African Special Operations Insignia #1 – The Namibian Police Special Reserve Force

This is the first in a series of articles looking at the insignia worn by various African nation’s airborne and special operations units. Please like and follow the page to be kept updated of future installments.

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The Special Reserve Force (SRF) is a specialist SWAT type unit within the Namibian Police Force (Nampol), tasked with responding to high risk operations that cannot be handled by conventional police units. It is based on the South African Police Service Special Task Force (which will be the subject of a future article). The SRF were initially designated the title Special Task Force when first raised as an adjunct to the Namibian Police Special Field Force, a somewhat notorious paramilitary police unit, that at the time was comprised largely of ex combatants from the former People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN), the military wing of SWAPO and former South West African Territorial Force (SWATF) personnel. In 1996 the Nampol Special Task Force was disbanded but then reformed in the late 1990’s, early 2000 and renamed the Special Reserve Force. The unit, which is also sometimes referred to as the Special Reserve Force Division (SRFD) operates out of the National Police Headquarters at Windhoek and is believed to number around 300 personnel. Working alongside other agencies, their role includes crowd control, VIP protection, hostage resolution, counter terrorism plus search and rescue operations.

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Nambian Police Special Reserve Force Division members showing the various tasks undertaken by the SRF during a visit to the Groot Aub Junior Secondary School south of Windhoek in March 2017. Note the ‘interesting’ contraband items on display. Photo: Dirk Heinrich

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Members of the Namibian Police Special Reserve Force Division deployed to regain control in the town of Okakarara after a group of residents stormed the police station on 12 August 2018. Photo: Namibian Broadcasting Corporation News

Service with the Special Reserve Force Division is open to both male and female police officers who have to complete selection and a six week training cycle, which is held at Khan Mine, a disused copper mine about four hours’ drive east of the capital Windhoek. The training programme includes marksmanship, hostage negotiation, tactical roping, CQB skills and riot control. Upon successful completion the new members are permitted to wear a black beret, SRF qualification badge and a distinctive camouflage uniform, which according to the dress regulations on the Namibian Police Force website, may only be worn by members of the SRFD. Qualified operators can also volunteer to undertake diver and parachute training, with the latter being permitted to wear a special variation of the SRF badge to identify them as being para qualified.

Nampol Dress Regulations for Special Reserve Force members work dress.

Nampol Dress Regulations for Special Reserve Force members work dress showing their distinctive camouflage uniform and black beret.

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Namibia Police Special Reserve Force qualification badge (top) and SRF parachute qualified (bottom). These insignia are worn on the SRF uniform no.6: Work Dress. Photo: Julian Tennant

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Nampol Special Reserve Force policeman receiving shooting instructions from a member of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) during a United Nations deployment. Note the Namibia Police ‘tupperware’ insignia on his left shoulder.

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American murder suspect, Marcus Thomas being escorted by members of the Special Reserve Force after a failed prison escape attempt in 2014. The SRF qualification patch and ‘tupperware’ Nampol shoulder insignia can be seen on the policeman pushing the wheelchair.

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Nampol Special Reserve Force Division riot squad confront protesters against gender based violence at confront protesters trying to deliver a petition against gender based violence at the national Parliament building in Windhoek on 08 October 2020. The SRF qualification patch can be seen being worn on the black body armour of the officer in the top left corner. Photo: Namibian Broadcast Corporation News

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Namibian police including members of the SRFD march through the streets of Ondangwa in preparation for a graduation parade from the Danger Ashipala Training Police Centre. 30 October 2020.

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Australian Airborne Insignia #4 – RAAF Combat Controller Teams

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The Combat Controller Teams (CCT) of B Flight, 4 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force are a relatively recent addition to Australia’s special operations capability. They trace their origin to 2006 when the Australian Special Forces Commander asked the Deputy Chief of Air Force whether the RAAF was capable of fielding personnel similar to the United States Air Force Combat Controllers who had been working alongside Australian Special Forces in Afghanistan.

As a result, the RAAF Air Group Combat Commander established the Special Tactic Project Proof of Concept Trial. The aim was for selected volunteers to pass the commando training cycle and trained as Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTAC) before deploying in support of special forces.

JTAC patches

Australian Joint Terminal Attack Controller patches 2006 – 2019. Whilst not exclusively Special Forces (the 5 week course trains personnel from all three branches of the ADF), like most contemporary Australian insignia, these JTAC patches have been extensively faked to supply the collectors market. These four patches are examples of original insignia requested for wear by the end users. Collection: Julian Tennant

Between 2008 and 2009, three intakes completed initial training and four members were deployed with the Special Operations Task Group (SOTG). This resulted in the ‘Combat Controller’ mustering (RAAF terminology for ‘trade’) and Air Surface Integration officer stream being created in 2012 and the CCT role declared an Initial Operating Capability.

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RAAF Combat Controller Team member. Note the distinctive CCT qualification patch on his chest. Photo: Department of Defence.


RAAF CCT Havoc Strike

A Combat Controller from No. 4 Squadron calls in close air support from a PC-21 during Exercise Havoc Strike 2020. Note the 4 Squadron patch on his right shoulder.  Photo: Corporal Craig Barrett (Australian Defence Force)


Exercise Diamond Storm 2019

A Royal Australian Air Force No. 4 Squadron Combat Controller frees a quad bike from its pallet after a parachute insertion into the Mosquito Flats Drop Zone in the Bradshaw Field Training Area during Exercise Diamond Storm 2019. Note the CCT patch on his right shoulder and helmet ANF. Photo: Department of Defence.

Selection to become a combat controller is open to any member of the Australian Defence Force (ADF). Volunteers first complete an 8 week CCT intake course which provides ground skills training and prepares them for the Special Forces Entry Test (SFET). Those who pass the SFET must then undertake around 18 months of testing and training in which they are required to complete the commando reinforcement cycle, JTAC, aviation meteorology, assault zone reconnaissance and air weapons delivery courses.

The video, below shows the CCT’s conducting their annual parachute continuation training as part of Exercise Havoc Drop 20-1 which took place 13-17 July 2020 at Wagga Wagga in NSW.

Upon qualification they are presented their distinctive grey CCT beret and qualification brevet, becoming part of B Flight of 4 Squadron, RAAF, which is the squadron tasked with providing operational training to Forward Air Controllers (FAC) and support of the Australian Army’s Special Operations Command. The Squadron is divided into three main roles, FAC(A) is the airborne control of air assets, JTAC training (C Flight) and CCT (B Flight).

Since their formation, the CCT’s have conducted operations with SOTG, participated in several joint exercises with allied nations and recently in late 2019 early 2020, assisted in humanitarian operations within Australia as part of the ADF efforts to combat the devastating bushfires that swept large tracts of the east coast of Australia over the summer months.

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RAAF CCT display at the ‘From the Shadows: Australia’s Special Forces’ exhibition at the Australian War Memorial in 2017/18. Unfortunately I did not record the caption detail surrounding the RAAF CCT Commendation for Gallantry medal group shown in the display. Note the PVC Combat Controller Team patch. Photo: Julian Tennant

 

Beret & Insignia

Special Operations Education & Training Centre

 Special Operations Training & Education Centre Commando qualification beret parade, November 2019. 36 army personnel and 3 RAAF combat controllers passed the 14 month-long commando reinforcement cycle. The RAAF combat controllers are awarded the RAAF ‘air superiority grey’ berets whilst the army personnel receive sherwood green berets. Photo: Sergeant Janine Fabre (Australian Defence Force)

Once qualified, Combat Controllers are awarded a distinctive Combat Controller Team insignia which is worn both as a qualification badge and also on their beret. The badge (NSN 8455-66-162-5061) consists of a Fairbairn-Sykes commando dagger on a winged shield. The  dagger represents the close link combat controllers share with the special forces they support. The shield symbolises  the protection of ground forces, from harm during combat operations and the wings represent the air-power integration role of the combat controller.

CCT badge dress regs

Detail from the Air Force Dress Manual showing the embroidered Combat Controller Team qualification Badge.

The badge is worn on the left breast of dress uniforms, 3mm above medals/ribbons or flying badge if applicable. Cloth, metal and a mess dress miniature versions are used, depending on the uniform type.

The metal badge is also worn on a black shield on the CCT beret which, unlike other RAAF berets is ‘air superiority’ grey, the colour signifying the presence of aviation in the daily duties of the combat controller. Mark Corcoran and Arthur Butler, author’s of the excellent reference books, Metal Uniform Embellishments of the Australian Army – Post 53 (‘QE II series’) volumes 1 & 2 also feature some of the prototype variations of the badge on their charliebravobooks blog which is worth checking out.

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Beret badge and Commando wings worn by the Combat Control Teams of B Flight 4 Squadron RAAF. Collection: Julian Tennant

CCT’s also wear a distinctive parachute qualification wing which differs from the standard Air Force parachutist badge. The wings are referred to in the Air Force Dress Manual as a ‘Commando Badge’ (NSN 8455-66-157-9911) and reflects the Army’s commando parachutist qualification design but has a white parachute with light blue wings on an Air Force blue background. A miniature version embroidered with gold bullion on a black background (NSN 8455-66-134-1212) is worn on the upper left sleeve of the mess dress jacket. The authority for the award and withdrawal of the Commando Badge is the Commanding Officer, 4SQN.

RAAF CCT wings dress manual

Page detail from the RAAF Dress manual showing the distinctive Commando parachutist wings worn by qualified CCT members of 4 Sqn RAAF.

CCT’s have also been seen wearing a variety of Combat Controller Team patches and distinctive RAAF ANF insignia, some of which are shown below. At this stage, these insignia are less well known amongst collectors as they are tightly controlled by the unit and have not (yet) been subect to the massive number of fakes and reproductions that have occurred with other Australian Special Forces insignia. Sadly, it is only a matter of time before the fakes start appearing on eBay and elsewhere. If you do have original examples of the RAAF 4 Squadron or CCT patches or insignia, for sale or trade, I am really interested in hearing from you as I’d love to add these to my collection. 

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CCT and ANF patches circa 2012. A No. 4 Squadron Combat Control Team (4SQN CCT) member on board a C-130H Hercules aircraft during Exercise Pitch Black 2012. Photographer: LACW Shannon McCarthy (Australian Defence Force)

Exercise COPE NORTH 19

CCT patch circa 2019. A Royal Australian Air Force No. 4 Squadron Combat Control Team, load equipment onto a Japan Air Self-Defense Force KC-130H Hercules, as part of Exercise Cope North 19, Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. Photo: Sgt Kirk Peacock (Australian Defence Force)

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Congo 5 Commando Mercenary Insignia Circa 1964

 

Here are a couple of relatively recent additions to my Congo mercenary collection, an early 5 Commando shoulder title and the shoulder patch of the Congo Commando Force Publique, both of which were worn on the right shoulder.

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Congo mercenary 5 Commando shoulder title and Congolese Commando Force Publique shoulder patch circa 1964. Collection: Julian Tennant

Both are featured in Gérard Lagaune’s excellent reference book Histoire et insignes des parachutistes et des commandos de Pays des Grand Lacs but unfortunately the book provides little contextual information about the insignia. 

I am not sure when either of these two badges were introduced or superseded.  The aforementioned book suggests that the Congolese Commando Force Publique was created in the 1950’s and based at Sonankulu near Thysville, receiving their training from Belgian Commando instructors and that the patch dates from before 1960. Other information suggests that the Commando Force Publique patch was only worn between 1957 and 1960.

However whilst researching these badges I found this photograph of one of the original South African mercenaries in the Congo, Georg Schroeder wearing the insignia whilst a 1st Lieutenant in 5 Commando.

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Studio portrait of Congo Mercenary, Georg Schroeder circa late 1964, early 1965.

Georg Schroeder was a former South African Parachute Jump Instructor who arrived in the Congo in 1964 and was the last commanding officer of 5 Commando in Congo before they were disbanded and returned to South Africa in 1967.

This studio photograph shows him wearing an interesting assortment of insignia, including the aforementioned 5 Commando shoulder title and Congolese Commando shoulder patch. His rank is that of a 1st Lieutenant, which according to the information on Terry Aspinall’s Mercenary Wars site, indicates that this photograph was taken sometime between 17 September and 26 December 1964, when he was promoted to Captain and took over the command of 53 Commando.

Also visible are his South African PJI wings on his left breast above what appears to be the United Nations Medal with CONGO clasp that was awarded to denote service with the ONUC Mission (1960-64). I am not sure if he was entitled to the medal issue as he is also wearing a Belgian 1st Para Battalion beret despite not having served with that unit. The badge on his right breast remains unknown (to me) although I think it may be the same qualification that is shown as #911, but also unidentified in Andrew Ross Dinnes’ book, Border War Badges: A Guide to South African Military & Police Badges 1964-1994.

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Another older worn variation of the Congolese Commando Force Publique shoulder patch. Collection: Julian Tennant

Congo mercenary insignia is one of my areas of collecting interest and whilst my collection remains quite small it does contain some nice pieces that I have previously featured on this page, most notably a patch worn by 10 Commando led by Jean ‘Black Jack’ Schramme and a nice group featuring insignia, medals, photographs and paperwork that belonged to another South African, Bill Jacobs, who served with the British Parachute Regiment in Cyprus, prior to enlisting in 5 Commando in 1966. If you are a collector of Mercenary insignia and have spares that you are interested in trading or selling, I will be very interested in hearing from you, so please contact me.

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Shoulder patches collected by South African mercenary Bill Jacobs whilst serving in 5 Cdo in 1966. Each of the subsections, ‘Leopard’, ‘Jumbo’ etc was roughly platoon sized. Collection: Julian Tennant

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A Spanish Civil War Era Parachute Rigger Wing

Original Spanish Civil War period Republican parachute badge. Collection: Julian Tennant

Original Spanish Civil War period Republican parachute badge. Collection: Julian Tennant

One of the rarest of parachute badges is that of the Republican Spanish from the Civil War” is how authors Bob Bragg and Roy Turner described this wing which is identified as #297 from their first volume on the subject of airborne qualification brevets, Parachute Badges and Insignia of the World.

Very little is known about Spanish Republican paratroopers, with some researchers denying their existence altogether. However, both the Bragg & Turner and Gregory & Batchelor’s Airborne Warfare 1918-1945 books state that in 1938 Russian instructors trained a platoon of Republican parachutists at Las Rosas near Madrid. However, no record exists showing that these paratroopers ever made an operational jump, nor any evidence to suggest that they were awarded a qualification badge.

There was however an official Republican military parachute insignia which is believed to represent qualified parachute riggers and it is likely that is the correct identification for the wing being discussed.

The badge shown above, which is held in my collection, is one of only a few authentic examples from the period still known to exist. It is a multi-piece, silver-washed brass and enamel badge that incorporates an existing aviator insignia with a separate parachute device that has been cut and shaped, attached over the top of the red enameled shield. The red enameled star has also been separately attached to the top of the badge.

The Republican Government authorised this insignia design via an order dated 26 February 1937 and recorded shortly thereafter in the Republic Gazette – Gaceta de la Republica 62 of 3 March 1937, on page 7104.  The insignia described in the Gazette reads as simply “Parachute. A deployed parachute embroidered in gold” (Paracaídas. Un paracaídas desplegado bordado en oro.)

Page from Gaceta de la Republica 62 - 3 March 1937

Gaceta de la Republica 62 – 3 March 1937 outlining the approval for a Parachute badge.

The inclusion of the word Paracaídas or parachute instead of Paracaidistas (parachutists) or Tropas Paracaidistas (paratroopers) plus its position within the gazette being listed along with other specialist insignia such as armourer, driver-mechanic and photographer also implies that this is more likely a parachute rigger trade badge rather than a paratrooper qualification wing.

Some years ago, noted Spanish parachute insignia collector, Manuel Gomez and a colleague produced a limited edition reproduction of the badge using parts of two original manufacturing dies that had been uncovered at a military regalia suppliers shop in the town of Alcala de Henares, which was home to a Republican airfield during the war. One die was for the Spanish Air Force wing and the other for a smaller parachute device, which is of a slightly different design and size to that on my civil-war period example. Both dies were incomplete with only the front faces being found, so as a result these reproductions were cast and a unique serial number engraved on the rear. Two hundred examples were produced and sold to collectors with an accompanying certificate.

REPRODUCTION Spanish Civil War Republican parachute badge

REPRODUCTION Spanish Civil War Republican parachute badge made from parts of original dies. 200 wings were cast and each is engraved with a unique number that matches the accompanying certificate. This example is number 111. Collection: Manuel Gomez

In addition to Manuel’s numbered reproduction, a number of other copies of this rare badge have also been made for the collector market. Some examples of which can be seen in the photos below.

Very little has been written about this insignia and I have not been able to find any further documentation regarding the requirements for qualification, how many were issued or what the original embroidered variation actually looked like. If you can help fill the gaps and have additional information, please contact me as I would love to find out more about the insignia and also this largely unexplored period in the early history of military parachuting.

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Vietnam War era Parachute club patches

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Collection: Julian Tennant

During the Vietnam war there was at least two sport parachuting clubs operating in South Vietnam although I have patches in my collection that indicates there may have been as many as three. Detailed information about the histories of these clubs appears to be quite scant although two of the three are mentioned in various accounts and the crossover is such that I wonder if they may in fact be exactly the same group of skydivers, just jumping under two different club names? But if that were the case why the different patches?

 

Viet-Nam Parachute Club Nhay Du

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Viet-Nam Parachute Club Nhay Du patch. Two versions of this patch are known to exist, along with a smaller metal ‘beer-can’ insignia. Collection: Julian Tennant

The Viet-Nam Parachute Club Nhay Du  was co-located with the Vietnamese Airborne Division HQ at Tan Son Nhut airbase. The club had a mix of Allied and Vietnamese members, with most of the latter coming from the Airborne School staff who sometimes used the opportunity for free-fall descents to qualify for the higher-grade parachute monitor wings.  Thom Lyons a long time skydiver, served with the USAF in Vietnam and recounted his experiences jumping with the club during his tour of duty in 1966-67. He recalled that after “Charles” had made jumping difficult at the old DZ“, jumps were done on the military DZ at Ap Dong, which was used by the Vietnamese Airborne school. 

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Thom Lyons’ Vietnam Parachute Club Nhay Du and Parachute Club of America membership cards along with his Vietnamese parachutist wings which he earned whilst jumping with the club. Photo: Thomas Lyons

 

The Saigon Sport Parachute Club

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Saigon Sport Parachute Club patch. Collection: Julian Tennant

 

Thom Lyons also jumped with the Saigon Sport Parachute Club (SSPC), which used the same DZ at Ap Dong. Thom recalls,

I was in a group of crazies in 1966-67 called the Saigon Sport Parachute Club jumping at Ap Dong. We used H-34’s which is strange cause when you spot you can yell “5 BACK!”.

The first incident was a 10,000 footer and at about 4000′ I noticed that the DZ was being shelled!!! I seriously wondered if it was worth it to open at all or just get it over with, but I wasn’t that young or that stupid.

Next was a few weeks later when the crew chief ordered everyone out for some reason. We were down wind over a jungle canopy to the east of the DZ and no way could we get back. I spotted a small clearing maybe 25′ in diameter and started towards it with my 28′ cheapo. I had to work the target and put my M-45 Swedish 9mm sub-machine gun together at the same time. I land in the clearing, but the canopy was in the trees and I was dangling a foot or so off the ground. I heard people running towards me and I almost shot three kids who came after me to carry gear or whatever for money or cigarettes. They got my gear out of the tree and when I went to put some ripstop tape on some small tears from the tree, I found two small calibre bullet holes! Don’t know when I got them. Let’s say the experience was UNIQUE! The DZ was also had as rock so you either did an excellent PLF or stood it up which wasn’t often in that heat and humidity. AP DONG was also the DZ for the Vietnamese 2nd Airborne Division and there was a small triangular fort on the DZ. The chopper could land right next to the packing area, but we discouraged that for obvious reasons.

Every time we jumped, we were plagued by people trying to sell us everything from Coke-Cola to their daughters and these boys were all over who would field pack for you for a couple of cigarettes. Carry your gear back for another one.

The club had mostly Army in it, and a couple of Navy and Air Force but also some Aussies and American Civilians. The first CrossBow in Viet Nam didn’t get jumped more than a few times. An American civilian brought it in and did a hook turn into a tree trunk and the H-34 had to fly him to the 3rd field hospital which left us without a jump ship for several hours.

By the way, the H-34 was Viet in VNAF colors and we paid the pilots a (5th) bottle of Johnny Walker each to fly for us, the chopper was free. I didn’t drink so it was usually my ration for 5th’s that got used up.

After TET in 1968 the club couldn’t get the chopper anymore and the club folded, I’m told.

The club jumped every Sunday morning and had a mix of military and civilian members from Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand, Germany and the USA. The club seems to be run on a shoestring budget, with Dan Bonfig, the President, Vice-President, Secretary, Treasurer and Chief Rigger who was working for the RMK-BRJ construction consortium based at 12 Thong Nhut, Saigon administering the club from his workplace. Unfortunately, he has passed away and I have not yet been able to find out any more information about the SSPC or its relationship to the Viet-Nam Parachute Club.  A lot of the anecdotal information that I have uncovered so far seems to cross over between the two clubs, hence my belief that there may be a direct connection between the two.

Saigon Parachute Club 1967 - Photo: Hector Aponte

Saigon Sports Parachute Club circa 1967. Photo: Hector Aponte

 

Cape St Jacques Skydivers VN

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Cape St Jacques Sky Divers VN patch. Collection: Julian Tennant

 

The club represented by this last patch is a complete mystery to me. Cap Saint-Jacques was the French Indochinese name for Vũng Tàu, which during the 2nd Indochina War was home to the 1st Australian Logistics Support Group as well as various US military units. It was also a popular in-country R&R destination during the war so it does seem logical that a skydiving club may have existed there. However, I cannot find any record of this club existing during the war and none of the Australian veterans I have asked about it have any recollection of a parachute club being located there. The spelling of Cap Saint-Jacques as Cape St-Jacques on the patch suggests to me that it is post French era and my best guess is that it may be an earlier club that had folded by the mid 1960’s when the military presence started to build up in the area, but this is speculation on my part.

If anybody can help provide more detail about any of these clubs, I would love to hear from you to help clarify the situation and record some more detail about their respective histories before they are lost forever.

 

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A Pre-1975 Transportes Aéreos de Timor Pilots wing

Whilst my collecting interests are focused around military insignia I occasionally find a piece that is impossible for me to resist. I stumbled across this Portuguese Timor era civilian airline pilot’s wing several years ago and it remains a favourite of mine. The small island of Timor-Leste had long been of interest to me due to the activities of the 2/2nd Independent (commando) Company on Timor during WW2. Then between 2000 and 2012 I was lucky to visit Timor on several occasions, which helped strengthen my affection for the country and it’s people. So, when I found this Transportes Aéreos de Timor pilot’s brevet I had to have it and if anybody can help me find any other insignia from this little known airline, I would love to hear from you.

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Pre 1975 Transportes Aéreos de Timor Pilot wing. Brass and enamel multi-piece construction with rotating propeller. Collection: Julian Tennant

 

The Transportes Aéreos de Timor (TAT) was an airline of the Portuguese-Timor colony, based in Dili, which flew between 1954 and 1975, serving connections within Timor and neighbouring areas. In 1967 the TAT commenced flights between Baucau and Oecusse as well as between Baucau and Darwin (Australia) with two de Havilland D.H.104 Dove aircraft.

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Transportes Aéreos de Timor Dove at the front of a TAT hangar at Dili airport in the late 1960’s. Photographer: Unknown. Source: Arquivo Nacional (Brasil)

 

One of the TAT Doves is on display in the Darwin Aviation Museum after it was used to escape Timor during the Indonesian invasion in 1975. By 1969 the TAT provided services to Atauro, Baucau, Dili, Maliana, Manatuto, Oecusse and Suai, plus a weekly flight between Darwin to Baucau using a chartered Fokker F-27 from Trans Australia Airlines (TAA) flew the Darwin-Baucau route. In June 1973, the airline commenced twice weekly services to Indonesian Kupang in West Timor. Transportes Aéreos de Timor ceased to exist after the Indonesian invaded and occupied Timor on the 7th of December, 1975.

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Transportes Aéreos de Timor De Havilland DH-104 Dove 1B. CR-TAG (cn 04373) Outside the Hawker De Havilland hangar with a Bristol 170 in the background. This aircraft is now on static display at Aviation Heritage Centre in Darwin, having escaped the 1975 Indonesian invasion of East Timor. Photo: John M. Wheatley

The 6th (Franco) Laotian Commando Badge 1946 – 50

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Badge of the 6ème Commando Laotien which, in January 1948, was redesignated the 6ème Commando Franco-Laotien. This example is number 28 of the original 600 numbered badges ordered from the Drago company in France and features their 25 R. Beranger address. Collection: Julian Tennant

 

The 6th Laotian Commando (6ème Commando Laotien) was created on 16 August 1946 to relieve the Bataillon de Marche du 5 (BM5) of the 5th Foreign Legion Infantry Regiment (5e REI), which had been based in the Sam Neau region of northeastern Laos since June 1946.  The unit’s initial strength was 34 European officers and NCOs, 151 enlisted troops and 50 auxiliary ‘partisans’. This was further reinforced by an additional 50 legionnaire volunteers. Administratively, the unit was attached to the Dien Bien Phu based Thai Autonomous Battalion (which would, the following year become the 1ere Bataillon Thai). In September 1946 the unit recruited a further 200 volunteers from the Sam Neau region and in October, along with the 6e Bataillon de Chasseurs Laotiens (6BCL) and Bataillon Thai formed part of Groupement QUILICHINI.

By early 1947, the Commando’s Sam Neua operational area covered 400km and the unit was under intense pressure from the Viet Minh. This led to a hasty recruiting campaign and in September 1947 a re-organisation of the unit, which according to the S&T book, Les Insignes Des Forces Armees Au Laos, was divided into;

A Company consisting of 2 regular commando sections, 1 section of auxiliary ‘suppletif’ troops and 1 section of ‘partisans’;

B Company consisting of 3 regular commando sections and 1 section of auxiliary ‘suppletif’ troops;

C Company consisting of 2 regular commando sections and 1 section of auxiliary ‘suppletif’ troops;

60th Partisan Company consisting of 3 sections of partisans;

61st Partisan Company consisting of 1 regular commando section and 3 partisan sections.

The terms ‘partisan’ and ‘suppletif’ both refer to auxiliary indigenous troops that are not part of the ‘regular’ forces. Most researchers and historians use the terms interchangeably as it is generally believed that the descriptor reflects a time period when it was in use. In reference to the Laotian context, the term ‘Partisans’ was first used in 1945 then replaced by ‘Soum’, a Laotian word for ‘group’ in 1948  and finally by ‘Suppletifs’ from 1950 onward. In Michel Bodin’s Les laotiens dans la guerre d’Indochine, 1945-1954 the author makes a further distinction, stating that whereas the ‘suppletif’ was an auxiliary soldier serving alongside the ‘regular’ troops, the ‘partisans’ served as village guards and could be described as a self-defense militia.

The 61st Partisan Company did not last long and a month later, on 31 October, it was dissolved with its members being reassigned to C Company. Then on 31 January 1948, C Company itself was dissolved with the 6th Laotian Commando now consisting of A and B Companies, the 60th Partisan Company and the Detachement Autonome de Muoung Pao (D.A.M.P.). All four companies consisted of a mix of regular and auxiliary/partisan troops.

On 1 July 1948, the Commando was formally separated from the 1ere Bataillon Thai to become an independent administrative unit and re-designated the 6ème Commando Franco-Laotien (6th Franco-Laotian Commando). A year later, on 1 January 1949, a new unit, the 8e Bataillon Chasseurs Laotiens (8BCL) is formed which incorporates members of the commando. Finally, on 1 January 1950 the 60th Partisan Company becomes the last of the commando to be integrated into 8BCL and becomes part of the 24th Company based at Muong Het approximately 65km north of Sam Neau.

 

Insignia

The gold anchor bearing the unit number 6 reflects the Commando’s relationship to the French colonial forces whilst the tricephalous (three-headed) elephant and parasol reflects the Laotian connection.

According to J. Y. Segalen’s 1985 edition of the insignia classification book, Les insignes de l’armée Française, 1000 of the 6th Laotian Commando badges were made bearing the Drago Berenger maker’s mark. Of those 600 were individually numbered. A later batch was also produced by Drago, this time featuring the Drago Olivier Metra markings but no further details are available.

 

 

 

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The 1st Laotian Parachute Battalion badge 1952 – 1954

Lao para Drago OM 1952-19

Original 1952 issue 1er Battaillon de Parachutistes Laotiens (1BPL) badge. The parachute and wings represent the airborne status of the unit. The four tiered parasol surrounded by three elephants symbolises Laotian royalty and reflects the legend that Khoun Borom founded the Kingdom after arriving on a white elephant and protected from the sun by a 4 tiered white parasol. The three elephants also symbolise the three principalities of Laos until 1947. The red enamel work reflects the national colour. The motto can be translated as “Dare to Conquer” or “As Courage Triumphs”. 2000 of these badges were ordered from the Drago company in 1952 and features the “Drago Paris Nice 43. R.  Olivier Metra” hallmark. Collection: Julian Tennant

 

The first Lao parachute unit, 1ere Compagnie de Commandos Parachutistes Laotiens (1ere CCPL)  was raised by the French in July 1948 from soldiers of the 3rd Company of the 1st Laotian Chasseur Battalion (1ere BCL). On 11 May 1949 it conducted its first operational parachute jump when 18 commandos were deployed to reinforce the garrison of Luang Nam Tha. By the end of the year it had carried out six more airborne operations and by April 1951 the unit had expanded from three to six commando sections. Then, in October 1951, Commandos 4, 5 and 6 were removed to form the basis of the 2nd company for a new unit, the 1st Laotian Parachute Battalion (1er Battaillon de Parachutistes Laotiens 1 BPL)

1_ccpl10

Forerunners to 1st Laotian Parachute Battalion, Laotian paratroopers of 1st Laotian Parachute Commando Company (1ere CCPL) boarding an aircraft for a training jump in 1950.

On 1 April 1952, 1BPL was formally established with a strength of 853 men, including 13 French officers and 46 NCO’s, divided into a headquarters and three companies. By the end of the year the battalion had participated in 20 operations of which 6 included parachute insertions. In December 1952, during Operation Noel, 576 men from the unit parachuted into Sam Neua (Xam Neua) in north-eastern Laos to reinforce the garrison there. Then, in February 1953, a fourth company of 80 more paratroopers jumped in to bolster the garrison strength. However, in April 1953, the Viet Minh launched an invasion of north-eastern Laos crushing the garrison and forcing the remnants of the battalion to flee toward the Plain of Jars.

In May the unit was reformed at its base in Chinaïmo army camp on the eastern outskirts of Vientiane, undertaking commando and reconnaissance tasks north of Luang Prabang. In March 1954, 1er BPL began preparations for the relief of Dien Bien Phu as part of Operation Condor and by early May the battalion had relocated close to the Lao-Vietnamese border but withdrew after the French garrison surrendered.  On 18 June 1954 the unit regrouped at the French Air Force base at Seno near Savannakhet, then conducted the last airborne operation of the war when it parachuted into the town of Phanop in Khammouane Province to link up with militia units to clear the territory up to the Mu Gia Pass on the Vietnamese border.

1bpl insignia-19

An unknown French officer serving with 1BPL. Note the enameled unit badge on his right breast pocket and the standard French parachutist beret badge. During the period of 1BPL, the standard French wings were also worn. The distinctive Lao style beret badge which replaced the sword with a trident and also the Lao parachute wings, were created after the French departure and 1 BPL had been re-designated 1st Parachute Battalion of the  Armée Nationale Laotiènne. Collection: Julian Tennant.

On 6 August 1954, following the implementation of the ceasefire in Indochina, 1BPL returned to Seno where it was integrated into the Laotian National Army (ANL). In October, following the departure of its French cadre it was redesignated the 1st Parachute Battalion  (1er Bataillon Parachutiste – 1BP).

LAOS-54-108-R13

Laotian paratrooper of 1BPL circa 1954. Note the standard French parachutist beret badge worn by 1BPL.

Lao para Drago and fake-19

Comparison of my original 1952 French DRAGO OM hallmarked 1st Laotian Parachute Battalion badge (top) and a well made fake (bottom) that I first encountered during a trip to Vietnam in mid to late 2000. The fakes tend to feel slightly heavier than what you would expect for these badges and I suspect that is because of the alloys used. A very noticeable and critical point of difference is that the irregular hatching on the back does not match that of the originals. Nor does the text detail, which is a bit larger and less well defined as it is on the original. The detail and finish of the front of the badge is also lacking the fine precision of the original and this is particularly obvious on the elephants, text and parachute lines. Experience counts when looking at these badges. During that first encounter with the fakes in Vietnam it was only because several dealers at the notorious Dan Sinh market had examples of this and other rare French period badges that the red flags went up. At first glance the badges could be mistaken for original, but when compared to an original the differences are obvious. Caveat Emptor!

 

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A Vietnam War MIKE FORCE Zippo to an Australian Advisor

Unfortunately due to work commitments related to the COVID-19 virus, I have not been able to complete the content that I had planned for this week. So, rather than miss my Sunday deadline, here is one of the pieces from my small cigarette lighter collection. Collecting military lighters is a sideline to my insignia collection and is focused on Australian airborne and special operations unit Zippo (or other brand) lighters. If you have a lighter that fits into this area and you wish to sell or trade for insignia or other militaria, please contact me via my Facebook page.

AATTV John Vincent Zippo-01

Zippo lighter presented to AATTV advisor WO2 John Vincent who served with  2 Mobile Strike Force (MIKE Force) in 1969/70. Collection: Julian Tennant

 

This is a 1968 dated Zippo lighter that was presented to Australian Warrant Officer Class-2 John Roderick Vincent who served with the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (AATTV) as an advisor to the Pleiku based 2 Mobile Strike Force (MIKE Force) in 1969/70.

WO2 Vincent deployed to Vietnam as a member of the AATTV on the 28th of May 1969. Upon arrival, in June, he completed the 5th SFGA Combat Orientation Course at Hon Tre island off Nha Trang. After completing the course, he was posted as a platoon commander with 223 Company of the 2nd Mobile Strike Force battalion (2MSF) based at Pleiku. On the 23rd of June, shortly after taking command of his Montagnard platoon, Vincent’s MIKE Force unit was committed to the Battle for Ben Het, where 3000 NVA troops had besieged a camp housing a twelve man US Special Forces A-Team (A-244) and their 200 CIDG Montagnard tribesmen plus families.  In September 1969 Vincent was reassigned to the Training Company of 2MSF in Pleiku where he remained, apart from a brief period in early April when he provided support during the Dak Saeng Special Forces camp siege, until completing his tour on 14 May 1970.  The concluding date on his lighter states 14 April 1970 and I am not sure why this is earlier than the other documentation related to his service.

jvincent-1

AATTV advisor WO2 John Vincent, with soldiers of 2MSF Pleiku. Far left is the Montagnard Company Commander, next is John’s radio operator and to his right is John’s bodyguard. John described them as “the most loyal soldiers I have ever worked with.” Photo courtesy of Tom”Stumpy”Burke, Pleiku Mike Force, 5th Special Forces Group.

AATTV John Vincent Zippo-02-2

WO2 John Vincent’s Zippo lighter that was presented to him towards the end of his tour as an Australian Advisor with MIKE Force. The front reads “1st June 1969 – 24th April 1970″ and features an enameled C-4 Mike Force, IV Corps ‘beer can’ badge. The reverse is panto-graphed to “WO John R.Vincent 29581 From the Officers and Men of the 2nd Mobile Strike Force Command (Mike Force).” Collection: Julian Tennant

aattv john vincent

Pleiku, South Vietnam. 1969. Warrant Officer 2 (WO2) John Vincent of Northwood, NSW, a member of the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (AATTV) watches carefully as a Montagnard soldier receiving parachute training practices landing from the height of a few feet. At the end of five days training the wiry Montagnard will jump from 1200 feet into a training area. WO2 Vincent, an Army Physical Training Instructor is one of the AATTV men who train the Montagnards and operate with them. The Montagnards of Mike Force, part of the Special Forces in Vietnam, are taught their basic infantry skills and given parachute training by AATTV advisers. Australian War Memorial Accession Number: EKN/69/0135/VN

 

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An unidentified French Indochina or 1950’s period Airborne unit badge.

ARVN unidentified Airborne SSI 2-2

The unidentified French Indochina period French or Vietnamese Airborne unit badge which  formerly belonged to a Nung soldier who fought in both the first and second Indochina Wars. Collection: Julian Tennant

 

This is an unusual and as yet unidentified early Vietnamese Airborne patch that I have in my collection. It is the actual badge shown on page 81 of Harry Pugh’s book Insignia of the Republic of Vietnam Army Airborne Division, where it is described as an Unknown Airborne Insignia obtained in Saigon in 1967.

When I bought the badge from Harry, he elaborated a little further in an accompanying note regarding its provenance.

“When I was in Vietnam, 67 & 68, the chief of my Nung Security was an older Nung, “Song”. He had served with the French during the French Indochina war but I never asked him which unit. After the war he served with the Nung units of the U.S. Special Forces. At some point he was wounded again and retired. Was told, but no confirmation at all, that he was in the camp when Donlon got his Medal of Honor [In 1964 US Special Forces Captain Roger Donlon won the first Medal of Honor to be awarded in Vietnam]. A predecessor had hired him as the security chief at Tam Ky, Quang Tin Province, Embassy House.

Song and I were good friends as we shared an interest in planting flowers on our bunkers etc. Anyway, when he learned that I collected insignia (at the time was just starting out) he came back from a leave to Saigon and brought this patch to me. He said it was the insignia that he wore when serving with the French. – I do not know if in a Vietnamese or French unit. That is the only identification I got and never followed through.

Later, I have seen a photo of troops with this patch being worn. But I just do not know the rest of the identity.”

The badge measures 65mm wide by 65mm high and its construction methods match the insignia made during the French era and the early post-colonial period, including the use of the French style attachment pin.

ARVN unidentified Airborne SSI 2

A comparison showing the front and rear of the unidentified badge and one of the 1955-1959 period Vietnamese Airborne Group patches in my collection. The construction methods of both badges including attachment pins are very similar. Collection: Julian Tennant

 

During my research, other collectors have suggested that the design is somewhat reminiscent of the French Airborne School, Ecole des Troupes Aéroportées (ETAP) and Base-Ecole des Troupes Aéroportées (BETAP) badges (as shown below). However, I think that the connection between the French based parachute school and this insignia is incidental as the airborne training units serving in French Indochina had their own unique insignia.

Base-Ecole des Troupes Aéroportées (BETAP) circa 1953

1953 period Base-Ecole des Troupes Aéroportées (BETAP) breast badge. Some design similarity can be seen between this insignia and the unidentified bullion badge, however I think that it is purely coincidental as neither the ETAP nor BETAP served in Indochina and the differences are significant enough to discount a connection. Collection: Julian Tennant

 

I have not yet been able to track down the photograph that Harry refers to in his note, nor can I find any reference to this design in either the Malcros or Baltzer/Micheletti French Airborne insignia books and none of my French-language reference books about Vietnamese and ARVN badges feature similar insignia, so it remains a mystery to me. If anybody can help with the identification of this badge, your assistance will be greatly appreciated.

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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