Kapitein Christoffel was toen hij het KNIL verliet de meest gedecoreerde officier met een unieke combinatie aan onderscheidingen voor dapperheid, zeker voor zijn relatief lage rang. Al tijdens zijn actieve periode was er veel discussie over zijn handelen.
Een goed overzicht van zijn leven is op wikipedia te vinden.
In alle jaren heb ik buiten musea geen items gezien die aan hem toebehoord hebben, zelfs geen handtekening. Dat is totdat ik deze handtekening kreeg, een tweede handtekening ben ik ook nog niet tegengekomen.
Before WW2 there unit badges did not exist in the Netherlands East Indies Army. In the period from the liberation in 1945 until the KNIL was dissolved in 1950 many badges for units (mainly batallions) and other distinctive badges came into use. First these were mainly embroidered but soon they were made of metal with enamel or regular paint. The metal versions were better resistant to the tropical conditions but the paint chipped quite easily. There were several local producers of badges but the most prolific maker was Cordesius en Zonen (and Sons) in Batavia. The regular Dutch (expeditionary) Forces in the Indies used the same type of badges for their units.
Above the badges of the 1st and 9th batallion of the KNIL Infantry. Both badges feature the typical Postal Horn which was the standard shoulder badge of the Infantry in the pre war period.
Badge of the 2nd infantry batallion in metal and a period (unworn, nos) cloth variation of the same badge.
KNIL Batallion 5 (V) – Andjing NICA. The name originally was negative, even a swear word against these soldiers that were mostly pre war KNIL soldiers who, immediately after their release as POW’s of the Japanese, returned into active service in 1945. NICA is the acronym for Netherlands Indies Civil Administation, the first people that returned to the Indies after the liberation. Andjing is the Malayan word for dog. The 5th batallion took it up as their battle name which is represented in the dog’s depiction in the badge.
Metal badge and the cloth version being worn on the picture right. The soldier is wearing the Batallion badge on the right arm and the Brigade (also V) on the left arm.
The head of the dog was also made in pairs for wear on both arms where the dog had to look to the front on both arms!
Badges of the 11th (XI) Infantry Batallion and the generic badge for all KNIL Cavalry units. Batallions X/XI/XII all have a similar badge with a red elephant (gadjah merah) with the Batallion number beneath.
These KNIL batallion badges are all rare today and are even being reproduced, both in metal and cloth. Originals in good condition are getting difficult to find. Some units are more difficult than others and there are many collectors who try to get all units complete. I am trying to complete the KNIL Infantry Batallions in addition to the KNIL Special Forces units.
A great overview of all badges of that period (text in Dutch) can be found here!
For a long time I have been very interested in Japanese applied arts, netsuke, inro and tsuba’s mainly. Although I stopped collecting such items actively I still bought these 4 items from a friend.
The provenance wat too interesting to let them pass by. The friends grandfather was Professor Dr. C.C. Krieger. He collected these items in the first half of the 20th century when he was the Conservator for the Department of Japan, China and mainland Asia in what today is the Ethnographical Museum (Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde) in Leiden. He held this position from 1927 up to his retirement in 1949.
In 1935 he promoted to PhD in the Japanese language and the same year he became professor in the same subject at the Utrecht University. In 1947 he was promoted to special professor (bijzonder hoogleraar) in the art and history of the Far East including the Japanese language, a position which he held upon his final retirement in 1954, aged 70.
Dunhill-Namiki fountain pen
About 20 years before I had already received his fountain pen as a gift for my collection. Being a specialist in the Japanese language and art he obviously wrote with a luxurious Japanese lacquer pen. It was a Dunhill-Namiki, a cooperation between the famous London retailer of smoking utensils Dunhill and the Japanese pen company of Namiki (the current Pilot). These Namiki pens are famous for the lacquer (maki-e) of high quality and also were made by famous artists. Dunhill retailed them in the Western world. In this case the pen was used intensively. It is a rare pen as a size 20 (the biggest they made apart from the jumbo size 50) in a period that watches and pens were still small in general. A very appreciated gift and still one of my favorites!
His extensive collection of Japanese art was divided between his 3 children, amongst which the mother of my friend. She held on to the inheritance and after her death her two daughters inherited the collection and I was happy to gain these 4 objects from his original collection.
Two netsuke, toggles for the inro. One a relatively crude depiction of a foreigner and the other a depiction of a famous Japanese tale.
The other two items are tsuba or handguards for the Japanese swords. In this case foreign imported items most probably and adapted for Japanese use. In Japan these are called nanban. If the professor had a special interest in Japanese items with a different origin or depiction of foreigners is not known. Below a short description I received regarding these tsuba.
Martial arts meet the decorative arts. The round guard looks Chinese, Ming in style, but possibly a later revival piece. Note the voal delinaeation of the washer-seat on one side, which on the opposite side is rectangular. More study is required to determine the date of manufacture.
The octagonal one may be Korean. In both cases, these guards have been adapted to Japanese use. Unfortunately, the addition of hitsu-ana has defaced the original design. The condition appears to be outstanding.
Damascened guards do no fare so well under heavy use. Neither of these guards seem to have been worn “in the field”. Both were well cared-for by previous owners. Their preservation today is thanks to the uniquely Japanese culture of appreciating sword-parts as works of art in their own right.
Dr.Krieger and the War against the Japanese
Even though the items are not military in essence there is a small link to a military history due to the person of the original owner!
In the 1930s Japanese influence in Asia was expanding and felt threatening for most Western powers in the region. The Dutch with their presence in the Dutch East Indies were part of this fear. The actual extend of the threat would finally become clear with the start of the war against the Japanese from Pearl Harbour onwards.
In these 1930s the Dutch Military Intelligence already worked on breaking the codes the Japanese used for their international communications. What I was not aware of when I started this blog is that Dr. Krieger actually was part of this effort!
A collecting friend has several items in his collection that relate to this subject and he brought this fact to my attention. It is even mentioned in the book by Robert Haslach about the subject. The dutch Naval officer Nuboer asked for the help of Krieger (also a former Naval officer!) in his effort in breaking the Japanese codes in 1934. Nuboer would eventually be successful in his efforts! You can read some more about him here.
The friend has in his private collection a Naval uniform of Nuboer and a tropical suit that belonged to Krieger. Here some pictures of the Nuboer uniform.
How Nuboer and Krieger came into contact is not yet clear and subject of further research I want to do. What is clear that the help of a former Naval officer with extensive knowledge of the Japanese and their language was valuable to the Dutch Forces.
This was formalized in 1937. Henri Koot, the head of military intelligence requested his official help. Krieger would become, next to his job as Curator of the Asian department of the Leiden Ethnographical Museum, member of the General Staff of the Army in The Hague. His work would only end after the German occupation in 1940. Due to the secrecy of the job and the subsequent war little is known about this period but it will also be subject of further research!
In my earlier blog I already described the status weapons of the Aceh and Gayo regions of Sumatra to some extend. Here I want to show some detailed photo’s of the quality of workmanship in these status weapons! Remember the golden crowns are rare, maybe only 1 in a 100 examples have these….
Aceh rencong with golden crowns
An overview of 4 rencong, probably all 19th century pieces with the original sheaths on three of them. Short description from left to right and top to bottom:
Handle is made of “white” buffalo horn as opposed to the more common dark horn. Enamel of the crowns is of very high quality.
Handle made of Akar Bahar, root of the sea, which is very brittle and probably the rarest handle material. The back part therefore also of gold with a diamond (inten) on top. A very high status item.
Handle of dark horn and smooth as opposed to the first and last handle. Top of the metal also has very nice gold inlays.
Dark buffalo handle and the biggest size rencong of these four with some old battle damage and likely the oldest of these.
Note that the bottom two crowns have a very high quality of enamel and the top two ones hardly have any enamel.
Gayo status rencong with silver and (marine) ivory
In the Gayo region the use of silver was more common on status pieces. Also the use of marine ivory (dandan) was quite common. Also the first metal part often has an overlay in copper or suassa.
The first has an unusual size, the longest of all seven rencong in this blog. Also the combination of ivory, silver crowns and suassa overlay is remarkable. Probably of ritual meaning or very high status.
The second is a more standard Gayo status rencong with brass overlay and only ivory on the handle. Both have the typical blood groove that is more or less standard on Gayo made pieces.
The third seems to be a Aceh made piece for the Gayo region. The use of a full silver handle with suassa details and the sheath hint at Gayo use but the quality of workmanship hint at Aceh. An interesting cross cultural rencong.
Input and help in determining age and details of these rencong is more than welcome, please contact me with additional info!
It is not so often that you find a still life with Dutch medals on it, let alone colonial medals. As it directly fits my Dutch East Indies medal collection I was quite happy when I was able to acquire this painting by the Dutch Artist P.C. Kramer.
Kramer is a relatively well known painter and his work is shown in several Dutch museums. . He lived between 1879 and 1940 in Delft. The painting discussed in the blog below also hints at a background related to the Dutch East indies, like the medals in my painting.
The Citadel Medal for the siege of Antwerp in the left corner is a bit unexpected next to the Expedition Cross.
It looks like the painter was not an expert in medals as they are shown in the wrong order in the top row, the Atjeh medal is upside down and the bottom row is a very unlikely combination. Combining this with his year of birth they were possibly family heirlooms.
Jan Hoynck van Papendrecht (1858-1933, HvP in short) was a well known Dutch artist who is remembered mostly for his works of art in relation to military themes. So his works have the interest of both art museums and collectors and military museums and collectors of military artifacts. More about his life and work can be found here: http://hoynck-van-papendrecht.nl/
I have two works of art from his hand in my collection. At first I was not able to get the story behind one of these picture here but fortunately Jacques Bartels of the website above and author of the biography of HvP was able to help.
The drawing is actually an illustration from the book “My lady nobody” by Maarten Maartens a Dutch writer who wrote in English so was actually not very well known in the Netherlands as a result of that. More about him and his works can be found here: http://maartenmaartens.nl/
The illustration is of the to main characters of the book Ursula and Gerard Baron van Helmont who is an officer in the Dutch East Indies and recently returned home after being wounded in Aceh. For his action he was knighted with the prestigious Military Order of William which can be seen on his chest.
Below the illustration as it appeared in the book.
“‘I AM COME TO MAKE CONFESSION AND THEN TO LEAVE YOU’”
And the actual drawing as it looks today:
Where HvP is known for his use of colour in his water colours in this case the use is minimal as it was to be printed in black and white. But his signature quality is there in abundance in this really nice work by him!
This is a translated/short version of an article I published in Wapenfeiten in Dutch in 2011!
One of my long standing collecting interests is the “Atjeh oorlog” or in English the Aceh war which lasted from 1873 (first Aceh war) to roughly 1941 (Japanese invasion of the Dutch East Indies). My main interest on the Dutch side are the medals and orders and related paperwork of the Royal Dutch East Indies Army, abbreviated as KNIL in Dutch.
Many books have been written about this war so I will not discuss the war and its backgrounds here. Instead I will discuss some status weapons and related etnographic items in his article both from the Aceh and Gayo region on Sumatra, Indonesia.
In three pictures I have tried to show the most important types of status weapons and some related contextual items.
Most of these status weapons were made before 1873 as during the war and following periods much more practical versions were made and after the 19th century production practically stopped altogether because wearing such weapons was prohibited by the Dutch colonial rulers.
On the picture above you can see two daggers of the “rentjong” or rencong type and two swords of the sikin type, The rencong and sikin can be considered the “national” weapons of the Aceh region. Of these weapons many examples can be found in Dutch collections, both private and museum. The long lasting war in that region brought a continued influx of Dutch soldiers many of whom collected local weapons and brought them home after their overseas military time.
The two sikin swords are both of the straight, panjang, type with the most common type of handle, the hulu tumpang made of buffalo horn. In this case the somewhat less found light colour of horn is used. What makes them rare and status pieces are the “crowns” between handle and blade which are made of high grade gold and embellished with enamel decorations. The use of crowns and gold in general on weapons was reserved for nobility and local leadership, including religious (Islamic) leadership. On the top you can see a double crown with a rounded top (glupa type) and on the bottom version had a triple crown with a pointed top (puco type). The wooden traditional sheath of the sikin has been inscribed with a text that translates into “This sikin belongs to Teungkoe Jat…?” The title of Teungkoe is used for Aceh nobility.
Both rencong daggers have the typical hooked handle that is called hulu meucangge. The bottom version is again made of horn but the one on top has a handle made of black coral, akar bahar, which is rare and prone to breakage.
All weapons are laid down on a typical Aceh rattan shield called peurisse.
In the photo above you can see two more sikin in the bottom part but also a different type of sword: the peudeung. This specific variation of that sword could only be used by noble men that were close to the Sultan of Aceh and is quite rare. It can be distinguished from more common versions by two features. Firstly the full metal handle is covered by woven silver, called “kabat”. Secondly the top is covered by high grade gold (another crown variation) with enamel and even rough, uncut diamonds (inten). This type of peudeung was mainly used as a symbol of status and is quite unpractical as a weapon. Also the size is very large where the Aceh men were quite small in that time.
This example comes from the (late) Jenssen collection (well known for his Krisdisk).
On the 3rd picture some material from the Gayo region that was related to Aceh but had some distinctive differences. Most material of that region was collected during the bloody 1904 expedition led by Lieutenant-Colonel Van Daalen.
What distinguishes the Gayo status pieces from that of the Aceh region is the use of silver for the crowns and suassa (gold with copper) for decorations which in Aceh was not used on sikin and rencong. The rencong on the right top has a handle made of marine ivory (dandan) and is exceptionally large, probably for ceremonial use. The bottom right rencong is totally covered by silver (similar types exist in Aceh but than in gold), embellished with enamel and some added decorations in suassa. Such pieces are very rare.
In some future blogs I want to discuss and photograph some of these pieces in more detail.
Traditional Weapons of the Indonesian Archipelago, Albert G. van Zonneveld, Leiden 2001
Rentjongs, G. Bisseling en P. Vermeieren, Antwerpen 1988
Catalogus van ’s Rijks Ethnographisch Museum, Deel VI – Atjeh, Gajo- en Alaslanden, H.W. Fischer, Leiden 1912
Atjeh, J. Kreemer, Leiden 1922
De Inlandsche kunstnijverheid in Nederlandsch Indië, Deel V – de bewerking van niet edele-metalen, J.E. Jasper en Mas Pirngadie, ’s Gravenhage 1930
A few years ago I found this Dutch Flying Cross award paper which became the start of an interesting quest into the historical background and the person behind the award.
The result of this quest was published in Decorare, the magazine of the Dutch Order & Medal Society but here is a somewhat shorter version in English for the international audience.
The award was made to Jan Harkema, born in Velp, June 5th, 1916. In the ‘40s he was working as “coxswain” on a ship for the Koninklijke Pakketvaart Maatschappij (KPM), the company responsible for most of the sea transport to and within the Netharlands East Indies. He also was a reserve officer in the Royal Navy Reserve. In that capacity he was navigator and commander of a “flying boat”. About the man himself nothing more could be found, no picture, no family, not one trace but based on the document of the award I have been able to reconstruct some details of the activities for which he was awarded the Flying Cross.
Naval Air Force (MLD) in the Dutch East-Indies
In 1942 on the onset of the war with the Japanese in the Dutch East-Indies the MLD was active with almost 60 Flying Boats of the types Dornier Do 24K and the Consolidated PBY Catalina. These flying boats had a crew of 6 of which one was the commander, either a pilot or navigator (depending on rank of the pilot whom often also was the navigator).
The flying boats were divided in groups of 3 of the same type (in short GVT, for Groep VliegTuigen) followed by a number, in the case of Harkema GVT8. Crews could change flying boats based on maintenance or issues but would fly the same one on most occasions. Also the flying boats were individually numbered, where the Catalina’s would have a Y as prefix and the Dorniers an X for Lt. Harkema the X-16, a Dornier.
The Dutch Flying Cross, Vliegerkruis, equivalent to the DFC/DFM
The Flying Cross was established in 1941 and could be awarded to all ranks unlike its English counterpart. Up to date it has been awarded only 767 times and with some corrections for mistakes and multiple awards it was awarded to a total of 702 people in total. One person received the Flying Cross 3 times, 31 people received it twice. Up to 1946 it could not be awarded posthumously which is interesting in this case. In 1946 the criteria changed and a total of 68 crosses would be awarded posthumously.
By Royal Decree
The Dutch bravery medals of which this is one are always awarded by Royal Decree, in this case Decree number 2 of March 21st 1944 with the following text:
“as a very young navigator – flying boat commander of our Naval Air Force in the Dutch East Indies he has shown courage and perseverance in the performance of many reconnaissance and convoy flights during the extend of the war for and in the Dutch Indies and more specifically for the saving of survivors of the sunk steamship ‘Sloet van de Beele’ and our destroyer ‘Van Nes’, further the participation in the possible destruction of an enemy transport ship near Muntok on February 24th 1942, on which flight the plane was shot down by enemy fighters, but he was able to save his crew and himself on the island ‘Noordwachter’.
In war with the Japanese
The above actions took place during the Japanese attack on the Dutch East Indies. Lt. Harkema and his crew were involved from the start in the mentioned reconnaissance flights and flights in defense of ship convoys but they also flew many evacuations of civilians from Borneo to the relative safety of Java. This information and more was taken from a report of the commander of GVT8 in that period, W. Aernout that I found in the archives of the NIMH (Dutch Institute for Military History)
The destroyer HMS Van Nes was sent to the island of Billiton on February 16th 1942 to meet the transport ship SS Sloet van Beele there which had been tasked with the evacuation of Dutch military personnel and civilians to Java.
Both ships arrived roughly the same time in the harbor of Tandjong Pandan on feb 17th. After the loading of 400 people on the SS Sloet van Beele they started their journey to Java but only half an hour later a Japanese plane was spotted. The Dutch opened fire but were not able to destroy the plane. In the early afternoon two groups of 10 Japanese bombers each were spotted. They started bombing the slow transport ship first which sunk in less than 5 minutes leaving only 5 rescue boats and a total of 203 people alive, 249 people are believed to have died in the attack but no exact list survived. After this the Japanese bombers concentrated on the Dutch destroyer that was able to withstand the attacks for some time but ultimately also sank and 68 of the crew of 143 people lost their lives.
The location of the survivors was found by a patrol of flying boats and the rescue operation lasted several days to locate and transport all of the survivors. The crew of Lt. Harkema transported 55 people to safety during this operation!
Several days later in the night of 24/25th of February 1942 the two aircraft of GVT8 that were still able to fly, the X-17 and X-18 went on a night bombing mission near Muntok. The X-16 of which Lt. Harkema was commander was not able to fly so he went with the X-18 as an additional navigator for the bombing raid. After successfully bombing a Japanese transport ship they wanted to return to their base but where both shot down by Japanese Zero fighters.
The X-18 crew was fortunate as they were able to land on the water before the plane caught fire. So with their life jackets but without the rescue boat, which had been riddled by Japanese bullets they could swim to the nearby, uninhabited, island Noordwachter. From there they were rescued by the minesweeper HMS Djombang shortly after.
A passing Catalina made a picture of the wreck of the X-17 but the crew was never found.
On March 2nd the remaining flying boats evacuated to Broome Australia. But Lt. Harkema no longer had a Flying Boat and only pilots were added to the crews of the remaining flying boats. His commander Aernout, pilot and author of the report did. Lt. Harkema would be evacuated on the MS Poelau Bras. That ship was planned to evacuate more than 100 high ranking Navy officers and many civilians of importance to Australia on March 6th. That ship had only had place for 56 passengers so it was heavily overcrowded. On March 7th a Japanese reconnaissance plane found the ship, several hours later a group of 12 bombers followed and attacked the ship that after an intense resistance fight sunk nevertheless. The total amount of casualties remains unclear but is estimated at 200 and 116 survivors. Lt. Harkema was amongst the casualties. The survivors ended up in Japanese POW camps where even more would perish during the course of the war.
As the casualties only had a seaman’s grave the only place where the name of Lt. Harkema can be found today is on a Naval Air Force remembrance plaque in the Dutch military cemetery Kembang Kuning in Surabaya Indonesia.
In 1944 he was awarded the Flying Cross, which could not be awarded posthumously yet. The text is also in such a way that it is clear the awarding committee was not aware he had already died in the period after the actions for which he received the award. In 1946 his family received the Royal Decree which they had framed.
I have not been able to find a picture of him nor living relatives but he has not been forgotten!
With this article I want to honor and remember Jan Harkema, a brave young officer of the Royal Dutch Naval Airforce, Rest in Peace.
This is the story behind a gallantry medal that was not awarded and the one that was awarded for the actions of W. F. Anceaux during the German invasion of the Netherlands in May 1940.
Earlier life of Lieutenant (Reserve) Anceaux
Willem Frederik Anceaux was born in Rotterdam on the 27th of November, 1912. In 1933 he was commisioned as an infantry 2nd Lieutenant in the reserve. Shortly after which he transferred to Military Aviation (Militaire Luchtvaart Afdeling). He received his military pilots license in 1935 after which he continued his flying career as a civilian for the KLM (Royal Dutch Airline). He made several flights as a co-pilot to the Netherlands East Indies and he flew as pilot on European flights.
Koos Abspoel was one of the pilots with whom he flew with the KLM to Indonesia. He was also the commander of the Bomber unit in which Anceaux flew. He got married in 1939 to Antje Pieters. During the mobilisation they lived as neighbours to Abspoel so there must have been a close relation between them.
The actions in May 1940
During the German invasion of the Netherlands in 1940 he flew as a co-pilot on Fokker T-5 bombers. By May 13th his bomber was the only one left operational. Most had been shot down in the earlier days of the invasion or were otherwise unfunctional.
That day, the order was received to place unusually large 300kg bombs on the plane and in order to do so lose all unnecessary equipment. They received the assignment to bomb the Moerdijkbridge that was being held by German paratroopers in order to slow down the further German invasion.
The T-5 number 856 was originally flown by first pilot Ruygrok and co-pilot Anceaux. Last minute Ruygrok was replaced by Swagerman on the request of Swagerman and with permission of their commanding officer. Swagerman was unmarried where Ruygrok was married. Knowing the faith of all other bombers and the importance of the mission this is a very gallant and remarkable offer of Swagerman which was only taken by Ruygrok after a heated discussion and with the gentle persuasion of the CO.
The raid was not succesful, the first drop missed the target by 50 meters, on the second run the bomb hits the target but does not explode, probably the timer of the fuse had a problem. By this time the bomber has been found by German fighters, ME109s that split into three groups. The third group of the German fighters attacks the bomber from behind and hits them with several grenades. The bomber can no longer be controlled and crashes in a field near Ridderkerk killing all members of the crew.
A short animated movie about this flight has been made and can be seen on youtube.
General Carstens and the Mention in Despatches
During the invasion General Carstens was the commander of the first Army Corps. After the surrender to the Germans he became head of a temporary department overseeing all activities having to do with the surrendered army.
In that capacity he wrote a number of letters to families of men who died during the invasion commending them for the gallantry of their specific actions in May 1940. In this specific letter he states that he will forward their names for a Mention in Despatches as soon as the circumstances (so not during the occupation) allow for this.
The letter below can be seen as an somewhat unofficial recommendation / award for gallantry to Anceaux and aimed at the families that just had lost a familiy member and the shortlived war.
Carstens himself could notforward the recommendation after the liberation. In 1942 his status is changed and he becomes a POW and he will die in a camp in april 1945.
Vliegerkruis – (Distinguished Flying Cross) 1946
Anceaux will recieve a Vliegerkruis posthumously in 1946 shortly after the regulations have been changed to make such awards possible. A total of 68 of the 767 awards are posthumously.
If the letter of Carstens has anything to do with this award is not known.
The commanding officer of the bomber Swagerman is awarded the Military Order of William 4th class, one of the few awarded for the 2nd Worldwar and fitting for him volunteering for a mission of which it was clear there were only few chances of survival taking the place of another officer with children.
None of the other members of the crew received gallantry awards for their actions!
Award citation for the Vliegerkruis of Anceaux: “Has distinguished himself by deeds of initiative, courage and perseverance during flights between the 10th and 13th of May as pilot of the last surviving bomber, only defended by two fighters, under attack of enemy fighters to complete a bombing raid on the Moerdijkbridge with much courage, was killed in action during this raid.”
A small monument has been errected near the Moerdijk bridge to commemorate the actions of this flight crew:
Coloured photo. The photo shown above has been craftfully digitally enhanced with colour. It is almost unbelievable how a person comes to life after a black and white picture has been coloured. It looks like a present day young man in the bloom of his life wearing an old style uniform.
This is adapted and translated version of an article I published in Decorare in 2011
What is this photo?
After finding the photo that is the theme of this blog I saw myself confronted with something impossible. Dutch military officers among a group of Austro-Hungarian soldiers, so probably on the eastern front in the first World War?
As you may know the Netherlands were a neutral country during the first worldwar (and they tried, unsuccesfully, to do the same in the second world war – but that is a different story). Surrounded by warring countries the war had a great impact on the Netherlands but there was no military participation of any kind so the big question that arised is: what is the story of this photo?
The photo had a Hungarian text on the back that helped to shed some light on this. It can be translated as follows: Dutch officers visiting Lieutenant Colonel Safrán. So the Dutch are not participating but visiting the front and we know whom they were visiting, a good starting points for further research.
Like most countries the Austro-Hungarian army also published rank lists with information on officers, these are a great source of information. During peacetime the lists (thick books) are almost perfect but during war time with rapid promotions, casulaties and all kinds of unregular changes they become less and less trustwothy. Nevertheless I could find (with the help of some research friends) that he was promoted to full Colonel in November 1917. So the photo must be from before that date. Another clue is the uniform the Dutch officers are wearing – it was only introduced in 1916 so the period is between 1916 and the end of 1917.
Study tours to the frontlines
Why would Dutch neutral officers visit the front of a war they are not part of? Well the First Worldwar changed the face of warfare in a shocking way. A neutral country could not learn from their own experience what this impact was. The only way to learn is by studying the experiences of others. So in that direction goes the second part of the research. There is only one publication on this subject written by Sven Maaskant. He states that between 1914 and 1920 approximately 60 tours were made by Dutch officers to study the effects of the war and the impact for the Dutch armed forces. After some research I succeed in contacting Maaskant and mail him a copy of the photo. He instantly recognized one of the Dutch officers. It is Lieutenant-Colonel T.F.J. Muller Massis who was the Dutch military aide to the Dutch embassies in Germany and Vienna between 1916 and 1920.
With that information he also can determine the specific trip out of the 60. Only one trip fits the participants, timeframe and location. It is a study tour to the Austro-Hungarian front that was made between June 25th and July 31st 1917. The four participants were: Colonel D.G. van der Voort Maarschalk, Lieutenant-Colonels T.F.J. Muller Massis and E.M. Carpentier Alting and Captain W.J. van Breen.
Carpentier Alting, an officer of the Dutch East Indies army is not in this picture, did he make it or was there another reason for his absence? The tour would have been organized by Muller Massis in his capacity of military aide in Berlin and Vienna. An officer that would raise to the rank of General and commander of the Dutch field army from 1922 until his pension in 1928 after which he would become a member of parliament untill 1948.
In 1933 Muller Massis donated a collection of helmets and gasmasks of different countries that participated in the war to the Dutch National Military Museum. He wrote about this: “The object were picked up by me during the visits I made to the battlefields. Further I still have the German gasmaks that was supplied to me in my function as military aide in Germany and that I wore on several fronts.” The donation also held his collection of Austro-Hungarian distinctives. These are the so called “Kappenabzeichen”, unofficial badges worn on the military caps by Austro-Hungarian troops which he collected during these trips. On the picture in question can be seen that the 3 Dutch officers al wear such insignia on the left breast of their uniform.
What is the unit in the photo?
Some research on the Hungarian officer in the pictures gives the specific unit, the 10th Honved (Hungarian territorial army) Infantry Regiment (HIR) which was part of the 39th Honved Infantry Division which is confirmed by a “Kappenabzeichen” on the breast of one of the Dutch officers which is of this division.
Wy this unit?
In March 1917 the 39th HID waged a very signifact battle against Russian troops on the realively new Rumanian front in which the 10th HIR of which Safrán was the commander played an important role. The entire unit was used as Stormtroops. The use of Stormtroops was a new military development of the Germans that was quickly adopted by their Austro-Hungarian allies. These troops were used mainly to force breaktroughs in the stallmate of trenchwarfare and new tactics and weapons were deployed by them. They were the first to get handgrenades and machine guns but also helmets and gasmasks which were not widely spread yet with the Austro-Hungarian army. They can be seen as an early variation of Special Forces within the army, receiving addtional training and equipment in comparison with the regular infantry.
The entire action of the 39th division would literally become a textbook example for the Hungarian (Ludovika) officers academy of a Stormtroop attack. In the fight for Hill 1504 (Magyaros near the Uz river) there were hardly any Austro-Hungarian casulaties but the Russians sufferend hundreds of casulaties and a multitude of were taken as Prisoners of War. A good reason for a visit of Dutch officers to learn from this example attack only a few months later especially a good promotion for the Austro-Hungarian army that struggled with its performance in other places.
From hypothesis to proof
The Dutch Institute for Military History has the archive of Muller Massis that also contains his (formerly SECRET) report from September 1917 on the “Commission sent to visit the Austro-Hungarian fronts”. It is a sort of diary of the trip with several appendices on specific military themes. In his reports he also describes how they received “Kappenabzeichen” as gifts. Here some translations relevant to this article:
“July 3rd. With this regiment we learned for the first time about regimental and other insignia which were attached to the headwear. As momento of our visit to the von Hindenburg regiment we each received a similar badge with a in white metal portrait of the “Inhaber” or owner surrounded by a wreath of laurels and a ribbon in enemal with the years 1914, 1915 and 1916 and the words v.hindenburg K.u.K. Inf. Reg. Nr. 69.”
That same badge is depicted below and is still part of the collection of the Dutch National Military Museum today.
The report also confirms date and location of the photo.
“July 7th. Guided by several officers we visited the first line of defense of the 10th Honved regiment, wich line was a very short distance away from the enemy line. Here also the hostilites had not commenced again which even made it possible to get in front of the trenches. After visiting some trenches of neighbouring 9th Honved regiment, we walked down to the customs office The starting point of a forresttrain (waldbahn) to Rumania. from here we went back to the headquarters of the 39th division.”
Without the mentioning of Safrán in the text we can date the picture to July 7th 1917. Most information was already completed when the confirmation in the form of the original report was found. This shows that with thorough research it is possible to determine much valuable information.
In order to do this I had help from several other researchers, many thanks to my friends in making this article possible!