Dropping into the Cu Chi Tunnels

In January 1966, the 1st Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (1RAR), which had been attached to the US 173rd Airborne Brigade (Separate) after arriving in Vietnam the previous year, participated in  Operation CRIMP. This was an operation involving over 8000 allied troops and is described in detail in Bob Breen’s book, First to Fight and in Blue Lanyard Red Banner by Lex McAulay, whose customised Australian Army lighter that he carried during the operation was featured in a previous post. CRIMP was the battalion’s first major foray into an area which has become synonymous with the famous Củ Chi Tunnels and the pioneering ‘tunnel rat’ work carried out by its sappers.

For 1RAR, the objective of this operation, which involved over allied 8000 troops, was a series of underground bunkers believed to be in the Ho Bo Woods area of Củ Chi district. Intelligence indicated that these bunkers housed the headquarters for the Communist committee that controlled all Viet Cong activity in the Capital Military District and a large complex of tunnels was subsequently uncovered by the battalion. For the first time, engineers of 3 Field Troop, Royal Australian Engineers (3 Fd Tp RAE), under the command of Captain Alexander (Sandy) MacGregor breached the network recovering large quantities of  weapons, food, equipment and documents.

Sandy MacGregor recounts the experiences of the sappers from 3 Fd Tp as they entered the tunnels for the first time in his book, No Need for Heroes.

We had three tasks. The first was to investigate the tunnels as fully as possible to discover what they were being used for. The second was to try and map the tunnel system so that we could work out its extent, and if need be, dig down to a soldier who might be trapped. The third, once we discovered what a treasure trove the tunnels were, was to recover everything we could – weapons, equipment and paper – all of which was invaluable for the intelligence boys.

Op CRIMP tunnel rat demo

Photograph by Captain Alex ‘Sandy’ MacGregor, OC of 3 Field Troop, who developed the ‘tunnel rat’ concept first used during Operation CRIMP. Here, soldiers are demonstrating a “Tunnel Exploration Kit”, which was developed as a result of the developments made by MacGregor’s soldiers. Note the ear plug in the soldier’s right ear, the throat microphone and the switch in his mouth used to operate the torch strapped to his forehead. He is armed with a Smith & Wesson 38 calibre revolver equipped with a silencer and pinpoint-light sight. Photograph: Alexander Hugh ‘Sandy’ MacGregor. Australian War Memorial Accession Number: P01595.021

It was not an easy mission to accomplish as this was a departure from the American policy of sealing and destroying any tunnels found. Captain MacGregor had previously recognised the inadequacies of the American approach and had begun training his engineers to enter and clear tunnels. The 3 Fd Tp sappers had built a mock tunnel at their base, experimented and developed clearance techniques but they were still entering somewhat untested territory when they commenced the operation. The “Tunnel Rats” as they would come to known, had their work cut out for them. As soon as 1RAR hit the LZ they came under fire from snipers hidden in underground firing positions, trenches and tunnels. Bob Breen describes the situation in First to Fight,

There were snipers and small groups of Viet Cong everywhere – in and behind trees, popping up from spider holes and tunnel entrances at ground level, and scrambling away after firing quick bursts. The area was seeded with numerous booby traps. Diggers (Australian soldiers) noticed the ominous wires and saw shells and bunches of grenades dangling from trees and clumps of bamboo.

In an ambush on the first day of the operation, a Viet Cong firing position was discovered inside an anthill. When the sappers blew the anthill, a tunnel was discovered leading away from the position. Clearance teams from 3 Fd Tp began entering the network but breaching and securing the tunnels was no easy task.

We blew smoke into the tunnel and I divided the men into smaller sub-units of twos and threes and sent them off to investigate Once we’d blown smoke, then tear gas, then fresh air down the tunnels, I sent a couple of men down to investigate. The entrance was so narrow it was hard to imagine it was intended for people at all. There was a straight drop then it doubled back up, like the U-bend under a sink. The tunnel turned again to go along under the surface and became a little wider, but there still wasn’t room enough to turn around. It was terrifying down there, armed only with a bayonet to probe for booby traps and a pistol to defend yourself.

Once you’d negotiated the tight entrance and the U-bend, you had to crawl along tiny passages, rubbing your shoulders on each side of the tunnel, on all fours, with no way of turning around if you got into trouble. Often, you’d find larger ‘rooms’, sections of tunnel that were big enough to crouch or kneel in, but you weren’t to know that when you first set out. The further the men went, the more complex the tunnel system was revealed to be. There were drops, twists and turns, corners around which the whole North Vietnamese Army could be waiting, for all they knew. The men burrowed away, ever further, ever deeper, until they discovered a hidden danger in the operation. Some of them began passing out in the tunnels due to lack of air. But, despite the fact that there was no room to turn they were all dragged back to the surface, usually after we’d blasted more fresh air down to them.

A Sapper of 3 Field Troop emerges from a Viet Cong (VC) tunnel by way of a trapdoor in the ground ...

A Sapper of 3 Field Troop emerges from a Viet Cong (VC) tunnel by way of a trapdoor in the ground during Operation Crimp in the Ho Bo Woods with troops of 1 Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (1RAR). The trapdoor of concrete is covered with earth and grass and saplings are grown in it so that it carefully blends in with the rest of the vegetation, and is virtually impossible to detect. Photo: Peter Kelly. Australian War Memorial Collection Accession Number: KEL/66/0021/VN

Unfortunately, one of the sappers, Corporal Bob Bowtell, succumbed to the lack of air in one of the antechambers and had died of asphyxiation by the time his body could be brought back to the surface. The operation took its toll on many of the sappers as George Wilson recalls in Gary McKay’s book,  Bullets, Beans & Bandages,

Those long periods spent underground, often in total darkness, where at times the only ‘light’ was the luminous face of your watch, were my most vivid memories of Viet Nam… Our troop casualty rate was particularly high on that operation with only 12 out of 35 men remaining until the end… of the operation.

During the six days that 3 Fd Tp spent on Operation CRIMP, the sappers had investigated tunnels for 700m in one direction and another 500m across that line, recovering truckloads of documents and equipment, including photographs of the Viet Cong’s foreign advisors. On the final day of the operation, the sappers found a trapdoor which led to a third level in the system, but before they could investigate it further the Americans decided to end the operation and pull out. The tunnels that had been discovered were lined with explosives and tear gas crystals in an attempt to either destroy or make them uninhabitable. Later, long after the end of the war Sandy MacGregor finally learned what lay beyond that final trapdoor. It led to the military headquarters of the Viet Cong’s Southern Command.

They had been that close.

However, Operation CRIMP had uncovered a massive amount of equipment and intelligence information and as a result, American units throughout Vietnam received orders to clear tunnels before destroying them. The tunnel system breached by 3 Fd Tp was later discovered to consist of over 200 kilometers of tunnels in multiple levels, and included living, working and storage areas, forming part of the much larger Củ Chi tunnel complex. For his contribution, Sandy MacGregor was awarded the Military Cross by the Australian government and the Bronze Star by the Americans. He recounts his experiences developing the ‘Tunnel Rats’ concept and service in Vietnam in an interview that was recorded for the Life on the Line podcast series, which is worth listening to.

Viet Cong haversack : Sapper P M Cachia, 3 Field Troop, Royal Australian Engineers

Viet Cong locally made canvas haversack captured by Sapper Peter Cachia of 3 Fd Tp RAE during Operation CRIMP. It consists of a central compartment made from light brown canvas with fold-in weather flaps. This compartment is closed by a large external flap secured by tying together lengths of synthetic cord. The flap has a large external pocket of green canvas with a plastic button closure. The straps are of light brown canvas 60 mm wide tapering to 12 mm wide. The narrow end of each strap is passed through a loop of synthetic cord sewn to the bottom of the haversack and knotted. This is how the length of the straps can be adjusted. Lengths of synthetic cord have been machine sewn to the both the straps and the haversack along the joins as a means of reinforcement. The haversack, which originally contained an aluminium lighter and a large quantity of documents and other printed matter. The printed matter was taken by army intelligence for analysis, and Cachia was allowed to keep the haversack and lighter. Australian War Memorial Collection Accession Number: REL43475

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The district of Củ Chi lies approximately 60 kilometers northwest of Saigon bordering an area known as the Iron Triangle, the heartland of the Viet Cong guerrillas operating in the region. The tunnel system took advantage of the hard, red, soil which was suitable for digging and did not become waterlogged during the monsoon season.  It was first developed by the Viet Minh in their fight against the French and in 1947 only 47 kilometers of tunnels existed, but with the formation of the Viet Cong the system expanded. By the end of 1963 it was estimated that around 400km of arterial tunnels, trenches, connecting tunnels and bunkers existed in an area that covered 300 square kilometers. The Củ Chi Tunnel complex was big enough to conceal an entire regiment, some estimates put the figure at 5000 troops, enroute to its area of operations and proved to be an ongoing problem for the allied forces. Later, they were used as a staging area for the attack on Saigon during the 1968 Tet offensive and their utility was only somewhat restricted after a heavy bombing campaign by B-52’s in 1970.

During the course of the war it is estimated that at least 45,000 Vietnamese died defending the tunnels and after 1975, the Vietnamese government preserved sections of the tunnels and included them in a network of war memorial parks around the country. Today, visiting the Củ Chi tunnels are rated as one of the top five tourist destination activities in Vietnam, with some estimates placing the number of visitors as high as 1000 tourists per day.

There are two different tunnel display sites, Bến Đình and Bến Dược. The tunnels at Bến Dược are smaller attracting fewer visitors than the Bến Đình site which is closer to Ho Chi Minh City and is more popular with the multitude of tour groups offering the Củ Chi ‘experience’. Both tunnel sites offer a somewhat sanitised experience, allowing visitors to crawl around a ‘tourist friendly’ modified section of tunnel, check out displays depicting life for the occupants, boobytraps, weapons, equipment and be subjected to the usual pro-communist version of events. Personally, I think that the visitor parks are somewhat over-rated in terms of education or real historical value, but for a visitor with an interest in the military history of Vietnam they are worth visiting, just to check them out.

It is quite easy to reach the tunnels and there are lots of half-day or full day tours that include the Củ Chi Tunnels on their itineraries. Trip Advisor list several on their website which will give you an idea of what you can expect, however I think that it is best to visit them independently instead of an organised group tour. This can be done by bus or private taxi/driver, which is easily arranged and allows more flexibility with stops and timings.

Some of the organised full-day tours include a visit to the Cao Đài Holy See at Tây Ninh, approximately 96km northwest of HCMC as part of their package tour. Visiting this site is actually the main reason why I have made return visits to the tunnels at Củ Chi as its proximity makes for a good day trip and is worthy of consideration if you are organising your own visit.

The Cao Đài is a Vietnamese religious sect that was founded by a French colonial bureaucrat named Ngô Văn Chiêu and based on a series of messages he received during seances in the early 1920’s. Its doctrine is a fusion of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Christianity and occultism which deified an unusual mix of figures including Joan of Arc, Victor Hugo and Sun Yat Sen. Officially recognised as a religion in 1926, it adopted a clerical organisation structure similar to Roman Catholicism, established its headquarters at Tây Ninh.

In the years following its establishment, the Cao Đài became increasingly active in politics and at its peak, during the French period, had a militia of around 20,000 troops under its command. The French Indochina wars form a large part of my interest in Vietnam and the sect was a major player in the south during the French era.

cao dai illustrated london news 9 june 1951

An article about the Cao Dai from a 1951 edition of the Illustrated London News which talks about the support of their militia in battling the Viet Minh alongside the French.

 

In 1933, the Cao Đài commenced construction of its main cathedral, the Holy See, which is described in Graham Greene’s book, The Quiet American as “a Walt Disney fantasia of the East, dragons and snakes in technicolour.”

Completed in 1955, the temple is a rococo extravaganza that mixes the architectural idiosyncrasies of a French church, Chinese pagoda, Madam Tussaud’s and the Tiger Balm Gardens in Hong Kong. Prayer services are held four times per day, when uniformed priests and laity enter the building to perform their rituals. Visitors are free to enter the balcony section of the temple during these prayers and it is a very colourful spectacle to watch the priests and dignitaries carry out their observances. The best time to visit is just before the midday prayers (held every day except during Tet) and then head on to the tunnels as the second stage of a full day trip.

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An usher takes a nap during the midday prayer service at the Cao Đài Holy See in Tây Ninh. The yellow, blue and red stripes on his armband are the colours of the Cao Đài. Photo: Julian Tennant

In the next few weeks I’ll take a closer look at the Cao Đài’s political and military activities as I begin a series of posts devoted to some of the French Indochina period insignia that I have in my collection.

A selection of items related to the initial deployment of 1RAR to South Vietnam from May 1965 until April 1966 when they were attached to the US 173rd Airborne Brigade (Separate). The WW2 era Australian Military Forces lighter which has been modified with the addition of the enameled 173 Abn and Viet Cong badges was issued to Corporal Lex McAulay, who was with 1RAR during this time. Collection: Julian Tennant

Items related to the initial deployment of 1RAR to South Vietnam from May 1965 until April 1966 when they were attached to the US 173rd Airborne Brigade (Separate). The WW2 era Australian Military Forces lighter in the middle of the picture has been modified with the addition of the enameled 173 Abn and Viet Cong badges. It was issued to Corporal Lex McAulay, who was with 1RAR during this period. The Viet Cong badge attached to the lighter was found in one of the tunnels when he was participating in Operation CRIMP in January 1966. Collection: Julian Tennant

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The Ho Chi Minh Campaign Museum – HCMC, Vietnam

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Entry to the Ho Chi Minh Campaign Museum and statue commemorating the communist People’s Liberation Forces Victory of April 30 1975. Photo: Julian Tennant

The Ho Chi Minh Campaign Museum (Bảo tàng Chiến dịch Hồ Chí Minh) is a military museum in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, that recounts the final months of the Vietnam War, culminating in the communist’s  victory over the South Vietnamese in April 1975.

The North Vietnamese 1975 Spring Offensive was initially envisioned as a two-stage strategy that would take two years to complete. However, an early victory at Phouc Long (Route 14) on 6 January caused the communists to speed up their offensive. The People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) then launched “Campaign 275”, also known as the Central Highlands Campaign, which climaxed in March with the capture of  Buon Ma Thuot cutting South Vietnam in two. Surprised by the rapid collapse of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) forces, the communists then turned their attention north, commencing the Hue-Danang Campaign, securing the isolated coastal regions by April 3.

Refugees during the last days of the Vietnam War

Refugees clogging the roads as they flee towards Saigon during the last days of the Vietnam War. Photo: Hiroji Kubota

Most of the South Vietnamese army  had been routed, but with the communist forces closing in on Saigon, the ARVN made a spirited last stand at the Battle of Xuan Loc, 60km northeast of the capital. Xuan Loc, a vital logistical hub for the South Vietnamese, sat at the intersection of Route 1 and Route 20. They believed that if they could hold there, the situation could be stabilised,  their units re-grouped and the country saved from defeat. However, despite the heroic efforts of the ARVN’s 18th Infantry Division, Xuan Loc fell and by 21 April the road to Saigon was open.  The PAVN victory at Xuan Loc, allowed the communist forces to encircle Saigon, moving 100,000 troops into positions around the city by April 27.

ARVN Newport Bridge 1975

An ARVN Soldier hangs on to his wounded comrade as they both stay flat on the pavement of the Newport Bridge during a Communist attack on April 28, 1975. Photo: Hugh Van Es Bettmann/Corbis

Despite fierce resistance from troops of the 12th ARVN Airborne Battalion at the Newport Bridge (Cầu Tân Cảng) and from the 81st Ranger Group at Tan Son Nhut, the situation for the South Vietnamese Government had became untenable. At 10:24, on 30 April, South Vietnam’s President Minh announced an unconditional surrender to his troops. Shortly after, at 10:30 after hearing Minh’s orders, the paratroopers at the Newport Bridge stood down allowing the PAVN to cross and at 11:30 PAVN forces entered Tan Son Nhut Air Base after the Rangers also laid down their arms. Around noon, PAVN tanks crashed through the gates of the Independence Palace. Later that afternoon, President Minh publicly announced that the South Vietnamese Government had been dissolved at all levels. The Vietnam War was over.

War of Vietnam. Saigon's fall. Taken of the presid

PAVN armour entering the grounds of the Independence Palace, in Saigon on April 30, 1975. Photograph: Francoise De Mulder

The Ho Chi Minh Campaign Museum commemorates this successful 1975 offensive by the communists and was established in July 1987. It is housed in a two-story building (that once was the former Republic of Vietnam’s National Defence College) in District 1 close to the Vietnam History Museum and a few blocks away from the famous Notre Dame Cathedral.

The museum is divided into outdoor and indoor display areas, with the outdoor area displaying vehicles, artillery pieces and aircraft related to the campaign including the F5E fighter flown by Nguyen Thanh Trung when he defected from the South Vietnamese Air Force and bombed the Presidential Palace on 8th of April 1975. It also features T54 tank No. 848 of the 203rd Brigade, which was one of the tanks that entered the grounds of the Palace on the 30th of April. Other outdoor exhibits include an M113 APC captured in January during the Phuoc Long Campaign and then subsequently used by the 7th Division for the remainder of the conflict, plus the usual assortment of artillery pieces, wrecked ARVN aircraft and equipment.

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T54 tank No. 848 of the 203rd Brigade, which was used to enter the grounds of the Presidential Palace on the 30th of April. Photo: Julian Tennant

Entering the museum building brings visitors into the Ho Chi Minh Campaign rooms. Here, visitors are shown a large ‘mud map’ model giving an overview of the offensive plus other exhibits relating to the final stages of the war such as the official Ho Chi Minh Campaign diary. This is followed by rooms detailing each stage of the offensive, beginning with the Battle for Phuoc Loc (Route 14) and followed by the Tay Nguyen Campaign ( Campaign 275) and the battle for the Central Highlands which resulted in the destruction of ARVN forces in the II Corps zone. The focus then shifts to the Hue-Danang Campaign which isolated then defeated the South Vietnamese troops in I Corps.

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The Ho Chi Minh Campaign exhibition room. Photo: Julian Tennant

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Chinese Type 63 (renamed the H12 by the Vietnamese) 107mm rocket launcher that was used in the attack on Ban Me Thuot on 10 March 1975. Photo: Julian Tennant

The second floor has two main rooms. The first deals with the South Vietnamese high command and ARVN forces including insignia, medals, records and documentation captured from the Army of the Republic of South Vietnam. Other exhibits related to the campaign and activities of the Viet Cong local forces are also shown in the upstairs areas whilst the final room is dedicated to the Ho Chi Minh Campaign Headquarters and leadership group. This includes some unusual collections including several sets of spectacles used by various communist leaders and an old extendable car aerial which is described as the “Swagger-stick of General Tran Van Tra”.

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Captured ARVN officer’s personal files. Photo: Julian Tennant

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Captured Air Force F-5 Vietnam novelty patch and an unconfirmed (by me) black panther patch. I think it may be a 1st ARVN Division Strike Company (also known as Hac Bao, Black Panthers) patch variation, but am not 100% certain of this identification. Photo: Julian Tennant

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People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) cameraman with a Bolex H 16 SBM 16mm movie camera. Photo: Julian Tennant

Overall, the museum is well laid out with an interesting selection of exhibits that are accompanied by English language descriptions. However, the victors write the history books and as can be expected, the museum gives a very warped perspective that reflects the communist rhetoric. This is evident in both the language used, with the usual “imperialist puppet troop” type descriptions and also how the artifacts appear. The ARVN and South Vietnamese exhibits always seem to be broken (such as the scrap metal wrecks outside), run-down or looking rather aged and disheveled when compared to the PAVN artifacts which are kept fresh and look almost new. The museum is definitely worth visiting because of the material being displayed, but don’t rely on it giving an accurate representation of the conflict from an even remotely unbiased perspective.

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Officer of the Vietnam People’s Ground Forces (Lục quân Nhân dân Việt Nam) on duty at the museum. His insignia identifies him as a Senior Lieutenant (Đại úy) from the Corps of Engineers. Photo: Julian Tennant

Ho Chi Minh Campaign Museum (Bảo tàng Chiến dịch Hồ Chí Minh)
2 Le Duan Street
District 1
Ho Chi Minh City 70000, Vietnam

Phone: +84 (0)336 578 946

Website (Vietnamese language): Ho Chi Minh Campaign Museum

Open: Monday – Friday 07:30 – 11:00 and 13:30 – 16:30
Note that the museum is frequently closed without notice.

Entrance Fee: Free

 

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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

The Army Museum of Western Australia Part 2

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The Army Museum of Western Australia ticket office and shop. Photo: Julian Tennant

Last week, in Part 1 of my review of the Army Museum of Western Australia, I showed some of the exhibits from the Tradtions, Pre-1914, World War One, Prisoner of War and World War 2 Galleries. This second part focuses on the Post 1945 Galleries and the Guns & Vehicles section which includes the larger exhibits not displayed in the main exhibition building.

Click on the photographs to enlarge the images and read the caption information which provides more detail about what is shown in the photographs.

Entrance to the POST 1945 GALLERY at the Army Museum of Western Australia. Photo: Julian Tennant

Entrance to the POST 1945 GALLERY at the Army Museum of Western Australia. Photo: Julian Tennant

The POST-1945 gallery examines the Army’s involvement from the Occupation of Japan, through the Korean, Malaya, Borneo and Vietnam conflicts up to contemporary operations in the Middle East. Also included are exhibits related to the various humanitarian and United Nations deployments as well as uniforms from the locally based Citizen Military Force (reservist) units.

Korea c1952. Australian soldier wearing a mix of Australian, American and Canadian uniforms and armed with an Owen Machine Carbine.

Korea c1952. Australian soldier wearing a mix of Australian, American and Canadian uniforms and armed with an Owen Machine Carbine. Photo: Julian Tennant

Malayan Emergency c1955. Australian soldier wearing British issue uniform and equipment, armed with a .303 inch Mk1 Number 5 Jungle Carbine. Photo: Julian Tennant

Malayan Emergency c1955. Australian soldier wearing British issue uniform and equipment, armed with a .303 inch Mk1 Number 5 Jungle Carbine. Photo: Julian Tennant

After covering the occupation of Japan, Korean War and Malayan emergency of the 1950’s the galleries then turn their attention to the army units based in Western Australia.

Patch detail of 3 Troop, A Squadron, 10 Light Horse Regiment. Photo: Julian Tennant

Patch detail of 3 Troop, A Squadron, 10 Light Horse Regiment. Photo: Julian Tennant

 

The galleries then turn their attention to the 1960’s with it’s Vietnam War displays which feature some interesting items related to members of the Perth based Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) in Vietnam. SASR, which was first raised as a Company based at the coastal suburb of Swanbourne. The unit first deployed on operations to Borneo prior to its service in Vietnam and this is the one gap that I noticed in the displays. However, I’m not sure if this is an omission on the part of the museum or just me missing something as I tried to take in everything on display.

Australian Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) trooper Vietnam, circa 1969. Note the in-country 'chopped-down' L1A1 SLR rifle. Photo: Julian Tennant

Australian Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) trooper Vietnam, circa 1969. Note the in-country ‘chopped-down’ L1A1 SLR rifle. Photo: Julian Tennant

Delco AN/PRC-64 radio, which was used by the Australian Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) as their principle patrol radio for communications back to SHQ during their operations in Vietnam. Photo: Julian Tennant

Delco AN/PRC-64 radio, which was used by the Australian Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) as their principle patrol radio for communications back to SHQ during their operations in Vietnam. Photo: Julian Tennant

Terrain map model showing the unit locations within the 1st Australian Task Force Base at Nui Dat in Phouc Tuy province, South Vietnam in 1971. Photo: Julian Tennant

Terrain map model showing the unit locations within the 1st Australian Task Force Base at Nui Dat in Phouc Tuy province, South Vietnam in 1971. Photo: Julian Tennant

Australian soldier - South Vietnam c1969. Beside him is a M18A1 (Claymore) Anti Personnel Mine. Photo: Julian Tennant

Australian soldier – South Vietnam c1969. Beside him is a M18A1 (Claymore) Anti Personnel Mine. Photo: Julian Tennant

Lieutenant wearing the Summer uniform of the Royal Australian Nursing Corps, Vietnam era c1969. Photo: Julian Tennant

Lieutenant wearing the Summer uniform of the Royal Australian Nursing Corps, Vietnam era c1969. Photo: Julian Tennant

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Japanese made Australian Training Team Vietnam (AATTV) patch. These patches were introduced in 1967 and the majority were made in Japan. Later, a small quantity were made locally in Vietnam, however the majority of AATTV members used this Japanese made patch. The locally made variation is extremely rare due to the small numbers manufactured and collectors should be cautious when acquiring these patches as they have been extensively copied and generally do not resemble the original ‘local-made’ patches. Photo: Julian Tennant

 

The POST 1945 Gallery then transitions to more recent operations including humanitarian support operations, United Nations deployments and Australia’s commitments to the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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Mine warning sign and shirt worn by Corporal Steve Danaher (RASIGS) whilst deployed to Cambodia as part of the UNTAC mission in 1993. Photo: Julian Tennant

Mine warning sign and shirt worn by Corporal Steve Danaher (RASIGS) whilst deployed to Cambodia as part of the UNTAC mission in 1993. Photo: Julian Tennant

Australian Special Air Service trooper armed with an M4 carbine and pistol. Afghanistan 2008. Photo: Julian Tennant

Australian Special Air Service trooper armed with an M4 carbine and pistol. Afghanistan 2008. Photo: Julian Tennant

 

The final section is referred to as GUNS AND VEHICLES and is spread around the main parade-ground plus the other covered locations external to the main building. The exhibits featured in this section range from heavy mortar’s and artillery pieces to armoured cars, tanks and other vehicles. Of particular interest in this section is the Australian Special Forces Amphibian Mk3 Commando Kayak which replaced the German made Klepper Aerius II in 1988. I was also surprised to see one of the Mercedes Unimogs that had been converted by SASR as a support vehicle for use in Afghanistan and I suspect that this may be the only one in a public collection in Australia.

Amphibian Mk3 Commando Kayak. Built in 1986 by PJP Marine of Kirrawee in NSW to replace the Kleppers used by the Special Air Service Regiment, Australian Commandos and the RAN Special Ship Assault Navy Diving Teams. Designed to have no radar signature, quick to assemble nd more stable under tow and during heavy sea operations thand the German made Klepper Aerius II. They were also air portable and capable of being launched from the Oberon and Collins class submarines. 120 were made. Photo: Julian Tennant

Amphibian Mk3 Commando Kayak. Built in 1986 by PJP Marine of Kirrawee in NSW to replace the Klepper Aerius II then used by the Special Air Service Regiment, Australian Commandos and the RAN Special Ship Assault Navy Diving Teams. Designed to have no radar signature, quick to assemble and more stable under tow and during heavy sea operations than the German made Klepper, they were also air portable and capable of being launched from the Oberon and Collins class submarines. 120 were made and brought into service in 1988. Photo: Julian Tennant

Special Air Service Regiment / Special Operations Task Group (SOTG) Afghanistan modified Mercedes Unimog. These vehicles were 'up armoured' and modified to meet the specific operational requirements whilst operating in Afghanistan between 2005 until 2011. Photo: Julian Tennant

Special Air Service Regiment / Special Operations Task Group (SOTG) Afghanistan modified Mercedes Unimog. These vehicles were ‘up armoured’ and modified to meet the specific operational requirements whilst operating in Afghanistan between 2005 until 2011. Photo: Julian Tennant

This is a well laid out and interesting museum, with clear descriptions of the exhibits, supported by a staff of volunteers including many ex-servicemen who are happy to chat to visitors. Being largely volunteer run, the opening hours are a little restricted, being from 10:30 until 15:00 (last entries 13:00) from Wednesday to Sunday. There is no on-site parking for visitors, but it is not too difficult to find parking in the surrounding streets. If you’re relying on public transport, several buses leaving from the Fremantle train station pass close by or it’s an easy 20-minute walk from the station. An important point for visitors to note is that all adult visitors must be able to show appropriate photo identification (passport, drivers’ licence etc) prior to entry.

A selection of Dies used to manufacture badges. These were in a section currently being prepared for display. I suspect that the Dies are from the Sheridans company that is based in Perth and has made many military badges, particularly in the first half of the 20th century. Photo: Julian Tennant

A selection of Dies used to manufacture badges. These were in a section currently being prepared for display in one of the shed areas of the GUNS AND VEHICLES section, although I am not sure if this is where they will finally be placed on display. I suspect that the Dies are from the Sheridans company that is based in Perth and has made many military badges, particularly in the first half of the 20th century. Photo: Julian Tennant

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Location map showing the relative distance of the Army Museum of Western Australia from Fremantle Train Station. It is quite an easy walk or there are regular bus services that stop nearby.

The Army Museum of Western Australia
Artillery Barracks
Burt Street
Fremantle, Western Australia, 6160

Phone: +61 (0)8 9430 2535
Fax: +61 (0)8 9430 2519
Email: info@armymuseumwa.com.au
Website: www.armymuseumwa.com.au

Open: Wednesday to Sunday inclusive from 10:30 am to 3:00 pm. Last entry at 1:00 pm.
Group bookings can be arranged for Wednesday, Thursday or Friday.

Note:
Photo ID required for entrance
Wheelchair access available
Only ACROD parking allowed on-site

Entry Fees:
Adults $15
Seniors/Concession $10
Child (6-17) $10
Family Group (2+3) $35
For School and other group tours refer to details in Bookings

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Merredin Military Museum, Western Australia

 

Situated approximately 256 km (159 miles) east of Perth and roughly halfway to the goldfields surrounding Kalgoorlie, the town of Merredin was established as a rest stop for travellers making their way to the goldfield region. Being so far from the coast the town also became an important military base during World War 2 when military planners were establishing a defensive line in the event of a Japanese invasion. Merredin was considered distant enough from the coast to be out of range of carrier borne aircraft, close to major road and rail supply routes and in an area where there were good food and water supplies. As a result the town and surrounding district was home to several military bases during the war and since the early 1990’s, home to the Merredin Military Museum.

I had been wanting to visit this museum for some time and after giving the curator, Rob Endersbee a call to confirm that it would be open, I left Perth early on Friday morning for the three-hour drive. Because of its history during WW2, there are a number of military related sites around the area, so the plan was to stay in town overnight and make a leisurely drive back to Perth on Saturday or Sunday, checking out anything that took my fancy on the way.

Despite leaving quite early, I did get a little distracted on the drive when I passed an old service station in the town of Meckering, just over an hour outside of Perth. The gas station had been redecorated to look like a huge SLR camera and was now The Big Camera – Museum of Photography, a private collection of hundreds, if not thousands, of old cameras and photographic equipment that made for a nice little rest stop.

Arriving at the Merredin Military Museum shortly after 11am, I was met by Bill Beer, one of the volunteers and a little later, Rob the curator, both of whom were happy to talk about the exhibits and provide additional information about the pieces on display. The museum was established in the early 1990’s after three local collectors accepted an offer from the Merredin army cadet unit to pool their collections and set up a display in one of their sheds.

By 1998 and with support from the local shire the collections had been relocated to a new home, the old railway communications building less than 200m away from the train station and tourist information centre making it very convenient for any visitor arriving from Perth. The current location houses the three private collections as well as the museum’s own growing collection, so it is rather eclectic and as a result quite fascinating, including items that I had not expected to encounter in a regional town.

Very rare Australian 'Folboot' collapsible canoe used by Australian Special Forces operatives from Z Special Unit during World War Two. Photo: Julian Tennant

An extremely rare Australian Mk III ‘Folbot’ collapsible canoe used by Australian Special Forces operatives from Z Special Unit during World War Two. Photo: Julian Tennant

The first of these is in the main display room where an extremely rare Folbot (folding boat) canoe used by the Australian Services Reconnaissance Department’s “Z” Special Unit operators is suspended from the ceiling. This was the same type of canoe used by the two-man teams during OPERATION JAYWICK to paddle into Singapore harbour and attach limpet mines to the Japanese shipping. There is also a small display of other “Z” Special Unit items, including a detonator timer and a very rare Australian Army Stiletto (AAS) which is the Australian made dagger based on the famed Fairbairn Sykes design.

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Sten gun magazines with magazine filler and a very rare Australian Army Stiletto (AAS) issued to “Z” Special Unit operatives and members of the 2/6th Independent (Commando) Company. Looking at the detail of the knife, I believe that this is the pattern made by Gregory Steel Products in Melbourne. Photo: Julian Tennant

 

Newspaper and Type 95 Japanese NCO's sword brought back to Australia by Signalman Harold Hardy after the surrender of Japanese forces on Morotai Island. Photo: Julian Tennant.

Newspaper and Type 95 Japanese NCO’s sword brought back to Australia by Signalman Harold Hardy after the surrender of Japanese forces on Morotai Island. Photo: Julian Tennant.

Other rooms in the building feature an extensive selection of models and communications equipment, including an interesting display relating to one of Australia’s first surveillance units, the 2/1st Northern Australia Observation Unit, whose role was to carry out horse mounted patrols in the arid north watching for signs of Japanese invasion. There are also spaces dedicated to the local military history including several uniforms related RAAF personnel and the nurses who served with the 2/1st Australian General Hospital that was based at Merredin in 1942-3, as well as the Vietnam war, a weapons display and the WW1 Honour Rolls room. This last room reminds us that of the approximately 375 local men who left to serve in WW1, 70 were killed in action. A significant number for any small rural community of the time.

2/1st North Australia Observation Unit (NAOU) display. Nicknamed the “Nackeroos” or “Curtin’s Cowboys”, was created in mid-March 1942 and were given the task of patrolling northern Australia to look for signs of enemy activity. They operated in small groups, and most of their patrols were on horseback. The men made use of the knowledge of local Aboriginals and maintained coastwatching outposts. They were disbanded in 1945 after the risk of invasion had passed. Their traditions are carried on today by the Regional Force Surveillance Units. Photo: Julian Tennant

2/1st North Australia Observation Unit (NAOU) display. Nicknamed the “Nackeroos” or “Curtin’s Cowboys”, the unit was created in mid-March 1942 and given the task of patrolling northern Australia to look for signs of enemy activity. They operated in small groups, with most of their patrols were on horseback, taking advantage of the knowledge of local Aboriginals and maintaining isolated coastwatching outposts. They were disbanded in 1945 after the risk of invasion had passed. Their traditions are carried on today by the Regional Force Surveillance Units of the Pilbarra Regiment, Norforce and 51 FNQR. Photo: Julian Tennant

 

A very rarely seen RAAF Search & Rescue patch from the RAAF Base Pearce near Perth. Photo: Julian Tennant

A very rarely seen RAAF Search & Rescue patch from the RAAF Base Pearce near Perth. Photo: Julian Tennant

 

 

 

Outside and in the vehicle shed are a several military vehicles plus aircraft, some of which are undergoing restoration, including a working Mk III Valentine tank, an CAC Aermacchi MB-326H (Macchi) training jet built under license by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation, a 1980’s era Toyota station wagon (something that for some reason I never expected to see in a museum) and an interesting Bren Gun carrier, officially designated the Universal Carrier MG, Local Pattern No. 2 (LP2),  that had been converted to carry a QF 2 Pounder anti-tank gun. Designated the Carrier, Anti-tank, 2-pdr, (Aust) or Carrier, 2-pdr Tank Attack, it is a heavily modified and lengthened LP2 carrier with a fully traversable QF 2 pounder anti-tank gun mounted on a platform at the rear and the engine moved to the front left of the vehicle. Stowage was provided for 112 rounds of 2pdr ammunition. Bill said that around 200 were produced and were used for training but he did not think that they saw operational service.

One of the more unusual vehicles undergoing restoration at the Merredin Military Museum. This is a modified Bren Gun Carrier which has been converted to carry a 2 Pounder Anti-Tank gun manufactured by General Motors in South Australia. Photo: Julian Tennant

One of the more unusual vehicles undergoing restoration at the Merredin Military Museum. This is a modified Bren Gun Carrier (Universal Carrier MG, Local Pattern No. 2) which has been converted to carry a QF 2 Pounder Anti-Tank gun manufactured by General Motors in South Australia. Photo: Julian Tennant

 

Chatting with Rob and Bill towards the end of my visit, it was quite interesting to hear some of stories surrounding the exhibits, but it also reinforced my respect for the people who keep places like the Merredin Military Museum open to the public. This is a private museum, running on a very tight budget, relying on donations and the goodwill of the public, plus its dedicated volunteers to stay afloat. When Rob heard that I was coming up from Perth for the visit, he told Bill, who actually turned up before the 10am opening time to make sure that somebody would be there when I arrived… which kinda made me feel bad for taking the break at The Big Camera in Meckering.

Rob also told me that despite a lot of information still stating that the museum is only open from Monday to Friday, it is NOW OPEN 7 DAYS PER WEEK from 10:00 until 15:00, but if you’re passing through Merredin and want to visit outside of those hours, give him a call and he will try to arrange to have it opened so that you can get in. That shows real dedication and I definitely recommend a visit the Merredin Military Museum as a day or overnight trip from Perth or if you’re making a trip to visit the goldfields around Kalgoorlie. Finally, if you are interested in exploring more of the sites related to the war history of Merredin and the wheatbelt region this RAC magazine article and this guide from the Merredin Tourist Visitors Centre are also worth reading.

The Merredin Military Museum

Great Eastern Highway
Merredin
Western Australia 6415

Phone: +61 (0) 429 411 204 (Rob Endersbee – Curator)

https://www.australiasgoldenoutback.com/business/attractions/merredin-military-museum

Opening Times                                                                                                               

Everyday 10:00 – 15:00  Or call Rob to arrange a visit

 

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Army Museum Žižkov – Prague, Czech Republic

Prague - The Army Museum Žižkov

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.

 

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…

Prague - The Army Museum Žižkov

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).

Prague - The Army Museum Žižkov

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.

 

Prague - The Army Museum Žižkov

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.

 

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.

Prague - The Army Museum Žižkov

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.

 

Prague - The Army Museum Žižkov

Exhibition area showing the development of the Czech Armed Forces between the wars.

 

 

Prague - The Army Museum Žižkov

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.

 

Prague - The Army Museum Žižkov

Waffen SS NCO’s visor cap and label from the kennel of the SS Security dogs at the Mauthausen Concentration Camp.

Prague - The Army Museum Žižkov

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.

 

 

 

Army Museum Žižkov /Armádní muzeum Žižkov                                                                   U Památníku 2,                                                                                                                                        Praha 3 – Žižkov,

Phone No: +420 973 204 924.

Email:  museum@army.cz

The Military History Institute Prague                                                                                            http://www.vhu.cz/english-summary

WARNING ORDER! Australian War Memorial. Saturday 05 October 2019.

WARNING ORDER! Saturday 05 October 2019.

Australian War Memorial Storage Facility, Callan Street, Mitchell ACT. Photo: Georgia Hitch

For those of you living reasonably close to Canberra, the Australian War Memorial’s Storage Facility in the suburb of Mitchell, ACT, will be open to the public on Saturday 05 October 2019 from 10:00 – 15:00.

The Australian War Memorial holds about 700 000 objects in its collection but only about 20 000 are on display at the memorial itself, so this is a great opportunity to see some of the pieces that are not currently exhibited, new acquisitions including a RF-111C aircraft and also see how objects are restored and conserved.

Entry to the AWM Mitchell Storage Facility is by donation and there are some rules regarding dress, behaviour etc as it is part of the conservation area. The last time that I think the AWM had one of these open days is back in 2016  and you can see some photos from that occasion on the AWM flickr page. It is definitely worth a visit if you can get there.

For more information go to
https://www.awm.gov.au/visit/events/BigThings

And to find out what else is happening at the AWM from now until November, check the calendar out below.

Australian War Memorial event calendar for Spring (September to November) 2019.

Australian War Memorial event calendar for Spring (September to November) 2019.

The Liberation War Museum – Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Pakistani troops during an operation against India during the 1971 Liberation War. Photographer unknown.

Opened in March 1996, the Liberation War Museum (Muktijuddho Jadughor) is located in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka. The museum commemorates the Bangladesh Liberation War, which took place from 26 March to 16 December 1971 and resulted in East Pakistan becoming the independent nation of Bangladesh.

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The Liberation War Museum at 5 Segun Bagicha Rd, Dhaka. Photo: Julian Tennant

Currently housed in a colonial era white-washed building, near the National Institute of Neurosciences Hospital, the Liberation War Museum is best reached by one of the cage-like, gas powered, CNG taxis as it is some distance from most of the tourist hotels and guesthouses used by international visitors. There are plans to relocate the museum but this has been delayed and in its present location it has six galleries plus a small bookshop and tea stall in the back courtyard. The first room documents the customs, culture and traditions of Bengal and the country’s struggle against colonial control.

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Panoramic view of the galleries in the War Liberation Museum, Dhaka. Photo: Julian Tennant

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Weapons display at the War Liberation Museum, Dhaka. Photo: Julian Tennant

The second gallery focuses on the period of Pakistani rule from 1947 until 1971, highlighting the plight of the Bengalis and their growing resistance to the economic, political and cultural oppression from the government in Pakistan. The third gallery documents the genocide of 1971, as well as the resistance and declaration of independence.

Hand sewn flag from March 1971 when Bangabondhu Sheikh Mujibur R

Hand sewn flag from 1971 made around the time Bangabondhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman called for resistance to the Pakistanis on the 7th of March. The Bangladesh Liberation War began 18 days later and these flags were produced as a symbol of opposition to the Pakistani forces and to identify the liberation fighters. Photo: Julian Tennant

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Liberation fighter propaganda poster on display at the Liberation War Museum, Dhaka. Photo: Julian Tennant

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Dusty display cabinets showing bones, ammunition boxes and other artifacts relating to the atrocities carried out by the Pakistani troops. Photo: Julian Tennant

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Human skulls gathered from one of the two ‘Killing fields’ in Dhaka. Photo: Julian Tennant

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Documentation detail from the War Crimes Fact Finding Committee. Photo: Julian Tennant

Galleries four to six document various aspects of the military struggle against the Pakistanis including weapons, cameras and swimming fins used by a Bangladeshi ‘commando’ diver when planting limpet mines on Pakistani shipping. There is also a selection of human remains recovered from one of the two ‘Killing fields’ that existed in Dhaka during the struggle.

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Graffiti left behind by Pakistani troops and described as being extremely offensive to Islamic teaching by some Bangladeshi’s. Photo: Julian Tennant

Books and camera used by Sector-2 commander Major Khaled Mosharr. Photo: Julian Tennant

Books and camera used by Sector-2 commander Major Khaled Mosharr. Photo: Julian Tennant

Photography is forbidden within the museum and I had to leave my camera at the desk. The staff were not to concerned about my phone though and I was able to sneak some pictures of the artifacts. Unfortunately the quality of these images is quite poor due to the low light, dust covered display cases and the need to photograph quickly and discretely. However the pictures will give you some idea of what is on display.

Fins and photo of Naval Commando Zainal Abedin who was involved

Fins used by Zainal Abedin a ‘commando diver’ who planted limpet mines on Pakistani ships. Photo: Julian Tennant

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Cap and photograph of Major M.A. Khaleque, a Bengali officer commissioned into the Pakistani Army and later executed by them on suspicion of aiding the resistance struggle. The caption states that he was an Intelligence officer however the cap badge indicates Artillery corps. Photo: Julian Tennant

Like some of the other museums that I have visited in the region, budget constraints, climatic conditions and a lack of properly trained conservation staff mean that it an ongoing uphill battle to preserve the artifacts that they exhibit. Cabinets are covered in a thin film of dust and the artifacts, particularly the paper and textile items are showing the effects of poor display conditions despite the best efforts of the staff. The majority of the military related objects are documents, plus a selection of weapons and some equipment items. Captions are in English and provide some interesting insights into the experiences of the resistance movement and the struggle. A new museum site in Agargaon (Dhaka) was acquired in 2009 but construction of the new facilities has fallen behind schedule and the move has not yet been completed.

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Some of the various rusting and antiquated WW2 period weapons on display at the War Liberation Museum, Dhaka. Photo: Julian Tennant

The Liberation War Museum (Bengali: মুক্তিযুদ্ধ যাদুঘর Muktijuddho Jadughôr) is located at

5 Segun Bagicha, Dhaka-1000, Bangladesh

Phone: +880-2-9559091

Fax: +880-2-9559092

mukti@citechco.net

mukti.jadughar@gmail.com

http://www.liberationwarmuseumbd.org

The Liberation War Museum (Bengali: মুক্তিযুদ্ধ যাদুঘর Muktijuddho Jadughôr)

The Liberation War Museum (Bengali: মুক্তিযুদ্ধ যাদুঘর Muktijuddho Jadughôr). 5 Segun Bagicha, Shahbagh, Dhaka.

Entry is 100Tk (US$1.20 approx)

The Museum is open everyday except Sunday between
10:00 AM to 6:00 PM.
In winter it is open between
10:00 AM to 5:00 PM.
Ramadan Time (রমজান সময়সূচি)
10:00 AM to 3:30 PM.

Mukti Bahini liberation fighters pull their rickshaw to the side of the road as an Indian Army Engineer unit passes by. Photographer unknown.

Mukti Bahini liberation fighters pull their rickshaw to the side of the road as an Indian Army Engineer unit passes by. Photographer unknown.