Force Division members showing the various tasks undertaken by the SRF during a visit to the Groot Aub Junior Secondary School south of Windhoek in March 2017. Note the ‘interesting’ contraband items on display. Photo: Dirk Heinrich

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Members of the Namibian Police Special Reserve Force Division deployed to regain control in the town of Okakarara after a group of residents stormed the police station on 12 August 2018. Photo: Namibian Broadcasting Corporation News

Service with the Special Reserve Force Division is open to both male and female police officers who have to complete selection and a six week training cycle, which is held at Khan Mine, a disused copper mine about four hours’ drive east of the capital Windhoek. The training programme includes marksmanship, hostage negotiation, tactical roping, CQB skills and riot control. Upon successful completion the new members are permitted to wear a black beret, SRF qualification badge and a distinctive camouflage uniform, which according to the dress regulations on the Namibian Police Force website, may only be worn by members of the SRFD. Qualified operators can also volunteer to undertake diver and parachute training, with the latter being permitted to wear a special variation of the SRF badge to identify them as being para qualified.

Nampol Dress Regulations for Special Reserve Force members work dress.

Nampol Dress Regulations for Special Reserve Force members work dress showing their distinctive camouflage uniform and black beret.

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Namibia Police Special Reserve Force qualification badge (top) and SRF parachute qualified (bottom). These insignia are worn on the SRF uniform no.6: Work Dress. Photo: Julian Tennant

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Nampol Special Reserve Force policeman receiving shooting instructions from a member of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) during a United Nations deployment. Note the Namibia Police ‘tupperware’ insignia on his left shoulder.

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American murder suspect, Marcus Thomas being escorted by members of the Special Reserve Force after a failed prison escape attempt in 2014. The SRF qualification patch and ‘tupperware’ Nampol shoulder insignia can be seen on the policeman pushing the wheelchair.

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Nampol Special Reserve Force Division riot squad confront protesters against gender based violence at confront protesters trying to deliver a petition against gender based violence at the national Parliament building in Windhoek on 08 October 2020. The SRF qualification patch can be seen being worn on the black body armour of the officer in the top left corner. Photo: Namibian Broadcast Corporation News

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Namibian police including members of the SRFD march through the streets of Ondangwa in preparation for a graduation parade from the Danger Ashipala Training Police Centre. 30 October 2020.

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The Southern Rhodesia Commando ‘Cobra’ Qualification badge – 1941 – 45

In 1941, fearing that the Japanese may launch an invasion of southern Africa from Vichy French controlled Madagascar, the OC of B Coy Rhodesian African Rifles, Captain Alan Gardiner Redfern was tasked with training a commando force of Rhodesians that could undertake guerrilla operations should an invasion occur.

Redfern was a good choice, a competent bushman who as a young school-boy had spent his weekends and school holidays camping out in the veldt with a native companion and carrying very little apart from a rifle, blanket some mealie meal (maize flour) and condensed milk. He was proficient in both the main African languages, Chishona and Sindebele and prior to the war worked in the Native Department (later renamed Internal Affairs) of the Southern Rhodesia Civil Service.

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Captain (T/Maj) Alan Gardiner Redfern MBE, founder of the Southern Rhodesia Commando. Redfern was KIA in November 1943 whilst commanding B Squadron of the Long Range Desert Group on operations in the Aegean.

Recruits for the Southern Rhodesia Commando were a mix of volunteers and conscripts, many of whom were drawn from the farming community and as such already well versed with living in the bush. The unit was conceived as a part-time cadre, not as a regular unit, able to work behind enemy lines should the need arise. Training occurred over an initial period of six weeks with an emphasis on bushcraft, small unit guerrilla operations and a demolitions course which was conducted near Gwelo. After the initial training, the soldiers returned to their usual occupations although regular on-going training took place.

Southern Rhodesia Commando

Sheet brass Southern Rhodesia Commando ‘Cobra’ badge awarded to successful participants of Redfern’s commando course. This badge was intended to be worn on the right shoulder sleeve, although photographs of Rhodesian LRDG members who completed the course show it being worn on the left shoulder sleeve. This badge is stamped with the serial number 229, but I do not know the identity of the original owner. Collection: Julian Tennant

The men who finally completed the course were awarded the ‘Cobra’ badge as recognition of their qualification. The badge depicts a cobra poised to strike within a circlet containing the words “Southern Rhodesia Commando”.  Each badge was individually numbered and were made from sheet brass by Keays Gold and Silversmiths in Salisbury.  The award was made in two sizes, the larger version, shown above, and worn on the uniform, plus a miniature silver lapel badge (also numbered) for wear on civilian attire. In an unpublished manuscript shown to me by fellow collector, Eric Crépin-Leblond, the uniform of the Southern Rhodesia Commando is described as follows,
The No. 1 Dress uniform for part-timers who successfully completed the course was: Bush hat, turned up on the left side, pinned with the Lion and tusk badge. Khaki bush shirt, with curved brass ‘Rhodesia’ shoulder titles; ‘cobra’ badge in brass worn on the right sleeve below the shoulder. ’04 web belt. Trousers. Veldschoen.

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Miniature version of the Southern Rhodesia Commando qualification for wear on civilian shirt lapels. These badges were made from silver sheet and also individually numbered. This particular badge, number 120, was sold via auction in 2010 to an unidentified collector in Canada.

Little more is known about the Commando cadre and it is thought to have numbered less than 500 qualified members before it was disbanded in 1945. Many of the men from the Southern Rhodesia Commando subsequently volunteered to serve with the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG), forming S1 Patrol. On the nominal roll/database page of the the Long Range Desert Group Preservation Society  there is a small photo of Sergeant Hubert ‘Hughie’ Hein where he can be seen wearing the ‘Cobra’ badge on his left shoulder. I believe that this photo is also shown on page 110 in Craig Fourie and Jonathan Pittaway’s book LRDG Rhodesia but unfortunately I don’t have a copy to confirm if it is the same picture. Training with the Southern Rhodesia Commando is mentioned by some of the Rhodesian members of the LRDG in Pittaway’s subsequent book Long Range Desert Group Rhodesia: The Men Speak which also includes a picture of Signalman John “Fossie” Kevan who, once again is wearing his ‘Cobra’ on the left sleeve.  I can only surmise that the reason for the LRDG members wearing the badge on the left shoulder rather than the right as outlined in the original dress instruction, is because the same position on the right sleeve would have been reserved for their parachutist qualification wing. In both photographs it also appears that there was some kind of dark cloth used as a backing for badge but I have not yet identified the colour used.

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Rhodesian member of the Long Range Desert Group, Signalman John “Fossie” Kevan shown wearing the Southern Rhodesia Commando ‘Cobra’ badge on his left sleeve. Note the dark backing material used behind the badge. Source: Long Range Desert Group Rhodesia: The Men Speak. by Jonathan Pittaway.

For his role in forming the Southern Rhodesia Commando, Redfern was awarded the M.B.E., which he accepted with the understanding that he could join the men that he had trained who had subsequently joined the LRDG. On 22 April 1943, Captain Redfern transferred from the KRRC, reverting to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant before taking over command of S1 Patrol (LRDG) once again as a Captain in May 1943.  On October 15 he was made OC of B Squadron, but was killed in action on the 12th of November 1943 during LRDG operations in the Aegean.

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Congo Mercenary. British Parachute Regiment & 5 Commando (the Wild Geese) group.

Congo Mercenary. Parachute Regiment and 5 Commando (The Wild Geese) Group to Bill Jacobs. Collection: Julian Tennant

Medals, paperwork and insignia belonging to William Martin Jacobs, a South African mercenary who served with the British Parachute Regiment in Cyprus and then 5 Commando (the Wild Geese) in the Congo during the 1960’s. Collection: Julian Tennant.

This is part of a larger collection of items belonging to a South African mercenary who served with the British Parachute Regiment and then went on to become a decorated mercenary officer of 5 Commando of the Armee Nationale Congolaise (ANC) in the Congo from 1966 until it was disbanded in 1967.

At this stage I am still researching and am awaiting a promised detailed personal biography of the soldier from the seller in South Africa. So, right now the details that I have are scant, largely based on the photos and documents contained in the group. As more information comes to light I will update this post.

Congo Mercenary. Parachute Regiment and 5 Commando (The Wild Geese) Group to Bill Jacobs. Collection: Julian Tennant

The two frames that South African mercenary, William (Bill) Jacobs used to showcase the souvenirs of his service in the Parachute Regiment and 5 Commando in the Congo.

William (Bill) Martin Jacobs was born in Cape Town, South Africa on the 20th of March 1933. In 1957 he went to the United Kingdom and joined the Parachute Regiment passing out from Depot, The Parachute Regiment as a member of either 103 or 104 platoons according to one of the newspaper clippings in the group.

Bill was then posted to the 1st Battalion, The Parachute Regiment in time for it’s redeployment to Cyprus after the Suez operation, to combat the Greek terrorist organisation EOKA who were waging a campaign to drive the British out. Included in the group are some photographs from his deployment to Cyprus including a picture of the Police station in the village of Kilani and a photo of Bill in the Troodus Mountains, however I am yet to discover more information about his activities there.

Congo Mercenary. Parachute Regiment and 5 Commando (The Wild Geese) Group to Bill Jacobs. Collection: Julian Tennant

William Jacobs – 1st Battalion, The Parachute Regiment Service 1957-60. Guard of Honour for Lord Alexander at the opening of the Memorial Gates at the Military Church, Aldershot. Bill Jacobs is in the front row, second from the right. Collection: Julian Tennant

Congo Mercenary. Parachute Regiment and 5 Commando (The Wild Geese) Group to Bill Jacobs. Collection: Julian Tennant

William Jacobs – 1st Battalion, The Parachute Regiment Service during the battalion’s deployment to Cyprus. This photo was taken in 1958 after being on a week long ambush. Note the ‘cap comforter’ headress worn so that the unit could not be identified. Collection: Julian Tennant

At the time of his discharge in 1960, Bill had attained the rank of corporal, qualified as a Marksman and Light Machine Gunner, plus been awarded the General Service Medal (1918) with Cyprus clasp. I am not sure what Bill did then and I assume that at some point he returned to South Africa before signing up as a Mercenary with Colonel ‘Mad Mike’ Hoare’s famous 5 Commando (The Wild Geese) of the Armee Nationale Congolaise.

Congo Mercenary. Parachute Regiment and 5 Commando (The Wild Geese) Group to Bill Jacobs. Collection: Julian Tennant

Armee Nationale Congolaise (ANC) Identity Card issued to Lieutenant William Martin Jacobs whilst serving with 5 Commando in the Congo, 1966-67. Collection: Julian Tennant

According to the documents accompanying the group, I believe that he joined 5 Commando in 1966, which is after Mike Hoare had left the Congo at the time when the unit was commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel John Peters, then subsequently by Georg Schroeder.

Congo Mercenary. Parachute Regiment and 5 Commando (The Wild Geese) Group to Bill Jacobs. Collection: Julian Tennant

5 Commando on parade during the Independence Day Parade on 30 June 1966. According to Jacob’s account, this was the first time that the mercenaries of 5 Commando appeared on a public parade in the Congo. Their presence was to discourage any thought of an uprising by the Simba. There were only 42 men of 5 Commando in the Congo at that time. Also on parade were a few thousand local troops from various regiments. Collection: Julian Tennant

Included in the 5 Commando section of the group are several rare company patches, beret badge, rank slides, photographs, his ANC Identification book and his Bronze Cross of Valour (Croix de la Bravoure Militaire des Forces Armee Nationale Congolaise), which according to Jacobs’ documents, was only awarded to six members of 5 Commando. However, inspection of the Bronze Cross of Valour indicates that this particular medal is actually the subsequent variant used when Congo had evolved into Zaire, so I believe that this medal is a replacement that was added later. Bill Jacobs left 5 Commando in 1967 and I assume that it was as a result of all the mercenary contracts being suspended by Mabutu Sese Seko in April 1967.

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Shoulder patches worn by the mercenaries of  5 Commando in the Congo. Whilst often referred to as Companies, each of the subsections, ‘Leapard’, ‘Jumbo’ etc was in reality roughly platoon sized. Collection: Julian Tennant

When I obtained this group, Bill Jacobs was living in South Africa. It’s a fascinating and rare record of a unique individual’s service, which fits well into my mercenary  insignia collection. Hopefully I will be able to find out more about his service in the near future, but I’ll definitely be showing more of the group in future posts featuring the insignia used by mercenaries in the various African wars that sit in my collection.

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Congo Mercenary 10 Commando patch

Congo Mercenary 10 Commando (Commando Kansimba) patch type 2

Congo Mercenary 10 Commando (Commando Kansimba) patch type 2 (Julian Tennant collection)

This is a recent addition to my collection. It is an original shoulder patch used by the mercenaries of 10 Commando who were under the command of Colonel Jean Schramme in the 1960’s. This version is known as the 2nd pattern of the patch and is distinguished from the earlier type by only having the outline of Lake Tanganyika in blue, whilst the first version had the entire lake in blue silk. Both of the original patches were made using the precise, machine embroidered, silk-bevo style of construction as seen in this example.  Collectors should note that there are numerous fakes of this badge, many of which originate from the same fakers who make all the ARVN and US Vietnam war patches that can be found on ebay and at the War Surplus market at Dan Sinh. If you are interested in the mercenary insignia used in the Congo during the 1960’s, I would recommend that you try to find a copy of the late Gerard Lagaune’s excellent privately published reference, Histoire et insignes des parachutistes et des commandos de Pays des Grand Lacs.

Histoire et insignes des parachutistes et des commandos de Pays

Histoire et insignes des parachutistes et des commandos de Pays des Grand Lacs by the late Gerard Lagaune. The text is in French and it is privately published so it may be difficult to find now that he has passed away, but it is an excellent reference detailing the parachutist and commando insignia from thHe countries surrounding the ‘great lake’ Tanganyika in Africa. Included are full colour photographs of the various mercenary unit insignia worn in the Congo during the 1960’s.

10 Commando formed part of the 5th Mechanised Brigade, which was raised on the 1st of November 1964.  It was led by Belgian mercenary, Jean Schramme. “Black Jack” Schramme was a teenager when he went to the Congo to run the family plantation, located to the north-east of Stanleyville and it should be noted that despite often being seen wearing the beret of the 2nd Belgian Commando Battalion (and contrary to some of the information he presented in his biography), there is no evidence that he had ever qualified as a commando or served in the Belgian Commando Battalion prior to his mercenary activities.

In the troubles that followed independence in 1961, Schramme fled to Uganda and then moved to Katanga where he took part in the fighting, forming a group recruited from local tribes near the Kansimba region which he referred to as the “Leopard Group”.  After that period of fighting ended in 1963 he moved across the border into Angola before returning in 1964 with his now named 10 Commando which operated out of Fizi-Baraka to the East of the province of Maniema and not too far from a plantation that he had once controlled.

Jean Schramme's somewhat embellished biography, "Le Bataillon Le

Jean Schramme’s biography, “Le Bataillon Leopard”. On the cover he is shown wearing the beret of the Belgian 2nd Commando Battalion and 10 Commando patch on his shoulder. The first pattern machine made silk-bevo patch with the full blue Lake Tanganyika is also shown, albeit in B&W.

In 1967, 10 Commando was part of the revolt against the government of Colonel Mobuto Sese Seko who had become president two years previously. In early August, Schramme’s 10 Commando captured the border town of Bukavu, holding it for 7 weeks despite repeated attempts by the government ANC forces to recapture the town. On October 29, 1967 the ANC forces finally recaptured Bukavu and the soldiers of 10 Commando fled towards Rwanda crossing the border on the 13th of November 1967, where they were disarmed, ending the existence of this colourful mercenary unit.