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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
With many thanks to the family for making these materials available for this blog and in future publications.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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
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.
Gerrit spent the first half of the ’60s in Greenland working at the BMEWS base, one of the coldest parts of the world. You can read more about him in part 1, the earlier blog about him. The second half of the ’60s he spent in tropical Vietnam working official US (Army) related contracts. Probably 5 years in total between 1965 and 1970 but exact starting and ending dates are unknown. Only one passport survives has his 1969 Vietnam dates in it and some other paperwork from around 1969 survives but not much.
As he passed away I am not sure I will ever know what he did there exactly. He worked in some capacity for RMK-BRJ the largest building conglomerate active in Vietnam during the war. You can read more about their history here: RMK-BRJ wiki
He had some form of medical education in the US (he stated to be an MD but I found no actual proof for this though) and he worked in some medical capacity it seems, probably in the line of Health and Food safety for RMK-BRJ.
Below a photo of his kit-bag (his original Dutch one, not a US version!): GHM Medical Department / Facilities & Operations RMK BRJ / 6th Division Vietnam
His late war MACV ID Card (Military Assistance Command Vietnam)
As he spent a long period in Vietnam he witnessed most of the war and not always from a safe distance! On several occasions he risked his life in the line of duty. As can be read on the Wiki regarding RMK-BRJ more than 52 employees were killed in those years.
I’ll share here some of my favourite pictures from his collection (these are mainly prints I took from the slides he made) there are many more!
Some local forces:
Driving a river boat, he went with the river forces (riverines) on patrols on several occassions, just for fun and he spoke French fluently so he could help out in communications too.
After a request on the US Militaria forum I learned the ship must have been part of River Patrol Section 532 based on the patch visible on one of the pictures!
Above shooting a M-79 grenade launcher and below driving the boat himself.
With the Marines he had a Dutch friend there too, recently emigrated to the US.
And some random photo’s. A forget me not club, location unknown and with a Tiger Stripe boonie hat.
Some of the items he collected during this period:
The Marbles pilots survival knife he already got in Greenland and brought to VN.
The Rolex Datejust he bought for his Birthday during R&R in Bangkok in 1967! It can be seen on the stairs of a friends house in Saigon. He is guarding the house with his M1 with double (taped together) banana magazines.
A relatively rare item among his military gear are these: Military Survival Kit – Hot Wet environment. Mainly issued to Special Forces in Vietnam. For more info see this page
You cannot hide your heritage, reading a newspaper from Deventer, the Netherlands, in Vietnam!
Missiles in Greenland, war in Vietnam, problems in Persia…..
During my teens in the early ’80’sof last century I got to know Gerrit. He was an acquaintance of my parents. He had stories and photo’s of countries and places where nobody else I knew had ever been. He was a bit of an adventurer so there was much to tell. Being only a kid much of this information was lost over time. After Gerrit passed away I helped his widow some years later to sell some of his collections and I got many of the photo’s and items which had interested me so much in my youth.
In this small series of blogs I will share some of these photo’s and items from his travels in the 60s, mainly his life in Greenland and Vietnam. In both locations he was working as a civilian contractor for the US military.
Gerrit was born in 1929 in Deventer, Holland. In the early 50s he studied Hotel Management in Switzerland and soon after emigrated to the US where he became a citizen, after his retirement he returned to Deventer in the Netherlands our mutual home town. During his period in the US he studied medicine but it remains unclear if he actually became a MD as he later claimed.
To be honest much of his life remained unknown which probably added to the “mystique” around his travel and activities abroad. He always seemed to work in troubles locations. After Vietnam came Persia and after that Congo just before the local revolutions happened that ended in changing the names of these countries.
The Cold War
In the ’50s and ’60s of last century the tension between the western world and the east, especially the Soviets was building up. The war in Korea, the Cuba crisis and later the Vietnam war were al very visible examples of this. The cold war was also one of fear for a Nuclear war with Ballistic Missiles flying over the oceans. If you could stop the enemies missiles you could win this potential war….
BMEWS – Ballistic Missile Early Warning System
In order to find and after shoot down enemy missiles the US started the BMEWS project in 1959 which was completed in 1964. The main contractor for the entire project was RCA, short for Radio Corporation of America. The contract was close to 500 million USD initially. They were building enormous radar sites with linked computer systems. There was a total of 12 radars at several sites, Thule being the biggest with 5 of these radars the location was known as the J-Site. Next to the Radars there were jets for interception and NIKE missiles but I will get back to that later.
Gerrit in front of the BMEWS Radars in Thule
In the years that Gerrit worked in Thule (63/64/65) everything was aimed at completing the project as soon as possible in order to guarantee the USA a higher level of safety against the Soviet threat….
As mentioned he worked for RCA in the field service, probably in the role of facility manager (he later had several more of these type of roles in other locations).
Here his address at the time as stated in the postcard also seen at the top of this blog.
And here a folder for new RCA arrivals at the Thule BMEWS project. On the inside he describes the location of his sleeping quarters in spring so this is probably from 1963. The location of the dot on the inside corresponds with the map on the outside.
Thule Air Base – 4683rd Air Defense Wing
Obviously Thule was an Air Base next to the BMEWS radar station. In the period Gerrit lived here (’63/’65) the 4683rd Air Defense Wing was stationed there. This unit was formed in 1960 and discontinued in 1965 so Gerrit witnessed most of its lifetime.
Thule Times of 1964 with the Wing Commander and the Base commander
They flew with the Convair F-102, Delta Dagger as pictured below in Thule.
NIKE Missile base
I am not sure how secret these things were back in that period but Gerrit was always proud of his Security Clearance (he said the highest a civilian could get). I did not see any of the NIKE missile pictures until after he passed away and I received his box of Greenland pictures….
Several pictures of the NIKE Hercules missiles, ready for action…
Next to the Jets and Missiles there were other planes….
People had to be brought, supplies had to be brought so plenty of other planes on the Air Base like these:
DC3 and it’s big brother, a C137 Stratoliner
Or Danish visitors:
And of course the Fire Brigade in case of problems….
And there were helicopters too!
A HH43 – Huskie Helicopter
Prized possessions of an Arctic Traveller
Gerrit lived as a civilian on the Air Base. It seems that in his role he had acces to military supplies and also to the military shop, the so called Base Exchange (BX). A place it seems were also luxury items like Omega watches could be bought or ordered.
Next to the photo’s I have some of his most prized possession of that time, his parka, knife and watch. I will discuss them here as they are quite unique…at least to me!
In most photo’s he can be seen wearing his N3B US Air Force cold weather parka. Next to the Parka I have the matching trousers and a pair of aviators fur lined boots…
He also had a Marbles Jet Pilot survival knife that he kept on using in the Vietnam war. Marbles designed the knife but they did not get the Defense Contract. So probably this is a private purchase from the Base Exchange. In any case it is a rare knife by now.
And here is Gerrit wearing and using the knife! First in his dormitory with the parka on the chair, the knife on the table, used to open a can? And plenty of Kodak films in the drawer…
And here worn on the belt during his trip to Dundas
And my personal favorite, as it can still be used, his Gold Omega Seamaster. Bought January 1963 on the Base Exchange!
Gerrit somehow got the opportunity to make a trip with the local inhabitants, the Inuit or as they often were called in that time Eskimo’s. Today there are companies offering dog sled tours in that area but looking at these photo’s it was not a commercial business yet in the 60s. Dundas mountain is quite near to the Thule site so it appears on many pictures. As the picture below show the trip started from BMEWS itself, four of the five radars can be seen here and of course the dog led sled!
As I have no details on the trip itself from Gerrit it was good te see that on some pictures he made captions of what we can see!
The caption reads: An Eskimo from Dundas with gun and screen for the seal hunt
He mentions one of the dogs by name and says he often took it into his truck
Two photo’s of “locals”, really love these, they could be in a period National Geographic…
Also during his time in Vietnam Gerrit always had good relations with local people. Not being in the military himself probably gave him some more possibilities for this.
The family that took him on the trip?
Dundas from the seaside…
This wildlife booklet must have helped, he studied it well. He brought even some items with him that are no longer here like a Narwal tooth, from the unicorm of the seas…
Life on the base
In the years Gerrit was in Thule the base was still quite new and still being built. It was not a place of luxury but of a very simple life, work, eat, sleep, repeat….
Here some pictures of that simple life in the harsh conditions of the Arctic.
Construction still ongoing!
As on any base there was also a Chapel for the churchgoing part of the staff. And of course Xmas specials on the menu.
Dormitories were quite simple with small rooms. Not sure if private rooms were available to all personnel?
Outside of the dormitory and inside.
Just enough place for a bed, a small table and some personal belongings…
Weather conditions were very harsh, even in spring and summer
Describing weather conditions and leaving his Jeep near the other Barracks for better protection against the snow.
And of course US Mail!
Later after the 1968 accident with a B-52 there was radiation but no idea what the radiation could have been before 1965?
And the ubiquitous sign post found on every base far from the States!
This is a group of documents to Adolph Straub from 1851 who was a Stabs Auditor (Military Judge) in the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia which was in Austrian hands at that moment. Fieldmarshall Count Radetzky was the commander / viceroy of that region from 1848 until his death in 1858.
And on the following page from the ranklist of 1851 we find Straub:
Stabs-Auditor (Military Judge) Adolph Straub was awarded the Iron Crown Order 3rd class in 1851. Officially the number of recipients was limited to 50 in the original statutes but this was no longer the case in 1851 nevertheless it still was a rare order.
Below the formal award document signed by the Minister of War Feldzeugmeister Csorich.
Fieldmarschall Radetzky as commander of Straub also communicated with him regarding the award which leads to the letter below to Straub including the original signature of Radetzky and the use of his personally marked paper (often more generic paper was used in general communications!).
So this group of documents if for an important order but also with some very rare signatures in Austro-Hungarian history.