Dropping into the Cu Chi Tunnels

In January 1966, the 1st Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (1RAR), which had been attached to the US 173rd Airborne Brigade (Separate) after arriving in Vietnam the previous year, participated in  Operation CRIMP. This was an operation involving over 8000 allied troops and is described in detail in Bob Breen’s book, First to Fight and in Blue Lanyard Red Banner by Lex McAulay, whose customised Australian Army lighter that he carried during the operation was featured in a previous post. CRIMP was the battalion’s first major foray into an area which has become synonymous with the famous Củ Chi Tunnels and the pioneering ‘tunnel rat’ work carried out by its sappers.

For 1RAR, the objective of this operation, which involved over allied 8000 troops, was a series of underground bunkers believed to be in the Ho Bo Woods area of Củ Chi district. Intelligence indicated that these bunkers housed the headquarters for the Communist committee that controlled all Viet Cong activity in the Capital Military District and a large complex of tunnels was subsequently uncovered by the battalion. For the first time, engineers of 3 Field Troop, Royal Australian Engineers (3 Fd Tp RAE), under the command of Captain Alexander (Sandy) MacGregor breached the network recovering large quantities of  weapons, food, equipment and documents.

Sandy MacGregor recounts the experiences of the sappers from 3 Fd Tp as they entered the tunnels for the first time in his book, No Need for Heroes.

We had three tasks. The first was to investigate the tunnels as fully as possible to discover what they were being used for. The second was to try and map the tunnel system so that we could work out its extent, and if need be, dig down to a soldier who might be trapped. The third, once we discovered what a treasure trove the tunnels were, was to recover everything we could – weapons, equipment and paper – all of which was invaluable for the intelligence boys.

Op CRIMP tunnel rat demo

Photograph by Captain Alex ‘Sandy’ MacGregor, OC of 3 Field Troop, who developed the ‘tunnel rat’ concept first used during Operation CRIMP. Here, soldiers are demonstrating a “Tunnel Exploration Kit”, which was developed as a result of the developments made by MacGregor’s soldiers. Note the ear plug in the soldier’s right ear, the throat microphone and the switch in his mouth used to operate the torch strapped to his forehead. He is armed with a Smith & Wesson 38 calibre revolver equipped with a silencer and pinpoint-light sight. Photograph: Alexander Hugh ‘Sandy’ MacGregor. Australian War Memorial Accession Number: P01595.021

It was not an easy mission to accomplish as this was a departure from the American policy of sealing and destroying any tunnels found. Captain MacGregor had previously recognised the inadequacies of the American approach and had begun training his engineers to enter and clear tunnels. The 3 Fd Tp sappers had built a mock tunnel at their base, experimented and developed clearance techniques but they were still entering somewhat untested territory when they commenced the operation. The “Tunnel Rats” as they would come to known, had their work cut out for them. As soon as 1RAR hit the LZ they came under fire from snipers hidden in underground firing positions, trenches and tunnels. Bob Breen describes the situation in First to Fight,

There were snipers and small groups of Viet Cong everywhere – in and behind trees, popping up from spider holes and tunnel entrances at ground level, and scrambling away after firing quick bursts. The area was seeded with numerous booby traps. Diggers (Australian soldiers) noticed the ominous wires and saw shells and bunches of grenades dangling from trees and clumps of bamboo.

In an ambush on the first day of the operation, a Viet Cong firing position was discovered inside an anthill. When the sappers blew the anthill, a tunnel was discovered leading away from the position. Clearance teams from 3 Fd Tp began entering the network but breaching and securing the tunnels was no easy task.

We blew smoke into the tunnel and I divided the men into smaller sub-units of twos and threes and sent them off to investigate Once we’d blown smoke, then tear gas, then fresh air down the tunnels, I sent a couple of men down to investigate. The entrance was so narrow it was hard to imagine it was intended for people at all. There was a straight drop then it doubled back up, like the U-bend under a sink. The tunnel turned again to go along under the surface and became a little wider, but there still wasn’t room enough to turn around. It was terrifying down there, armed only with a bayonet to probe for booby traps and a pistol to defend yourself.

Once you’d negotiated the tight entrance and the U-bend, you had to crawl along tiny passages, rubbing your shoulders on each side of the tunnel, on all fours, with no way of turning around if you got into trouble. Often, you’d find larger ‘rooms’, sections of tunnel that were big enough to crouch or kneel in, but you weren’t to know that when you first set out. The further the men went, the more complex the tunnel system was revealed to be. There were drops, twists and turns, corners around which the whole North Vietnamese Army could be waiting, for all they knew. The men burrowed away, ever further, ever deeper, until they discovered a hidden danger in the operation. Some of them began passing out in the tunnels due to lack of air. But, despite the fact that there was no room to turn they were all dragged back to the surface, usually after we’d blasted more fresh air down to them.

A Sapper of 3 Field Troop emerges from a Viet Cong (VC) tunnel by way of a trapdoor in the ground ...

A Sapper of 3 Field Troop emerges from a Viet Cong (VC) tunnel by way of a trapdoor in the ground during Operation Crimp in the Ho Bo Woods with troops of 1 Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (1RAR). The trapdoor of concrete is covered with earth and grass and saplings are grown in it so that it carefully blends in with the rest of the vegetation, and is virtually impossible to detect. Photo: Peter Kelly. Australian War Memorial Collection Accession Number: KEL/66/0021/VN

Unfortunately, one of the sappers, Corporal Bob Bowtell, succumbed to the lack of air in one of the antechambers and had died of asphyxiation by the time his body could be brought back to the surface. The operation took its toll on many of the sappers as George Wilson recalls in Gary McKay’s book,  Bullets, Beans & Bandages,

Those long periods spent underground, often in total darkness, where at times the only ‘light’ was the luminous face of your watch, were my most vivid memories of Viet Nam… Our troop casualty rate was particularly high on that operation with only 12 out of 35 men remaining until the end… of the operation.

During the six days that 3 Fd Tp spent on Operation CRIMP, the sappers had investigated tunnels for 700m in one direction and another 500m across that line, recovering truckloads of documents and equipment, including photographs of the Viet Cong’s foreign advisors. On the final day of the operation, the sappers found a trapdoor which led to a third level in the system, but before they could investigate it further the Americans decided to end the operation and pull out. The tunnels that had been discovered were lined with explosives and tear gas crystals in an attempt to either destroy or make them uninhabitable. Later, long after the end of the war Sandy MacGregor finally learned what lay beyond that final trapdoor. It led to the military headquarters of the Viet Cong’s Southern Command.

They had been that close.

However, Operation CRIMP had uncovered a massive amount of equipment and intelligence information and as a result, American units throughout Vietnam received orders to clear tunnels before destroying them. The tunnel system breached by 3 Fd Tp was later discovered to consist of over 200 kilometers of tunnels in multiple levels, and included living, working and storage areas, forming part of the much larger Củ Chi tunnel complex. For his contribution, Sandy MacGregor was awarded the Military Cross by the Australian government and the Bronze Star by the Americans. He recounts his experiences developing the ‘Tunnel Rats’ concept and service in Vietnam in an interview that was recorded for the Life on the Line podcast series, which is worth listening to.

Viet Cong haversack : Sapper P M Cachia, 3 Field Troop, Royal Australian Engineers

Viet Cong locally made canvas haversack captured by Sapper Peter Cachia of 3 Fd Tp RAE during Operation CRIMP. It consists of a central compartment made from light brown canvas with fold-in weather flaps. This compartment is closed by a large external flap secured by tying together lengths of synthetic cord. The flap has a large external pocket of green canvas with a plastic button closure. The straps are of light brown canvas 60 mm wide tapering to 12 mm wide. The narrow end of each strap is passed through a loop of synthetic cord sewn to the bottom of the haversack and knotted. This is how the length of the straps can be adjusted. Lengths of synthetic cord have been machine sewn to the both the straps and the haversack along the joins as a means of reinforcement. The haversack, which originally contained an aluminium lighter and a large quantity of documents and other printed matter. The printed matter was taken by army intelligence for analysis, and Cachia was allowed to keep the haversack and lighter. Australian War Memorial Collection Accession Number: REL43475

cu chi tunnels model-01

The district of Củ Chi lies approximately 60 kilometers northwest of Saigon bordering an area known as the Iron Triangle, the heartland of the Viet Cong guerrillas operating in the region. The tunnel system took advantage of the hard, red, soil which was suitable for digging and did not become waterlogged during the monsoon season.  It was first developed by the Viet Minh in their fight against the French and in 1947 only 47 kilometers of tunnels existed, but with the formation of the Viet Cong the system expanded. By the end of 1963 it was estimated that around 400km of arterial tunnels, trenches, connecting tunnels and bunkers existed in an area that covered 300 square kilometers. The Củ Chi Tunnel complex was big enough to conceal an entire regiment, some estimates put the figure at 5000 troops, enroute to its area of operations and proved to be an ongoing problem for the allied forces. Later, they were used as a staging area for the attack on Saigon during the 1968 Tet offensive and their utility was only somewhat restricted after a heavy bombing campaign by B-52’s in 1970.

During the course of the war it is estimated that at least 45,000 Vietnamese died defending the tunnels and after 1975, the Vietnamese government preserved sections of the tunnels and included them in a network of war memorial parks around the country. Today, visiting the Củ Chi tunnels are rated as one of the top five tourist destination activities in Vietnam, with some estimates placing the number of visitors as high as 1000 tourists per day.

There are two different tunnel display sites, Bến Đình and Bến Dược. The tunnels at Bến Dược are smaller attracting fewer visitors than the Bến Đình site which is closer to Ho Chi Minh City and is more popular with the multitude of tour groups offering the Củ Chi ‘experience’. Both tunnel sites offer a somewhat sanitised experience, allowing visitors to crawl around a ‘tourist friendly’ modified section of tunnel, check out displays depicting life for the occupants, boobytraps, weapons, equipment and be subjected to the usual pro-communist version of events. Personally, I think that the visitor parks are somewhat over-rated in terms of education or real historical value, but for a visitor with an interest in the military history of Vietnam they are worth visiting, just to check them out.

It is quite easy to reach the tunnels and there are lots of half-day or full day tours that include the Củ Chi Tunnels on their itineraries. Trip Advisor list several on their website which will give you an idea of what you can expect, however I think that it is best to visit them independently instead of an organised group tour. This can be done by bus or private taxi/driver, which is easily arranged and allows more flexibility with stops and timings.

Some of the organised full-day tours include a visit to the Cao Đài Holy See at Tây Ninh, approximately 96km northwest of HCMC as part of their package tour. Visiting this site is actually the main reason why I have made return visits to the tunnels at Củ Chi as its proximity makes for a good day trip and is worthy of consideration if you are organising your own visit.

The Cao Đài is a Vietnamese religious sect that was founded by a French colonial bureaucrat named Ngô Văn Chiêu and based on a series of messages he received during seances in the early 1920’s. Its doctrine is a fusion of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Christianity and occultism which deified an unusual mix of figures including Joan of Arc, Victor Hugo and Sun Yat Sen. Officially recognised as a religion in 1926, it adopted a clerical organisation structure similar to Roman Catholicism, established its headquarters at Tây Ninh.

In the years following its establishment, the Cao Đài became increasingly active in politics and at its peak, during the French period, had a militia of around 20,000 troops under its command. The French Indochina wars form a large part of my interest in Vietnam and the sect was a major player in the south during the French era.

cao dai illustrated london news 9 june 1951

An article about the Cao Dai from a 1951 edition of the Illustrated London News which talks about the support of their militia in battling the Viet Minh alongside the French.

 

In 1933, the Cao Đài commenced construction of its main cathedral, the Holy See, which is described in Graham Greene’s book, The Quiet American as “a Walt Disney fantasia of the East, dragons and snakes in technicolour.”

Completed in 1955, the temple is a rococo extravaganza that mixes the architectural idiosyncrasies of a French church, Chinese pagoda, Madam Tussaud’s and the Tiger Balm Gardens in Hong Kong. Prayer services are held four times per day, when uniformed priests and laity enter the building to perform their rituals. Visitors are free to enter the balcony section of the temple during these prayers and it is a very colourful spectacle to watch the priests and dignitaries carry out their observances. The best time to visit is just before the midday prayers (held every day except during Tet) and then head on to the tunnels as the second stage of a full day trip.

Cao Dai Holy See-11

An usher takes a nap during the midday prayer service at the Cao Đài Holy See in Tây Ninh. The yellow, blue and red stripes on his armband are the colours of the Cao Đài. Photo: Julian Tennant

In the next few weeks I’ll take a closer look at the Cao Đài’s political and military activities as I begin a series of posts devoted to some of the French Indochina period insignia that I have in my collection.

A selection of items related to the initial deployment of 1RAR to South Vietnam from May 1965 until April 1966 when they were attached to the US 173rd Airborne Brigade (Separate). The WW2 era Australian Military Forces lighter which has been modified with the addition of the enameled 173 Abn and Viet Cong badges was issued to Corporal Lex McAulay, who was with 1RAR during this time. Collection: Julian Tennant

Items related to the initial deployment of 1RAR to South Vietnam from May 1965 until April 1966 when they were attached to the US 173rd Airborne Brigade (Separate). The WW2 era Australian Military Forces lighter in the middle of the picture has been modified with the addition of the enameled 173 Abn and Viet Cong badges. It was issued to Corporal Lex McAulay, who was with 1RAR during this period. The Viet Cong badge attached to the lighter was found in one of the tunnels when he was participating in Operation CRIMP in January 1966. Collection: Julian Tennant

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The Ho Chi Minh Campaign Museum – HCMC, Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh Campaign Museum entry-01

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.

Ho Chi Minh Campaign Museum-16

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

Ho Chi Minh Campaign Museum-13

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”.

Ho Chi Minh Campaign Museum-24

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

Ho Chi Minh Campaign Museum-26

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

Ho Chi Minh Campaign Museum-18

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.

Ho Chi Minh Campaign Museum-10

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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Note that this site has NEW content posted every Sunday! If you like what you see here, please follow this page via email or by using either the buttons below or in the column on the right. Knowing that somebody is looking at this gives me the encouragement I need to go through my archives and collection to develop the content for the page. And of course, feel free to contact me here, via email or by visiting my Facebook or Instagram pages

Malaysia trip report #2 – The Royal Malaysian Navy, Customs and Maritime museums, Melaka

Royal Malaysian Navy Museum (Muzium Tentera Laut Diraja Malaysia) Melaka

Royal Malaysian Navy Museum (Muzium Tentera Laut Diraja Malaysia) Melaka

During my first trip to Malaysia I did not leave Kuala Lumpur and whilst I did get to visit the Air Force and Police museums as well as some militaria shops, I did not make it to the two other places that I was keen to see, the Royal Malaysian Army and Royal Malaysian Navy museums, both of which are outside of KL.  So, on a return from a trip to visit the battlefields of Central Vietnam, I arranged to extend the break between AirAsia flights to give me a couple more nights in Malaysia.  Arriving at KLIA from Danang in the early evening, I took a taxi straight from the airport to the town of Melaka, about an hour and a half’s drive away. A one way trip cost me roughly the equivalent of US$45 and whilst it was not the cheapest option, it was the quickest for somebody who only had limited time.

Melaka (also referred to as Malacca) is the capital of the state of Malacca in the southwest of Malaysia and during the 15th century was one of South East Asia’s greatest trading ports, so as a result the town is steeped in maritime history. I came to visit the Malaysian Navy Museum, but first stop was the Maritime Museum of Malacca, situated just across the road and housed in a 36m long replica of the Flor De La Mar, a treasure-laden 16th century Portuguese galleon which sank during a storm in 1511 somewhere in the Straits of Malacca. The museum gives an overview of Malacca’s importance as a regional trading hub and its seafaring traditions from the time of the Malacca Sultanate through the Portuguese, Dutch and British periods. I quite enjoyed the museum, particularly the models and the cost of entry also included the Navy Museum, so this is definitely worth including on a visit to the Melaka.

Melaka Maritime Museum / Flor De La Mar                                                                          

Jalan Merdeka, Bandar Hilir,                                                                                                                75000 Melaka

Telephone: +60 (0)6-282 6526

Email: helpdesk@perzim.gov.my

Web: www.perzim.gov.my

Right next door to the Maritime Museum is the Royal Malaysian Customs Department Museum (Muzium Jabatan Kastam Diraja Malaysia) so I decided to check it out as well. This is a fascinating museum that is free to visit and has an abundance of items on display.  Exhibits include uniforms, customs measuring devices and of course, various seized items of contraband ranging from pornography to weapons and narcotics.

Royal Malaysian Customs Department Museum (Muzium Jabatan Kastam Diraja Malaysia). Knives seized by Malaysian Customs. The brass handled dagger design appears to have been influenced by aspects of the Fairbairn Sykes commando stiletto.

Royal Malaysian Customs Department Museum (Muzium Jabatan Kastam Diraja Malaysia). Knives seized by Malaysian Customs. The brass handled dagger appears to have been influenced by some design and manufacture aspects of the Fairbairn Sykes commando stiletto.

Royal Malaysian Customs Department Museum

Jalan Merdeka, Bandar Hilir,                                                                                                                75000 Melaka

Telephone: +60 (0)6-2833924

Web: http://www.customs.gov.my/en/mp

Across the road, the Royal Malaysian Navy Museum (Muzium Tentera Laut Diraja Malaysia) or Muzium TLDM to the locals, is dedicated specifically to the Malaysian Navy rather than a general naval history of Malaysia. Through a series of didactic panels, supported by various exhibits the museum outlines the development of the Royal Malaysian Navy and the role it plays in Malaysian society. The material being displayed is a mixture of equipment, uniforms, insignia, photographs and items related to the Royal Malaysian Navy’s interactions with other nations naval forces.

As a badge collector, I found the insignia exhibits particularly informative as it is often difficult to find good reference material identifying contemporary uniforms and badges. Most of the explanatory captions and panels also include English translations so it is quite easy to make sense of the displayed material. My specific interest in Airborne and Special Forces unit insignia was also well catered for with displays of uniforms and insignia relating to the Malaysian Naval Special Operations unit, Pasukan Khas Laut or more commonly known as PASKAL also being shown in the exhibits.

Insignia detail of a uniform worn by members of the Malaysian Naval Special Operations unit, Pasukan Khas Laut, more commonly known as PASKAL.

Insignia detail of a uniform worn by members of the Malaysian Naval Special Operations unit, Pasukan Khas Laut, more commonly known as PASKAL.

After spending the middle of the day checking out the Maritime and Naval Museums, I took a stroll back to my room via the touristy Jonker Street, checking out a couple of antique shops along the way. Nothing much to satisfy my needs and possibly over-priced to take advantage of gullible tourists such as myself, but worth a look anyway. In retrospect I should have headed to the Submarine Museum (Muzium Kapal Selam) but I had wanted to check out the shops around Jonker Street, so all good… next time. Then it was time for a quick bite and a beer before retiring for the night. In the morning I’d arranged for an early pick up to take me to back to KL International Airport via the Army Museum at Port Dickson… and I’ll save those pix for another post.

Royal Malaysian Navy Museum (Muzium TLDM)                                                                      

Jalan Merdeka, Bandar Hilir,                                                                                                                75000 Melaka

Telephone: +60 (0)6-283 0926

Opening Hours: 09:00 – 17:30 (closed 12:15 – 14:45 Friday)

Royal Malaysian Navy Museum (Muzium Tentera Laut Diraja Malaysia)

Royal Malaysian Navy Museum (Muzium Tentera Laut Diraja Malaysia)

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Army Museum Žižkov – Prague, Czech Republic

Prague - The Army Museum Žižkov

One of the World War One galleries at the Army Museum Žižkov

Undoubtably one of the highlights of my trip to Prague in 2015 was visiting the Army Museum Žižkov (Armádní muzeum Žižkov). The museum, located at the foot of Vitkov hill, was about half an hour’s walk from the Old Town Square and a little off the beaten track, but it was a must-visit site for me and I planned my route to pass The Military Shop  to see if I could find anything for my collection. Apart from a few contemporary Czech airborne patches, there was not much there for me that time as it is more of a surplus store than a military antiques dealer.

 

A much better option for older militaria is Vojenské Starožitnosti, which is in the opposite direction and much closer to the Old Town (Staré Mesto námesti). But I digress…

Prague - The Army Museum Žižkov

T-34 tank at the entrance to the The Army Museum Žižkov

Walking up the hill to the museum visitors are confronted by an old Soviet T-34 tank outside a very austere looking building and, when I visited, not many people around. Entry to the museum was free and the rather unforgiving exterior belied a treasure trove of artifacts which I found fascinating.  The museum exhibits covered the first World War, interwar Czechoslovakia, the second World War, persecution of members of the Czechoslovak army after the coup in 1948 and the anti-communist resistance. The museum was well laid out, with a range of very interesting uniforms and equipment exhibits accompanied by descriptions in Czech and English, it was easy to lose track of time as I encountered unusual wings and exhibits that fell directly into my own collecting areas. Of particular interest to me were the items belonging to Czech agents of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) who parachuted back into the country during the Nazi occupation and also some uniform items belonging to Czech expatriates who fled post war Communist rule and served with the US 77th Special Forces Group (Airborne).

Prague - The Army Museum Žižkov

US Special Forces green beret featuring US Army parachutist wings on the teal blue and yellow wing oval for the 77th Special Forces Group (Airborne). This is one of the items on display at the Army Museum Žižkov belonging to Josef and Cirad Masin, two Czech brothers who escaped the communist regime to West Germany and in 1954 joined the US Army. After completing basic training at Fort Dix, NJ they joined the US Special Forces, hoping to take part in the liberation of Europe from the Communists. Along with fellow Czech, Milan Paumer they served in the 77th Special Forces Group.

 

Prague - The Army Museum Žižkov

Two unusual examples of the British parachutist wings worn by Czech SOE agents who parachuted back into occupied Czechoslovakia to fight the occupying German forces during WW2. The wings on the lower badge may simply have faded over time, but the uppermost badge is definitely a unique variation that I had not encountered before.

 

Unfortunately the museum is now closed whilst a complete reconstruction takes place and I am told that it won’t reopen until at least 2020, but it will be interesting to see what changes are made. So, in the interim, here are some of the photos that I snapped on my iphone during my visit. Hopefully when the museum finally reopens these objects will be back on display because it really was a fascinating display of Czech military history.

Prague - The Army Museum Žižkov

Display in the First World War gallery at the the Army Museum Žižkov.

 

Display in the First World War gallery at the the Army Museum Žižkov.

French 75mm tank gun, 1916 Model, used in the first French Schneider CA-1 tanks.

 

Prague - The Army Museum Žižkov

Exhibition area showing the development of the Czech Armed Forces between the wars.

 

 

Prague - The Army Museum Žižkov

Armband of the Sudetendeutsche Partei, (SdP) Order Units. The SdP was a pro-Nazi party that existed in Czechoslovakia from 1933 until annexation in 1938.

 

Prague - The Army Museum Žižkov

Waffen SS NCO’s visor cap and label from the kennel of the SS Security dogs at the Mauthausen Concentration Camp.

Prague - The Army Museum Žižkov

Concentration Camp inmate uniform and identification patches. The inverted red triangle indicates that this was a political prisoner and the letter T identifies the prisoner’s nationality as Czech. “T” stands for Tscheche (Czech) in German.

 

 

 

Army Museum Žižkov /Armádní muzeum Žižkov                                                                   U Památníku 2,                                                                                                                                        Praha 3 – Žižkov,

Phone No: +420 973 204 924.

Email:  museum@army.cz

The Military History Institute Prague                                                                                            http://www.vhu.cz/english-summary

“Bash on Recce!” – Ambush in Wolfheze

 “Bash on Recce!” – Ambush in Wolfheze is a great account of the clash between elements of  Freddie Gough’s Recce Squadron and Sturmbannführer Sepp Krafft who commanded the SS Panzer Grenadier Depot and Reserve Battalion 16 in the vicinity of Wolfheze shortly after the landing of the 1st Airborne Division on 17 September 1944. Jonathan, who authors the blog “Nine Days in September: Despatches from the Market Garden Battlefields” is also a battlefield tour guide and presents an account of the ambush that includes his own photographs from visits to the site of the action. Check out his blog and other posts for some interesting insights into this famous battle.

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1st Airborne Recce Squadron jeep as used during Market Garden in September 1944.

 

Albany’s Princess Royal Fortress and National Anzac Centre

Albany, located 418km south-east of Perth, is the oldest colonial settlement in Western Australia. Established in 1826 it was originally settled as a military outpost for the colony of  New South Wales as part of their plan to halt French ambitions in the region. In 1893 the first Federal fort, the Princess Royal Fortress, was built on Mt Adelaide and the town was the last port of call for Australian troops departing for service in the First World War. During the Second World War it was home to an auxiliary submarine base for the US Navy’s 7th Fleet in the event that the primary base at Fremantle was lost to the Japanese. So, with a long weekend giving me some spare time, I decided to take a drive down to Albany to check out the Princess Royal Fortress and the National Anzac Centre.

Albany Barracks museum

Albany Barracks Museum at the Princess Royal Fortress

Albany overlooks King George Sound, one of the world’s finest natural harbours and during the 19th century the Australian states realised that the loss of this strategic port could be disastrous not only to Western Australia but to all the colonies. As a result, all the states agreed to pay for the construction of a fort and the British Government would supply the guns. The Princess Royal Fortress was dug into the hillside of Mount Adelaide with two gun batteries – Fort Princess Royal (2 x 6 inch guns) and Fort Plantagenet (1 x 6 inch gun) at nearby Point King. Neither battery fired a shot in anger and in 1956 the Princess Royal Fortress was decommissioned; the buildings initially being used as a hostel and holiday camp before being redeveloped in the late 1980’s as a heritage site. The fortress is now home to a number of interesting military sites including the Albany Barracks and Princess Royal Battery, the National Anzac Centre, HMAS Perth Museum Interpretive Centre, Navy Heritage trail, the South East Asia Memorial, US Submariners Memorial and the Merchant Navy Memorial.

6 inch gun at the Princess Royal Fort

6 inch gun at the Princess Royal Fort

Albany Barracks museum

Artillery uniforms, circa 1890’s

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Cap and jacket detail of an artillery officer of the Fortress Princess Royal battery circa 1890’s

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Albany Barracks Museum

6 inch gun at the Princess Royal Fort

6 inch gun at the Princess Royal Fort

Princess Royal Fortress Command Centre built in 1942.

Princess Royal Fortress Command Centre built in 1942.

HMAS Perth Museum

HMAS Perth Museum & Interpretive Centre

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HMAS Perth Museum

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Royal Australian Navy (DPCU) uniform worn by CMDR Michael Manfield who had previously commanded the submarine HMAS Waller. HMAS Waller was the third Collins Class submarine to enter service. It was named after Captain Hector “Hec” Waller, DSO and Bar of the HMAS Perth I which was lost during WW2. HMAS Waller’s patch, seen on the right shoulder (and actually upside down on the uniform), features the Stuart rose which references Captain Waller’s service on HMAS Stuart whilst the Oak Leaves represent Captain Waller’s three Mention In Despatches during his career. The field of black and blue signifies the night battles at sea during WW2 in which his flotilla was engaged. I am not sure why the curators decided to add the Chief Petty Officer’s rank slides to the uniform or why the HMAS Waller patch is upside down… Curator must have been on the rum.

Bofors and other artillery pieces on the Navy Discovery trail

Bofors anti-aircraft gun and other artillery pieces on the Navy Discovery trail

USN Submariners Memorial

USN Submariners Memorial commemorating the WW2 submariners who remain on eternal patrol

Entry to all the museums and sites, with the exception of the National Anzac Centre is free and are definitely worth a visit presenting some interesting pieces of memorabilia at the various buildings and displays.

The National Anzac Centre was opened on the 1st of November 2014, a century after the first convoy of Australian and New Zealand troops departed from King George Sound, bound for the Great War. Visitors assume the identity of one of 32 servicemen who served in the war and follow their experience of the conflict from recruitment through active service to their return (for some). Their stories unfold through interactive displays, artefacts, photos, film and audio recordings. The content, curated from the Australian War Memorial and the Western Australian Museum, is interesting and engaging. A visit to the centre is definitely worth the Au$25 entry fee.

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The National Anzac Centre with the USN Submariners Memorial in the foreground.

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National Anzac Centre

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New Zealand and Australian uniforms at the National Anzac Centre

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Ottoman identity disc, 1915. Official historian Charles Bean recovered three examples of these identity discs in the Lone Pine trench system in 1919. This example has been cut into a heart shape, possibly by its owner. Unfortunately the low light made it difficult to get a really clear image with my iphone.

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Foreign service helmet, Pattern 1902. Often referred to as the Wolsley or sun helmet, this example was worn on Gallipoli by Ballarat farmer Sergeant Cuthbert Stanley-Lowe of the 9th Light Horse. Stanley-Lowe was hospitalised on 15 June 1915 with ‘rheumatism and headaches’ caused by ‘exposure and strain in the trenches.’ He was evacuated to Lemnos and Egypt before being returned to Australia as medically unfit in early 1916.

National ANZAC Centre, Albany.

This British 1916 Mk 1 helmet was worn by Major General (later Lieutenant General) Sir Joseph Talbot Hobbs throughout his service on the Western Front. He has fixed an Australian rising sun badge to the front of his helmet. Major General Hobbs, commander of the 5th Australian Division, is best known for orchestrating the night attack on Villers-Bretonneaux on 24-25 April 1918, which recaptured the town.

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German helmet, gas-mask, wire cutters and pistol on display at the National Anzac Centre

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Australian trench raiders clubs and revolver at the National Anzac Centre

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Interactive display relating the stories of individual participants in the Great War at the National Anzac Centre

Princess Royal Fortress

Forts Road, Albany, Western Australia 6330, Australia                                                                   Ph: +61 8 9841 9369
Open 0900 – 1700 every day except Christmas Day.

Admission is free to all areas and buildings except the National ANZAC Centre which costs Au$25 for adults, Au$21 concession, Au$11 for first child (5- 15 years old) and $Au6 for every child thereafter.

National Anzac Centre:
Ph: +61 8  6820 3500

info@nationalanzaccentre.com.au
https://www.nationalanzaccentre.com.au

Photos of the Princess Royal Fortress during WW2
https://www.ozatwar.com/bunkers/princessroyalfortress.htm

Albany visitor sites:
http://albanyregion.com.au/anzac-history/
https://www.amazingalbany.com.au/category/anzac/

The Liberation War Museum – Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Pakistani troops during an operation against India during the 1971 Liberation War. Photographer unknown.

Opened in March 1996, the Liberation War Museum (Muktijuddho Jadughor) is located in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka. The museum commemorates the Bangladesh Liberation War, which took place from 26 March to 16 December 1971 and resulted in East Pakistan becoming the independent nation of Bangladesh.

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The Liberation War Museum at 5 Segun Bagicha Rd, Dhaka. Photo: Julian Tennant

Currently housed in a colonial era white-washed building, near the National Institute of Neurosciences Hospital, the Liberation War Museum is best reached by one of the cage-like, gas powered, CNG taxis as it is some distance from most of the tourist hotels and guesthouses used by international visitors. There are plans to relocate the museum but this has been delayed and in its present location it has six galleries plus a small bookshop and tea stall in the back courtyard. The first room documents the customs, culture and traditions of Bengal and the country’s struggle against colonial control.

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Panoramic view of the galleries in the War Liberation Museum, Dhaka. Photo: Julian Tennant

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Weapons display at the War Liberation Museum, Dhaka. Photo: Julian Tennant

The second gallery focuses on the period of Pakistani rule from 1947 until 1971, highlighting the plight of the Bengalis and their growing resistance to the economic, political and cultural oppression from the government in Pakistan. The third gallery documents the genocide of 1971, as well as the resistance and declaration of independence.

Hand sewn flag from March 1971 when Bangabondhu Sheikh Mujibur R

Hand sewn flag from 1971 made around the time Bangabondhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman called for resistance to the Pakistanis on the 7th of March. The Bangladesh Liberation War began 18 days later and these flags were produced as a symbol of opposition to the Pakistani forces and to identify the liberation fighters. Photo: Julian Tennant

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Liberation fighter propaganda poster on display at the Liberation War Museum, Dhaka. Photo: Julian Tennant

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Dusty display cabinets showing bones, ammunition boxes and other artifacts relating to the atrocities carried out by the Pakistani troops. Photo: Julian Tennant

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Human skulls gathered from one of the two ‘Killing fields’ in Dhaka. Photo: Julian Tennant

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Documentation detail from the War Crimes Fact Finding Committee. Photo: Julian Tennant

Galleries four to six document various aspects of the military struggle against the Pakistanis including weapons, cameras and swimming fins used by a Bangladeshi ‘commando’ diver when planting limpet mines on Pakistani shipping. There is also a selection of human remains recovered from one of the two ‘Killing fields’ that existed in Dhaka during the struggle.

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Graffiti left behind by Pakistani troops and described as being extremely offensive to Islamic teaching by some Bangladeshi’s. Photo: Julian Tennant

Books and camera used by Sector-2 commander Major Khaled Mosharr. Photo: Julian Tennant

Books and camera used by Sector-2 commander Major Khaled Mosharr. Photo: Julian Tennant

Photography is forbidden within the museum and I had to leave my camera at the desk. The staff were not to concerned about my phone though and I was able to sneak some pictures of the artifacts. Unfortunately the quality of these images is quite poor due to the low light, dust covered display cases and the need to photograph quickly and discretely. However the pictures will give you some idea of what is on display.

Fins and photo of Naval Commando Zainal Abedin who was involved

Fins used by Zainal Abedin a ‘commando diver’ who planted limpet mines on Pakistani ships. Photo: Julian Tennant

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Cap and photograph of Major M.A. Khaleque, a Bengali officer commissioned into the Pakistani Army and later executed by them on suspicion of aiding the resistance struggle. The caption states that he was an Intelligence officer however the cap badge indicates Artillery corps. Photo: Julian Tennant

Like some of the other museums that I have visited in the region, budget constraints, climatic conditions and a lack of properly trained conservation staff mean that it an ongoing uphill battle to preserve the artifacts that they exhibit. Cabinets are covered in a thin film of dust and the artifacts, particularly the paper and textile items are showing the effects of poor display conditions despite the best efforts of the staff. The majority of the military related objects are documents, plus a selection of weapons and some equipment items. Captions are in English and provide some interesting insights into the experiences of the resistance movement and the struggle. A new museum site in Agargaon (Dhaka) was acquired in 2009 but construction of the new facilities has fallen behind schedule and the move has not yet been completed.

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Some of the various rusting and antiquated WW2 period weapons on display at the War Liberation Museum, Dhaka. Photo: Julian Tennant

The Liberation War Museum (Bengali: মুক্তিযুদ্ধ যাদুঘর Muktijuddho Jadughôr) is located at

5 Segun Bagicha, Dhaka-1000, Bangladesh

Phone: +880-2-9559091

Fax: +880-2-9559092

mukti@citechco.net

mukti.jadughar@gmail.com

http://www.liberationwarmuseumbd.org

The Liberation War Museum (Bengali: মুক্তিযুদ্ধ যাদুঘর Muktijuddho Jadughôr)

The Liberation War Museum (Bengali: মুক্তিযুদ্ধ যাদুঘর Muktijuddho Jadughôr). 5 Segun Bagicha, Shahbagh, Dhaka.

Entry is 100Tk (US$1.20 approx)

The Museum is open everyday except Sunday between
10:00 AM to 6:00 PM.
In winter it is open between
10:00 AM to 5:00 PM.
Ramadan Time (রমজান সময়সূচি)
10:00 AM to 3:30 PM.

Mukti Bahini liberation fighters pull their rickshaw to the side of the road as an Indian Army Engineer unit passes by. Photographer unknown.

Mukti Bahini liberation fighters pull their rickshaw to the side of the road as an Indian Army Engineer unit passes by. Photographer unknown.