The Goldfields War Museum – Boulder, Western Australia

The discovery of gold in the Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie region, approximately 550km east of Perth in the early 1890’s led to an influx of fortune seekers, some of whom had military training. However early efforts to raise a volunteer force in Coolgardie in 1896 and Kalgoorlie in 1897 were unsuccessful and it was not until the outbreak of the Boer War in 1899 that military matters were taken more seriously in the area. By June 1900 the Western Australian Colonial Government had approved the creations of a Goldfields militia, known as the Goldfields Battalion of Infantry. Members of the battalion volunteered to serve in the Boer War and in 1903 the Battalion was re-designated the Goldfields Infantry Regiment, then in 1912, the 84th Infantry. From these origins, members of the Goldfields community have contributed to every conflict that Australia has fought in since Federation.

The Goldfields War Museum was established in 1989 to showcase the involvement of the community in Australia’s wars, but in April 2010 the museum was devastated by a 5.0 magnitude earthquake. Part of the museum was relocated to the Kalgoorlie Town Hall, however the vehicles and larger parts of the collection were placed into storage, where they still remain until a suitable venue for their display can be constructed. On 7 January 2019, the museum was reopened in the Boulder Town Hall.

Considering the community’s involvement and sacrifices it made in all of Australia’s wars I was quite surprised at how small the museum is. However, during my visit I had a brief chat to City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder heritage officer Tim Cudini, who told me that there are several other items held in storage which will go on display when funding is finally released to facilitate the expansion of the museum to include the larger vehicles and other pieces that have been out of view since the earthquake.

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Display at the Goldfields War Museum, Boulder, Western Australia. Photo: Julian Tennant

The current display area takes up six rooms, which were previously used as a doctor’s surgery, on the ground floor of the town hall. Most of the space is used for didactic panels and photographs outlining the experiences of locals in the wars.  I was a little disappointed by the small number of objects shown on display, although the stories that accompany the displays do make for interesting reading as they give very personal accounts of the conflicts and also clues to the prevalent attitudes of the time.

One of these features medals and documentation belonging to James Brennan who served and an infantryman with the 2/28th Battalion as a ‘Rat of Tobruk’ and taken prisoner of war at El Alamein. James ‘Jim’ Brennan was an indigenous soldier, born in Laverton, Western Australia in 1917. While still a child, James was taken from his family and sent to the Moore River Settlement, north of Perth. In his teens he worked as a stockman mustering cattle before enlisting in the Army in August 1940.

On 26 July 1942 he was captured during the 2/28th Battalion’s disastrous attack on Ruin Ridge as part of what is known as the first battle of Alamein. The battalion lost 65 men killed and 490 captured by the Axis forces.  Sent to Italy, James endured harsh treatment as a POW before being transferred to work in the rice fields between Turin and Milan. When the Italians capitulated, Brennan escaped and fought with the Partisans until being recaptured and sent to Stalag 7 in Germany, before being repatriated to Australia at the end of the war.

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Items belonging to WX7218, Private James Brennan, an indigenous soldier who served with the 2/28th Battalion and was captured at Alamein on 26 July 1942. Photo: Julian Tennant

Returning to the Western Australian Goldfields, James Brennan found that being of indigenous heritage and despite having fought for Australia, he was still not regarded as an Australian citizen. He had to apply for citizenship rights just to go into a pub for a drink and when granted citizenship he and his wife Myrtle were able to go into towns, but this same access was not granted to their relatives. In 1965 James formed the Eastern Goldfields Aboriginal Advancement Council to advocate for social change on behalf of Aboriginal people. His service to the indigenous community was formally recognised in 1984 when James was awarded the Order of Australia Medal. His story was a sobering reminder of some of the attitudes regarding indigenous Australians that still persist in some sections of the community even today.

Other exhibits, such as the plate carrier of Private Brian Enad, who served with the 6th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (6RAR) reflect Australia’s more recent conflicts. Brian Enad deployed to Afghanistan as a member of 6RAR’s Combat Team Charlie, training members of the Afghan National Police and National Army in 2010. The deployment was among the bloodiest for the battalion which formed part of Mentoring Task Force 1, conducting more than 1700 patrols and nearly 100 contacts where the enemy was directly engaged, including the Battle of Derapet, for which Corporal Daniel Keighran, another Kalgoorlie resident, was awarded the Victoria Cross for valour.

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Australian Military Forces Leave Pass granting five days leave in Vung Tau from 29 August until 3 September 1967 to 5411678, Victor Churchill Dale who served with the 7th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment during their first tour in Vietnam in 1967/8. Photo: Julian Tennant

The museum, whilst small is worth setting aside an hour or two for a visit and I am looking forward to returning one day when they finally do receive the funding to make all the larger exhibits available for viewing to the public. Currently, the museum is open on weekdays from 09:00 thru 16:00 and for a couple of hours every third Sunday of the month. Entry is free although gold coin donations are appreciated.

Goldfields War Museum
116 Burt Street
Boulder
Western Australia, 6432

Phone: +61  (0)8 9021 9817
Email: mailbag@ckb.wa.gov.au
Website: www.ckb.wa.gov.au/GoldfieldsWarMuseum

Open: Monday to Friday from 09:00 to 16:00 (excluding public holidays) and on Boulder Market Days (third Sunday of each month) from 10:00 to 12:00

Entry Fees: By donation. Guided tours are available every Thursday at 13.30 and costs $5 per person

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If you like what you see here, please FOLLOW this page via email or by using either the buttons below or in the column on the right.  I try to post NEW content every second Sunday (at least) and knowing that somebody is looking at this gives me the encouragement I need to set aside time to go through my archives and collection in order to develop the content for the page. And of course, feel free to contact me here, via email or by visiting my Facebook or Instagram pages

Nungarin Heritage Machinery & Army Museum, Western Australia

With the fall of Singapore on 15 February 1942, and the bombing of Darwin four days later, fears of a Japanese invasion of Australia began to reach fever pitch. The air raid on Broome in Western Australia on 3 March exacerbated concerns about the vulnerability of the state to Japanese invasion and led to the formation of III Corps and a bolstering of Western Australia’s military preparedness. One armoured and two infantry were deployed to the state and a rapid expansion of Western Australia’s defences commenced.

Nungarin, a small wheatbelt town situated approximately  278 km (173 mi) east of Perth became an important part of the supply network and at its peak was the third largest Army camp in Western Australia with around 1200 service personnel stationed there at any one time. The region was an integral part of the defence network as it was considered sufficiently inland to be outside the range of Japanese carrier-based aircraft. The town of Nungarin was selected for development, due to its location as a road and rail junction, had electricity and a good water supply.

In September 1942, the army acquired 1720 acres of land in and around the townsite and began construction of the Nungarin camp which was home to No.5 Base Ordnance Depot (5BOD), which at the time was the largest army ordnance storage facility in Western Australia and continued to operate there until its closure in 1960. The depot facilities included a vehicle workshop housed in a massive timber clad building which was sold to the Nungarin Shire.  It is now home to Nungarin Heritage Machinery and Army Museum, which officially opened on the 8th of October 1994.

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Nungarin Heritage Machinery and Army Museum. Photo: Julian Tennant

As its name implies, the museum is more than just a military museum and also includes displays of farm machinery and other cultural artifacts related to the local community. However, it was the military aspects that interested me and after paying another visit to the Merredin Military Museum on the Saturday, I made the 30 minute drive to Nungarin early Sunday morning, just in time to arrive for one of the museums renowned Sunday Breakfasts ($10), which was a great way to begin the visit.

Unsurprisingly, the bulk of the exhibits are the vehicles and equipment of the type that were stored or repaired at the depot during its operation. Run by a small team of volunteer staff, the shed is filled with an assortment of military equipment, some complete and some still under restoration. Surrounding the shed are dozens more vehicles at different stages of disrepair, ‘projects’ is how Phil the caretaker/curator described them to me.

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Restored Australian Dingo Scout Car 1942. The chassis and wheels were donated by Anthony Thomson and Kodj Kodjin whilst the armour was found on Bruce Watson’s Nungarin farm. Photo: Julian Tennant

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Fully working WW2 period searchlight and generator, which has occasionally been dragged out to illuminate the night sky around Nungarin. Photo: Julian Tennant

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Unrestored M3 Stuart tank which was acquired by the museum in 1988 after it had been used for farm clearing at Nukarni after the war. Photo: Julian Tennant

In one corner of the shed there are a couple of rooms holding smaller artifacts including communications equipment, uniforms and personal effects. As a former communicator, of particular interest to me were a couple of Vietnam era patrol radio sets used by Australian Special Forces.

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Delco AN/PRC-64 and 64A radio sets used by Australian Special Forces in Vietnam and during the 1970’s. Photo: Julian Tennant

The lunchbox sized AN/PRC-64 was a spy radio set developed by Delco in the USA in the early 1960’s as a radio intended for Special Forces use and for espionage activities. Most of the original AN/PRC-64 sets were upgraded to the PRC-64A variant which included provision for the AN/GRA-71 Electro-mechanical Burst Encoder to allow for faster morse transmissions. These radios were used by the Australian Special Air Service Regiment in Vietnam and also by 1 Commando Regiment. SASR soldier, John Trist recounts his experiences using the 64 set as a patrol sig in the early 1970’s on the Crypto Museum website  and was one of many ex sigs (myself included) who bought one when the Department of Defence disposed of stocks in 1995. These days, on the rare occasion when they do turn up in the marketplace, they sell for quite a bit more than the Au$50 asking price at the time.

The building housing the collection is an important part of the museum’s story, but unfortunately, a largely timber structure out in the middle of a dry and dusty wheatbelt town does not create an ideal conservation environment for textile artifacts. And although the staff have made considerable effort to try and protect the handful of uniforms and insignia on display in their cabinets, these are not the museum’s strong point. The uniforms that are on display represent a small selection of (mostly) Royal Australian Ordnance Corps uniforms, most of which are post war and reflect more recent connections with the Australian Army.

The main attraction is really the vehicles, and this is very much a hands-on type of museum where visitors can clamber around most of the displays to check out important details.  One of the vehicles that I found quite interesting was the Austin Champ, which was developed  to meet the British Army’s requirement for an off-road light vehicle in the early 1950’s. The Australian Army ordered 400 new Champs, plus a similar number of ex-British Army vehicles, but they were not popular due to their unsuitability for Australian conditions and were replaced by the Land Rover which was much better suited to requirements and significantly cheaper.

4 Cylinder Series B Austin Champ used by the Australian Army in the 1950's.

4 Cylinder Series B Austin Champ used by the Australian Army in the 1950’s. Photo: Julian Tennant

Staghound Armoured Car. Photo: Julian Tennant

Staghound Armoured Car. Photo: Julian Tennant

For visitors a trip to the Nungarin Heritage Machinery and Army Museum can be done as a day-trip from Perth, although if you have time I would recommend staying overnight (possibly in nearby Merredin), which will give you time to check out the Merredin Military Museum as well as the Nungarin museum, plus explore the old military buildings that are spread around the area. These are well documented on the Central Wheatbelt Visitor Centre website  or you can use Jane Hammond’s When war came to the wheatbelt piece for the Royal Automobile Club of WA (Inc.) as your guide for the trip east from Perth.

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Ammunition bunker near Nokaning East Road, between Nungarin and Merredin. This is one of 46 concrete bunkers scattered around the area which were used to store various munitions during the war. Photo: Julian Tennant

Nungarin Heritage Machinery & Army Museum
26 Second Avenue
Nungarin
Western Australia, 6490

Phone: +61 (0)8 9046 5040
Email: nungarinheritage@bigpond.com
Website: www.nungarinmuseum.com.au

Open: Every day from 09:00 to 16:00.

Entry Fees: $5 per person

You may also be interested in this review of the nearby Merredin Military Museum

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If you like what you see here, please FOLLOW this page via email or by using either the buttons below or in the column on the right.  I try to post NEW content every second Sunday (at least) and knowing that somebody is looking at this gives me the encouragement I need to set aside time to go through my archives and collection in order to develop the content for the page. And of course, feel free to contact me here, via email or by visiting my Facebook or Instagram pages

Army Museum of Western Australia Update

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Australian Special Forces weapons display in the World War 2 Gallery of the Army Museum of Western Australia. Photo: Julian Tennant

The Army Museum of Western Australia will be reopening to the public on Wednesday 2nd September, albeit with limited access hours.  The museum will be open Wednesday, Thursday and Fridays 10.30am – 3pm (last entry 1pm).  However, the museum will not yet be open on the weekends.

To see my two part review of the museum and dozens of photographs go to this post for part one which covers the exhibits up until 1945 and here for the post 1945 galleries and external displays.

For more information about current visiting conditions, visit the museum website.

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The Motor Submersible Canoe, better known as a “Sleeping Beauty” was developed by Camper and Nicholsons Yacht Division in the UK in conjunction with the Royal Marines in 1943. They were designed to deliver one man silently into harbours to attach limpet mines to enemy vessels. Although used for training in the North Sea they were used operationally for the first time by Major Ivan Lyon of Z Special Unit on Operation RIMAU in 1944. Photos: Julian Tennant

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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

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 Friday 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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If you like what you see here, please FOLLOW this page via email or by using either the buttons below or in the column on the right.  I try to post NEW content every second Sunday (at least) and knowing that somebody is looking at this gives me the encouragement I need to set aside time to go through my archives and collection in order to develop the content for the page. And of course, feel free to contact me here, via email or by visiting my Facebook or Instagram pages

 

The Aviation Heritage Museum – Bull Creek, Perth, Western Australia

Note: Click on the smaller images to enlarge and read caption information.

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Australian Flying Corps (AFC) pilot standing by a replica of a Sopwith Camel fighter. Photo: Julian Tennant

The North Wing is home to the larger aircraft in the collection and has a greater emphasis on the Royal Australian Air Force and its operations during peace and war. This is very much an ‘old-school’ type museum with an emphasis on artifacts rather than interactive displays or gimmicks to keep the kids entertained. Naturally there is a greater focus on Western Australia’s role and the Second World War does have a much greater emphasis than subsequent conflicts, with Vietnam and more recent conflicts almost entirely absent.

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Entrance to the North Wing of the RAAFA Aviation Heritage Museum of WA. Photo: Julian Tennant

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1934 period RAAF Mess Dress uniform worn by (then) Flight Lieutenant Ivor. J. Lightfoot. Photo: Julian Tennant

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RAAF mechanic servicing a De Havilland Tiger Moth training aircraft. Photo: Julian Tennant

The layout of the museum may also appear somewhat random, rather than following a cohesive timeline and this may have been dictated due to space considerations. I suspect that it may also be due to the nature of the museum and what it represents in terms of preserving the history of aviation in WA, rather than trying to explain a linear sequence of conflicts or historical events. Many of the items have been donated by members or their families and it is nice to see some of the more unusual (and sometimes banal) objects on display rather than being hidden from public view in a storage facility somewhere. This more than makes up for the somewhat cluttered and disorganised feel of the museum in my opinion.  

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Second World War period Middle East Issue Fly Swat, RAAF officers issue Pith Helmet issued in the Burma / Indian operational theatres and a souvenir dagger from Somalia. Photo: Julian Tennant

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British Airborne Forces Welbike Paratrooper’s Motorcycle. The Welbike was a single seat motorcycle produced during WW2 at the direction of Station IX (the “Inter Services Research Bureau”) for use by the Special Operations Executive (SOE). Between 1942 and 1943, 3641 bikes were built and although not much used by the SOE, some were issued to the British 1st and 6th Airborne Divisions, seeing use during Operation Market Garden at Arnhem. Photo: Julian Tennant

As can be expected, the ‘draw-card’ exhibits for most visitors would be the aircraft on display, however as an insignia collector, it is the uniforms and badges that attracted me. The Aviation Heritage Museum does not disappoint in this aspect. It displays some rare and unusual insignia, including what appears to be an Australian Flying Corps patch (see images above), the likes of which I had never seen before, despite having the AFC as one of my primary areas of collecting interest. It also shows some of the older Squadron patches and some more recent items from the more obscure RAAF support units.

My one criticism re the insignia is that some of the displays include obvious (to the knowledgeable collector) fakes such as the AFC wing which is featured on the pilot by the Sopwith Camel in the South Wing. The brevet is one of the copies sold by Lukus Productions and is even available in the museum shop and yet there is no information stating that the uniform being displayed is not authentic in all respects. There were also others that I was not convinced were genuine, but were not marked as being replicas. This is not a good practice IMO as it does potentially undermine confidence in the descriptor didactic panels for other displays as well. However, I only noticed this in a few displays and overall was very impressed by what I uncovered as I made my way through the museum. 

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Leather patch (with photo showing reverse) and Observer wings of the 531st Squadron, 380th Bombardment Group (H), 5th Air Force (USAAF) which flew B-24 Liberator bombers in the South Western and Western Pacific during WW2. The 380th was placed under the control of the RAAF and operated out of Darwin from May 1943 until February 1945. Photo: Julian Tennant.

 

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View of the North Wing of the RAAFA Aviation Heritage Museum of WA. Photo: Julian Tennant

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3 Control Reporting Unit Patch and Disruptive Pattern Desert Uniform (DPDU) worn by a RAAF airman when he arrived at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan on Christmas Eve of 2008. Photo: Julian Tennant.

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Bell UH-1 Iroquois (Huey) Helicopter of 9 Sqn RAAF. Photo: Julian Tennant

In addition to the two display hangars the museum also has a separate library, photo archive, model aeroplane club room and of course a gift shop which features a good selection of aviation related books, including some out of print, second-hand publications, models and other related memorabilia.

The museum is easily accessible by car, or if using public transport by train with Bull Creek train station located approximately 500m away.  It is open every day, except Good Friday, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day from 10:00 until 16:00 and along with the Army Museum of Western Australia, should definitely be one of the museums you see when visiting Perth.

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RAAF Squadron patches and reproduction pilot’s wings on sale in the Museum shop. Photo: Julian Tennant

The Aviation Heritage Museum
Air Force Memorial Estate
2 Bull Creek Drive,
Bull Creek WA 6149
Australia

Website: https://aviationmuseumwa.org.au/
Email: museum@raafawa.org.au
Phone: +61 (0)8 9311 4470

Open: Every day from 10:00 until 16:00 (except Good Friday, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day).

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If you like what you see here, please FOLLOW this page via email or by using either the buttons below or in the column on the right.  I try to post NEW content every second Sunday (at least) and knowing that somebody is looking at this gives me the encouragement I need to set aside time to go through my archives and collection in order to develop the content for the page. And of course, feel free to contact me here, via email or by visiting my Facebook or Instagram pages

 

 

The Merville Battery – Normandy, France

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Whilst the American Airborne operations on D-Day were concentrated around the Cotentin Peninsula and commemorated at the Airborne Museum and D-Day Experience museums, the British Airborne landings were on the eastern flank of the landings and are featured in two museums, Memorial Pegasus, which I covered in an earlier post and the Merville Battery.

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In 1942, the Organisation Todt commenced construction of the Merville Gun Battery as part of Hitler’s Atlantic Wall fortifications. Situated near the port town of Ouistreham on the eastern end of the Normandy coastline, the battery’s location was of strategic importance overseeing the estuary of the Orne and Caen canals as well as controlling maritime access to Caen. For Allied invasion planners looking at Normandy as a landing option, it also provided vital eastern flank protection and a pivot point for further advance.

Construction of the casemates at the Merville Battery.

Construction of the casemates at the Merville Battery.

By May 1944, the last two 1.8m thick, steel-reinforced casemates were completed and despite several air raids, the structures remained intact causing some consternation for the D-Day invasion planners who believed that the casemates housed 150mm guns capable of bombarding the beaches on which the British and Canadian 3rd Division were to land. In fact, the guns were first world war vintage Czech 100mm howitzers but with a range of over 8km they still posed a considerable threat to any invading force.

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May 1944 bomb damage assessment photograph of the Merville Battery.

It was vital that the Merville Battery be neutralised before the seaborne invasion and the task was given to the 9th (Essex) Parachute Battalion under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Terence Otway. In addition to the battalion, the operation would include sappers from the 591st (Antrim) Parachute Squadron, Royal Engineers and medics from No. 3 Section 224th (Parachute) Field Ambulance, taking the assault force to a strength of  650 men.

The battery, manned by 130 men of the 1716 Artillery Regiment, consisted of four artillery casemates along with command and personnel bunkers, a magazine, 20mm anti-aircraft gun platform, fifteen weapon pits each holding around 4 or 5 machine guns plus various outbuilding and shelters all in an enclosed area 640 by 460m. This was surrounded by two, 4.6m thick by 1.5m high, barbed-wire obstacles and a 91m deep minefield. A yet to be completed, 365m long, 4.5m wide by 3m deep anti-tank ditch also faced the casemates on the coastal side completing a formidable defensive position.

To prepare for the assault, a full-size mock-up was built by the Royal Engineers at Walbury Hill in Berkshire and the paras carried out nine practice assaults including four at night in preparation for the assault. Around 50 paras of A Company and some sappers were also retrained as Glider troops whose role was to crash land inside the perimeter, in three Horsa gliders to deliver a ‘coup-de-main’ during the final phase of the attack.

The plan was for the battalion to be divided into two groups with the first, smaller group jumping at 00:20 with the pathfinders to prepare the RV and also carry out reconnaissance on the battery. A bombing mission by Lancaster bombers was scheduled for just prior to the arrival of the paras and Otway wanted to know the extent of the damage before launching his assault. The main body, comprising B and C Companies would be the main assault force with B Company breaching the wire and clearing a path through the minefield which C Company along with the sappers would funnel through before splitting into four groups each tasked with destroying a casemate. This was timed to coincide with the three gliders landing inside the perimeter delivering the additional troops drawn from A Company and sappers carrying flamethrowers and explosive charges. The remainder of A Company, which jumped with the main force, had been tasked with securing and holding the firm base used as the launch pad for the ground assault. Then, if all else failed HMS Arethusa was standing by to pound the battery with her 6inch guns at 05:50.

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Members of the 9th (Essex) Parachute Battalion prior to em-planing for Merville Battery.

The advance party departed RAF Harwell at 23:10 and dropped on time at 00:20. Very little resistance was met on the DZ, but unfortunately many of the signal emitting Eureka Beacons were damaged during the drop and unable to be operated. The battery reconnaissance party set off for Merville whilst the pathfinder group marked the DZ only to be bombed by the Lancasters who had strayed off course and missed the target. Luckily nobody was injured and the DZ party attempted to guide the main body in using Aldis lamps.

By 00:45, 32 Dakotas carrying around 540 paratroopers were approaching the DZ, but the pilots were confronted by a huge dust cloud caused by the wayward bombing raid, causing them to make their run-ins at different altitudes to those planned. The despatching problem was compounded by an increase in flak which caused the pilots to take evasive action throwing the paras around in the back and weighed down by their equipment it was difficult for them to stand up and move into position to exit the aircraft. This resulted in most of the battalion missing the DZ completely, many bogged down by the weight of their equipment, drowning in the surrounding fields which had been flooded by the Germans.

When Otway finally reached the RV, it was nearly 02:00 and he was dismayed to find that there was hardly anybody there. Only 150 men of the original force finally arrived. It was less than 25% of those who had set out and they did not have any of the equipment needed for the assault, only side-arms, one Vickers machine gun and twenty Bangalore Torpedoes. At 02:50 Otway could wait no longer and set out for the objective, reaching the designated ‘firm base’ area, about 450m from the battery, at 04:20.

The original reconnaissance group, under the command of Major Allen Parry was given the task of forming the assault party and divided his group into four, in a rough imitation of the original plan. They would make two large gaps in the wire and send two of the assault groups through each. A pathway through the minefield was painstakingly cleared by one of the Company Sergeant Major’s and an officer who had crawled up to the wire, in order to listen and observe German movements.  Otway waited to launch the attack as the glider borne force arrived, but things went wrong again. One of the three gliders broke its tow rope just after take-off, the second landed several miles east of the battery and the third was hit by flak, overshot the target and crashed in an orchard some distance from the perimeter.

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Otway knew that he would have to make do with the force that was in place and at 04:30 the assault went in. A diversion attack was staged at the main gate, whilst the Bangalore Torpedoes were used to blow gaps in the wire and the paras stormed into the Battery. After about 20 minutes of fierce hand to hand fighting the defenders surrendered and the paras entered the casemates. Without the explosives needed to disable the guns the paras did what they could to make the guns in-effective, dropping No.82 (Gammon bomb) grenades down the barrels and throwing away the breech blocks. Only 75 paras were still on their feet, 22 Germans had been taken prisoner and the position was now being bombarded by German artillery. At 05:00 Otway and his surviving paras left the battery and after a short break at the designated RV point, the Calvary Cross about 850m to the south-east, continued to their secondary objective, the village of La Plein where they linked up with elements of the 1st Commando Brigade later in the day.

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German troops of the 736th Grenadier Regiment quickly re-occupied the Battery after the paras left and two of the guns were able to be brought back into action, bringing accurate fire onto SWORD beach. On 7 June, the battery was assaulted by 4 and 5 Troops of No.3 Commando who suffered heavy losses in the action that followed.

Whilst the effectiveness of the Battery had been diminished, the British never succeeded in completely neutralising it and the Battery remained under German control until they began their withdrawal in mid-August.

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The Merville Battery Museum is situated in the original casemates of the battle and opened on 5 June 1983 as way of preserving the memory of the exploits of the men of the 9th Battalion, the Parachute Regiment. The museum extends over five hectares with an education trail explaining how the Battery worked and the attack of 6 June 1944.

At the entrance, which is the site of the diversionary attack, there is a Memorial to the 9th Parachute Battalion and small gift shop. Visitors are then free to explore the area following the information boards and diagrams to gain an idea of what happened. The four casemates each feature different displays relating to aspects of the battle and there are also artillery pieces, memorials and the Douglas C-47, serial number 43-15073 ‘SNAFU’ which dropped American paratroopers of the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment on the Cotentin Peninsula during D-Day.

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Casemate No. 1 replicates the events at the Battery on D-Day with a very intense sound and light show occurring every 20 minutes. The show commences with the bombing raid conducted by 109 Lancaster bombers at 00:30, followed by the German artillery being fired  at the canal locks at Ouistreham and the Parachute Regiment attack. Casemate No. 2 is a memorial to the 9th Battalion, the Parachute Regiment featuring various objects, photos and stories of the men who took part in the attack. Casemate No.3 shows objects related to the Glider Pilot Regiment, No.3 Commando, 45 Royal Marine Commando and the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion who acted as a protection force on the left flank during the operation. Casemate No. 4 is dedicated to the Belgian, Dutch, Luxembourg and British units which finally drove the Germans out of Merville in August 1945.

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German Navy Kriegsmarine uniforms on display in casemate No.1. Photo: Julian Tennant

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Casemate No.2 is dedicated to the men of the 9th Parachute Battalion, the Parachute Regiment. Photo: Julian Tennant

A trip to the Merville Battery can easily be combined with a visit to the nearby Pegasus Bridge museum, stopping at various marker points along the way. Major & Mrs Holt’s D-Day Normandy Landing Beaches guide gives an excellent overview of the points of interest in the area and I spent the best part of a day examining this area. As a airborne insignia and militaria collector, I must admit that whilst I particularly enjoyed the Pegasus Bridge museum,  the Merville Battery really helped to convey an understanding of the battle, particularly from the defender’s perspective via the ‘sound and light’ show in Casemate No.1. I think it made me think about bomb scarred defences on the cliff tops at Pointe du Hoc very differently than I would have, when I visited that site the following day.

Musée de la Batterie de Merville
Place du 9ème Bataillon
14810 Merville-Franceville
France

Website: http://www.batterie-merville.com
Phone: +33 (0)2 3191 4753

Open: Every day from 10:00 until 19:00. Last entry at 17:30

 

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The D-Day Experience – Saint-Côme-du-Mont, Normandy, France

Lt. Col. Robert Wolverton

5 June 1944. Lt. Col. Robert Lee “Bull” Wolverton, CO 3/506 PIR, checking his gear before boarding the C-47 “Dakota”, 8Y-S, “Stoy Hora” of the 98th Troop Carrier Squadron, 440th Troop Carrier Group at an airfield in Exeter, England. Original US Army press release photograph colourised by Johnny Sirlande.

On the evening of 5 June 1944, Lt. Col. Robert Lee “Bull” Wolverton, Commanding Officer of the 3rd  Battalion, 506 Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division,  gathered his men in an orchard adjacent to what is now Exeter airport, and said:

“Men, I am not a religious man and I don’t know your feelings in this matter, but I am going to ask you to pray with me for the success of the mission before us. And while we pray, let us get on our knees and not look down but up with faces raised to the sky so that we can see God and ask his blessing in what we are about to do.

“God almighty, in a few short hours we will be in battle with the enemy. We do not join battle afraid. We do not ask favors or indulgence but ask that, if You will, use us as Your instrument for the right and an aid in returning peace to the world.

“We do not know or seek what our fate will be. We ask only this, that if die we must, that we die as men would die, without complaining, without pleading and safe in the feeling that we have done our best for what we believed was right.

“Oh Lord, protect our loved ones and be near us in the fire ahead and with us now as we pray to you.”

Then, his ‘stick’ of 15 paratroopers boarded a C-47 “Dakota”, nicknamed “Stoy Hora” for the flight to France. The invasion of Normandy had begun. But, within hours of that famous speech, Wolverton (aged 30) was dead. His feet had not even touched French soil. He was killed by ground fire around 00:30 hrs and left suspended by his parachute in an apple tree just north of Saint-Côme-du-Mont.

Stoy Hora C-47 Dakota at Exeter Airfield 05 June 1944

Paratroopers of the 506th PIR prepare for their flight aboard the C-47, 8Y-S ‘Stoy Hora’ at Exeter airfield. 05 June 1944. Of the 15 paratroopers in the ‘stick’ that flew in this aircraft, 5 were killed in action on D-Day, 8 were captured and 2 were missing in action.  Photo colourised by Paul Reynolds

In 2015, Dead Man’s Corner Museum curators Emmanuel Allain and Michel De Trez, opened the next section of their museum in a large hangar just behind the original Dead Man’s Corner building. Previously called the D-Day Paratrooper Historical Center, the now renamed D-Day Experience encompasses both museums. Co-curator, Belgian collector, historian and owner of D-Day Publishing, Michel De Trez is well known in the collecting fraternity. He is the author of several collector reference books on WW2 US airborne equipment, assisting Steven Spielberg with Saving Private Ryan and the HBO mini-series Band of Brothers. This second exhibition space reflects those interests and looks at the campaign from the perspective of the US paratroopers.

Upon entering the museum, visitors are briefed by a 3D hologram of Lt. Col. Wolverton at an airfield in Exeter on the day before the invasion. They then board the “Stoy Hora”, a C-47 Dakota of the 98th Troop Carrier Squadron, 440th Troop Carrier Group for the ‘flight’ across the English Channel to Drop Zone D, south of Vierville on the Cotentin (Cherbourg) Peninsula.

Pilot of the IX Troop Carrier Pathfinder Group

Pilot of the IX Troop Carrier Pathfinder Group just before departing England. Photo: Julian Tennant

The seven minute ‘flight’ in the “Stoy Hora” is a great introduction to the exhibition space. Whilst, I am more of an ‘old-school’ kind of guy, more interested in examining original artifacts, the ride was a nice entry point which definitely appealed to the missus and the other visitors on board the simulator with us, particularly those with kids. The idea was born out of the Band of Brothers when Spielberg had transformed a real C-47 into a studio-space for the making of the series. The result is a high-tech simulator with 3D window screens, sound and amplified movements as the aircraft departs England for the bumpy ride, avoiding flak as it crosses into France to deposit its passengers into the exhibition space.

Unfortunately in real life, Lt. Colonel Wolverton did not survive his jump, he was killed by ground fire and left suspended by his parachute in an apple tree just north of Saint-Côme-du-Mont.  The exhibition, however continues in his voice. He describes the men, their training, fears and (as all paratroopers would know, sense of immortality, giving a very human and somewhat sobering perspective to the exhibits.

D-Day exp 502 PIR Coles boys-01

The white scarf and armband identify this paratrooper as a member of the 3rd Battalion 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment. Photo: Julian Tennant

Pfc. Jack N. "Hawkeye" Womer. HQ Co. 506 PIR. 101 Abn Div.

Pfc. Jack N. “Hawkeye” Womer. HQ Co. 506 PIR. 101 Abn Div. A member of the ‘Filthy 13’, Jack landed in a swamp near St-Come-du-Mont and after extracting himself would end up fighting with the 501st PIR at Hell’s Corner. Photo: Julian Tennant.

Pathfinders 82nd Abn Division

Pathfinder of the 82nd Airborne Division. These men jumped in to mark the DZ northwest of Sainte-Mere-Eglise, one hour after the 101st drop. At the time there were around 300 qualified pathfinders and according to the caption, the Pathfinder camo suit that this individual is wearing is the only original of its type left in the world. Photo: Julian Tennant

The layout of the museum is superb, captions are bilingual (French/English), making it easy to navigate with good contextualisation of the content. For decades prior to the opening of Dead Man’s Corner Museum and the D-Day Experience, Michel de Trez had been travelling to the USA, interviewing and cultivating relationships with US Airborne veterans. This long-term engagement with the subjects of the museum has resulted in exhibits that are both unique and personal. Visitors can view objects and also discover the identities of the soldiers that used them. Unsurprisingly there are several items attributed to Dick Winters and his ‘Band of Brothers’ of  Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, but also several other unique pieces such as a leather jacket worn by General Eisenhower, items from Pfc. Jack N. “Hawkeye” Womer, one of the legendary “Filthy 13” and a jacket worn by 1st Lt. Wallace C. Strobel who featured in the famous pre-invasion press photo talking to Ike just prior to boarding the aircraft.

blouson-du-general-eisenhower

Leather jacket worn by General Eisenhower whilst a 4 star General from 1943 until December 1944. Note the rank insignia detail. Photo courtesy of the D-Day Experience management team.

Pathfinders 101st Abn Division

Pathfinders of the 101st Airborne Division. Photo: Julian Tennant

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Waco CG-4A Glider pilot. Photo: Julian Tennant

Lt James C. Cox. 1st Pl, C Co. 326th Airborne Engineer Bn.

Detail of the jacket belonging to Lt James C. Cox. 1st Pl, C Co. 326th Airborne Engineer Bn. His parachutist badge features both the ‘invasion arrowhead’ and combat jump star. Photo: Julian Tennant

d-day_paratrooper_museum-28

Parachute badge with rigger’s “R” worn by Staff Sgt. Russell F. Weishing leader of the parachute maintenance & rigger section of the 1st Platoon, C Company, 326th Airborne Engineer Battalion. Photo: Julian Tennant

The selection of exhibit material supported by good informative (and at times blunt) explanations makes this a really engaging museum for collectors. If your interest is airborne militaria, I suggest setting aside at least half a day to visit both exhibitions on the site. If you have a car, the museum’s Historical Trail map  outlines a 40km circuit featuring 13 key sites in the battle for Carentan and takes about 3 hours to cover. When combined with the time spent at the museum, this is a good one day itinerary for the area. But, regardless, if you are planning to visit Normandy, the D-Day Experience should be high on your agenda, it is, in my opinion, the outstanding museum that I visited on my trip, surpassing even the Airborne Museum in Sainte-Mère-Eglise, which was another ‘must see’ and will be covered in the near future.

D-Day Experience
2 Vierge de l’Amont
50500 Carentan les Marais
France

Website: www.dday-experience.com/en/
Email: contact@dday-experience.com
Phone: +33 (0)2 3323 6195

Open: Every day. From October to March, the museum is open from 10h00 till 18h00 (the ticket office closes at 17h00). From April to September, the museum is open from 9h30 till 19h00.

 

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If you like what you see here, please FOLLOW this page via email or by using either the buttons below or in the column on the right.  I try to post NEW content every weekend and 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

 

Circuit_historique

D-Day Experience Historical Trail map covering 13 key sites related to the fight to secure Carentan. It can be downloaded from the museum website, see the main body text above for the link.

Dead Man’s Corner Museum – Saint-Côme-du-Mont, Normandy, France

As the anniversary of the D-Day landings nears and with COVID-19 travel restrictions still in place here in Australia, I decided to dive into my archive of pictures from a trip that I made to the battlefields around Normandy back in 2015. So, this week I’m sharing some photos from the Dead Man’s Corner Museum at Saint-Côme-du-Mont.

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Dead Man’s Corner Museum. The two B&W photographs show the knocked out M5 Stuart tank commanded by Lt. Walter T. Anderson whose body was slumped over the turret for several days during the fighting.

 

Situated at a strategic intersection on the route to Carentan, Dead Man’s Corner Museum takes its name from the name given to the crossroads after the first US tank to reach this point was knocked out by a Panzerfaust fired by 19 year-old German paratrooper, Bruno Hinz in the early morning of  7 June 1944. Hinz’s Panzerfaust hit the rear side of the turret killing all four crew members immediately. The crew commander, Lt. Walter T. Anderson, who was standing upright in the hatch fell forward and was left slumped over the turret where he remained for several days until his body could be recovered. The Germans had previously removed all the road signs to confuse any advancing troops and so the intersection was referred to as “the corner with the dead man on the tank” but was soon shortened to “dead man’s corner”. Lt Anderson who served with the 80th Tank Battalion, is buried in the St Laurent cemetery.

Overlooking the intersection is the building which has remained little changed since 1944 and is now the home to the  Dead Man’s Corner Museum. At the time of the invasion it was used as the Regimental Command Post and first aid station for the paras of the German Fallschirmjäger Regiment 6 commanded by Major Friederich-August von der Heydte.

major von der heydte

Major Friederich-August “The Baron” von der Heydte, commanding officer of the 6th  Fallschirmjäger Regiment during the battle for Normandy. Von der Heydte initially joined the army but after being promoted to Hauptmann, in May 1940, he transferred to the Luftwaffe, joining the 3rd Fallschirmjäger Regiment  as one of its company commanders. He commanded the 1st battalion of the 3rd Fallschirmjäger Regiment during the Battle of Crete in May 1941 and his battalion was the first to enter Canea, for which he was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross. He went on to serve in Russia, North Africa and Italy before being given command of the newly formed 6th Fallschirmjäger Regiment of the 2nd Fallschirmjäger Division in January 1944. Interestingly, he is not wearing his Luftwaffe parachutist badge in this picture.

Fallschirmjäger

“Green Devils” in Normandy, June 1944. The average age of the German paratrooper in Fallschirmjäger Regiment 6 at the time of D-Day was seventeen and a half years old.

The museum, which is co-located with the excellent D-Day Experience (the subject of next week’s post) concentrates on the German paras as seen through the eyes of Major von der Heydte. Upon entering the museum, the visitor is thrown into his chaotic command post exactly as it would have appeared on the morning of the 6th of June 1944. Co-curator, Emmanuel Allain explained that when setting up the museum they spoke to the grandson of the Marie family who owned the house and had lived there in 1944. With his help they recreated the rooms as they were at the time, including details such as the family portraits, damaged painting, grandfather clock and other specific furniture.

dead mans corner museum-01

Dead Man’s Corner Museum exhibit displaying Major von der Heydte, commanding officer of Fallschirmjäger Regiment 6 and members of his command group, in the room that he used as his command post during the fighting around Saint-Côme-du-Mont. Photo: Julian Tennant

The Marie family left the house at noon when the kitchen (the second room display) was commandeered as a first aid post to supplement the main aid station downstairs in the basement and the rooms are a faithful reproduction of what they looked like at that time. The attention to detail is such that many of the faces of the mannequins on display were modeled on participants who were present at the time. To say it is an impressive setup would be an understatement, as an airborne collector who has had a fascination with the German paras since I was a boy, I was overwhelmed by the number of Fallschirmjäger artifacts on display. Upstairs the exhibits include even more German para uniforms, helmets, insignia and equipment but also some of the other German units plus several American objects, many of which have been donated by veterans of the battle.

dead mans corner FJG42-19

Fallschirmjäger weapons including a rare Fallschirmjäger-Gewehr 42 (FG 42) assault rifle and paratrooper issue gravity knives. The Fallschirmjäger-Gewehr 42 was captured by Sgt. Louis A. Frey, a scout for the regimental S-2 section of the 2nd Battalion 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, who jumped on Saint-Côme-du-Mont on the 6th of June 1944. Photo: Julian Tennant

Returning downstairs and adjoining the museum, is Paratrooper, a shop almost as large as the museum itself which sells both authentic and reproduction militaria. The shop is really impressive, although I must admit that I found some of the prices for the original pieces to be more expensive than what collectors would usually expect to pay. Fortunately, I did not find any insignia that I ‘had to have’ for my collection as I had already picked up some quite rare badges in Paris a few days before, but I was tempted.

The shop at the Dead Mans Corner Museum is as large as the museu

The ‘Paratrooper’ shop. Photo: Julian Tennant

The shop at the Dead Mans Corner Museum is as large as the museu

Reproduction German caps for sale in the ‘Paratrooper’ shop at the Dead Man’s Corner Museum. Photo: Julian Tennant

Dead Man’s Corner, was the first of the museums that I visited during my trip to Normandy and already I felt that my expectations had been exceeded… and that was before I had even walked the 50 meters to the next building, the D-Day Experience for the American perspective. But that is the subject of my next post.

Luftwaffe Para Badge CE JUNCKER-7-Edit

Luftwaffe Paratroop badge in my collection. This example was made by the C.E. Juncker company. Instituted on 5 November 1936, the recipient needed to undertake the parachute course, completing the 6 training jumps to qualify for the award. Collection: Julian Tennant

 

Dead Man’s Corner
3 Vierge de l’Amont
50500 Carentan les Marais
France

Website: www.dday-experience.com/en/discover-d-day-experience/dead-mans-corner-museum/
Email: contact@dday-experience.com
Phone: +33 (0)2 3323 6195

Open: Every day. From October to March, the museum is open from 10h00 till 18h00 (the ticket office closes at 17h00). From April to September, the museum is open from 9h30 till 19h00. Note, the museum is temporarily closed due to COVID-19. Please check the website for updates.

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If you like what you see here, please FOLLOW this page via email or by using either the buttons below or in the column on the right.  I try to post NEW content every Sunday and 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

Siem Reap Cambodia Part 2 – The War Museum of Cambodia

Cambodia: Angkor Wat. Parade Police guard1992

Cambodian Police Honour Guard line the causeway to Angkor Wat Temple, 1993. Collection: Julian Tennant

In addition to the excellent Cambodia Landmine Museum, which I covered in last week’s post, there is another military museum close to Siem Reap town and the Angkor Temples.

Formerly known as the Siem Reap War Museum, the War Museum of Cambodia is located near National Highway 6 between Siem Reap and the international airport. It dates back to 2001 and was built in ‘partnership’ with the Ministry of National Defence. The museum’s stated purpose is to keep the memory of the civil war in the history of Cambodia alive and to preserve the unique collection for posterity. However, at the time it was widely believed to be little more than a business opportunity for local powerbrokers to dip into the pockets of the lucrative tourist market who were flocking to the nearby Angkor temples. There may well have been merit in this scuttlebutt as for many years the museum was little more than a collection of deteriorating rusted old vehicles and weapons with little attempt to preserve or contextualise their history.

Siem Reap War Museum

Tail of a Chinese made Shenyang J-6 copy of the Soviet MiG-19 (Farmer) fighter aircraft featuring the distinctive three-turret Angkor symbol used by the Khmer Rouge. A Soviet Mil Mi-8 helicopter can be seen in the background. Photo: Julian Tennant

In recent years, under the leadership of a new management team, things have begun to change and whilst many of the objects on display are still left exposed to the elements or without solid contextual information, attempts have been made to provide a better overview of the three decades of war represented in the museum. Parts of the museum are being rebuilt and the first of these, the ‘Landmine House’ which is a huge improvement opened to the public in 2018.

After paying the US$5 entry fee visitors are free to explore (and play with) most of the objects in the museum. Guides are available to accompany visitors and whilst they are described as ‘free’, tips are expected for their service. In the early days of the museum many of the guides had first-hand experience of the war, fighting for one side or the other but most have been replaced with younger guides. This new cadre have better English language skills and could be useful for tourist visitors who only require a cursory understanding of the conflict and the exhibits but could lack the depth of knowledge that somebody with a deeper interest in military affairs could be looking for in a ‘guided tour’.  If time permits, an option is to use a guide to get their perspective and then spend time by yourself examining the objects in more depth.

Being largely outdoors and exposed to the elements, many exhibits are in very poor condition, rusting and in various states of disrepair. Textile items are particularly vulnerable when left outdoors in a tropical climate such as Cambodia and unsurprisingly there are few uniforms, flags or insignia on display. Most of the exhibits consist of vehicles, weapons, ordnance and some equipment.

Siem Reap War Museum

A pile of deteriorating Soviet era ShM-41mu Gas Masks rotting in an unprotected display area at the War Museum Cambodia. Photo: Julian Tennant

Siem Reap War Museum

A tourist hams it up for the camera with a couple of rusted WW2 era Soviet PPSh-41 Submachine Guns. Photo: Julian Tennant

If you choose not to use a guide and explore the grounds by yourself, signposts and captions accompany most of the items, identifying the object and in some instances,  who used them, or where they were recovered from. All the information is in English and there does seem to be a lack of descriptive information in Khmer, which to my mind once again suggests that this may be less about preserving the knowledge and history for future generations, but a venture that is aimed directly at the tourist market. Maybe I am being overly cynical about the museum’s intended function, but for a museum that is run ‘in partnership’ with the Ministry of National Defence, until recently there did not appear to be much investment in actually preserving or presenting the exhibits in line with the museum’s stated aims. For many years the museum did look like a rusting junkyard that was being used as a cash-cow to line the pockets of some local military or government officials.

But thankfully the museum is undergoing some changes, with the aforementioned ‘Landmine House’ display being a good start, so hopefully this is the first of many improvements. And whilst I think that Aki Ra’s Cambodia Landmine Museum provides a better understanding of Cambodia’s recent past, the War Museum of Cambodia is also worth visiting to see the range of vehicles and weapons used during the conflict.

The museum is quite easy to reach being in Siem Reap town enroute to the airport. If you have time, I would suggest hiring a car and driver (for about US$50 per day) and heading out to the Cambodia Landmine Museum in the morning, possibly after visiting the nearby Banteay Srei Temple, (which is best early in the morning or late afternoon and much less crowded than other temples), then returning to Siem Reap for lunch. Then, after refreshing and avoiding the worst of the midday heat, the driver can take you to the War Museum of Cambodia for a couple of hours before returning to your hotel or heading out to Angkor Wat to watch the sun go down.

A Cambodian (L) and two Vietnamese soldiers converse outside the Angkor Wat temple in Angkor, Siam Reap, Cambodia, in 1982. Photo by Vietnam News Agency

A Cambodian (L) and two Vietnamese soldiers converse outside the Bayon temple in Angkor, Siam Reap, Cambodia, in 1982. Photo: Vietnam News Agency

War Museum Cambodia
Kaksekam Village
Sra Nge Commune
Siem Reap
Cambodia

Website: www.warmuseumcambodia.com
Email: info@warmuseumcambodia.com
Phone: +855 (0)97 457 8666
MRT: Silom

Open: 08:00 – 17:30 daily (Temporarily closed due to COVID-19 restrictions)

Admission: US$5 foreigners and US$1 for Cambodians.

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If you like what you see here, please FOLLOW this page via email or by using either the buttons below or in the column on the right.  I try to post NEW content every Sunday and 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

Siem Reap Cambodia Part 1 – The Cambodia Landmine Museum

angkor_spud

Army buddy and fellow militaria collector, Trevor ‘Spud’ Couch looking for a cold beer whilst visiting Angkor Wat in the late 1990’s. Photo: Julian Tennant

For most tourists visiting Cambodia, the ruined temples of Angkor near Siem Reap are the main, if not only, reason to visit the Kingdom. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992, Angkor attracted 2.2 million visitors in 2019 and plays a vital part in the Cambodian economy where the tourism sector accounts for 12 percent of Cambodia’s GDP.

At its peak between the 10th and 13th centuries, the Khmer Empire which stretched across much of South East Asia, used Angkor as its capital before finally going into decline after it was sacked by the Kingdom of Ayutthaya in 1431. In 1863 Cambodia was placed under French protection and then became part of French Indochina in 1887. In 1953 the Kingdom gained independence from the French but by the latter half of the 1960’s it was becoming increasingly embroiled in the Vietnam War. Then, in April 1975, after a seven-year struggle, the communist Khmer Rouge forces captured Phnom Penh. During the three and a half years that followed at least 1.5 million Cambodians died during the genocidal reign of the Pol Pot regime. Repeated incursions into Vietnam by Khmer Rouge forces tested the patience of the Vietnamese and in December 1978 a Vietnamese invasion ousted the Khmer Rouge regime from power within weeks. However, the subsequent Vietnamese occupation caused a civil war that would last until the end of 1997 when the remaining Khmer Rouge finally accepted a government amnesty and laid down their arms.

Khmer Rouge soldiers march at Angkor Wat. — Documentation Center of Cambodia

Khmer Rouge at Angkor Wat. Photo: Collection of the Documentation Center of Cambodia

cambodia mine warning plastic core circa 1999-01

A corrugated plastic core Unexploded Ordnance warning sign from Japanese Demining Action (JDA) which I bought at the Cambodian Landmine Museum in 2000. JDA had a small team undertaking EOD work near the Thai border at the time. Collection: Julian Tennant

 

After nearly three decades of conflict, Cambodia has been left as one of the poorest countries in Asia with the scars of its recent history still visible. For visitors to Siem Reap, there are a couple of military museums in the area that provide a welcome break from scrambling over the temple ruins.

The Cambodia Landmine Museum is located 25km north of Siem Reap, near the Banteay Srey Temple complex and whilst it is further away from the town, it is worth visiting. The museum was started by Aki Ra, a former child soldier who was taken from his family by the Khmer Rouge when he was just five and who fought for various factions, including the Khmer Rouge and the opposing Vietnamese army before UNTAC arrived in 1993.  He then went on to help them with their EOD activities and then, when he finally returned to his village, he used this experience to defuse and clear the mines in his community using homemade tools.

Whilst clearing the ordnance, Aki Ra often encountered orphaned, wounded or abandoned children which he took into his care. To help pay for their upkeep, he displayed some of the mines which he had diffused at his home near the ticket booth for Angkor Wat Park and charged tourists a dollar to view them. I recall visiting this, the original, Landmine Museum around 1999 and listening to Aki Ra tell his story. It was a very humbling experience.

In 2006, the local authorities ordered it closed supposedly on safety grounds, however Siem Reap expatriates told me that the real reason was because local authorities felt that Aki Ra’s museum was attracting more tourists (and money) than the Siem Reap War Museum which had been started in 2001 as a ‘partnership’ with the Ministry of National Defence. This may well be little more than idle gossip, but given the high level of corruption that permeates Cambodian officialdom, this would not surprise me in the least and during one of my early visits to the Siem Reap War Museum, one of the guides did offer to sell me some of the exhibits that I expressed an interest in. Behaviour that I found strange for a museum supposedly existing to preserve the history of the conflict for future generations of Cambodians, so who knows… but I digress.

cambodia landmine museum -07

Vietnamese made fragmentation grenade/mine and anti-personnel mine on display at the Cambodia Landmine Museum. Photo: Julian Tennant

 

With the help of Canadian filmmaker, Richard Fitoussi, a charity the Cambodian Landmine Museum Relief  Fund was started.  Donors raised funds to buy a block of land and build a new museum which opened at its current location in 2007. In addition to the museum, the land also housed a Relief Centre for children including a small school. In 2008, with the help of the charity, Aki Ra established a formal de-mining NGO, Cambodian Self Help Demining, which is a separate NGO and apart from the Museum. They clear un-exploded ordnance throughout Cambodia, generally at sites deemed to be a low priority by the larger de-mining agencies, but where the presence of the UXO’s pose a real threat to the farmers who are attempting to work the surrounding land.

The Cambodia Landmine Museum gives visitors a good overview of the problems caused by this un-exploded ordnance and also some insights into Cambodia’s recent conflict. After paying the entrance fee, visitors are provided with a headset and audio player which provides some additional contextual information for the exhibits on display.

Exhibits include a variety defused ordnance, weapons, uniform items plus equipment such as de-mining tools and also artwork created by the children from the Relief Centre. There is also a small shop selling souvenirs including books, t-shirts and DVD’s.

cambodia landmine museum -08

1990’s period uniforms and weapons on display at the Cambodia Landmine Museum. Photo: Julian Tennant

As previously mentioned, the museum is some distance away from Siem Reap town and the best option to visit is to either grab a tuk-tuk, which will take around 30 minutes and cost about US$20 for a round trip, or hire a local driver and car for the day, which should cost up to US$50. This second option allows you to also visit the nearby Banteay Srei Temple which is much less crowded than the other temples closer to Siem Reap.  You can then return to Siem Reap at your leisure and have the driver take you to visit the War Museum Cambodia  (which will be the subject of next week’s post) after lunch.

cambodia de-mining patches-01

Various EOD team patches from Cambodia in my collection. Top row left to right: Mines Advisory Group circa 1999, Cambodian Mine Action Centre, Mines Advisory Group type 2. Bottom row left to right: US Special Forces UXO Detachment Cambodia (2002), Cambodia Mine Action Centre variant, Australian Mine Clearance Training Team patch circa 1994. Collection: Julian Tennant

 

The Cambodia Landmine Museum
67 Phumi Khna
Siem Reap Province
Cambodia

Website:  https://www.cambodialandminemuseum.org/
Email: bill@wmorse.com
Phone: +855 (0) 15 674 163

Open: 07:30 – 17:30 daily (Temporarily closed due to COVID-19 restrictions)

Admission: US$5
Free for children under 12 and all Cambodian citizens

 

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If you like what you see here, please FOLLOW this page via email or by using either the buttons below or in the column on the right.  I try to post NEW content every Sunday and 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 Patpong Museum – Bangkok – Thailand

patpong museum collage

The Patpong Museum is not strictly a military museum per se, but the history of Bangkok’s Patpong Road is closely connected to the activities of the OSS, CIA, the Vietnam War and of course the thousands of servicemen who have passed through Thailand on R&R and subsequent military exchange programs.

The 300-square-meter Museum, which opened in October 2019, reveals why Americans fighting on the battlefields of Indochina flocked to Patpong for business, friendship and to let their hair down. It also shows how Patpong evolved over time to attract hundreds of thousands of tourists and expats, before most of the action moved across town to bars elsewhere in Bangkok — namely Soi Cowboy and the Nana Entertainment Plaza.

Patpong’s story begins when Chinese immigrant, Luang Patpongpanich purchased a banana plantation on the edge of Bangkok in 1946 for $300. Prior to this, Patpongpanich’s son, Udom, had been studying in the USA and then during WW2 was recruited by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) to be one of the Seri Thai (“Free Thai”) insurgents resisting Japan’s occupation. He undertook special operations and radio training before completing the parachute course at Fort Benning in 1945.  Udom was then sent to the OSS camp at Trincomalee, Ceylon where, under the supervision of Jim Thompson (who is best known as the businessman who helped revitalise the Thai silk industry), he prepared to infiltrate back into Thailand.

Patpong Museum Udom Patpongpanich

OSS ‘Seri Thai’ (Free Thai) recruit, Udom Patpongpanich undertaking parachute training at Fort Benning in 1945. Photo: The Patpong Museum

 

However, the war ended before he was inserted, but Udom had made new connections which he put to use. In 1950, Luang Patpongpanich passed away and Udom who inherited the family business transformed the land into a road lined with shop houses,  which he then rented to his OSS and CIA friends. The road that Udom built remains one of the few privately owned thoroughfares in Bangkok and he encouraged foreign companies, including Caltex, Shell, IBM, United Press International and Air France  to set up offices in the area.

Jim Thompson, Udom’s old OSS boss founded the Thai Silk Company across the road and in 1958, legendary CIA operator, Tony Poe (Anthony A. Poshepny), joined the  South East Asia Supply Inc (colloquially known as Sea Supply), a CIA front company operating out of Patpong, supplying arms to Chinese Kuomintang Nationalists in Burma. By 1964 Patpong had become the Central Business District of Bangkok  and also included the included the US Information Service library and CAT (the CIA owned Civil Air Transport company), which later evolved into Air America and until 1972, had its office in the Air France building on Patpong.

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Patpong Road in the late 1960’s. CAT, the CIA owned Civil Air Transport company, which then evolved into Air America had its office in the Air France building on the left of the photo. Directly across the road is a small circular sign designating The Red Door bar and next to that is Max’s bar, the preferred watering hole of the Air America pilots when they made it down to the head office in Bangkok.

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Legendary CIA operator, Tony Poe (Anthony A. Poshepny) who co-ordinated many of the CIA’s secret operations in Laos from Patpong Road. He is with Hmong General Vang Pao (middle) plus another unidentified Hmong and an American.

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CIA financed Laotian Hmong guerillas.

 

Patpong became a hub, not only for businessmen, but also for spooks, correspondents and off-duty military types who also took advantage of the growing nightlife entertainment options that were becoming available on the strip after dark. Contrary to popular myth however, Patpong was not a magnet for US troops on R&R during the Vietnam war. Most of the GI’s went to New Petchburi Road which, at the time, was nicknamed “The Golden Mile”.

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Former ‘Secret War in Laos’ veterans, including Les Strouse (blue shirt), Jack Shirley (yellow shirt) and Tony Poe (back right) at a reunion in the Madrid Bar on Patpong Road.

The Madrid, which was opened by Vietnam veteran, Rick Menard in 1969 was one of the early bars which, not only became the preferred watering hole for the spooks and SF types but also had a CIA safe-house located upstairs. Around the same time Menard also opened the now-defunct Grand Prix Lounge & Bar, the first go-go bar in Thailand. Within a few years more bars would spring up and the entertainment area spread from Patpong Soi 1 to the smaller Patpong Soi 2 as the area gained popularity with expats and visitors who became aware of its ‘attractions’ through movies, travel guides and the media. Longtime Kiwi expat and blogger Stickman wrote an interesting piece about some of these old venues  back in 2013 when he was still living in Bangkok and I fondly recall the weirdness of finding an island of tranquility in a quiet British themed pub, Bobby’s Arms, by entering the Foodland carpark (the first steel-framed carpark in Thailand) on Patpong Soi 2 after an army exercise back in the early 90’s. Some of these venues were like stepping back in time and a stark contrast to the craziness that was going on all around.

The Patpong Museum, documents all this history, charting Patpong’s development from banana plantation through development as a business hub to its notoriety as a red light district. Museum founder, Michael Messner spent a decade scouring archives and acquiring hundreds of artifacts to include in the museum which tells Patpong’s story through documents, models, objects, photos and interactive displays. Special attention is given to its role in the Cold War era with a section devoted to Tony Poe and Patpong’s importance during the ‘secret war’ in Laos. Exhibits are captioned in Thai and English and the 350 Baht entry fee includes a free drink inside a recreation of  Rick Menard’s Grand Prix bar.

 

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Rick Menard’s Grand Prix Bar in the 1970’s and the Patpong Museum’s recreation where visitors can enjoy a complimentary drink as part of their ticket entry fee.

 

Unfortunately due to COVID-19 getting to Thailand could be problematic right now, but whilst it may be difficult to visit the museum until the pandemic is brought under control, they do offer a nice virtual tour here on the museum’s website.

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Patpong related novelty insignia. Collection: Julian Tennant

Patpong Museum
No. 5 Patpong Soi 2
Bang Rak, Bangkok
Thailand

Website: https://www.patpongmuseum.com/
Phone: +66918876829
BTS: Sala Daeng
MRT: Silom

Open: 11am – 8pm daily

Admission: THB350 per person, which includes a 50-minute guided tour and standard cocktail at the bar. Tours are offered in Thai, English, French, Spanish and Italian. Japanese and Chinese tours will be available in the future.

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