Broken wings – APRA revolution participants?

Westerling

Captain Westerling had been the commander of the Special Forces (Korps Speciale Troepen) between 1946 and 1948 and had a great impact on these forces for the majority of their existence. In 1949 he had become a private citizen and started a transport company on Java. Although he had left the army he was still a man with infleunce in military circles.

Museum Bronbeek, inventarisnummer: 2007/06/04-3/1

APRA

Somehere in 1949 he had formed a secret small private army called the APRA, in Malayan: Angketan Perang Ratu Adil or translated “Legion of the Just Ruler”. By the end of 1949 the Dutch had handed over the sovereignty to Indonesia but the situation had not yet stabilized. There was unrest and there were several revolts.

Museum Bronbeek, inventarisnummer: 2007/06/04-3/1

Revolt

Westerling with his APRA also planned and executed a failed revolt on January 23rd 1950, only a month after the independence of Indonesia. Westerling’s aim was the continuation of the independent region Pasundan on Java. In order to do this he planned to take over the cities Djokjakarta and Bandoeng. His group of around 400 men consisted mainly of former military and police forces. Among these men were around 125 active Special Forces soldiers that had deserted shortly before this planned revolt.

Most of the men that participated in this illegal action were caught. The men that were still officially serving in the Netherlands East Indies Army were sentenced as deserters by the Dutch Military Authorities were interned and not handed over to the Indonesian authorities. Most went to the Netherlands after their sentence.

Museum Bronbeek, inventarisnummer: 2007/06/04-3/1

Those APRA men that fell in the hands of the Indonesian Authorities were senteced for the participation in a revolt against the state and would have a very different fate with long prison sentences.

Broken Wings hypothesis

From the estate of Sergeant Major Intructor Hans Kloër came a group of wings. These were taken in 1950 from indigenous men of the Special Forces and should have been destroyed the story goes in the family. A small amount of them seem indeed to have been deliberately broken/clipped, roughly in the same location so probably using the same method or tool.

Broken Wings – from the estate of Sergeant Major Intructor Hans Kloër

Why would these wings have been deliberately destroyed? The badge was still in use in 1950 and would remain so untill 1954 in the Dutch army for those that had been qualified. Normally the army does not destroy property that can be re-used!

My hypothesis is that there is a link with the APRA revolt in 1950. Were these wings from some of the 125 men Speciale Troepen that participated in this action? During the action all sorts of uniforms can be seen but none of the men wear a red beret with the wing or any other insignia linking them to the Special Forces.

The breaking of this wing is a very strong symbolic action. Had the APRA men done this themselves before deserting? Has the army done so after they were taken into custody and sentenced as deserters? Maybe we will never know but working from the APRA link hypothesis I will continue to research!

Museum Bronbeek, inventarisnummer: 2007/06/04-3/1

Sources:

http://www.gahetna.nl/collectie/index/nt00336/achtergrond/andere-groepen/voormalige-apra-militairen

Museum Bronbeek, inventarisnummer: 2007/06/04-3/1 – all period photo’s are from this album in the museum collection.

More info about the estate in an earlier blog: https://www.erikscollectables.com/2019/01/16/korps-speciale-troepen-para-wings-from-the-estate-of-a-decorated-instructor/

Wing for Combat Jumps – Speciale Troepen KNIL aktiewing

The Netherlands East Indies Army Special Forces made three combat jumps in 1948 and 1949. A special wing to commemorate this was designed and worn.

Djokjakarta

The first and most important combat jump was part of the so called 2nd Politionele Actie. A large scale military action against the Indonesian army. The military aim was to reclaim Djokjakarta that was in Indonesian hands. The action started with a combat jump by the Para Battle Group of the Speciale Troepen on the airfield Magoewo close to Djokjakarta. The action started on December 19th 1948.

The preparations for “Operation Crow” as this large scale airborne operation was called had already started in january of 1948 when the 1st Para Company was combined with the 2nd Para Company of the Korps Speciale Troepen. The unit was renamed in Para Battle Group (para gevechtsgroep) and led by Captain Eekhout. After the airfield was taken from the Indonesian army, planes with the commando’s of the Korps Speciale Troepen and 2 infantry units were flown in to take the whole city of Djokjakarta back.

Museum Bronbeek, inventarisnummer: 2007/06/04-3/1

The Airborne troops were transported in 16 Dakota C-47 planes and a total of 250 para’s made this combat jump. A very extensive description of the further action can be found in the sources (in Dutch).

Djambi

Shortly after this action the men had to make a second combat jump. This was already on December 29th 1948, only 10 days after the first combat jump. This time the action was on the Island of Sumatra to secure the oil fields of Djambi.

Rengat

Soon again a 3rd combat jump would be made during “Operation Mud (Modder)” in Rengat, again protecting oil fields in Sumatra. This time only the 1st Para Company would make the jump.

In a period spanning less than 3 weeks 3 combat jumps were made by approximately 350 men in total (not all men in all three jumps).

Qualification Wing – with golden laurel for combat jumps

The wing that was used as a qualification wing in 1947 was redesigned in 1949 for those who had particiapted in one or more of these combat jumps. A golden laurel (as in the beret wing) was added to the basic design. As with all badges in the Netherlands East Indies there were metal and cloth versions. The metal versions of the badges were only made and worn in the Netherlands East Indies Army. Of those only around 350 were ever made of which many owners remained in the new Indonesia. This wing is now very rare and highly collectable! There are several versions of this wing of different size and production.

The same design in cloth (with some slight alterations over time) could be worn up to 1985 when the last person that had made combat jumps in Indonesia left the army. More recently Dutch Commando’s made combat jumps in Afghanistan and a new (cloth) wing for combat jumps with the same golden laurel design has come into existence.

Below four period photo’s of the metal wing for combat jumps being worn, all taken from internet sources.

Sources:

https://www.dutchdefencepress.com/vechten-in-een-oorlog-die-zo-niet-mocht-worden-genoemd-%E2%80%93-deel-2/ 

https://www.dutchdefencepress.com/vechten-in-een-oorlog-die-zo-niet-mocht-worden-genoemd-%E2%80%93-deel-3/

Museum Bronbeek, inventarisnummer: 2007/06/04-3/1

Special Forces Para Wing of the Netherlands East Indies Army (1946-1950) – KNIL Speciale Troepen Parawing

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.

Bronze
Brass
Silver

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.

SOP instructors – Museum Bronbeek, inventarisnummer: 2007/06/04-3/1

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.

Selection of period wings

Variations

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.

Copies

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!

Example of the reunion wing (photo from the internet!)

Korea

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!

Korea Detachment (1st) with several wings visible!

Sources: http://www.militairmagazijn.nl/bronnen/armamentaria/artikel/bronnen_armas_xml_74aafe1f-56c0-4f7e-a4d5-cf503840ee23/

https://www.defensie.nl/onderwerpen/historische-canons/historische-canon-korps-commando-troepen/het-korps-paraat/korps-insulinde

First photo: Museum Bronbeek, inventarisnummer: 2007/06/04-3/1