KST – 1st Para Batallion KNIL officers estate

The elite 1st para batallion of the KNIL (Dutch East Indies Army) has a short but intense history that spans the years 1946 to 1950. Most of 1946 and part of 1947 was needed to get the people and material in place and training the fresh para recruits. The later part of 1947 up to 1950 was spent operational including 4 combat jumps in late 1948 and early 1949 in the meantime adding new recruits in all those years.

Para unit badge from the Lt. Castelein estate

The para company existed of some 250 men and was in 1948 combined with para trained commandos, around 150 men, reaching the total of 400 trained paratroopers that would form a batallion in 1949. The amount of officers was limited with much of the operational leadership in the hands of very experienced nco’s many of which had a pre war KNIL or WW2 commando (Korps Insulinde) background.

In the Netherlands during training for Signals officer

Leo Castelein (1928-2016) would become one of those few officers of the para batallion. In the Netherlands he volunteered in 1946 as a reserve officer. The volunteers from the Netherlands would go to the colony in the ongoing stuggle for Order and Peace in Indonesia. This was the Dutch name for the colonial war that had started after the Japanese surrender in 1945 (the War of Independence for Indonesia). He would complete his training as Signals officer in March 1948, subsequently was added to the 1st Signals Regiment and would arrive in country May 1948.

Birthday item in a local newspaper in the Netherlands

After spending some time with his assigned Signals unit he applied for a transfer to the para unit in order to see more action. Although the paratroops were a KNIL unit it was open to all ranks from all branches including those from the regular Dutch army as was the case with Castelein. Unfortunately signals officers were very scarce so his unit did not want to let him go. Upon learning this he wrote a letter to Prince Bernhard as Commander in Chief and later in 1948 was transferred to the para’s after all. He would become the signals officer of the unit.

Training jump preparations. Castelein probably in the middle (behind the white line of the parachute)

His training for the red beret and the qualification wing started but was not completed in time for the first combat jump december 1948, the spectacular Operation “Kraai”. This was a massive airborne operation in which all available para’s would jump in enemy territory near Yogyakarta. As a result he would make his first combat jump before being fully qualified earning his combat jump wing before his regular qualification!

The actual US tanker helmet by Rawlins that was used by Lt. Castelein as practice helmet as seen above!

Of the 370 men making the combat jump for operation “Kraai” only 12 would be officers including a Medical Doctor and a Pastor (Dominee Timens). Lt. Castelein would have the command of the para signals group which is a very important role in airborne operations behind enemy lines!


Two examples of locally made filled action wings. These have a safetypin on the back for quick change on and off uniform for the frequent washing.

When he returned to the Netherlands in 1950 he did not have the opportunity to keep his commission as an officer in the regular army so he left his active status and went back in the reserves. There were to many officers returning from Indonesia for a peace time army in the Netherlands. Going to Korea would have been alternative he did not take. Instead he took up his studies (there was a special arrangement for veterans) and started working internationally, rarely spending time in the Netherlands.

Picture as a 2nd lieutenant, freshly returned to the Netherlands in 1950
The actual wing with wreath for combat jump (action wing) from the photo above. This version was still made in Indonesia but is flat and was sewn on the (wool) uniform that was worn during the return to the Netherlands.

His son inherited his red beret, practice helmet, insignia and period photo album with some great para pictures.

A few of the pictures and items are shown in this short blog. More will follow in a future publication so this is only a teaser and more research is needed to get a complete picture of Casteleins service!

The group of badges from the Lt. Castelein estate only show variations of the combat jump wing with laurel, maybe he never received the regular qualification wing as he did not complete his training before making the combat jump.

It is a great time capsule of period badges that are rarely seen and even more rare with such a great provenance. As most badges in collections (both private and museum) have lost the link to the original wearer having a provenance is a great plus.

As a civilian in the 50s proudly wearing a miniature of the action wing

With many thanks to the family for making these materials available for this blog and in future publications.

Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting Knife, named 2nd pattern

The two men Fairbairn and Sykes developed a knife during their pre war time in the Shanghai police. During WW2 the knife was adopted by the English special forces. It is often dubbed the commando knife and it is used as a symbol in many special forces badge since WW2 up to the current day.

There are three distinct versions that were used during WW2. The first pattern was made by the Wilkinson Sword company since 1941 and in 1942 the second pattern was introduced. That was again replaced in 1943 by a third pattern that had many more producers besides Wilkinson was mainly machine ground and made in greater quantaties.

After havind sold a first pattern example many years ago in order to fund another purchase I have now a special custom order variation of the 2nd pattern. Although not as rare as the first pattern the second pattern knives with a custom text (in most cases a name) are quite rare and desirable.

The name on the scroll is G.R. Phillips. A quick search in both English and American archives delivered only one hit on the exact combination. An US Army Air Force pilot who flew on B29s. As this is a private purchase knife that was sold at a premium price this could be the original owner but probably it will remain elusive if he really was the owner without more input than only the name.

Here a well used example of the 2nd pattern from my collection where the Wilkinson and F-S markings hardly can be distinguished.

And some of my favorite KNIL Special Forces badges with a depiction of a F-S Fighting Knife!

There are some great sources for further reading on the many variations of this knife:

https://www.fairbairnsykesfightingknives.com/

https://www.fsknife.com/articles-1

http://www.gotavapen.se/gota/artiklar/fs/p3/fs_knife_p3.htm

Hungary – Operation Frantic 1944, Debrecen

Photo albums can be a great source of historic information but sadly often the context of the photo’s has been lost over time. This blog is in regard to such an album that has been in my collection for a long time. Recently I dove into it again and now with the modern digital sources I found an interesting background.

The photos seem to be of an NCO in a Hungarian military unit that is involved in railway repairs. There is family crest with name in the beginning of the album and next to the military photos there also some pictures of the man with his family but I have not been able to establish anything beyond the family name.

Two groups of photo’s help to establish the exact timeframe and specific context of a part of the album. They show two heavily bombed railway stations in Debrecen and Szolnok and their damaged surroundings, railways and trains.

Both cities were bombed as part of American shuttle raids which were executed during Operation Frantic that took place between June and September of 1944. This was one of the few direct operational cooperations between the Russian and American forces. Bombers of the 8th and 15th US Army Air Force would undertake bombing flights on the way between bases in the UK and Italy to locations in Ukraine where they would reload with bombs and fuel and on the return flight again would bomb targets that were agreed upon between the Russian and US forces. That is why these were called shuttle raids, the planes would shuttle between the bases in Western and Eastern Europe and bomb targets on the way in between.

On the first and the last flight of Operation Frantic there would be also Hungarian targets. On the first flight on June 2nd Debrecen would be one of the targets. On the last flight on September 22nd Szolnok would be one to the targets. In both cases the railway station and the related area would be the main targets as these were of importance to the German military logistics, movement of soldiers and material like tanks to the Eastern front.

The photo’s show people of the Railway repair crew but also labour units working hard to repair the damages. IMostly trains and wreckage of railways and buildings but also some casualties, of which there were many due to the fact that not only railway related buildings were hit in the raids. Please be advised that photo’s of casualties are at the end of the blog.

Unexploded 500 pound bomb?

A total of 130 planes would hit Debrecen with more than 1000 bombs between 8.46 hrs and 9.00 hrs. The damage would be great but the loss of life was also enormous. Whole streets in the proximity of the railway areas would also be destroyed. Almost 1200 death and close to 700 seriously wounded would be the direct human impact of the bombing with hundreds of buildings (including many regular houses) completely destroyed.

Due to the nature of the album the photo’s are mainly of the railway related impact and not the civilian impact.

The last few pictures show casulaties of the bombings and the location were they were found. Probably most casulaties would have been removed before the repair crews started working but I assume these were uncovered during the repair works.

I cannot express the sadness I felt seeing that little shoe sticking out between the big boots of the men under the cover of tent halves…

You can read more about the bombing in Hungarian here that is also the source for the numbers used in my blog.

The next blog will be about Szolnok where the repair crew went next (based on the photo’s in the album at least) which was the last action of Operation Frantic.

There are many more photo’s in the album, this is a selection.

Sources:

http://hbml.archivportal.hu/id-1508-debrecen_elso_bombazasa_1944_junius_2.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Frantic

Austro-Hungarian grouping, Carl Öhlzelt

Carl started in the KuK (Schutzen) Landwehr Infanterie Regiment 21 (Sankt Pölten) and later his machinegun group moved to the Landsturm Infanterie Regiment Nr. 51.

Sometimes as a collector you come across a grouping that is quite unique as in this case. At the moment I am still contemplating what my next step will be….A series of blogs, a dedicated website or even a book…

The group contains a photo album with a cover with badges of Carl, many postcards and a short diary. Loads of information on some very relevant moments in WW1 including the Isonzo battles.

Until I have decided what to do only a small placeholder blog with some teaser materials…

The album contains many official photo’s, but also private photo’s and even WW2 related photo’s. Also many captured Italian photo’s and some leaflets (Flugblätter). So for now only this teaser…

KNIL – officers ID cards

As in any army around WW2 there were ID cards. Often different versions for officers than for other ranks. The two versions here are both for officer of the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army.

They are slightly different one is the standard, official version and the other is a temporary one that was handed out during the war against the Japanese but before the occupation which makes it probably quite rare.

The official one (the front can be seen above left) was to a captain who would receive the Military order of William 4th class for his resistance actions against the Japanese.

His medal group is in the collection of Museum Bronbeek and I have donated an album to the museum regarding his receipt of the MWO4 after WW2.

The second was to Lieutenant who was involved in the defense of Palembang in February 1942 and the fights against the Japanese parachutist who landed there. He probably lost his regular ID in that period and received a new one before the surrender to the Japanese on March 9th. So this temporary version was made only days before the surrender.

Both officers would survive the war and internation in the POW camps of the Japanese and reach the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel in the post war period.

NDVN – Korea 1950-’51 – Munnix snapshots

In an earlier post I have described the medals and insignia of the Dutch during the Korea war. In this post I want to share original pictures of one of the participants. His familyname was Munnix and he was already a veteran (Marine) of the war in the Dutch East Indies.

He was part of the first detachment of the Dutch participation in the war in Korea (as part of the 38th Infantry Regiment which was part of the 2nd, Indian Head, Infantry Division). He was part of the support company (ost.comp) and was a machinegunner (.30 Browning).

A few photo’s have a text I will share here as well but most do not. No further context is known as the group of photo’s came into my hands with no additional information.

In memory of all veterans of the Korean war 1950-1954

RAF – 6B/159 wrist watch by LeCoultre

A longer time ago I actively collected military wristwatches. Now all of these beautifull watches by classic brands like the IWC (Mark X), Longines (6B/159), Zenith (US Signal Corps) and Omega (airplane clock WW1) have been gone for years.

One of the RAF wristwatches by Jaeger LeCoultre had been on the wish list for quite some time but never materialized when I actively collected. By accident I came across an interesting version recently so I picked it up. It was not in working order. Research by the watchmaker made clear that the balance had to be replaced in the splendid 470 caliber. Expensive but possible and now completed!

The Wrist Watch Mark 7a was a navigational watch used by the RAF and had the designation 6B/159 on the case. This model first existed in the “Weems” variation (around 1940) with a turnable bezel. Later (around 1942) the model came without the bezel but with a non hacking central seconds hand. This was relatively rare at that moment in time when subsidiary seconds at the 6 position were still the standard. This was a relatively complicated watch that needed to be of high qaulity for its purpose, navigation. The watch was also needed in high quantities therefore it was sourced from many of the leading Swiss makers but most seem to be from 3 big name brands of that period Omega/Longines/ Jaeger LeCoultre.

The (Jaeger) Lecoultre 6B/159 had very typical leaf hands in blued steel as did the earlier Weems bezel model. It is thought about 5000 of these were produced in total (according to Knirim). Most seem to have been from one large batch produced in 1943 with the Broad Arrow marking above the 6B/159 designation (earlier models made in 1942 had the AM marking ipo the Broad Arrow). All the models with the cal. 470 were delivered in 1943/44, from 1945 onwards the 479 calibre was used.

All LeCoultre watches show the brands stamped serial number next to the engraved markings of the RAF. Of this series the serial numbers on the cases are mainly in the 158xxx up to 163xxx numbers which would correspond with the number of 5000 that is mentioned in the Knirim book. The military numbers do not match directly with the watch serial numbers I found out. They were not engraved in the same order as the case serial numbers but the range seems to be mainly in the A23xxx up to A26xxx numbers. All other brands used the same type of military numbering starting with Axxx up to A 30xxx so it seems more than 30.000 examples of the 6B/159 were made for the RAF in 1943/44 and maybe even 1945.

All original dials for this variation were signed LeCoultre. The story is that there were many of these dials (wit the naming for the US market without Jaeger) in stock and could not be used otherwise so these were used exclusively for the military contract. There are several original dial variations but all have a white background. The case was a chromed brass alloy with a diameter of 32mm diameter with a snap on case back.

The Ministery of Defense often replaced/repainted dials during the war. The case was not waterproof the dial and also the movement were often damaged by condensation and dirt. They did not do this with new dials but they re-painted the dials themselves using different fonts and many variations exist. Of course this was done manually. The MoD repainted dial also exists in black and with the full Jaeger LCoultre name on it on a white and on a black background.

This dial is one of the MoD repainted dials with the original dial as basis. The font used seems similar to the one seen on the Longines pictured here (photo from the Knirim book) but with the standard LeCoultre hands (which can be distinguished from other brands as seen in the Longines example).

The dial has some typical features that makes it easy to distinguish a repainted dial from a replaced dial. To the right a dial with the original finish as deliverd by the factory. Left and middle show the front and back of my version (pictures made by the watchmaker Tijdloos in Leiden). General opinion on the dial with numbers in italics is that it is a rarer MoD variation repainted dial.

A much better look with the glass cleaned and dial dusted!

As the original case was not designed for military use, the chrome case materials (a kind of brass with chrome plating) suffered from corrosion. A stainless steel case of a larger size (36mm) was introduced in 1956. All models of the 6B/159 still in service were recased with the new case but these are relatively rare.

Sources:

http://www.knirim.de/english.htm

https://www.watchprosite.com/jaeger-lecoultre/missing-review-jlc-6b-159-comparison-and-review/2.1265336.10611336/

KNIL – Bronze Cross for escape and resistance

The Bronze Cross is the third highest medal for Gallantry in the Netherlands (after the Military Order of William and the Bronze Lion). It was awarded a total 3497 times since its institution in 1940.

Citation: Barend Nicolaas Tuinenburg, born June 21, 1906, Reserve soldier of the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army (Army number 65207).
In December 1944 escaped from the prisoner of war camp Aikit (Siam, current Thailand). Joined the Thai gangs, which harmed the Japs by raiding Japanese camps, stations, and trains, resulting in many casualties on the Japanese side, and also saving many Javanese families from the hands of the Japs.
After the capitulation of Japan proceeded on foot to the ex-prisoner of war camp Canbury and reported there to the Dutch commander.

The award was given by Royal Decree. No award document was given to the recipient apart from an extract (uittreksel) of the Decree. This was the custom untill recent times.

The USAF A2 Flight Jacket, a classic re-invented

The A2 Flight Jacket was the iconic jacket of the US Army Air Force during WW2 with many fans including General Douglas McArthur who also wore the Ray Ban aviators, a man of style.

The jacket also was often embellished with the same paintings as the airmen used on their planes, the so called nose art. Both pictures from internet.

Afther WW2 they were still worn into early 1950s but the jacket was retired after the Korean war as more modern materials (like nylon) were introduced for flight clothing.

In 1987 the jacket was re-introduced to commemorate the 40th birthday of the US Air Force. According to the modern regulation: ‘the jackets will be issued only to officers or enlisted personnel who are in mission-ready, emergency-mission-ready, mission capable, or mission-support billets assigned at or below wing level who met the criteria on or after September 18, 1987, the Air Force’s fortieth birthday. Once a member is issued the jacket,‘ according to the regulation, “he or she may continue to wear it after being reassigned from the duties [that] originally qualified him or her for the issue. It can be worn with the flight suit, service uniform, or pullover sweater but not with civilian clothes. After he or she retires, the wearer may keep the jacket.’

This is an overview of the variations made between 1988-2007 as found on the USMilitariaForum as compiled by Cowboy4.

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The use of Nose Art is longer allowed in regular use and is rarely seen as it can only be used off duty or after leaving the air force. These issued jackets are a modern collectable and still can be found but the early ones are getting harder to find especially in the larger sizes.

There are also a lot of commerical variations which can be nice but are not really collectables with a historical background as these issued piecesare. So you have to check if these military contract numbers are on the label:

Cooper Sportswear Mfg. Co., Inc. (under the Saddlery label) with numbers 1988 DLA 100 88 C0420 / 1992 DLA 100 92-M-0061 / 1995 SPO 100-95-C-4030 / 1996 SPO 100-96-D-4020 Branded Garments Inc. Orchard M/C Inc. with number 1992 DLA 100-92-C-0346A Avirex Ltd. with numbers 1998 SPO 100-98-C-5018 and 1999 SPO 100-99-D-4009-xxxx and the last supplier Cockpit USA, Inc. with number 2007 SPM1C1-07-D-1540 xxxx

Here two issued examples next to each other a 1988 Saddlery (the earliest version made) and a 1999 Avirex version. With differences in colour and detailing but also in cut. Most collectors especially favor the early Saddlery versions.

The Avirex also has been painted on the back and also has a custom made badge of the Air National Guard. The painting was done at Pop’s leather (Incirlik Air Base Turkey) in 2005. At that moment the 132nd Air Refueling Squadron was deployed as part of the operations of Iraqi and Enduring Freedom.

Below the Air National Guard custom badge, the signature on the artwork and an example of the patch (not my collection) on which the artwork is based. The concept of this patch stems from WW2 when the sqn was still a bombing unit. The winged skeleton has a bomb in its hands…

Below a picture from internet of the 132nd Air Refueling Sqn in action with an F22 fighter being fueled up.

Here a badge as shown on www.ericusafpatches.nl of the 132nd (nicknamed MAINEIacs as Maine is their home state) from when they were deployed as part of Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) and located at Incirlik Air Base where Pop’s is located.

Great collectables for daily wear by US aviators, former US presidents or just regular guys 🙂 like my son Tibor (Saddlery) and myself (Avirex).

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