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81 Armoured Brigade
SADF era 81 Armoured Brigade emblem.png
81 Armoured Brigade emblem
Active 1974–1992
Country Flag of South Africa (1928–1994).svg South Africa
Allegiance Flag of South Africa (1928–1994).svg South Africa
Branch Flag of South Africa.svg South Africa Army
Type Armoured Brigade
Part of South African Composite Brigade
Garrison Merino and Poynton Buildings in Pretoria , Durban
Nickname(s) 81 Brigade
Motto(s) Manu ferrea (a iron hand)
Engagements South African Border War
81 Armoured Brigade Command Bar SADF era 81 Armoured Brigade Command Bar

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



16 BrigadeEdit

81 Armoured Brigade was activated on the 1st 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 update 2

Structure SADF 81 Armoured Brigade

Higher CommandEdit

81 Armoured Brigade resorted under the new 8 Division.

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 Lohatla. The honour to use the new property for the first time rested with 81 Armoured Brigade, who conducted the following large exercises over the next few years:

  • Exercise Maremane 1 at Lohatla in 1978,
  • Exercise Blinkspies at Lohatla in 1979,
  • Exercise Applause 4 at Lohatla in 1980,
  • Exercise Mamba 3 at Lohatla in 1981,
  • Exercise Panther 4 Operational Service in 1982,
  • Exercise Eland 1 and 2 at Lohatla in 1983,
  • Exercise Manu Ferrea at Lohatla in 1990,
  • Exercise Desert Fox at Lohatla in 1991

Operational ActivationEdit

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 participated in a sub operation of Prone, Operation Pact. Under command of Brigadier Chris Serfontein, the OC of Sector 10, the entire Brigade was deployed in Owamboland.
  • The Brigades sub-elements, Pretoria Regiment and Regiment Molopo was used in Operations Hooper and Moduler.


With the independence of Namibia, the conventional threat dissipated and the Army Command began a process of rationalisation. Brigade headquarters were now focussed on counter-insurgency support to regional commands. In this light, 81 Armoured Brigade was transferred to Durban and units would report directly to Divisional headquarters. A final decision was inevitable and the HQ of 81 Brigade was disbanded around 1992.


SADF era 81 Armoured Brigade insignia

SADF era 81 Armoured Brigade insignia


  • Brigadier F.E.C van den Berg 1974-1974
  • Colonel P.J. Schalkwyk 1974-1978
  • Colonel A.P.L. Carstens 1978-1978
  • Commandant D. van H Nel 1978-1978 (Acting)
  • Colonel J.C.J. Nel 1978-1981
  • Colonel H.B. Smit 1981-1984
  • Colonel W.G. Lombard 1984-1988
  • Colonel J.F. Lusse 1988-1990
  • Colonel P.Genis 1991-1992



  1. Englebrecht, Leon (9 February 2010). "Fact file: The SA Armoured Corps". DefenceWeb. Retrieved 21 January 2015.

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