In the process, they arrested eight suspects and believe they have cracked a syndicate exporting stolen scrap metal from South Africa.
Dodgy scrap dealers cost the South African economy millions of rand every year, with most of the stolen metal finding its way to the East, mainly India and China.
The theft from the cenotaph was discovered late last week.
Nine plates, bearing the names of soldiers who had fallen in various wars, were ripped off from walls around the cenotaph.
A 10th plate was removed from the front of the plinth, as were four brass cappings that formed part of a dome.
The Durban City Cenotaph is on the western side of the city hall and is one of many found in countries of the British Commonwealth.
Towering 11m and opened in 1926, it includes a metal statue of a fallen soldier stretched out on a plinth.
Fawzia Peer, eThekwini’s deputy mayor, was the driving force behind the operation, which included members of the SAPS and metro police.
According to Peer, the team worked tirelessly at the weekend to recover the stolen plaques.
It started on Saturday night when police arrested a suspect near the cenotaph with tools, including a crowbar.
On Sunday, they raided a scrap collector in the Point area. Inside the premises and behind steel doors, police found strips of copper that had been taken from the plaques. They arrested several suspects.
They then searched a business premises on Mathews Meyiwa Road, Greyville. There, they arrested a scrap dealer they believe was the kingpin.
They also found four of the stolen plaques, each weighing 100kg, as well as an unlicensed gun.
The operation then moved to a scrap yard in Queensmead Industrial Park where two bags were found with cut pieces of the plaques. The bags weighed 705kg.
Parboo Sewpersad, a metro police senior superintendent, commended the team for recovering the plaques and making the arrests.
The team included Captain Rajen Moodley, Superintendent Magan Govender and constables Lendle Ganesan, Ishwar Sukdeo, Nico Govender and Nathi Hlatshwayo of the metro police. They were under the command of Director Ashley Dove.
The SAPS policemen were Captain Ruben Naidoo, Constable Frampton Vadivelu and Constable S Naicker.
Police spokesperson Colonel Thembeka Mbhele said the eight suspects would appear in court soon.
Peer said: “I am elated that our security was able to recover the plaques. It shows how by working together we can solve problems. I am determined to see what we can do to ensure scrap yard dealers are held to account.
“Theft costs the municipality millions every year.” The stolen plaques have been returned to the South African National Defence Force.
Police have also been deployed to guard the Durban City Cenotaph to prevent further theft and vandalism.
Tozi Mthethwa, eThekwini Municipality spokesperson, said the city was exploring solutions including wider closed-circuit television reach in Farewell Square.
Colonel Pat Acutt, senior staff officer at the Defence Reserves, praised Peer and the efforts of the police involved in the recovery of the items.
He said several of the plaques were bent and could not be installed on the wall ahead of Remembrance Day on Sunday. It is an annual event to mark the end of World War 1 on November 11.
“There was a jigsaw puzzle of pieces and it required a team effort to put it together. We are grateful for all the hard work that was put in.
“This was the desecration of a war memorial. In other parts of the world these places are protected and respected. We call for a harsh sentence for the accused in the matter,” Acutt said.
Johan Kruger, of the SA Legions, said the Remembrance Day commemoration would continue as planned on Sunday.
He said red plastic poppies would be placed on shade cloth around the cenotaph to remember those who had fallen in various wars.
He urged the public to attend.