Death through absence. Vietnam veteran Ray Beattie’s controversial 1980 painting “Image for a Dead Man” expresses a soldier’s grief at the loss of comrades and a statement about the repercussions of war. Lest We Forget.
Originally from Belfast, Ray Beattie arrived in Australia in 1967. In 1969 he was called up for National Service and after training was posted to the 2nd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (2RAR). He served with 8 Platoon, Charlie Company, 2 RAR in South Vietnam during its Second Tour in 1970-1971. His painting, Image for a Dead Man, was completed in 1980 whilst Ray was living in Fremantle.
Image for a Dead Man is a large still-life painted in the photo-realist style and is part of series of three paintings by Beattie collectively titled Sentimentality Kills which comment on the repercussions of war on Australian society. But, this is the most personal of the three (the other two being held in the collections of the Art Gallery of NSW and the National Gallery of Victoria) and is a direct reflection of his own experience following his service as an infantryman in Vietnam.
All the elements in the composition are selected and arranged to show the tangible traces of somebody who is no longer there. The uniform jacket hung across the back of the chair still holds the shape of the wearer. The cord behind the chair and an empty telephone socket, symbolising disconnect and that the person is forever out of reach. The cold white wall behind the chair signifies the nothingness that is death.
Beattie places a wooden chair against a cold grey wall; over it, draped the army jacket he wore in Vietnam. Painted on the left breast are his [Ray Beattie’s] service medals and an actual infantry Combat Badge is pinned on the right side. Beattie paints his slouch hat and identity discs hanging from the back of the chair and a folded flag on the seat. An unplugged telephone socket and line are shown at the bottom of the painting. There is no person present but the jacket holds the shape of a wearer and the discs indicate an individual personality once existed. The painting addresses the impossibility of communication with the dead by the inclusion of the symbolic disconnected telephone line. Although Beattie survived the war, he has said that whenever he heard of another soldier’s death he felt a part of himself also died. This feeling of loss is reinforced by the fact that the empty uniform is the artist’s. A curious inscription on the back of the painting shows a completed game of ‘hangman’. The words to be discovered would have spelt Beattie’s name but the figure on the gallows has been finished before more than a few letters have been guessed: ‘game over’.
When it was acquired by the Australian War Memorial, the painting generated some controversy with protests that the work was seen as derogatory towards the Australians who served. One protestor wrote to the AWM stating ‘…artistic licence and abstract interpretation are completely out of place in a Memorial where the established forte is stark realism and accuracy of presentation’ (1). In pushing for a flag waving, heroic and jingoistic representation of the war the protests often ignored that the work was made by a veteran, reflective of his personal experience and a comment on war, not those who are sent out to fight, but those who do the sending. Lest We Forget.
2 RAR’s second tour of Vietnam 1970 – 1971.
This overview of the battalion’s second tour of Vietnam is an excerpt reproduced from the 2 RAR Association page.
On 15 May 70, 2RAR relieved 6RAR in South Vietnam and resumed the title of ANZAC Battalion. Three Australian rifle companies plus V and W Companies, additional Support Company elements and a Bn 2IC from New Zealand completed the Battalion. A significant percentage of those on the Manning Chart had been there before.
During the Tour, the Battalion embarked on seven operations. Except for a two-week break in September all of the operations were back to back so the pace throughout was intense. Their enemy was primarily LF. Both Battalions D440 and D445 were encountered as well as D65 Engineers NVA and the Chau Duc District HQ and LF Company. An additional task of training and operating with Regional forces and a neighboring Thai Battalion was successful but too short lived to influence events long term. The support for those activities had to come from largely within the Battalion and was conducted in tandem with the Battalion’s normal operations.
There were 14 names added to the Battalion’s Honour Roll by the end of the tour. They comprised eight Australians and six New Zealanders. Booby traps and mines accounted for most of these as well as several accidental deaths.
4RAR/NZ (ANZAC) took over operational responsibility from 2RAR in May 71.
Timed to coincide with the 30th anniversary year of the creation of France’s Special Operations Command (COS), the Forces Spéciales exhibition at the Musée de l’Armée in Paris opens the door on the weapons and equipment used by the French Special Forces units.
In the galleries on the third floor of the Musée de l’Armée’s East Wing, visitors can view the equipment used from WW2 until the present day and a selection of special forcers related vehicles in the Salle Vauban. The pillars of the Invalides’ Cours d’Honneur are also used to display an introduction to each of the units within the French Special Operations Command (COS).
In addition, there is an exhibition of photographs taken in March 2022 by Édouard Elias during the time he spent with the Special Forces in the Sahal region of North Africa as part of Operation Barkhane. This exhibition, which was commissioned by the museum is on display on the museum’s exterior, on the Boulevrd des Invalides gates and in the moat located in the Rue de Grenelle.
L’Exposition Forces Spéciales runs from Wednesday 12 October 2022 till Sunday 29 January 2023 and open every day from 10 am till 6 pm. It is open late till 9 pm on Tuesdays, but closed on 25 December and 1st January. For more information visit their website.
On 17 September 1944, the Allies launched Operation MARKET GARDEN, the ill-fated attempt to create a 103km corridor through German occupied Netherlands, capturing a series of bridges which would allow Allied forces to cross the Rhine. The farthest north bridge lay at Arnhem and in other reviews I covered the principle museums in the area, notably the Airborne Museum ‘Hartenstein’, Glider Collection Wolfheze, Arnhem Oorlogsmuseum 40-45and its offshoot, the recently opened Out of Ammo Museum. So, for this, the 78th anniversary, below is a link to the classic 1977 film of the battle, A Bridge Too Farin its entirety. Enjoy.
Some more insignia from my ‘private armies’ and militia groups collection. These are from the Khmer People’s National Liberation Armed Forces (KPNLAF) which existed between 1979 and 1992.
The Khmer People’s National Liberation Armed Forces (KPNLAF) was the military component of the Khmer People’s National Liberation Front (KPNLF), which began to form in March 1979. It grew from various anti-communist and anti-monarchist groups concentrated near the Thai border with Cambodia, which were opposed to the Vietnamese-installed People’s Republic of Kampuchea (PRK) regime. Many of these groups were little more than warlord controlled militia gangs, more interested in border smuggling operations (including lucrative Khmer antiques trade) and fighting each other than engaging the PRK forces. Their alliance was initially one of convenience.
These groups were formally brought together under the banner of the KPNLF on 9 October 1979 at Sok Sann refugee camp in Trat (Thailand). General Dien Del, a former career officer of the Khmer Republic became chief of the KPNLAF General Staff and former Prime Minister Son Sann led the faction. At this stage the new KPNLAF numbered around 1600 fighters, but because of the leadership’s non-communist credentials, the KPNLAF offered an alternative to those Cambodians who supported neither Sihanouk, Hanoi nor the Khmer Rouge.
The number of KPNLAF troops grew after General Sak Sutsakhan arrived in Thailand from the USA and took over the leadership in 1981. A former commander of the FANK Special Forces as well as serving as Minister of Defense under Sihanouk and Head of State of the Khmer Republic during its final days, he had a reputation for decisiveness and incorruptibility, bringing legitimacy to the movement.
By mid-1981 the number of KPNLAF troops had grown to around 7000 armed troops but it was able to protect its refugee camp bases (the largest being at Ampil, Nong Chan and Nong Samet) and occasionally cross the border and achieved some successes against the PAVN and KPRAF troops in the northwest of Cambodia. Estimates of KPNLAF strength have varied widely. At the upper limit, reached in 1984, it is believed that the KPNLAF troops may have totaled between 12,000 and 15,000 troops.
However, the Vietnamese Dry Season Offensive of 1984-85 which was launched to establish a border long line of defence known as the K 5 plan, began clearing areas of resistance and eventually ended the KPNLAF’s ability to operate as an effective fighting force.
Soldiers of the Khmer People’s National Liberation Front, before the battle with Vietnamese troops at Ampil, 1984. Photo: Alain Nogues
07 Jan 1985, Ampil, Cambodia — Vietnamese soldiers during the battle of Ampil in Cambodia. Photo: Alain Nogues/CORBIS SYGMA
KPNLAF ‘red cap’ fighters at Nong Chan. Photo: Dr. Gaffar Peang-Meth
By the end of January in 1985, the Vietnamese forces had captured the Ampil, Nong Chan and Nong Samet camps. Under pressure from international aid agencies and the Thai government, KPNLAF troops were forced to relocate away from the civilian camps still under their control and also hampering their ability to cross the border into Cambodia.
This led to a split between the political arm of Son Sann’s KPNLF and the military commanders, who also believed that Son Sann’s meddling in military operations (by being unwilling to co-operate with the pro- Sihanouk ANS forces) compromised their effectiveness. These issues were not resolved until 1986 but by then the KPNLAF, operating in small, lightly armed groups of between 6 and 12 fighters, was largely restricted to waging a war of attrition.
Whilst the decades of conflict in the region undoubtedly gave the fighters a wealth of experience to draw from, it is also interesting to note the involvement of a secret British Special Air Service training team. This unit trained anti-Vietnamese Khmer resistance forces including members of the KPNLAF Commando battalion at a Thai military camp near the Burmese border and also in Singapore.
I suspect that the KPNLAF ‘Special Forces Black Panther’ badge (pictured below), which was made in Thailand in the latter half of the 1980’s, is for graduates of this training programme, although I don’t know if the trainees received any parachute training and I suspect this would be unlikely. The badge was worn on both the breast and also on caps as can be seen below.
The British SAS conducted at least six training courses for the KPNLAF conducted between 1986 and 1989. The courses lasted between six and ten weeks with candidates being trained to operate as independent six-man teams within enemy territory. Instruction was provided in small unit tactics, improvised demolitions, first aid, navigation, communications and unarmed combat. Well known former 22 SAS soldier and author, Colin Armstrong MM (aka Chris Ryan) was one of the British SAS training team, although most sources cite his deployment as being in 1984 and in support of the Khmer Rouge, not the KPNLAF.
Hostilities involving KPNLAF forces had largely ended by mid-1989, and Vietnam withdrew the bulk of its occupying troops from Cambodia by September 21, 1989. The remaining KPNLAF units were eventually demobilised by General Dien Del in February 1992.
11:00 hrs, 18 August 1966. Nui Dat, South Vietnam.
Delta Company from the 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (D Coy, 6RAR), comprising 105 Australian infantrymen and 3 New Zealand Forward Artillery Observation party gunners from 161 Battery, Royal New Zealand Artillery step off from the 1st Australian Task Force (1ATF) base at Nui Dat to commence Operation VENDETTA. Each soldier is carrying 3 x 20 round magazines and another 60 rounds in boxes in their packs. Each M60 machine gun team carries 5 x 100 round belts and another 5 x 100 round belts in their packs.
The company-sized patrol, under the command of Major Harry Smith, is part of a response to a mortar and recoilless rifle (RCL) attack on the 1 ATF base in the early hours of the previous morning. D Coy is tasked to relieve B Coy, 6RAR, who had just discovered a dug in position for about 20 men plus signs of a 75ml RCL that had fired at the base. For most of the company this was just another patrol, nothing special apart from missing out on a concert being held at the base by Little Patti and Col Joyce that evening.
Just before 16:00hrs in the rubber plantation at Long Tan they made contact with the enemy. For the next three and a half hours, in an area no larger than two football fields and in a blinding monsoon thunderstorm, the men of D Coy fought off an enemy force that outnumbered them 26 to 1. By the end of the battle, 16 members of D Coy lay dead and 23 were wounded. Two more (one from D Coy and one Armoured Corps soldier from the relieving force carried aboard 3tp 1 APC Squadron) would die from their wounds. Four other Aussies from the relieving force, three from A Coy, and one from B Coy were wounded.
Of the 2650+ NVA regulars and Viet Cong guerrillas who were on the battlefield 245 bodies were counted on the battlefield and 3 were captured. However during Operation MARSDEN in late 1969, Australian forces captured a Viet Cong dispensary that had a casualty list attributed to the battle at Long Tan. That list identified 878 as KIA/Missing/Died of Wounds and approximately 1500 wounded in action. It was a significant defeat for the NVA and VC forces whose stated aim was to lure an Australian battalion out of the task force base to destroy them, then attack the base at Nui Dat itself. Instead, the battle severely weakened the enemy in Phuoc Tuy province and they never again posed a serious threat to the Nui Dat base.
In May 1968, US President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded D Coy, 6RAR the Presidential Unit Citation (Army) “For Extraordinary Heroism”. This prompted plans by 6RAR BHQ to build a memorial in Vietnam during their second tour of Vietnam, which commenced in May 1969.
A three-meter high, white cross was built in the battalion lines at Nui Dat out of concrete by pioneers from 6RAR-NZ Anzac Battalion’s Assault Pioneer Platoon and was overseen by Sgt Allan McLean. A brass plaque on the cross bore the following inscription,
IN MEMORY OF THOSE
MEMBERS OF D COY AND
3 TP 1 APC SQN WHO GAVE
THEIR LIVES NEAR THIS
SPOT DURING THE BATTLE
OF LONG TAN ON 18TH AUGUST 1966
ERECTED BY 6RAR/NZ
(ANZAC) BN 18 AUG 69.
On 17 August 1969, A and D Companies launched an airmobile assault into the Long Tan Rubber plantation, searching and securing the area which was still littered with rusty weapons and equipment discarded during the battle in 1966. Then, under the wet season rain, the two companies settled into night defensive positions .
On the following morning, the battalion’s assault pioneers supervised the clearing of the rubber trees from the site of 11 Platoon’s last stand. Once cleared, a RAAF UH1H helicopter flew in with the cross suspended underneath.
With platoons securing the perimeter around the site, the majority of the battalion, ferried by APCs, moved in and formed a hollow square around the clearing. Ten soldiers who had served during the battalion’s first tour and fought at Long Tan in 1966 (nine from 6RAR and one from 3 Troop, 1 APC Squadron) flanked the cross in an honour guard while pipers played a lament and a chaplain led the dedication ceremony.
By midday the ceremony had concluded and the companies returned to Nui Dat, with D Company being the last to leave. Few Australian Task Force soldiers would see the cross again during their tours as it became inaccessible and only visited during operational patrols.
Sometime after the war the cross was removed and “recycled” by local people as a memorial for a deceased Catholic parish priest, Nguyen Van Chinh, whose name was engraved on the cross when they erected it over his grave. It was subsequently ‘found’ by an Australian researcher and in 1984 placed on display at the Dong Nai museum (Nguyen Ai Quoc Street [Dong Nai Province Square] Tan Phong Ward , Bien Hoa City, Dong Nai Province, Vietnam).
In 1987, Australian Prime Minister, Bob Hawke , announced that the 18th of August, Long Tan day, would also be known as Vietnam Veterans Day and in 1989 a replica was constructed by the local population at Xa Long Tan and placed on the site.
The Vietnamese inscription on the replica reads (in translation):
Socialist Republic of Vietnam The Ministry of Culture Recognises: Historic Place Battlefield: D445 of Ba Ria – Long Khanh province contacted 6th Battalion of the Royal Australian Army near Long Tan village on 18-8-1966.
The replica cross remains on the battlefield site and special permission must be sought to visit the memorial. The cross was left without its plaque, though visitors can request to have the plaque brought from the local authorities’ office and displayed at the site.
In April 2002, the Australian Veterans Vietnam Reconstruction Group, assisted by the Australian government and with the permission of Vietnamese authorities, completed restoring the replica Long Tan cross and memorial site.
The replica cross has since become a focus for visits and remembrance ceremonies by Australian Vietnam Veterans, although the Long Dat District People’s Committee and the government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam insist on strict protocols for ceremonies – the number of visitors is limited, no uniforms or decorations may be worn, and ceremonies must be low key.
It should be remembered that the preservation of the Long Tan cross, although only a replica, is a considerable concession from the Vietnamese. It remains the only foreign war memorial permitted on Vietnamese soil, aside from the single French military memorial at Dien Bien Phu.
In July 2012, the cross was sent to Australia, on loan to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. It was put on public display on the 17th of August and remained in Australia until April 2013 before being returned to Vietnam. For many veterans of the battle it was the first time they had seen the original cross as they never returned to Vietnam after their tour ended in June 1967.
After its temporary visit to Australia, negotiations began to have the original cross return to the Australian War Memorial as part of a permanent display and on 6 December 2017 the acquisition of cross was unveiled before it went on public display as part of the Vietnam Gallery in time for Vietnam Veteran’s Day on 18 August 2018, the 52nd anniversary of the battle.
Accounts of the Battle of Long Tan
There are numerous excellent on-line accounts of the battle of Long Tan. If you would like to do further reading, I recommend checking out the OC of D Coy, 6 RAR, Harry Smith’s page, Bob Buick’s who was the platoon sergeant of 11 Platoon at the battle, Dave Sabben’s (12 Platoon commander) account and Terry Burstall’s (who was a private in D Coy during the battle) research into the enemy’s perspective, with further information being found at the Australian Government’s official Vietnam War page and the 6 RAR Association website. An ABC regional radio interview with Albany farmer and Long Tan veteran, Harley Webb is also worth listening to for a personal account of the battle.
In August 2006, on the 40th anniversary of the battle, Martin Walsh of Red Dune Films, in conjunction with FOXTEL premiered this excellent documentary of the battle, which can be seen below. Narrated by Sam Worthington and running for an hour and forty one minutes it provides an excellent account of the battle through the experiences of the participants. It is definitely worth taking the time to check it out and gives a much better perspective than the 2019 dramatised feature film, Danger Close.
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Arnhem’s newest museum commemorating Operation Market Garden in 1944.
A new museum in Arnhem, due to officially launch on the 1st of September 2022, has quietly opened its doors to the public. Located in the Walburgiskerk church it is called “Out of Ammo” and focuses on Arnhem during the German occupation and as it was during September 1944.
The museum exhibition features twelve different dioramas using the collection of the Arnhem War Museum ’40-’45 and is intended to remain in this location for about five years.
The ‘Out of Ammo’ Museum Walburgiskerk Sint Walburgisplein 1 Arnhem 6811, The Netherlands
The Army Flying Museum in Hampshire tells the story of aviation in the British Army.
The Army Flying Museum is located next to the Army Air Corps Centre in Middle Wallop. It covers the history of British Army Aviation from the Royal Engineers Balloon sections through the establishment of the Royal Flying Corps, the Air Observation Post (AOP) Squadrons and Glider Pilot Regiment to the establishment of the Army Air Corps. As can be expected in an aviation museum there are a nice selection of aircraft for the visitor to examine. But in addition there is a great selection of uniforms, insignia and equipment related to the history and operational deployments of the various units represented in the museum. This includes some absolutely unique items such as the original proposed design for the Air Observation Post Pilots qualification that was prototyped by the Royal School of Needlework in 1940. A one off and very interesting piece of insignia.
The displays are well organized and there is a wealth of information to support the artifacts on display. For a collector with an interest in military aviation or the Allied airborne operations in World War 2 this museum is definitely worth a visit.
Museum of Army Flying
Hampshire SO20 8DY, United Kingdom
In the early hours of 6 June 1944, Private John Marvin Steele, an American paratrooper from F Company, 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division jumps over Sainte-Mère-Église village on the Cotentin Peninsula, Normandy as part of Mission BOSTON. His unit’s objective is to capture the village, a crucial communications crossroad behind UTAH Beach and block German approaches from the west and southwest.
Unfortunately for Steele, a house in the village is on fire after being hit by a stray bomb and the usually quiet town square is filled with German troops who are trying to extinguish the blaze. The flames illuminate the square and many of the paratroopers are killed as they descend. John Steele is hit in the foot and his canopy catches on the village church’s bell tower. He tries to free himself but drops his knife and is left dangling helplessly for a couple of hours. Eventually, two German soldiers climb up to cut him down and take him to an aid station. Three days later Steele escapes and crosses back into Allied lines. He goes on to jump in Holland, participating in the liberation of Nijmegen and later the Battle of the Bulge. John Steele survived the war and returned to Sainte-Mère-Église several times to commemorate the landings before finally succumbing to throat cancer in 1969. His D-Day experience, hanging from the chapel bell tower has been immortalised in the movie “The Longest Day”.
Sainte-Mère-Église was captured by the 3rd Battalion of the 505th at 04:30, not too long after Steele was taken to the aid station and the village became the first town in France to be liberated by the Allies on D-Day. The German counter-attacks involving infantry and armour began at 09:30 and after eight hours of fighting only sixteen of the forty-two paratroopers holding village were still alive. But the American paras held their ground and on 7 June tanks from UTAH Beach finally arrived. The beachhead was secure and the link-up between air and ground forces had been achieved.
There are several points of interest commemorating the battle in the town along with a few militaria dealers. Many of the local shopkeepers also recognise the historical importance of the event and some include small displays of their own, so it is worth setting some time aside just to relax and explore. I would recommend buying a copy of Major & Mrs Holt’s D-Day Normandy Landing Beaches battlefield guide and using their walking tour as a way of exploring the area.
Interior of well known militaria dealer, Andrew Butler’s 6thjune1944.com / Butler’s shop in Sainte-Mère-Église. Photo: Julian Tennant
Airborne Museum – Sainte Mère Eglise. Photos: Julian Tennant
Musée Airborne – Sainte Mère Eglise
However, the start point of any visit to Sainte-Mère-Église should be the Airborne Museum, which is located metres away from the church and is actually on the site of the house fire of that fateful night of 5-6 June 1944.
Opened in 1964, the original museum building was designed by architect François Carpentier to reflect the shape of an open parachute canopy. Since its inauguration the museum has had several additions and currently consists of three exhibition buildings. The original museum building is referred to as the WACO building. Its centerpiece is an original Waco CG-4A glider surrounded by various uniform, weapons and equipment displays.
Front of the Waco CG-4A glider at the Airborne Museum – Sainte Mere Eglise. Photo: Julian Tennant
Interior of the Waco CG-4A glider at the Airborne Museum – Sainte Mere Eglise. Photo: Julian Tennant
Willys MB 4×4 Jeep of the 82nd Airborne Division. Photos: Julian Tennant
German Wehrmacht POA volunteer uniform display. By the spring of 1944, one in six infantry battalions along the Atlantic Coast was composed of Osttrupen and foreign volunteers. On the east coast of the Cotentin Peninsula, the 709th Infantry Division was a typical example with one in five in its ranks being a volunteer from the east. Photo: Julian Tennant
Helmet and uniform of General James Maurice “Jumpin’ Jim” Gavin, who was the assistant division commander of the 82nd Airborne Division on D-Day. He later went on to command the division. Photo: Julian Tennant
Ralph Busson, Bill Farmer and Don Furlong, three squad leaders with H Company 508 PIR divided this dollar bill in Nottingham England on 5 June 1944. The pieced it back together at the unit reunion in 1983. Unfortunately, Bill Farmer was killed during the fighting in Normandy. Photo: Julian Tennant
US Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) uniform. Photo: Julian Tennant
Uniform detail featuring a bullion German Fallschirmjäger parachutist qualification badge. Photo: Julian Tennant
Insignia detail on a M-1944 NCO’s field jacket from the 319th Glider Field Artillery Battalion of the 82nd Airborne Division. Photo: Julian Tennant
506th PIR display at the Airborne Museum, Sainte Mere Eglise. Photo: Julian Tennant
M42 jump jacket and side cap belonging to Captain Robert “Bob” Piper of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Bob Piper took part in all the actions of the 82nd Airborne Division in WW2 and made five combat jumps. Photo: Julian Tennant
82nd Airborne Division uniform display cabinet detail at the Airborne Museum. Photo: Julian Tennant
The second gallery is referred to as the C-47 building and features the Douglas C-47 Skytrain ‘Argonia,’ which was flown by Lt. Col. Charles H. Young, CO, of the 439th Troop Carrier Group during Operation NEPTUNE. The aircraft was also used for the drop during Operation MARKET GARDEN, but in this display, it is used as the focal point for a scene that is loosely based on General Eisenhower’s visit to the paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division just before they departed for the Normandy.
US Army Air Force crew in front of the Douglas C-47 Skytrain “Argonia” of 92 Squadron of the 439th Transportation Group. Photo: Julian Tennant
US Army Cushman Airborne Scooter Model M-53 in the foreground of the C-47 display featuring General Dwight D. Eisenhower visiting paratroopers of the 502nd PIR, 101st Abn Div at Greenham Common airfield on 5 June 1944. Photo: Julian Tennant
Centre-piece of the C-47 Building is a reconstruction of a scene featuring General Dwight D. Eisenhower visiting paratroopers of the 502nd PIR, 101st Abn Div at Greenham Common airfield on 5 June 1944. Photo: Julian Tennant
Paratrooper of the 502nd PIR. Photo: Julian Tennant
Overhead view of the C-47 room centre-piece display. Photo: Julian Tennant
Paratrooper of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division. Photo: Julian Tennant
T3 (Technician Sergeant 3rd Grade) of the 505th PIR, 82nd Abn Div. Photo: Julian Tennant
The newest exhibition building, named Operation NEPTUNE was opened to the public for the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings and uses several life-sized diorama displays combined with sound and lighting effects to give the visitor an impression of the paratrooper’s D-Day experience.
Model of the jump over over Normandy which can be seen through the fuselage floor of the paratrooper filled C-47. Photo: Julian Tennant
Paratroopers aboard a C-47 heading towards the DZ. Photo: Julian Tennant
Detail of the paratroopers aboard a C-47 heading towards their Normandy DZ. Photo: Julian Tennant
German para from Fallschirmjäger Regiment 6 who fought against their American counterparts during the early days of the Normandy invasion. Photo: Julian Tennant
In May 2018 the museum introduced the HistoPad, an augmented reality tablet device that allows visitors to manipulate a series of 3D virtual relics and artifacts, see inside of aircraft, virtually operate and manipulate full 360-degree views of equipment, compare scenes today to how they appeared in 1944, view unpublished photographs and extracts of archival films. It is provided free to all visitors over six years old who are not part of a group tour. You can view one of the museum’s HistoPad promotional videos below or visit the creator’s website to see more pictures and details of the Airborne Museum’s HistoPad experience.
In addition to the exhibition spaces, the Airborne Museum also has conference rooms for hire and gift shop. The shop, is definitely no match for Paratrooper shop at the D-Day Experience and Dead Man’s Corner Museum in Saint-Côme-du-Mont, but it does offer some interesting books and DVD’s along with the usual reproduction souvenirs aimed at the (non-collector) tourist.
At the time of writing (June 2020) the Airborne Museum has just reopened to the public, so visiting is possible, however there are new visitor requirements to take into account the COVID-19 pandemic. The current restrictions are outlined here.
The Airborne Museum
14 rue Eisenhower
Open: Every day. From May to August, the museum is open from 10:00 until 19:00. October thru March the museum is open from 10:00 until 18:00. April to September, the museum is open from 09:30 until 19:00. Note. Last ticket sales are one hour before closing and check their website for updated COVID-19 visiting restrictions
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Several years ago I was fortunate enough to get hold of a couple of badges that an Australian soldier brought back on a ‘badge belt’ which he had put together whilst serving in the Western Desert campaign during World War 2. The two badges are a South African Air Force cap badge and a rare sand-cast ‘Winged Boot’ badge, which I believe is related to the SAAF badge.
The ‘Winged Boot’ award was an official award, presented by the Late Arrivals Club which originated amongst members of the South African Air Force members of the RAF Western Desert Group in June 1941. The award was presented to servicemen whose aircraft had crashed or been shot down behind enemy lines and had to walk back to the Allied forces. The badge was sand cast and included varying amounts of silver content. This particular badge appears to me, to be mainly brass, but it’s provenance makes it undoubtedly original.
The award badge was presented along with a certificate, which contained the motto, “It is never too late to come back” was to be worn on the pleat of the left pocket, just below the flap. Whilst predominantly a commonwealth award, it was also adopted by some US servicemen (utilising a bullion variation of the design), primarily in the European and CBI theatres.
There is also a short news clip about the Late Arrivals Club showing both the badge and certificate which can also be seen on the Pathe News site.
The Ho Chi Minh Campaign Museum (Bảo tàng Chiến dịch Hồ Chí Minh) is a military museum in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, that recounts the final months of the Vietnam War, culminating in the communist’s victory over the South Vietnamese in April 1975.
The North Vietnamese 1975 Spring Offensive was initially envisioned as a two-stage strategy that would take two years to complete. However, an early victory at Phouc Long (Route 14) on 6 January caused the communists to speed up their offensive. The People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) then launched “Campaign 275”, also known as the Central Highlands Campaign, which climaxed in March with the capture of Buon Ma Thuot cutting South Vietnam in two. Surprised by the rapid collapse of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) forces, the communists then turned their attention north, commencing the Hue-Danang Campaign, securing the isolated coastal regions by April 3.
Most of the South Vietnamese army had been routed, but with the communist forces closing in on Saigon, the ARVN made a spirited last stand at the Battle of Xuan Loc, 60km northeast of the capital. Xuan Loc, a vital logistical hub for the South Vietnamese, sat at the intersection of Route 1 and Route 20. They believed that if they could hold there, the situation could be stabilised, their units re-grouped and the country saved from defeat. However, despite the heroic efforts of the ARVN’s 18th Infantry Division, Xuan Loc fell and by 21 April the road to Saigon was open. The PAVN victory at Xuan Loc, allowed the communist forces to encircle Saigon, moving 100,000 troops into positions around the city by April 27.
Despite fierce resistance from troops of the 12th ARVN Airborne Battalion at the Newport Bridge (Cầu Tân Cảng) and from the 81st Ranger Group at Tan Son Nhut, the situation for the South Vietnamese Government had became untenable. At 10:24, on 30 April, South Vietnam’s President Minh announced an unconditional surrender to his troops. Shortly after, at 10:30 after hearing Minh’s orders, the paratroopers at the Newport Bridge stood down allowing the PAVN to cross and at 11:30 PAVN forces entered Tan Son Nhut Air Base after the Rangers also laid down their arms. Around noon, PAVN tanks crashed through the gates of the Independence Palace. Later that afternoon, President Minh publicly announced that the South Vietnamese Government had been dissolved at all levels. The Vietnam War was over.
The Ho Chi Minh Campaign Museum commemorates this successful 1975 offensive by the communists and was established in July 1987. It is housed in a two-story building (that once was the former Republic of Vietnam’s National Defence College) in District 1 close to the Vietnam History Museum and a few blocks away from the famous Notre Dame Cathedral.
The museum is divided into outdoor and indoor display areas, with the outdoor area displaying vehicles, artillery pieces and aircraft related to the campaign including the F5E fighter flown by Nguyen Thanh Trung when he defected from the South Vietnamese Air Force and bombed the Presidential Palace on 8th of April 1975. It also features T54 tank No. 848 of the 203rd Brigade, which was one of the tanks that entered the grounds of the Palace on the 30th of April. Other outdoor exhibits include an M113 APC captured in January during the Phuoc Long Campaign and then subsequently used by the 7th Division for the remainder of the conflict, plus the usual assortment of artillery pieces, wrecked ARVN aircraft and equipment.
“Information” Truck of the 23rd Information Regiment and M113 APC captured by the 7th Division during the Phuoc Long campaign in January 1975. Photo: Julian Tennant
Various artillery pieces on the grounds of the Ho Chi Minh Campaign Museum. Photo: Julian Tennant
F5E fighter flown by Nguyen Thanh Trung when he defected from the South Vietnamese Air Force and bombed the Presidential Palace on 8th of April 1975. Photo: Julian Tennant
Entering the museum building brings visitors into the Ho Chi Minh Campaign rooms. Here, visitors are shown a large ‘mud map’ model giving an overview of the offensive plus other exhibits relating to the final stages of the war such as the official Ho Chi Minh Campaign diary. This is followed by rooms detailing each stage of the offensive, beginning with the Battle for Phuoc Loc (Route 14) and followed by the Tay Nguyen Campaign ( Campaign 275) and the battle for the Central Highlands which resulted in the destruction of ARVN forces in the II Corps zone. The focus then shifts to the Hue-Danang Campaign which isolated then defeated the South Vietnamese troops in I Corps.
Model in the main Ho Chi Minh Campaign room on the ground floor of the museum which gives the visitor an overview of the final stages of the battle for Saigon. Photo: Julian Tennant
North Vietnamese Army soldier moving supplies down the trail on a modified bicycle during the Tay Nguyen (Central Highlands) campaign from March 4 until April 3 1975. Photo: Julian Tennant
Detail of the ‘mud-map’ model depicting the situation around Tan Son Nhat in April 1975. Photo: Julian Tennant
The Tay Nguyen / Campaign 275 exhibits covering the fighting in the Central Highlands during the offensive. Photo: Julian Tennant
The second floor has two main rooms. The first deals with the South Vietnamese high command and ARVN forces including insignia, medals, records and documentation captured from the Army of the Republic of South Vietnam. Other exhibits related to the campaign and activities of the Viet Cong local forces are also shown in the upstairs areas whilst the final room is dedicated to the Ho Chi Minh Campaign Headquarters and leadership group. This includes some unusual collections including several sets of spectacles used by various communist leaders and an old extendable car aerial which is described as the “Swagger-stick of General Tran Van Tra”.
Various South Vietnamese medals, stamps and other items captured by the PAVN after the fall of Saigon. Photo: Julian Tennant
Captured South Vietnamese uniforms, identification cards, medals and wall plaque of the ARVN 25th Division. Photo: Julian Tennant
Flag plus South Vietnamese medals and medal award certificate on display at the Ho Chi Minh Campaign Museum. Photo: Julian Tennant
Captured sheets of printed South Vietnamese patches. I am not sure if this is an ARVN or Navy unit patch. Photo: Julian Tennant
Life-size diorama depicting the surrender of President Duong Van Minh and the South Vietnamese Government on 30 April 1975. Photo: Julian Tennant
Communist commanders listening to the surrender of President Minh on the radio in their headquarters. Photo: Julian Tennant
Stained glass window (detail) depicting the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) at the Ho Chi Minh Campaign Museum. Photo: Julian Tennant
Glasses and pen of North Vietnamese Prime Minister Phạm Văn Đồng. Photo: Julian Tennant
PAVN Genera’s uniform. Photo: Julian Tennant
Overall, the museum is well laid out with an interesting selection of exhibits that are accompanied by English language descriptions. However, the victors write the history books and as can be expected, the museum gives a very warped perspective that reflects the communist rhetoric. This is evident in both the language used, with the usual “imperialist puppet troop” type descriptions and also how the artifacts appear. The ARVN and South Vietnamese exhibits always seem to be broken (such as the scrap metal wrecks outside), run-down or looking rather aged and disheveled when compared to the PAVN artifacts which are kept fresh and look almost new. The museum is definitely worth visiting because of the material being displayed, but don’t rely on it giving an accurate representation of the conflict from an even remotely unbiased perspective.
Ho Chi Minh Campaign Museum (Bảo tàng Chiến dịch Hồ Chí Minh) 2 Le Duan Street District 1 Ho Chi Minh City 70000, Vietnam