Commandant Frank Bestbier
WO1 PH Rohrbeck

Composition of Battle Group Juliet

Overview by the Commander


1 SA Infantry Battalion at Tempe in Bloemfontein received an intake of approximately 2000 recruits in January 1977, while under command of commandant Joep Joubert with major Roland de Vries as his 2IC.

After the specialist units had finished with the selection of their candidates, the so called cream of the crop, 1 SAI was left with more or less 800 National Servicemen, and they were the first soldiers to be trained as mechanised infantry soldiers.

Initial operational deployment

At the end of their training as mechanised infantry soldiers, the whole unit was deployed operationally at Etale base in Ovamboland.

Extension of National Service to 24 months

While still deployed at Etale, legislation was passed in Parliament which extended national service from 12 months to 24 months.

This legislation became applicable immediately, also in respect of this 1977 intake from 1 SAI. Individuals who wanted to go and study the next year were exempted from this additional year of service and they were allowed to clear out to commence with their studies.

After all the students availed themselves of this loophole, 200 of the original intake of 2000 remained and they were assembled to form Alpha company, under command of major Ep van Lill.

Alpha company then remained at Etale base while the rest completed their military service and returned to civilian life.

New developments at 1 SAI

We then received news that we would also return to the Republic of South Africa, but when major Ep van Lill phoned his wife from Grootfontein to advise her of this homecoming, she told him that they would return only to come and collect Ratel infantry combat vehicles. And that ws exactly how it happened.

In the mean time commandant Joep Joubert was transferred from 1 SAI to the Army Battle School at Lohatla and he was succeeded by commandant Frank Bestbier.

Evaluation of the practical deployment of a battle group

At that stage the decision was made to store this equipment at Grootfontein with one infantry platoon to maintain it. The rest of the troops were deployed elsewhere.

Commandant Joep Joubert was then tasked to investigate and evaluate the practical deployment a battle group, using conventional equipment in the Bush war milieu, and this took place at Oshivello (this specific area later became known as Omuthiya)

This training and evaluation lasted for a month, with Alpha company from 1 SAI as the infantry element. At the end of this month the recommendation was made that conventional equipment could be used successfully in closed terrain.

Battle Group Juliet’s first real action

After the demobilization was completed the equipment was supposed to be taken to Grootfontein the following Monday and the troops were allowed a rest day on the Sunday.

That Sunday morning commandant Joep Joubert was called to an urgent meeting, and at 10h00 he instructed major Ep van Lill to be mobilised at 13h00 to cross the Angolan border.

The reason for this sudden mobilisation was the fact that sapper Van der Mescht, a South African soldier based at Eenhana in Ovamboland, was abducted by Swapo the previous night.

Battle Group Juliet left the same day for Eenhana, but the cabinet of the South African government only consented to a pursuit across the Angolan border on the following Tuesday.

We crossed the border with Angola just north of Eenhana and quickly realised that the equipment at our disposal was not up to the hammering it was receiving from the trees and vegetation.

This follow up carried on for the whole day and in the process two enemy bases were overran and lots of Russian equipment were captured. However, sapper Van der Mescht was not to be found, probably because too long a time period had elapsed from his time of capture to the start of this follow up.

This then was the first actual action seen by Battle Group Juliet. The equipment was again demobilised and stored at Grootfontein, and the instruction was that if ever another operation was to be conducted, that the 1 SAI HQ would be in charge of such operation.

Operation Reindeer

The next operation where Battle Group Juliet was involved, was Operation Reindeer.

Commandant Frank Bestbier was the commander during this operation, his 2IC was major Andre Kruger and the two combat team commanders were major Ep van Lill (combat team 1), and lieutenant Mike Muller (combat team 2).

The full story of this operation is displayed on the member site in a war diary which goes into tremendous detail.

The Mechanised infantry, in combat team 1 was tasked to do a mounted assault on the Vietnam base near Chetequera, approximately 23 kilometres north of the border with South West Africa, and afterwards the target had to be consolidated on foot.

After this operation the equipment was in a very bad state and while it was repaired and maintained at Grootfontein, Alpha company of 1 SAI remained at Oshivello.


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