Ray Beattie – Image for a Dead Man

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
Ray Beattie. ‘Image for a dead man’ (1980).   Synthetic polymer paint, collage on canvas.  Framed: 220.5 cm x 147.4 cm x 10.6 cm.   AWM Accession Number:  ART40885

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. 

The Australian War Memorial, which holds the painting in it’s art collection provides the following description

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.

Ray Beattie 2RAR 1971 1
Phuoc Tuy Province, South Vietnam. May 1971.  Private Ray Beattie carrying the section’s M60 machine gun during C Company, 2RAR /NZ (ANZAC)’s final operation in Vietnam before returning to Australia later in the month. Other members of the section are spread out to his left. The soldier closest to Pte Beattie is carrying a 7.62 mm Self Loading Rifle (SLR) and also a belt of ammunition for the M60 machine gun. Photo: John Alfred Ford.  AWM Accession Number: FOD/71/0258A/VN

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.

Ray Beattie 2 RAR Historical Collection
July 2022. Artist Ray Beattie standing next to a display that replicates his painting at the 2 RAR Historical Collection. After being discharged from the Army to Perth in 1971, Ray studied at Claremont Technical School from 1971 to 1973 and printmaking at Perth Technical College in 1974. He was appointed tutor in printmaking at Western Australian Institute of Technology 1975. In 1978 he studied at the Victorian College of the Arts where he later became artist-in-residence. In 1981 he was tutor in printmaking at the Western Australian Institute of Technology and later in that year was artist-in-residence at Griffith University, Queensland. He continues to maintain his arts practice and works in colour etching, aquatint and screen-prints. He also exhibits paintings and sculpture. Ray has items in most state gallery collections around Australia  Photo: 2 RAR Historical Collection Facebook Page

Special Forces Exhibition at the French Army Museum – Paris

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.

French SF exhib uniform displays
Special Forces uniform displays from the Musée de l’Armée’s Special Forces exhibition. Photographs: Thierry Ollivier

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.

French SF exhib HK416
Heckler & Koch 416 assault rifle used by French SF. Photograph: Thierry Ollivier

1er RPIMa beret
1er RPIMa trooper wearing his beret featuring the famed SAS styled insignia with the motto “Qui Ose Gagne” (Who Dares Wins)

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.

Musée de l’Armée
129 Rue de Grenelle
75007 Paris
France

Entry Fees: €14 | Concessions and groups (10+ individuals): €11 | 18-25s (EU nationals or residents): 5€ | Free for the under-18s

A Bridge Too Far – Arnhem September 1944

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 40-45 and 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 Far in its entirety. Enjoy.

 

Juleswings Collection: The Cambodian KPNLAF faction (1979 – 92)

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.

Khmer People's National Liberation Front (KPNLF) propaganda poster.
Khmer People’s National Liberation Front (KPNLF) propaganda poster.
KPNLAFSokh Sann guerillas at Sokh Sann. Photo: Dr. Gaffar Peang-Meth
KPNLF guerillas at Sokh Sann. Note the panther patches worn on the caps of two of the fighters and the shoulder patch of the third in tiger stripe fatigues. Photo: Dr. Gaffar Peang-Meth
Cambodia KPNLAF troops-06
Very young, most likely child-soldiers of the KPNLAF at Sokh Sann. Photo: Dr. Gaffar Peang-Meth
Cambodia KPNLAFcap badge-10
Khmer People’s National Liberation Armed Forces silver (chromed brass) and enamel paint cap badge, approximately 30mm high with pin back attachment. Larger embroidered variations of this design can also be found. Collection: Julian Tennant
Cambodia KPNLAF patch-10
Khmer People’s National Liberation Armed Forces (KPNLAF) shoulder patch. Variations of this design was also worn on baseball caps. Collection: Julian Tennant

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.

Gen Sak Sutsakhan-Inspecting-troops at Ampil. Photo: Dr. Gaffar Peang-Meth
Gen Sak Sutsakhan-Inspecting-troops at Ampil. Photo: Dr. Gaffar Peang-Meth

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.

KPNLAF 204th Operational Sector shoulder patch. Collection: Julian Tennant
KPNLAF 204th Operational Sector shoulder patch.

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.

During the same year Sutsakhan met with Son Sen of the Khmer Rouge and Prince Norodom Ranarridh, Sihanouk’s son, who commanded FUNCINPEC’s military arm, the Armée Nationale Sihanoukiste (ANS), to arrange military cooperation between the three movements.

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.

Cambodian KPNLAF child soldier
Child soldier of the Khmer People’s National Liberation Armed Forces at the Nong Chan refugee camp. 
KPNLAF troops at Nong Chan. Photo: Dr. Gaffar Peang-Meth
KPNLAF troops at Nong Chan. Photo: Dr. Gaffar Peang-Meth

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.

Cambodia KPNLAF Special Forces badge-10
Khmer People’s National Liberation Armed Forces ‘Special Forces Black Panther’ insignia. Thai manufactured, the badge measures 50mm across and is secured via a horizontal pin.  Collection: Julian Tennant
Cambodia KPNLAF troops-03
General Sak Sutsakhan (left) conducting a press conference at Ampil. Note the KPNLAF ‘Special Forces Black Panther’ badge being worn on the cap of the KPNLAF soldier on the right. Photo: Dr. Gaffar Peang-Meth who is seen in civilian attire on the right of the picture.

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.

09-Red-Caps Nong Chan.-625
KPNLAF troops prepare for a parade at Nong Chan. Photo: Dr. Gaffar Peang-Meth

 

The Cambodian War Museum 

The Cambodian Landmine Museum

The Long Tan Memorial cross

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.

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Soldiers of the 6th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (6RAR), push through dense scrub country in search of retreating Viet Cong. This photograph was taken the day after the battle. CUN/66/0693/VN

Battlefieldlongtan
Aerial view of the Long Tan rubber plantation on 18 August 1966.

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.

art40758
Long Tan Action, Vietnam, 18 August 1966. Bruce Fletcher, 1970. [Oil on canvas 152 x 175cm. AWM ART40758]

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.

Gordon-Sharp-Vic-Grice-Long-Tan
The Fallen: 19 August 1966. The body of 11 Platoon Commander Second Lieutenant Gordon Sharp on the battlefield of Long Tan. In the background is the body of another unidentified Australian soldier from 11 Platoon, 6RAR.

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.

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Long Tan, 19 August 1966. Troops in a clearing in the rubber plantation examine some of the Viet Cong weapons captured by D Company after the battle. The weapons included rocket launchers, heavy machine guns, recoilless rifles and scores of rifles and carbines. Left to right: 2781706 Private A.L. Parr (with back to camera), Corporal Ross (Blackmac) McDonald, Private (Sting) Hornet, Private Peter Doyle (with weapon), Private (Pom) Rencher, Corporal (Bluey) Moore. AWM Accession Number: FOR/66/0667/VN

Presidential Unit Citation
The Presidential Unit Citation awarded by US President Lyndon B Johnson to D Company 6 RAR for heroism at the battle of Long Tan.

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.

AWM Long Tan iroquois 3859337
18 August 1969. An Iroquois helicopter lowers the Long Tan cross into position prior to ceremonies with D Company, 6th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment – New Zealand (ANZAC). Photograph: Denis Gibbons. AWM Record Number P04665.786

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.

Long Tan 1969-the-pipers-lament
Pipers from the 6 RAR-NZ Anzac Battalion band surround the Memorial Cross during it’s dedication on the 18th of August 1969.

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.

art729-longtan1-620x349
Close up of the plaque on the cross, which reads “In Memory of those members of D Coy 6 RAR 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 6 RAR/NZ (ANZAC) Bn 18 Aug 69”. Photograph by Jay Cronan/The Canberra Times.

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.

Battlefield memorial at Long Tan, 1998.
The battlefield and memorial, featuring the replica cross as I found it when I visited Long Tan in 1998. Photograph: Julian Tennant

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.

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Vietnam vets examine the cross at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, prior to it going on public display in August 2012. Photograph by Jay Cronan/The Canberra Times.

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.

LONG TAN CROSS unveiling with  The Honourable Malcolm Turnbull P
The original Long Tan Cross as displayed at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra for it’s unveiling on 6 December 2017. Photograph: Panagiota Maraziot AWM Reference: AWM2017.4.330. 3

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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“Out of Ammo” Museum – Arnhem

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

Website: https://en.arnhemsoorlogsmuseum.com/walburgiskerk 
Email: arnhemsoorlogsmuseum@hetnet.nl
Phone: +31 (0) 26 4420958

Open: Tuesday to Sunday 11:00 – 16:00
Adult: 10 Euro
Seniors over 65 and children under 12: 8 Euro

arnhem out of ammo museum pano

arnhem out of ammo 5

The Army Flying Museum (UK)

The Army Flying Museum in Hampshire tells the story of aviation in the British Army.

Museum of Army Flying Middle Wallop, Stockbridge Hampshire SO20 8DY United Kingdom

Aircraft Hall at the Museum of Army Flying, Middle Wallop
Aircraft Hall at the Army Flying Museum, Middle Wallop

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 original Air Observation Post badge designed by Capt. J.R. Ingram (Royal Artillery) of 657 Air OP Sqn and embroidered by the Royal School of Needlework in 1940. It was submitted as a design for an Air OP pilot's flying badge, but the war office had already decided to have one Army Flying Badge for both the Air OP and Glider pilots and so it was not approved.
The original Air Observation Post badge designed by Capt. J.R. Ingram (Royal Artillery) of 657 Air OP Sqn and embroidered by the Royal School of Needlework in 1940. It was submitted as a design for an Air OP pilot’s flying badge, but the war office had already decided to have one Army Flying Badge for both the Air OP and Glider pilots and so it was not approved.

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.

Aircraft Hall at the Museum of Army Flying, Middle Wallop
Aircraft Hall at the Museum of Army Flying, Middle Wallop

Museum of Army Flying

Aircraft Hall at the Museum of Army Flying, Middle Wallop
Aircraft Hall at the Museum of Army Flying, Middle Wallop

Aircraft Hall at the Museum of Army Flying, Middle Wallop
Aircraft Hall at the Museum of Army Flying, Middle Wallop

Post 1945 Galleries at the Museum of Army Flying
Post 1945 Galleries at the Museum of Army Flying

Early WW2 German airborne forces uniform
Early WW2 German airborne forces uniform

Glider Pilot Regiment battledress uniform
WW2 period Glider Pilot Regiment battledress uniform

Glider Pilot crash helmet belonging to Staff Sergeant 'Jock' East GPR who served in Sicily and Arnhem. These helmets combined a fibre motorcycle helmet and a flying helmet with headphones for communications.
Glider Pilot crash helmet belonging to Staff Sergeant ‘Jock’ East GPR who served in Sicily and Arnhem. These helmets combined a fibre motorcycle helmet and a flying helmet with headphones for communications.

WW2 period Army Flying Badge
WW2 period Army Flying Badge

Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland display

Iraq 2003 display.
Iraq 2003 display

Iraq 2003 display.
Iraq 2003 display

Apache pilot's life support jacket and associated items used in Afghanistan.
Apache pilot’s life support jacket and associated items used in Afghanistan.

Apache pilot - Afghanistan.
Apache pilot – Afghanistan.

Royal Marines pilot
Royal Marines pilot

Uniform worn by the Royal Engineers Balloon Section
Uniform worn by the Royal Engineers Balloon Section

Royal Flying Corps Pilot
Royal Flying Corps Pilot

RFC pilot
Royal Flying Corps pilot

Air Observation Post Squadron pilot (Royal Artillery).
WW2 period Air Observation Post Squadron pilot (Royal Artillery)

Glider Pilot
WW2 period Glider Pilot

Post WW2 AOP Squadron pilot.
AOP Squadron pilot

Post war AOP pilot

WW1 Field Kitchen
WW1 Field Kitchen

Aircraft Hall at the Museum of Army Flying, Middle Wallop
Aircraft Hall at the Museum of Army Flying, Middle Wallop

Glider Pilot Regiment Pilot wings. At first all Glider Pilots were awarded the Army Flying Badge (top). From 1944 new pilots were initially trained as Second Pilots and awarded the Second Glider Pilot Badge (middle). Successful completion of a Heavy Glider Conversion Course qualified Second Pilots for the Army Flying Badge. This system operated until 1950 when glider training ceased. In 1946 a smaller pattern of the Army Flying BAdge was adopted (bottom).
Glider Pilot Regiment Pilot wings. At first all Glider Pilots were awarded the Army Flying Badge (top). From 1944 new pilots were initially trained as Second Pilots and awarded the Second Glider Pilot Badge (middle). Successful completion of a Heavy Glider Conversion Course qualified Second Pilots for the Army Flying Badge. This system operated until 1950 when glider training ceased. In 1946 a smaller pattern of the Army Flying Badge was adopted (bottom).

D-Day Glider lift diorama
D-Day Glider lift diorama

Proposed AAC dress hat, not adopted.
Proposed AAC dress hat, not adopted.

On 1st September 1957, the AOP Squadrons and Glider Pilot Regiment amalgamated to form the present day Army Air Corps. AAC pilots wear the Army Flying Badge (top). The middle brevet is for Observers and the bottom badge is the Air Gunner's brevet.
On 1st September 1957, the AOP Squadrons and Glider Pilot Regiment amalgamated to form the present day Army Air Corps. AAC pilots wear the Army Flying Badge (top). The middle brevet is for Observers and the bottom badge is the Air Gunner’s brevet.

Museum of Army Flying
Middle Wallop,
Stockbridge
Hampshire SO20 8DY, United Kingdom

Website: http://www.armyflying.com/
Email: enquiries@flying-museum.org.uk
Phone: +44 1264 784421

Open: daily 10:00 – 16:30 (Last admission 16:00)
Adult: £10
Senior/Student: £8
Child: £7
Family Ticket £32 (2 Adults 2 Children)

The Airborne Museum – Sainte-Mère-Église, Normandy, France

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Private John Marvin Steele, second from right, who along with John Ray, Philip Lynch and Vernon Francisco comprised F Company, 505 PIR’s 60mm mortar squad, just before D-Day at camp Quorn, Leicestershire, England. John was the only one of the four to survive the war.

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”.

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Sainte-Mère-Église church continues to feature a dangling US para in remembrance of the events of the early morning of 6 June 1944. Photos: Julian Tennant

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.

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Waiting for a haircut in Sainte-Mère-Église. Photo: Julian Tennant

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.

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Patches of the American units involved in the D-Day Landings on the 6th of June 1944. Photo: Julian Tennant

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Photo of Jack Schlegel from the 508th PIR. Note the British parachutist qualification on his right forearm sleeve. 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.

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Centerpiece of the C-47 Building is a reconstruction of a scene showeing General Dwight D. Eisenhower visiting paratroopers of the 502nd PIR, 101st Abn Div at Greenham Common airfield on 5 June 1944. 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.

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Panorama view of the displays in the “Operation NEPTUNE” building

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.

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Using the HistoPad in the Waco Building. Photo courtesy the Airborne Museum.

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
50480 Sainte-Mère-Eglise
France

Website: www.airborne-museum.org/en/
Email: infos@airborne-museum.org
Phone: +33 (0)2 3341 4135

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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The Winged Boot

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.

SAAF cap badge & winged boot award
SAAF cap badge and Winged Boot award. Collection: Julian Tennant

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.

Winged boot RAF 38 Sqn Pilot at Shallufa Eygpt early 1942
RAF pilot from No. 38 Squadron wearing a “Winged Boot” award whilst stationed at Shallufa, Egypt, in early 1942.

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.

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Late Arrivals Club Certificate – Image courtesy of Alex Bateman

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 – HCMC, Vietnam

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Entry to the Ho Chi Minh Campaign Museum and statue commemorating the communist People’s Liberation Forces Victory of April 30 1975. Photo: Julian Tennant

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.

Refugees during the last days of the Vietnam War
Refugees clogging the roads as they flee towards Saigon during the last days of the Vietnam War. Photo: Hiroji Kubota

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.

ARVN Newport Bridge 1975
An ARVN Soldier hangs on to his wounded comrade as they both stay flat on the pavement of the Newport Bridge during a Communist attack on April 28, 1975. Photo: Hugh Van Es Bettmann/Corbis

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.

War of Vietnam. Saigon's fall. Taken of the presid
PAVN armour entering the grounds of the Independence Palace, in Saigon on April 30, 1975. Photograph: Francoise De Mulder

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.

Ho Chi Minh Campaign Museum-06
T54 tank No. 848 of the 203rd Brigade, which was used to enter the grounds of the Presidential Palace on the 30th of April. 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.

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The Ho Chi Minh Campaign exhibition room. Photo: Julian Tennant

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Chinese Type 63 (renamed the H12 by the Vietnamese) 107mm rocket launcher that was used in the attack on Ban Me Thuot on 10 March 1975. 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”.

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Captured ARVN officer’s personal files. Photo: Julian Tennant

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Captured Air Force F-5 Vietnam novelty patch and an unconfirmed (by me) black panther patch. I think it may be a 1st ARVN Division Strike Company (also known as Hac Bao, Black Panthers) patch variation, but am not 100% certain of this identification. Photo: Julian Tennant

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People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) cameraman with a Bolex H 16 SBM 16mm movie camera. 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.

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Officer of the Vietnam People’s Ground Forces (Lục quân Nhân dân Việt Nam) on duty at the museum. His insignia identifies him as a Senior Lieutenant (Đại úy) from the Corps of Engineers. Photo: Julian Tennant

Ho Chi Minh Campaign Museum (Bảo tàng Chiến dịch Hồ Chí Minh)
2 Le Duan Street
District 1
Ho Chi Minh City 70000, Vietnam

Phone: +84 (0)336 578 946

Website (Vietnamese language): Ho Chi Minh Campaign Museum

Open: Monday – Friday 07:30 – 11:00 and 13:30 – 16:30
Note that the museum is frequently closed without notice.

Entrance Fee: Free

 

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