Chris Navis: from WW2 resistance hero to cold war secret (Gladio) agent?

OK this is a stretch for me as a researcher. I like to stick to facts only. Not that I cannot enjoy a nice conspiracy theory related movie or book but for historical publications it is not my “thing”. In this case I have a working hypothesis that may raise some eyebrows.

What I will do is state facts that have been published before. The limitation to facts is difficult in this specific case as the most relevant archives have either been destroyed or will not be open to public for a long time to come. So I will add some interpretation of information as well. Anything that is not a fact comes in the last part of the article and is clearly stated as such!.

So please read and judge for yourself and if you have facts to add please feel free to contact me!

This story is about some paper materials from the estate of Chris Navis. Some I bought, others I received as a gift through a collecting friend (thanks again Henk-Willem) in 2010. The materials came on the market when a house was cleared out, probably that of the late Chris Navis. The stack of papers were very diverse. Before the war Navis was an officer. During the war he had an important role in the Dutch resistance against the German occupation. And after the war he was an officer again, now in the Dutch East Indies. The papers cover a period from the late 1930s into the 1950s and relate to different themes. From congratulations upon his receipt of the US Medal of Freedom with Palm but also buying an officers saddle and some strange papers that are the reason for this article.

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For his work in the resistance he received the Military Order of William 4th class (MWO4). The highest Dutch decoration for (military) bravery. A true rarity and one of my main research interests. So reason for me to be very happy with this paperwork that I  am now the custodian of.

His citation for the MWO4 is an interesting but somewhat difficult text, even in my native Dutch, so I have tried to translate it here to the best of my ability:

“Has distinguished himself during the German occupation by showing excellent deeds of courage, conduct and loyalty by, from August 1941 to September 1944 at first for a paramilitary resistance group and so for the Interior Forces (Binnenlandse Strijdkrachten, the national resistance), fully independently and across the country with great risks as a consequence of frequent enemy infiltration and because he was wanted by the Gestapo, to make and activate the indispensable contacts for the building of the interior military resistance. Due to his uncommonly great experience and critical insight has been able on multiple occasions during his dangerous travels and meetings to barely escape arrest, and on the other hand has been able to warn many for imminent threats and thereby diminishing the vulnerability of the internal connections within the underground resistance.

Thereby and specifically by his outstanding conduct he has highly contributed to the building of a widely extended and safe resistance, that contributed in the fields of espionage and sabotage and other important services to the allied warfare,

Despite his seriously detoriated health as a consequence of his restless activity, tension and starvation, he completed in September 1944 an important mission by moving south and make contact with the Commander of the Interior Forces, the Intelligence Service and the Chief of Staff of the Military Authority.

He was an example of the never selfsparing spirit of resistance.”

Stay Behind network in the Netherlands – not Gladio!

Gladio is a name that rings a bell to many people. Few know exactly what it was but it became a synonym for all Stay Behind networks in Europe. In fact it was the name of the Italian Stay Behind organization that received very negative publicity. Similar Stay Behind networks in other countries also received a negative name due to this and often were wrongfully attached to the same name. I will discuss some basic information regarding the Dutch Stay Behind organization here. My text is based on both the academic and the state publication mentioned in the sources so “facts” not “conspiracy theory” as there seem to be many of these as soon as the Gladio name comes up. These publications only mention names of the leadership of the related organizations who already have passed away and whose names were already known to the public. Names of other members for as far as they have been archived were secret and remain so.

After WW2 the fear for another war was widespread both in Europe and in the US and the risk of a war with Russia was seen as realistic. Experiences in Europe with the resistance, espionage and counter espionage (such as the infamous Englandspiel that caused many casulties) had a strong impact on the steps that would be taken as a precaution for that anticipated war.

As early as 1946 the Dutch Intelligence community started with, what later would be known as, the Stay Behind organization that would be active up to 1992. Most of that period the existence was largely unknown to the general public and kept out of the papers.

In 1946 a main person of the Dutch resistance Dr. Henk Veeneklaas (also knight MWO4!) contacted Prince Bernhard as head of the Interior Forces regarding the forming of a Stay Behind network. The Prince brought him in contact with L. Eindhoven the head of Dutch Intelligence who was soon convinced of the use of such a network. The network would, in case of an occupation by presumably the Russians, be the foundation of the new resistance, espionage and sabotage. No such organization was in place at the start of the German occupation despite plans to do so dating from before the war. The complete resistance, communication etc. had to be organized during the war from scratch by people like Navis. They did so at great personal risk and with many casualties in the process.

Veeneklaas was backed by the Dutch Minister President of that moment and started the training of new agents for this new organization. For the organization he sought mainly agents and instructors that had participated in the resistance in occupied Holland. The organizations official name would, like its Anglo-Saxon counterparts,  be an acronym I&O, for Intelligence and Operations (Inlichtingen en Operaties).

Chris Navis – I&O /Stay Behind agent or instructor?

The above mentioned characteristics would have made Navis a very fitting candidate for a role as agent and/or instructor in the new I&O / Stay Behind organization. Reading his MWO4 citation he was an accomplished agent during the war with loads of actual experience that only a few survivors could boast and on top of that a military background and training.

The names of the agents and instructors of this organization are still secret today and unfortunately most documents were destroyed and not archived so the question of who were part of the I&O organization may never be fully answered.

But there are some documents in this group of papers that caught my interest. To be honest I did not know what to think of them at all until I started reading about the Dutch I&O / Stay Behind organization a few years later.

My working hypothesis is that Navis was an agent/instructor in the I&O organization

So from here onward it is speculation, based on a few documents that were part of this larger group of papers. No  hard facts but only circumstantial information!

So let’s start with reviewing some of these papers. First two small letters signed by a person named Van Eyk. They indicate some sort of working relationship that existed between March 30th 1951 and February 2nd 1953.

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The first is the planning of an appointment. The second letter states that this Van Eyk is sorry for the loss of energy spent by both sides (he indicates the receipt of a letter, probably a resignation) but that the content of the statement made on March 30, 1951 (the date of the meeting in the first letter) will be unabated applicable to him. 

Ok any significance? Maybe. Van Eyk was the alias Veeneklaas used during the WW2.. Based on the Pivot report (see sources) he continued to use this name during his role in the post war Stay Behind operation. So is the Van Eyk of these letters Dr. Veeneklaas or is the name just a coincidence? And what is the statement Navis will be held to, one of secrecy?

And than the typewritten text below:

“You will sit on the given date at 20.00 hrs in the 2nd class restaurant of the Central Station in Utrecht. In front of you on the table you will have a copy of ELSEVIER while you are reading a copy of LIFE yourself, of which the cover will be clearly folded outward.

You will be spoken to with the words “Have you been waiting here long?” on which you will reply “four minutes”.

You will use an alias.”

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Ok any significance? Maybe. The text is not for a normal meeting I would say. And it is not a wartime text either as LIFE was not available in German occupied Holland. It sounds like a secret agent type of meeting. Maybe training? If I had found this paper outside of this Navis collection I would probably  have laughed about it because of this stereotype spy text. Maybe not so stereotype yet in the 1950s?

Next two letter covers. Of what they exactly are I have no clue.

Ok any significance? Maybe. What I found interesting is that both were sent from Utrecht Central Station. The location of the meet up above. And who sends letters from a Railway Station anyway? Not the most regular location. You write a lettercover with a typewriter (at home or in an office) and then you carry it to the railway station to send it away? It is a neutral location in a big city so not traceable, very spylike again?

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And what is going on with the material of these envelopes? Made of maps? Wartime surplus stock maps recycled? I honestly do not know. I do know I have not seen such covers before or after and none of the other period covers in the group are like this or have a railway station stamp.

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And finally a 4 page questionnaire with the most amazing questions. Way to much to translate but with questions that I cannot place in any regular environment apart from a secret organization. And the heading is clearly very organized too.

A quotes from the starting text:

“The information you will give will be considered secret and be viewed by 2 persons only, namely the boss of the organization and the memeber of the staff that will review if you are qualified for the service and for the task that you will recieve there. This information is also aimed at use in the case of operational circumstances”

The organization – without naming it that is a bit peculiar, right? Secret and only viewed by 2 people, that does not seem to be for a regular job interview? And what are operational circumstances? After that loads of questions regarding military service and resistance work like below:

39. have you in any way done resistance work. if so in which form and when.

40. in which special operations have you, in regard to this, had experience (courier/espionage/sabotage/coding/falsifying papers etc)

Questions about personality, spouse and her personality, family etc etc. totaling to 125 separate questions.

Conclusion?

No conclusion – but my working hypothesis remains that Navis was a member of the I&O / Dutch Stay Behind organization in the 1950s.

His wartime experience would have made him an ideal candidate, the timing fits with the building up phase of the I&O organization and these additional papers seem to hint at such a type of organization. Together they make it a distinct possibility. And so far no facts have come to light to dismiss the hypothesis…..

What do you think? Do let me know!

Sources:

Austro-Hungarian Machinegun Detachments

Although Machine Guns were not new in the beginning of WW1 they were still quite rare in the Austro-Hungarian army with only 2.700 pieces in the entire army.

During the war the importance of the machinegun became clear and many new machineguns were produced and deliverd to the infantry but also to cavalry units (that often became dismounted) during the war and of course the mountain troops. By the end of the war more than 40.500 machineguns would be in use!

Badges of the Machinegun Units

Machine gun units could be recognized by the specific collar badge as can be seen above (left and right). It depicts a three headed dragon spraying fire in all directions. The specific cap badge for machine gun units can be seen in the middle between the rank stars.

Badges as mounted on a photo album by the original owner.
The official announcement for the above badges

There was a proficiency badge for machinegun markmanship. The badge also with the dragon. It could be worn on the right breast above the pocket.

Below pictures of the actual badges on the photo album being worn by the original owner who was part of the Machinegun Company II of KuK IR 51.

Below examples of Machinegun collar badges being worn on different uniforms of men of several different units!

The back from the postcard above right, also part of Honvéd Huszar unit!

Cavalry: KuK Dragoons and Honved Hussars

The cavalry units that became dismounted during the war and most often acted as regular infantry. They also had machinegun detachments in their regiments. The collar badge was the same as can be seen with the Huszar in the photo above. But the clothing could be different, specifically the jackets had some different versions.

Honved Cavalry Machinegun detachments Field Grey Fur Jacket being worn in the photo above and next to it a photo from the book The Emperor’s Coat describing this type of coat.

Dragoon officer of a Machinegun detachment with the regular Dragoon’s fur coat with white lambskin and not the black version.

Cavalry Machine Gun unit with a nice variation of all of the coats shown and discussed above! Both the Honvéd and the regular KuK cavalry versions

Photo probably of Husaren Regiment 14, HR14 based on the Kappenabzeichen of the officer in the middle (recognized by Hermann Attila)

KUK IR 48 – Machinegun Instruction detachment

And a document from my collection the Belobende Anerkennung (Bronze Signum Laudis medal equivalent) or honorable acknowledgment for the Commander of a Machinegun Instruction unit of KuK Infantry Regiment 48. He received the document upon his leave of this command.

Machineguns in the field. All period pictures and the paperwork are part of my collection.

Source: The Emperor’s Coat by Dr. Ortner

Hungary return of Transylvania, 1940

Second Vienna treaty

As a result of the 2nd Vienna treaty Transylvania was returned to Hungary in 1940. It had been part of the Austro-Hungarian empire but became part of Romania in 1920 as a part of the Trianon treaty. In 1940 a large part of the population was still affiliated to Hungary and also many people were of Hungarian decent and language. The return was a military action but without any confrontation.

Photo album

Here some pages from a photo album of an officer (name unknown) that was part of this action. It has been painted to become a work of art in that period. The album also contains some later actions that I will share in another blog soon. The cities of Koloszvár and Nagyvárad are the focus of these pages.


Austro-Hungarian Marchbatallion XXVI, BH2 – Bosnian Infantry Regiment 2

These are pictures of an officer from Trautenau who volunteered (1 year volunteer) and became an officer in BH2 together with several of his friends or familiy members. The earlier pictures in this blog came from the same album!

Photo while still as an aspiring officer (so NCO in rank, training as an officer) in 1916
Sitting in the middle
Back row, second from left, now as a decorated officer (in training)
On the right side
And as a decorated officer in 1918

Austro-Hungarian offensive Group Edelsbrunner BH2 (Bosnian/Bosniaken)

Bosnian Herzegovian Infantry

Bosnia Herzegovina became part of the Austro-Hungarian empire only in 1878. Nevertheless its capital Sarajevo would be the scene of the start of World War 1 in 1914, by the assination of Archduke Franz-Ferdinand.

The AH regimental system was regional, each regiment would get men from a specific region. This way four Bosnian Herzegovian Infantry Regiments were formed. Officers (on purpose) would come from a different region. The Bosnian regiments were numbered BH1 through to BH4.

Golden Bravery Medals

Despite the fact that the Bosnians had been linked to the Austro Hungarian empire for only a very short time or maybe even because of this the 4 Bosnian Herzegovian Infantry Regiments that were formed in WW1 would get the highest number of gallantry (Golden Bravery) medals in the entire AH army.

The average of these Golden Bravery medals was around 10 per regiment but the BH2 Infantry Regiment would get the highest amount of all, 42! The runner up regiment would get 36 Golden Bravery medals. There was even a saying in the AH army – “The Bosnians are coming” which would bring fear to the enemies as they were seen as fierce fighters.

More about the bravery medals can be found in my earlier blog.

Officers in BH2

As a large part of the Bosnians were Islamic the Fez was worn as the standard headgear in these units for all men, independend of their belief! Officers not being from the same region could choose if they would wear “standard” officers headgear or also the Fez like in the picture below.

An album in my collection has photo’s from several related (two brothers with family name Almasi) and befriended officers coming from the same “German” city of Trautenau in the current Czech Republic.

It seems they al went as volunteer (1 year) officers to the war. Several of them becoming officers in BH2. Below Leopold Erben from Trautenau who also, as an officer in training, would earn a Golden Bravery medal for BH2 in 1918!

Leopold Erben GTM, BH2

Offensive Group Edelsbrunner

One photo has the caption of “Offensivgruppe Edelsbrunner” named after its leading officer, Edmund Edelsbrunner, also from Trautenau! He was also one of the 42 people in BH2 who was awarded the Golden Bravery medal.

He would receive it during his training period as an officers (so still NCO for the awarding of medals) in 1915. During the rest of the war he would remain very active even getting an Iron Crown order 3rd class as a lieutenant. This is very rare for such a junior officer. Almost only flight aces would get that honour.

A specific event is mentioned in the book “Die Bosniaken kommen” by Werner Schachinger. In the book his group is mentioned as a “Nachrichten” or reconaissance group. The part is about his role in the 12th and decisive Isonzo battle. Probably this is the action for which he received the Iron Crown order!

“After the arrival of the main group of BH2 1st Lt Edelsbrunner and his men detached themselves again and went north. Two companies of BH2 were involved in heavy streetfighting in the city of Forgaria at that moment. In the meantime Edelsbrunner circled around the city and went straight for Anduin capturing an Italian Artillery unit in the process. He captured 7 pieces of artillery, 12 machineguns and other materials but also 600 Italian soldiers. The struggle for the bridge of Cornino was over after this. He earned the title of “Ramssurimann of Anduin” for this from the men of BH2″

All of these pictures come from the same album in my collection. I will publish some more in another blog soon.

Austro-Hungarian Storm Troops, HIR 16, Honvéd

Elite units of the Austro Hungarian army in WW1

During the first world war the Germans developed a new tactic using assault troops armed with hand grenades and machine guns. These were seen as elite troops and would get new types of equipment first. Based on the good results of these troops on the Western Front the Austro-Hungarians started sending units to the German Storm Courses. In 1917 they also started developing their own courses. Most regiments would have their own Storm Troops.

Before the Storm Troops the Austro-Hungarian army also had “Jagdkommando’s” on the Russian front as a form of elite unit. Their use was not widespread.

Jagd Kommando at the Russian front – using winter camouflage and riflegrenades.
Remembrance of the Hunting commando in Russia

Badges – Kappenabzeichen

As there were no official insignia for regiments an unofficial type of badge was worn on the hats, the so called Kappenabzeichen. Started unofficial the use became widespread and broadly accepted in the entire Austro-Hungarian army. They exist for regiments, divisions, armies but also for special occasions, leaders etc. Most units with Storm Troops would have a specific badge for them but also some generic Storm Troop badges exist.

Kappenabzeichen being worn by an officer.

Group belonging to a 16 HIR Stormtrooper

Group belonging to one man

The group exists of a dog tag, a knife, a small St Christopher statue and a course guide for the complete storm course in Hungarian and the extremely rare cap badge of the Stormtroopers of the 16th Honved Infantry Regiment. It is probably one of the rarest Kappenabzeichen as it was only made in a very small quantity, maybe even in a workshop and not as most by a factory.

Storm Course

Storm Courses would take 12 to 14 days. The programme booklets are very seldomly seen, only in museums as far as I know. Here a page from the inside of the booklet which seems to be a Hungarian language version of the info shown in the book “Storm Troops” by C. Ortner on which it is pictured. Grenade throwing was a important part of the course as can be seen in the photo’s.

In the Hungarian language the Stormtroops are called Roham Csapat or a stormtrooper a Rohamista as can be seen in the document below for the 1914-18 Hungarian medal:

Below some more Storm Troop related pictures. All pictures and materials are from my own collection.

Sources:

“Csak elore, edes fiam…”, Hermann Attila – Szanyi Miklos, Meliusz Kozpont 2012

Storm Troop, M. Christian Ortner, Verlag Militaria 2005E

KNIL – Airforce Wings (ML KNIL)

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 (combined) Wing
Bomber Wing
Radio Operator (Telegraphist) Wing

Mechanic Wing

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.

Crew Wings

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.

Unsigned, local version

The Mechanic Wing shown here is 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.

Foreign makers

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.

Stokes

War period style closure

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

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.

Amico

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...

1st Lt Samson wearing the Aviator/Navigator wing

Copies

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!

Documentation

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.

Pilot/navigator qualification booklet (brevet) for Lt Samson (see link below)

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!

References:

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.

Or read about the story behind a Bronze Lion for bomber pilot Lt Samson

And two pages with some background information from the book: Gedenkboek Militaire Luchtvaart 1914-1939 by M. van Haselen. This book I can highly recommend for the prewar history of the ML KNIL.

KNIL – Reserve and Legion badges

In the years leading up to World War 2 the Netherlands East Indies started also making preparations. On of these was extending the amount of men that could be called to arms in the form of a reserve. The largest base for this were former (indigenous) men of the KNIL that had been honorably discharged.

Two variations of the same badge by different makers, note the difference in the sword etc.

To increase the visibility of the reserve a badge was introduced in November 1939. The badge was worn on the civilian clothing. A version of this badge is shown above. In 1941 the total reserve of former KNIL men amounted to 4700.

How many badges were actually made and handed out remains unclear but looking at the potential number of 4700 and only two years of use of the badge (1940/41) and the fact that the majority of these indigenous reservists became POW’s in 1942/1945 and most of these remained in Indonesia after WW2 it can be considered a rare badge now.

Reverse with both types having the same type of closure

Other versions of reserve badges also exist for the Royal Legions Surakarta, Jogjakarta and Madura. These were introduced in 1940 and also intended for use on civilian clothes. The members of these legions were also part-time soldiers. These badges can be considered even rarer! So far I have found no pictures of these badges being worn. All these badges are in the same basic form of a shield with the Red/White/Blue flag on it and a weapon in the centre. They were only for wear on civilian clothes on the left breast.

Badge of the Royal Legion of Mangkoe Negoro (Surakarta), reverse is the same as the other badges.

Somewhat later the Home Guard (Landwacht) was introduced which existed of men not otherwise mobilized for different reasons. The basic badge has the word LANDWACHT at the bottom but versions for specific towns also exist. These amounted to a total of approximately 27.500 men.

The basic Home Guard badge as worn on the Home Guard uniform (so not on civilian clothes)

Sources: B.C. Cats, ‘Hulpkorpsen in voormalig Nederlands-Indië, hun uniformering en onderscheidingstekenen’, in: Armamentaria 23 (1988).