Band of Brothers – 101 Romeo Mikes

This great photograph of Cpl Stephen Bothma captures the grit and camaraderie of a 101 Battalion ‘Romeo Mike’ unit in action somewhere on the Angolan/South West Africa (Namibia) border. The ‘Romeo Mikes’ meant Reaksie Mag (Reaction Force) and these units where designed as long range special forces of the South West African Territorial Force (SWATF) and their purpose was to relentlessly track and then surround insurgents.

By 1981 101 Battalion had been established as a light infantry battalion.  By 1983 at least 2700 men had been recruited and trained, many converted SWAPO insurgents. 101 Battalion translated Police tracking concepts to suit Army operations. These formed two Reaction Force companies: 901 and 903 Special Service Companies. These Companies concentrated on external operations and pursuit of infiltrators. By 1985 101 Battalion fought under its own command instead of being detached to external units.

The Romeo Mike and 101 engagements were intense to say the least.  This Battalion saw an extraordinary amount of combat and it can be put down to the Romeo Mike strategy and tactics to deal with insurgency (long range patrolling).  To give an idea of the intensity of combat 101 Battalions reaction force teams (Romeo Mikes) averaged about 200 “contacts” annually, a “contact” was usually refereed to an armed military skirmish between SWAPO PLAN insurgents and conventional forces.   It can be argued that the vast bulk of the fighting against insurgents on the South West African (Namibian)/Angolan Border was left to the SWATF formations (units including 101 Battalion), Police formations like Koevoet, 32 Battalion and search and destroy missions by SADF Recce (Reconnaissance) and Parabat (Parachute) formations.

Note the parallel two strips on Stephen’s shoulder in the feature picture – this shows his designated rank as a “full” corporal.  The SWATF rank structure insignia differed slightly from the South West African Defence Force (SADF) rank structure who used downward pointing “chevrons” for Non Commissioned Officer (NCO) insignia (i.e. Corporals and Sergeants), as is done in British rank structure.

These are South West African Territorial Force Rank insignia:

These are South Africa Defence Force Rank Insignia

This is because South West Africa was after all seen as a “separate” country to South Africa with its own defence force, therefore it had its own insignia.  However, in realty the equipment, clothing, weapons and even many of the officers and non commissioned officers were supplied by South Africa.

One thing that was clearly very different with all of the South West African formations, and especially 101 Battalion, was the very high degree of racial integration, the ethnic make-up of these Battalions was very reflective of the South West African (SWA) demographic. Division along the lines of race in the military structures did not really exist to the same degree that it did in the South African Defence Force.

Certainly on this level – fighting together as a 101 Romeo Mike unit, any sort of racial differentiation did not exist at all.  There was an old saying on the Border – there is “no Apartheid in a fox hole.”   Veterans in both the SADF and the SWATF will always attest that they do not care for colour as it matters not a jot in a firefight, and regardless of anything else, men in this situation (the hard trials of combat or serving in a combat area) will always bond as brothers.

All 101 images photo copyright Stephen Bothma.  Written by Peter Dickens

33 thoughts on “Band of Brothers – 101 Romeo Mikes

  1. 101 Bn was not involved in Ops Askari in 1983 – just for the record – OPs Askari took place during Dec 1983 to Jan/Feb 1984, and it was not on Xangongo, it was on Cuvelai. 101 Bn had no base at Xangongo – we used it to refill and rebunker only. The RMs deployed late Dec 1983 on the outskirts of Ops Askari and only returned to Ondangwa in April 1984. Ben, please clarify your involvement and the capacity you served in 101 Bn, and what was your callsign.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow,
      What a trip down memory lane. I was still a little boy when I served at 101 around 1988. I vaguely remember things from that time. I was a recovery tiffy on the Wit-hings and only really remember working with Capt. Waal (I think he was a Captain). I remember laying at Ondjiva for weeks, (that`s what it felt like) I was present and remember when Corp Yeo was killed lifting a mine. I remember “placing / planting” posters at a contact site. I remember being flown into the bush by chopper to relieve another tiffy team, it happened so quickly after arriving at the base in Ondangwa from Grootfontein, its almost a blurr. I remember my buddies name being George Pick. He was batshit crazy and naughty. What an honor to have these memories even if they are scattered. Sad thing is that I can not even remember my force number or exactly how long I was there. I think it was either 3 months or 9 months. Anyway, I see this post is kind of old so I don`t think I will even get a reply. But what an emotional experience. Thank you.


      • Hi David Hooper. Correct. The SADF did control Xangongo from after Ops Protea. My response was aimed at the “base” of 101 at Xangongo, which is not true. The RMs of 101 only refuelled etc at Xangongo, but never had a base there.


      • Hi David Hooper. Correct. The SADF did control Xangongo from after Ops Protea. My response was aimed at the “base” of 101 at Xangongo, which is not true. The RMs of 101 only refuelled etc at Xangongo, but never had a base there.
        Sorry – my initial reply was without reading my comment above – I do not dispute that we (SADF) controlled Xangongo and that we (SADF) had a base there, but the comment was made about Ops Askari “on Xangongo”……


    • Johan, it seems you are perhaps well versed in the border war and 101 BN history. What is your source of information? Also, what is your interest, position in having folk clarify their involvement, call sign, years, etc with 101 BN?


      • Hi Christopher Cole. I served with the unit. The comment made by “Ben” above seems a bit dodgy. Cannot recall a “Ben”, the ops is wrong, the reference to Xangongo is wrong and the date (83) is wrong. Are you perhaps the “Cole” who was with 101 in 84 and got wounded?


  2. Wow,
    I absolutely agree what a trip it is down memory lane coming accross this article.
    I served in 101 in 1986 901 company as a sapper on RM 7 just cant remember the bev name at the time .

    I rember when bundu bashing and snakes or comelions fell inside the casper that the ovambo troops would jump out while we drove and would look like milk cooking over.

    The very first day i joined them i was flown out in a puma helicopter to their TB, that night they build a fire and i thought are they crazy lying in the middle of angola and they said sapper dont worry if they rev us tonight we have a spoor (tracks) to chase tomorrow.

    I am honored being part at my time with THE BAND OF BROTHERS 101 – Romeo Mikes


  3. Hi all I was at 101bn from June 83 to Dec 84 and we did use xangongo as a base on sorties because the parabats under Viljoen were based there.Welgemoed was in charge at 101bn and JP was in charge of the rm


      • Hi Chris. I was also at 101Bn in 1987. Was in Alpha company then transferred to RM 7 as team commander as the other ‘Loot’ had gine back to S.A. for a course. Was involved in ops Firewood. RIP. Csptsin Rademeyer and 2lt. Botes and others who gave all that day.


    • funny how we only remember stuff at certain times
      5SAI infantry assault pioneer, seconded to 101 romeo mike 1988
      sektor 10 Ovamboland
      het nog die t-shirt waar die AK gebreek word(nie in mint condition nie)


  4. funny how we only remember stuff at certain times
    5SAI infantry assault pioneer, seconded to 101 romeo mike 1988
    sektor 10 Ovamboland
    het nog die t-shirt waar die AK gebreuk word(nie in mint condition nie)


  5. I spent 15 months on the grens most of that time was on patrol with the 201 BN bushman RM teams. Many nights under the stars. , Feb 83 through May 84. I was a Buffel drywer initially and later we got CASSPIRS. With the excellent spoorsny ability of the Bushmen we saw quite a bit of action as well. The bushman lived out Rundu way at Omega although their forward base was at Nkongo which was also my base but I was not there very much. There were basically two bushman tribes the Barakwena and Vaskela and the companys in the BN usually consisted of one or the other one or the other. Many of the bushman had fought for the Portuguese in Angola . Really enjoyed being with the bushman because they seemed to have a sixth sense when danger lurked. Visited Xangongo a few times but don’t recall there being an SADF or SWATF base there.


    • Good Day Neil
      I spent a few months with 202 Bn based at Rundu 906 SSC Romeo Mikes as a Team Commander in 1984 until the teams were disbanded for re-training before being transferred to 101 Bn 904 SSC RM12. 201Bn was also based in Sector 20, can’t remember the base name. Which SSC RM companies out of 201 Bn, because I don’t remember 201 having Romeo Mikes.


  6. I was a BRUSH signaler at 513TP, Oshakati during 1987/88, and I listened in on some of the 101BN communication. I still have a cassette recording with a little bit of presumably 101BN communication, but do not have a cassette recorder to listen to it again. There was for example a captain (“kaptein”) speaking to “Vleis”, telling him to tell RM23 to move South between “Johannesburg” and “Pietersburg” and requesting that he take a broken “kar” (Casspir) into “Pietersburg”. Then there was another conversation between the same “kaptein” and Vissie (Schalk), asking Vissie to go into the area of RM23, that is the area between Bravo Lima and Bravo Alfa Juliet. Do these names and places sound familiar to you that served in 101BN?


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