Hans Ulrich (Boy) Kloër was a Sergeant Major Intructor for the Netherlands East Indies Army Special Forces Airborne School (SOP) and served as a commando before that within the Korps Speciale Troepen (KST).
All personell of the School for Airborne Training (SOP – School Opleiding voor Parachutisten) also were active in the large scale operations of the Special Forces and most importantly directly involved in the three combat jumps that were made by the Airborne Troops.
and after the jump….
As an Airborne School (SOP) Sergeant Major Instructor he was in charge of the beret wings and he was one of the last SOP staff members in Indonesia. He took in surplus wings in 1950 from indigenous troops who did not want to go to the Netherlands after the colonial army was disbanded.
The para’s who remained in Indonesia had to hand over all their surplus materials, uniforms and badges. He kept these wings during all his life, never touching them again untill he passed away in 2006.
From his estate several wings have come to the market and I have been able to buy some of these for my collection. You can see all three period (silver, bronze and brass) variations of of the first model wings but in different conditions. Some have been higly polished during a longer period of time, others are bend to slightly curve in the form of the beret or have period repairs and some are still in great and complete condition.
The unique provenance of these wings make them very interesting to the collector as these are all worn originals from the active period in the Dutch East Indies and give a perfect overview of what was in use at that moment. It is a time capsule!
Kloër was decorated for his role in these combat jumps with the Bronze Lion, the second highest decoration for Gallantry in the Netherlands! Between 1944 and 1963 only 1211 were awarded and more recently for actions in Afghanistan is has been awarded a few times again.
Awarded by Royal Decree No 25 of December 9th 1949:
Has distinguished himself by very brave and faithful service in the face of the enemy.
After having distinguished himself by his cool and brave performance as Commander of a group Airborne Troops on December 19th 1948 by, after having landed on the Magoewo Airfield (Djokjakarta), breaking the enemy resistance and capturing a large quantity of arms and ammunition, after which on December 29th 1948 and January 5th 1949 again participated in an exemplary manner during the capture of the oilfields of Tempino (Djambi) and Rengat.
Due to his brave and resolute performance the drill towers and pumping stations fell into the hands of the Airborne Troops unharmed, although a large and fanatic group of enemies tried to prevent this. Singlehandedly Kloër disarmed the explosives on several of the drill towers. In less than 3 hours 108 drill towers in a range of 1 to 2 kms and also stations for pumps, radio and electricity were saved from destruction and fire and the city cleansed from hostile elements.
Again after the landing on Rengat he showed himself as a brave and persistent leader, who, after breaking the enemy resistance with his Airborne Troops, capturing the electricity plant and without hesitation by himself extinguish the already lit fuses of bombs just in time before exploding.
Many thanks to the family for allowing me to use these photo’s! All materials apart from the wings are still part of the family estate.
Source: Erik Müller, 1944-2016 De Bronzen Leeuw. Voor bijzonder moedige en beleidvolle daden
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 units in which Dutch had fought in WW2.
A new unit was formed in 1946 the Special Forces Regiment (Depot/Korps/Regiment Speciale Troepen KNIL).
In 1947 also a Para-Commando Company was formed (1st Para Company / I Para) which was not part of the Speciale Troepen unit that consisted of non airborne trained Commando’s at that moment.
The para’s were trained by the SOP – School Opleiding Parachutisten – Airborne School for the jump qualification but also the commando training as the para’s were double qualified.
At the height of the unit it would consist of some 250 men including the staff of the Airborne School (SOP).
Badge used by the Para School (SOP), worn by staff and trainees alike.
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.
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. 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 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”.
This is an example of the 3 piece baret from the Lt. Castelein estate that seems to be unworn. The fit of the 3 piece barets was less than that of the later 1 piece versions that therefore were more populair when they became available.
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.
History of the wings
The qualification wing would be loosely based on the British (Indian) version that was used already by several members of the staff. Like most badges both cloth and metal versions would be used.
The beretwing 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. It was designed in the style of the pre war aviation qualification badges. 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 (British style) qualification wing had already come into regular use.
With the introduction of the red beret there was a wish for a specific para badge to be worn on this beret in place of the regular Dutch lion that was used previously. The old batch of “qualification” wings was 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.
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 or a star) was never actually made/used. Nevertheless all variations used in the existence of the unit 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 which does seem likely.
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 made 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!
Even though my focus is on the para wings of the KNIL a small collection of aviation wings is also part of my collection
Today I will describe the few wings of the Airforce (ML KNIL) from my current collection:
Pilot and Navigator wings
The aviator and navigator wing for the ML KNIL were introduced in 1922 as two seperate wings. From 1932 a combination was made. The basic wing of the aviator now could be combined with that of the navigator by adding the W (waarnemer = navigator) to the pilot wing as most pilots would have the double qualification and no longer needed two wings to show this. The seperate wings for single qualification would stay in use but are relatively rare.
These models of wings for crew members were introduced in 1940/41. At that moment there was still peace in the Dutch East Indies but the war in the Netherlands already was lost. Wings were produced locally. These all have a dark (bronze) colour and no makers name. These wings are solid (so not impressed on the back).
This changed after the Indies were lost to the Japanese in 1942. All forces and planes evacuated to Australia as far as possible. Troops left behind ended up as Prisoners of War with the Japanese invaders. During the remainder of the war the operations in the pacific were continued from Australia. The education of new pilots and aviation crews for the Dutch East Indies Army was mostly done in the USA. This had as a result that wings were produced in both the USA and Australia.
Branch distinctive in the form of a propellor
These were worn on the shoulder boards and on the rank insignia for all ranks as a branch distinctive. In the photo 5 variations. Top by Stokes, left first two by Luke and the others are unmarked and maybe prewar.
Unsigned, local version
The Mechanic and Gunner Wings shown here are of the variation made in the Dutch East Indies and does not have a makers mark. These were made in 1941 according to Rob Vis. As mentioned before the colour is dark (bronze) and it has a simple closure. Compared with the Stokes versions this one has a flat reverse. These are stamped (not cast as many of the copies) and partially sawed out by hand which makes that the form is not always 100% sharp/well done. The quality cannot be compared with the Australian and US made wings.
In the USA one maker was used, Amico. In Australia two makers were used KG Luke and Stokes. All makers have slight differences in the feathers of the wings. Colour is the easiest distinction between the USA and Australian versions. Amico used the dark bronze colour that was also the standard before the war. In Australia the colour (and material?) was brass. Most wings produced after 1941 are also marked by the maker but not all.
The Bomber and Radio Operator wings above were made by Stokes but are from different batches. The Bomber is a rare variation with the pre-war style closure (3 hooks placed on the back) where the Radio Operator had a pin as shown. According to Rob Vis (the foremost Dutch Wing Collector) in 1942 when the KNIL had to evacuate to Australia a rush order was placed for some types of wings and these were ordered with the old (then standard) style closure. Later production batches all had the regular pin backs. The bomber is in general quire rare as post 1945 these were no longer produced. The bombers were used as strafers in Indonesia so bomb aimers were no longer trained.
K.C. Luke was the second Australian maker of ML KNIL badges as in this example. The propellors were the generic sign for Aviation within the army both for KNIL and the Dutch army. They were worn next to the rank. The typical closure for Luke as seen here was also used on the wings they made.
Below the reverse of an Aviator combined with Navigator (W for Waarnemer) wing made by Amico in the USA. Note the different style of wing/feathers and the darker colour despite being polished to shine in the past...
As all of the ML KNIL wings are relatively rare reproductions have been made to fool collectors so please study before buying! According to Mr. Vis reproductions of the Stokes early batch type of wing also exist but are of lower quality. The same goes for regular Stokes, Amico and Luke wings. Most reproductions show differences if you can directly compare them to an original in hand. In photo’s it can be difficult so please act carefully! Many copies are of cast material and lose a lot of quality compared to the originals that were struck!
Each wing would be accompanied by a qualification (brevet) booklet. The pre war version was black with on the front the wing involved. Here is a wartime/postwar example for the Aviator/Navigator Samson.
US Navy Wing to Dutch Naval Aviator (started in the Dutch East Indies)
I will give more background on this wing in a dedicated blog but here is short version. There was a group of Naval Aviators (Reserve Officers, AROV) that started their training in 1941 in the Dutch East Indies. They would complete their training in the US in 1943. This wing belonged to an Aviator from that group!
In the period from 1947 up to 1950 there was a aerial photography unit in the East Indies active. This was the only unit that used an American Style larger size patch for use on the front of the jackets. They also had a specific wing which I do not have yet in my collection.
The photo’s below come from the excellent website www.hetdepot.com showing a similar badge being worn and one displayed in the background.
More reading can be done in Tristan Broos his book Het Koninklijk Nederlands-Indisch leger (Geschiedenis, uniformering en uitrustingen 1911-1942)
Thanks to Rob Vis for his knowledge and input.
A great overview of all ML KNIL wings can be found here.