Venice’s Naval History Museum – Museo Storico Navale

Established by the Regina Marina (Italian Royal Navy) in 1919, the Museo Storico Navale is located in the Castello district, near the Venetian Arsenal. The city state of Venice was built on the back of its naval might and at its peak, the Arsenale di Venezia (Venetian Arsenal) could produce a fully operational warship in 24 hours, so a visit to this lesser known museum is a must for anybody interested in the broader context of Venetian history as well as those with specific military related interests.

Museo Historico Naval - Venice.

The museum collection covers the maritime history of Venice and the Italian navy. It is divided between two locations about 100m apart. The bulk of the collection, including weapons, uniforms and an impressive collection of model ships is located on the waterfront. Around the corner is the Padiglione delle Navi, a series of sheds that was built in 1577 as an oars workshop and now known as the Ships Pavilion, housing larger vessels and artifacts.

The main museum building has 42 exhibition rooms spread over 5 levels and covers both naval and civilian maritime histories. Near the entrance is a WW2 era “Maiale” (Pig) SLC piloted torpedo used by the naval commandos of Xª MAS and as my collecting interest is focused on special operations units, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of items related to this unit on display.

Museo Historico Naval - Venice.

SLC or slow-running torpedo, nicknamed “Maiale” (Pig) was manned torpedo submarine used by the commando-divers of X-MAS (Decima Flottiglia MAS) of the Royal Italian Navy during WW2.

Museo Historico Naval - Venice.

Diving equipment used by the underwater assault craft operators from X-MAS (Decima Flottiglia MAS) of the Royal Italian Navy during WW2. This equipment was made in 1941 and used by the “Gamma” Teams in actions off Gibraltar and Algeria during World War 2. It consists of a rubber suit, a respirator using oxygen from a tank which is renewed by the soda lime ash in the bag on the chest, mouthpiece and face mask

The Decima Flottiglia Motoscafi Armati Siluranti, also known as Xª MAS or X-MAS was an Italian commando frogman unit of the Regia Marina created during the Fascist regime. The acronym MAS refers to various light torpedo boats used by the Regia Marina during World War I and World War II.

 Xª MAS evolved out of the world’s first special forces frogman unit, the 1ª Flottiglia Mezzi d’Assalto (“First Assault Vehicle Flotilla”) which had been formed in 1939. In 1941, the re-designated unit was divided into two parts – a surface group operating fast explosive motor boats, and a sub-surface weapons group using manned torpedoes called SLC (siluri a lenta corsa or “slow-running torpedoes”, but nicknamed Maiale or “Pig” by their crews), as well as “Gamma” assault swimmers (nuotatori) using limpet mines. During its operations, the unit destroyed 72,190 tons of Allied warships and 130,572 tons of Allied merchant ships and resulted in the Royal Navy developing similar capabilities.

Following the armistice of Italy on September 8, 1943, the Xª MAS was disbanded with some of its sailors joining the Allies to fight the Germans. In the German occupied north of Italy, Mussolini set up the Italian Social Republic (RSI) to continue the war and under the command of Junio Valerio Borghese also known as Il Principe Nero (The Black Prince), Decima Flottiglia was revived. By the end of the war it had over 18 000 members and had a reputation as hard core pro-fascist unit, operating in anti-resistance campaigns under the command of Waffen SS Obergruppenführer Karl Wolff, supreme commander of SS forces in Italy.

Examining the watercraft and uniforms used by the sailors of  Xª MAS was the real highlight of the museum for me. But there is lots to see here and it is easy to lose track of time. I spent at least 4 hours in the main building before even reaching the Ships Pavilion, so if this kind of stuff interests you, arrive early and give yourself plenty of time.

Museo Historico Naval - Venice.

Some of the uniforms on display. The jacket on the left was used by the Italian State circa 1790. The Jacket and waistcoat on the right was used by the Venetian Navy during the same period.

 

Museo Historico Naval - Venice.

Model of a CB type Coastal Submarine (1940 – 1945)

Venice Naval Historical Museum

Riva San Biagio Castello 2148,

Venice Ships Pavilion

Rio della Tana Castello 2162 c, Venice (close to the Arsenal bridge)

How to get there:

Vaporetto ACTV: Line 1, 4.1, 4.2 stop Arsenale

Opening Hours:

The Venice Naval Historical Museum is open every day

  • 1 April – 31 October: from 10 am to 6 pm (last admission 5 pm)
  • 1 November – 31 March: from 10 am to 5 pm (last admission 4 pm)

The Ships Pavilion is open every day

  • 1 April – 31 October: from 11 am to 6 pm (last admission 5 pm)
  • 1 November – 31 March: from 11 am to 5 pm (last admission 4 pm)

https://www.visitmuve.it/en/museums/naval-historical-museum/

museo historico navale Borghese-11

This submarine is not related to the museum, but I discovered it whilst wandering around the area. It is the ‘Enrico Dandolo’ (SSK 513), which was the third submarine of the Toti class that the Italian Navy built in the 1960’s. This one was decommissioned in 1996. Unfortunately it is on the Navy base which continues to occupy a lot of the Arsenale region and had restricted access, so I could not get any closer to examine it in detail.

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‘Dutchy’ Holland’s Para Smock

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On loan from 2 Commando Company and the Australian Commando Association – Victoria , this Dennison parachute smock was part of the recent From the Shadows: Australian Special Forces exhibition at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

dutchy holland PTF 1959

RAAF Base Williamtown Parachute Training Flight Staff 1959. ‘Dutchy’ Holland and his distinctive bushy moustache is second from the left. L to R: WO2 Clivelly, WO Holland (Dutchy), SQN LDR Neilson, MAJ John Church and WO2 M Wright

The smock was worn by WO1 Douglas “Dutchy” Holland during his time as a PJI at the Parachute Training School at Williamtown. ‘Dutchy’, served in the RAF from 1940 until 1948 before joining the RAAF. He qualified as PJI number 6 at the first Parachute Jump Instructors course run by Parachute Training Wing (PTW) in 1954.  A legend in the history of Australian parachute training, he was awarded the MBE for his services to military parachuting in 1958 and in 1959 became the first person in Australia to achieve 500 jumps. When “Dutchy” retired in 1962 he had completed 663 descents including 60 at night and 29 water jumps. He decorated this Dennison jump smock with various Australian and foreign parachute badges, including some (now) very rare and desirable insignia.

dutchy holland-02

 

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The shield patch is a rare Australian made variant of the WW2 USMC Para-marine shoulder sleeve insignia (SSI). I am not sure who the round patch represents.

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British SAS Sky Divers club patch. This patch probably dates from a visit made by a four man free-fall team from 22 SAS regiment to Parachute Training Flight (PTF) in early 1962.

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Canadian parachutist and an unusual, almost triangular shaped, variation of the British SAS wing

 

dutchy holland-07

A unique and personalised para patch named to a ‘McKenzie’ on the crutch flap of the Dutchy Holland’s Dennison smock. There’s got to be a story behind the decision to place it there…

dutchy holland-01

Rear of ‘Dutchy’ Holland’s smock featuring various insignia including the Newcastle Skydivers Club patch (bottom left near the kidney area). The Newcastle Skydivers Club was a joint Army/Air Force club at RAAF Base Williamtown.

Australian Army Dress Manual: Chapter 4 – Badges & Emblems

Army Dress manual chapt_4_badges_and_emblems

Sample page from the Army Dress Manual: Chapter 4 – Badges & Emblems.

 

The Australian Army Dress Manual is available as a pdf download, online from the Army website. Chapter 4 – Badges & Emblems details the insignia worn by members of the army along with instructions for placement and regulations re use. You can access a copy of the dress manual from the hyperlink above or follow the link below.

https://www.army.gov.au/sites/g/files/net1846/f/army_dress_manual_201712_chapt_4_badges_and_emblems.pdf

Congo Mercenary 10 Commando patch

Congo Mercenary 10 Commando (Commando Kansimba) patch type 2

Congo Mercenary 10 Commando (Commando Kansimba) patch type 2 (Julian Tennant collection)

This is a recent addition to my collection. It is an original shoulder patch used by the mercenaries of 10 Commando who were under the command of Colonel Jean Schramme in the 1960’s. This version is known as the 2nd pattern of the patch and is distinguished from the earlier type by only having the outline of Lake Tanganyika in blue, whilst the first version had the entire lake in blue silk. Both of the original patches were made using the precise, machine embroidered, silk-bevo style of construction as seen in this example.  Collectors should note that there are numerous fakes of this badge, many of which originate from the same fakers who make all the ARVN and US Vietnam war patches that can be found on ebay and at the War Surplus market at Dan Sinh. If you are interested in the mercenary insignia used in the Congo during the 1960’s, I would recommend that you try to find a copy of the late Gerard Lagaune’s excellent privately published reference, Histoire et insignes des parachutistes et des commandos de Pays des Grand Lacs.

Histoire et insignes des parachutistes et des commandos de Pays

Histoire et insignes des parachutistes et des commandos de Pays des Grand Lacs by the late Gerard Lagaune. The text is in French and it is privately published so it may be difficult to find now that he has passed away, but it is an excellent reference detailing the parachutist and commando insignia from thHe countries surrounding the ‘great lake’ Tanganyika in Africa. Included are full colour photographs of the various mercenary unit insignia worn in the Congo during the 1960’s.

10 Commando formed part of the 5th Mechanised Brigade, which was raised on the 1st of November 1964. The brigade was controlled by approximately 60 Belgian officers and had around 350 mercenaries of various nationalities under its command.  Number 10 Commando was led by Belgian mercenary, Jean Schramme. “Black Jack” Schramme was a teenager when he went to the Congo to run the family plantation, located to the north-east of Stanleyville and it should be noted that despite often being seen wearing the beret of the 2nd Belgian Commando Battalion (and contrary to some of the information he presented in his biography), there is no evidence that he had ever qualified as a commando or served in the Belgian Commando Battalion prior to his mercenary activities.

In the troubles that followed independence in 1961, Schramme fled to Uganda and then moved to Katanga where he took part in the fighting, forming a group recruited from local tribes near the Kansimba region which he referred to as the “Leopard Group”.  After that period of fighting ended in 1963 he moved across the border into Angola before returning in 1964 with his now named 10 Commando which operated out of Fizi-Baraka to the East of the province of Maniema and not too far from a plantation that he had once controlled.

Jean Schramme's somewhat embellished biography, "Le Bataillon Le

Jean Schramme’s biography, “Le Bataillon Leopard”. On the cover he is shown wearing the beret of the Belgian 2nd Commando Battalion and 10 Commando patch on his shoulder. The first pattern machine made silk-bevo patch with the full blue Lake Tanganyika is also shown, albeit in B&W.

In 1967, 10 Commando was part of the revolt against the government of Colonel Mobuto Sese Seko who had become president two years previously. In early August, Schramme’s 10 Commando captured the border town of Bukavu, holding it for 7 weeks despite repeated attempts by the government ANC forces to recapture the town. On October 29, 1967 the ANC forces finally recaptured Bukavu and the soldiers of 10 Commando fled towards Rwanda crossing the border on the 13th of November 1967, where they were disarmed, ending the existence of this colourful mercenary unit.

REFERENCE BOOK: US Army Special Forces Team History and Insignia 1975 to the Present by Gary Perkowski

US Army Special Forces Team History and Insignia 1975 to the Pre

US Army Special Forces Team History and Insignia 1975 to the Present by Gary Perkowski

Hardcover Size: 8 1/2″ x 11″
416 pages featuring 4,144 color and b/w photos
ISBN13: 9780764352553
Publisher: Schiffer Publishing

Released in May 2017, Gary Perkowski latest book, US Army Special Forces Team History and Insignia 1975 to the Present, covers the history, training, and operations of United States Army Special Forces, including new, previously  unpublished photos and information regarding the insignia that were designed and worn by the men of the United States Army Special Forces.

The book is extremely detailed with concise information about the lineage, development, structure and training of the USSF before going into chapters on each specific Special Forces Groups (SFG). The SFG’s are further broken down and include extensive photographs featuring insignia, plaques, challenge coins, training/appreciation certificates, and other documents as well as photographs of the teams and men wearing the insignia.

The author, Gary Perkowski has been a militaria collector and historian for thirty years. The past twenty years has been spent researching United States Army Special Forces and this is his second book on the subject of United States Army Special Forces insignia.

US Army Special Forces Team History and Insignia 1975 to the Present builds upon his earlier collaboration along with Harry Pugh and the late Len Whistler, U.S. Special Forces Group Insignia (Post 1975) which was published in 2004 and also the other important references covering USSF insignia, notably Ian Sutherland’s Special Forces of the United States Army, 1952-1982  and Harry Pugh’s 1993 book, US Special Forces Shoulder and Pocket Insignia (Elite Insignia Guide 3).

US Army Special Forces Team History and Insignia 1975 to the Pre

 

REFERENCE BOOK: Commandos et Forces Suppletives Indochine 1945 – 1954 by Jacques Sicard

COMMANDOS ET FORCES SUPPLETIVES INDOCHINE 1945-1954

Commandos et Forces Suppletives Indochine 1945 – 1954 by Jacques Sicard with assistance from M. Duflot and F. Pitel.

Softcover: 54 pages.
Published by Symboles & Traditions (Paris)
ISBN: None

COMMANDOS ET FORCES SUPPLETIVES INDOCHINE 1945-1954

Commandos et Forces Suppletives Indochine 1945 – 1954 is one of the excellent series of insignia reference books published by the French Symboles & Traditions Association based in Paris.

This volume covers the insignia used by French commando units as well as the locally raised Indochinese commando and auxiliary partisan/irregular forces. The 54 pages includes 30 full colour plates featuring the unit badges along with brief descriptions outlining a brief historical overview of the unit and specific information relating to their insignia including manufacturers and variations. Like the other S&T books the text is in French but that should not dissuade any collector of Vietnam and French Indochina period special operations insignia from adding this valuable reference to their bookshelf.

COMMANDOS ET FORCES SUPPLETIVES INDOCHINE 1945-1954

REFERENCE BOOK: Badges of the French Foreign Legion 1923-1989 by Philippe Bartlett

Badges of the French Foreign Legion 1923-1989 by Philippe Bartle

Badges of the French Foreign Legion 1923-1989 by Philippe Bartlett

Hardcover: 63 pages
Publisher: P. Bartlett; 1st edition (1989)
Language: English & French
ISBN 2-950 4247

Badges of the French Foreign Legion 1923-1989 by Philippe Bartle

Published in 1989, Philippe Bartlett’s Badges of the French Foreign Legion 1923 -1989  is a useful reference for collectors of French insignia. It lists 429 badges, in full color along with information about manufacturer and an estimate of rarity. It also provides some information on how to date French badges by their makers marks which is particularly useful as many of the badges continued to be used for many years whilst others were re-struck later by the manufacturers for veterans groups and the like.

Badges of the French Foreign Legion 1923-1989 by Philippe Bartle

The book was released shortly before Tibor Szecsko’s monumental work on the same topic, Le grand livre des insignes de la Légion Étrangère but whilst Szecsko’s book has more historical information about the various insignia, for non-French speakers such as myself, the Bartlett book’s descriptive text which is in both French and English is a distinct advantage and makes it an invaluable reference in the library sitting comfortably alongside the Szecsko and Colonel Duronsoy’s books on the subject.