The elite 1st para batallion of the KNIL (Dutch East Indies Army) has a short but intense history that spans the years 1946 to 1950. Most of 1946 and part of 1947 was needed to get the people and material in place and training the fresh para recruits. The later part of 1947 up to 1950 was spent operational including 4 combat jumps in late 1948 and early 1949 in the meantime adding new recruits in all those years.
The para company existed of some 250 men and was in 1948 combined with para trained commandos, around 150 men, reaching the total of 400 trained paratroopers that would form a batallion in 1949. The amount of officers was limited with much of the operational leadership in the hands of very experienced nco’s many of which had a pre war KNIL or WW2 commando (Korps Insulinde) background.
Leo Castelein (1928-2016) would become one of those few officers of the para batallion. In the Netherlands he volunteered in 1946 as a reserve officer. The volunteers from the Netherlands would go to the colony in the ongoing stuggle for Order and Peace in Indonesia. This was the Dutch name for the colonial war that had started after the Japanese surrender in 1945 (the War of Independence for Indonesia). He would complete his training as Signals officer in March 1948, subsequently was added to the 1st Signals Regiment and would arrive in country May 1948.
After spending some time with his assigned Signals unit he applied for a transfer to the para unit in order to see more action. Although the paratroops were a KNIL unit it was open to all ranks from all branches including those from the regular Dutch army as was the case with Castelein. Unfortunately signals officers were very scarce so his unit did not want to let him go. Upon learning this he wrote a letter to Prince Bernhard as Commander in Chief and later in 1948 was transferred to the para’s after all. He would become the signals officer of the unit.
His training for the red beret and the qualification wing started but was not completed in time for the first combat jump december 1948, the spectacular Operation “Kraai”. This was a massive airborne operation in which all available para’s would jump in enemy territory near Yogyakarta. As a result he would make his first combat jump before being fully qualified earning his combat jump wing before his regular qualification!
Of the 370 men making the combat jump for operation “Kraai” only 12 would be officers including a Medical Doctor and a Pastor (Dominee Timens). Lt. Castelein would have the command of the para signals group which is a very important role in airborne operations behind enemy lines!
When he returned to the Netherlands in 1950 he did not have the opportunity to keep his commission as an officer in the regular army so he left his active status and went back in the reserves. There were to many officers returning from Indonesia for a peace time army in the Netherlands. Going to Korea would have been alternative he did not take. Instead he took up his studies (there was a special arrangement for veterans) and started working internationally, rarely spending time in the Netherlands.
His son inherited his red beret, practice helmet, insignia and period photo album with some great para pictures.
A few of the pictures and items are shown in this short blog. More will follow in a future publication so this is only a teaser and more research is needed to get a complete picture of Casteleins service!
The group of badges from the Lt. Castelein estate only show variations of the combat jump wing with laurel, maybe he never received the regular qualification wing as he did not complete his training before making the combat jump.
It is a great time capsule of period badges that are rarely seen and even more rare with such a great provenance. As most badges in collections (both private and museum) have lost the link to the original wearer having a provenance is a great plus.
With many thanks to the family for making these materials available for this blog and in future publications.
The Netherlands East Indies Army Special Forces made four combat jumps in december 1948 and early 1949. A special wing to commemorate this was designed and worn in 1949/50.
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 (app 250 men including the staff of the Airborne School, SOP) was combined with the 2nd Para Company (app 150 men) of the Korps Speciale Troepen. The unit was renamed in Para Battle Group (para gevechtsgroep of app 400 men) 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 370 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 370 men in total (not all men in all three jumps).
March 1949 was the last of four combat jumps. This one was on Java again and aimed at a large group of resistance fighters. After the jump it turned out the intelligence was outdated and the group had already left the region.
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 in 1949 and early 1950. Of those only around 400 (all men of the para battle group, 370, that made combat jumps and the staff of the SOP that also participated in the combat jumps) were ever made.
Many para’s of Indonesian descent chose to remain in the new Indonesia but the wing could no longer be worn/shown as they were seen as signs of the colonial oppression! The metal version could no longer be worn in the Netherlands only cloth wings were officially allowed to be worn on the uniform. This type of metal wing is now very rare and highly collectable!
There are two versions of this metal wing the one shown below (both same type) is the larger of the two variations. It has been thinly painted (most often worn off) and it has a non standard closure on the back. This seems to be the official version.
The other type is in the Cordesius style both with the closure and the thicker enamel style painting that chips but does not wear down so much and a less shiny type of metal is used. It is much rarer so probably a privately purchased item.
The difference between these two wings can mainly be seen by the size and paint quality. And of course the type of closure. Below the standard type of closure that is used on the smaller version (not my collection).
Below two period photo’s of the metal wing for combat jumps being worn.
Here two versions of the cloth action wing, both from the estate of an officer of the 1st Para Company with thanks to the family for allowing to show them here! These badges were made and worn in the Indies and not after (the officer left the service upon return to the Netherlands).
Below two photo’s of the cloth being worn in the Indies. Unfortunately the quality of the photo’s is not very sharp but it is clear both are the action wing.
And two previously unpublished photo’s that I was allowed to use here in the blog by the family of one of the para’s in the photo’s.
These photo’s cannot be reproduced without the consent of the owner!
Upon return to the Netherlands “standard” insignia were worn by all on the battle dresses. Here an example of such a wing from the same estate as the two other cloth wings shown before.
A miniature version of the action wing was also made in Indonesia (in metal). Here is an example worn by Lt. Castelein in 1950 after his return to civilian life.
If you have additional info please let me know so I can update my blog!
If you have an example of this wing for sale or trade please do contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a photo and the relevant info!
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 Speciale Troepen.
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.
As an Airborne School (SOP) Sergeant Major Instructor and one of the last SOP staff members in Indonesia he took in the 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 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) which was not part of the Speciale Troepen unit that was only Commando’s at that moment. At the height of the unit it would consist of some 250 men including the staff of the SOP.
Two variations of the badge used by the 1st Para Company and the SOP
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.
All para’s were trained by the SOP – School Opleiding Parachutisten – Airborne School for the jump qualification.
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. 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”.
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 were attached to this a very similar design was chosen.
The batch of wings already made in bronze that was still available now was designated as wing to be worn on the red beret. To behanded out after completing the full airborne training ( so not only jump qualified) which was only by the end of 1947 for the first group.
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 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.
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 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!