African Special Operations Insignia #3 – Portuguese Mozambique’s Grupos Especiais Pára-quedistas 1971 -74

Mozambique Grupos Especiais Para-quedista juleswings 1

Portugal’s presence in Africa dates back to the 15th century and their colonies (Guinea-Bissau, Angola and Mozambique) held important economic and status value to the country causing resistance to the international opposition to colonialism that emerged at the end of the Second World War.

Supported by the Communist bloc, violent opposition to Portuguese rule began first in Angola (1961), followed by Portuguese Guinea (1963) and finally Mozambique in 1964, when the Marxist-Leninist Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO) carried out its first attacks on Portuguese targets on 25 September.

Initially, Portugal’s African wars were fought with basically conventional forces, but as the conflicts dragged on it became clear that specialised counter-insurgency troops and doctrine would be needed. This included the ‘Africanisation of the troops’, part to limit ‘metropolitan’ casualties of conscripts sent from Portugal. In addition, this multi-racial army countered the criticism of a race-based war and importantly, created a connection to the local population, providing obvious tactical advantages.

Footage from a 1970 film showing counter insurgency operations conducted by Portuguese forces in Mozambique at the border areas adjoining Tanzania. This is most likely from Operation Gordian Knot (Operação Nó Górdio) which was an operation intended to close down the Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO)’s infiltration routes across the Tanzanian border and to destroy permanent FRELIMO bases inside Northern Mozambique.

One of the units developed in the Mozambique province in the latter half of 1969 was the Grupos Especiais (GE) or Special Groups. Trained at Dondo and the Monte Pvez Commando Training Centre, these units were employed in many roles including raids, ambushes and acting as guides and interpreters for regular forces on operations. They initially consisted of an officer, nine NCOs and eighteen enlisted men but some of the Grupos Especiais grew to between fifty and sixty men.

At the start of 1970, General Kaúlza de Oliveira de Arriaga took over as the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces in Mozambique, replacing General António Augusto dos Santos. The following year, concerned by the lack of airborne reinforcements being sent from Portugal to bolster his two parachute battalions, Para-Hunter Battalion 31 (Batalhões de Caçadores Pára-quedistas de Moçambique 31 – BCP-31) and Para-Hunter Battalion 32 (Batalhões de Caçadores Pára-quedistas de Moçambique 32 – BCP-32), he authorised the formation of locally recruited Special Parachute Groups (Grupos Especiais Pára-quedistas – GEP) under the command of Colonel Sigfredo Costa Campos. Later, on 19 June a headquarters formation, the General Command of Special Groups (Comando Geral dos Grupos Especiais -CGGE) and the Special Groups Instruction Centre (Centro de Instrução de Grupos Especiais – CIGE) were at created at Dondo to oversee the operations and training of the GEP.

Col Costa Campos and General Kaúlza de Arriaga

Founder and first commanding officer of the Grupos Especiais Pára-quedistas, Colonel Costa Campos wearing the red beret of the GEP, sitting alongside the Commander in Chief of forces in Mozambique, General Kaúlza de Arriaga in an Alouette III helicopter.

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To be considered for admission to the GEP, the soldier had to be a volunteer of at least Furriel rank (roughly equivalent to a junior sergeant), have a good record of service, exhibited disciplined, decisive qualities in combat and prepared to serve in the GEP for at least one year after being posted to a GEP group. Volunteers enlisted for twenty months and in addition to their parachute pay received other campaign and rank allowances. After completing their tenure with the GEP they were returned to their respective units, downgrading to their previous rank and pay scales.

Recruits for the GEP would eventually come from all sectors of the military and civilian population in Mozambique, but in May 1971, the first group of volunteers, mainly from the Batalhão de Caçadores Nº16 (BCaç 16), a locally recruited specialist light infantry type unit arrived at BCP-31 to commence their training.

After being selected for possible service with the GEP, volunteers had to complete a nine week basic instruction phase, followed by a four week parachute training course. The para course conducted by BCP-31 tried to emulate the standard military static line course however an absence of purpose build exit and landing towers meant that some aspects of ground training was modified. After 6 jumps from a Nord Atlas aircraft, the trainees were presented with their wings and red beret featuring the GE badge. ‘Regular’ GE troops wore the badge on a yellow beret.  Because the parachute course had never been officially approved as a Military Parachuting Course (as defined by Portuguese military regulation/standing order No. 42075 of 31DEC58) the parachute wing also differed from the standard Portuguese qualification. Made from metallic silver it was worn on the left side of the chest above the pocket flap seam. Variations in bullion also exist.

Mozambique Grupos Especiais Para-quedista juleswings collection-3-Edit

Grupos Especiais Pára-quedistas (GEP) silver metal parachute qualification wings. The top wing is more curved and has the number 314 scratched on the back. The lower wing is slightly thicker and flat. Harry Pugh & Bob Bragg suggest in their book “Portugal Elite Forces Insignia 1951 – Present” that the flat variation is a post war production. Collection: Julian Tennant

GRUPOS ESPECIAIS PÁRA-QUEDISTAS GEP – MOÇAMBIQUE

Grupos Especiais Pára-quedistas troops in formation. Note the distinctive GEP parachutist wings on the left chest.

Reuters video from April 1973 taken at Dondo Barracks showing the Mozambique Governor, Mr. Pimental Do Santos, and the Commander of the Armed Forces, General Kaulza De Arriaga at the ‘Beret parade’ of a newly graduated group of GEP paratroopers. The female parachutist in the white t-shirt is Carmo Jardim, an eighteen year old Portuguese girl and veteran of over 400 jumps who instructed on the course. Note also the Grupos Especiais (GE) guard of honour (at 0:08 seconds into the video) who are present at the parade and wearing the standard GE black uniform and yellow beret. 

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Parachute training was followed by two weeks of intensive combat skills training at the CIGE which was then rounded out by a month of skills refinement in an operational zone. Instructors would accompany their trainees throughout the instruction phases and then take command of the group at the conclusion of the training, thus forming a closer more cohesive bond between the volunteers and their commanders.

Mozambique Portugal GEP 01

According to Colonel Costa Campos, each GEP consisted of one officer, five NCOs and eighty enlisted men, however historian Antonio Carmo’s excellent overview of the GEP presents documentation that states that the structure consisted of an officer, with five NCOs (one acting as 2IC the others subgroup commanders), sixteen corporals and forty-eight soldiers. The structure allowed each GEP to operate as a single unit or as subgroups depending on th mission requirements.

Unlike the GE troops who were stationed in the various operational zones, the GEP was seen as a strategic reserve for the Commander in Chief of military operations as well as being used to conduct special operations type counter insurgency tasks such as surgical strikes, recovery and intelligence gathering operations, such as those carried out by  Furriel José Ribeiro whose GEP team conducted ‘pseudo’ operations in a manner similar to those made famous by the Rhodesian Selous Scouts.  Named “Cassava” operations, due to the food bag that they carried  filled with cassava, Ribeiro’s team disguised themselves as insurgents in order to infiltrate and gain the cooperation from FRELIMO sympathisers who would lead them to their targets.

On 15 November 1971, the first three GEP groups, (GEP 001, GEP 002 and GEP 003) had completed their training and were deployed to the Tete Operational Zone. By the end of 1972, ten GEP had been raised and by the end of the war in 1974, this had increased to a total of 12 under the control of the Batalhão Grupo Especiais  Pára-quedistas, a command formed to oversee logistics and instruction of the GEP. The end of the war in Mozambique saw the GEP disbanded with many of its members leaving Mozambique rather than facing the inevitable retribution at the hands of FRELIMO.

Mozambique Grupos Especiais Para-quedista juleswings collection-11

Grupos Especiais Pára-quedistas (GEP) printed cloth parachutist qualification. This wing is found in Brazil and is probably made for GEP veterans who migrated to that country and served in the Brazilian military after 1974. Collection: Julian Tennant

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‘L’ Detachment SAS ‘original’ Fred Casey’s Memorabilia and Archive

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In March 2020, another extraordinary group of documents and memorabilia belonging to one of the first members of the Special Air Service was sold at auction. The SAS archive of Private / Trooper Fred “Killer” Casey comprised eleven lots and included the veteran’s medals, SAS beret, insignia, pocket diary, certificates, Fairbairn-Sykes dagger, map and a personal photo album featuring photographs that had never been publicly displayed before. In total it achieved a hammer price of £21,000 (not including auctioneers commission and fees).

6399236 Trooper Frederick Casey was a pre-war Territorial who had joined the 4th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment in October 1936. He completed the unit’s annual camps and was the battalion’s boxing champion for three years.  At the outbreak of war in 1939 he was mobilised for full-time duty and first saw action in France with the British Expeditionary Force before being evacuated on the 30th of May 1940 as part of the retreat from Dunkirk. Back in England, he volunteered for commando training and on the 10th of July 1940 was posted to F Troop, 3 Commando.  On 24 October 1940, 3 Commando and 8 (Guards) Commando were reorganised into the 4th Special Service Battalion and in February 1941 Casey was transferred to 8 (Guards) Commando before being shipped to Egypt as part of Layforce, a composite group consisting of several commando units.

Layforce was initially tasked with conducting operations to disrupt the allied lines of communication in the Mediterranean and it was planned that they would take part in operations to capture the Greek island of Rhodes. However, as the strategic situation in the Middle East turned against the Allies, the commandos found themselves being used as reinforcements throughout the Mediterranean theater.  By mid 1941, the authorities in Middle East Command, who had never been able to come to terms with the use of Special Service Troops, took the decision to finally disband Layforce and so on the 6th August 1941 the men made their final journey to Abbassia Barracks in Cairo where they were to be broken up and sent to other units. It was here that Casey saw a request for volunteers for further “Special Duties”.

He applied to join the fledgling Special Air Service (S.A.S.) and in August 1941, after a brief interview with David Stirling also formerly of 8 Commando and now Commanding Officer of the new unit, Fred found himself posted to “L” Detachment, Special Air Service Brigade based at Kabrit. Soon, Fred Casey was on operations, initially working closely with the Long Range Desert Group roaming the desert, raiding the German rear areas, targeting airfields and port installations in their gunned-up, customised, Willys Jeeps. In October 1942, the unit was renamed 1st Special Air Service (1 SAS).

Studio portrait of Frederick Casey 1 SAS.

Studio portrait of Frederick Casey 1 SAS.

 

SAS Fred Casey SAS L Detachment jeep crew from lot 139

One of Fred Casey’s photographs from his album showing a 1 SAS crew manning the Vickers K machine guns in one of their jeeps in the Western Desert, January 1943.

In March 1943 Casey along with other members of A Squadron 1 SAS became part of the Special Raiding Squadron, under the command of Blair ‘Paddy’ Mayne who had taken command of the unit following Stirling’s capture in January. Casey was allotted to 2 Troop, but then, in April he was admitted to hospital and discharged from the squadron, missing out on the spearhead role that the SRS was to play in Operation HUSKY, the Allied invasion of Sicily.

At the end of 1943, the Special Raiding Squadron reverted to the title of 1 SAS and along with 2 SAS was placed under the command of the 1st Airborne Division. On 7 January 1944, Casey returned to operations with 1 SAS after a period of leave. It was around this time in early 1944 that the idea of a SAS Brigade was approved, which resulted in 1 SAS being withdrawn from the Italian theater and returning to Britain.

By March 1944 all components of the SAS Brigade, numbering around 2000 men were assembled in Ayrshire where they were ordered to discard their sandy berets in favour of the airborne maroon beret, although many members opted to defy regulations and retained their sandy beige berets.

sas casey beret bosleys lot 141

Fred Casey’s SAS Beret made by British Beret Basque Ltd, dated 1944 and stamped with the WD Arrow. Bosleys had an estimate of between £1000 – £1500 but achieved a ‘hammer’ price of £4000. Photo courtesy of Bosleys Auctioneers

They were also issued with battledress shoulder titles for 1, 2, 3 and 4 SAS in the airborne colours of pale blue on maroon. Fred Casey’s 1 SAS title is one of the lots that was sold at the auction achieving a hammer price of £660.

During this period in the UK Fred Casey married his sweetheart, Buddy, and prepared for operations in France as part of Operation OVERLORD, the invasion of Normandy in June 1944. The role of the SAS Brigade in this operation was to prevent German reinforcements reaching the front line and initially only half of the force would be committed, the remainder being held in reserve, including Casey who finally deployed to France in August 1944.

A 1944 dated Army Film and Photographic Unit film showing members of the Special Air Service doing a fire-power demonstration with their vehicle mounted Vickers K machine guns. Imperial War Museum Catalogue number: A70 217-4

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Fred Casey’s ‘Beaded and Ribbed’ model Fairbairn-Sykes commando fighting knife on top of his “Zones of France” escape map. This 1:200 000 scale single sided map was printed on cotton rather than the more common silk and dated March 1944. At the Bosleys auction, the dagger had a hammer price of £2200 whilst the map sold for £320. Photo: Bosleys Auctioneers.

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At this stage, the SAS groups were carrying out a number of operations behind the lines, disrupting German supplies and communications, tying down large numbers of German troops in the process. Liaising with local resistance groups, operating bases were set up in remote wooded areas and the SAS parties roamed the countryside achieving some success, but also suffering severely at the hands of German security services. Dozens of captured SAS men were murdered in accordance with Hitler’s notorious ‘Commando’ order

For his part, Fred Casey was presented with the “Commander-in Chief’s Certificate for Gallantry” by Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery in January 1945. When Germany finally surrendered in May 1945 Casey was sent along with 1 and 2 SAS to supervise the disarming of the 200 000 German troops stationed in Norway. This would be his last mission.

Trooper Casey's photo album - Rare picture of 1st SAS parading in their heavily armed jeeps in Norway at the end of the war

Jeeps of 1 SAS on parade in Norway at the end of the war. Photo: Fred Casey

 

1st SAS on a victory parade in Norway at the end of the war

1 SAS at a victory parade in Norway at the end of the war. Photo: Fred Casey

 

SAS Fred Casey Bosleys Lot 137

WW2 SAS, Special Raiding Squadron, Commando Medal Group of Private Fred Casey. A rare medal group of seven awarded to an early member of the Special Air Service Private Fred Casey, who was awarded the C-in-C 21st Army Group certificate for outstanding good service whilst serving with the 1st SAS. He had formally served with the BEF 1940 with the Royal Sussex Regiment and later Commando units, before joining the SAS in August 1942.Comprising: 1939/45 Star, Africa Star, France & Germany Star, Defence Medal, War Medal, Territorial Efficiency Medal (GVIR) “6399236 PTE F CASEY R. SUSSEX”. The medals are loose the campaign medals contained in original forwarding box addressed to Mr F Casey 30 Grenville Place Brighton Sussex” The box with date sent “18.11.49” and details to the back confirm sent by Infantry & AAC Records … framed and glazed 21st Army Certificate “4979461 TPR CASEY F 1 SPECIAL AIR SERVICE REGIMENT” dated “2nd March 1945” … Accompanied by an original portrait photograph of Fred wearing battledress uniform with SAS wings and medal ribbons. He also wears his SAS beret … 1946 SAS pocket diary with various pencil inscriptions … Photocopies, of service papers etc. Part of the Fred Casey SAS Archive, this lot achieved a ‘hammer’ price of £3600. Photo courtesy of Bosleys Auctioneers

 

Caseys autographed picture of Paddy Mayne lot 140

Signed photograph of Lieutenant Colonel Robert Blair “Paddy” Mayne, DSO & Three bars. This original photograph circa 1945 shows “Paddy” Mayne in uniform with SAS wings and medal ribbons. He has signed the photo in the lower right corner. The reverse of the photo has an inscription, “Given to me by Paddy Mayne, Fred Casey”. Size 6 1/2 x 7 3/4 inches. The Bosleys estimate for this lot (#140) was between £100 – £200. The final ‘hammer’ price was £1900. Photo courtesy of Bosleys Auctioneers

 

sas casey cert lot138

Fred Casey’s WW2 SAS Certificate of Service, signed by ‘Paddy’ Mayne confirming that Fred Casey served with the SAS until 16th November 1945. It shows theatre of operations, medals awarded and is signed by the CO of 1 SAS, Lt. Col. Blair ‘Paddy’ Mayne. Note that the regimental number is incorrect and should be 6399236, not 6309236.  When sold at Bosleys, the certificate was accompanied by numbered SAS Membership lapel badge. The buttonhole fitting stamped ‘496’. A SAS silver and enamel tiepin/sweetheart brooch stamped silver (hook absent) and a silver and enamel parachutist wing sweetheart brooch. An accompanying photocopy of a newspaper cutting shows the Parachute wing brooch being worn by Fred Casey’s wife “Buddy” was also included in the lot. It fetched a hammer price of £780. Photo courtesy of Bosleys Auctioneers.

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At the end of the war, the Special Air Service was disbanded. Fred Casey was discharged and transferred to the reserve on  20th of March 1946. After the war he settled in Brighton, East Sussex, became a parquet floor layer and with his wife, Buddy, had two sons, Michael and Charles.

Frederick Casey passed away in 1997 aged 81. His wartime archive and memorabilia which included all the pieces shown here was broken up and sold at auction by militaria auctioneers Bosleys in March 2020.

sas fred casey archive

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Related Post – A WWII L Detachment S.A.S. Military Cross group awarded for Operation BIGAMY, the 1942 raid on Benghazi

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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.  I try to post NEW content as often as possible and knowing that somebody is looking at this gives me the encouragement I need to set aside time to go through my archives and collection in order 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

African Special Operations Insignia #2 –The Republic of Transkei 1981-94

For this, the second in a series of articles looking at the insignia worn by various African airborne and special operations units I have to acknowledge the significant contribution made by James D.N. MacKenzie of Southern Africa Militaria. James has been collecting and researching militaria related to airborne and special forces units with a particular interest in Southern African nations since the 1960’s.  This article would not have been possible without his help. Also, please like and follow the page using the link in the column on the right to be kept updated of future installments.

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transkei airborne insignia juleswings map

The Republic of Transkei, an autonomous homeland state in the Eastern Cape Province, became nominally independent of South Africa on 26 October 1976. In the previous year it had, with South African assistance, established the Transkei Defence Force (TDF). However, the subsequent relationship with South Africa was not smooth and the State President, Chief Kaiser Matanzima, terminated the services of the South African military advisors in 1978.

Following the departure of South African personnel, the discipline and efficiency of the Transkei forces rapidly deteriorated. However, by 1980, relations with South Africa had been re-established and the non-aggression pact that had previously been cancelled was re-instated. In July  1980 a contract is given to a company Security Specialists International (Pty) Ltd. This was owned by Capt. Ant White, formerly of the Selous Scouts. On the 1st of March, 1981 two former Selous Scouts soldiers (Sgt. Peter McNielage and Sgt. Andy Balaam) begin work on the Transkei contract.  On the 10th of June, Colonel Ron Reid-Daly, founder and former commanding officer of the Selous Scouts, was approached by the Prime Minister of Transkei, George Matanzima, to take over command of the Transkei Defence Force and given the rank of major general.  The arrival of the Rhodesians which included former Selous Scouts, Rhodesian SAS and Rhodesian Light Infantry soldiers, were initially viewed by the South Africans as a stabilising influence in the Transkei.

In June 1981, another former Selous Scout officer, Captain Tim Bax, was recruited by Ron Reid-Daly to command a newly formed Special Forces unit that would be established at the site of the Second World War naval base above Port St. Johns on the coast at the mouth of the Mzimvubu River.

Transkei SF Ron and Bob McKenzie

Informal group portrait taken in 1984 showing an unidentified Transkei Defence Force infantry officer (and aide-de-camp) to the left of Major General Ron Reid-Daly, commander Transkei Defence Force who is wearing the orange TDF staff beret and Selous Scouts wing; Chris Smith; and former Rhodesian SAS officer, Major Bob MacKenzie, right, who at the time of the photograph, was serving as 2i/c of the TDF Special Forces unit. Photo courtesy Chris Smith

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With a cadre of ex-Rhodesians, mainly former Selous Scouts, volunteers from 1 Transkei Battalion were called for. Sixty-eight members came forward, and the members gave this sub-unit the name of “Ingwe Squad” (Leopard Squad). During August 1981, a selection course was held to select suitable members from the Ingwe Squad and any other volunteers from within the Army. At the end of the selection course, which lasted three weeks, there were 32 volunteers remaining, all members of the Ingwe Squad.

transkei airborne special forces insignia-1

Transkei Special Forces bi-metal beret and collar badges. The beret badge has two screw post attachments, whilst the collar badges have pin clutch back attachments. The collar badges are only worn with No. 1 Dress and were not made as an opposing pair. Collection: Julian Tennant

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Because of the distances required to reach their training areas, the Port St. Johns base was deemed inadequate and in April 1982 the unit’s training facilities were expanded to include the Mount Thesiger Nature Reserve which provided a much more suitable area.

Initially, the TDF Special Forces unit training consisted mainly of improving the standard of basic infantry skills, with emphasis placed upon weapons training, map reading, conventional and unconventional warfare. Then, beginning 1983 the training progressed to special forces type skills including scuba diving, demolitions, boating, mountaineering, survival and tracking. In July 1983 a parachute course was established.

The Parachute training was initially carried out by instructors from 1 Parachute Battalion in Bloemfontein until the Transkei Parachute School was opened in May 1989. According to Dr Jakkie Cillier’s paper, An Overview of the Armed Forces of the TBV Countries,  by 1993 the TDF Air Wing also included a Parachute Company in addition to the Special Forces Regiment, although little information is available on the Parachute Company or their actual operational capabilities.

transkei airborne special forces insignia-2

Transkei Parachute School and TDF Air Wing Parachute Company beret badge. Bi-metal with two screw post attachments. Collection: Julian Tennant

 

Transkei TDF Parachute School

Transkei Parachute School. Front Row (seated L-R): Maj. Mhatu, Maj. Du Plessis (OC), Maj. Mketo (2i/c). Back Row: Sgt. Nose, Cpl Mcunukelwa, Cpl Voorslag, Cpl Zilani, Sgt Zozi. Note that whilst most of the staff wear the SF beret badge, the OC is wearing the TDF Air Wing Parachute Company beret badge. 

 

Transkei Para school basic course

Transkei Defence Force Parachute School basic para course photo. Date unknown.

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The basic parachute course lasted 4 weeks, the first two of which consisted of ground training. To qualify for their wings, the student parachutist had to complete a minimum of ten day (mostly with equipment) and two-night jumps.

The wings were awarded in two grades, silver for officers and bronze for other ranks. All the issued wings were numbered and assigned to a specific member’s name. Only one wing was issued and if lost had to be replaced with an un-numbered blank wing. The former Rhodesian soldiers continued to wear their Selous Scouts wings and other Rhodesian awards on their uniforms.

juleswings collection transkei airborne wings -3

Transkei Defence Force parachutist wing with the burgundy felt indicating Special Forces. A green backing is worn by infantrymen and TDF staff wore an orange backing.

 

juleswings collection transkei airborne wings -1

Transkei Defence Force officers silver parachute wings. Two variations are shown. Both are serial numbered as awarded and are stamped “SILVER”. Collection: Julian Tennant

 

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Two variations of the Transkei Defence Force other ranks parachute badge. The top badge is the first issue type. These are replacement wings that were purchased by the soldiers to compliment their single issue badge which was numbered. Collection: Julian Tennant

 

Transkei TDF Piet Van Der Riet Selous Scouts

Informal portrait of ex-Selous Scouts Officer Piet van der Riet taken outside of his house at Port St-Johns whilst he was serving as 2i/c of the Transkei SF. Note the Selous Scouts parachutist wings on his chest, a practice encouraged by TDF commander, Ron Reid-Daly. Photograph courtesy James D. N. MacKenzie

 

Ranks Transkei Lt Col 2-Edit

The former Rhodesian soldiers leading the Transkei Defence Force had a big influence on the design of TDF badges and rank insignia. This included incorporating unit identifiers onto rank insignia, a practice that was formerly carried out in Rhodesia. Shown here are embroidered and screen printed variations of the Transkei Special Forces Lieutenant Colonel’s rank worn on barrack/work-dress. These examples are from the Southern Africa Militaria site which also features some of other TDF Special Forces ranks. Photo: Courtesy James D.N. MacKenzie.

 

transkei SF tracksuit rhodesian sas

Transkei Defence Force Special Forces tracksuit featuring the TDF SF patch and also Rhodesian Special Air Service patch on the right chest indicating that this belonged to a former Rhodesian SAS operator then serving with the TDF.

 

Transkei TDF SF officers a

Transkei Defence Force Special Forces officers. Note the tupperware shoulder flash being worn by the officer in barracks/work-dress on the left, whilst the other two officers wear the full compliment of No.1 dress uniform TDF SF insignia including metal lucite resin covered flashes (on the left shoulder only), SF collar badges and parachutist qualification wings.

 

transkei airborne special forces insignia-3

Transkei Special Forces Arm Flash. This is the same size as the South African arm flashes only one on the left shoulder of the dress uniform. Collection: Julian Tennant

 

Transkei SF shoulder flash tupperware

Transkei Special Forces embossed plastic should flash/flap. Sometimes referred to as ‘tupperware’ these were worn on barrack/work dress. Collection: Julian Tennant

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The Transkei government of the 1980s continued to have a strained relationship with South Africa, largely because of the existence of armed strongholds of the ANC and other anti-apartheid organizations in the homeland which also included, within its territory, the birthplace of ANC leader Nelson Mandela. In 1986 SADF planners conceive of Operation KATZEN to ‘stabilise’ the deteriorating situation in the Eastern Cape. Central to their plan is the ‘unification’ of Transkei and another notionally independent homeland state, Ciskei (the subject of an upcoming article) in Xhosaland, with a moderate political leadership sympathetic to the Republic of South Africa.

On the 19th of February 1987, a 22-man raiding party consisting of former Selous Scouts and Iliso Lomzi (the armed wing of the opposition Ciskei People’s Rights Protection Party) operators left the TDF SF base at Port St Johns en route to the Ciskei. Their mission was to capture Chief Lennox Sebe, the Ciskei President at his home in Bisho and force a merger of the two states. However the raiding party was greeted with heavier than expected resistance killing Rfn. Mbuyiselo Nondela and wounding Rfn. Ndulu who was captured and subsequently released.

In late March 1987, with the plan to overthrow Ciskei’s president having failed, the Transkei Government informed General Ron Reid-Daly that the contract for the now renamed Security Service Transkei (Pty) Ltd (formerly SSI) had been terminated and within 24 hours most of the Rhodesians employed by the company had left the Transkei. Those that remained, including Ron Reid-Daly were arrested and deported to South Africa on the 4th of April.

Rumours of a coup attempt by former State President Kaiser Matanzima followed the expulsions. In response, the then current president, Chief George Matanzima announced that Brigadier Bantu Holomisa, who had been placed into detention due to his opposition to TDF involvement in the Ciskei raid, was to be promoted to Major General and made commander of the Transkei Defence Force, replacing General Zondwa Mtirara who had resigned.

Transkei TDF bantu-holomisa

Bantu Holomisa wearing the TDF para wing with green (infantry) backing.

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Then, towards the end of 1987, Holomisa, a staunch ANC activist, led a bloodless coup against the Transkei government. Following his takeover he suspended the civilian constitution and refused South Africa’s repeated demands for a return to civilian rule, insisting that a civilian government would be a puppet controlled by Pretoria. With the departure of the Rhodesians and animosity between the Transkei government and the South African’s the quality of the Transkei Defence Force Special Forces stagnated.

On 27th of April 1994, the Republic of Transkei was abolished and reintegrated into South Africa as part of the newly created Eastern Cape and KwaZulu Natal provinces. Bantu Holomisa was named deputy minister of housing in President Mandela’s cabinet.

 

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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.  I try to post NEW content as often as possible and knowing that somebody is looking at this gives me the encouragement I need to set aside time to go through my archives and collection in order 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

REFERENCE BOOK: PARABAT Vol.1 – A Guide to Collecting Insignia of the South African Airborne Units 2021 Edition

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During the 1970’s and 80’s, South African paratroopers, affectionately called ‘Parabats’ or simply ‘Bats’ were at the forefront of the  nation’s counter insurgency operations, acting as a fireforce unit and conducting airborne operations against SWAPO guerrilla bases inside Angola.

Their esprit de corps and reputation became the stuff of legend and for a young collector growing up in South Africa in the 1970’s. Facing the prospect of being called up for national service in the not too distant future, my aspirations turned to becoming a paratrooper one day and my collecting became narrower in scope, concentrating on airborne units and the ‘Bats’ in particular.

parabat juleswings collage-01

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The history of South Africa’s airborne capability dates back to the Second World War when the South African Air Force briefly established a Parachute Company in 1943, though this was disbanded before the troops had started to jump. However more than sixty South Africans did serve on secondment to the British Airborne Forces during the war, participating in airborne operations in Italy, France, Yugoslavia, Greece and for one officer, David McCombe, during Operation Market Garden at Arnhem.

But it was not until 1960 that South Africa resurrected the idea of an airborne force sending a group of 15 volunteers, who had just completed a two week selection course, to the UK to undertake training at the Royal Air Force’s No 1 Parachute Training School at Abingdon. The majority qualified as instructors whilst others underwent training as riggers. On their return they established a parachute training wing at Tempe, Bloemfontein and in 1961 the 1st Parachute Battalion was formed with volunteers from the 2nd Mobile Watch and on 29 January 1962 the first 48 South African trained paratroopers received their wings.  Within a couple of years, conscripts undertaking their national service were also being accepted for service with 1 Parachute Battalion.

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1 Parachute Battalion insignia circa 1966 – 1969. Collection: Julian Tennant

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Over the coming years and as the tempo of operations against insurgents opposing the South African government increased, South Africa’s conventional airborne capability expanded to, at its peak in 1989, four parachute battalions plus supporting units under the umbrella of 44 Parachute Brigade. However, by 1998, in post-Apartheid, South Africa and facing financial constraints the decision was made to decrease the SANDF’s airborne capability and on 2 November 1999 a greatly reduced 44 Parachute Brigade was redesignated 44 Parachute Regiment. Since their formation, the operations carried out by the Parabats have become legendary and you can hear many of the veterans recount their exploits in these interviews conducted by  Efpe Senekal that formed the basis of the excellent 3-part documentary, “Parabat”  (see trailer below).

However, for the historian/collector, Marc Norman and Paul Matthysen’s Parabat: A Guide to South African Airborne Units (Volume 1 & 2) published in 2011 are invaluable reference books. PARABAT Volume 1: A Guide to Collecting Insignia of the South African Airborne Units 2021 Edition is the update to the first book in the set (volume 2 will be out in July 2021) and includes information that was previously unavailable at the time of the first publication.  Together the 2 volumes contain the history of all the South African parachute battalion and brigade units.

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The amount of information included in this updated edition of Volume 1 is impressive to say the least. In addition to presenting a historical overview of each of the airborne units the bulk of the content takes an in-depth look at the various insignia worn, including qualification brevets, beret and shoulder badges plus unit affiliation and sub unit tactical insignia. Extensive colour photographs, including close-up images of specific details,  help to identify the variations (as well as fakes) and these are complimented by information gleaned from the original insignia ‘art cards’ plus the personal recollections of some of the key individuals involved in the development and implementation of the badges.

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Privately published, the book is currently limited to a print run of 50 copies and is available directly from Marc Norman in New Zealand. For collectors or those with an interest in South Africa’s hard fought bushwar, this book is an essential addition to the reference library. Contact Marc and grab a copy whilst you still can.

PARABAT Volume 1: A Guide to Collecting Insignia of the South African Airborne Units 2021 Edition by Marc Norman & Paul Matthysen
Dimensions: A4, Full colour. 300gsm laminated stiff card cover. 290 pages 130gsm coated art paper.
Publisher: Marc Norman Publishing (mnorman3228@gmail.com)
Language: English
ISBN-13: 9780620478762

parabat juleswings collection FAKE beret badge-01

FANTASY / FAKE 1 Parachute Battalion beret badge. There are several variants of this badge that have been offered to collectors over the years. However, they are a fantasy piece made to make money from collectors. No records exist in the battalion’s unit file at the Central Records Section of the SANDF. No former paratrooper has any recollection of these variants and Brigadier General McGill Alexander made the following comments to the authors on page 18 of PARABAT Volume 1: A Guide to Collecting Insignia of the South African Airborne Units 2021 Edition, ” I’ve seen that (badge) on collectors’ pages but I can assure you, without any doubt at all, it was never proposed and never considered. It is a relatively new item produced by someone or some organisation out to fleece collectors. The whole idea of the cloth badge was so that the beret could be rolled up and carried in a pocket or stuffed down the front of the parachute smock for jumping – then pulled out and worn after the jump in non-operationl situations.” Collection: Julian Tennant

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parabat juleswings collection 1966-69-02

Mess dress metal and cloth first pattern South African Parachute Jump Instructor brevets issued from 1962 to 1963 (top). Parachute Training Centre and 1 Parachute Battalion shoulder patches circa mid to late 1960’s (bottom). Collection: Julian Tennant

parabat juleswings 3 para bn training jump

Paratroopers of 3 Parachute Battalion wearing the SANDF’s ‘Soldier 2000’ camouflage prepare for training jump. Note the 3 Para Bn beret badge, which was readopted in lieu of the ‘Iron Eagle’ badge of 44 Para Brigade after it was downsized to become 44 Parachute Regiment in November 1999.

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The Rip Cord Club of the World Badge

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Rip Cord Club of the World badge circa 1930’s. Made by the Hardie Jewelry Co., the badge is stamped silver measuring 49mm x 41mm approx and attached by a brooch pin with locking roller catch. Photo: Julian Tennant

This Rip Cord Club of the World (R.C.C.W.) badge is an interesting and little known parachutist badge from the inter-war years. Unlike the various Caterpillar Club membership pins which were presented to recipients whose life had been saved by a parachute, the R.C.C.W. badge identified that the wearer had voluntarily made a parachute descent.

To quote a letter from George Loudon, a member of the club, to the New Castle News (New Castle, Pennsylvania), published Friday December 8, 1933: “To become a member of the C. C. [Caterpillar Club] a person must make an emergency jump, saving his or her life by the use of a parachute, while to become a member of the R. C. C. W. one must make a volunteer jump, either after graduating or under the instruction of a graduate of the Chunate (sic) School of Parachute Rigging.”

He goes on to say: “The R. C. C. W. has thousands of members all over the world, wherever the United States maintains an air corps station. The Caterpillar Club has 563 members at the present time.”

George Loudon’s letter indicates that this badge may have been used as an unofficial military parachute rigger’s badge as a rigger qualification wings did not exist for the Navy until 1942 and (unofficially) for the Army / Air Force until 1948Chanute Field  (incorrectly spelt as Chunate in newspaper) at Rantoul, Illinois was home to the Air Training Corps School and under various restructures conducted parachute and parachute rigger related training from 1922 until its closure in 1993.

Louis M. Lowry, who along with eight other airmen graduated from Parachute Riggers School class Number 2  on 16 October 1931, became member number 243 when he conducted his first jump a week previously. Lowry later went on to work for North American Rockwell Corporation from 1943 to 1969.

RCCW Louis Lowry number 243-02

Members of Louis Lowry’s Parachute Riggers Class 2, Chanute Field, October 1931. Collection: San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive

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Louis Lowry’s Parachute Riggers Class Number 2 at Chanute Field, Rantoul, Illionois. 16 Oct 1931. Collection: San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive

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Louis Lowry’s Rip Cord Club of the World certificate of membership of 9 October 1931 and identifying him as Rip #243: San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive

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Upon completion of their first jump, members of the Rip Cord Club of the World were presented with a certificate which recorded their membership (Rip number) and badge. The certificate stated,

Know ye that …(name)… did this date voluntarily separate himself from an airplane at an altitude of two thousand feet and that after the usual antics incident to the law of falling bodies did succeed in causing his parachute to become disengaged from its pack and open in the prescribed manner. That upon landing, than which there was nothing surer, he was found to be enjoying life, and although his spirits were possibly dampened, he was still in possession of the Rip Cord used to release the parachute of which he was an appendage in making said landing. He is therefore a full fledged life member of this worthy order as such we trust will continue to preform his duties as competently and gloriously as he has this day…of…in the year of our Lord one thousand nine hundred …(year)…”

The lowest number certificate that I am aware of is #5 which was presented to Edmund Paul Taylor on 14 October 1927 which indicates that the club may have started around that time. This certificate was authorised by ‘Tug’ Wilson, but I am not sure if this was ‘the’ Harry ‘Tug’ Wilson who, in 1940, became instrumental in the development of the US Army Airborne’s ‘Test Platoon’ and after whom the honor graduate award of the Army Jumpmaster Course is named.

However, membership of the Rip Cord Club of the World was not just restricted to military personnel. The San Diego Air & Space Museum holds artifacts related to Birdie Draper, an early female daredevil, pilot and parachute rigger.

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Birdie Viola Draper, R.C.C.W. Rip number 533. Image courtesy the San Diego Air and Space Museum’s Library & Archives

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Birdie Viola Draper was born in 1916 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In 1937 at the age of 20, Birdie began her training as a parachutist with Stub Chrissinger, an instructor for Hinck Flying Service. Mr. Chrissinger was one of two licensed parachute riggers in Minnesota at the time. After her training, Birdie joined a stunt group of Thrill Day Performers traveling to State Fairs. She was paired up with Captain F. F. (Bowser) Frakes who was best known for his daring plane crashing stunts. Birdie gained fame by crashing through sixteen sticks of dynamite with her car, as well as solid masonry walls. Her vast array of death defying stunts earned her the name, “The Queen of Daredevils.” By 1940, Birdie had completed thirty-five parachute jumps. She retired as a daredevil, in 1941, after receiving her license as a parachute rigger from the Department of Commerce. Shortly afterwards she took a position as a rigger for the Ryan Aeronautical Company. Birdie married George Griffin, a local attorney and then retired from the Ryan Aeronautical Company in 1945. She died on November 1, 2005.

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Birdie Draper’s and her co-performer, Captain F. F. (Bowser) Frakes at the Studebaker Factory, South Bend, Indiana, 1938. Image courtesy the San Diego Air and Space Museum’s Library & Archives

Birdie’s R.C.C.W. certificate indicates that she was Rip number 533 qualifying on 9 June 1937 which indicates that George Loudon’s claim back in 1933 of  “thousands of members all over the world” may have been somewhat of an exaggeration. What remains unclear to me is how long the organisation was active and when it ceased operation. So far, I have not been able to find any information to indicate that it was still going past the outbreak of WW2 and I can only speculate that it may have started to wind up as a result of the development of the military airborne units which in turn brought about a much greater uptake of ‘voluntary’ parachuting in the post-war years.

It is also worth noting that during the 1930’s a breakaway Rip Cord Club of the United States (R.C.C.U.S.) was established. I am unsure of the exact date of its formation although some sources indicate this occurred as early as 1931. By the end of 1935 this club had around 50 members who appear to be mainly drawn from the military rigging courses and by early April 1937 this number had grown to over 300 members with number 312 being issued on 6 April. The R.C.C.U.S. certificate design is very similar to the R.C.C.W. design with only subtle differences in the title, tumbling jumper on the right and insignia design. However, at this stage, I do not know if that distinct insignia was presented to accompany the certificate (shown below).

Rip Cord Club of the UNITED STATES certificate awarded to (6551473) Private Burrell Wilson when he completed his qualifying jump on 30 November 1935 and recorded as member #46. Wilson subsequently served as a rigger at March Field in Riverside, California.

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The badge most commonly presented by the Rip Cord Club of the World appear to made by the Hardie Jewelry Company of Holland MI as most bare their H.J.Co hallmark either near the top of the canopy or near the base of the globe near the intersection with the jumper. However, a screwback post badge also exists and is held by the Smithsonian Institution as part of the Katherine M. Smart bequest. That example, which looks to be struck from brass and finished with a silver wash, does not appear to be maker marked. The same collection also holds a smaller gold lapel/tie pin.  As can be seen in one of the images from the Birdie Draper collection (shown below, click on the image to enlarge), members often wore the badge as a both a brooch and tie pin. So, the existence of the badge with the screwback post is intriguing as the post implies that it would either need to be placed through a lapel ‘button hole’, or the wearer would have to customise the garment by cutting a hole large enough to fit the post. This leads me to suspect that this version may have been used as a ‘uniform’ item, possibly by civilian barnstorming entertainers like Birdie, although her uniforms do not show the R.C.C.W badge being worn.

If anybody can help with more information about the Rip Cord Club of the World or the Rip Cord Club of the United States and help fill in the gaps of my knowledge, please contact me.

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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.  I try to post NEW content as often as possible and knowing that somebody is looking at this gives me the encouragement I need to set aside time to go through my archives and collection in order 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

The Thai Police Aerial Reinforcement Unit (PARU) 1954 – 1974

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For the special operations insignia collector, Thailand’s myriad of airborne and special warfare units presents a seemingly endless variety of badges to collect. A trip to the military and police regalia suppliers clustered around the Thithong Road area in Bangkok can be overwhelming as each shop appears to offer their own unique variations of the official parachutist wing patterns. It will be an impossible task to try to collect all the Thai jump-wing insignia and I gave up many years ago as I began to narrow my focus to specific conflicts or units.

I am still chasing some of the older Thai wings, including the rarely found first pattern Army wing that was awarded in the 1950’s and early 60’s, but it remains a ‘holy grail’ insignia for me and is rarely seen in the marketplace.

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Early ARMY pattern Thai parachutist wings. These wings appear to be hand made by a silversmith and appear to be issued until sometime in the early 1960’s. They are sometimes seen on the dress uniforms of early American advisors to the Royal Thai Army. I am still trying to find an example of this badge for my collection. If you can help, please contact me.

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The Police Aerial Resupply Unit (PARU) of the Royal Thai Police is the one Thai unit that still remains within my collecting focus, although I do restrict myself to insignia from its formation up until 1974. Its innocuous sounding name was a deliberate act to disguise the role and function of this elite special operations unit that was in fact sponsored by the CIA and was one of the first clandestine groups deployed into Laos, way back in 1960.

After Mao’s victory in China in 1949, the USA became increasingly concerned about the spread of communism in South East Asia. In response to fears that the Chinese could invade Thailand, the CIA set up a station in Bangkok and in August 1950 arranged to train selected members of the Royal Thai Police, who were seen as more reliable than the army, in counter-insurgency tactics.

In March 1951, James William “Bill” Lair, a CIA paramilitary officer arrived in Thailand for this, his first assignment. With the assistance of the Agency’s front organisation, Southeast Asia Supply Company (SEA Supply) which would later be operating out of an office on the infamous Patpong Road, Lair identified an old Japanese camp at Lopburi to be used as the training camp. The course was designed to run for 8 weeks and included unconventional warfare and parachute training. The initial cadre of 50 volunteers came from the police but later recruits came from all branches of the Thai military as well as the police. The graduating groups were initially called the Territorial Defence Police, but these later became known as the Border Patrol Police.

bill lair

James William “Bill” Lair, CIA Special Activities Division officer and founder of the Royal Thai Police force’s Police Aerial Resupply Unit (PARU) wearing his uniform that denotes his rank as a Lt. Col. in the Royal Thai Police. Note the PARU First Class parachutist qualification on his chest.

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As the threat of Chinese communist invasion subsided the program was threatened with cancellation which concerned Lair as the ‘knowledge base’ which had been developed would be diluted if the units were broken up and the men dispersed across the country. Pressure was also being exerted to turn the base, named Camp Erawan, at Lopburi over to the Royal Thai Army. In response Lair managed to convince the US Embassy and the Director-General of the Thai National Police Department, General Phao Siyanon to turn the force into an elite special operations unit. General Phao eagerly accepted the proposal as it would provide him with a militarised force that could counter the other two strongmen in the Government at that time, Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram and General Sarit Thanarat. Phao’s only condition was that Lair be a serving Police officer and after permission was granted by the US Government, Lair was appointed a Captain in the Royal Thai Police.

Lair then selected 100 personnel from the previous 2000 course graduates to undertake advanced instruction at their new base, next to King Bhumibol’s  Summer Palace at Hua Hin on the coast. This was then followed by a further 8 months of  training including offensive, defensive and cross-border operations, before some of these volunteers in turn became the cadre responsible for training new recruits. On 27 April 1954, King Bhumibol attended the official opening ceremony of their base, Khai Naresuan at Hua Hin and that date subsequently became recognised as the unit birthday.

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His Majesty King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit at the shooting range during one of their many visits to Border Patrol Police compound at Khai Naresuan. Photo: Border Police Collection, courtesy the late Professor Des Ball AO.

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By 1957, the unit which consisted of two rifle companies and a pathfinder company, commanded by Captain Lair himself, was called Royal Guards. However, in September of that year a coup was mounted by Army General Sarit Thanarat and Police General Phao was sent into exile. Lair’s unit which was seen as being loyal to Phao faced being disbanded but managed to survive due to perceived support from the King and in early 1958 was rebranded as the Police Aerial Reinforcement Unit (PARU). The intention was to eventually integrate the PARU into the Royal Thai Army and their headquarters was moved to Phitsamulok in Northern Thailand, although they still maintained their Hua Hin base, Camp Naresuan, as well.

It was also at this time that the unit became more closely involved with the CIA’s international operations, rigging parachutes for weapons drops to insurgents in Indonesia, and pallets of weapons for delivery to the anti-Chinese resistance in Tibet. Then, early in 1960, PARU’s pathfinder company was sent to the Thai-Lao border to gather intelligence from the ethnic minority groups straddling the border region.

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1960’s era Royal Thai Police parachutist qualification wings. These are the ‘downswept’ wing type which bears some similarity in overall shape to Royal Thai Army wings, but with significant differences to the RTA wings. Top: Third Class (6 to 29 static line jumps). Bottom left: Second Class (30 to 64 static line jumps). Bottom right: First Class (65 or more static line jumps). Note that in subsequent years other classes of parachutist wings have been added, notably a freefall wing featuring two stars on the wings and a ‘Tower jump’ wing which is for (non-PARU) police officers who complete jump tower training but do not undertake any descents from an aircraft. Variations of these qualifications exist in both metal and cloth embroidery. Collection: Julian Tennant

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Two 1960’s era variations of the Royal Thai Police Parachutist wing, Third Class. Collection: Julian Tennant

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In August 1960, Laotian paratroop officer, Kong Le led his unit on a coup which overthrew the Royal Lao Government. Many of Lair’s PARU troops were Thai citizens, but of Lao origin and could seamlessly blend into the Lao population, so permission was given for Lair and five teams of PARU to join the ousted Lao head of state (and General Sarit’s first cousin), Phoumi Nosavan, to prepare for a counter coup. The five man PARU teams spread throughout Phoumi’s forces providing a radio network able to communicate with Lair who was headquartered in Savannakhet and these were instrumental in the successful counter-coup of 14 December 1960. Lair then moved to Vientiene and the PARU’s long involvement in the ‘Secret War’ in Laos followed.

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“Upcountry Meeting”, a painting by Dru Blair from the CIA’s Art Collection which shows a meeting somewhere in remote northeastern Laos between Bill Lair and Hmong commander Vang Pao. Image courtesy of CIA.gov

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In January 1961, Bill Lair made contact with Hmong hill-tribe commander, Lt. Col. Vang Pao and three groups of five PARU commandos were inserted around the Plain of Jars to train his forces. By the middle of the year of the 550 strong PARU unit, 99 of its commandos were operating in northern Laos and Hmong special operations teams were being trained by the PARU back in Hua Hin. Funding for this was provided by the Programs Evaluation Office of the CIA under the code name Operation Momentum and eventually resulted in a clandestine army of 30,000 Hmong under Vang Pao’s command which included the battalion sized Hmong Special Guerrilla Unit and also a 30 man cadre from the Laotian paramilitary Directorate of National Co-ordination (DNC).   

In 1963 the PARU was coming under pressure from the army controlled government who had allowed the unit to continue to exist on the premise that it would be integrated into the Royal Thai Army. A joint Police-Army Special Battalion was to be stationed at the PARU camp in Phitsanulok, with the commander being Army Special Forces and two deputy commanders, one from PARU and one from Army Special Forces. The intention was to eventually integrate the entire PARU into the battalion, but the PARU resisted integration and kept the bulk of its manpower at Hua Hin.

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PARU Instructor Cadre at Hua Hin, circa 1962-3. Photo: J. Vinton “Vint” Lawrence

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Vietnam War period, Police Aerial Reinforcement Unit patches. Collection: Julian Tennant

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CIA Special Activities Division paramilitary officer “Vint” Lawrence in Laos circa 1964. Note the metal PARU wings worn on the beret. Photo: J. Vinton “Vint” Lawrence

In 1964 it began training Cambodian and Laotian troops in commando and guerrilla warfare techniques at Hua Hin. The PARU also remained active in Laos and its training mission was expanding both in Thailand and also in northern Laos. It was also conducting reconnaissance and raiding operations along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Inevitably, the tempo of operations began to take its toll on the unit and towards the end of the decade, a retraining programme needed to be implemented to rebuild the unit into a 700 man battalion composed of ten detachments. In addition, by 1969, the unit had developed air and sea rescue sections as part of its role. The former providing a capability similar to that of the USAF Pararescue, locating and picking up downed aircrew within Laos.     

PARU certificate and wing

Vietnam war period Thai PARU Parachutist certificate and wing. The First Class parachutist badge is awarded after the completion of 65 static line jumps.

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Vietnam War period Police Parachutist First Class variations in bullion and cloth embroidery. Collection: Julian Tennant

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By the early 1970’s Thailand’s attention had begun to shift to the threat posed by the Khmer Rouge insurgency on the Cambodian border and PARU teams conducted several reconnaissance missions into the Khmer Republic. In 1973, thirteen years after first deploying to Laos the last PARU teams departed that nation. Then as Thailand started to grapple with its own communist insurgency it began conducting operations with the Border Patrol Police to combat insurgents in the south of the country, an area where it is still active today. Since 1974 much has changed for the PARU, including the establishment of the Royal Thai Police Special Operations Unit “Naraesuan 261” under its auspices in 1983. This specialist counter terrorist unit has been involved in several hostage release operations since its formation and is also responsible for providing specialist executive protection teams for the Thai Royal family and visiting dignitaries. However, as my focus is related to the PARU’s activities up until the mid-1970’s I will save the post-1974 years for a future article.  

Thai PARU wings juleswings collection-02

Embroidered variations of the Royal Thai Police parachutist wings including the ‘Special Class’ freefall qualification (with the two stars on the wings) at the bottom of the picture. I suspect that these insignia may date from the 1980’s. There are literally dozens and possibly over one hundred manufacturer variations of Thai parachutist insignia as military and government regalia suppliers is a thriving cottage industry.  For the Vietnam War period collector the challenge is always trying to ascertain which insignia is wartime period and what has been produced in subsequent years, particularly as the materials used in their manufacture has a tendency to tarnish or fade quite quickly if not stored appropriately and as a result often looking older than they actually may be. Provenance is the key for original Vietnam War period items.

 

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His Majesty, King Bhumibol during a visit to the BPP in the 1960’s. Note that the Royal Thai Police First Class parachutist badge on his chest does not appear to have the star in the wreath. Photo: Border Police Collection, courtesy the late Professor Des Ball AO.

 

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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.

namibia police special reserve force juleswings-01

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.

RAAFCCT

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.

2020 Commando Selection Course

A Royal Australian Air Force combat controller from the Australian Defence Force School of Special Operations supervises Commando Selection Course candidates during an early morning physical training session at Holsworthy Barracks in Sydney, on Friday, 16 October 2020. Photo: Australian Department of Defence

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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.

AWM Canberra 2018-63

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.

RAAF CCT insignia

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. 

RAAF CCT pitch black 2012 03

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)

20200714raaf8494074_028

CCT helmet showing one of the patches worn by the team during Exercise Havoc Drop from 13 – 17 July 2020 near Wagga Wagga, New South Wales. Havoc Drop is an annual training exercise to maintain the operational parachute currency requirements of 4 Squadron personnel. Photo: Cpl Dan Pinhorn, Department of Defence

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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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The Pioneer Parachute Co. pin. Not a Caterpillar!

The Caterpillar Club, started in 1922 by Leslie Irvin’s Irving Air Chute Company, as a way of recording the names of individuals whose lives had been saved by using a parachute to make an emergency descent. Stanley Switlik, owner of the Switlik Parachute Co. saw the potential of the Caterpillar Club as a means to promote its parachutes and soon instituted their own, Switlik Caterpillar Club.

Other companies also adopted the idea, awarding their own ‘Caterpillar Club’ awards to people who had saved their lives using the manufacturer’s parachutes. This included the Pioneer Parachute Co., Inc. which was established in 1938 in Manchester, Connecticut as a subsidiary of the Cheney Brothers Mills, the world’s largest silk factory complex. Pioneer Parachute Co. was the result of a partnership with DuPont and the Army Air Force to develop a new parachutes and on June 6, 1942, parachute packer, Adeline Gray made the first jump by a human with a nylon parachute at Brainard Field in Hartford. Like the other manufacturers of the time, Pioneer had its own Caterpillar Club pin for emergency descents, which featured a gold caterpillar on a rectangle box filled with red, white and blue enamel.

Pioneer Parachute Co. Inc. Caterpillar Club membership badge. Collection: Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

Pioneer Parachute Co. Inc. Caterpillar Club membership badge. Collection: Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

The Pioneer Parachute Co. Inc. which has evolved into the Pioneer Aerospace Corporation and is now a subsidiary of Safran Electronics and Defense no longer issues it’s own Caterpillar Awards and membership is now administered by the Switlik Caterpillar Club. However, for several years there has been a badge made for Pioneer and bearing its name on the reverse which is often described as being a Pioneer Caterpillar Club award with collectors sometimes paying sizeable sums of money in order to add it to their collection.

The pin, which is made from nickel plated brass, shows a parachutist with a deployed parachute. It measures approximately 25mm (1”) in height and 18mm (11/16”) in width. The reverse features the words PIONEER PARACHUTE CO. and a single clutch pin grip attachment mechanism.

The Pioneer Parachute Co. Promotional pin for their revolutionary Para-Commander and Para-Sail canopy design. This was a promotional piece and should not be confused with the Caterpillar award badges. Collection: Julian Tennant

The Pioneer Parachute Co. Promotional pin for their revolutionary Para-Commander and Para-Sail canopy design. This was a promotional piece and should not be confused with the Caterpillar award badges. Collection: Julian Tennant

This Pioneer pin is not a Caterpillar Club award but is actually just a promotional pin made for another of Pioneer’s innovations developed in collaboration Parachutes Incorporated (PI), namely the Para-Commander (PC) and Para-Sail parachute. The design of the pin’s parachute reflected this new PC canopy, which was a modification to an ascending, 24-gore (segment) parachute designed by the Frenchman Pierre M. Lemoigne and sold to Pioneer in 1962. These pins were given to buyers of this new parachute rig.

The multiple segments used to construct the canopy was revolutionary for parachutes of the time. Increased manoeuvrability and glide were provided by a vented rear and turn slots supported by stabilising segments on the sides. The skirt of the leading edge of the canopy was also positioned slightly higher thereby decreasing the drag and allowing air to be directed rearward towards the slots.  The rate of descent was slowed further because a lower porosity nylon taffeta used which added to the lifting characteristics of the canopy design.

Diagram plan views of the Pioneer Para-Commander rig showing feature details. Several of these, then, revolutionary design features can be seen in the PIONEER PARACHUTE CO. pin.

Diagram plan views of the Pioneer Para-Commander rig showing feature details. Several of these, then, revolutionary design features can be seen in the PIONEER PARACHUTE CO. pin.

The PC was first demonstrated at the Orange Sport Parachute Centre in Massachusetts on the 4th of December 1962 and a patent (SN 159,606) filed on the 21st of December 1962. This new ‘high performance’ parachute quickly became popular and by 1966 they were being used by all the competitors in the US National Parachuting championships, with trials also underway for its adoption by the US military.

Page details from the June 1966 USAF "Performance Evaluation of Para-Commander Mark I Personal Parachute" report of 1st Lieutenant Charles W. Nichols of the Air Force Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

Page details from the June 1966 USAF “Performance Evaluation of Para-Commander Mark I Personal Parachute” report of 1st Lieutenant Charles W. Nichols of the Air Force Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

By the 1970’s rectangular canopied Ram-air parachutes, such as the Paraflite Para-Plane were starting to take over the sport parachuting market, although PC rigs were still used for trainee and military parachuting applications into the 1980’s.

The Pioneer PC pin was given to new buyers of the Para-Commander rig and whilst it is a memento reflecting an important development in the history of parachuting, collectors should not confuse the badge with the pins associated with membership of the Caterpillar Club.

Pioneer PC pin Jerry Irwin

American skydivers at a DZ in the 1960’s. Note the Pioneer PC pin being worn on the hat of the parachute rigger on the right. Photo: Jerry Irwin

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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