The rarely spotted … giraffe camouflage.
A while back, as the Chairman of the South African Legion in the United Kingdom, I was involved in the return of Peter McAleese’s South African Defence Force nutria ‘Slangvel’ (parabat smock) to him. For jump qualified ‘Parabats’ (Airborne Infantry) this smock is a prize item, and the South African one, the ‘slangvel’ (snake-skin) as it is fondly known, is a little unique because of reinforced sections sewn onto it – elbows and shoulders mainly to deal with all the chute and other strappings, keeping them tight and to prevent wear. The ‘brown’ nutria slangvel is a collectors favourite and very sought after.
Nutria was the preferred uniform of the SADF, basically just ‘brown’ – the developers of nutria argued that in the harsh African sun after 50 meters you are an un-definable blob to the naked eye anyway, ‘nutria’ brown as a single colour was versatile enough in the African surrounds to provide sufficient camouflage when needed – so no need for camouflage stripes or dots – and so the SADF was just about everything ‘brown’, including vehicle camouflage – one colour, and that made economic sense.
Images: Peter McAleese in his SADF nutria ‘slangvel’ and Sean Renard returning it to him.
Somehow Peter’s ‘nutria’ ‘slangvel’ smock found itself in the wild and and fellow South African Legion – Legionnaire, Sean Renard found it in Europe on auction, bought it and on the 16th July 2015 decided to give it back to Peter at his book launch at the Oriental Club in London with the aid of Cameron Kinnear – another Legionnaire. Sean proudly and selflessly handing it over to him – the epitome of the Legion in action and its members.
Now, not only is that a rare spot, but Peter McAleese is also a rare spot for collectors of militia – and that’s because he’s also seen wearing a very rare ‘Giraffe Patten’ Camouflage uniform in some of his SADF period photos whilst with the SA Army’s 44 Parachute Brigade and Pathfinder Reconnaissance Unit. The ‘Giraffe’ slangvel smock he is seen wearing (as opposed to his nutria one) is incredibly rare.
Images: Peter McAleese in the rare experimental ‘Giraffe Patten’ camo
In fact it’s a holy grail for people collecting military items like uniform pieces, badges, headgear, rank and insignia .. it’s even considered one of the rarest examples of a camouflage used by any military force in the world .. it’s that rare.
So, what’s the fuss all about?
When and why the SADF come up with this ‘holy grail’ camouflage uniform. Not everything here is confirmed, this uniform was developed in a shroud of secrecy for special forces units alone. The South Africa special forces units tended to have a little more latitude in their choice of weapons, equipment and uniform (and even bearing) and many of their operations are still clouded in secrecy – so not surprisingly folklore and unsubstantiated stories have come to surround them. I may be wrong but here’s what we know about this uniform.
About 80 or so ‘Giraffe Patten’ camouflage uniforms were issued between 1980 and 1982 to the Pathfinders of the 1 Parachute Battalion of the 44 Parachute Brigade. The camouflage is a two-tone colour – one brown, one off white and draws inspiration from the Reticulated Giraffe. In testing the patten proved unremarkable and not effective enough and therefore did not enter broad service. It was however used by special forces and some rare photos exist of it being used in the field. Rumour has it that Colonel Jan Breytenbach, then the Officer Commander of the 44 Parachute Brigade, ordered that all the uniforms be destroyed .. except one. This one uniform ultimately landed up with a Private collector in the USA (via a Private collector in France).
However, at some stage, a limited array of uniform items – about 12 uniforms consisting of bush-hats, slangvels, shirts and pants were re-printed using the Giraffe Patten, in the correct SADF style, and these made it into ‘collectors’ circulation – although not original, the person who manufactured and sold the items decided to keep them limited to keep collectors value – so they are pretty rare and sought after too.
Images: Rare use of the giraffe camo and the Reticulated Giraffe
No mean soldier
Now to someone very rare and who is very genuine – the subject of the camouflage – Peter McAleese, Peter is a legend in South African military circles.
Born 7 September 1942, he served in the British Army’s Parachute Regiment and Special Air Service (SAS), the Rhodesian Special Air Service and British South Africa Police, and then subsequently as a Sergeant Major in South Africa’s 44 Parachute Brigade during the Border War. As a mercenary or contractor, he worked in countries including South Africa, Angola, Colombia, Russia, Algeria and Iraq.
He’s written two books ‘No Mean Soldier’ and ‘Beyond No Mean Soldier’ (both available on-line) – there are precious few like him around today, a real soldier’s soldier and it was a privilege for me to meet him, and for the South African Legion to recover his nutria smock for him.
Written and Researched by Peter Dickens