The Dutch East Indies Army had a long tradition with anti guerilla style combat before the war, especially with the Korps Marechaussee. After the second worldwar this knowledge was enhanced with that of the new Airborne and Commando groups.
A new unit was formed in 1946 the Special Forces Regiment (Depot/Korps/Regiment Speciale Troepen KNIL).
In 1947 also a Para Company was formed (1st Para Company / I Para) which was not part of the Speciale Troepen unit that was only Commando’s at that moment. At the height of the unit it would consist of some 250 men including the staff of the SOP.
In 1948 the Commando’s also would form a Para-Commando Company (2nd Para Company / Para Cie KST) which would consist of around 150 men.
All para’s were trained by the SOP – School Opleiding Parachutisten – Airborne School for the jump qualification.
For the large scale Airborne action called “Operation Crow” (december 1948) these two units would be combined in the Para Battle Group (Para Gevechtsgroep). The total group would consist of some 400 men with Airborne qualifications including the SOP staff that would also participate in the action. The majority of these forces received both Commando and Airborne training.
Although the unit was KNIL it was open to volunteers meeting the criteria including regular draftees of the Expeditionary Forces. For the unity of uniform KNIL ranks would be used for all.
Red and Green Berets in one unit!
The 1st Para Company formed in 1947 would wear the red beret. The commando’s would wear a green beret. When the commando’s started their para training in 1948 they would wear the green beret with the para wing on it after completion of the course. Later as the Para Battle Group all would wear red berets, again for unity of dress.
Some officers received the Green Beret without going through additional training. In most cases this was based on their Marechaussee experience from before the war.
On the green beret the Dutch Lion was worn as with the WW2 Dutch commando’s ( No 2 Dutch Troop No 10 Interallied Commando ). This Lion was normally in metal but KNIL officers could use the KNIL version embroidered in gold with a wreath.
The red beret with the wing was the sign of completion of all Para-Commando (airborne) training and handed out at the end of the course. It was a symbol of achievement that was worn proudly! The “topi merah”.
History of the wing
Version one: In an earlier Dutch article published in Armamentaria, the magazine of the Dutch Military Museum, a short history of the wing was given. Originally it was designed for use as a qualification wing for the Experimental Para Group of the Netherlands East Indies Army in 1941. A batch of these wings in bronze was made but never used it states.
The instructors of the Airborne school (SOP) had their background in either this Korps Insulinde or in the No 2 Dutch Troop No 10 Interallied Commando . When the first airborne training course was completed in june 1947 a choice had to be made which badge was going to be used as the qualification wing.
As the majority of the instructors had a British para qualification wing already and were attached to this a very similar design was chosen.
The batch of wings already made in bronze that was still available now was designated as wing to be worn on the red beret. To behanded out after completing the full airborne training ( so not only jump qualified) which was only by the end of 1947 for the first group.
Version two: The wing was designed only in 1946 by sergeant Kampschuur of the Airborne School together with the badge for that school in an assignment by captain Sisselaar commander of the school. A small batch of the wings was produced in bronze (as this was the colour in use for the aviation wings of the KNIL at that time) in 1946. The wing was designed as a qualification wing. Due to unknown reasons the batch was forgotten and in the meantime the regular (English style) qualification wing had already come into regular use.
With the introduction of the red beret there was a wish for a badge to be worn on this beret. The old batch of wings was relocated and used for this. The first groups would get the bronze wings. Later production was done with the same mold/dye but mainly in brass and a small quantity in silver.
Which history is correct?
In my opinion the 1946 design is the most likely as the dagger seems to be a first pattern FS fighting knife (came into use only in 1940/41 and not yet widespread at that moment) and the pose resembles the silent killing instruction photo’s of the later WWII commando’s.
My hypothesis is that the design was based on the hand with dagger in the Korps Insulinde menu from 1942, pictured below. Korps Insulinde: the unit was officially named “Netherlands Special Operations” a WW2 commando unit that started in August 1942 in Ceylon and was aimed at gathering intelligence against the Japanese.
Captain Sisselaar was one of the members of this unit and the later commander of the Airborne School (SOP) and the new badge was designed for him based on version two of the history.
Device for action jumps
The eyelet below the wreath was soldered on seperately, it was not part of the dye/mold! It was to be used for a device to show combat jumps when it was still a qualification wing is the common understanding. The device (possibly a dagger) was never actually made/used. Nevertheless all three variations had this eyelet soldered on!
This first batch was in bronze in both versions of the history of the wing. This batch was used for the first groups that received the red beret by the end of 1947. When this batch was finished new batches were made using the same dye/mold. Somewhere in the process of making new batches brass was chosen as the material as this could be polished better, a desire of many of the new para’s!
Another variation was made in (low grade / Djokja) silver! Regarding the silver version several stories/opinions are given none can be substantiated so far. For instructors, for people with combat jumps, for officers etc.
The brass version is the most common (probably around 60% of the total made but still rare with only around 400 active paratroopers in those 4 years!). Bronze and silver seem to be equally rare (probably around 20% each).
Some collectors claim the material variations are only unintentional differences in the alloy mix. Just different production batches using a slightly different alloy as available at that moment.
Patination of wings, why?
One of the new insights that came from the Kloër estate is that many if not all of the wings were patinated to a dark colour which was subesquently polished off again in use. It is unclear if this was done as part of the process of completing new wings or was done by the para’s themselves. A reason could be that in the combat jumps they did not want the wing to be shiny (after the drop most para’s ditched their helmet and wore the red beret instead) so they applied the dark patination before the combat jumps and polished off again after. A production variation seems more likely nevertheless.
Below the subtle colour variations that all come from the Kloër estate of period wings. From dark patianted bronze to brass, copper, silver and gilded with some in between colours.
Variatons and strikes
A good overview of all the period variations can be found in the Kloër estate that I described in another blog. All examples below and most above come from that estate (only some of these are in my collection but I was able to handle a large portion of the estate for this blog). As these wings all were taken in at the same time in Indonesia they give a great overview of what was worn and done at that moment in time. It forms a perfect time capsule, made in 1950 before the unit was dissolved and the return to the Netherlands. The time capsule came to light only after his death in 2006 when the family found the bag with wings.
It also seems the quality of either the strikes or the dyes/molds themselves resulted in lower quality of the result over the period of almost four years of production. This is visible in the hand, the wreath and especially the lines of the parachute. The amount of polishing could have an effect too of course!
Further “miss strikes” or poorly finished examples also exist and seem to have been worn also! Remember all these examples were taken back from the men in 1950 as worn to that date.
The example below also shows how the production was done. Firstly the image was impressed on a plate of base material. Secondly the form was stamped out. This example was impressed perfectly in the first stage but the stamping of the form in the second stage went wrong. Probably the plate moved a few mm.
Several unofficial variations/alterations in style of wear are found. One is that the men curved/rounded the wing to follow the form of the baret, another is that the tip of the wings are bent upwards.
Below a version that has been gilded. Probably to get the shiny look without frequent polishing. Again from the Kloër estate so certainly a period item as worn!
A closer study of the period photo’s shown further above also reveal that the eyelet beneath the wing often was already broken off in regular wear. The wings sometimes show other defects too.
Second strike – 1949 or 1950?
The version found often in collections is the later strike, sometimes called the second strike, other times the third strike depending on the source. This version is always in brass, no other versions exist and it is slightly different from the first strike version discussed above.
All clear/high quality period pictures up to 1949 show the first strike examples only. That leads to my hypothesis this later strike is either very late production (1949/50) in Indonesia or production in the Netherlands. This in order to replace missing and broken wings of the first type upon or after the return to the Netherlands. Probably the original dye had been worn out over time as can been seen in the quality of some later first strike examples
Several men in a magazine article can be seen with this later type of wing shortly after their arrival in the Netherlands.
Differences are: Guard of the blade passes the second line of the parachute (counting from left). Blade is longer. Hand is thicker. Arm is shorter. Wreath is more crudely designed. Chute is thicker. Overall the material is thicker than in the first strikes. You can compare both versions below.
Below a photo from 1950s – in the Netherlands with a second/later strike wing being worn. These wings were worn up to 1954/55 within the army.
Return to Holland
Of 800 men of the Regiment Speciale Troepen only around 400 were Airborne qualified. Of the total of 800 men some 400 chose to stay in Indonesia. Around 250 were brought to the Netherlands in the first half of 1950. Around 125 Speciale Troepen participants of the APRA first had to finish their prison sentence before being discharged (dishonorably). Many of these men went to Holland, despite the way they were treated by the government, as it was safer for them and their families.
Version of unknown background
Below another version of which only some examples are known. When it was made and in what quantity is unknown. It is based on the first strike, all examples again are in brass. The back shows that the material appears like it was cast and not struck like the first versions and the 2nd/later strike. All known specimen have the same number in the back so it is not a serial number. This is sometimes called the 2nd strike (and then the version above is the 3rd strike in that case) or the in between strike. Due to the unknown background I personally do not classify it as an original but it might be.
Several poor quality copies and some slightly better copies of these wings exist. These were made in the 1990s in Poland in several variations, all quite easily recognized. Even a variation with a swastika. A comparison with the originals can easily be made, there are more signs to look for so beware! Versions with makers (like Stokes) are all later fakes.
Recently a high quality fake has appeared on the market. It is still possible to recognize it on high res photo’s but not nearly as easy as the Polish fakes that have been around for a long time. In hand it is much easier if you have an original to compare it with.
Most of these fakes are based on the first strike and bronze in color where the most common original version of the first strike is brass (bronze and silver are significantly rarer).
Next to the fakes there are “reunion” versions made for the BOP (union of former parachutists). These were sold to the men who no langer had their original wings. These wings are based on the second/later strike and always in brass. This type is sometimes seen/sold as an original version but these were made in the 1960s up to the 1990s! The eyelet beneath the wreath is not soldered on (as with originals) but it is cast/struck in one piece as an integral part of the badge.
With the originals often the eyelet beneath the wing or on the back are either missing or have been replaced at a later date. To find a complete first strike version has become difficult (with less than 400 para’s of which only about half came to the Netherlands of whom many received new baretwings in the Netherlands)!
After 1950 the Dutch East Indies Army including the Special Forces were disbanded. Veterans continued to wear the beret badge up to july 1955 in the regular Dutch army. With the start of the Korean conflict the Dutch also formed a detachment. The Special Forces veterans were on the top of the list for recruitment. As a result of this many Special Forces beret wings were worn in the Korean conflict!
First photo: Museum Bronbeek, inventarisnummer: 2007/06/04-3/1
Opdracht Sumatra – Het Korps Insulinde – 1942-1946, J.Th. A. de Man, 1987
Westerling’s oorlog. Indonesië 1945-1950, J.A. de Moor, 2000