WW2 Caterpillar Club pin to RAAF pilot, Group Captain P.G. Heffernan

The Caterpillar Club began in 1922 shortly after an American aviator, LT H.R. Harris, made an emergency descent using an Irvin parachute over McCook Field in Dayton, Ohio, USA. The lucky escape captured the attention of two visiting newspaper journalists, Maurice Hutton and Vern Timmerman. After discussions between Hutton, Timmerman, parachute manufacturer Leslie Irvin, Harris and another airman, Lt. Frank B. Tyndal, it was decided to form a club that recorded the names of individuals whose lives had been saved making an emergency descent using a parachute.

A club member, Milton St Clair, came up with the idea of using the caterpillar as the club’s symbol after a discussion as how to best represent membership. He recalls,
“Not long after our conversation I received literature about the Caterpillar Tractor Company from a relative, showing the design of their advertisements that is a wavy streak with ‘Caterpillar’ written across its face. I immediately got in touch with Timmerman and Hutton, and suggested to them that the organisation be called ‘Caterpillar Club’ for several reasons, namely; the parachute mainsail and lines were woven from the finest silk. The lowly worm spins a cocoon, crawls out and flies away from certain death if it remains in sight of the cocoon. A better example of what a pilot or passenger should do in the case of an uncontrollable plane could not have better figurative depiction. Hutton and Timmerman gave enthusiastic support to this name.”

Two companies are usually associated with Caterpillar Club awards, Irvin and Switlik, although other parachute companies also used the symbol for brief periods of time. The pin featured here is an example awarded by the Irving Air Chute Company during WW2 for members of its Caterpillar Club European Division  and I will feature my Switlik pin in a future post.

The Irving Air Chute Company was formed by Leslie Irvin in Lexington Kentucky. A clerical error had resulted in the addition of a ‘G’ to Irvin’s name when the company was registered and this was amended to the Irvin Air Chute Company post WW2. In 1926 Leslie Irvin went to Great Britain where he established the Irving Air Chute of Great Britain Ltd at Letchworth, Garden City, Hertfordshire and as a result the European Division of the Caterpillar Club was formed.

Irvin’s Caterpillar Club European Division badge was originally made in 9ct gold (and later in gilt brass), is 20mm long and 4mm wide with ruby eyes. They were made by the jewellers, Mappin & Webb London. The badges produced in America were originally 10ct gold. The badge has a blank reverse upon which the recipient’s name is engraved behind the gold attachment pin. Many of the British made awards also feature a ‘9ct’ gold mark at the base. The pin was presented in a blue velvet lined presentation box, accompanied by a membership certificate and card.

Irvin Caterpillar Club pin presented to RAAF pilot Patrick George Heffernan O.B.E, A.F.C after he made an emergency descent on the 6th of November 1943. The pin measures 20mm long, 4mm wide, has ruby eyes and is engraved "G.C. P.G. HEFFERNAN" on the rear. Collection: Julian Tennant

WW2 period Irvin Caterpillar Club European Division pin presented to RAAF pilot Group Captain (later Air Commodore) Patrick George Heffernan O.B.E, A.F.C after he made an emergency descent on the 6th of November 1943. The pin measures 20mm long, 4mm wide, has ruby eyes and is engraved “G.C. P.G. HEFFERNAN” on the rear. Collection: Julian Tennant

The pin that I have in my collection was presented to Royal Australian Air Force pilot, Group Captain (later Air Commodore) Patrick George Heffernan O.B.E, A.F.C., who entered the Royal Military College, Duntroon in 1925 and in June 1929 went to the Air Force as a Pilot Officer. Heffernan had a long career which included qualifying as a RAAF parachutist in October 1930 and being awarded the Air Force Cross for his part in the rescue of RAF personnel from a Wellesley Bomber which had crashed in Western Australia in 1938. He was formally awarded his membership as no. 16000 of the Caterpillar Club European Division in February 1945 as the result of a training accident that occurred in November 1943.  He gives the following account of the jump that earned him membership of the Caterpillar Club in Bill Johnson’s book, Ripcord Australia.

“I joined the RAAF in 1929 and along with six other RAAF pilots we were sent to the UK in in 1943 to command various RAF squadrons, whose aircrew were predominantly Australian. Air Commodore DEL Wilson was to command RAF station Wyton, but after some operational flights he was shot down and became a POW. I was to command the Wellington OTU [27 Operational Training Unit RAF] where most of the Australians were crewed up. Wing Commander Balmer, Forsyth and McCormack were to command various squadrons.

I was taking part in a “Bullseye” which was a miniature bomber raid in which OTU crews took part before going on real ops. There were about 70 Wellingtons in this stream and were at 17000. Just as I was about to alter course over the last turning point, I looked down to reset the compass and as I looked up another Wellington appeared right in front of me and I skewered my aircraft on his port wing. I was knocked out and when I came too I found the aircraft in a steep dive as the controls had been jammed forward in the impact. Half the nose was ripped away and my bomb aimer had disappeared. I tried to contact the rest of the crew but the intercom was out and yelling down through the cabin door did not get any results, so I assumed that they, on possibly seeing me unconscious, had bailed out. I opened the top escape hatch and when I went to stand up, found that my right leg was broken. So, I hooked my finger in the loop of my flying boot and managed to kick my way out. I hit the mainplane and missed the tail. The chute opened OK and within a few seconds I hit the ground with a wallop.

It was a very dark night and after my eyes became used to the darkness I could see a white gate some 150 yards away, so thought I could crawl to it, but as soon as I put weight on my leg I passed out again. When I came to, I realised the futility of my attempts, so wrapped myself in the chute and tried to settle in for the night. It was now 22:30 on 6.11.1943. When it became daylight, I sat up and watched for any movement and about 08:00 I saw a chap riding a bike so yelled out and he came over. I told him my story and he went off to get an ambulance. He came back with a thermos of hot tea and a bottle of Red Label. I can assure you that a mix of 4 parts Red Label to 1 of tea was very welcome. The ambulance arrived and I went to Ely hospital where I remained for the next 14 months. It was found that I had broken my leg in 3 places, also had 3 broken ribs and a broken radius in my right arm. All these injuries were caused when the other chap’s wing came into the cockpit.

NOW, here’s the amazing part of the story. Usually in a Wellington the pilot wore a chute harness and the pack was stowed in the nose so when an emergency arose the bomb aimer passed the pack up. That night BOTH the other pilot and myself went to collect our chutes and were told they were being folded so BOTH of us asked for a seat type which we wore. In my case I would have had no chance of getting the pack because of my injuries and when the other aircraft broke away it went into an inverted spin, so that the moment the pilot released his aircraft harness, he was thrown out of the aircraft. Had he been wearing only a chute harness (no pack) he would have been a dead duck, but only damaged his knee on landing. So BOTH of us were very lucky, as we were the only survivors of both aircraft. Being in an inverted spin, his crew would have had little chance of getting out; I cannot understand why my crew failed to get out and can only assume that they were knocked out by the impact of the collision. The other pilot was Canadian and was not in the “Bullseye” but was doing a night cross country flight and his track crossed the “Bullseye” stream and that is why we almost hit at right angles.”

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England circa February 1945. Air Vice Marshal Wrigley at a luncheon at the Irvin Air Chute factory pinning a caterpillar pin on Group Captain P. G. Heffernan AFC, Royal Australian Air Force, as member number 16000 of the European Division of the Caterpillar Club. The delay between the date of the incident and presentation of the award is most likely because of Heffernan’s lengthy 14 month recovery in Ely hospital and helps to explain the presence of the walking stick. Australian War Memorial Image Accession Number: SUK13845

Patrick Heffernan, O.B.E., A.F.C continued to serve at various RAAF Headquarter establishments after the war and in 1953 was awarded an O.B.E. for his service. He retired as an Air Commodore on the 15th of September 1956 and died in 1994.

heffernan group-01

WW2 and 1950’s era RAAF pilot’s wings, Caterpillar Club badge and Returned From Active Service badge numbered AF 113893 belonging to 0318 Air Commodore Patrick George Heffernan O.B.E., A.F.C. Collection: Julian Tennant

Related: The Winged Boot

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Note that this site has NEW content posted every Sunday! 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. Knowing that somebody is looking at this gives me the encouragement I need to go through my archives and collection 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 Airborne Insignia #1 – Airborne Platoon?

Aust Para PTF patch

As yet to be positively identified Australian Airborne patch. The design is printed on calico / linen material, reminiscent of the patches sometimes used by Australian and Commonwealth units in the 1950’s.

This is the first of an ongoing series of articles which will take a closer look at some of the insignia used by the Airborne and Special Operations units of the Australian Defence Force (ADF).

This week, my thoughts on a couple of mystery Australian Airborne patches which have not yet been positively identified. I suspect that both of the badges featured have a connection to the platoon of qualified parachutists, known as Airborne Platoon, that has been attached to the Australian parachute training units since the 1950’s.

Airborne Platoon has been an integral part of the parachute training activities carried out within the Australian Defence Force since 1951. The platoon formation was promulgated in Military Board Instruction 145 of 21 September 1951 and states,

“Establish in the Australian Military Forces a mobile group capable of providing Army, inter-service and public duties in the following fields.

  1. Land/Air Warfare tactical research and development;
  2. Demonstrations to assist Land/Air Warfare training and security;
  3. Airborne fire fighting
  4. Airborne search and rescue;
  5. Aid to the civil power – national catastrophes.

Method: By regular attachment of a rifle platoon from the Royal Australian Regiment to the component of the School of Land/Air Warfare. Platoon to be relieved annually.”

In subsequent years the role and tasks performed by the Airborne Platoon has evolved and today its function is different to that originally outlined above. Soldiers from Airborne Platoon, which number around 20, assist with various training activities conducted at the Parachute Training School (PTS). Colloquially known as ‘stooging’ these include providing sticks of qualified parachutists for trainees to use during advanced courses for example the stick commander’s course as well as demonstrating techniques, operating simulators and training equipment etc.

airborne platoon pts

Airborne Platoon 1963. Note the unit crest with the words “AIRBORNE PLATOON” superimposed on the boomerang. Unfortunately I have been unable to ascertain the exact colours used for the crest, however I suspect it may consist of a white parachute, pale blue wings, red brown kangaroo and yellow boomerang. The members of the platoon when this photograph was taken in 1963 are as follows:  Back row L-R – John Clarke, Frank Carroll, Charlie Liddell, Wayne Blank KIA in Vietnam , Mick Caroll DCM in Vietnam, Tom Davidson, Alex McCloskey DCM in Vietnam, Jimmy Acorn, “Smudger” Smith Centre L-R -Ted Harrison, Bernie Considine, John Burling, Peter Wilkes DCM in Vietnam, John Mulby, Rob Perry, John Durrington KIA in Vietnam, Roy Cladingbole, Ron Gilchrist, Sitting Front L-R – Brice French, Bob Mossman, Maurice Barwick, Dick Collins, Bill Jenkinson, Lou Langabeer

Members of the platoon wear the maroon beret and wing type for which they are qualified, but my research, thus far, does not indicate the use of any other authorised uniform insignia. However, photographs of the platoon show that the platoon displayed a distinctive unit crest for official photographs and also at the platoon lines on base. The crest features a stylised version of the Australian parachute qualification with white parachute and blue wings, surmounted by a red/brown kangaroo above a boomerang. Photographs from the 1950’s and 60’s show the boomerang featuring the words “AIRBORNE PLATOON” but by the 1970’s this had evolved to include the words “ROYAL AUSTRALIAN REGIMENT”.

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Airborne Platoon photograph showing members of the unit in 1973. Note the change to the unit crest including the replacement of the words “AIRBORNE PLATOON” on the boomerang with “ROYAL AUSTRALIAN REGIMENT”

airborne platoon pts 1

Two members of Airborne Platoon by their unit crest displayed at their lines during the 1970’s.

The use of this crest could provide clues to a couple of unusual Australian military parachutist insignia that are known to exist but have not yet been formally identified. The first is a printed calico badge (shown at the top of the page) of the type used for shoulder patches by Australian Commonwealth Military Forces during the 1950’s and 60’s.

The second badge which I hold in my collection also incorporates the same design elements. The manufacturing style and weave of this badge indicates that it dates from the 1960’s and possibly made by the ACE Novelty Company in Japan. There are differences in scale, shape of the various design elements and colours when compared to the later RAR Airborne Platoon insignia. However, the symbolism used in both the badges and the Airborne Platoon crests leads me to suspect that both these two insignia may both have been made for and used by the Airborne Platoon in the first couple of decades of its existence.

Unidentified Australian parachute patch. Because of the symbolism used here and also with the early Airborne Platoon crest, I wonder if this badge may have been used unofficially on sports wear, jumpsuits etc by members of the Airborne Platoon at some point from the late 50's through 1960's? I don't know the answer and any additional information is welcomed. Collection: Julian Tennant

Unidentified Australian parachute patch. Because of the symbolism used here and also with the early Airborne Platoon crest, I wonder if this badge may have been used unofficially on sports wear, jumpsuits etc by members of the Airborne Platoon at some point from the late 50’s through 1960’s? I don’t know the answer and any additional information is welcomed. Collection: Julian Tennant

At this stage these observations are my own and unsubstantiated by any verifiable evidence that I am aware of. If anybody can provide any more information about either of the badges (or has an example of the printed calico patch for sale or trade), I would welcome your input and any additional information, so please contact me if you can help.

Note that this site has NEW content posted every Sunday! 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. Knowing that somebody is looking at this gives me the encouragement I need to go through my archives and collection 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

WW2 USN Submariner ‘Dolphins’ from an officer aboard USS Skipjack (SS-184)

USN Submariner badge, type 2, "deep wave" variation made by Hillborn & Hamburger Inc. and engraved "To Audrey from Sidney Kelf 11.25.42". Collection: Julian Tennant

USN Submariner badge, type 2, “deep wave” variation made by Hillborn & Hamburger Inc. and engraved “To Audrey from Sidney Kelf 11.25.42”. Collection: Julian Tennant

Another item from my collection this week. This time it is a WW2 USN “deep wave” type 2 Submariner badge made by Hillborn & Hamburger that I acquired from a family here in Australia. The badge originally belonged to Lieutenant Sidney Alfred Kelf who served aboard the Salmon class submarine, USS Slipjack (SS-184) in 1941 and 1942.

The badge came from the estate of Audrey Beryl Hughson an Australian who was given it as a keepsake by Kelf whilst he was stationed in Australia during WW2. The badge is engraved “To Audrey from Sidney Kelf 11.25.42” which indicates the engraving was done at the conclusion of the boat’s 5th war patrol which took Skipjack from the submarine base at Fremantle in Western Australia to Pearl Harbor.

USS Skipjack (SS-184) off Provincetown, Massachusetts during sea trials, 14 May 1938. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives.

USS Skipjack (SS-184) off Provincetown, Massachusetts during sea trials, 14 May 1938. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives.

USS Skipjack (SS-184) was laid down on 22 July 1936, launched 23 October 1937 and commissioned on 30 June 1938. It was one of the 29 submarines that formed the US Navy’s Asiatic Submarine Fleet that was based in Manila in the Philippines at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. Skipjack left for her first war patrol off the east coast of Samar two days later. It ended on 14 January 1942 in Darwin, Australia and after 16 days in port, commenced her second patrol in the Celebes sea which concluded in March at the Fremantle base in Western Australia.

American Submarines at North Wharf, Fremantle, 1945. The ship in the background is submarine tender USS PELAIS, surrounded by her 'brood', which included the subs BONEFISH, RASHER, BOWFIN, BLUEFISH, NARWHAL, TINOSA, CREVALLE and COD. Photo: Family of RAN photographer, Saxon Fogarty

American Submarines at North Wharf, Fremantle, 1945. The ship in the background is submarine tender USS PELAIS, surrounded by her ‘brood’, which at that time included the subs BONEFISH, RASHER, BOWFIN, BLUEFISH, NARWHAL, TINOSA, CREVALLE and COD. Photo: Family of RAN photographer, Saxon Fogarty

On the 14th of April, under the command of Lt. Cdr. James Wiggins Coe, Skipjack left Fremantle for her third war patrol, this time in the South China Sea. The submarine had her first success on 6 May 1942 when it torpedoed and sank the Japanese transport ship Kanan Maru (2567 GRT) about 25 nautical miles north-east of Cam Ranh Bay, French Indochina. It followed this up on 8 May when it sank the Japanese transport ship Bujun Maru (4804 GRT) about 125 nautical miles east of Cam Ranh Bay and then the Japanese troop transport Tazan Maru (5477 GRT) near the Gulf of Siam on 17 May before returning to Fremantle on the 2nd of June.

On 18 July 1942, USS Skipjack left Fremantle for her 4th war patrol, this time in the Banda Sea and had her next victory when she torpedoed and damaged the Japanese fleet oil-tanker Hayatomo (14050 GRT) south-west of Ambon, Netherlands East Indies on 23 August. The patrol ended when she returned to Fremantle on 4 September.

I am not sure of when Sidney Kelf met Audrey or the circumstances of their meeting and the Audrey’s family could not provide me with any additional information about the relationship, but it would have occurred before Skipjack left for her 5th war patrol on 29 September 1942. Once again she was ordered to patrol in the Banda Sea, then work her way up north and end this war patrol at Pearl Harbor. On 14 October Skipjack had her next success sinking the Japanese transport ship Shunko Maru (6780 GRT) about 450 nautical miles west-south-west of Truk.

The Japanese Freighter S.S. Shunko Maru sinking in the central Pacific, after she was torpedoed by Skipjack (SS-184) on 14 October 1942. Photographed through Skipjack's periscope. Shunko Maru's back appears to be broken, and her hull bears traces of pattern camouflage paint. Photo: US National Archives # 80-G-33292

The Japanese Freighter S.S. Shunko Maru sinking in the central Pacific, after she was torpedoed by Skipjack (SS-184) on 14 October 1942. Photographed through Skipjack’s periscope. Shunko Maru’s back appears to be broken, and her hull bears traces of pattern camouflage paint. Photo: US National Archives # 80-G-33292

The submarine concluded her 5th war patrol in Pearl Harbor on 26 November 1942, before being ordered to Mare Island Navy Yard for an overhaul. It appears that Sidney Kelf did not accompany the submarine for refit to California but remained in Pearl Harbor and assigned to the Lapwing class Minesweeper,  USS Seagull (AM-30) which was reclassified as a Submarine tender.

USS Skipjack returned to Pearl Harbor after her overhaul and completed another 5 war patrols, sinking Japanese destroyer Suzukaze and transport ship Okitsu Maru on her 9th patrol and damaging the Japanese motor sail ship Tatsu Maru No.6 on her 10th and final patrol in November 1944. The submarine was then retired to training duties before being sunk during Test Baker, the second of two atomic bomb tests conducted at Bikini Atoll on 25 July 1946.

Insignia of USS Skipjack (SS-184) during WW2

Insignia of USS Skipjack (SS-184) during WW2

My research regarding the life and service of submariner, Lt. Sidney Alfred Kelf is far from complete and I do need to do a lot more research as my original records were lost when a computer hard-drive failed. I do know that he originally joined the navy as an enlisted man and was a Chief Torpedo-man before being commissioned. I also have a photograph of his grave headstone which indicates that he was born on May 8 1902, died October 31 1966 having served in the Navy in both World War 1 and 2.

USN submariner Kelf headstone

In addition to his submariner ‘dolphins’ badge, Sidney Kelf’s participation in two successful war patrols would have qualified him for the Submarine Combat Insignia with gold star. I am not sure what his medal entitlement is but as I intend to continue to research this individual, I’ll update this article as new information presents itself.

USN Submarine Combat Insignia qualification.

USN Submarine Combat Insignia qualification. This is one of two rare variations made by Sheridans of Perth to supply the submariners stationed at Fremantle during the war. Collection: Julian Tennant

 

Note that this site has NEW content posted every Sunday! 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. Knowing that somebody is looking at this gives me the encouragement I need to go through my archives and collection 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 rare WW2 Hungarian Paratrooper’s medal group

Medals, insignia, photographs and documents belonging to Hungarian paratrooper, Császár Vilmos. Collection: Julian Tennant

Medals, insignia, photographs and documents belonging to World War Two Hungarian paratrooper, Sergeant Császár Vilmos. Collection: Julian Tennant

Featured this week is a very nice medal group to a WWII Hungarian paratrooper that I hold in my collection.

The group belonged to Sergeant Császár Vilmos. I still know very little about him but have learned that he served in the 3rd Parachute Company in 1941 as Lance-Corporal, was later promoted to sergeant and survived the war. His medals give clues to his service, but I am still in the process of researching his story so cannot provide a more comprehensive overview of his service at this stage.

His medals include:
The Silver Medal of Courage (Magyar Nagy Ezűst Vitézségi Érem).
The Fire Cross with Wreath and Swords (Tűzkereszt koszorúval, kardokkal) which was awarded for 3 months service in the front line as a combatant.
The Six years Long Service Cross (Legénységi Szolgálati Jel III. Osztálya)
The Upper Hungary campaign medal (Felvidéki Emlékérem)
The Medal for the Liberation of Siebenbürgen (Transylvania) (Erdélyi Emlékérem) and
The Medal for the Recapture of South Hungary (Délvidéki Emlékérem)

Hopefully the Hungarian names for the medals is correct, I have found several different translated names for these medals and so am not 100% certain if my titles are right.

Also included in this group are his railway pass, bullion NCO’s parachutist wings, his extremely rare ‘Master’ parachutist badge which was awarded for 25 (perfect) jumps, plus several photographs of him in uniform and conducting parachute jumps.

Studio portrait of (Sergeant) Császár Vilmos wearing his medals, the distinctive silver bullion embroidered Hungarian parachutist wing for NCO's and the incredibly rare first class (sometimes referred to as the 'master') parachutist badge on the breast pocket. Collection: Julian Tennant

Studio portrait of (Sergeant) Császár Vilmos wearing his medals, the distinctive silver bullion embroidered Hungarian parachutist wing for NCO’s and the incredibly rare Master parachutist badge on the breast pocket. Collection: Julian Tennant

Sergeant Császár Vilmos' Railway booklet dated 26 Jan 1944. When the photograph for the pass was taken it appears that Sgt Császár Vilmos had only been awarded the Upper Hungary campaign medal (Felvidéki Emlékérem), the Medal for the Liberation of Siebenbürgen (Transylvania) (Erdélyi Emlékérem) and the Medal for the Recapture of South Hungary (Délvidéki Emlékérem). Collection: Julian Tennant

Sergeant Császár Vilmos’ Railway booklet dated 26 Jan 1944. When the photograph for the pass was taken it appears that Sgt Császár Vilmos had only been awarded the Upper Hungary campaign medal (Felvidéki Emlékérem), the Medal for the Liberation of Siebenbürgen (Transylvania) (Erdélyi Emlékérem) and the Medal for the Recapture of South Hungary (Délvidéki Emlékérem). He was subsequently awarded the ‘Fire Cross’ with wreath and swords reflecting at least 3 months in the front line as a combatant, the Silver Medal of Courage for bravery and  Six Year Long Service Cross. Collection: Julian Tennant

Studio portrait of (Sergeant) Császár Vilmos and female, possibly wife or sister? The photograph shows that his arm is in a sling, indicating a wound or injury so I am guessing that this photo was taken whilst on recovery leave. Note that Császár Vilmos is also wearing the bullion jump wing on the left side of his cap. Collection: Julian Tennant

Studio portrait of (Sergeant) Császár Vilmos and female, possibly wife or sister? The photograph shows that his arm is in a sling, indicating a wound or injury so I am guessing that this photo was taken whilst on recovery leave. Note that Császár Vilmos is also wearing the bullion NCO’s jump wing on the left side of his cap. Collection: Julian Tennant

 

I have not yet been able to discover much about Császár Vilmos. The presence of the Liberation of Siebenbürgen (Transylvania) (Erdélyi Emlékérem) medal, which was introduced on the 1st of October 1940 to commemorate the incorporation of Northern Transylvania into Hungary indicates that Császár Vilmos became a paratrooper early in the war and possibly a member of the Royal Hungarian 1st Honvéd Parachute Company, before it was expanded to a Battalion in 1941.

When the 1st Honvéd Parachute Battalion was formed, Császár Vilmos was posted to the 3rd Company. My knowledge of the operations undertaken by the Hungarian paratroopers is weak, so I am not sure about exactly where he fought although the inclusion of the Upper Hungary and Southern Hungary medals in the group provides clues for my continuing research. At this stage of my research I am still largely ignorant of the qualification requirements for these medals and what role Hungarian paratroopers may have carried out in those operations. Hungarian researcher and historian, David Kiss, has written a very informative English-language article about the early history of Hungarian paratroopers which details some of the operations they were involved in, but I am still trying to ‘connect the dots’ between the historical records and the service of this soldier. However as new information comes to light I’ll continue to update this post to reflect a more complete record of  Császár Vilmos military career.

 

Note that this site has NEW content posted every Sunday! 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. Knowing that somebody is looking at this gives me the encouragement I need to go through my archives and collection 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 RAAF Museum Point Cook, Victoria, Australia

The RAAF Museum Point Cook, Victoria, Australia. Photo: Julian Tennant

The RAAF Museum Point Cook, Victoria, Australia. Photo: Julian Tennant

Situated approximately 30km west of Melbourne at Point Cook, the RAAF Museum was established in 1952 as a repository for the preservation of aircraft, documents and memorabilia associated with the AFC and RAAF. The location is apt as Point Cook is also the birthplace of both the Australian Flying Corps (AFC) and its successor, the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).  In 1972 the museum opened to the public and the collection has subsequently grown to over 100,000 items. I first visited the museum back in 1981 and have returned several times to see it evolve and grow. Smaller items such as heraldry and ephemera are changed reasonably regularly and some of the things I saw on my previous trip were no longer on display, so for this week’s post I have again included a lot of pictures. Note that as with all my weekly posts, when the pictures are laid out as a mosaic pattern, you can click on them to see a larger view with the caption.

My last visit to the museum had been back in 2014 when I spent some time in the Research Centre trawling through the records relating to the insignia worn by the Australian Flying Corps as part of my research and contribution to Bob Pandis’ book Flight Badges of the Allied Nations 1914-1918, Volume II, but I have been wanting to visit again and reacquaint myself with the exhibits. The opportunity presented itself this past week when I made a trip to Melbourne to visit my ageing parents and I am glad that I was able take a few hours out of my schedule to take another look.

The museum consists of several parts including external displays of aircraft and a Bristol Bloodhound missile launcher. However, most of the aircraft are housed in the various hangar displays which are divided into different sections across the complex. These are descriptively named the Technology Hangar, Training Hangar, Aircraft Display Hangar 180, Strike Reconnaissance Hangar 178 and the Restoration Hangar 187 where one can watch the conservators restore various aircraft including a de Havilland Mosquito (A52-600).

The aircraft collection is no doubt fascinating for the plane buffs, but as an insignia collector for me the really interesting stuff is housed in the Heritage Galleries which are situated in the main building. These galleries feature objects tracing a chronological the history of the AFC and RAAF from its birth as the Central Flying School on the 7th of March 1913 up until the present day. My main aviator collecting interest is focused on wings of the Australian Flying Corps up until the formation of the RAAF in March 1921 and the museum has some incredibly rare pieces on display including the very first set of wings (known as the AMF Pilots Badge) awarded.

First pattern Australian Flying Corps pilots badge, authorised by M.O. 801/1915 on 21st December 1915 and often referred to as the AMF (Australian Military Forces) wing. Photo: Julian Tennant

First pattern Australian Flying Corps pilots badge, authorised by M.O. 801/1915 on 21st December 1915 and often referred to as the AMF (Australian Military Forces) wing. Photo: Julian Tennant

Third pattern Australian Flying Corps brevet, authorised by M.O. 68/1918 on 16th February 1918. It should be noted that despite these wings only being authorised in February 1918, this style of wing were unofficially worn as far back as November 1916. This particular example is the issue variation that became commonplace after formal authorisation. Photo: Julian Tennant

Third pattern Australian Flying Corps brevet, authorised by M.O. 68/1918 on 16th February 1918. It should be noted that despite these wings only being authorised in February 1918, this style of wing were unofficially worn as far back as November 1916. This particular example is the issue variation that became commonplace after formal authorisation. Photo: Julian Tennant

The First World War gallery also includes items such as the maternity jacket with RFC wings worn by Captain Douglas Rutherford (1 Sqn AFC) who was rescued by Lieutenant Frank McNamara V.C. after being shot down behind enemy lines in Palestine in 1917. It was this rescue that resulted in McNamara being awarded the Victoria Cross, the first for an Australian aviator.

Maternity jacket of Captain Douglas Wallace Rutherford, 1 Squadron Australian Flying Corps. Note the use of the RFC pilot's brevet. Photo: Julian Tennant

Maternity jacket of Captain Douglas Wallace Rutherford, 1 Squadron Australian Flying Corps. Note the use of the RFC pilot’s brevet. Photo: Julian Tennant

'A Dangerous Life!' Oil painting by Norman Clifford completed in 1969. This painting shows Captain Les Holden, in his red SE5A Fighting Scout, in mock combat with two pupils of No 6 (Training) Squadron, Australian Flying Corps over Minchinhampton, Gloucester, England in 1918. For Holden and other 'fighting instructors' life was hardly less dangerous than a combat pilot since they had to contend with pupils enthusiastic but unpredictable and inexperienced manoeuvres. Photo: Julian Tennant

‘A Dangerous Life!’ Oil painting by Norman Clifford completed in 1969. This painting shows Captain Les Holden, in his red SE5A Fighting Scout, in mock combat with two pupils of No 6 (Training) Squadron, Australian Flying Corps over Minchinhampton, Gloucester, England in 1918. For the ‘fighting instructors’ life was hardly less dangerous than a combat pilot since they had to contend with pupils enthusiastic but unpredictable and inexperienced manoeuvres. Photo: Julian Tennant

 

In addition to exhibits relating to Australia’s air power contributions in the world wars, post war conflicts including Korea, Malaya, Borneo, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq plus the various Peacekeeping deployments and Civil Aid Operations, the galleries also feature exhibits about specific branches such as Chaplains, the RAAF Medical Service and Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (later Women’s Royal Australian Air Force). There are also displays that cover aspects such as basic training, life at postings such as the RAAF Base Butterworth in Malaysia and the RAAF Marine Section.

Vietnam War souvenir RAAF Zippo and Vulcan lighters. Photo: Julian Tennant

Vietnam War souvenir RAAF Zippo and Vulcan lighters. Photo: Julian Tennant

Ugly Club badge retrieved from crash site of last Aust MIA's during Vietnam war. On the night of 3 November 1970, RAAF Canberra bomber A84-231, Call Sign 'Magpie 91' flew a bombing mission from coastal Phan Rang to the Ho Chi Minh trail near the Vietnam-Laos border. A typical mission for the Canberra bomber crews of No 2 Sqn RAAF. The two man crew (Flying Officer Michael Herbert and Pilot Officer Robert Carver) reported a successful bombing run and turned back for the coast. Shortly thereafter, the aircraft disappeared from radar and the crew were never heard from again. Both crew were listed missing in action (MIA) until the crash site was discovered in the highlands of Quang Nam province in 2008 and repatriation of the last two Australian MIA's from Vietnam began. The "Ugly Club" was a club formed by members of No. 2 Squadron (RAAF) in Vietnam. Members were expected to be able to present their badge upon request at any time. The badge on left was retrieved from the crash site and belonged to the pilot, Flying Officer Michael Herbert. The badge on the right is an example of the badge and is on loan from Rodney (Curley) Pearce a former mechanic with 2 Sqn. Photo: Julian Tennant

Ugly Club badge retrieved from crash site of the last Aust MIA’s during Vietnam war. On the night of 3 November 1970, RAAF Canberra bomber A84-231, Call Sign ‘Magpie 91’ flew a bombing mission from coastal Phan Rang to the Ho Chi Minh trail near the Vietnam-Laos border. A typical mission for the Canberra bomber crews of No 2 Sqn RAAF. The two man crew (Flying Officer Michael Herbert and Pilot Officer Robert Carver) reported a successful bombing run and turned back for the coast. Shortly thereafter, the aircraft disappeared from radar and the crew were never heard from again. Both crew were listed missing in action (MIA) until the crash site was discovered in the highlands of Quang Nam province in 2008 and repatriation of the last two Australian MIA’s from Vietnam began. The “Ugly Club” was a club formed by members of No. 2 Squadron (RAAF) in Vietnam. Members were expected to be able to present their badge upon request at any time. The badge on left was retrieved from the crash site and belonged to the pilot, Flying Officer Michael Herbert. The badge on the right is an example of the badge and is on loan from Rodney (Curley) Pearce a former mechanic with 2 Sqn. Photo: Julian Tennant

Bell UH-1B helicopter (A2-1020) and Supermarine Seagull V 'Walrus' (HD-874) on display in the Technology Hangar. Photo: Julian Tennant

Bell UH-1B helicopter (A2-1020) and Supermarine Seagull V ‘Walrus’ (HD-874) on display in the Technology Hangar. Photo: Julian Tennant

UH-1H 'Bushranger' gunship, A2-377, was one of four helicopters initially converted to a gunship after being delivered to No 9 Squadron in 1968. It flew a large number of fire support missions during the Vietnam War. Upon return to Australia the aircraft continued to serve with No 9 Squadron and was part of the Multinational Force & Observers (MFO) peacekeeping mission in the Sinai Peninsular in the mid-1980's. In 1989 it was transferred to the army and served with 171 Sqn, Australian Army Aviation Training Centre, Aircraft Research & Development Unit (ARDU) and A Sqn, 5 Aviation Regiment until June 2007. Photo: Julian Tennant

UH-1H ‘Bushranger’ gunship, A2-377, was one of four helicopters initially converted to a gunship after being delivered to No 9 Squadron in 1968. It flew a large number of fire support missions during the Vietnam War. Upon return to Australia the aircraft continued to serve with No 9 Squadron and was part of the Multinational Force & Observers (MFO) peacekeeping mission in the Sinai Peninsular in the mid-1980’s. In 1989 it was transferred to the army and served with 171 Sqn, Australian Army Aviation Training Centre, Aircraft Research & Development Unit (ARDU) and A Sqn, 5 Aviation Regiment until June 2007. Photo: Julian Tennant

There is also a small gift shop which includes books, souvenir items and a comprehensive selection of Squadron patches for purchase. As far as I am aware, these are the same patches that are used by the squadrons, originating from the same manufacturer, the only difference being the lack of Velcro backing. In addition the shop sells some REPRO aviator brevets and collectors should not confuse those with the issue wings.

Reproduction/fake RAAF pilot's brevet sold with the souvenirs in the RAAF Museum gift shop. Photo: Julian Tennant

Reproduction/fake RAAF pilot’s brevet sold with the souvenirs in the RAAF Museum gift shop. Photo: Julian Tennant

Every-time I visit this museum I find something new to look at and this visit was no exception as there were pieces on display including some items from recent deployments to the Middle East which had not yet been displayed during my previous trip. There were also some things such as the rare Roo and Caterpillar Club pins that resonated with my parachuting/special forces collecting interests.  For a visitor to Melbourne it can be a bit difficult to get to as it is located on the RAAF base about 25 minutes’ drive from Melbourne although there is also a bus service, the Werribee Park Shuttle, which stops at the RAAF Museum on flying days (Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays). However, despite its location, the RAAF Museum should be on the agenda for anybody visiting Melbourne with an interest in aviation or military history.

RAAF Museum
RAAF Base Point Cook
Point Cook Road
Victoria 3030
Australia

View location on Google Maps 

Phone: 03) 8348 6040

Email: RAAF.MuseumInfo@defence.gov.au

Website: https://www.airforce.gov.au/raaf-museum

Opening hours

Tuesday to Friday: 10am-3pm

Weekends and public holidays: 10am-5pm

The Museum is closed on Mondays (except public holidays), Good Friday, and Christmas Day.

Entry

Admission to the RAAF Museum is free, however, donations are gratefully accepted.

Note that as the museum is located within the grounds of the RAAF Base, all visitors over the age of 16 will need to bring photo identification to enter the Base.

Note that this site has NEW content posted every Sunday! 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. Knowing that somebody is looking at this gives me the encouragement I need to go through my archives and collection 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

 

Gen. Clarence R. Huebner, CO of the “Big Red One” on D-Day. Medals, militaria, firearms and estate items up for auction. 20 November 2019.

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American and foreign medals awarded to General Clarence R. Huebner, Commanding Officer of the US 1st Infantry Division, aka ‘The Big Red One’, when they landed in the first wave at Omaha Beach on D-Day in June 1944.

Whilst I am not a medal collector, this auction on the 20th of November 2019 caught my eye. It is one of several items including helmets, firearms and other pieces from the estate of General Clarence R. Huebner, commander of the 1st Infantry Division, aka “The Big Red One” when it landed in the first wave at Omaha Beach on D-Day, 6th of June 1944.  The auction description reads as follows,

“FROM THE ESTATE OF GEN. CLARENCE R. HUEBNER, COMMANDER OF THE 1ST INFANTRY DIVISION IN THE FIRST WAVE AT OMAHA BEACH

Outstanding, career-spanning grouping of 42 badges and medals awarded to U.S. Army Lieutenant General for his exemplary service in both World War I and World War II.

Includes:
World War I Distinguished Service Cross with oak leaf cluster, engraved with Huebner’s name on the reverse and the number “141” on the edge;

World War II Army Distinguished Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters, engraved with Huebner’s name and numbered “6605” on the edge;

World War I Army Distinguished Service Medal, numbered “1294” on the edge; World War I Silver Star, engraved with Huebner’s name on the verso and the number “5168” on the edge;

World War II Legion of Merit medal; World War II Bronze Star; U.S. Army Commendation Medal, engraved with Huebner’s name;

World War I Purple Heart with oak leaf cluster, engraved with Huebner’s name on the verso and the number “9269” on the edge;

Mexican Border Service Medal, numbered “15065” on the edge;

World War I Victory Medal with Montdidier-Noyon, Aisne-Marne, St. Mihiel, Meuse-Argonne, and Defensive Sector battle clasps, engraved with Huebner’s name on the edge;

American Defense Service Medal; American Campaign Medal; European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal;

World War II Victory Medal; World War II Army of Occupation Medal; British Companion of the Order of the Bath medal;

French Knight of the Legion of Honor medal, showing slight chips to the enamel;

Officer of the Legion of Honor medal, showing a small chip to the enamel;

Two Commander of the Legion of Honor medals, one each awarded for service in World War I and World War II;

Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor badge; French 1914-1918 Croix de Guerre, with palm;

1939 Croix de Guerre, with palm; Belgian Officer of the Order of Leopold Medal, with palm;

Commander of the Order of Leopold badge;

Belgian 1940-1945 Croix de Guerre with palm; Belgian Liberation of Liege medal;

Luxembourg Grand Officer of the Order of the Oak Crown medal and badge;

World War I Italian War Merit Cross, engraved with Huebner’s name on the edge;

Czechoslovak Order of the White Lion, Second Class medal and badge;

Czechoslovak War Cross medal; Polish Virtuti Militari medal, fifth class;

Soviet Order of Suvorov medal, second class, numbered “1667” on the reverse;

Soviet Guards Badge; Vatican Cross of Magistral Knight of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta;

Vatican Commander of the Order of St. Sylvester badge and medal;

Panamanian Ephemeral Society Order of Eloy Alfaro medal;

World War I Society of Military and Naval Officers of New York medal; and the

Polish Labor Service Honor Badge.

The above decorations are mounted together in a 19 3/4″ square display case lined with brown velvet, with the exception of the World War II Commander of the Legion of Honor medal, which is housed in its original presentation case. Almost all of the above awards are accompanied by their original cases, certificates, and other documents; a complete list of these is available upon request, as are additional photos of each individual medal.

Also present are several additional decorations, including; a medal bar featuring miniatures of eight of Huebner’s medals, namely the Distinguished Service Cross with oak leaf cluster, the Distinguished Service Medal, the Silver Star, the Purple Heart with oak leaf cluster, the World War I Victory Medal, the Legion of Merit medal, the 1914-1918 Croix de Guerre with palm, and the Italian War Merit Cross; two sets of his Lieutenant-General’s uniform stars; ten groups of medal ribbons on various backings, 97 ribbons in all; and a black faux-leather velvet-lined presentation case bearing Huebner’s name in gold on the lid, with spaces for six of his World War I decorations. Altogether, easily the finest grouping of American and European military medals we have ever offered.

CLARENCE R. HUEBNER (1888-1972) was the American general who took command the 1st Infantry Division, popularly known as the “Big Red One”, in early August of 1943. He commanded the division during the D-Day landings on June 6, 1944, where it was the first force to face the Germans on Omaha Beach, and he joined his men on the beach the same day. The division was instrumental in the breakthrough following the battle for St. Lo and in foiling the German counteroffensive at Mortain. After the Allied breakout in Normandy, the division advanced rapidly, arriving at the German border in early October of 1944, where it was committed to battle at Aachen, which it captured after two weeks of heavy fighting. After experiencing heavy fighting once again in the Huertgen Forest, the division briefly rested but soon returned to counter the German offensive at the Battle of the Bulge in December, 1944.

In January, 1945, Huebner was named commander of the V Corps, which he commanded in its advance to the Elbe river, where elements of the corps made the first contact with the Soviet Red Army. By war’s end, the division had advanced into Czechoslovakia. Following the German surrender, Huebner served as the Chief of Staff for all American forces in Europe, and in 1949 was named the final military governor of the American occupation zone in Germany.

These medals originate directly from General Huebner’s estate and is accompanied by a letter of provenance signed by a direct linear descendant.”

Estimated hammer price is US$30,000 – $40,000.

The auction is by Alexander Historical Auctions LLC and it has more of Huebner’s estate along with other militaria up for sale.

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Graphite portrait of General Clarence R. Huebner which is also up for auction at the same sale.

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General Huebner’s map encompassing OMAHA and UTAH beaches at Normandy is also up for auction. The map features a 1:50,000-scale view of the environs of Isigniy in the Normandy region of France, 32″ x 22″, depicting the coastline along the English Channel from the village of Port-en-Bessin in the extreme east, and Beau Guillot in the extreme west. This view encompasses the beaches which would be code-named OMAHA and UTAH during the American portion of the Operation Neptune amphibious landings on D-Day, June 6, 1944. The chart is designated “Sheet 6/E6”, and a legend is provided at bottom, with notes indicating that the chart was originally drawn and published by the Ordnance Survey of the U.S. War Department in 1942, updated to the third edition in 1943, and this copy printed by the U.S. Army Map Service in February of 1944. A disclaimer at the top edge stipulates that the chart is intended for use solely by the War and Navy Departments.

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Another one of General Huebner’s estate items in the auction is this early U.S. M1 combat helmet owned and worn by Major General Clarence R. Huebner throughout World War II, and undoubtedly during his landing on Omaha Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944. The steel helmet bears a seam of the steel rim at front, and with fixed chin strap bales securing an original taupe webbing strap, in turn fitted with a first-style brass clasp, all indicate manufacture prior to October of 1943. The interior of the shell is heat-stamped “169B” at front. Most interestingly, the exterior bears several painted and applied pieces of insignia relevant to Huebner’s career. At front center appears the hand-painted insignia of the U.S. Army’s V Corps, of which Huebner assumed command in January of 1945. The paint of this insignia shows a few small cracks, through which traces of red paint can be seen, and the bottom point of a diamond, painted over in olive drab, can be discerned below. This indicates that the V Corps insignia has been painted over the insignia of the First Infantry Division, nicknamed the “Big Red One” for its insignia depicting a large numeral “1” within a black-bordered inverted diamond. Huebner was given command of the First Infantry Division in August of 1944, and he retained that command until his appointment as commander of V Corps. Below the V Corps insignia are welded two white painted metal stars, with the paint flaking slightly on both to expose the bright finish beneath. The rear of the shell bears a vertical “follow me” stripe in white paint, applied circa Operation Overlord to identify the wearer as an officer. The remnants of an earlier, larger stripe appear beneath this white stripe and a layer of olive drab paint. The helmet has clearly been refinished during wartime, removing some of the original heavily-corked texture and adding a darker shade of olive-drab paint than usually seen on these early helmets, most likely accomplished at the same time the V Corps insignia was added upon Huebner’s promotion. The interior of the shell bears a typed label bearing the owner’s name and rank “Maj. Gen. C.R. Huebner”, beneath a strip of cello tape. This shell is fitted with a liner bearing the maker’s mark of Firestone inside the dome, above the numeral “48”. The exterior of the liner again bears the hand-painted insignia of V Corps above two general’s stars at front, with a vertical “follow-me” stripe in white paint on the back. We believe that this liner was issued to Huebner after the issue of the helmet, sometime after late, 1942. The liner’s chin strap is missing, and both liner and shell show minor wear and soiling commensurate with wartime use, with the shell showing two shallow, 1 1/2″ cracks at the rear left, not fully penetrating the steel, else very good.

‘Mad Mike’ Hoare’s Wild Geese mercenary patch

Original Wild Geese patch sold by the Hoare family via an advertisement in Soldier of Fortune magazine circa 1982. Collection: Julian Tennant

The Wild Geese patch as shown above is often misidentified as being a mercenary or mercenary veteran’s insignia. This is untrue, however there is a real connection between it and one of the world’s best known mercenaries.

Thomas Michael Hoare (born 19 March 1919), better known as ‘Mad Mike’ Hoare achieved legendary status in the mid 1960’s for his exploits as a mercenary in the Congo suppressing a Communist backed revolt and helping to rescue up to two thousand civilians from atrocities being carried out by the Simba rebels.

Hoare’s unit, comprising around 300 mostly South African mercenaries was officially designated 5 Commando Armée Nationale Congolaise (5 Commando ANC) but unofficially referred to as ‘The Wild Geese’. This was a reference to the unit shoulder patch which featured a goose in flight below the title ‘5 Commando’ and was inspired by the “flight of the wild geese”, when Patrick Sarsfield, the 1st Earl of Lucan took his 19 000 strong Irish Jacobite army into exile in France in 1691. The term subsequently became associated with all the Irish soldiers who served with the continental European armies from the 16th thru 18th centuries. Hoare, a soldier of Irish descent, used this as a way of distinguishing his 5 Commando from the French and Belgian mercenaries also active in the Congo at that time.

Original 5 Commando shoulder title from the estate of Bill Jacobs, a South African mercenary who served in the British Parachute Regiment prior to joining 5 Commando in the Congo in 1966-67. This is the 'heavy weight' wool variation of the insignia and is less common than the more extensively used light-weight variation which was produced on a tan polyester/cotton shirt type material. Collection: Julian Tennant

Original 5 Commando shoulder title featuring the flying Wild Goose, from the estate of Bill Jacobs, a South African mercenary who served in the British Parachute Regiment prior to joining 5 Commando in the Congo in 1966-67. This is the heavy-weight wool backed variation of the insignia and is less common than the more extensively used light-weight variation which was produced on a tan polyester/cotton shirt type material. Collection: Julian Tennant

In 1978, Daniel Carney’s novel about a British banker hiring a group of mercenaries to rescue a deposed African President from the hands of a corrupt dictator made its cinema debut as “The Wild Geese”. The title of the movie was based on Hoare’s 5 Commando nickname and he was hired as the technical advisor for the film which was mostly shot in South Africa. The mercenary commander, Colonel Alan Faulkner (played by Richard Burton) was patterned on ‘Mad Mike’ Hoare. The film was a commercial success and helped to reinforce the connection between the title and mercenary activities in the English-speaking world.

Colonel 'Mad Mike' Hoare wearing the uniform of his 5 Commando Armée Nationale Congolaise (5 Commando ANC) during the filming of the movie, The Wild Geese, for which he was hired as a technical advisor in 1977/78. Photographer unknown.

Colonel ‘Mad Mike’ Hoare wearing the uniform of his 5 Commando Armée Nationale Congolaise (5 Commando ANC) during the filming of the movie, The Wild Geese, for which he was hired as a technical advisor in 1977/78. Here, Mike can be seen wearing the more often seen ‘light-weight’ variation of the 5 Commando shoulder title on tan shirt type material. Photographer unknown.

Meanwhile, around the same time, Seychelles exiles allied with the ex-president James Manchan were holding discussions with the South African Government about the possibility of overthrowing the new Seychelles president, France-Albert René, whose supporters had deposed Mancham whilst he was visiting London the previous year. Both the South Africans and the Americans were concerned about the presence of a socialist government in the Seychelles and gave their blessing, directing Manchan’s representatives to Hoare.

With South African support, Hoare raised a team of 54 mercenaries (half of whom were actually serving members of the South African Defence Force) for the operation which he estimated would cost US$ 5 million to fund. However, they could only secure US$300 000 and this lack of financial backing led to compromises in the plan which ultimately led to a disastrous outcome.

It is beyond the scope of this article to go into detail about the operation which involved the mercenaries entering the Seychelles disguised as a rugby club (named “Ye Ancient Order of Froth Blowers“), then disperse around the island before launching the coup whilst René was holding a cabinet meeting. Terry Aspinall provides interesting additional information about the operation and its outcome on his mercenary-wars.net website and you can also see the Associated Press uncut video ‘rushes’ showing the aftermath of the operation in the AP Archive.

On 25 November 1981, Hoare and the main party of 43 mercenaries, with their weapons hidden in their luggage, flew into Seychelles International Airport at Pointe La Rue on Mahé. Unfortunately, the AK-47 of one of the mercenaries was discovered during a luggage check, triggering a six-hour gun battle at the airport. Eventually the mercenaries commandeered a Boeing 707 (Air India Flight 224) which flew them back to South Africa, leaving behind five mercenaries, one South African National Intelligence Service (NIS) agent and a female civilian accomplice, all of whom were arrested and subsequently convicted of treason in the Seychelles. One mercenary had been killed and two wounded.

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Weapons and luggage abandoned by the mercenaries at Seychelles International Airport after the aborted coup attempt. Note the luggage stickers featuring the “Ancient Order of Froth Blowers” logos and the children’s toys which were used as part of the mercenaries deception plan. Photographer unknown.

Arriving back in South Africa, the mercenaries were initially charged with kidnapping, which carried no minimum sentence, but after international pressure this was upgraded to hijacking. After a five-month trial, 42 of the mercenaries were found guilty and given between six months and five years in prison although most sentences were later reduced to six months. For his part, however, Mike Hoare was sentenced to ten years in prison but was pardoned and released on the 7th of May 1985 after serving 2 years, eight months and 10 days of his sentence.

Lack of finances had contributed to the decision to hide the mercenary’s weapons in their luggage as smuggling them to the island by boat was too costly and now, facing mounting legal bills, a plan was devised to raise contributions from sympathetic observers. This included selling ‘Wild Geese’ merchandise via the Sunday Times newspaper in South Africa and later, Soldier of Fortune magazine. The fund raising merchandise included patches and autographed paperback copies of  Mike Hoare’s book, Mercenary, which recounted his adventures in the Congo.

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Editorial in the October 1982 edition of Soldier of Fortune magazine advertising the patch and Mike Hoare’s ‘Mercenary’ book as part of the fund raising efforts for the “Mike Hoare Defense Fund”. Scan courtesy Alex Iide.

Back in those days I was a regular subscriber and after seeing the advertisement (or possibly the editorial promotion shown above) in Soldier of Fortune, I was soon the proud owner of a Wild Geese patch. This came with a personalised, serial numbered certificate, confirming that I was “an  Honorary Member of the Wild Geese”. From the same advert I also bought an autographed paperback Corgi 1982 reprint of Hoare’s book Mercenary. At the time, the patch cost US$5 and the book US$12.

Autographed 1982 Corgi Books reprint edition of Mike Hoare's book "Mercenary" that was first published in 1967. This was the signed edition that was sold via the advertisement in Soldier of Fortune magazine.

Autographed 1982 Corgi Books reprint edition of Mike Hoare’s book “Mercenary” that was first published in 1967. This was the signed Corgi 1982 paperback edition that was sold via the promotion in Soldier of Fortune magazine.

Unfortunately, I traded all of those items with another collector many years ago as at that point in time they were outside of my collecting interests. It was a decision that I later regretted as my focus began to shift to mercenary insignia, but thanks to the help of fellow collector Alan Bennett I have been able to get some of the original items that were advertised in SOF for my collection. Alan, who corresponded with the Hoare family at the time, also made me aware that the patch was actually made in two sizes although I only recall the larger size being offered for sale in the Soldier of Fortune promotion. I suspect that the smaller patch may be part of an earlier run of the the patches that were first offered for sale in South Africa as the note from Mike’s wife, Phylis describes them both as being ‘buff coloured’ whereas the original patch offered in Soldier of Fortune was white. UPDATE: Alan Bennett has kindly shared a picture of the smaller buff coloured badge with me and I have included it at the bottom of the post alongside his example of the larger original patch of the type sold in SOF.

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Note from Phyllis Hoare to Alan Bennett which mentions the second smaller patch. Photo courtesy Alan Bennett.

I say original, because despite being somewhat of a novelty item, these patches are actually being extensively reproduced and sold to collectors via eBay with varying descriptions along the lines of “5 COMMANDO MIKE HOARE MERCENARY CLOTH PATCH BADGE WILD GEESE” and the like. Some collectors, based on the descriptions being offered, may actually be led to believe that the patch was used by the mercenaries and on occasion dealers have tried to capitalise on that asking ridiculous prices for the patches. One dealer I am aware of currently has a patch listed for US$250, which he describes as an ‘original veterans badge’ along with a black & white photocopy of the “Honorary Member of the The Wild Geese” certificate.  Most of the faked patches are relatively cheap though and it is quite easy to distinguish the original patch from the copy and I’ve included pictures of both for comparison.

Right: The original "Wild Geese" patch sold by Mike and Phyllis Hoare via an advertisement in Soldier of Fortune magazine in 1982. These patches were sold to raise money for his legal bills and are NOT a veterans or mercenary unit patch as is often described. Left: One of the contemporary copies that are being sold to collectors, often with all sorts of outrageous identification descriptions. When compared the differences in detail is obvious. Collection: Julian Tennant.

Right: The original “Wild Geese” patch sold by Mike and Phyllis Hoare via an advertisement in Soldier of Fortune magazine in 1982. These patches were sold to raise money for his legal bills and are NOT a veterans or mercenary unit patch as is often described. Left: One of the contemporary copies that are being sold to collectors, often with all sorts of outrageous identification descriptions. When compared the differences in detail is obvious. Collection: Julian Tennant.

Alan was also kind enough to send me some other material, including correspondence with Mike Hoare’s wife, Phyllis and a scan of his “Honorary Member” certificate to include in this article as I no longer have mine. Some sources refer to Hoare creating a database of potential mercenary recruits whilst in prison by signing them up as “Honorary Members of The Wild Geese”, which has contributed to the mythology around these items, but I wonder if those sources are confusing these fundraising certificates with something more sinister? I don’t know.

Alan Bennett's personalised "Honorary Member of The Wild Geese" certificate that accompanied the patches sold in Soldier of Fortune magazine circa 1982. Pictures courtesy of the Alan Bennett collection.

Alan Bennett’s personalised “Honorary Member of The Wild Geese” certificate that accompanied the patches sold in Soldier of Fortune magazine circa 1982. Pictures courtesy of the Alan Bennett collection.

It is probably a question that I should have asked Mike’s son, Chris when we discussed these patches and the Soldier of Fortune promotion recently. He recalled the promotion in SOF and also provided the following information which is also in his biography of his father.

“To assist in paying the various legal fees, Mike had some round cloth badges made in two diameters, 105 mm and 60 mm. The badges said, ‘The Wild Geese’ and showed a goose flying over an island, and palm trees. A display in the Sunday Times of 20 June 1982 advertised the badges for sale for R5 with a signed certificate naming buyer’s honorary members of The Wild Geese. For another R10, buyers could also order signed copies of the Corgi edition of Mercenary. Later, Phyllis (Mike’s wife) advertised the badges for sale for $5 in Soldier of Fortune magazine in America; someone signed Mike’s name on the numbered certificates. There was a lot of sympathy for Mike and his Froth Blowers, and more than 3500 people responded…”

Apart from reminding me of the existence of the smaller patch, which I don’t recall being offered in the SOF advertisement or editorial promotion, Chris cleared up another thing that I had been thinking about. If Mike Hoare, was in prison at the time that all the books and certificates were being sold to his supporters, how did he sign them? Well, according to Chris it was someone else and that, considering the circumstance makes sense to me. However, despite this gem of information it should not detract from these very interesting items related to a colourful and legendary soldier.

"The Wild Geese" Ex Libris bookplate that accompanied Mike Hoare's books. My Corgi paperback edition of 'Mercenary' was signed however I think it may have also include a separate bookplate similar to this one. This particular example, which I obtained from Alan Bennett, is slightly larger than the Corgi paperback book and I suspect it may have been used with the other books that Mike was selling after his release from prison in the mid 80's. Collection: Julian Tennant

“The Wild Geese” Ex Libris bookplate that accompanied Mike Hoare’s books. My Corgi paperback edition of ‘Mercenary’ was signed however I think it may have also include a separate bookplate similar to this one. This particular example, which I obtained from Alan Bennett, is slightly larger than the Corgi paperback book and I suspect it may have been used with the other books that Mike Hoare was selling after his release from prison in the mid 80’s. Collection: Julian Tennant

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Alan Bennett’s WILD GEESE patches including the smaller ‘buff’ coloured beret badge/patch that was referred to by Phyliss and Chris Hoare in correspondence. Courtesy the Alan Bennett collection.

 

Acknowledgements: I am very grateful to the assistance of fellow collectors Alan Bennett and Alex Iide for their help in finding images for some of the source material that I used in this article. Thanks guys, your help is very much appreciated.

 

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