One of the World War One galleries at the Army Museum Žižkov
Undoubtably one of the highlights of my trip to Prague in 2015 was visiting the Army Museum Žižkov (Armádní muzeum Žižkov). The museum, located at the foot of Vitkov hill, was about half an hour’s walk from the Old Town Square and a little off the beaten track, but it was a must-visit site for me and I planned my route to pass The Military Shop to see if I could find anything for my collection. Apart from a few contemporary Czech airborne patches, there was not much there for me that time as it is more of a surplus store than a military antiques dealer.
Entrance to the Military Shop – Hybernska, an army surplus type store which is located at Hybernská 40, 110 00 Praha 1.
Interior of the Military Shop – Hybernska.
Some of the headdress items for sale at the Military Shop – Hybernska.
Some of the patches for sale at the Military Shop – Hybernska.
A much better option for older militaria is Vojenské Starožitnosti, which is in the opposite direction and much closer to the Old Town (Staré Mesto námesti). But I digress…
T-34 tank at the entrance to the The Army Museum Žižkov
Walking up the hill to the museum visitors are confronted by an old Soviet T-34 tank outside a very austere looking building and, when I visited, not many people around. Entry to the museum was free and the rather unforgiving exterior belied a treasure trove of artifacts which I found fascinating. The museum exhibits covered the first World War, interwar Czechoslovakia, the second World War, persecution of members of the Czechoslovak army after the coup in 1948 and the anti-communist resistance. The museum was well laid out, with a range of very interesting uniforms and equipment exhibits accompanied by descriptions in Czech and English, it was easy to lose track of time as I encountered unusual wings and exhibits that fell directly into my own collecting areas. Of particular interest to me were the items belonging to Czech agents of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) who parachuted back into the country during the Nazi occupation and also some uniform items belonging to Czech expatriates who fled post war Communist rule and served with the US 77th Special Forces Group (Airborne).
US Special Forces green beret featuring US Army parachutist wings on the teal blue and yellow wing oval for the 77th Special Forces Group (Airborne). This is one of the items on display at the Army Museum Žižkov belonging to Josef and Cirad Masin, two Czech brothers who escaped the communist regime to West Germany and in 1954 joined the US Army. After completing basic training at Fort Dix, NJ they joined the US Special Forces, hoping to take part in the liberation of Europe from the Communists. Along with fellow Czech, Milan Paumer they served in the 77th Special Forces Group.
Items belonging to Josef and Cirad Masin, Czech brothers who escaped the communist regime to West Germany and in 1954 joined the US Army. After completing basic training at Fort Dix, NJ they joined the US Special Forces, hoping to take part in the liberation of Europe from the Communists. Along with fellow Czech, Milan Paumer they served in the 77th Special Forces Group.
Green beret featuring the unofficial distinctive insignia of the American 77th Special Forces Group. Part of the collection of items belonging to Josef and Cirad Masin, Czech brothers who escaped the communist regime to West Germany and in 1954 joined the US Army. After completing basic training at Fort Dix, NJ they joined the US Special Forces, hoping to take part in the liberation of Europe from the Communists. Along with fellow Czech, Milan Paumer they served in the 77th Special Forces Group.
US Special Forces uniform worn by anti-communist Czech national, Milan Paumer in the Czech Army Museum in Prague. Paumer escaped Czechoslovakia in 1954 and joined the US Army serving in the 77th Special Forces Group. Accompanying the uniform is a photograph of a much older Paumer wearing the uniform complete with the two US Army SF patches on each sleeve and I believe that they, along with the USSF patch and Special Forces tab were added long after his service.
Detail of the US Special Forces uniform worn by anti-communist Czech national, Milan Paumer in the Czech Army Museum in Prague. Paumer escaped Czechoslovakia in 1954 and joined the US Army serving in the 77th Special Forces Group. Accompanying the uniform is a photograph of a much older Paumer wearing the uniform complete with the two US Army SF patches on each sleeve and I believe that they, along with the USSF patch and Special Forces tab were added long after his service.
Two unusual examples of the British parachutist wings worn by Czech SOE agents who parachuted back into occupied Czechoslovakia to fight the occupying German forces during WW2. The wings on the lower badge may simply have faded over time, but the uppermost badge is definitely a unique variation that I had not encountered before.
German Luftwaffe Paratrooper in the WW2 display at the Army Museum Žižkov
Uniform of a Czech officer who had escaped to the UK and qualified as a parachutist before being reinserted back into German occupied Czechoslovakia during WW2.
British jumpsuit with safety cap and overboots (worn over civilian clothes during parachute insertion) as issued by the Special Operations Executive (SOE) to resistance agents for use during their insertion back into continental Europe. The parachute is the G.Q. type and this particular example was used by Czech resistance fighters of the the ANTIMONY paragroup which jumped on 24 October 1942.
Unfortunately the museum is now closed whilst a complete reconstruction takes place and I am told that it won’t reopen until at least 2020, but it will be interesting to see what changes are made. So, in the interim, here are some of the photos that I snapped on my iphone during my visit. Hopefully when the museum finally reopens these objects will be back on display because it really was a fascinating display of Czech military history.
Display in the First World War gallery at the the Army Museum Žižkov.
Machine-gunner and officer of the 21st Czechoslovak Rifle Regiment of the Czechoslovak Legions in France 1918. The machine-gunner is holding the French Light Machine Gun F.M. 1915 Model Calibre 8mm Lebel.
Display in the First World War gallery at the the Army Museum Žižkov.
Uniform of an Australian officer serving on the Western Front during The Great War.
Austro-Hungarian First Lieutenant, Field Pilot uniform on display in the First World War gallery at the the Army Museum Žižkov.
Display in the First World War gallery at the the Army Museum Žižkov.
French 75mm tank gun, 1916 Model, used in the first French Schneider CA-1 tanks.
Display in the First World War gallery at the the Army Museum Žižkov.
Display in the First World War gallery at the the Army Museum Žižkov.
Exhibition area showing the development of the Czech Armed Forces between the wars.
1930’s period Motor Transport officer wearing the ‘excellent driving of offensive vehicles for officer’ qualification award.
1930’s period Czech army display. I think that the magenta-red coloured collar tabs on the figure on the left indicate artillery. In the centre is a soldier from the Frontier Rifles, whilst the figure on the left is a gendarme sergeant of the 3rd Provincial Gendarmery Command in Bratislavia.
Inter-war years Czech Air Force display at the Army Museum Žižkov Prague.
Pre WW2 armoured qualification. Officially described as the badge for “excellent driving of offensive vehicles for officers + miniature.”
Inter-war period Czech Air Force insignia. Top Row: No.1. Unofficial badge of 5 Aviation Regiment in Brno. No.2. Moravian Aero Club badge. No.3. Republic of Czechoslovakia Aero Club badge. Bottom Row: No.1. Field Pilot qualification. No.2. Field Observer qualification. No.3. Field Air Gunner qualification. No.4. Field Air Observer of Arms.
Czechoslovak Armed Forces 1920-29 collar badges. Top row (no.21) left to right, Machine battalion, Bridge battalion, Survey company, Balloon (observation) company. No.25. Infantry and Artillery Mountain Regiments. No.26. Railway Regiment (also worn after 1930).
Armband of the Sudetendeutsche Partei, (SdP) Order Units. The SdP was a pro-Nazi party that existed in Czechoslovakia from 1933 until annexation in 1938.
Exhibit of items relating to the German occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1938 at the Czech Army Museum Žižkov
Waffen SS oberscharführer wearing a Close Combat Clasp, Wound Badge 3rd Class, Iron Cross 1st Class and the ribbon indicating that he was also awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class.
World War 2 period armband of the Kuratorium for Youth Education (Kuratorium pro výchovu mládeže). Established in 1941, this was a ‘Hitler Youth’ type organisation formed in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Morovia to promote ‘Reich loyal’ Czech nationalism through the provision of cultural and athletic activities to youths between 10 and 18 years of age.
Waffen SS NCO’s visor cap and label from the kennel of the SS Security dogs at the Mauthausen Concentration Camp.
Concentration Camp inmate uniform and identification patches. The inverted red triangle indicates that this was a political prisoner and the letter T identifies the prisoner’s nationality as Czech. “T” stands for Tscheche (Czech) in German.
Nazi Todt Organisation armband and identification badges worn by forced labourers working at the Junkers motor production workshops in Prague.
1933 pattern SS dagger and insignia recovered from the Buchenwald Concentration Camp.
Zyklon B canister from the Gas Chamber of the Mauthausen Concentration Camp.
Sleeve cuffs worn by inmates who were required to assist with self-administration of Mauthausen Concentration Camp and part of a hammer used to smash stone in the camp’s quarry.
Diorama of Soviet troops advancing through Prague, 1945.
Royal Air Force pilot and engineer’s brevets with sleeve eagle and Czechoslovakia title worn by exiled Czech pilots serving with the RAF.
German Luftwaffe airman wearing tropical dress including the visor cap with neck-flap
Soviet Red Army soldier in winter dress.
Red Army command post 1945.
Czech resistance fighters, including a policeman in the foreground, during the Prague uprising in 1945.
‘White Russian’ SS volunteer of the POA armed with a StG 44 rifle.
Army Museum Žižkov /Armádní muzeum Žižkov U Památníku 2, Praha 3 – Žižkov,
On loan from 2 Commando Company and the Australian Commando Association – Victoria , this Dennison parachute smock was part of the recent From the Shadows: Australian Special Forces exhibition at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.
RAAF Base Williamtown Parachute Training Flight Staff 1959. ‘Dutchy’ Holland and his distinctive bushy moustache is second from the left. L to R: WO2 Clivelly, WO Holland (Dutchy), SQN LDR Neilson, MAJ John Church and WO2 M Wright
The smock was worn by WO1 Douglas “Dutchy” Holland during his time as a PJI at the Parachute Training School at Williamtown. ‘Dutchy’, served in the RAF from 1940 until 1948 before joining the RAAF. He qualified as PJI number 6 at the first Parachute Jump Instructors course run by Parachute Training Wing (PTW) in 1954. A legend in the history of Australian parachute training, he was awarded the MBE for his services to military parachuting in 1958 and in 1959 became the first person in Australia to achieve 500 jumps. When “Dutchy” retired in 1962 he had completed 663 descents including 60 at night and 29 water jumps. He decorated this Dennison jump smock with various Australian and foreign parachute badges, including some (now) very rare and desirable insignia.
The shield patch is a rare Australian made variant of the WW2 USMC Para-marine shoulder sleeve insignia (SSI). The patch to the right looks like the WW2 era USAAF 85th Fighter Squadron insignia.
British SAS Sky Divers club patch. This patch probably dates from a visit made by a four man free-fall team from 22 SAS regiment to Parachute Training Flight (PTF) in early 1962.
Canadian parachutist and an unusual, almost triangular shaped, variation of the British SAS wing
A unique and personalised para patch named to a ‘McKenzie’ on the crutch flap of the Dutchy Holland’s Dennison smock. There’s got to be a story behind the decision to place it there…
Rear of ‘Dutchy’ Holland’s smock featuring various insignia including the Newcastle Skydivers Club patch (bottom left near the kidney area). The Newcastle Skydivers Club was a joint Army/Air Force club at RAAF Base Williamtown.
Douglas ‘Dutchy’ Holland wearing his distinctive ‘patched-up’ Dennison parachutist smock checking the parachute of trainee parachutist Sergeant John Cousins in October 1958. Photograph courtesy of the Australian War Memorial. Accession number P02997.001.
From the Shadows: Australian Special Forces exhibition at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra is open until 8 September 2018.
Australia’s special forces trace their history back to World War 2, with the operations conducted by the Independent Commando companies, Navy Beach Commando, the Services Reconnaissance Department SRD (Z Special Unit) and the Allied Intelligence Bureau (M Special Unit). Post war, the skills and traditions were maintained by the commando companies which later evolved into 1 Commando Regiment and then in 1957 by the raising of a Special Air Service Company which became the Special Air Service Regiment in 1964. 2 Commando Regiment evolved out of the re-tasking of the 4th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, to take on the commando role becoming 4 RAR (Cdo) in 1997 and then 2 Commando Regiment in 2009.
Command and control for Australian special operations units was initially maintained by the Directorate Special Action Forces – Army (DSAF) which was formed in 1979 and underwent several changes, becoming Headquarters Special Forces (1990), Headquarters Special Operations (1997) and in 2003 Special Operations Command (SOCOM). Commanded by a Major General, SOCOM also brings other special operations support units under its control, namely the Special Operations Logistic Squadron (SOLS), Special Operations Engineer Regiment (SOER), Special Operations Training and Education Centre (SOTEC) and Parachute Training School (PTS).
In keeping with the requirements of special forces operations, the activities of many of Australia’s special operations units have, largely, been kept out of the public domain despite a gruelling tempo of operational commitments that has barely let up since the INTERFET deployment to East Timor in 1999. Public interest in the units has grown markedly and this temporary exhibition at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra provides a rare insight into the activities of the Australian special forces in recent years.
Developed in partnership with SOCOM, this exhibition features items held behind closed doors in the Special Air Service Historical Collection, Commando Regiment collection and other sources as well as some artifacts from the AWM’s collections. The displays provide some historical insights into the development of the units along with uniforms, equipment and artifacts related to its various roles, tasks and operations with an emphasis recent operational deployments.
It had been several years since I was last able to visit the AWM, so I recently took advantage of an opportunity to visit Canberra and spend a few solid days checking out this exhibition and the other displays. As previously mentioned, From the Shadows draws on objects held in the unit collections and not available for public viewing. There are over 600 artifacts on display and I was surprised to find that many of the SF related items that are held in the AWM collection such as SAS trooper Don Barnby’s uniform from Vietnam or objects relating to Z Special Unit’s operations against the Japanese, remained in their respective exhibition areas which further helps to contextualise these units roles in the conflicts represented.
The photos that I have included here are just a taste of what is on offer in the From the Shadows exhibition and I’ll leave my other photos from the AWM collection for another post. From the Shadows runs until the 8th of September 2018. If you can make the trip to Canberra to check it out, I strongly recommend that you do, it is an excellent exhibition. More details about the exhibition can be found at the Australian War Memorial website. The ABC also did a piece about it when the exhibition first opened in 2017 and it is worth taking a look at. You can find a link to their article here.
WW2 period Australian parachutist wing worn by a member of Z Special Unit, Services Reconnaissance Department (SRD). This is a locally made variation of the Australian parachutist qualification. The standard issue Australian wings were generally not available for issue at the posting locations of Z Special (SRD) personnel, so locally procured variations, often hand made, such as this one were procured by operatives for use.
WW2 British No. 2 Commando beret on loan from the 1 Commando Regiment Historical Collection. This is an interesting inclusion as it was not worn by Australian commandos, but I could find no explanatory caption to give more information. The British commando unit that used this beret was disbanded in 1946 and the Australian commando companies were formed in 1955. Whilst there must be some connection and I can only assume it was donated to the unit museum by a former member of the British 2 Commando I wonder what the curators rationale was for including this item in the display?
Early 1950’s period flag of 1 Commando Company (CMF).
A unique and very early Commando Company beret which features the first 1955 issue pattern commando company beret badge that was produced with vertical striations at the centre of the boomerang. Also attached is an early basic parachutist wing, which is possibly of WW2 British vintage. The headband of this beret has also been modified by removing the bottom half to show the sherwood green of the beret beneath the black band (the regimental colours). I suspect that this beret has been modified by a veteran after his service in the commando companies as it is unlikely these modifications would have been permitted during service.
On loan from 2 Commando Company, this parachute smock was worn by WO1 Douglas “Dutchy” Holland during his time as a PJI at the Parachute Training School at Williamstown. ‘Dutchy’, who had served in the RAF from 1940 until 1948, qualified as a (RAAF) PJI in 1954 and retired in 1962. He decorated this dennison jump smock with various Australian and foreign parachute insignia. For more photos go to this link.
Australian Special Air Service Regiment HALO parachutist.
Artifacts related to the Tactical Assault Group (TAG) counter terrorist teams.
During the 1970s and into the 1980s, terrorist hijacking of commercial aircraft were not uncommon. Members of SASR used aircraft models such as this example, during counter-terrorism training for planning an assault on an aircraft and to discuss tactics for recovering hostages.
Detail of the Members of an aircraft model used by SASR in the 1980’s, during counter-terrorism training for planning an assault on an aircraft and to discuss tactics for recovering hostages. Note the Airfix SAS toy soldiers which were released after the British SAS conducted the now famous assault to free hostages held by terrorists in the Iranian Embassy in London in 1980.
Pong Su life buoy. The skills and experience of the Tactical Assault Groups (TAGs) in boarding vessels moving at sea have enabled them to contribute to a number of ADF operations conducted with other government agencies such as the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and Customs. On 20 April 2001 members of the SAS with the TAG provided force elements that boarded the suspected drug smuggling vessel MV Pong Su off the coast of New South Wales. The SAS boarded the vessel by Seahawk helicopter and Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIB). Once the vessel was secured, officers from the AFP and Australian Customs Service boarded the Pon Su to gather evidence and make arrests. They discovered 40 kilograms of heroin and the victim of an alleged homicide. MV Pong Su was thought to have smuggled almost 125 kilograms of heroin.
Maritime counter-terrorism assaulter. A maritime counter-terrorism assaulter of Tactical Assault Group (East). During the 1980s and 1990s Royal Australian Navy (RAN) clearance divers served with the Special Air Service Regiment and today they work with TAG-East to conduct maritime counter-terrorism duties. In addition to providing a Clearance Diver Assault Platoon, the RAN’s support of TAG-East has included a team of clearance diver snipers and underwater medics.
Uniform of Private Matthew Martin, 1 Commando Regiment. Private Martin wore this uniform in Timor-Leste during Operation Astute in 2006-7. In the early hours of 4 March 2007 he was among Australian forces that assaulted rebel leader Alfredo Reinado’s compound in the village of Same, about 50 kilometers south of Dili. The rebels were killed, but Reinado escaped. He was shot dead leading an attack against the Timorese president and prime minister on 11 February 2008.
Australian Special Forces uniform worn during the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Headrest from the seat used by Signaller Sean McCarthy, 152 Signal Squadron, SASR. KIA Afghanistan 8 July 2008. Signaller Sean McCarthy was on his second rotation to Afghanistan when his vehicle “Derelicte” was hit by a roadside bomb. He was killed in the blast. This vehicle headrest inscribed with the details of the incident commemorates McCarthy and is on loan to the Australian War Memorial from the Special Air Service Historical Foundation. McCarthy had received a commendation for his courage, skills and mission focus during his deployments with the Special Operations Task Group.
JTAC Combat Control Team items from B Flight, No. 4 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force.
The Special Air Service constructed this ‘storyboard’ collage in Afghanistan to display the weapons and equipment found on the body of a Taliban insurgent they had killed. Code-named ‘Depth-charger’, the insurgent carried a diverse range of equipment: a Soviet AK-47 dating from the early 1950’s, a Soviet Makarov pistol, locally manufactured binoculars and ammunition pouch, and an American radio. Much of his equipment was personalised with bright fabric and reflective tape additions.
Detail from an Australian Special Forces operator display showing a ‘Punisher’ patch. I suspect that this may be a generic patch as the symbolism has become popular with several allied Special Operations units including one of the companies within 2 Commando Regiment. But I don’t think that this is one of the company specific patches.
‘From the Shadows: Australia’s Special Forces – The Operators’ video that was featured in the gallery during the exhibition
Portrait of two Australian soldiers on a despatch motorcycle and sidecar. Identified on the right, in the sidecar, is 750 Lieutenant Sydney Hubert Carroll MC, 4th Machine Gun Battalion; and left, on the motorcycle, is an unidentified 4th Brigade Headquarters staff officer, also wearing a Military Cross. Taken by Louis and Antoinette Thuillier in Vignacourt, France during the period 1916 to 1918. Object Type Black & white – Glass original quarter-plate negative Item ID P10550.049 Source: http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/p10550.049
The invention of photography in 1839 changed the world. It provided a more accessible means for society to record and over the course of time, define itself. For the collector, researcher and historian, photographic records are absolutely invaluable in providing important pieces of information about everything that has contributed to our past and our current identity. The camera has recorded everything, from the minutiae of detail on an item of clothing to a providing a document of events that shaped opinions and changed the course of history.
Like many soldiers, I also carried a camera and documented my life in the army and when I decided that it was time to head down ‘civvie’ street, I opted to take my photography to the next level opting to become a professional photographer. These days, in addition to taking photographs I also work as a Photography/Media lecturer at the Central Institute of Technology in Perth. My classes are varied and range from teaching digital capture, editorial photography to traditional darkroom and long obsolete 19th century ‘alternative’ printing techniques. I have also been responsible for instructing the students on storing archiving and exhibiting their photographic collections. These are aspects that most people pay little attention to, with potentially disastrous consequences for the future, particularly in this digital era of built in obsolescence where technology becomes obsolete overnight and we are no longer limited by the shooting restrictions of a roll film.
Group portrait of a British artillery unit. From the Thuillier collection of glass plate negatives. Taken by Louis and Antoinette Thuillier in Vignacourt, France during the period 1916 to 1918. Object Type Black & white – Glass original quarter-plate negative Item ID P10550.144 Source: https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/p10550.144
So, in future blog posts, I’ll present a series of articles aimed at us collectors and military enthusiasts that will look at how to preserve, store and share the photos that are important to us, from a collectors perspective and also to ensure that our kids or grandchildren can enjoy the photographs that we take today. We will look at the various technologies from the birth of photography in 1839 through to the present day. For each of these we will cover considerations for preventive conservation, storage, handling and presentation. There’s a lot of ground to cover and I’ll break up the sessions with some battlefield reports (I’m heading back to Vietnam in a few weeks) or titbits from my collection. But, before we start, here is something that should arouse your interest in the topic.
Group portrait of five unidentified American soldiers, with two local French civilian women, standing in front of a US Army Quarter Masters Corps truck. Taken by Louis and Antoinette Thuillier in Vignacourt, France during the period 1916 to 1918. Object Type Black & white – Glass original quarter-plate negative. Item ID P10550.143 Source: http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/p10550.143
Vignacourt is a small French town a little to the north of Amiens and during the First World War played an important role as a base and rest area for allied troops from the nearby fighting as it was just outside artillery range, but close enough to act as a staging area for the British sector. In late 1916 hundreds of Australians moved from the winter trenches of the Somme to the relative comfort of the town to rest and refit. Whilst many of the young Frenchmen had left to fight, the town it was still functioning and amongst those who remained were Louis and Antoinette Thuillier who turned their home into a photo studio and advertised for soldiers to have their photographs taken.
Portrait of possibly 3335 Private Joseph William Devlin, 2nd Pioneer Battalion with a gas respirator bag around his neck. Taken by Louis and Antoinette Thuillier in Vignacourt, France during the period 1916 to 1918. Object Type Black & white – Glass original quarter-plate negative. Item ID P10550.050 Source: https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/p10550.050
These were taken using glass plate negatives and printed outdoors, using the sun to expose the image onto postcards which the diggers could keep as a souvenir or send home to their families as evidence that they were still alive and well. Thousands of soldiers passed through their studio and whilst many of the resulting images have been preserved in family albums and institutions, it was believed that the original glass negatives had been lost. Then, in 2011 over 3000 of the glass negatives were discovered in a barn, amongst them around 800 images of the Australian troops. Kerry Stokes, businessman, philanthropist and friend of the Australian War Memorial generously donated these to the Australian War Memorial. Of these, 74 images were selected and reprinted using the traditional darkroom techniques and featured as part of the Remember me: the lost diggers of Vignacourt exhibition which ran at the AWM until July 2013.
Click the image to see a video of the handover of the negatives to the Australian War Memorial
The exhibition combines the images along with it’s own records and collection to tell the story of the subjects in their own voices. Whilst the exhibition only features a small number of the photos, the full collection is available online at the AWM site (http://www.awm.gov.au/exhibitions/remember-me/collection/). To coincide with the exhibition, Ross Coulthart has produced a book, The Lost Diggers, which tells the story of the discovery of the negatives and the stories of many of the people in the photos. The AWM has also released a video showing the restoration and printing of the images, which is worth watching and provides an insight into the preservation of this type of photograph.
Click the image to see a video featuring some of the background preservation and production of the images.