Museum: Recollections of War – Albany, Western Australia

Recollections of War is a military museum run by John & Kathryn Shapland near Albany in Western Australia. The museum exhibits their personal collection and presents a fascinating insight into the lives of ordinary men, women and children during times of conflict.

The port city of Albany, which sits 418km (260mi) southeast of Perth has played an important part in Australia’s military heritage and the region has many related sites for visitors to explore, including Recollections of War, a private museum that should be on the itinerary of anybody with an interest in military history.

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The museum, which is located about half an hour’s drive along the South Coast Highway outside of Albany on the way to Denmark, features the collection of Kathryn and John Shapland, whose hobby rapidly expanded into a custom built exhibition building featuring six display rooms with space also dedicated to a library, research area and theatre.

It continues to grow and there are also more extensions in the planning stage, the latest being a WWI aviation gallery to house a replica Fokker D VIII that has been donated to the museum by a pilot from nearby Manjimup. This will be complemented by items belonging to Sir Keith Smith and other early aviator artifacts and having viewed some of the Australian Flying Corps pieces that Kathryn and John have, I am eagerly awaiting its completion.

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The replica Fokker D VIII that has recently been donated to the Recollections of War museum. Photo: Kathryn Shapland

Visiting the museum, it is astonishing to realise that the Shaplands only started collecting militaria in 2009 after John, who is originally from Sussex, returned to England on a holiday with his eldest daughter. Whilst there, he visited an air-show at Duxford and returned home with some souvenirs including a limited edition aviator signed print by noted artist Robert Taylor.

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It was the acquisition of autographed aviator prints such as Robert Taylor’s “Eagles out of the sun” (top) that started the Shapland’s collecting journey. Photo: Julian Tennant

Back in Albany, he recruited wife Kathryn, who had been a collector of stamps, coins and other items since she was young, to help him find more items on-line. One of the early pieces Kathryn found was a Corgi die-cast model signed by Billy Drake, a Battle of France pilot. The seller turned out to be an engineer restoring warbirds at North Weald airfield and mentioned that there was a Hurricane muster there in October and that John should return to the UK to attend. He did, meeting the veteran pilots and aircrew, examining the aircraft and museums.

The result was that their collection rapidly outgrew a couple of display cabinets and a few prints in the house. John, who in addition to running their cattle farm was a builder and cabinet maker converted his workshop into a custom made exhibition space for the WWII aviation collection. Kathryn recalls,

‘We started with the WWII aviation room and the first library as that was John’s main interest at the time. As visitors started to come, it became apparent that we were lacking in other areas and so we expanded to cover the main three military services and eventually the auxiliary services too. Similarly, John’s interest was WWII and we started getting veterans from more recent wars. In addition, we were coming up to the ANZAC centenary, so decided WWI artifacts and stories needed to be added. We now go from the Boer War to the present day.

I have a very broad focus and far too many things appeal to me. I suppose at the heart of it all there must be a story about the people that used or produced the items. John has a good general knowledge about military history and the hardware used (but) my interest is in social rather than military history. I love the research side of things.’

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This is one of a couple of First World War US Army groups that are held in the collection. These items belonged to James William Walston who served with the US 5th Infantry Division during the Great War. Photo: Julian Tennant
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First World War period US Army ‘doughboys’ toy soldiers made by the German firm of Elastolin and sold in the USA prior to America’s entry into the war in 1917. Photo: Julian Tennant
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A soldier’s friend. The “Camp Pocket Candlestick” is a small tin containing a candle and box of matches that was given to Commonwealth troops during WW1. It allowed them to read or write letters whilst in the trenches with the lid of the tin offering some cover to limit the glow from the lit flame of the candle. Photo: Julian Tennant

The collection now features thousands of meticulously researched items recording the war experiences of both the military personnel and civilian populations from the Anglo-Boer War onward. But rather than emphasise the battles or weapons, the focus is centered around the histories of ordinary people living through the war and the layout does not follow a chronological sequence. Items are grouped together to help broaden understanding and give additional context to individual pieces, which makes it all the more fascinating to explore. John describes the museum as a ‘treasure hunt’ which is an apt description.

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A couple of sweetheart badges including a nice painted acrylic Netherlands East Indies (KNIL) Air Force Pilot – Observer flight qualification wing. Photo: Julian Tennant
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A magnificent hand-made aluminium ‘sweetheart’ badge made in 1916 by George King from Kent, who was serving as a 1st class air mechanic in the Royal Naval Air Service at the time. Photo: Julian Tennant
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Medal group, locally made dagger and photograph belonging to a member of V Force, an intelligence gathering and screening force for the British 14th Army in the India/Burma area of operations. Photo: Julian Tennant

Kathryn spends much of her time researching and scouring the internet for suitable items, but many pieces have also been donated by visitors and locals who recognise the important role that Recollections of War plays in maintaining our knowledge of conflicts.  

In the aftermath of both world wars, the southern region of Western Australia became home for many ex-service personnel who took advantage of the Soldier Settlement and Group Settlement schemes which were respectively aimed at getting returned servicemen into some form of gainful work and aimed at both increasing the population of W.A. as well as increasing primary (especially dairy) production. In subsequent years the local veteran community has continued to grow and includes former service personnel from more recent wars and several nations.

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Detail from a group of items belonging to Alexander George Jerrat who served with the Palestine Police. Photo: Julian Tennant
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Helmet worn by Peter Geoffrey Larard during his Vietnam service as a pilot with the Royal Australian Air Force. Peter Larard flew Sabre’s with No. 79 Sqn whilst stationed at Ubon in Thailand from 9 September 1965 until 4 November 1965 and then served with the RAAF element of the HQ Australian Forces Vietnam from 26 November 1968 until 26 November 1969. Photo: Julian Tennant

 

As a result, the museum displays several donated items which would otherwise be unlikely to be shown to the public as they fit outside the curatorial focus of institutional collections or the RSL. One such display is the collection of over 300 toy soldiers that were scratch-built by Reg Copeman, an Englishman who had served with the Royal Artillery during the Korean War, then 22 Special Air Service Regiment in the Malayan Emergency and Aden prior to his discharge as a WO2 in 1968. Reg then worked for WatchGuard International  the private military contracting company which had been formed by SAS founder Colonel David Stirling and John ‘Jock’ Woodhouse in 1965. This took Reg to Zambia and Sierra Leone before he moved to Australia in 1973 and finally settled in the nearby town of Denmark in the 1990’s.

Reg’s soldiers are all hand-made and each took around 50 days to complete. There was no set pattern to which soldier would be made next, sometimes basing his decisions on the book he was reading at the time. Reg was keen to keep the collection together and now in his 90’s he decided to donate the entire collection along with his reference material to Recollections of War where it is displayed in a custom made display cabinet.  

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Some of the 315 model figures that were scratch-built by 90 year old Reg Copeman, a Royal Artillery and 22 Special Air Service Regiment veteran who now lives in south western WA. Photo: Julian Tennant.

John’s own family connection is also included in the displays. His father, private Alan James ‘Jim’ Shapland enlisted in the Sussex Regiment during World War II and later volunteered for the Airborne Forces, joining the 22nd Independent Parachute Company which acted as the pathfinders for 6th Airborne Division. However, Jim was injured in mid-May 1944 during a training jump for D-Day and was hospitalised. As a result, he did not return to the unit and subsequently served with the Seaforth Highlanders for the remainder of the war.

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A group belonging to John Shapland’s father, private Alan James ‘Jim’ Shapland who qualified as a military parachutist on Course 80 which ran at RAF Ringway from 30 August to 9 September 1943. The course instructors’ notes record that Alan had a cheerful disposition and was a good performer. Jim then joined 2 Platoon of the 22nd Independent Parachute Company, but  was hospitalised in mid-May 1944 after carrying out a training jump for D-Day. He did not return to the unit and subsequently served with the Seaforth Highlanders. Photo: Julian Tennant

As can be expected from a collection that focuses on the personal histories of the participants and witnesses it also contains dozens of documents, letters, keepsakes and personal photograph albums reflecting the experiences of people from all sides, which can be viewed by visitors. One of the albums that I found particularly interesting belonged to a German sailor who served as a signaller on minesweeper’s during WWII. In addition to photographs and recording service details, the album also includes his Kriegsmarine and trade insignia plus the award certificate documentation which accompanied his Minesweeper War Badge. His group also includes an extensive hand annotated notebook, complete with diagrams but unfortunately, not being fluent in German, I could not make much sense of what I was viewing.

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Notebook and photo album from a German sailor (signals specialist) who served on a minesweeper carrying out anti-submarine operations. In addition to these badges, the photo album also contained several photographs of his time at see and the original certificate for his Kriegsmarine Minesweeper War Badge. Photo: Julian Tennant

 

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A deceased Japanese soldier’s haramaki (belly band belt). The blood stained belt has a small pocket on the reverse side which held the photographs of loved ones and notes (shown). Also included is a photo of the original owner after he had been killed during the fighting in New Guinea in September 1943. Photo: Julian Tennant

Many of these albums and documents are not immediately on display, but like all collectors, the Shapland’s are keen to share their collection with visitors, which is why they encourage visits by appointment only rather than having fixed visiting hours. It allows them to create a more intimate and personalised experience. When I spoke to Kathryn prior to my visit, she asked what my interests were and when I arrived, she had gathered some of their Australian Flying Corps pieces for me to view. As I wandered through the exhibition rooms, if I found something of interest John and Kathryn would answer my questions and were more than happy to pull things out of the cabinets to let me see specific details.

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RAN commemorative port, bronze ‘Naked Army’ statuettes and Special Air Service Regiment beret. The SASR beret belonged to 54159 John Murray Robinson who, as a sergeant, completed both of 3 SAS Squadron’s tours of Vietnam in 1966-67 and 1969-70. Photo: Julian Tennant
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Vietnam in-country made 1 Troop, A Squadron, 3 Cavalry Regiment, Royal Australian Armoured Corps patch attached to a lightweight flying suit which was worn around the base area at Nui Dat. Photo: Julian Tennant
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Mid 1980’s period 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment brassard featuring the distinctive 3RAR parachutist wing. Photo: Julian Tennant

Whilst Recollections of War is listed as a museum, I would describe my experience as being more like visiting another collector, discussing the objects and comparing ‘notes’. Kathryn agrees and goes on to say

‘I would love for more authors, researchers and students to visit and make use of our libraries and other archives. I can’t see the point in having all this stuff if it can’t be shared with like-minded or interested people.’

As a result, if you’re a collector or somebody with specific interest areas, you may find that you spend more time at Recollections of War than you anticipate. My primary area of interest is airborne and special operations insignia and I had expected to be at the museum for two to three hours, but I ended up staying over four and then returned the following day for another couple of hours to examine more of their collection… and I still wonder what else I may have missed. So, my advice is to plan accordingly, when arranging a visit let Kathryn know what your interests may be and allow yourself time to take it all in.

Albany is great long-weekend destination being a pleasant four hour drive from Perth and home to several military related attractions for the interested visitor. The city of Albany is also home to the Princess Royal Fortress which opened in 1893 and was Australia’s first federal fortress. Later, during the First World War, the town was the last port of call for the ships carrying the ANZAC troops departing Australia. The fort’s gun batteries and port were also active during the Second World War, particularly at the point in time when the Japanese were on Australia’s doorstep and Albany, along with the port of Fremantle were seen as providing safe refuge, beyond the reach of Japanese aircraft. Albany then became home to three USN submarines along with tender craft and crews. The military history of the region is preserved and presented in a series of military museums and displays including the National Anzac Centre at the fortress site. These are all in close proximity, opening at 09:00 and can be adequately covered in a few hours allowing enough time to visit Recollections of War in the afternoon or following day.  

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Recollections of War
Halcyon Park
51253 South Coast Highway
Albany WA 6330
Australia

Phone: +61 (0)8 9845 2083    /    0447 765 511     /    0428 981 976

Email: contact@recollectionsofwar.com.au     kathryn@recollectionsofwar.com.au

Website: https://recollectionsofwar.com.au/

Opening hours: By appointment – Call to arrange a time.

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The entrance to the Recollections of War Museum at 51253 South Coast Highway, which is about half an hour’s drive out of Albany on the way to the town of Denmark. Photos: Julian Tennant

The Mysterious Vietnam War Mary Poppins Platoon HAHO Parachutist Badge

61037528_2418529928198396_3156671602440011776_nMary Poppins Platoon Combat Qualification Gold Wing with the ARVN Jump Status Indicator for comparison. Collection: Julian Tennant

This “Mary Poppins Platoon Combat Qualification” parachutist badge (left) is one of the more interesting unofficial/novelty airborne badges in my collection.

Two variations of the badge are known to exist. A silver badge, described as the ‘basic’ wing and a second type with a point at the apex of the umbrella plus a gold wing which is referred to as the MPP Combat Qualification Gold Wing. As can be seen in the picture it’s design draws heavily on the ARVN Jump Status Indicator insignia which was worn by members Vietnamese Airborne personnel who were on jump status. The umbrella canopy may reference the pocket badge worn by the French Indochina period 1st Indochinese Parachute Company (1er Compagnie Indochinoise Parachutiste – 1 CIP) or it may be a reference to the…

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An unidentified French Indochina or 1950’s period Airborne unit badge.

ARVN unidentified Airborne SSI 2-2The unidentified French Indochina period French or Vietnamese Airborne unit badge which  formerly belonged to a Nung soldier who fought in both the first and second Indochina Wars. Collection: Julian Tennant

This is an unusual and as yet unidentified early Vietnamese Airborne patch that I have in my collection. It is the actual badge shown on page 81 of Harry Pugh’s book Insignia of the Republic of Vietnam Army Airborne Division, where it is described as an Unknown Airborne Insignia obtained in Saigon in 1967.

When I bought the badge from Harry, he elaborated a little further in an accompanying note regarding its provenance.

“When I was in Vietnam, 67 & 68, the chief of my Nung Security was an older Nung, “Song”. He had served with the French during the French Indochina war but I never asked him which unit. After the war he served with the Nung…

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The ‘Desert Diablos’ – DoS Air Wing Afghanistan Patches

I went down a bit of a rabbit-hole for this week’s post which features my small collection of U.S. Department of State Air Wing patches that a mate brought back for me from one of his tours in Afghanistan. I thought that it would be a quick write-up until I started gathering some contextual information and before I knew it, I was downloading all sorts of declassified audits and other reports regarding their activities in Afghanistan. The reason I wanted to keep it short was to allow time to restructure my site to include additional pages featuring parts of my collection and also my TRADE insignia. Unfortunately that did not happen and I accidentally changed the overall site theme to this one (which I am not sure I like) and cannot revert to the previous layout.  So, I may delay the next post whilst I figure things out and try to make sense of it all. If you want to be kept up to date for the new content, please bookmark or FOLLOW the page.

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The United States Department of State (DOS), also referred to as the State Department, was established in 1789 as the first administrative arm of the executive branch of the U.S. federal government and is the American equivalent of the ministry of foreign affairs in other nations. Its primary duties are advising the U.S. president, administering diplomatic missions, negotiating international treaties and agreements, and representing the U.S. at the United Nations.

In 1978, the US Congress created the Bureau of International Narcotics Matters (INM) as an agency reporting to the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, with a general mission of developing policies and programs to combat international narcotics and crime. With the growing influx of cocaine into the US in the 1980’s the South and Central American regions were its initial focus. This included using a crop duster aircraft to eradicate illicit crops in Mexico. A separate Air Wing (DoS Air Wing) was established in 1986 as use of aviation assets grew in the war on drugs. Continue reading “The ‘Desert Diablos’ – DoS Air Wing Afghanistan Patches”

Birdwood Military Museum – Geraldton, Western Australia

The Birdwood Military Museum, Geraldton, Western Australia.

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One of the earliest known purpose-built Returned and Services League (RSL) halls in Western Australia is also home to one of the state’s regional military museums.

Continue reading “Birdwood Military Museum – Geraldton, Western Australia”

African Special Operations Insignia #3 – Portuguese Mozambique’s Grupos Especiais Pára-quedistas 1971 -74

Portugal’s presence in Africa dates back to the 15th century and their colonies (Guinea-Bissau, Angola and Mozambique) held important economic and status value to the country causing resistance to the international opposition to colonialism that emerged at the end of the Second World War.

Supported by the Communist bloc, violent opposition to Portuguese rule began first in Angola (1961), followed by Portuguese Guinea (1963) and finally Mozambique in 1964, when the Marxist-Leninist Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO) carried out its first attacks on Portuguese targets on 25 September.

Initially, Portugal’s African wars were fought with basically conventional forces, but as the conflicts dragged on it became clear that specialised counter-insurgency troops and doctrine would be needed. This included the ‘Africanisation of the troops’, part to limit ‘metropolitan’ casualties of conscripts sent from Portugal. In addition, this multi-racial army countered the criticism of a race-based war and importantly, created a connection to the local population, providing obvious tactical advantages.

Footage from a 1970 film showing counter insurgency operations conducted by Portuguese forces in Mozambique at the border areas adjoining Tanzania. This is most likely from Operation Gordian Knot (Operação Nó Górdio) which was an operation intended to close down the Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO)’s infiltration routes across the Tanzanian border and to destroy permanent FRELIMO bases inside Northern Mozambique.

One of the units developed in the Mozambique province in the latter half of 1969 was the Grupos Especiais (GE) or Special Groups. Trained at Dondo and the Monte Pvez Commando Training Centre, these units were employed in many roles including raids, ambushes and acting as guides and interpreters for regular forces on operations. They initially consisted of an officer, nine NCOs and eighteen enlisted men but some of the Grupos Especiais grew to between fifty and sixty men.

At the start of 1970, General Kaúlza de Oliveira de Arriaga took over as the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces in Mozambique, replacing General António Augusto dos Santos. The following year, concerned by the lack of airborne reinforcements being sent from Portugal to bolster his two parachute battalions, Para-Hunter Battalion 31 (Batalhões de Caçadores Pára-quedistas de Moçambique 31 – BCP-31) and Para-Hunter Battalion 32 (Batalhões de Caçadores Pára-quedistas de Moçambique 32 – BCP-32), he authorised the formation of locally recruited Special Parachute Groups (Grupos Especiais Pára-quedistas – GEP) under the command of Colonel Sigfredo Costa Campos. Later, on 19 June a headquarters formation, the General Command of Special Groups (Comando Geral dos Grupos Especiais -CGGE) and the Special Groups Instruction Centre (Centro de Instrução de Grupos Especiais – CIGE) were at created at Dondo to oversee the operations and training of the GEP.

Col Costa Campos and General Kaúlza de Arriaga
Founder and first commanding officer of the Grupos Especiais Pára-quedistas, Colonel Costa Campos wearing the red beret of the GEP, sitting alongside the Commander in Chief of forces in Mozambique, General Kaúlza de Arriaga in an Alouette III helicopter.

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To be considered for admission to the GEP, the soldier had to be a volunteer of at least Furriel rank (roughly equivalent to a junior sergeant), have a good record of service, exhibited disciplined, decisive qualities in combat and prepared to serve in the GEP for at least one year after being posted to a GEP group. Volunteers enlisted for twenty months and in addition to their parachute pay received other campaign and rank allowances. After completing their tenure with the GEP they were returned to their respective units, downgrading to their previous rank and pay scales.

Recruits for the GEP would eventually come from all sectors of the military and civilian population in Mozambique, but in May 1971, the first group of volunteers, mainly from the Batalhão de Caçadores Nº16 (BCaç 16), a locally recruited specialist light infantry type unit arrived at BCP-31 to commence their training.

After being selected for possible service with the GEP, volunteers had to complete a nine week basic instruction phase, followed by a four week parachute training course. The para course conducted by BCP-31 tried to emulate the standard military static line course however an absence of purpose build exit and landing towers meant that some aspects of ground training was modified. After 6 jumps from a Nord Atlas aircraft, the trainees were presented with their wings and red beret featuring the GE badge. ‘Regular’ GE troops wore the badge on a yellow beret.  Because the parachute course had never been officially approved as a Military Parachuting Course (as defined by Portuguese military regulation/standing order No. 42075 of 31DEC58) the parachute wing also differed from the standard Portuguese qualification. Made from metallic silver it was worn on the left side of the chest above the pocket flap seam. Variations in bullion also exist.

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Grupos Especiais Pára-quedistas (GEP) silver metal parachute qualification wings. The top wing is more curved and has the number 314 scratched on the back. The lower wing is slightly thicker and flat. Harry Pugh & Bob Bragg suggest in their book “Portugal Elite Forces Insignia 1951 – Present” that the flat variation is a post war production. Collection: Julian Tennant

GRUPOS ESPECIAIS PÁRA-QUEDISTAS GEP – MOÇAMBIQUE
Grupos Especiais Pára-quedistas troops in formation. Note the distinctive GEP parachutist wings on the left chest.

Reuters video from April 1973 taken at Dondo Barracks showing the Mozambique Governor, Mr. Pimental Do Santos, and the Commander of the Armed Forces, General Kaulza De Arriaga at the ‘Beret parade’ of a newly graduated group of GEP paratroopers. The female parachutist in the white t-shirt is Carmo Jardim, an eighteen year old Portuguese girl and veteran of over 400 jumps who instructed on the course. Note also the Grupos Especiais (GE) guard of honour (at 0:08 seconds into the video) who are present at the parade and wearing the standard GE black uniform and yellow beret. 

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Parachute training was followed by two weeks of intensive combat skills training at the CIGE which was then rounded out by a month of skills refinement in an operational zone. Instructors would accompany their trainees throughout the instruction phases and then take command of the group at the conclusion of the training, thus forming a closer more cohesive bond between the volunteers and their commanders.

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According to Colonel Costa Campos, each GEP consisted of one officer, five NCOs and eighty enlisted men, however historian Antonio Carmo’s excellent overview of the GEP presents documentation that states that the structure consisted of an officer, with five NCOs (one acting as 2IC the others subgroup commanders), sixteen corporals and forty-eight soldiers. The structure allowed each GEP to operate as a single unit or as subgroups depending on th mission requirements.

Unlike the GE troops who were stationed in the various operational zones, the GEP was seen as a strategic reserve for the Commander in Chief of military operations as well as being used to conduct special operations type counter insurgency tasks such as surgical strikes, recovery and intelligence gathering operations, such as those carried out by  Furriel José Ribeiro whose GEP team conducted ‘pseudo’ operations in a manner similar to those made famous by the Rhodesian Selous Scouts.  Named “Cassava” operations, due to the food bag that they carried  filled with cassava, Ribeiro’s team disguised themselves as insurgents in order to infiltrate and gain the cooperation from FRELIMO sympathisers who would lead them to their targets.

On 15 November 1971, the first three GEP groups, (GEP 001, GEP 002 and GEP 003) had completed their training and were deployed to the Tete Operational Zone. By the end of 1972, ten GEP had been raised and by the end of the war in 1974, this had increased to a total of 12 under the control of the Batalhão Grupo Especiais  Pára-quedistas, a command formed to oversee logistics and instruction of the GEP. The end of the war in Mozambique saw the GEP disbanded with many of its members leaving Mozambique rather than facing the inevitable retribution at the hands of FRELIMO.

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Grupos Especiais Pára-quedistas (GEP) printed cloth parachutist qualification. This wing is found in Brazil and is probably made for GEP veterans who migrated to that country and served in the Brazilian military after 1974. Collection: Julian Tennant

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The Fallschirmjäger Collection – Overloon War Museum, The Netherlands

Photographs of the German paratrooper displays at the Fallschirmjäger Collection shown in the Overloon War Museum in the Netherlands.

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On the 30th of September 1944, shortly after the failure of Operation MARKET GARDEN, German and Allied forces clashed in the vicinity of Overloon, approximately 35km south of Nijmegan. It took almost three weeks before Overloon was liberated and the clash went down in history as the most intense tank battle that ever took place on Dutch soil. Harrie van Daal, a civil servant was living in the area during that time and in May 1945 after walking through the battle ravaged Overloonse forest petitioned the Mayor and local pastor to create a memorial honouring those who fought. On May 25, 1946, the Oorlogsmuseum Overloon (Overloon War Museum) opened to the public – even before the village itself was rebuilt. It was the first museum about the Second World War in Western Europe. I will cover the museum in more depth in a future article, but one of the highlights is undoubtedly the Fallschirmjäger Collection which is part of their “Turning Point Europe” exhibition section.

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Unlike the Dead Man’s Corner museum in Normandy (see my review and pictures here), which concentrates on the actions of the German paras at Normandy, the Fallschirmjäger Collection presents an overview of the German paras from the early days of WW2 up until 1945. It does this in eight display cases filled with uniforms, equipment and related ephemera.

The first display shows the paratroopers of the early war and the invasion of the low countries, including mannequins representing their Dutch opponents.

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The next section shows the uniforms and equipment used during the campaign in North Africa. This is followed by a showcase displaying the paratroopers as they would have been seen in Sicily and the Italian Campaign.

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The mannequin display cabinets are also broken up by others featuring an impressive collection of fallschirmjäger related documents, insignia, personal artifacts and other related ephemera.

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This is followed by showcases depicting the fighting in the Netherlands during the 1944/45 period and then jumps to displays of the fallschirmjäger kitted out in the equipment used during the fighting in the area of Monte Cassino and the Grand Sasso.  The exhibition finishes with the final display cases representing the paratroopers on the Eastern Front during the winter months.

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I visited the Oorlogsmuseum Oveloon as a day-trip excursion during my exploration of the battlefields and museums related to Operation MARKET GARDEN in the Arnhem area. Traveling by car it is a relatively short trip from Oosterbeek, roughly an hour’s drive  from The Airborne Museum Hartenstein. If you have the time, definitely plan to visit, even without the Fallschirmjäger Collection, the Oorlogsmuseum Overloon remains one of the most impressive WW2 military museums that I have encountered.

Oorlogsmuseum Overloon / Overloon War Museum
Museumpark 1
5825 AM Overloon
The Netherlands

Website: www.oorlogsmuseum.nl/en/

Phone: +31 (0)478 – 641250

E-mail: info@oorlogsmuseum.nl

Reservations: publieksdienst@oorlogsmuseum.nl

Open: The museum is open Monday to Friday from 10:00 – 17:00 and on weekends from 11:00 – 17:00. It also has reduced visiting hours on some days and is closed on some public holidays so it is best to confirm their opening schedule here. Due to current restrictions the museum only allows a limited number of visitors each days and online ticket reservations are essential prior to visiting.

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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 Sunday and 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

‘L’ Detachment SAS ‘original’ Fred Casey’s Memorabilia and Archive

In March 2020, another extraordinary group of documents and memorabilia belonging to one of the first members of the Special Air Service was sold at auction. The SAS archive of Private / Trooper Fred “Killer” Casey, an early member of the elite regiment, comprised eleven lots and included the veteran’s medals, SAS beret, insignia, pocket diary, certificates, Fairbairn Sykes dagger, map and a personal photo album featuring photographs that had never been publicly displayed before.

fred casey sas header copy

 

In March 2020, another extraordinary group of documents and memorabilia belonging to one of the first members of the Special Air Service was sold at auction. The SAS archive of Private / Trooper Fred “Killer” Casey comprised eleven lots and included the veteran’s medals, SAS beret, insignia, pocket diary, certificates, Fairbairn-Sykes dagger, map and a personal photo album featuring photographs that had never been publicly displayed before. In total it achieved a hammer price of £21,000 (not including auctioneers commission and fees).

6399236 Trooper Frederick Casey was a pre-war Territorial who had joined the 4th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment in October 1936. He completed the unit’s annual camps and was the battalion’s boxing champion for three years.  At the outbreak of war in 1939 he was mobilised for full-time duty and first saw action in France with the British Expeditionary Force before being evacuated on the 30th of May 1940 as part of the retreat from Dunkirk. Back in England, he volunteered for commando training and on the 10th of July 1940 was posted to F Troop, 3 Commando.  On 24 October 1940, 3 Commando and 8 (Guards) Commando were reorganised into the 4th Special Service Battalion and in February 1941 Casey was transferred to 8 (Guards) Commando before being shipped to Egypt as part of Layforce, a composite group consisting of several commando units.

Layforce was initially tasked with conducting operations to disrupt the allied lines of communication in the Mediterranean and it was planned that they would take part in operations to capture the Greek island of Rhodes. However, as the strategic situation in the Middle East turned against the Allies, the commandos found themselves being used as reinforcements throughout the Mediterranean theater.  By mid 1941, the authorities in Middle East Command, who had never been able to come to terms with the use of Special Service Troops, took the decision to finally disband Layforce and so on the 6th August 1941 the men made their final journey to Abbassia Barracks in Cairo where they were to be broken up and sent to other units. It was here that Casey saw a request for volunteers for further “Special Duties”.

He applied to join the fledgling Special Air Service (S.A.S.) and in August 1941, after a brief interview with David Stirling also formerly of 8 Commando and now Commanding Officer of the new unit, Fred found himself posted to “L” Detachment, Special Air Service Brigade based at Kabrit. Soon, Fred Casey was on operations, initially working closely with the Long Range Desert Group roaming the desert, raiding the German rear areas, targeting airfields and port installations in their gunned-up, customised, Willys Jeeps. In October 1942, the unit was renamed 1st Special Air Service (1 SAS).

Studio portrait of Frederick Casey 1 SAS.
Studio portrait of Frederick Casey 1 SAS.

 

SAS Fred Casey SAS L Detachment jeep crew from lot 139
One of Fred Casey’s photographs from his album showing a 1 SAS crew manning the Vickers K machine guns in one of their jeeps in the Western Desert, January 1943.

In March 1943 Casey along with other members of A Squadron 1 SAS became part of the Special Raiding Squadron, under the command of Blair ‘Paddy’ Mayne who had taken command of the unit following Stirling’s capture in January. Casey was allotted to 2 Troop, but then, in April he was admitted to hospital and discharged from the squadron, missing out on the spearhead role that the SRS was to play in Operation HUSKY, the Allied invasion of Sicily.

At the end of 1943, the Special Raiding Squadron reverted to the title of 1 SAS and along with 2 SAS was placed under the command of the 1st Airborne Division. On 7 January 1944, Casey returned to operations with 1 SAS after a period of leave. It was around this time in early 1944 that the idea of a SAS Brigade was approved, which resulted in 1 SAS being withdrawn from the Italian theater and returning to Britain.

By March 1944 all components of the SAS Brigade, numbering around 2000 men were assembled in Ayrshire where they were ordered to discard their sandy berets in favour of the airborne maroon beret, although many members opted to defy regulations and retained their sandy beige berets.

sas casey beret bosleys lot 141
Fred Casey’s SAS Beret made by British Beret Basque Ltd, dated 1944 and stamped with the WD Arrow. Bosleys had an estimate of between £1000 – £1500 but achieved a ‘hammer’ price of £4000. Photo courtesy of Bosleys Auctioneers

They were also issued with battledress shoulder titles for 1, 2, 3 and 4 SAS in the airborne colours of pale blue on maroon. Fred Casey’s 1 SAS title is one of the lots that was sold at the auction achieving a hammer price of £660.

During this period in the UK Fred Casey married his sweetheart, Buddy, and prepared for operations in France as part of Operation OVERLORD, the invasion of Normandy in June 1944. The role of the SAS Brigade in this operation was to prevent German reinforcements reaching the front line and initially only half of the force would be committed, the remainder being held in reserve, including Casey who finally deployed to France in August 1944.

A 1944 dated Army Film and Photographic Unit film showing members of the Special Air Service doing a fire-power demonstration with their vehicle mounted Vickers K machine guns. Imperial War Museum Catalogue number: A70 217-4

25220402-8046473-image-a-26_1582718039144
Fred Casey’s ‘Beaded and Ribbed’ model Fairbairn-Sykes commando fighting knife on top of his “Zones of France” escape map. This 1:200 000 scale single sided map was printed on cotton rather than the more common silk and dated March 1944. At the Bosleys auction, the dagger had a hammer price of £2200 whilst the map sold for £320. Photo: Bosleys Auctioneers.

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At this stage, the SAS groups were carrying out a number of operations behind the lines, disrupting German supplies and communications, tying down large numbers of German troops in the process. Liaising with local resistance groups, operating bases were set up in remote wooded areas and the SAS parties roamed the countryside achieving some success, but also suffering severely at the hands of German security services. Dozens of captured SAS men were murdered in accordance with Hitler’s notorious ‘Commando’ order

For his part, Fred Casey was presented with the “Commander-in Chief’s Certificate for Gallantry” by Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery in January 1945. When Germany finally surrendered in May 1945 Casey was sent along with 1 and 2 SAS to supervise the disarming of the 200 000 German troops stationed in Norway. This would be his last mission.

Trooper Casey's photo album - Rare picture of 1st SAS parading in their heavily armed jeeps in Norway at the end of the war
Jeeps of 1 SAS on parade in Norway at the end of the war. Photo: Fred Casey

 

1st SAS on a victory parade in Norway at the end of the war
1 SAS at a victory parade in Norway at the end of the war. Photo: Fred Casey

 

SAS Fred Casey Bosleys Lot 137
WW2 SAS, Special Raiding Squadron, Commando Medal Group of Private Fred Casey. A rare medal group of seven awarded to an early member of the Special Air Service Private Fred Casey, who was awarded the C-in-C 21st Army Group certificate for outstanding good service whilst serving with the 1st SAS. He had formally served with the BEF 1940 with the Royal Sussex Regiment and later Commando units, before joining the SAS in August 1942.Comprising: 1939/45 Star, Africa Star, France & Germany Star, Defence Medal, War Medal, Territorial Efficiency Medal (GVIR) “6399236 PTE F CASEY R. SUSSEX”. The medals are loose the campaign medals contained in original forwarding box addressed to Mr F Casey 30 Grenville Place Brighton Sussex” The box with date sent “18.11.49” and details to the back confirm sent by Infantry & AAC Records … framed and glazed 21st Army Certificate “4979461 TPR CASEY F 1 SPECIAL AIR SERVICE REGIMENT” dated “2nd March 1945” … Accompanied by an original portrait photograph of Fred wearing battledress uniform with SAS wings and medal ribbons. He also wears his SAS beret … 1946 SAS pocket diary with various pencil inscriptions … Photocopies, of service papers etc. Part of the Fred Casey SAS Archive, this lot achieved a ‘hammer’ price of £3600. Photo courtesy of Bosleys Auctioneers

 

Caseys autographed picture of Paddy Mayne lot 140
Signed photograph of Lieutenant Colonel Robert Blair “Paddy” Mayne, DSO & Three bars. This original photograph circa 1945 shows “Paddy” Mayne in uniform with SAS wings and medal ribbons. He has signed the photo in the lower right corner. The reverse of the photo has an inscription, “Given to me by Paddy Mayne, Fred Casey”. Size 6 1/2 x 7 3/4 inches. The Bosleys estimate for this lot (#140) was between £100 – £200. The final ‘hammer’ price was £1900. Photo courtesy of Bosleys Auctioneers

 

sas casey cert lot138
Fred Casey’s WW2 SAS Certificate of Service, signed by ‘Paddy’ Mayne confirming that Fred Casey served with the SAS until 16th November 1945. It shows theatre of operations, medals awarded and is signed by the CO of 1 SAS, Lt. Col. Blair ‘Paddy’ Mayne. Note that the regimental number is incorrect and should be 6399236, not 6309236.  When sold at Bosleys, the certificate was accompanied by numbered SAS Membership lapel badge. The buttonhole fitting stamped ‘496’. A SAS silver and enamel tiepin/sweetheart brooch stamped silver (hook absent) and a silver and enamel parachutist wing sweetheart brooch. An accompanying photocopy of a newspaper cutting shows the Parachute wing brooch being worn by Fred Casey’s wife “Buddy” was also included in the lot. It fetched a hammer price of £780. Photo courtesy of Bosleys Auctioneers.

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At the end of the war, the Special Air Service was disbanded. Fred Casey was discharged and transferred to the reserve on  20th of March 1946. After the war he settled in Brighton, East Sussex, became a parquet floor layer and with his wife, Buddy, had two sons, Michael and Charles.

Frederick Casey passed away in 1997 aged 81. His wartime archive and memorabilia which included all the pieces shown here was broken up and sold at auction by militaria auctioneers Bosleys in March 2020.

sas fred casey archive

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Related Post – A WWII L Detachment S.A.S. Military Cross group awarded for Operation BIGAMY, the 1942 raid on Benghazi

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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 as often as possible 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

African Special Operations Insignia #2 –The Republic of Transkei 1981-94

Transkei Defence Force Special Forces and Airborne unit insignia 1981 – 1994

For this, the second in a series of articles looking at the insignia worn by various African airborne and special operations units I have to acknowledge the significant contribution made by James D.N. MacKenzie of Southern Africa Militaria. James has been collecting and researching militaria related to airborne and special forces units with a particular interest in Southern African nations since the 1960’s.  This article would not have been possible without his help. Also, please like and follow the page using the link in the column on the right to be kept updated of future installments.

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transkei airborne insignia juleswings map

The Republic of Transkei, an autonomous homeland state in the Eastern Cape Province, became nominally independent of South Africa on 26 October 1976. In the previous year it had, with South African assistance, established the Transkei Defence Force (TDF). However, the subsequent relationship with South Africa was not smooth and the State President, Chief Kaiser Matanzima, terminated the services of the South African military advisors in 1978.

Following the departure of South African personnel, the discipline and efficiency of the Transkei forces rapidly deteriorated. However, by 1980, relations with South Africa had been re-established and the non-aggression pact that had previously been cancelled was re-instated. In July  1980 a contract is given to a company Security Specialists International (Pty) Ltd. This was owned by Capt. Ant White, formerly of the Selous Scouts. On the 1st of March, 1981 two former Selous Scouts soldiers (Sgt. Peter McNielage and Sgt. Andy Balaam) begin work on the Transkei contract.  On the 10th of June, Colonel Ron Reid-Daly, founder and former commanding officer of the Selous Scouts, was approached by the Prime Minister of Transkei, George Matanzima, to take over command of the Transkei Defence Force and given the rank of major general.  The arrival of the Rhodesians which included former Selous Scouts, Rhodesian SAS and Rhodesian Light Infantry soldiers, were initially viewed by the South Africans as a stabilising influence in the Transkei.

In June 1981, another former Selous Scout officer, Captain Tim Bax, was recruited by Ron Reid-Daly to command a newly formed Special Forces unit that would be established at the site of the Second World War naval base above Port St. Johns on the coast at the mouth of the Mzimvubu River.

Transkei SF Ron and Bob McKenzie
Informal group portrait taken in 1984 showing an unidentified Transkei Defence Force infantry officer (and aide-de-camp) to the left of Major General Ron Reid-Daly, commander Transkei Defence Force who is wearing the orange TDF staff beret and Selous Scouts wing; Chris Smith; and former Rhodesian SAS officer, Major Bob MacKenzie, right, who at the time of the photograph, was serving as 2i/c of the TDF Special Forces unit. Photo courtesy Chris Smith

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With a cadre of ex-Rhodesians, mainly former Selous Scouts, volunteers from 1 Transkei Battalion were called for. Sixty-eight members came forward, and the members gave this sub-unit the name of “Ingwe Squad” (Leopard Squad). During August 1981, a selection course was held to select suitable members from the Ingwe Squad and any other volunteers from within the Army. At the end of the selection course, which lasted three weeks, there were 32 volunteers remaining, all members of the Ingwe Squad.

transkei airborne special forces insignia-1
Transkei Special Forces bi-metal beret and collar badges. The beret badge has two screw post attachments, whilst the collar badges have pin clutch back attachments. The collar badges are only worn with No. 1 Dress and were not made as an opposing pair. Collection: Julian Tennant

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Because of the distances required to reach their training areas, the Port St. Johns base was deemed inadequate and in April 1982 the unit’s training facilities were expanded to include the Mount Thesiger Nature Reserve which provided a much more suitable area.

Initially, the TDF Special Forces unit training consisted mainly of improving the standard of basic infantry skills, with emphasis placed upon weapons training, map reading, conventional and unconventional warfare. Then, beginning 1983 the training progressed to special forces type skills including scuba diving, demolitions, boating, mountaineering, survival and tracking. In July 1983 a parachute course was established.

The Parachute training was initially carried out by instructors from 1 Parachute Battalion in Bloemfontein until the Transkei Parachute School was opened in May 1989. According to Dr Jakkie Cillier’s paper, An Overview of the Armed Forces of the TBV Countries,  by 1993 the TDF Air Wing also included a Parachute Company in addition to the Special Forces Regiment, although little information is available on the Parachute Company or their actual operational capabilities.

transkei airborne special forces insignia-2
Transkei Parachute School and TDF Air Wing Parachute Company beret badge. Bi-metal with two screw post attachments. Collection: Julian Tennant

 

Transkei TDF Parachute School
Transkei Parachute School. Front Row (seated L-R): Maj. Mhatu, Maj. Du Plessis (OC), Maj. Mketo (2i/c). Back Row: Sgt. Nose, Cpl Mcunukelwa, Cpl Voorslag, Cpl Zilani, Sgt Zozi. Note that whilst most of the staff wear the SF beret badge, the OC is wearing the TDF Air Wing Parachute Company beret badge. 

 

Transkei Para school basic course
Transkei Defence Force Parachute School basic para course photo. Date unknown.

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The basic parachute course lasted 4 weeks, the first two of which consisted of ground training. To qualify for their wings, the student parachutist had to complete a minimum of ten day (mostly with equipment) and two-night jumps.

The wings were awarded in two grades, silver for officers and bronze for other ranks. All the issued wings were numbered and assigned to a specific member’s name. Only one wing was issued and if lost had to be replaced with an un-numbered blank wing. The former Rhodesian soldiers continued to wear their Selous Scouts wings and other Rhodesian awards on their uniforms.

juleswings collection transkei airborne wings -3
Transkei Defence Force parachutist wing with the burgundy felt indicating Special Forces. A green backing is worn by infantrymen and TDF staff wore an orange backing.

 

juleswings collection transkei airborne wings -1
Transkei Defence Force officers silver parachute wings. Two variations are shown. Both are serial numbered as awarded and are stamped “SILVER”. Collection: Julian Tennant

 

juleswings collection transkei airborne wings -2
Two variations of the Transkei Defence Force other ranks parachute badge. The top badge is the first issue type. These are replacement wings that were purchased by the soldiers to compliment their single issue badge which was numbered. Collection: Julian Tennant

 

Transkei TDF Piet Van Der Riet Selous Scouts
Informal portrait of ex-Selous Scouts Officer Piet van der Riet taken outside of his house at Port St-Johns whilst he was serving as 2i/c of the Transkei SF. Note the Selous Scouts parachutist wings on his chest, a practice encouraged by TDF commander, Ron Reid-Daly. Photograph courtesy James D. N. MacKenzie

 

Ranks Transkei Lt Col 2-Edit
The former Rhodesian soldiers leading the Transkei Defence Force had a big influence on the design of TDF badges and rank insignia. This included incorporating unit identifiers onto rank insignia, a practice that was formerly carried out in Rhodesia. Shown here are embroidered and screen printed variations of the Transkei Special Forces Lieutenant Colonel’s rank worn on barrack/work-dress. These examples are from the Southern Africa Militaria site which also features some of other TDF Special Forces ranks. Photo: Courtesy James D.N. MacKenzie.

 

transkei SF tracksuit rhodesian sas
Transkei Defence Force Special Forces tracksuit featuring the TDF SF patch and also Rhodesian Special Air Service patch on the right chest indicating that this belonged to a former Rhodesian SAS operator then serving with the TDF.

 

Transkei TDF SF officers a
Transkei Defence Force Special Forces officers. Note the tupperware shoulder flash being worn by the officer in barracks/work-dress on the left, whilst the other two officers wear the full compliment of No.1 dress uniform TDF SF insignia including metal lucite resin covered flashes (on the left shoulder only), SF collar badges and parachutist qualification wings.

 

transkei airborne special forces insignia-3
Transkei Special Forces Arm Flash. This is the same size as the South African arm flashes only one on the left shoulder of the dress uniform. Collection: Julian Tennant

 

Transkei SF shoulder flash tupperware
Transkei Special Forces embossed plastic should flash/flap. Sometimes referred to as ‘tupperware’ these were worn on barrack/work dress. Collection: Julian Tennant

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The Transkei government of the 1980s continued to have a strained relationship with South Africa, largely because of the existence of armed strongholds of the ANC and other anti-apartheid organizations in the homeland which also included, within its territory, the birthplace of ANC leader Nelson Mandela. In 1986 SADF planners conceive of Operation KATZEN to ‘stabilise’ the deteriorating situation in the Eastern Cape. Central to their plan is the ‘unification’ of Transkei and another notionally independent homeland state, Ciskei (the subject of an upcoming article) in Xhosaland, with a moderate political leadership sympathetic to the Republic of South Africa.

On the 19th of February 1987, a 22-man raiding party consisting of former Selous Scouts and Iliso Lomzi (the armed wing of the opposition Ciskei People’s Rights Protection Party) operators left the TDF SF base at Port St Johns en route to the Ciskei. Their mission was to capture Chief Lennox Sebe, the Ciskei President at his home in Bisho and force a merger of the two states. However the raiding party was greeted with heavier than expected resistance killing Rfn. Mbuyiselo Nondela and wounding Rfn. Ndulu who was captured and subsequently released.

In late March 1987, with the plan to overthrow Ciskei’s president having failed, the Transkei Government informed General Ron Reid-Daly that the contract for the now renamed Security Service Transkei (Pty) Ltd (formerly SSI) had been terminated and within 24 hours most of the Rhodesians employed by the company had left the Transkei. Those that remained, including Ron Reid-Daly were arrested and deported to South Africa on the 4th of April.

Rumours of a coup attempt by former State President Kaiser Matanzima followed the expulsions. In response, the then current president, Chief George Matanzima announced that Brigadier Bantu Holomisa, who had been placed into detention due to his opposition to TDF involvement in the Ciskei raid, was to be promoted to Major General and made commander of the Transkei Defence Force, replacing General Zondwa Mtirara who had resigned.

Transkei TDF bantu-holomisa
Bantu Holomisa wearing the TDF para wing with green (infantry) backing.

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Then, towards the end of 1987, Holomisa, a staunch ANC activist, led a bloodless coup against the Transkei government. Following his takeover he suspended the civilian constitution and refused South Africa’s repeated demands for a return to civilian rule, insisting that a civilian government would be a puppet controlled by Pretoria. With the departure of the Rhodesians and animosity between the Transkei government and the South African’s the quality of the Transkei Defence Force Special Forces stagnated.

On 27th of April 1994, the Republic of Transkei was abolished and reintegrated into South Africa as part of the newly created Eastern Cape and KwaZulu Natal provinces. Bantu Holomisa was named deputy minister of housing in President Mandela’s cabinet.

 

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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 as often as possible 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

‘PANGOLIN TIMES’ – Op AGILA / Op DAMON Rhodesia Dec 1979 – Mar 1980.

 

From December 1979 until March 1980, the Australian Army carried out Operation DAMON, the Australian contribution to the Commonwealth Monitoring Force (CMF) in Rhodesia. The Australian component, consisting of officers and NCO’s drawn from various corps, formed part of a deployment made up of roughly 1500 troops, mainly from the Britain (1200 personnel), but with contingents also coming from New Zealand (76), Kenya (51) and Fiji (24).

The Commonwealth Monitoring Force, operating as part of Operation AGILA, (British codename) was formed to oversee the ceasefire  between the Rhodesian Government’s Security Forces and 22,000 Patriotic Front guerrillas from Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) and Joshua Nkomo’s Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) during the run-up to the 1980 general elections, which would establish the governance of a new independent state.

The CMF’s role was to monitor and report on compliance with the ceasefire from both sides and try to dissuade them from actions which might lead to a breach of the agreement. It was not required to enforce any aspect of the cease fire, and there was no requirement to disarm the warring factions. 

Op Agila Australian soldiers assemble at Richmond RAAF Base prior to deployment to Rhodesia Credit-Antonin Cermak
Australian soldiers assemble at Richmond RAAF Base prior to deployment to Rhodesia as part of the Commonwealth Monitoring Force, December 1979. Photo: Antonin Cermak (The Age)

 

RSF welcome RAF Hercules carrying members of the CMF
Rhodesian Security Forces welcome a RAF Hercules carrying members of the Commonwealth Monitoring Force.

The Australian contingent consisted of 152 members of the Australian Army who served in Rhodesia from 25 December 1979 to 5 March 1980. Preceding the main Australian contingent was an advance party consisting of five Australian Army officers, who arrived in Rhodesia on 23 December and departed on 30 December 1979. The bulk of the Australian commitment arrived on Christmas day.

Op Agila Lance Corporal Martin Turnbull-Edit
Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia. Lance Corporal Martin (Marty) Turnbull, formerly of Raymond Terrace NSW, serving with the 130th Signals Squadron admiring a witch doctor carving in a shop in the capital. Note the white armband as worn prior to the introduction of the CMF Pangolin patch. Photo: Craig Murphy. Australian War Memorial Accession Number: P01940.006
Zim-Rhod Op AGILA CMF patch
Commonwealth Monitoring Force Pangolin patch. These were worn by monitors on white armbands. The Monitoring Force had arrived in Rhodesia equipped with standard “umpire” white armbands. However, once troops had deployed into the bush, a staff officer at HQ in Morgan Girls’ School, Salisbury (Harare) devised this emblem to be worn on the white brassard. The symbol caused some bemusement among the CMF and Rhodesians. The officer thought himself pretty clever, as he had discovered that the Temminck Ground Pangolin was considered a good luck symbol by local tribesmen. Had he found out more, he would have learned that when one is found, it is killed and presented to the chief. Collection: Julian Tennant
Op Agila 2RAR Cpl Bones Brady
Corporal ‘Bones’ Brady of the 2/4th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment poses by a ‘Puma’ mine protected vehicle used by members of the Rhodesian Security Forces at the Transit Camp Salisbury (Harare) Airport.

Map of Rhodesia showing the Assembly Point locations during Operation AGILA

Initially, five Popular Front assembly points were to be overseen by the Australians, most were inland from the Mozambique border and used by the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA), the military wing of ZANU. The sites included Elim (which had attracted worldwide attention in 1978 after  the rape, murder and mutilation of 12 missionaries and children by Robert Mugabe’s ZANLA terrorists), Magadze, Marymount and Dendera, in the north-east, and Kari-Yangwe, in the north-west of the country. Other Australians were deployed with the Rhodesians at Mount Darwin, Bindura, Mtoko and Sinoia.

Of the Australians (27 officers and 109 NCO’s) were deployed to the Patriotic Front assembly points, or to monitor the activities of the Rhodesian Security Forces, whilst the remainder comprised the headquarters element (4 officers including one medical officer and 11 SNCO’s).

The force was spread thin and would be vulnerable should the peaceful transition to independence fail. In an interview given to The Age at the start of the deployment, Australian contingent commander, Colonel Kevin Cole described the risk as fourfold, “disease, wild animals, land mines, and the chance of a deliberate or accidental breakdown in the ceasefire.” If a breakdown in the ceasefire did occur, the CMF teams at the Assembly Points, which consisted of an officer with sixteen other ranks armed with rifles plus one GPMG could be in real trouble. 

Op Agila 2RAR Cpl Brady viewing a PF shot in an incident prior to the elections
Corporal ‘Bones’ Brady (left) of the 2/4th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment and members of the Rhodesian Security Forces viewing the body of a dead PF guerilla shot in an incident prior to the February election.

 

Alouette Gunship, Assembly Point Juliet, Zezani, Zimbabwe-Rhodesia 1980
A British CMF monitor checking out the armaments on an Alouette Gunship at Assembly Point Juliet, Zezani, Zimbabwe-Rhodesia 1980. Photo: Torfaen Corvine

In the lead up to the election there were several breaches of the ceasefire and attempts to intimidate the monitors, but all situations were resolved without the use of force. There were also environmental hazards, including a wide range of diseases and the existence of landmines within the areas in which they had to work. There were many breaches of the ceasefire and acts of intimidation by both sides in the lead-up, but the election went ahead over three days, 27–29 February, without major incident. Robert Mugabe’s ZANU faction broke the terms of the Lancaster House Conference by keeping half his fighters in the field, outside of the Assembly Points as was required the agreement.  This resulted in widespread voter intimidation but did not stop the election from proceeding as planned and his party won a decisive victory. Rhodesia was officially renamed Zimbabwe on 18 April 1980 with Mugabe its new prime minister. On 2 March 1980, CMF personnel were pulled back to a camp in and around New Sarum Airport and were flown out over the following days with the Australians returning home on 5 March.

British Daily Express cartoon of 18 April 1980. A sign of things to come.
British Daily Express cartoon of 18 April 1980. A sign of things to come.

Postscript:

Almost as soon as the CMF left Rhodesia, Robert Mugabe started to settle old scores and consolidate his power by having his henchmen target his ‘comrade’ Joshua Nkomo’s ZAPU faction. The deep-seated rivalry of the two liberation parties was predicated on ideological and ethnic factors, ZANU being drawn largely from the Shona people and Nkomo’s ZAPU being Ndbele. Over the following month the murders escalated with open warfare occurring between the groups in Entumbane, a suburb of Bulawayo in November 1980. This was only quelled when the white led British South African Police intervened on the part of the government. Then, in February 1981 open fighting once again erupted in Bulawayo between Mugabe’s ZANLA and ZIPRA, the military wing of ZAPU. This also spread to Essexvale and Gwelo where ZANLA cadres at Connemara Barracks surprised their ZIPRA counterparts, killed over 60 of them and forced the rest to flee into the bush. ZIPRA mobilised armour for their operations against the ZANU fighters.  Once again, Mugabe had to call upon the professional white-officered black regulars of the 1st Battalion Rhodesian African Rifles, Rhodesian Armoured Car Regiment and (although unauthorised) Air Force to crush ZIPRA. Alexandre Binda, in his book Masodja: The History of the Rhodesian African Rifles and Its Forerunner, the Rhodesia Native Regiment,  states that over 400 guerillas were killed with no fatal casualties to the government troops. Ironically, Mugabe and ZANU–PF were once again saved from a major rebellion by white-led ex-Rhodesian troops.

1RAR_at_Metheun
Mine proofed vehicles manned by soldiers of “C” Company, 1 Rhodesian African Rifles at at Methuen Barracks shortly before the Entumbane uprising in November 1980. Photo: Former 1RAR 2nd Lieutenant John Wynne Hopkins

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But the rebellion’s defeat caused mass desertions from former ZIPRA fighters and Joshua Nkomo, who had been given a ministerial post (without a portfolio) in Mugabe’s cabinet, was removed from office in February 1982 after being accused of planning to overthrow Mugabe. Shortly after independence, in October 1980, North Korea offered to train a unit of Zimbabwe’s army that would be responsible for crushing political dissent and reporting directly to Mugabe. In August 1981 106 North Korean advisors arrived and began work creating the infamous Fifth ‘Gukurahundi’ Brigade, which graduated in December 1982. These troops were then deployed in Matabeleland, beginning a campaign known as Gukurahundi, which in Shona means “early rain that washes away chaff.”  The four year-long campaign resulted in around 20,000 (although some estimates put the figure at 30,000) civilians being killed. It officially ended in December 1987 when Nkomo signed a unity accord merging ZAPU into ZANU-PF and consolidating Mugabe’s absolute grip on power until the 2017 coup.

Zimbabwe 5th Brigade Flag after being presented to Commander Col. Perence Shiri by PM Robert Mugabe
Colours of the Zimbabwe Army’s 5th Brigade ‘Gukurahundi’ after being presented to its commander, Col. Perence Shiri by Prime Minister Mugabe in 1982. Photo: National Archives of Zimbabwe.

 

Zimbabwe army patches
Zimbabwe Army and Zimbabwe 5th ‘Gukurahundi’ Brigade patch. Collection” Julian Tennant

Zimbabwe guku genocide

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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 as often as possible 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

 

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