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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
Bronbeek has a very similar example in their collection with the same non standard closure on the back! Unfortunately that example has lost all colour.
Officially the metal variation was for use in the Netherlands East Indies only but as the photo above shows, personal preferences could make an exception.
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 / I Para), 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 / Para Cie KST).
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 250 to 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 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.
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 ( No 2 Dutch Troop No 10 Interallied Commando ). 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 (airborne) training and handed out at the end of the course. It was a symbol of achievement that was worn proudly! The “topi merah”.
Period photo’s of the wing being worn (taken from internet sources).
History of the wing
Version one: 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 of these wings in bronze was made but never used it states.
The instructors of the Airborne school (SOP) had their background in either this Korps Insulinde or in the No 2 Dutch Troop No 10 Interallied Commando . When the first airborne training course was completed in june 1947 a choice had to be made which badge was going to be used as the qualification wing. As the majority of the instructors had a British para qualification wing already and was attached to this a very 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.
Version two: The wing 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. 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 (English style) qualification wing had already come into regular use.
With the introduction of the red beret there was a wish for a badge to be worn on this beret. The old batch of wings was relocated and 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.
Which history is correct?
In my opinion the 1946 design is the most likely as the dagger seems to be a first pattern FS fighting knife (came into use only in 1940/41 and not yet widespread at that moment) and the pose resembles the silent killing instruction photo’s of the later WWII commando’s.
My hypothesis is that the design was based on the hand with dagger in the Korps Insulinde menu from 1942, pictured below. 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.
Captain Sisselaar was one of the members of this unit and the later commander of the Airborne School (SOP) and the new badge was designed for him based on version two of the history.
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) was never actually made/used. Nevertheless all three variations 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 in 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 (but still rare with only around 350 active paratroopers in those 4 years!). Bronze and silver seem to be equally rare.
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.
Below front and back of the three material variations or alloys of the original, period (up to 1950 in the East Indies) made wings.
Variatons and strikes
A good overview of 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). 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.
Two 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.
The other variation is that the ends of the wings were 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!
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.
Some sources decribe these examples as “first strike” examples of the three materials but no other examples are found in this estate. This leads to the hypothesis that in the period 1947-1950 only these first strike examples were acutally worn and all other examples are of a later period (possibly for the period up to 1954, made in the Netherlands or Japan/Korea maybe).
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 – 1950/later?
The version found most 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 and slightly different from the first strike version discussed above.
As stated above I so far do not have photographic evidence of this version being worn in the Dutch East Indies only in the Netherlands and Korea.
That leads to my hypothesis it is either very late production (1950) 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.
Several men in a magazine article can be seen with this 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 350 were airborne qualified. Of the total of 800 men more than 400 chose to stay in Indonesia. Around 250 were brought to the Netherlands in the first half of 1950. Around 125 participants of the APRA first had to finish their prison sentence before being discharged (dishonorably). More than half 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.
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 were worn in the Korean conflict! Below some examples in Korea (not my collection) even on the US Army pile cap!