This US Air Force clothing bag triggered my attention in a recent auction. The painted para wing was interesting but the name on the label sounded Dutch and the bag was from around the Vietnam period so a reason for me to do some research. This because I have an interest in Dutch people in Vietnam, see my earlier blog regarding Gerrit’s travels, a family acquintance who stayed 5 years in Vietnam during the war there.
With some luck I found an article about the man and some items he left behind in Japan in 1965! From that 2014 article comes this picture:
On the right side of the photo his US para wings can be seen. On the left there are English style wings, currently the background of these is not known. There is a photo of Van Wissem as a Dutch commando (1960) in which he wears a Dutch para wing so it might be linked to that.
The bag still has an original MATS (Military Air Transport Services) label to Frankfurt Germany hanging on it. Probably from its last official use. The label has no date but must be no later than 1965 as that was the last year MATS would function under that name. His rank is given as SP/4, specialist 4 which was the rank you would typically atain after two years of service in the army. So everything hints at a bag with 1965 as the year of use.
And with some more research I found this newspaper article from 1965
These two articles give an interesting view into the military part of the life of Mat (P.M.) van Wissem. By the end of the 1960 he completed his service in the Dutch army as a (temporary rank) sergeant of the commando’s. He had received his green beret in february 1960 after completing the hard training and qualifaction.
In 1961 he went to Canada to find good paying jobs and see the world. Later het went to the US where he in 1963 signed up for the army for a period of three years “to see the world” and he did. He trained as a para in Fort Benning and became part of the 503rd Airborne Infantry Regiment with whom he travelled around Asia as they were stationed in Okinawa, Japan.
In 1965 he left a footlocker with his belongings behind in Japan with his landlord, before shipping out. That footlocker is the story behind the article in Starts and Stripes. The landlord hung unto the footlocker for decades and then found Van Wissem’s children to return the contents to like these letters and photo’s:
Some of the contens of the footlocker, like surgical sciccors and other medical items would suggest he functioned as a medic within his unit.
The Dutch article states that Van Wissem went to Vietnam for a short period (month?) in january 1965 as an adviser to Vietnamese troops in Da Lat (the location of the South Vietnamese Army Officers Academy). This was before the period the US had entered a war with communist North Vietnam and only served there as advisors. So far I have found no mention of the 503rd AIR in Vietnam before May 1965 and also his rank is unusual as advisor so this still needs more research. This story is not yet confirmed by anything other than the article itself.
After this short period in Vietnam (?) he was rotated back to Okinawa where the unit was in reserve and he would get a furlough after his 2nd year of service. During that furlough in March/April he went to the Netherlands to visit his parents and the newspaper article in “De Stem” would be published.
In the Dutch newspaper article it is mentioned he would spend the remainder of his last year in Germany and after that period he wanted to return to the Netherlands to become part of the family business. He was indeed transferred to a unit that was located in Germany. In the course of 1965 he chose to return to his home country without finishing the service period he had signed for.
This last part is for now unclear and needs more research.
Van Wissem passed away in 2003 and how this bag came to the market so long after his passing remains unclear.
The Hungarian para’s were a small elite group about whom only little has been written in English but most information can be found in this nice blog.
They existed as a unit from 1938 up to 1944 at which moment theyre remaining men became integrated in the Saint László Division in which they fought untill the end of the war.
Recently I was able to acquire a porcelain statue that depicts a WW2 period para. Possibly it was made as a promotion item for the Hungarian Parachute manufacturer in Debrecen. It supposedly was made by the Hollohaza porcelain company but has not visible markings and also the exact period of production is unknown.
It turns out a variation of this statue also exists which was fully coloured! It is not exactly the same statue but very close, maybe a different porcelain producer? Several details show it was not based on the same mold.
And now I am waiting to see how long it takes for my wife to find out her porcelain cabinet has been invaded by a para…
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.
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.
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!