Congo 5 Commando Mercenary Insignia Circa 1964

 

Here are a couple of relatively recent additions to my Congo mercenary collection, an early 5 Commando shoulder title and the shoulder patch of the Congo Commando Force Publique, both of which were worn on the right shoulder.

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Congo mercenary 5 Commando shoulder title and Congolese Commando Force Publique shoulder patch circa 1964. Collection: Julian Tennant

Both are featured in Gérard Lagaune’s excellent reference book Histoire et insignes des parachutistes et des commandos de Pays des Grand Lacs but unfortunately the book provides little contextual information about the insignia. 

I am not sure when either of these two badges were introduced or superseded.  The aforementioned book suggests that the Congolese Commando Force Publique was created in the 1950’s and based at Sonankulu near Thysville, receiving their training from Belgian Commando instructors and that the patch dates from before 1960. Other information suggests that the Commando Force Publique patch was only worn between 1957 and 1960.

However whilst researching these badges I found this photograph of one of the original South African mercenaries in the Congo, Georg Schroeder wearing the insignia whilst a 1st Lieutenant in 5 Commando.

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Studio portrait of Congo Mercenary, Georg Schroeder circa late 1964, early 1965.

Georg Schroeder was a former South African Parachute Jump Instructor who arrived in the Congo in 1964 and was the last commanding officer of 5 Commando in Congo before they were disbanded and returned to South Africa in 1967.

This studio photograph shows him wearing an interesting assortment of insignia, including the aforementioned 5 Commando shoulder title and Congolese Commando shoulder patch. His rank is that of a 1st Lieutenant, which according to the information on Terry Aspinall’s Mercenary Wars site, indicates that this photograph was taken sometime between 17 September and 26 December 1964, when he was promoted to Captain and took over the command of 53 Commando.

Also visible are his South African PJI wings on his left breast above what appears to be the United Nations Medal with CONGO clasp that was awarded to denote service with the ONUC Mission (1960-64). I am not sure if he was entitled to the medal issue as he is also wearing a Belgian 1st Para Battalion beret despite not having served with that unit. The badge on his right breast remains unknown (to me) although I think it may be the same qualification that is shown as #911, but also unidentified in Andrew Ross Dinnes’ book, Border War Badges: A Guide to South African Military & Police Badges 1964-1994.

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Another older worn variation of the Congolese Commando Force Publique shoulder patch. Collection: Julian Tennant

Congo mercenary insignia is one of my areas of collecting interest and whilst my collection remains quite small it does contain some nice pieces that I have previously featured on this page, most notably a patch worn by 10 Commando led by Jean ‘Black Jack’ Schramme and a nice group featuring insignia, medals, photographs and paperwork that belonged to another South African, Bill Jacobs, who served with the British Parachute Regiment in Cyprus, prior to enlisting in 5 Commando in 1966. If you are a collector of Mercenary insignia and have spares that you are interested in trading or selling, I will be very interested in hearing from you, so please contact me.

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Shoulder patches collected by South African mercenary Bill Jacobs whilst serving in 5 Cdo in 1966. Each of the subsections, ‘Leopard’, ‘Jumbo’ etc was roughly platoon sized. Collection: Julian Tennant

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If you like what you see here, please FOLLOW this page via email or by using either the buttons below or in the column on the right.  I will try to post NEW content every second Sunday (at least) and knowing that somebody is looking at this gives me the encouragement I need to set aside time to go through my archives and collection in order to develop the content for the page. And of course, feel free to contact me here, via email or by visiting my Facebook or Instagram pages

The Goldfields War Museum – Boulder, Western Australia

The discovery of gold in the Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie region, approximately 550km east of Perth in the early 1890’s led to an influx of fortune seekers, some of whom had military training. However early efforts to raise a volunteer force in Coolgardie in 1896 and Kalgoorlie in 1897 were unsuccessful and it was not until the outbreak of the Boer War in 1899 that military matters were taken more seriously in the area. By June 1900 the Western Australian Colonial Government had approved the creations of a Goldfields militia, known as the Goldfields Battalion of Infantry. Members of the battalion volunteered to serve in the Boer War and in 1903 the Battalion was re-designated the Goldfields Infantry Regiment, then in 1912, the 84th Infantry. From these origins, members of the Goldfields community have contributed to every conflict that Australia has fought in since Federation.

The Goldfields War Museum was established in 1989 to showcase the involvement of the community in Australia’s wars, but in April 2010 the museum was devastated by a 5.0 magnitude earthquake. Part of the museum was relocated to the Kalgoorlie Town Hall, however the vehicles and larger parts of the collection were placed into storage, where they still remain until a suitable venue for their display can be constructed. On 7 January 2019, the museum was reopened in the Boulder Town Hall.

Considering the community’s involvement and sacrifices it made in all of Australia’s wars I was quite surprised at how small the museum is. However, during my visit I had a brief chat to City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder heritage officer Tim Cudini, who told me that there are several other items held in storage which will go on display when funding is finally released to facilitate the expansion of the museum to include the larger vehicles and other pieces that have been out of view since the earthquake.

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Display at the Goldfields War Museum, Boulder, Western Australia. Photo: Julian Tennant

The current display area takes up six rooms, which were previously used as a doctor’s surgery, on the ground floor of the town hall. Most of the space is used for didactic panels and photographs outlining the experiences of locals in the wars.  I was a little disappointed by the small number of objects shown on display, although the stories that accompany the displays do make for interesting reading as they give very personal accounts of the conflicts and also clues to the prevalent attitudes of the time.

One of these features medals and documentation belonging to James Brennan who served and an infantryman with the 2/28th Battalion as a ‘Rat of Tobruk’ and taken prisoner of war at El Alamein. James ‘Jim’ Brennan was an indigenous soldier, born in Laverton, Western Australia in 1917. While still a child, James was taken from his family and sent to the Moore River Settlement, north of Perth. In his teens he worked as a stockman mustering cattle before enlisting in the Army in August 1940.

On 26 July 1942 he was captured during the 2/28th Battalion’s disastrous attack on Ruin Ridge as part of what is known as the first battle of Alamein. The battalion lost 65 men killed and 490 captured by the Axis forces.  Sent to Italy, James endured harsh treatment as a POW before being transferred to work in the rice fields between Turin and Milan. When the Italians capitulated, Brennan escaped and fought with the Partisans until being recaptured and sent to Stalag 7 in Germany, before being repatriated to Australia at the end of the war.

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Items belonging to WX7218, Private James Brennan, an indigenous soldier who served with the 2/28th Battalion and was captured at Alamein on 26 July 1942. Photo: Julian Tennant

Returning to the Western Australian Goldfields, James Brennan found that being of indigenous heritage and despite having fought for Australia, he was still not regarded as an Australian citizen. He had to apply for citizenship rights just to go into a pub for a drink and when granted citizenship he and his wife Myrtle were able to go into towns, but this same access was not granted to their relatives. In 1965 James formed the Eastern Goldfields Aboriginal Advancement Council to advocate for social change on behalf of Aboriginal people. His service to the indigenous community was formally recognised in 1984 when James was awarded the Order of Australia Medal. His story was a sobering reminder of some of the attitudes regarding indigenous Australians that still persist in some sections of the community even today.

Other exhibits, such as the plate carrier of Private Brian Enad, who served with the 6th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (6RAR) reflect Australia’s more recent conflicts. Brian Enad deployed to Afghanistan as a member of 6RAR’s Combat Team Charlie, training members of the Afghan National Police and National Army in 2010. The deployment was among the bloodiest for the battalion which formed part of Mentoring Task Force 1, conducting more than 1700 patrols and nearly 100 contacts where the enemy was directly engaged, including the Battle of Derapet, for which Corporal Daniel Keighran, another Kalgoorlie resident, was awarded the Victoria Cross for valour.

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Australian Military Forces Leave Pass granting five days leave in Vung Tau from 29 August until 3 September 1967 to 5411678, Victor Churchill Dale who served with the 7th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment during their first tour in Vietnam in 1967/8. Photo: Julian Tennant

The museum, whilst small is worth setting aside an hour or two for a visit and I am looking forward to returning one day when they finally do receive the funding to make all the larger exhibits available for viewing to the public. Currently, the museum is open on weekdays from 09:00 thru 16:00 and for a couple of hours every third Sunday of the month. Entry is free although gold coin donations are appreciated.

Goldfields War Museum
116 Burt Street
Boulder
Western Australia, 6432

Phone: +61  (0)8 9021 9817
Email: mailbag@ckb.wa.gov.au
Website: www.ckb.wa.gov.au/GoldfieldsWarMuseum

Open: Monday to Friday from 09:00 to 16:00 (excluding public holidays) and on Boulder Market Days (third Sunday of each month) from 10:00 to 12:00

Entry Fees: By donation. Guided tours are available every Thursday at 13.30 and costs $5 per person

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If you like what you see here, please FOLLOW this page via email or by using either the buttons below or in the column on the right.  I try to post NEW content every second Sunday (at least) and knowing that somebody is looking at this gives me the encouragement I need to set aside time to go through my archives and collection in order to develop the content for the page. And of course, feel free to contact me here, via email or by visiting my Facebook or Instagram pages

Nungarin Heritage Machinery & Army Museum, Western Australia

With the fall of Singapore on 15 February 1942, and the bombing of Darwin four days later, fears of a Japanese invasion of Australia began to reach fever pitch. The air raid on Broome in Western Australia on 3 March exacerbated concerns about the vulnerability of the state to Japanese invasion and led to the formation of III Corps and a bolstering of Western Australia’s military preparedness. One armoured and two infantry were deployed to the state and a rapid expansion of Western Australia’s defences commenced.

Nungarin, a small wheatbelt town situated approximately  278 km (173 mi) east of Perth became an important part of the supply network and at its peak was the third largest Army camp in Western Australia with around 1200 service personnel stationed there at any one time. The region was an integral part of the defence network as it was considered sufficiently inland to be outside the range of Japanese carrier-based aircraft. The town of Nungarin was selected for development, due to its location as a road and rail junction, had electricity and a good water supply.

In September 1942, the army acquired 1720 acres of land in and around the townsite and began construction of the Nungarin camp which was home to No.5 Base Ordnance Depot (5BOD), which at the time was the largest army ordnance storage facility in Western Australia and continued to operate there until its closure in 1960. The depot facilities included a vehicle workshop housed in a massive timber clad building which was sold to the Nungarin Shire.  It is now home to Nungarin Heritage Machinery and Army Museum, which officially opened on the 8th of October 1994.

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Nungarin Heritage Machinery and Army Museum. Photo: Julian Tennant

As its name implies, the museum is more than just a military museum and also includes displays of farm machinery and other cultural artifacts related to the local community. However, it was the military aspects that interested me and after paying another visit to the Merredin Military Museum on the Saturday, I made the 30 minute drive to Nungarin early Sunday morning, just in time to arrive for one of the museums renowned Sunday Breakfasts ($10), which was a great way to begin the visit.

Unsurprisingly, the bulk of the exhibits are the vehicles and equipment of the type that were stored or repaired at the depot during its operation. Run by a small team of volunteer staff, the shed is filled with an assortment of military equipment, some complete and some still under restoration. Surrounding the shed are dozens more vehicles at different stages of disrepair, ‘projects’ is how Phil the caretaker/curator described them to me.

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Restored Australian Dingo Scout Car 1942. The chassis and wheels were donated by Anthony Thomson and Kodj Kodjin whilst the armour was found on Bruce Watson’s Nungarin farm. Photo: Julian Tennant

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Fully working WW2 period searchlight and generator, which has occasionally been dragged out to illuminate the night sky around Nungarin. Photo: Julian Tennant

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Unrestored M3 Stuart tank which was acquired by the museum in 1988 after it had been used for farm clearing at Nukarni after the war. Photo: Julian Tennant

In one corner of the shed there are a couple of rooms holding smaller artifacts including communications equipment, uniforms and personal effects. As a former communicator, of particular interest to me were a couple of Vietnam era patrol radio sets used by Australian Special Forces.

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Delco AN/PRC-64 and 64A radio sets used by Australian Special Forces in Vietnam and during the 1970’s. Photo: Julian Tennant

The lunchbox sized AN/PRC-64 was a spy radio set developed by Delco in the USA in the early 1960’s as a radio intended for Special Forces use and for espionage activities. Most of the original AN/PRC-64 sets were upgraded to the PRC-64A variant which included provision for the AN/GRA-71 Electro-mechanical Burst Encoder to allow for faster morse transmissions. These radios were used by the Australian Special Air Service Regiment in Vietnam and also by 1 Commando Regiment. SASR soldier, John Trist recounts his experiences using the 64 set as a patrol sig in the early 1970’s on the Crypto Museum website  and was one of many ex sigs (myself included) who bought one when the Department of Defence disposed of stocks in 1995. These days, on the rare occasion when they do turn up in the marketplace, they sell for quite a bit more than the Au$50 asking price at the time.

The building housing the collection is an important part of the museum’s story, but unfortunately, a largely timber structure out in the middle of a dry and dusty wheatbelt town does not create an ideal conservation environment for textile artifacts. And although the staff have made considerable effort to try and protect the handful of uniforms and insignia on display in their cabinets, these are not the museum’s strong point. The uniforms that are on display represent a small selection of (mostly) Royal Australian Ordnance Corps uniforms, most of which are post war and reflect more recent connections with the Australian Army.

The main attraction is really the vehicles, and this is very much a hands-on type of museum where visitors can clamber around most of the displays to check out important details.  One of the vehicles that I found quite interesting was the Austin Champ, which was developed  to meet the British Army’s requirement for an off-road light vehicle in the early 1950’s. The Australian Army ordered 400 new Champs, plus a similar number of ex-British Army vehicles, but they were not popular due to their unsuitability for Australian conditions and were replaced by the Land Rover which was much better suited to requirements and significantly cheaper.

4 Cylinder Series B Austin Champ used by the Australian Army in the 1950's.

4 Cylinder Series B Austin Champ used by the Australian Army in the 1950’s. Photo: Julian Tennant

Staghound Armoured Car. Photo: Julian Tennant

Staghound Armoured Car. Photo: Julian Tennant

For visitors a trip to the Nungarin Heritage Machinery and Army Museum can be done as a day-trip from Perth, although if you have time I would recommend staying overnight (possibly in nearby Merredin), which will give you time to check out the Merredin Military Museum as well as the Nungarin museum, plus explore the old military buildings that are spread around the area. These are well documented on the Central Wheatbelt Visitor Centre website  or you can use Jane Hammond’s When war came to the wheatbelt piece for the Royal Automobile Club of WA (Inc.) as your guide for the trip east from Perth.

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Ammunition bunker near Nokaning East Road, between Nungarin and Merredin. This is one of 46 concrete bunkers scattered around the area which were used to store various munitions during the war. Photo: Julian Tennant

Nungarin Heritage Machinery & Army Museum
26 Second Avenue
Nungarin
Western Australia, 6490

Phone: +61 (0)8 9046 5040
Email: nungarinheritage@bigpond.com
Website: www.nungarinmuseum.com.au

Open: Every day from 09:00 to 16:00.

Entry Fees: $5 per person

You may also be interested in this review of the nearby Merredin Military Museum

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If you like what you see here, please FOLLOW this page via email or by using either the buttons below or in the column on the right.  I try to post NEW content every second Sunday (at least) and knowing that somebody is looking at this gives me the encouragement I need to set aside time to go through my archives and collection in order to develop the content for the page. And of course, feel free to contact me here, via email or by visiting my Facebook or Instagram pages

USS Cobia SS-245. An AirBnB with a difference

USS Cobia Launch 28 Nov 1943

Launch of the Gato Class Submarine, USS Cobia, 28 November 1943. Official Electric Boat Co. press photograph.

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Original WW2 period handmade USS Cobia SS-245 patch.

The US Navy Gato class submarine, USS Cobia SS-245 was ordered on 9 September 1940, laid down 17 March 1943 and launched on 28 November 1943. She was commissioned on 29 March 1944. She commenced her first war patrol from Pearl Harbour under the command of Lt. Cdr. Albert Lilly Becker on 26 June 1944.

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USS Cobia SS-245. Photographer unknown.

Heading towards the Bonin Islands area, the USS Cobia had her first victory when she sank the Japanese guard boat Takamiya Maru (138 GRT) with gunfire east of Ogasawara-Gunto on 6 July and a week later on the 13th she sank the Japanese army cargo ship, Taishi Maru (2813 GRT) about 190 nautical miles north-west of Chichi Jima. Then, on 18 July 1944 USS Cobia torpedoed and sank the Japanese auxiliary gunboat Unkai Maru No.10 (851 GRT) north-west of Chichi Jima and west of Chichi Jima, the Japanese army cargo ship Nisshu Maru (7785 GRT), which was carrying a Japanese tank regiment to Iwo Jima, causing the loss of 28 tanks. The US Marine Corps considered this sinking critical to their success in capturing Iwo Jima six months later. Two days later, on 20 July, the submarine sank the Japanese auxiliary submarine chasers Yusen Maru No.3 (193 GRT) and Kaio Maru No.2 (62 GRT) north-west of Ogasawara-Gunto. Then on 5 August 1944 she sank Japanese transport ship Yayoi Maru (495 GRT) before ending her very successful first war patrol at Majuro in the Marshall Islands on 14 August 1944.

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Crew on deck at Majuro prior to second war patrol, September, 1944. Photo courtesy of James P. Marion, III

USS Cobia SS-245 Battle Flag

Officers of USS Cobia on deck with their battle just prior to their second war patrol in September 1944. The flag shows the insignia of the ship at center, with flags and stripes indicating sunk Japanese transports and warships. Notes on back of photo: Left to Right Top Row: Lt. Cdr. Joseph J. Sibley, USNR Lt. (JG) William S.C. Henry, USNR Lt. (JG) Lester Davis, USN Lt. Cdr. Montrose G. McCormick, USN Cdr. Albert L. Becker, USN Lieut. James P. Marion, USN Lt. (JG) Daniel C. Pelton, USNR Kneeling: Lt. (JG) Sidney E. Henderson, USNR Lieut. John M. Tufts, USNR Stamp: Official Naval Photo NOT FOR PUBLICATION Stamp: Processed by Naval Censor

After refitting at Majuro from 14 August to 6 September 1944, Cobia sailed into the Luzon Strait for her second war patrol, which was punctuated by Japanese aircraft attacks, but did not result in any successful encounters with enemy shipping and she ended her patrol at Fremantle in Western Australia on 5 November 1944.

USS Cobia departed on her third war patrol, this time to the South China Sea on 30 November 1944. On 14 January 1945 she torpedoed and sank the Japanese minelayer Yurijima off the east coast of Malaya some 70 miles east of Kota Bharu and then returned to Fremantle on 24 January.

Her fourth war patrol commenced on 18 February when she was ordered into the Java Sea. On 26 February the Cobia engaged and sank two small Japanese vessels with gunfire in the Java Sea, but was damaged by return gunfire from one of the Japanese craft, which killed one crewman and damaged the radar equipment forcing the submarine to return to Fremantle to make repairs before recommencing the patrol and finally ending it at Subic Bay on 15 April 1945.

Cobia sea burial of Ralph Clark Huston Jr.

Burial of Ralph Clark Huston Jr. who was wounded in action on 26 February 1945 during a surface attack with 2 Japanese vessels. He died the following morning, and was then buried at sea. USN photo courtesy of ussubvetsofwwii.org

Cobia began her fifth war patrol on 9 May 1945, heading for the Gulf of Siam. On 8 June she torpedoed and sank the Japanese survey ship Hakusa (6799 tons) and the Japanese tanker Nanshin Maru No.22 (834 GRT) off southern French Indochina. On 18 June she returned to Fremantle to end her patrol. A month later on 18 July 1945, the USS Cobia began her sixth and final patrol, first inserting intelligence teams along the coast of Java, she sailed to Formosa before docking at Saipan on 22 August 1945, concluding her final war patrol.

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Personnel transfer from Boarfish (SS-325) to Cobia (SS-245) during fifth patrol. Photo courtesy of James P. Marion, III.

Of Cobia’s six war patrols, the first, third, fourth, and fifth were designated as “successful” war patrols, for which she received four battle stars. She was credited with having sunk 13 ships, a total of 16,835 tons of shipping, as well as rescuing 7 downed airmen.

After the war she was decommissioned and placed on reserve on 22 May 1946. Recommissioned 6 July 1951, the submarine was used to train reservists and Submarine School students at New London until placed in commission in reserve at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard 29 October 1953. After overhaul, she was towed to New London, where she was again decommissioned and laid up in the Atlantic Reserve Fleet on 19 March 1954.

Decommissioned submarines circa 1947

Line up of decommissioned subs at Groton, CT., circa 1947. From left to right:Archerfish (SS-311), Flasher (SS-249), Cobia (SS-245), Croaker (SS-246), Drum (SS-228) & what looks like the Cavalla (SS-244).

By 1959, the Navy considered Cobia obsolete as a deployable warship and transferred her to the Milwaukee, Wisconsin Naval Reserve Center. There she served as a training platform for the next eleven years. She was redesignated an Auxiliary Submarine, AGSS-245, 1 December 1962.

On 1 July 1970, the Navy struck Cobia from the Naval Register, and on 17 August she was towed to Manitowoc, Wisconsin to serve as an international memorial to submariners. In 1986, Cobia was incorporated as a part of the Wisconsin Maritime Museum, which had evolved out of the submariner’s memorial to become the state’s maritime museum. USS Cobia was then declared a National Historic Landmark, and placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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USS Cobia SS-245 being towed to Manitowoc, by the tug Lauren Castle on 17 August 1970. The 75 mile trip from Milwaukee to Manitowac took 9 hours. Photo courtesy: John Krupka

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The Wisconsin Maritime Museum

The museum is one of the largest maritime museums in the region, preserving the heritage of the 28 submarines built there, by the Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company during WW2 and also the general maritime history of Wisconsin plus Great Lakes region. The museum covers 60,000 square feet of space which is home to over 85,000 artifacts including a collection of model boats, an operating steam engine as well as a display of over 50 historic vessels. It also acts as an official repository for retrieved shipwreck materials. But for the submarine enthusiasts, the highlight of the collection must be the USS Cobia, which is the most historically intact WW2 submarine in the USA. Visitors can go aboard for tours every hour during the museum’s opening times, which run from Wednesday thru Sunday.

But, if you’re really keen, go to Airbnb and book it as your overnight accommodation, then stay aboard and use it as your home base to explore the area.

cobia airbnb listing

According to their listing,

Sub Bnb sleeps up to 65 people in sailors’ bunks throughout the boat. The listed price includes the first five guests. Additional guests are $30 each.

The space
Your stay will be as unique as the submarine. No two visits are exactly alike. With more than 65 different places to sleep, you get to choose your own adventure on USS Cobia.

USS Cobia is the best preserved submarine in the country. It has been meticulously restored with amenities added like heat and air conditioning, making it perfect for year-round overnight visits.

During your stay, you’re welcome to explore the submarine with a dedicated staff member. They will be your point of contact and on-site all evening. A personalized tour through the boat is available if desired.

USS Cobia is only accessible via stairs and there are seven bulkhead doors to climb through. The only access to get out onto the boat is through the museum.

We provide bedding, toiletries, a private tour of the submarine as well as coffee from a veteran-owned company in the morning. We also have WWII movies in the museum and board games for your use in the sub. Your stay includes admission to the museum during business hours.

Because we are an operational museum, our policies are a little different. You’re welcome to stay several nights, but we will pack up and secure your items during the day as the museum and sub are open for tours.

The restrooms on Cobia are 76 years old. They’re lovely, but they’re not functional. The Museum will be accessible for your usage at all times, with restrooms and showers available.

We’re happy to store your food in our catering kitchen inside the museum. You’re welcome to use the fridge, freezer and microwave in that kitchen. The kitchen is stocked with coffee, tea and light snacks for you to enjoy during your visit.

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Deck view overlooking Lake Michigan. Photo: Courtesy of the Wisconsin Maritime Museum

Guest access
You’ll have access to the entire submarine and its deck from 6pm until checkout. You will also be given a key to enter the staff door of the museum so you can come and go as you please during your stay.

Other things to note
We clean the submarine extensively before and after every stay and throughout the day when we are open.

The provided bedding is professionally cleaned.

Masks are required in the museum when we are open to the public. Staff are required to wear masks when with you and other guests.

The submarine has a new HVAC system and air purifiers are placed throughout the submarine for additional sanitization.

The virtual tour video below gives a really good overview of the submarine, its layout, how it operated during the war and a tempting taste of what to expect for visitors and overnight guests… but without the smell of old diesel.

For more information or to book a tour, contact the museum below or visit their Airbnb listing.

The Wisconsin Maritime Museum
75 Maritime Dr
Manitowoc
FWI 54220, USA

Phone: +1 920-684-0218
Email: museum@wisconsinmaritime.org
Website: https://www.wisconsinmaritime.org

Open: Wednesday to Sunday. Contact the museum for specific times.

USN Officers Dolphins qualification and Submarine Combat Insigni

WW2 period USN officer’s ‘Dolphins’ submarine qualification badge (manufacturer H&H, New York) and Submarine Combat Insignia with stars indicating successful completion of 4 ‘war’ patrols (manufacturer AMICO, New York). Collection: Julian Tennant

Please also check out my posts on the Submarine Combat Insignia awarded to submariners after a successful war patrol and a personalised  set of USN officer’s ‘Dolphins’ insignia from an officer aboard the USS Skipjack (SS-184).

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If you like what you see here, please FOLLOW this page via email or by using either the buttons below or in the column on the right.  I try to post NEW content every second Sunday (at least) and knowing that somebody is looking at this gives me the encouragement I need to set aside time to go through my archives and collection in order to develop the content for the page. And of course, feel free to contact me here, via email or by visiting my Facebook or Instagram pages

A Spanish Civil War Era Parachute Rigger Wing

Original Spanish Civil War period Republican parachute badge. Collection: Julian Tennant

Original Spanish Civil War period Republican parachute badge. Collection: Julian Tennant

One of the rarest of parachute badges is that of the Republican Spanish from the Civil War” is how authors Bob Bragg and Roy Turner described this wing which is identified as #297 from their first volume on the subject of airborne qualification brevets, Parachute Badges and Insignia of the World.

Very little is known about Spanish Republican paratroopers, with some researchers denying their existence altogether. However, both the Bragg & Turner and Gregory & Batchelor’s Airborne Warfare 1918-1945 books state that in 1938 Russian instructors trained a platoon of Republican parachutists at Las Rosas near Madrid. However, no record exists showing that these paratroopers ever made an operational jump, nor any evidence to suggest that they were awarded a qualification badge.

There was however an official Republican military parachute insignia which is believed to represent qualified parachute riggers and it is likely that is the correct identification for the wing being discussed.

The badge shown above, which is held in my collection, is one of only a few authentic examples from the period still known to exist. It is a multi-piece, silver-washed brass and enamel badge that incorporates an existing aviator insignia with a separate parachute device that has been cut and shaped, attached over the top of the red enameled shield. The red enameled star has also been separately attached to the top of the badge.

The Republican Government authorised this insignia design via an order dated 26 February 1937 and recorded shortly thereafter in the Republic Gazette – Gaceta de la Republica 62 of 3 March 1937, on page 7104.  The insignia described in the Gazette reads as simply “Parachute. A deployed parachute embroidered in gold” (Paracaídas. Un paracaídas desplegado bordado en oro.)

Page from Gaceta de la Republica 62 - 3 March 1937

Gaceta de la Republica 62 – 3 March 1937 outlining the approval for a Parachute badge.

The inclusion of the word Paracaídas or parachute instead of Paracaidistas (parachutists) or Tropas Paracaidistas (paratroopers) plus its position within the gazette being listed along with other specialist insignia such as armourer, driver-mechanic and photographer also implies that this is more likely a parachute rigger trade badge rather than a paratrooper qualification wing.

Some years ago, noted Spanish parachute insignia collector, Manuel Gomez and a colleague produced a limited edition reproduction of the badge using parts of two original manufacturing dies that had been uncovered at a military regalia suppliers shop in the town of Alcala de Henares, which was home to a Republican airfield during the war. One die was for the Spanish Air Force wing and the other for a smaller parachute device, which is of a slightly different design and size to that on my civil-war period example. Both dies were incomplete with only the front faces being found, so as a result these reproductions were cast and a unique serial number engraved on the rear. Two hundred examples were produced and sold to collectors with an accompanying certificate.

REPRODUCTION Spanish Civil War Republican parachute badge

REPRODUCTION Spanish Civil War Republican parachute badge made from parts of original dies. 200 wings were cast and each is engraved with a unique number that matches the accompanying certificate. This example is number 111. Collection: Manuel Gomez

In addition to Manuel’s numbered reproduction, a number of other copies of this rare badge have also been made for the collector market. Some examples of which can be seen in the photos below.

Very little has been written about this insignia and I have not been able to find any further documentation regarding the requirements for qualification, how many were issued or what the original embroidered variation actually looked like. If you can help fill the gaps and have additional information, please contact me as I would love to find out more about the insignia and also this largely unexplored period in the early history of military parachuting.

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If you like what you see here, please FOLLOW this page via email or by using either the buttons below or in the column on the right.  I try to post NEW content every second Sunday (at least) and knowing that somebody is looking at this gives me the encouragement I need to set aside time to go through my archives and collection in order to develop the content for the page. And of course, feel free to contact me here, via email or by visiting my Facebook or Instagram pages

Army Museum of Western Australia Update

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Australian Special Forces weapons display in the World War 2 Gallery of the Army Museum of Western Australia. Photo: Julian Tennant

The Army Museum of Western Australia will be reopening to the public on Wednesday 2nd September, albeit with limited access hours.  The museum will be open Wednesday, Thursday and Fridays 10.30am – 3pm (last entry 1pm).  However, the museum will not yet be open on the weekends.

To see my two part review of the museum and dozens of photographs go to this post for part one which covers the exhibits up until 1945 and here for the post 1945 galleries and external displays.

For more information about current visiting conditions, visit the museum website.

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The Motor Submersible Canoe, better known as a “Sleeping Beauty” was developed by Camper and Nicholsons Yacht Division in the UK in conjunction with the Royal Marines in 1943. They were designed to deliver one man silently into harbours to attach limpet mines to enemy vessels. Although used for training in the North Sea they were used operationally for the first time by Major Ivan Lyon of Z Special Unit on Operation RIMAU in 1944. Photos: Julian Tennant

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Special Air Service Regiment / Special Operations Task Group (SOTG) Afghanistan modified Mercedes Unimog. These vehicles were ‘up armoured’ and modified to meet the specific operational requirements whilst operating in Afghanistan between 2005 until 2011. Photo: Julian Tennant

The Army Museum of Western Australia
Artillery Barracks
Burt Street
Fremantle, Western Australia, 6160

Phone: +61 (0)8 9430 2535
Fax: +61 (0)8 9430 2519
Email: info@armymuseumwa.com.au
Website: www.armymuseumwa.com.au

Open: Wednesday to Friday inclusive from 10:30 am to 3:00 pm. Last entry at 1:00 pm.
Group bookings can be arranged for Wednesday, Thursday or Friday.

Note:
Photo ID required for entrance
Wheelchair access available
Only ACROD parking allowed on-site

Entry Fees:
Adults $15
Seniors/Concession $10
Child (6-17) $10
Family Group (2+3) $35
For School and other group tours refer to details in Bookings

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If you like what you see here, please FOLLOW this page via email or by using either the buttons below or in the column on the right.  I try to post NEW content every second Sunday (at least) and knowing that somebody is looking at this gives me the encouragement I need to set aside time to go through my archives and collection in order to develop the content for the page. And of course, feel free to contact me here, via email or by visiting my Facebook or Instagram pages

 

Australian War Memorial Update: The 2020 Napier Waller Art Prize

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Glen Braithwaite: Isolation (2020). Digital photograph 40 x 60 cm

 

News from the Australian War Memorial.

Voting in the Napier Waller Art Prize 2020 People’s Choice Award is now open. Explore the work of 31 finalists in this year’s prize, including those awarded ‘highly commended’ by our judging panel, and cast your vote

The annual Napier Waller Art Prize is open to former and current Australian Defence Force personnel. It encourages artistic excellence, promotes the transformative power of creativity, and raises awareness of the experiences and talent of service personnel. There is no required theme, and entrants are invited to use diverse media and original concepts.

The winner of the People’s Choice Award receives $5,000. Voting closes on Sunday 22 November 2020. Finalist art works reflect the resilience, imagination, skill and humour that members of the Australian Defence Force are well regarded for. They also comment on the challenges and consequences of military service.

An exhibition of the ‘highly commended’ art works opens on Friday 25 September at the Australian War Memorial, with the winner announced on Thursday 24 September. This work is accessioned into the Memorial’s collection, with the artist receiving a $10,000 cash prize and a two-week, all expenses paid residency with the Art Section at the Memorial.

My favourite is “In plain sight” by Ron Bradfield.

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Ron Bradfield: In plain sight (2020). Strips of army, navy and dashiki shirts hooked and knotted on army scrim mesh, hand stitching. 160 x 65 x 40 cm

Bradfield’s artist statement says,
(This) is a textile work, depicting a ghillie suit made from the many shirts I have worn to hide from the view of others. While I was in the ADF and I was in my uniform, no-one saw the Aboriginal man inside, they only saw the sailor on the outside.When I left the RAN in 1997, I discovered that not being able to hide made me a target once again – just as it had before I’d first put on an ADF uniform in the late 80’s. People more often saw the “Aborigine” and not the man.

To see all the artwork and vote, go to
https://www.awm.gov.au/Napier-Waller-Art-Prize-hub/2020-Napier-Waller-Art-Prize 

 

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If you like what you see here, please FOLLOW this page via email or by using either the buttons below or in the column on the right.  I try to post NEW content every second Sunday (at least) and knowing that somebody is looking at this gives me the encouragement I need to set aside time to go through my archives and collection in order to develop the content for the page. And of course, feel free to contact me here, via email or by visiting my Facebook or Instagram pages

Juleswings Militaria Blog Update

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Unfortunately my father has just passed away and as a result I am going to take a short break from my regular Sunday posts. Preparing fresh content for each week is fun, but it can be quite time consuming and right now I need to take some time out to get my shit together. 

I have got some interesting things in the pipeline, including more military museum reviews, French Indochina and Vietnam War groups, early Australian parachutist and SAS insignia, plus sharing some of the more exotic airborne insignia that I have gathered during my four decades of collecting militaria. I am hoping that this break will only be for a couple of weeks and invite you to subscribe and follow for updates to new content by using the link in the column on the right.

So, until then, thanks for the support, happy collecting and stay safe
jules

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Coming soon!    An Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (AATTV) beret badge which belonged to Captain Peter Shilston MC. Peter Shilston won his Military Cross leading the 1st Battalion, 2nd Mobile Strike Force (Mike Force) during the relief of the US Army Special Forces camp at Dak Seang in April 1970. I have a number of Peter’s personal items in my collection and will be sharing them here in a future post, so subscribe and stay tuned. Collection: Julian Tennant

 

The Aviation Heritage Museum – Bull Creek, Perth, Western Australia

Note: Click on the smaller images to enlarge and read caption information.

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Australian Flying Corps (AFC) pilot standing by a replica of a Sopwith Camel fighter. Photo: Julian Tennant

The North Wing is home to the larger aircraft in the collection and has a greater emphasis on the Royal Australian Air Force and its operations during peace and war. This is very much an ‘old-school’ type museum with an emphasis on artifacts rather than interactive displays or gimmicks to keep the kids entertained. Naturally there is a greater focus on Western Australia’s role and the Second World War does have a much greater emphasis than subsequent conflicts, with Vietnam and more recent conflicts almost entirely absent.

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Entrance to the North Wing of the RAAFA Aviation Heritage Museum of WA. Photo: Julian Tennant

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1934 period RAAF Mess Dress uniform worn by (then) Flight Lieutenant Ivor. J. Lightfoot. Photo: Julian Tennant

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RAAF mechanic servicing a De Havilland Tiger Moth training aircraft. Photo: Julian Tennant

The layout of the museum may also appear somewhat random, rather than following a cohesive timeline and this may have been dictated due to space considerations. I suspect that it may also be due to the nature of the museum and what it represents in terms of preserving the history of aviation in WA, rather than trying to explain a linear sequence of conflicts or historical events. Many of the items have been donated by members or their families and it is nice to see some of the more unusual (and sometimes banal) objects on display rather than being hidden from public view in a storage facility somewhere. This more than makes up for the somewhat cluttered and disorganised feel of the museum in my opinion.  

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Second World War period Middle East Issue Fly Swat, RAAF officers issue Pith Helmet issued in the Burma / Indian operational theatres and a souvenir dagger from Somalia. Photo: Julian Tennant

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British Airborne Forces Welbike Paratrooper’s Motorcycle. The Welbike was a single seat motorcycle produced during WW2 at the direction of Station IX (the “Inter Services Research Bureau”) for use by the Special Operations Executive (SOE). Between 1942 and 1943, 3641 bikes were built and although not much used by the SOE, some were issued to the British 1st and 6th Airborne Divisions, seeing use during Operation Market Garden at Arnhem. Photo: Julian Tennant

As can be expected, the ‘draw-card’ exhibits for most visitors would be the aircraft on display, however as an insignia collector, it is the uniforms and badges that attracted me. The Aviation Heritage Museum does not disappoint in this aspect. It displays some rare and unusual insignia, including what appears to be an Australian Flying Corps patch (see images above), the likes of which I had never seen before, despite having the AFC as one of my primary areas of collecting interest. It also shows some of the older Squadron patches and some more recent items from the more obscure RAAF support units.

My one criticism re the insignia is that some of the displays include obvious (to the knowledgeable collector) fakes such as the AFC wing which is featured on the pilot by the Sopwith Camel in the South Wing. The brevet is one of the copies sold by Lukus Productions and is even available in the museum shop and yet there is no information stating that the uniform being displayed is not authentic in all respects. There were also others that I was not convinced were genuine, but were not marked as being replicas. This is not a good practice IMO as it does potentially undermine confidence in the descriptor didactic panels for other displays as well. However, I only noticed this in a few displays and overall was very impressed by what I uncovered as I made my way through the museum. 

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Leather patch (with photo showing reverse) and Observer wings of the 531st Squadron, 380th Bombardment Group (H), 5th Air Force (USAAF) which flew B-24 Liberator bombers in the South Western and Western Pacific during WW2. The 380th was placed under the control of the RAAF and operated out of Darwin from May 1943 until February 1945. Photo: Julian Tennant.

 

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View of the North Wing of the RAAFA Aviation Heritage Museum of WA. Photo: Julian Tennant

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3 Control Reporting Unit Patch and Disruptive Pattern Desert Uniform (DPDU) worn by a RAAF airman when he arrived at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan on Christmas Eve of 2008. Photo: Julian Tennant.

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Bell UH-1 Iroquois (Huey) Helicopter of 9 Sqn RAAF. Photo: Julian Tennant

In addition to the two display hangars the museum also has a separate library, photo archive, model aeroplane club room and of course a gift shop which features a good selection of aviation related books, including some out of print, second-hand publications, models and other related memorabilia.

The museum is easily accessible by car, or if using public transport by train with Bull Creek train station located approximately 500m away.  It is open every day, except Good Friday, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day from 10:00 until 16:00 and along with the Army Museum of Western Australia, should definitely be one of the museums you see when visiting Perth.

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RAAF Squadron patches and reproduction pilot’s wings on sale in the Museum shop. Photo: Julian Tennant

The Aviation Heritage Museum
Air Force Memorial Estate
2 Bull Creek Drive,
Bull Creek WA 6149
Australia

Website: https://aviationmuseumwa.org.au/
Email: museum@raafawa.org.au
Phone: +61 (0)8 9311 4470

Open: Every day from 10:00 until 16:00 (except Good Friday, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day).

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If you like what you see here, please FOLLOW this page via email or by using either the buttons below or in the column on the right.  I try to post NEW content every second Sunday (at least) and knowing that somebody is looking at this gives me the encouragement I need to set aside time to go through my archives and collection in order to develop the content for the page. And of course, feel free to contact me here, via email or by visiting my Facebook or Instagram pages

 

 

Vietnam War era Parachute club patches

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Collection: Julian Tennant

During the Vietnam war there was at least two sport parachuting clubs operating in South Vietnam although I have patches in my collection that indicates there may have been as many as three. Detailed information about the histories of these clubs appears to be quite scant although two of the three are mentioned in various accounts and the crossover is such that I wonder if they may in fact be exactly the same group of skydivers, just jumping under two different club names? But if that were the case why the different patches?

 

Viet-Nam Parachute Club Nhay Du

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Viet-Nam Parachute Club Nhay Du patch. Two versions of this patch are known to exist, along with a smaller metal ‘beer-can’ insignia. Collection: Julian Tennant

The Viet-Nam Parachute Club Nhay Du  was co-located with the Vietnamese Airborne Division HQ at Tan Son Nhut airbase. The club had a mix of Allied and Vietnamese members, with most of the latter coming from the Airborne School staff who sometimes used the opportunity for free-fall descents to qualify for the higher-grade parachute monitor wings.  Thom Lyons a long time skydiver, served with the USAF in Vietnam and recounted his experiences jumping with the club during his tour of duty in 1966-67. He recalled that after “Charles” had made jumping difficult at the old DZ“, jumps were done on the military DZ at Ap Dong, which was used by the Vietnamese Airborne school. 

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Thom Lyons’ Vietnam Parachute Club Nhay Du and Parachute Club of America membership cards along with his Vietnamese parachutist wings which he earned whilst jumping with the club. Photo: Thomas Lyons

 

The Saigon Sport Parachute Club

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Saigon Sport Parachute Club patch. Collection: Julian Tennant

 

Thom Lyons also jumped with the Saigon Sport Parachute Club (SSPC), which used the same DZ at Ap Dong. Thom recalls,

I was in a group of crazies in 1966-67 called the Saigon Sport Parachute Club jumping at Ap Dong. We used H-34’s which is strange cause when you spot you can yell “5 BACK!”.

The first incident was a 10,000 footer and at about 4000′ I noticed that the DZ was being shelled!!! I seriously wondered if it was worth it to open at all or just get it over with, but I wasn’t that young or that stupid.

Next was a few weeks later when the crew chief ordered everyone out for some reason. We were down wind over a jungle canopy to the east of the DZ and no way could we get back. I spotted a small clearing maybe 25′ in diameter and started towards it with my 28′ cheapo. I had to work the target and put my M-45 Swedish 9mm sub-machine gun together at the same time. I land in the clearing, but the canopy was in the trees and I was dangling a foot or so off the ground. I heard people running towards me and I almost shot three kids who came after me to carry gear or whatever for money or cigarettes. They got my gear out of the tree and when I went to put some ripstop tape on some small tears from the tree, I found two small calibre bullet holes! Don’t know when I got them. Let’s say the experience was UNIQUE! The DZ was also had as rock so you either did an excellent PLF or stood it up which wasn’t often in that heat and humidity. AP DONG was also the DZ for the Vietnamese 2nd Airborne Division and there was a small triangular fort on the DZ. The chopper could land right next to the packing area, but we discouraged that for obvious reasons.

Every time we jumped, we were plagued by people trying to sell us everything from Coke-Cola to their daughters and these boys were all over who would field pack for you for a couple of cigarettes. Carry your gear back for another one.

The club had mostly Army in it, and a couple of Navy and Air Force but also some Aussies and American Civilians. The first CrossBow in Viet Nam didn’t get jumped more than a few times. An American civilian brought it in and did a hook turn into a tree trunk and the H-34 had to fly him to the 3rd field hospital which left us without a jump ship for several hours.

By the way, the H-34 was Viet in VNAF colors and we paid the pilots a (5th) bottle of Johnny Walker each to fly for us, the chopper was free. I didn’t drink so it was usually my ration for 5th’s that got used up.

After TET in 1968 the club couldn’t get the chopper anymore and the club folded, I’m told.

The club jumped every Sunday morning and had a mix of military and civilian members from Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand, Germany and the USA. The club seems to be run on a shoestring budget, with Dan Bonfig, the President, Vice-President, Secretary, Treasurer and Chief Rigger who was working for the RMK-BRJ construction consortium based at 12 Thong Nhut, Saigon administering the club from his workplace. Unfortunately, he has passed away and I have not yet been able to find out any more information about the SSPC or its relationship to the Viet-Nam Parachute Club.  A lot of the anecdotal information that I have uncovered so far seems to cross over between the two clubs, hence my belief that there may be a direct connection between the two.

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Saigon Sports Parachute Club circa 1967. Photo: Hector Aponte

 

Cape St Jacques Skydivers VN

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Cape St Jacques Sky Divers VN patch. Collection: Julian Tennant

 

The club represented by this last patch is a complete mystery to me. Cap Saint-Jacques was the French Indochinese name for Vũng Tàu, which during the 2nd Indochina War was home to the 1st Australian Logistics Support Group as well as various US military units. It was also a popular in-country R&R destination during the war so it does seem logical that a skydiving club may have existed there. However, I cannot find any record of this club existing during the war and none of the Australian veterans I have asked about it have any recollection of a parachute club being located there. The spelling of Cap Saint-Jacques as Cape St-Jacques on the patch suggests to me that it is post French era and my best guess is that it may be an earlier club that had folded by the mid 1960’s when the military presence started to build up in the area, but this is speculation on my part.

If anybody can help provide more detail about any of these clubs, I would love to hear from you to help clarify the situation and record some more detail about their respective histories before they are lost forever.

 

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If you like this article, please FOLLOW my page to receive updates email or by using either the buttons below or in the column on the right.  I try to post NEW content every second Sunday (at least) and knowing that somebody is looking at this gives me the encouragement I need to set aside time to go through my archives and collection in order to develop the content for the page. And of course, feel free to contact me here, via email or by visiting my Facebook or Instagram pages