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.
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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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
Recollections of War is a military museum run by John & Kathryn Shapland near Albany in Western Australia. The museum exhibits their personal collection and presents a fascinating insight into the lives of ordinary men, women and children during times of conflict.
The port city of Albany, which sits 418km (260mi) southeast of Perth has played an important part in Australia’s military heritage and the region has many related sites for visitors to explore, including Recollections of War, a private museum that should be on the itinerary of anybody with an interest in military history.
The museum, which is located about half an hour’s drive along the South Coast Highway outside of Albany on the way to Denmark, features the collection of Kathryn and John Shapland, whose hobby rapidly expanded into a custom built exhibition building featuring six display rooms with space also dedicated to a library, research area and theatre.
The Recollections of War Museum. Photo: Julian Tennant
The Recollections of War Museum. Photo: Julian Tennant
The Recollections of War Museum. Photo: Julian Tennant
The Recollections of War Museum. Photo: Julian Tennant
It continues to grow and there are also more extensions in the planning stage, the latest being a WWI aviation gallery to house a replica Fokker D VIII that has been donated to the museum by a pilot from nearby Manjimup. This will be complemented by items belonging to Sir Keith Smith and other early aviator artifacts and having viewed some of the Australian Flying Corps pieces that Kathryn and John have, I am eagerly awaiting its completion.
Visiting the museum, it is astonishing to realise that the Shaplands only started collecting militaria in 2009 after John, who is originally from Sussex, returned to England on a holiday with his eldest daughter. Whilst there, he visited an air-show at Duxford and returned home with some souvenirs including a limited edition aviator signed print by noted artist Robert Taylor.
Back in Albany, he recruited wife Kathryn, who had been a collector of stamps, coins and other items since she was young, to help him find more items on-line. One of the early pieces Kathryn found was a Corgi die-cast model signed by Billy Drake, a Battle of France pilot. The seller turned out to be an engineer restoring warbirds at North Weald airfield and mentioned that there was a Hurricane muster there in October and that John should return to the UK to attend. He did, meeting the veteran pilots and aircrew, examining the aircraft and museums.
The result was that their collection rapidly outgrew a couple of display cabinets and a few prints in the house. John, who in addition to running their cattle farm was a builder and cabinet maker converted his workshop into a custom made exhibition space for the WWII aviation collection. Kathryn recalls,
‘We started with the WWII aviation room and the first library as that was John’s main interest at the time. As visitors started to come, it became apparent that we were lacking in other areas and so we expanded to cover the main three military services and eventually the auxiliary services too. Similarly, John’s interest was WWII and we started getting veterans from more recent wars. In addition, we were coming up to the ANZAC centenary, so decided WWI artifacts and stories needed to be added. We now go from the Boer War to the present day.
I have a very broad focus and far too many things appeal to me. I suppose at the heart of it all there must be a story about the people that used or produced the items. John has a good general knowledge about military history and the hardware used (but) my interest is in social rather than military history. I love the research side of things.’
Inter war period insignia from the Royal Air Force’s 84 Squadron. The Squadron was born in January 1917, equipped with SE5 fighter aircraft and was soon despatched to France . During its 15 months service in WWI the Squadron’s pilots proved very successful and destroyed 129 enemy aircraft and 50 observation balloons. After spending a year as part of the Army of Occupation in post war Germany, the Squadron was disbanded as part of a major reduction in the Armed Forces in 1920 (the first of many!!). 84 Squadron was reformed just 8 months later in Baghdad and spent the years leading up to WWII in Iraq. Photo: Julian Tennant
First Word War period Australian Army bayonet training protective clothing and mask. Photo: Julian Tennant
The collection now features thousands of meticulously researched items recording the war experiences of both the military personnel and civilian populations from the Anglo-Boer War onward. But rather than emphasise the battles or weapons, the focus is centered around the histories of ordinary people living through the war and the layout does not follow a chronological sequence. Items are grouped together to help broaden understanding and give additional context to individual pieces, which makes it all the more fascinating to explore. John describes the museum as a ‘treasure hunt’ which is an apt description.
Red Cross Appeal badges from the First World War and early post war years. Photo: Julian Tennant
American Red Cross nursing display detail. Photo: Julian Tennant
New Zealand Red Cross uniform patch details. Photo: Julian Tennant
Details from some of the nursing uniforms held in the collection. Photo: Julian Tennant
American Red Cross and nurses display. Photo: Julian Tennant
Detail from the “Recollections of War” museum’s Red Cross display. Photo: Julian Tennant
British and German donation collecting tins. Photo: Julian Tennant
German Winterhilfswerk donation badges. The Winterhilfswerk des Deutschen Volkes ( Winter Relief of the German People), commonly known simply as Winterhilfswerk (WHW), was an annual donation drive established in 1933 by the National Socialist People’s Welfare (German: Nationalsozialistische Volkswohlfahrt) to help finance charitable work. Photo: Julian Tennant
Home Guard display detail at the Recollections of War Museum, Albany. Photo: Julian Tennant
WW2 Australian Womens Land Army and Air Raid Protection officer display. Photo: Julian Tennant
Kathryn spends much of her time researching and scouring the internet for suitable items, but many pieces have also been donated by visitors and locals who recognise the important role that Recollections of War plays in maintaining our knowledge of conflicts.
In the aftermath of both world wars, the southern region of Western Australia became home for many ex-service personnel who took advantage of the Soldier Settlement and Group Settlement schemes which were respectively aimed at getting returned servicemen into some form of gainful work and aimed at both increasing the population of W.A. as well as increasing primary (especially dairy) production. In subsequent years the local veteran community has continued to grow and includes former service personnel from more recent wars and several nations.
Items belonging to NZDF soldier captain Neil Henry who served with the NZSAS and also the United Nations. Photo: Julian Tennant
Various late 20th and early 21st century military uniforms. Photo: Julian Tennant
Post 2000 Australian army uniforms (display not yet completed). Photo: Julian Tennant
French Foreign Legion 2 REP parachutist beret. The former owner served in the Congo, possibly as a participant during the Kolweizi drop in 1978. Photo: Julian Tennant
Care package sent to Australian Defence Forces personnel during their deployment to East Timor. Photo: Julian Tennant
Canadian Korean War era cold weather jacket. Photo: Julian Tennant
Navy compass, ephemera plus a printed Combined Operations patch and metal badge. Photo: Julian Tennant
Interesting combination of an early post war Royal Australian Engineers battledress jacket with printed Combined Operations patch. Photo: Julian Tennant
As a result, the museum displays several donated items which would otherwise be unlikely to be shown to the public as they fit outside the curatorial focus of institutional collections or the RSL. One such display is the collection of over 300 toy soldiers that were scratch-built by Reg Copeman, an Englishman who had served with the Royal Artillery during the Korean War, then 22 Special Air Service Regiment in the Malayan Emergency and Aden prior to his discharge as a WO2 in 1968. Reg then worked for WatchGuard International the private military contracting company which had been formed by SAS founder Colonel David Stirling and John ‘Jock’ Woodhouse in 1965. This took Reg to Zambia and Sierra Leone before he moved to Australia in 1973 and finally settled in the nearby town of Denmark in the 1990’s.
Reg’s soldiers are all hand-made and each took around 50 days to complete. There was no set pattern to which soldier would be made next, sometimes basing his decisions on the book he was reading at the time. Reg was keen to keep the collection together and now in his 90’s he decided to donate the entire collection along with his reference material to Recollections of War where it is displayed in a custom made display cabinet.
John’s own family connection is also included in the displays. His father, private Alan James ‘Jim’ Shapland enlisted in the Sussex Regiment during World War II and later volunteered for the Airborne Forces, joining the 22nd Independent Parachute Company which acted as the pathfinders for 6th Airborne Division. However, Jim was injured in mid-May 1944 during a training jump for D-Day and was hospitalised. As a result, he did not return to the unit and subsequently served with the Seaforth Highlanders for the remainder of the war.
As can be expected from a collection that focuses on the personal histories of the participants and witnesses it also contains dozens of documents, letters, keepsakes and personal photograph albums reflecting the experiences of people from all sides, which can be viewed by visitors. One of the albums that I found particularly interesting belonged to a German sailor who served as a signaller on minesweeper’s during WWII. In addition to photographs and recording service details, the album also includes his Kriegsmarine and trade insignia plus the award certificate documentation which accompanied his Minesweeper War Badge. His group also includes an extensive hand annotated notebook, complete with diagrams but unfortunately, not being fluent in German, I could not make much sense of what I was viewing.
A nice example of the WW2 period 4th Indian Division shoulder patch. This patch is one of the many stored in folders that are not on public display but may be viewed by visitors to the museum. Photo: Julian Tennant
Japanese soldier’s photo album. The “Recollections of War” museum holds many wartime photo albums which can be viewed upon request. Photo: Julian Tennant
Some of the many autograph albums from the troops who fought on both sides that are held in the Shapland collection. Photo: Julian Tennant
Pen and ink cartoon drawn by Sergeant Arthur Barnett (RAAF) whilst stationed in England during the war. Photo: Julian Tennant
World War One period French souvenir postcard booklets that were sold to troops serving on the Western Front. Photo: Julian Tennant
Many of these albums and documents are not immediately on display, but like all collectors, the Shapland’s are keen to share their collection with visitors, which is why they encourage visits by appointment only rather than having fixed visiting hours. It allows them to create a more intimate and personalised experience. When I spoke to Kathryn prior to my visit, she asked what my interests were and when I arrived, she had gathered some of their Australian Flying Corps pieces for me to view. As I wandered through the exhibition rooms, if I found something of interest John and Kathryn would answer my questions and were more than happy to pull things out of the cabinets to let me see specific details.
Whilst Recollections of War is listed as a museum, I would describe my experience as being more like visiting another collector, discussing the objects and comparing ‘notes’. Kathryn agrees and goes on to say
‘I would love for more authors, researchers and students to visit and make use of our libraries and other archives. I can’t see the point in having all this stuff if it can’t be shared with like-minded or interested people.’
As a result, if you’re a collector or somebody with specific interest areas, you may find that you spend more time at Recollections of War than you anticipate. My primary area of interest is airborne and special operations insignia and I had expected to be at the museum for two to three hours, but I ended up staying over four and then returned the following day for another couple of hours to examine more of their collection… and I still wonder what else I may have missed. So, my advice is to plan accordingly, when arranging a visit let Kathryn know what your interests may be and allow yourself time to take it all in.
Albany is great long-weekend destination being a pleasant four hour drive from Perth and home to several military related attractions for the interested visitor. The city of Albany is also home to the Princess Royal Fortress which opened in 1893 and was Australia’s first federal fortress. Later, during the First World War, the town was the last port of call for the ships carrying the ANZAC troops departing Australia. The fort’s gun batteries and port were also active during the Second World War, particularly at the point in time when the Japanese were on Australia’s doorstep and Albany, along with the port of Fremantle were seen as providing safe refuge, beyond the reach of Japanese aircraft. Albany then became home to three USN submarines along with tender craft and crews. The military history of the region is preserved and presented in a series of military museums and displays including the National Anzac Centre at the fortress site. These are all in close proximity, opening at 09:00 and can be adequately covered in a few hours allowing enough time to visit Recollections of War in the afternoon or following day.
Recollections of War Halcyon Park 51253 South Coast Highway Albany WA 6330 Australia
Photographs of the German paratrooper displays at the Fallschirmjäger Collection shown in the Overloon War Museum in the Netherlands.
On the 30th of September 1944, shortly after the failure of Operation MARKET GARDEN, German and Allied forces clashed in the vicinity of Overloon, approximately 35km south of Nijmegan. It took almost three weeks before Overloon was liberated and the clash went down in history as the most intense tank battle that ever took place on Dutch soil. Harrie van Daal, a civil servant was living in the area during that time and in May 1945 after walking through the battle ravaged Overloonse forest petitioned the Mayor and local pastor to create a memorial honouring those who fought. On May 25, 1946, the Oorlogsmuseum Overloon (Overloon War Museum) opened to the public – even before the village itself was rebuilt. It was the first museum about the Second World War in Western Europe. I will cover the museum in more depth in a future article, but one of the highlights is undoubtedly the Fallschirmjäger Collection which is part of their “Turning Point Europe” exhibition section.
Unlike the Dead Man’s Corner museum in Normandy (see my review and pictures here), which concentrates on the actions of the German paras at Normandy, the Fallschirmjäger Collection presents an overview of the German paras from the early days of WW2 up until 1945. It does this in eight display cases filled with uniforms, equipment and related ephemera.
The first display shows the paratroopers of the early war and the invasion of the low countries, including mannequins representing their Dutch opponents.
The next section shows the uniforms and equipment used during the campaign in North Africa. This is followed by a showcase displaying the paratroopers as they would have been seen in Sicily and the Italian Campaign.
The mannequin display cabinets are also broken up by others featuring an impressive collection of fallschirmjäger related documents, insignia, personal artifacts and other related ephemera.
This is followed by showcases depicting the fighting in the Netherlands during the 1944/45 period and then jumps to displays of the fallschirmjäger kitted out in the equipment used during the fighting in the area of Monte Cassino and the Grand Sasso. The exhibition finishes with the final display cases representing the paratroopers on the Eastern Front during the winter months.
I visited the Oorlogsmuseum Oveloon as a day-trip excursion during my exploration of the battlefields and museums related to Operation MARKET GARDEN in the Arnhem area. Traveling by car it is a relatively short trip from Oosterbeek, roughly an hour’s drive from The Airborne Museum Hartenstein. If you have the time, definitely plan to visit, even without the Fallschirmjäger Collection, the Oorlogsmuseum Overloon remains one of the most impressive WW2 military museums that I have encountered.
Oorlogsmuseum Overloon / Overloon War Museum
5825 AM Overloon
Open: The museum is open Monday to Friday from 10:00 – 17:00 and on weekends from 11:00 – 17:00. It also has reduced visiting hours on some days and is closed on some public holidays so it is best to confirm their opening schedule here. Due to current restrictions the museum only allows a limited number of visitors each days and online ticket reservations are essential prior to visiting.
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The recently refurbished D-Day Story (formerly the D-Day Museum) in Portsmouth is the only museum in the UK dedicated to Operation Overlord and the 6th of June 1944.
Portsmouth, situated on the coast 110km south-west of London has been a significant naval port for centuries. During the Second World War it was a critical embarkation point for the 6 June 1944 D-Day landings. It’s role as a major Naval Base and Dockyard had seen the city bombed extensively by the Luftwaffe from August 1940 and by August 1943 the Southsea seafront, which included the city, was declared a restricted zone. At the beginning of April 1944, in preparation for Operation Overlord, Portsmouth became part of a 16km deep coastal strip from the Wash to Lands End which was closed to all visitors. By this time, the whole of Southern England had become a huge armed camp in the build-up for the invasion of Europe, with Portsmouth being the headquarters and main departure point for the units destined for Juno Beach on the Normandy Coast.
The D-Day Story (previously known as The D-Day Museum) is located near Southsea Castle in Portsmouth and recounts the story of Operation OVERLORD and the landings on the Normandy coast. Originally opened as a the D-Day Museum in 1984, it was closed in March 2017 for refurbishment before reopening in March 2018 as the D-Day Story. (Note that some of the photographs featured here include images of the older displays taken during a previous visit in 2015). The new museum tells the story of Overlord by recounting the experiences of the people who participated in the invasion or lived in the area at the time.
A 2nd Lieutenant from the Hampshire Regiment with kit whilst on bivouac prior to the invasion. (2015 display). Photo: Julian Tennant
A DUKW amphibious vehicle, Registration 73 YP 44, Chassis 353/15418, Class 3 as displayed at the D-Day Museum in 2015.. It has been given representative markings of A Platoon, 101 Company (Amphibian), Royal Army Service Corps, which served with the British 3rd Infantry Division on D-Day. The history of this vehicle is only known from 1965 onwards, when it was part of HQ Army Emergency Reserve of the RCT (Royal Corps of Transport), then a number of different establishments from October 1965 including the Central Vehicle Depot, Hilton and the Proof & Experimental Establishment, Shoeburyness, before being struck off on 24 October 1974. It is believed to have been one of the last DUKWs left serving with the British Armed Forces.
The museum exhibits around 500 artifacts, from a collection of over 10,000, which are combined with touch screens, audio and video presentations to allow the visitor to understand the complexities of planning such a huge operation and its impact on the people involved. To tell the D-Day story, the museum is divided into three sections: Preparation; D-Day and the Battle of Normandy; Legacyand theOverlord Embroidery.
Operations room display at the D-Day Story museum, Portsmouth.
Preparation covers the period from the Dunkirk Evacuation (1940) until just before 6 June 1944. It gives visitors an overview of the planning for Operation OVERLORD including some of the equipment specially developed to assist in the invasion, plus details of Hitler’s Atlantic Wall and the German defenses.
Commando and Special Operations display at the D-Day Story.
Model of the German beach defences on the Normandy beaches.
Royal Navy officers cap belonging to Sub Lieutenant John Ellis who was the second in command of Landing Craft Tank 2130. LCT 2130 was an LCT Mk.V and was part of 104th LCT Flotilla. On D-Day LCT 2130 took American troops from Dartmouth in the UK and landed them on Utah Beach around 11.20am. For the next three months it continued to carry troops over to Normandy. Ellis wore this cap on the many journeys his ship made to Normandy.
US Army lifebelt recoverd from Omaha Beach. Les Eastwood, a sailor who served on Landing Craft Tank 7057, found this American soldier’s lifebelt on Omaha Beach just after D-Day. The life belt consisted of two separate tubes which could be inflated either through blowing into a mouthpiece, or with CO2 cartridges. The CO2 cartridges were in a tube near the buckle, secured by a screw-on cap. To inflate the life belt, two levers fitted inside the belt forced the cartridges into the sharp points on the insides of the caps which pierced them and released the gas into the tubes. The life belt had to be worn higher than the waist, otherwise the weight carried on a soldier’s upper body might cause him to turn upside down, with potentially fatal results. These life belts were sometimes also tied to items of equipment such as mortars, Bangalore torpedoes etc. to help them float in case they were dropped in the water during the landings.
The D-Day and the Battle of Normandysection describe the landing, fighting in the bocage and the breakout leading to the Liberation of Paris. This section features displays of personal items, weapons and equipment, accompanied by an audio-visual display to give an overview of the experiences of the troops fighting on the five beaches.
British Airborne landing display at the D-Day Museum prior to the upgrade.
The final section, Legacy&Overlord Embroideryexplores the experiences of loss and coming home through film clips of veterans recounting their experiences with some supporting artifacts, but is dominated by the Overlord Embroidery an 83m long tapestry consisting of 34 different panels takes up a significant section of the floorspace in a relatively small museum. It is underpinned by a small central gallery that explains the techniques used by the twenty members of the Royal School of Needlework who took seven years to complete its construction.
Exhibition explaining the evolution and production of the “Overlord Embroidery” at the D-Day Story museum, Portsmouth.
Detail of the Overlord Embroidery showing Lord Lovat’s piper Bill Millin of the 1st Special Service Brigade in the foreground with American paratroopers behind.
Commando Bill Millin of Lord Lovat’s 1st Special Service Brigade playing his bagpipes just before D-Day on 3 June 1944. Photo: War Office official photographer, Evans, J L (Capt)
Outside the main building, visitors can go on a tour of LCT 7074, one of two hundred and thirty five MkIII LCT’s that were built for the invasion and the last surviving Landing Craft Tank in the UK. LCT 7074 transported 10 tanks and crew to Gold Beach at 02:00 on 7 June 1944 before returning to England carrying POWs. On board visitors will find the Churchill and Sherman tanks that once stood at the front of the museum. The tour includes a series of short films showcasing the history of LCT 7074 including its post war life as a riverfront nightclub in Liverpool before falling into disrepair and sinking at Birkenhead Docks. It was rescued in 2014 and restored to its current state before being moved to the museum in 2020.
A visit to D-Day Story presents a good start point to develop a broad understanding of the invasion if you’re in the UK and are planning to head across the channel to visit the battle sites at Normandy. The museum opens at 10am every day and tickets can be purchased in advance. You should allow around two to three hours to examine all of the exhibits. Portsmouth’s long naval and military history is also commemorated in several other military museums in the area, so plan for a two or three days stopover to check out some of the other museums and to experience more of this interesting city’s attractions.
Portsmouth PO5 3NT
Open: The D-Day Story is open seven days a week, from 10am to 5.30pm. Last admission is 3.30pm to LCT 7074 and 4pm to the museum.
Parking: There is a large 125-space car park located next to the D-Day Story. The car park is open 24 hours a day and has toilet facilities on site. There are 25 coach spaces, with a wash bay facility available. For parking charges please see The Seafront D-Day car park . There are marked disabled bays within the car park and on Clarence Esplanade in front of the museum. Parking is free for blue badge holders.
Park & Ride: Portsmouth’s Park & Ride is available from Junction 1 of the M275 motorway which is the principal route into Portsmouth from the north. Follow the brown direction signs to the Park & Ride car park. The nearest Park & Ride stop to The D-Day Story is at The Hard Interchange transport hub which is adjacent to Portsmouth Harbour railway station and Gunwharf Quays. Catch a connecting number 3 bus to Palmerston Road then it is an attractive 10 minute walk across Southsea Common to the D-Day Story on the seafront. On Sundays there is an hourly number 16 bus which will stop outside the museum.
Buses: The nearest bus stop is an attractive 10 minute walk from Palmerston Road across Southsea Common, to the D-Day Story. See directions above from The Hard Interchange to Palmerston Road.
Train: The nearest train station is Portsmouth & Southsea – a 1.5 mile walk from The D-Day Story. The most direct route is via Isambard Brunel Road, Grosvenor Street, Cottage Grove, Grove Roads North and South, Palmerston Road and Avenue de Caen. There is also a taxi rank outside Portsmouth & Southsea railway station.
Alternatively, it’s a 1.7 mile walk from Fratton station to the museum, via Sydenham Terrace, Victoria Roads North and South, Lennox Road South and Clarence Esplanade.
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