Recce - Small Team Missions Behind Enemy Lines, Koos Stadler

Recce - Small Team Missions Behind Enemy Lines, Koos Stadler

Koos Stadler served in the South Africa during the last decade of the apartheid regime, at first working alongside Bushmen scouts during the Border War in Angola, and then joining the Special Forces, eventually become part of the Small Teams force, where he took part in a series of ambitious, if not always successful, long range missions

I must admit I approached this book with a certain amount of trepidation, having read other memoirs from the same period where the author was far too willing to defend the apartheid regime. However in this case I was pleasantly surprised. Stadler’s military career began with him serving alongside the bush men and it is clear from the start that he respected them and their abilities. One theme that we return to from time to time throughout the book was how his attitudes changed over time, with incidents such as finding a bible on the body of one of his opponents making him rethink his early views. Ironically one of the biggest contributions to this was a ‘know your enemy’ course he went on as part of his Special Forces training, which made him realise that the ANC and other groups weren’t the villains he had been brought up to believe, and actually had a valid cause. He remained with the South African Special Forces after the end of apartheid, and ended his career as the South African Military Attache to Saudi Arabia from 2007

Having got that out of the way, the book itself draws us in right from the start, beginning with Stadler infiltrating an enemy air base, only to stumble upon an armed guard below the aircraft he was aiming to destroy. After that we move right back to his childhood, growing up in the South African countryside, where he gained his love of the wild and some of the skills that would help him during his career. His military career falls into three parts. In the first he served with 31 Battalion, working alongside the Bushmen (or San People) during the Border War, a complex multi-sided war being fought largely on the border of South West Africa (modern Namibia), which had been  under South Africa rule since 1915 and Angola, a Portuguese colony until 1975, and the site of a three way civil war after 1975 (with one of the groups, UNITA, getting support from South Africa). His admiration for his Bushman colleagues shines through in this section, especially their skills in the wild.

After three years in the Army the author left and began studying theology at University, but his heart wasn’t in it, and he decided to try and join the Special Forces. The second part of his career saw him go through Special Forces selection then the year long Special Forces training regime, before briefly joining 53 Commando, then 51 Commando, a unit that used former SWAPO soldiers who had been ‘turned’. This wasn’t his favourite deployment, but he wasn’t there for long. 

Finally he joined the Small Teams, part of the 5th Reconnaissance Regiment. This had been his aim for some time, and he ended up serving with them for two years. In this section he takes us through a series of the main operations his unit carried out. Most of these involved a careful infiltration into an enemy held area, sometimes a long way outside South Africa’s borders. One of the most interesting features of this section is Stadler’s attitude to what counted as a successful mission – getting in and out undetected was his main aim. This was fortunate, as several of this missions fail to achieve their objectives. Attempts to find the aircraft that were later attacked in the mission the book begins with failed, as did the eventual mission to destroy the aircraft once they had been located. One massive mission, aimed at assassinating a large part of the ANC leadership at a meeting in Tanzania, was cancelled after a key contact failed to appear. During this period the author began to struggle with the stress of his missions and as a result there is an excellent section on how he coped with fear, the help he was given, and how he was able to use his experiences to help future Special Forces operatives.

This is an excellent biography, taking us into deep into the African Bush on the author’s many missions, but also looking at the nature of fear, and how his views came to change over the years of his military service, ending with his career in the new South Africa.


Part 1: Courage and Action
1 - Target
2 - Boy Adventurer
3 - The Seed is Sown

Part 2: The Bushmen
1 - Into the Unknown
2 - Bush Baptism
3 - Brothers in Arms
4 - First Small Team Ventures
5 - The Realities of War: Fighting Patrols into Angola
6 - Operation Daisy, November 1981
7 - End of an Era

Part 3: Special Forces
1 - Special Forces Selection and Training
2 - Special Forces Training Cycle
3 - First Special Forces Operations
4 - 51 Reconnaissance Commando

Part 4: Small Teams
1 - Into the Fray
2 - Operation Cerberus, September 1985
3 - Operation Killarney, December 1985 to January 1986
4 - Operation Caudad, May 1986
5 - Operation Colosseum, October-November 1986
6 - Operation Abduct 1, January-February 1987
7 - Operation Angel, August 1987
8 - Facing Fear
9 - Three Crossings at Lubango: Operation Abduct 2, November-December 1987

Author: Koos Stadler
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 352
Publisher: Casemate
Year: 2016

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