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

Laos 6 Franco Laotian Commando ser28-2

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

60th Partisan Company consisting of 3 sections of partisans;

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

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

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

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

 

Insignia

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

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

 

 

 

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The 1st Laotian Parachute Battalion badge 1952 – 1954

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

COMMANDOS ET FORCES SUPPLETIVES INDOCHINE 1945-1954

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

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

COMMANDOS ET FORCES SUPPLETIVES INDOCHINE 1945-1954

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

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

COMMANDOS ET FORCES SUPPLETIVES INDOCHINE 1945-1954

 

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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

Revisiting Vietnam’s infamous Dan Sinh “War Surplus” Market

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Deciding to collect Vietnam War militaria is fraught with danger as the marketplace is saturated with fakes and reproductions. I was fortunate that during my first trip to Vietnam in 1997, the late Peter Aitken (who was then at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra) introduced me to a Vietnamese friend of his in Saigon who was able to guide me through the minefield that Vietnam War militaria had already become. I arrived in Saigon with ideas of finding rare Vietnamese Airborne insignia and left convinced that only the brave or foolish would start collecting militaria from the ‘American War’ period… And this was before eBay and the Internet started to take off as a source for collectors!!!

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One of the first places that we visited was the Dan Sinh market, also known as the ‘War Surplus’ or ‘American’ market it is the place where much of the supposed Vietnam War militaria originate. Situated at 104 Yersin next door to the Phung Son Tu pagoda, it consists of a rabbit warren of stalls offering everything from electrical parts to footwear. Part of the market consists of small stalls selling military related items. During that first visit most of the stuff was related, in appearance, if not actual age or authenticity, to the 1962 – 75 period but more recently the reproducers have started to include post Vietnam war conflicts and one can find copies of current issue US army multicam, British desert DPM and Australian DPCU camouflage uniforms and equipment amongst the usual ‘junk’.

A selection of fake patches found at the Dan Sinh "War Surplus"

As collectors become more aware of the Vietnam era fakes being produced at the market, the manufacturers have turned to other areas and conflicts, including these poorly copied British SAS insignia.

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Faked French, Rhodesian and contemporary multicam jackets.

Another Vietnamese copy

Australian DPCU bush-hat. This camouflage pattern wasn’t introduced until 1988, long after the war ended… and this wide brimmed style sometime in the 90’s.

During that first trip my guide, Loi and I devised a system to identify the fakes and at the same time protect him from recriminations from the sellers. If I found something that I liked I would pick it up, inspect it and then pass it on to him. He would look at it, mutter something like “very nice” then, if it was genuine, hand it back to me and if not, place it back on the table. I quickly became disappointed as everything from MACV SOG patches to ARVN Ranger helmets were placed back on the table. The thing that I didn’t fully grasp at the time was that after the war and the economic difficulties that followed the ‘surplus’ was either recycled or whenever possible, broken down to it’s component parts, brass, aluminium, acrylic etc and sold as scrap. It was only after Vietnam reopened to Western tourism and foreign interest in the war became apparent that the potential of the war legacy became apparent. A lot of the remaining bits and pieces disappeared quickly, but the demand was there and the ever-resourceful Vietnamese started to fill demand by reproducing the items that were in demand.

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Make no mistake; the guys at Dan Sinh are not fools and know what the state of the marketplace is for their creations… and as collectors become more savvy they shift their focus to take advantage of new opportunities. Over the years I have returned many times and come to know some of the dealers reasonably well. Even back in the 90’s they were already aware of what was in demand and were producing items for unsuspecting collectors. Unscrupulous western dealers had been visiting Vietnam and providing the designs and reference material for their ‘orders’ since the 80’s and the Vietnamese were more than happy to oblige. During that trip in 97 I was shocked to see that one dealer had a copy of the out of print and extremely sought after “Special Forces of the United States Army 1952-2002by LTC Ian D. W. Sutherland (Ret). Back then, one could expect to pay $200+ for a copy if you could find one and these guys were using it as a standard reference (a ‘gift’ of a US based dealer/customer) for their creations. During a visit around 2007 or 2008, one of the main guys at Dan Sinh showed me an autographed copy of a Schiffer published reference book on insignia from a certain US branch of service. Nothing unusual in that, but what threw me was when he admitted that he was asked by the author, to make the insignia for the book and many of those same rare patches are still being offered for sale (as authentic) by the author via his eBay store. That’s not hearsay; I gleaned that bit of info during a recorded interview with the maker of the fakes. I shudder to think how many people use that book as a reference and placed their trust in the author as a ‘reputable’ dealer.

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Current retail (not wholesale) price for these supposedly rare flags… $5 to $10 each

The lesson that I learnt during that first trip was to view all items from the Vietnam War with suspicion. I have a modest collection of Vietnam War period ARVN Airborne, Australian SAS and AATTV items, but tread very carefully. If it doesn’t have provenance, I’ll pass on it. There’s just too much shit out there. I would go as far to say that 99% of the Vietnam War militaria that you can find on eBay are faked, everything from maps and paperwork, through uniforms to aircraft gauges. Supposedly rare MACV SOG patches can be bought for as little as $1 each, wholesale, VC flags, $5 – $10, Zippos (and there will be an entire post devoted to the changes I’ve seen over the years) about $5 retail and less for bulk purchases. Recently I’ve even found reproductions such as those made by George Peterson’s NCHS in the USA being brought IN to the markets and offered by one of the sellers as original.

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Reproductions (including those made and sold by NCHS in the USA) such as the ARVN Special Forces beret badge near the left corner of the picture are being brought into the Dan Sinh market where they are being resold as ‘original’. Click here for a link to the NHCS listing of the same copy.

As a collector, visiting the Dan Sinh market is a ‘must do’ on any Vietnam itinerary; just don’t fall for the bullshit. Unlike my first visit, these days many, but not all, of the dealers will admit that the items are copies and one or two will even offer to make the items that you require. It’s definitely worth a visit, but if the experience doesn’t make you want to steer well clear of collecting Vietnam War militaria… well then you need counselling.

dan sinh war surplus market

The Dan Sinh Market is open until about 6pm but many of the militaria dealers start closing up around 5. It can be found at 104 Yersin, District 1 and is open every day.