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), not part of the Speciale Troepen unit that was only Commando’s at that moment
In 1948 the Commando’s also would form a Para-Commando Company (2nd Para Company).
All para’s were trained by the SOP – School Opleiding Parachutisten – Airborne School
For the large scale Airborne action called “Operation Crow” these two units would be combined in the Para Battle Group (Para Gevechtsgroep). The total would consist of some 350 men with airborne qualifications. 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 the would wear a green beret with the para wing on it. Later as the Para Battle Group all would wear red berets.
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. 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 training and handed out at the end of the course. It was a symbol of achievement that was worn proudly!
Period photo’s of the wing being worn (taken from internet sources).
History of the wing
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 in bronze was made but never used it seems. The same degin with the hand & dagger can be seen in documents regarding the 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.
The instructors of the Airborne school (SOP) had their background in either this Korps Insulinde of in No2 Commando. When the first airborne training was completed in june 1947 a choice had to be made what insignia was going to be used as qualification wing. As the majority of the instructors had an English para qualification wing already a similar design was chosen. The batch of wings made in 1941 that was still available now was designated as wing to be worn on the red beret.
The eyelet below the wreath was soldered on seperately, it was not part of the mold! It was to be used for a device to show combat jumps when it was still a qualification wing. The device (possibly a dagger) was never made.
This first 1941 batch was in bronze. This batch was used for the first groups in 1947. When this batch was finished new batches were made using the same 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 real silver! Regarding the silver version several stories are given none can be substantiated. For instructors, for people with combat jumps, for officers etc.
Brass was chosen as it could be polished more shiny than the first bronze versions, is the common understanding. The brass version is the most common (but stil rare!). Bronze and silver seem to be equally rare. All three material still had the eyelet soldered on, despite it no longer had any practical use.
Some collectors claim the material variations are only unintentional differences in the alloy mix. Just different production batches using a slightly different alloy.
The history of the 1941 design is also contested. There is the version that the wing was designed only in 1946 and produced from that date onwards and there was no 1941 production. It was designed in combination with the 1946 SOP badge by the same person. I am still looking for period information backing either version but both stories have been published.
Below front and back of the three material variations or alloys of the original, period made wings.
Several poor quality copies and some slightly better copies of these wings exist. Next to this also a reunion version exist, probably from the 1970s. This is often seen/sold as an original version but was not worn before 1950! 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. A comparison can easily be made, there are more signs to look for so beware! Versions with makers (like Stokes) are all later fakes. 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 version has become very difficult!
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 would were worn in the Korean conflict! Below some examples in Korea (not my collection) even on the US Army pile cap!
First photo: Museum Bronbeek, inventarisnummer: 2007/06/04-3/1