The Rip Cord Club of the World Badge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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African Special Operations Insignia #1 – The Namibian Police Special Reserve Force

This is the first in a series of articles looking at the insignia worn by various African nation’s airborne and special operations units. Please like and follow the page to be kept updated of future installments.

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The Special Reserve Force (SRF) is a specialist SWAT type unit within the Namibian Police Force (Nampol), tasked with responding to high risk operations that cannot be handled by conventional police units. It is based on the South African Police Service Special Task Force (which will be the subject of a future article). The SRF were initially designated the title Special Task Force when first raised as an adjunct to the Namibian Police Special Field Force, a somewhat notorious paramilitary police unit, that at the time was comprised largely of ex combatants from the former People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN), the military wing of SWAPO and former South West African Territorial Force (SWATF) personnel. In 1996 the Nampol Special Task Force was disbanded but then reformed in the late 1990’s, early 2000 and renamed the Special Reserve Force. The unit, which is also sometimes referred to as the Special Reserve Force Division (SRFD) operates out of the National Police Headquarters at Windhoek and is believed to number around 300 personnel. Working alongside other agencies, their role includes crowd control, VIP protection, hostage resolution, counter terrorism plus search and rescue operations.

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Nambian Police Special Reserve Force Division members showing the various tasks undertaken by the SRF during a visit to the Groot Aub Junior Secondary School south of Windhoek in March 2017. Note the ‘interesting’ contraband items on display. Photo: Dirk Heinrich

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Members of the Namibian Police Special Reserve Force Division deployed to regain control in the town of Okakarara after a group of residents stormed the police station on 12 August 2018. Photo: Namibian Broadcasting Corporation News

Service with the Special Reserve Force Division is open to both male and female police officers who have to complete selection and a six week training cycle, which is held at Khan Mine, a disused copper mine about four hours’ drive east of the capital Windhoek. The training programme includes marksmanship, hostage negotiation, tactical roping, CQB skills and riot control. Upon successful completion the new members are permitted to wear a black beret, SRF qualification badge and a distinctive camouflage uniform, which according to the dress regulations on the Namibian Police Force website, may only be worn by members of the SRFD. Qualified operators can also volunteer to undertake diver and parachute training, with the latter being permitted to wear a special variation of the SRF badge to identify them as being para qualified.

Nampol Dress Regulations for Special Reserve Force members work dress.

Nampol Dress Regulations for Special Reserve Force members work dress showing their distinctive camouflage uniform and black beret.

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Namibia Police Special Reserve Force qualification badge (top) and SRF parachute qualified (bottom). These insignia are worn on the SRF uniform no.6: Work Dress. Photo: Julian Tennant

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Nampol Special Reserve Force policeman receiving shooting instructions from a member of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) during a United Nations deployment. Note the Namibia Police ‘tupperware’ insignia on his left shoulder.

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American murder suspect, Marcus Thomas being escorted by members of the Special Reserve Force after a failed prison escape attempt in 2014. The SRF qualification patch and ‘tupperware’ Nampol shoulder insignia can be seen on the policeman pushing the wheelchair.

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Nampol Special Reserve Force Division riot squad confront protesters against gender based violence at confront protesters trying to deliver a petition against gender based violence at the national Parliament building in Windhoek on 08 October 2020. The SRF qualification patch can be seen being worn on the black body armour of the officer in the top left corner. Photo: Namibian Broadcast Corporation News

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Namibian police including members of the SRFD march through the streets of Ondangwa in preparation for a graduation parade from the Danger Ashipala Training Police Centre. 30 October 2020.

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

A WWII S.O.E. ‘Force 133’ Balkan Operations D.C.M. group sells for £95,000

DNW Scott SOE group

This exceptional and important Second War S.O.E. ‘Force 133’ Balkan Operations D.C.M. group of eight went under the hammer at the Dix Noonan Webb Orders, Decorations, Medals & Militaria auction on 13 January 2021 and sold for £95,000 (plus 24% buyers premium).

The group was awarded to Sergeant K. A. J. B. Scott, Royal Signals and Special Operations Executive, late King’s Royal Rifle Corps, who was ‘dropped’ into Eastern Serbia in April 1944, linking up with Major Frank Thompson’s ill-fated Operation Claridges in support of Bulgarian Communist Partisans. As anti-partisan reprisal operations closed in, Thompson took the fateful decision to lead his private army ‘T. E. Lawrence Style’ into Bulgaria, where, with Scott continuing to serve as wireless operator, they were repeatedly ambushed and fought running battles with the Bulgarian Army and Gendarmerie before being ultimately broken up.

Starving and exhausted, Scott and Thompson were encircled and captured before being subjected to brutal beatings and threats under Gestapo interrogation. Learning of Thompson’s execution, Scott was then compelled to extract intelligence from S.O.E. Cairo via his wireless set but, cleverly ensuring that Cairo were not deceived, at great danger to himself he disclosed nothing, surviving fourteen nerve-wracking weeks under Gestapo orders until finally, with the Red Army closing on Sofia, he was released, finding his way to London via Istanbul and Cairo as the only British survivor of the mission.

The lot which was offered for sale to Dix Noonan Webb at the request of the family was sold together with an important associated archive of material, elements of which include the recipient’s unpublished autobiography of his war years; private correspondence regarding the Claridges Mission between the recipient and both the author Stowers Johnson and the eminent historian E. P. Thompson, and a rare surviving S.O.E. original typescript of the recipient’s D.C.M. recommendation.

DNW Scott SOE medals

Medals awarded to Sergeant K. A. J. B. Scott, Royal Signals and Special Operations Executive, late King’s Royal Rifle Corps. Distinguished Conduct Medal, G.VI.R; 1939-45 Star; Italy Star; Defence and War Medals 1939-45; Efficiency Decoration, G.VI.R., 1st issue, Territorial; Bulgaria, People’s Republic, Order of People’s Liberty, breast star; Honoured Medal of Georgi Dimitrov 1923-1944. Photo: Dix Noonan Webb

The rare, surviving S.O.E. recommendation, not previously publicly available or held by the National Archives – an original typescript of which is with the lot – submitted by S.O.E. Cairo staff officer and author of the renowned S.O.E. memoir ‘Baker Street Irregular’, Major Bickham Sweet-Escott, states:

‘Sergeant Scott was dropped to join a mission in East Serbia on 7 April 1944. The mission crossed into Bulgaria in early May and on 11 May [sic – actually 18 May], was ambushed by a large party of Bulgarian troops. In the fighting the mission and the Partisans to whom they attached were split up, and Sergeant Scott, together with an officer, were the only British survivors. The wireless transmitting apparatus of the mission which had been dropped into a river during the fighting was rescued by Sergeant Scott at a great personal risk of being captured by the enemy. Several days of flight ensued during which the officer was ill and Sergeant Scott was left alone to face heavy responsibilities. By tact and perseverance he managed to keep the depleted Partisan band together.

On 31 May, a second ambush was encountered and Sergeant Scott together with the officer were captured. Questioned under threats and beating by the Gestapo and Bulgar Secret Police, Sergeant Scott consistently refused to give away any vital military or technical information to the enemy. He was kept imprisoned until 9 September, at Bulgar anti-Partisan Headquarters in Sofia, and during the whole of this time made every effort to gain what information he could about the enemy’s activities. He was then compelled to work his wireless transmitting set to Cairo, but by great ingenuity succeeded in indicating that he was operating under duress, with the result that the messages thus sent by the enemy completely failed to deceive us. By this behaviour he put himself in considerable personal danger, since had he been discovered, he would certainly have been shot. Throughout the whole period, 7 April to 9 September, Sergeant Scott has shown considerable initiative, fortitude and steadfastness to duty and has thus contributed positively to the work of the Force in Bulgaria.’

DNW Scott SOE

Special Operations Executive Sergeant K. A. J. B. Scott D.CM.

Kenneth Alec John Baliol Scott was born on 1 March 1920 in Lewisham, London and was educated at Dulwich College. On leaving school he joined the The Rangers, The King’s Royal Rifle Corps – Territorial Army and was mobilised in August 1939, being quickly promoted to Signal Sergeant. Volunteering for Special Duties at the first opportunity, he was transferred to the Royal Corps of Signals in August 1943 and, before long, identified as suitable for Special Operations:

‘Eventually Kenneth Scott found himself at one of the most important finishing schools of the war: S.O.E. Middle East Training School for Wireless Operators. Men here had been selected (after volunteering) from every type of unit, and anticipated being sent to work behind the enemy lines with partisans in the Balkans, or on small Allied craft in enemy waters – anywhere, in fact, where danger was greatest and communication most vital. It mattered not what their previous military experience had been, for it was this that really united them – the consciousness that they had left unit and regiment behind, and all belonged to the same firm; and this indeed was the cognomen for their outfit: the ‘Firm’, Force 133 of S.O.E.’ (Agents Extraordinary by Stowers Johnson refers)

DNW Scott SOE wings

Distinctive parachute wings belonging to Sgt. Ken Scott (Royal Signals) of the Special Operations Executive. Photo: Dix Noonan Webb

Completing specialist training – including a five jump parachute course at Ramat David, near Haifa, in late 1943 – he was driven to a privileged district of Cairo serving as the home of S.O.E. Middle East H.Q., where he was to spend a lazy three months relaxing in S.O.E. surroundings, enjoying not just comfortable furnishings but Arab waiters, cooks and houseboys, pending further orders. Then, suddenly at midday on 5 April 1944, orders arrived for him to pack everything he needed and catch a flight that night to Bari, in Southern Italy. Scrambling into action, he just caught the plane en-route for Benghazi and Malta, arriving at Bari at 1800 hours on 6 April where he was whisked away to the local H.Q. of the firm and briefed on some aspects of his particular mission. The following day, now entrusted with further orders, codes and secret equipment, he was taken to draw his parachute and, completing a blur of further preparations, by 2130 hours he was aboard a plane headed due East from Bari, still not aware of his precise destination. Two hours later he was above the drop zone:

‘The plane was circling. Far down below a group of fires were burning right on the top of a Balkan mountain. Then suddenly, fully and immediately, did Kenneth Scott realise he was making the drop absolutely alone. He groped for his half-pint flask of army rum and began taking an occasional swig. Five times the plane circled and each time, as it crossed above the fires, the heavy bundles of arms and equipment were released through the bomb doors. The sixth circle was the final and Scott sat in the hole ready.

“I look down, [he said, himself describing that vital moment] and even in the circumstances I cannot help wonder at the wild, cold beauty of those hills slowly sliding away below. – We’re running in! The Red Light! “Action Stations!” “Go!!” I heave myself – then the hole – and plunge down to God knows what. The ‘chute opens and I widen my legs to get the straps more comfortable, when from under the ground mist comes a faint cry: “Get your feet and legs together!” – the good old paratroopers’ cry! Soon I land, scarcely a few feet from the fires, and am shaking hands with a couple of English lads, Major Dugmore and Sergeant Rogers. They take me down to the house, where I offer my rum flask, only to find that I’ve already emptied it!”

Not till next day did Kenneth Scott realise he had actually dropped to ‘Entanglement Pin Point Radovnica’ at 2355 hours on Good Friday. Dugmore and Rogers spent the day acquainting him with local conditions and listening in turn to gossip about Cairo. Late in the afternoon the mission, his mission, arrived in a condition entirely belying the code name ‘Claridges’. Major Thompson and Sergeants Walker and Monroe had come down from their latest trek over the Mountains to the north. They were tired and quite drawn with fatigue, very, very dirty, unshaven and hungry. They spoke of heavy fighting ambushes and occupied villages, but the sight of the new wireless operator was as great a tonic for Frank Thompson as were for his famished companions those gastronomic delicacies brought by Scott’s own “air mail”.’ (ibid)

DNW Scott SOE page

Page from Ken Scott’s typed biography entitled “Life in the Army” which presents his account of his 7 years service in the Army. Photo: Dix Noonan Webb

Operation Claridges
Scott’s arrival in Eastern Serbia, near the border of Bulgaria, had landed him into the centre of one of the more confused and under analysed of the S.O.E. areas of operation during the Second World War. His mission – ‘Claridges’ – led by Major Frank Thompson, a man whose short but eventful life has been the subject of biographies and memoirs (see footnote), aimed to estimate the strength of the communist underground Bulgarian resistance movement and gather evidence for a considered opinion as to whether Britain should support it.

They soon found Bulgarian guerrillas in Serbia and established contact with representatives of the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party. Air drops of supplies and arms were arranged. However, whilst other areas of the Balkans had seen organised and determined partisan groups operating, Axis-aligned Bulgaria had never been occupied and until 1944 the resistance to Prime Minister Filav’s pro-Nazi regime was militarily weak. As the Germans decided that the partisans must be wiped out, the net closed in on Claridges’ location in Serbia and the Bulgarian partisans with Thompson announced in early May that they had decided to wage their campaign back over the border in Bulgaria. Thompson’s orders were to remain with the Bulgarian leaders if possible but this would require the Claridges force to venture east into Bulgaria itself, where large numbers of anti-partisan soldiers and policemen were active and brutal. It would be a gamble and an altogether more dangerous undertaking than the operations that they had hitherto been conducting under Major Mostyn Davies and a Brigade of Bulgarian guerillas in an area of Serbia controlled by the Yugoslavian Partisan leader General Tempo, a representative of Tito. Although warned of the dangers by Tempo and faced with a difficult decision without clear orders, the restless and ideologically driven Thompson chose to play his part in attempting to foment a communist uprising of the Bulgarian population. His small party, with Scott as the mission’s wireless telegraph operator, left the Cerna Trava area on 12 May 1944, in the company of 150 to 200 partisans of the 2nd Sofia Brigade, crossing the border with the intention of moving into Central Bulgaria. They ran into trouble almost immediately:

‘On the night of the 13/14 May the party fell into a police ambush of approximately 20 Bulgarian policemen armed with knives. The ambush party had been lying in wait across the track on which the Partisans were moving, and succeeding in establishing considerable surprise. In the skirmish which ensued one Partisan was killed and Dencho received three knife wounds. One policeman was stabbed and another taken prisoner. This prisoner stated that he had been recently conscripted into the Bulgar Gendarmerie, adding that he was a married man with children. This ruse to gain lenient treatment and, perhaps, to save his life, was unsuccessful however, since his papers showed him to be unmarried and a member of the Regular Forces. His head was smashed in with a rifle butt [by the partisans].’ (The Outline History of the Claridges Mission based on field signals and the evidence of Sergeant Scott refers)

They were now travelling in unfamiliar and hostile territory, very short of provisions and at constant risk of betrayal to the Gendarmerie or army. Exhausted, their rest in a wood on 18 May was interrupted by machine-gun fire at noon, causing them to scatter and split into two groups. Scott fled with Major Thompson, around twelve partisan officers and five or six other ranks including three women. A search for a new hideout was then delayed by one of their number being shot in the ankle and by increasing numbers of Bulgar troops, and by their own hunger and exhaustion. That night was spent in thickets on a hilltop with just a small amount of cheese for sustenance. With their confidence in the leaderless partisans now waning, Thompson and Scott agreed to split from the group when the first opportunity presented itself. Scott later recalled Thompson jokingly commenting, ‘These partisans are no good: maybe we should find some better ones.’

Indeed, many years later, Major J. Henniker-Major, another S.O.E. Balkans Operative, would state of Thompson’s Bulgarian Partisans: ‘I’m glad they were not my prop and stay – a pretty inexperienced and low level mixture of individual deserters and Communist civilians from the towns. Compared to the Yugoslav army they had an unreal and slightly horror-comic air of a brigand army, boastful, mercurial, temperamental and with an inexperienced yen to go it alone.’

Betrayal and Capture
On 30 May Thompson and Scott, desperate for food, attempted to eat leaves with salt and then shared a live wood snail. Three partisans were sent into a village despite it being occupied by an army unit and returned with some bread which was carefully divided. Then, exhausted once more they slept in an orchard.

On 31 May, after a Gendarmerie patrol was spotted at dawn 300 yards away, they decided not to move further. But at 14.00 a twenty-strong police patrol approached from the village where their presence had evidently been betrayed and two hours later fired the first bullets into the wood. Thompson and Scott, as they had planned, split from the group, moving uphill while the Partisans were fleeing down and hid between four trees growing close together in ground cover of dead leaves and branches.
They could hear small-arms and mortar fire, and the screams of one of three women who had stayed with the Partisans and who, despite her painful shrapnel wounds had killed several Bulgarian troops with grenades. A small force of troops then entered the copse in which Thompson and Scott were hiding and, advancing nearer and nearer to them until just ten feet away, the pair were spotted. A shot was fired at Scott which miraculously missed and then both men were captured. Dragged from their hiding place they were brutally kicked and struck with fists and rifle butts until an N.C.O. arrived. Both had their hands tied behind their backs, Thompson with a belt, Scott, whose hand was poisoned and swollen, with a rope, his wrists being so tightly bound that they were cut almost to the bone. As they were led back to the local village, peasants turned out to swear, spit and strike them with their fists or any heavy article they could seize. It was later realised by the captives that this attitude of the population and the Army was largely due to the loss of life caused by the Allied bombing of Sofia – raids which Thompson had encouraged: some accounts report that Sofia was 25 per cent destroyed, with thousands killed.

On reaching the village, Thompson, now extremely weak from lack of food, the march and ill treatment, lost his balance and collapsed. After preliminary questioning to ascertain that they were British fighting with the Partisans, they were taken to a cellar where, without any preliminaries, a shaved and well dressed civilian beat them with a truncheon, while soldiers, policemen and other civilians crowded in the doorway to watch. Their possessions were then set out on a table and an interrogation on more orthodox military lines followed, conducted by a commanding officer who had extracted shockingly precise information about the mission and its history from a captured Partisan.

Two hours later they were handcuffed and taken to a room inside a commandeered school on the edge of Sofia. Sharing the room were a number of captured Partisans and the three villagers who had sold them bread. A high ranking Gendarmerie officer then arrived and began the now familiar routine of spitting, kicking and beating, all conducted in front of an audience of soldiers, Gendarmerie and citizenry. Sleep was impossible owing to the injuries they had received at the hands of the Bulgars and also on account of the continual stream of sightseers. The screams of two women partisans who had also been captured continued through the night, accompanied by sounds of heavy furniture being thrown: they were never seen again. At this point Thompson was taken for three hours of interrogation at around three in the morning and returned looking haggard, scarcely able to stand; Scott followed. Then there was another more military and clear-cut interrogation, in a room containing three Gestapo representatives, in front of two wireless transmission sets, only one of which was recognisable to Scott. Many questions concerned the S.O.E. signals school in the Middle East, the exact station to which Scott had signalled, and the whereabouts of other British missions in the Balkans. These interrogators were extremely well informed but Scott avoided replies to all the questions by pointing out that his operation, and all those of the organisation to which he belonged, were carried out with the highest degree of secrecy, and that owing to these security measures he was totally ignorant of the activities or organisation of other personnel.

Working ‘under Gestapo orders’
On 1 June Scott’s request for medical attention was granted, the doctor being especially interested in discovering where Thompson had learned Bulgarian; since Scott had been asked this question multiple times during interrogation the Bulgars obviously attached some importance to it; it is a horrible irony that Thompson’s meagre knowledge of the language probably helped to incriminate him as a ‘spy’. During the following twenty-four hours, sightseers and Scott’s poisoned arm rendered sleep impossible and on 2 June Scott was taken off into individual imprisonment in Sofia where his captors required him to operate his wireless set in their attempt to acquire information from Cairo.

Scott never saw Frank Thompson again and was informed around 11 June, by a Bulgarian officer, that he had been shot, not as a soldier but as a rebel, and that he too would be shot unless the reports of his behaviour and co-operation were satisfactory. Stowers Johnson, whose account of Operation Claridges in Agents Extraordinary was later described by Scott as ‘factually correct’ and ‘the accurate story of this isolated wartime incident’, wrote that the object lesson for Scott here was that he was still alive because he had not been mixing himself up learning Bulgarian and getting into politics, with the ominous implication that if officers were shot so simply, then there would be even less hesitation with other ranks. That being said, it cannot be ignored that Scott, as the wireless operator of the mission, was of more obvious use to his captors than the equally brave Thompson. Now he would be put to work but, as per his D.C.M. citation, Scott, at great personal risk to himself, succeeded in indicating to Cairo that he was operating under duress, with the result that the messages thus sent by the enemy completely failed to deceive Cairo:

‘His captors were in earnest when they had demanded the set be worked at once. He was taken immediately to a large room entirely used for wireless telegraphy and set to work. A long and rambling account of the Battle of Batulia was drawn up, representing the incident neither as a disaster nor a success, and indicating that the British mission would very soon give details so that a sortie could be received, arms and supplies being urgently needed.

Now came the divergence of theory from practice. German N.C.O.s came at regular intervals to give, receive or monitor messages which were carefully checked somewhere by superiors whom Scott never saw. He realised each message was always reworded! This thwarted part of his plan, but was encouraging in that it must make for a difference of style which might be noticed. He could also make a few mistakes such as an inexperienced, badly trained operator might make. He left out deliberately his security check message. To his relief nobody came to point this out. Perhaps they did not know.

When that first message went out Kenneth Scott had the most trying time of all. If there had been no change in the staff at Cairo, they should suspect the situation at once. But if there were nonchalance in the decoding room, or haste or even sickness there, he might find himself responsible for calling out some Allied aeroplanes with their crews and equipment to be destroyed in the Sredna Gora Mountains. Or if the message were bluntly queried, he might be betrayed!

He need not have worried. At the British receiving station the absence of the security check message was noted with alarm and the errors seemed many more in decoding than even Scott had intended. The whole message stood out in front of the S.O.E. chiefs as a warning signal. Kenneth Scott had the reputation of being one of the best operators in the whole Middle East field. Such mistakes would fail even a trainee operator and when coming from their most capable sergeant of signals could not be regarded as accidental.

At once they knew he was in German hands and sent out warnings to other missions to watch carefully for Major Thompson or any other survivors who might be in hiding. More definite than anything, however, Kenneth Scott by his bravery in making those mistakes had placed responsibility for the safety of his life squarely upon the shoulders of Force 133. If they showed any doubt or distrust, if they queried the authenticity of the message, or indeed if they failed to respond to any request the pseudo ‘Claridges’ might make, the Germans would suspect and Scott would be sacrificed to Gestapo torture and elimination.’ (Agents Extraordinary by Stowers Johnson refers)

Whilst enduring the next fourteen weeks in captivity, under the continual threat of being shot, Scott continued to operate his wireless transmission set according to Gestapo orders, all the while contriving with Cairo to reveal nothing.
Finally, on 9 September, with Russian forces crossing the Danube and the Germans and Bulgarian troops in disarray, Scott was taken to the centre of Sofia by tram to be left abandoned in a side street. He slowly made his way back to London via Istanbul and Cairo. In 1945, Scott returned to Cairo as representative on the Allied Commission for dealing with Bulgarian war crimes. He was discharged on 4 June 1946 and was personally awarded his D.C.M. (which was originally gazetted on 9 August 1945) by the King at Buckingham Palace on 10 December 1946.

Bulgarian partisans of the Bulgarian Fatherland Front resistance movement enter the capital city of Sofia. September, 1944

Bulgarian partisans of the Bulgarian Fatherland Front resistance movement enter the capital city of Sofia. September, 1944

After the war Ken Scott became a ventilation engineer, starting as a draughtsman, rising to become sales director. In 1954 he married Sonia Townshend and in 1962 they retired to Galloway in Scotland and bought a holiday home in the Algarve in Portugal. In 2000 Scott returned to the scene of his wartime exploits and met the few partisan survivors. He was welcomed one of their own, a man who had shared their hardships. And he exorcised his ghosts by paying his respects at the graves of fallen partisans – and that of Major Frank Thompson. Ken Scott passed away on 30 September 2008. He was survived by Sonia and their two daughters.

The lot was sold with the following original related archive material:

DNW Scott SOE ephemera

The recipient’s typed and hard-bound autobiography of his war years entitled ‘Life in the Army’ being the story of his nearly 7 years in the army at home and abroad as described in his letters written home, also containing documents, news cuttings relating to his time during the war, illustrations and three original photographs of the recipient in uniform, in excess of 200 pages;

An original copy of the outline history of the Claridges Mission, based on field signals and the evidence of Sgt. Scott;

A silk map of the Balkan region in good condition and two more silk map cuttings of the Balkan region these last two aged and worn;

An original copy of the recipient’s D.C.M. citation; War Office D.C.M. investiture invitation, dated 23 October 1946;

A quantity of photographs of the recipient, seven of which are contemporary images of the recipient in uniform – one being a fine, card mounted, studio portrait, 25cm x 19cm, four also featuring the recipient’s brother Ron in uniform of which one also features the recipient’s mother;

Private correspondence, dated 1975, between the recipient and Stowers Johnson, author of Agents Extraordinary, in which the recipient congratulates Johnson on the accuracy of his account and also, dated 1984, in which Johnson provides thoughts on the attitude of Bulgarian officialdom towards the mission; correspondence, dated 1977 and 1979, between the recipient and the the socialist historian E. P. Thompson (younger brother of Major F. Thompson);

The recipient’s Record of Service card – Army Form W5258;

A well captioned album of photographs documenting the recipient’s visit to Bulgaria in 2002, containing images of the recipient meeting former partisans, visits to memorials, television interviews and press conferences etc;

Two VHS videos, the first with handwritten title ‘From Bulgaria and Revisit + 7 days – Thompson’ the second with handwritten title ‘7 day interview Bulgaria Oct 2002 / Mrs Thompson, filmed in UK by Transki 14/4/1978’;

Five books: ‘There is a Spirit in Europe A Memoir of Frank Thompson by T. J. Thompson and E. P. Thompson, the front end paper signed by Scott and also by the Bulgarian Partisan leader Slavcho Transki with a handwritten tribute to Scott, dated 1978; A Very English Hero, the Making of Frank Thompson by Peter J. Conradi; Agents Extraordinary by Stowers Johnson, the front end paper signed, ‘To Kenneth Scott, with kindest regards and best wishes from Stowers Johnson 10 August 1975’; The Left Side of History by Kristen Ghosdee; Baker Street Irregular by Bickham Sweet-Escott, front end paper signed by Scott.

Footnote – Major Frank Thompson

captain frank thompson SOE

Captain, later Major Frank Thompson of the Special Operations Executive who commanded Operation Claridges.

 

William Frank Thompson, educated at the Dragon School, Winchester College and Oxford University, was a highly gifted classics scholar, linguist and nascent poet of immense promise who became a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain in the 1930s under the influence of his close friend Iris Murdoch. His exceptional record of service as a British Army officer began courageously with the Special Reconnaissance Unit ‘Phantom’ in North Africa, the Levant, and the hazardous landings in Sicily in 1943. However, it is his remarkable service with the S.O.E. in Bulgaria that really stands out. Parachuted into Macedonia on 25 January 1944, under the command of Major Mostyn Davies, he was part of Operation Mulligatawny which established links between the British staff and the Bulgarian partisans under Slavcho Transki. When Davies was killed, Thompson assumed command of the mission, now named Claridges, and crossed the frontier into Bulgaria together with Sergeants Scott, Walker and Munroe. All but Scott were killed. The extent to which Thompson’s personal politics were a factor in the outcome of the mission is still debated but there is no doubting his bravery and determination:

‘Along the way, he and his men experienced constant danger from enemy patrols, desertion and treachery by their own ilk, instant betrayal from intimidated villagers and peasants, extreme hunger, verminous lice, vicious sores and scratches from moving at night, bleeding, blistered and calloused feet, bitter cold and pernicious wet; yet, not once did he turn back despite ample good reason for doing so after the first ambush on 18 May. He pressed ahead indomitably to complete his task, however remote and impossible it must have seemed on many occasions. Thompson’s immortality was indeed his own individuality as he assumed the mantle of leading his mission into the heartlands of Axis Bulgaria, an erstwhile T. E. Lawrence of the Balkans or not.’ (Through Hitler’s Backdoor – SOE Operations in Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria 1939-1945 by Alan Ogden refers).

After the war and the establishment of a communist government in Bulgaria, the villages of Livage, Lipata, Tsarevi Stragi, Malak Babul, Babul and Zavoya were merged and renamed Thompson ((Томпсън, in the Bulgarian Cyrillic alphabet) in his honour. While most Bulgarian towns and cities which were renamed by the communists adopted their former names soon after the collapse of Bulgaria’s communist regime in 1989-90, Thompson, to this day, remains Thompson.

grave_of_frank_thompson_in_litakovo_bulgaria-990x556

Grave of Major Frank Thompson in Litakov, Bulgaria

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An unidentified French Indochina or 1950’s period Airborne unit badge.

ARVN unidentified Airborne SSI 2-2

The unidentified French Indochina period French or Vietnamese Airborne unit badge which  formerly belonged to a Nung soldier who fought in both the first and second Indochina Wars. Collection: Julian Tennant

 

This is an unusual and as yet unidentified early Vietnamese Airborne patch that I have in my collection. It is the actual badge shown on page 81 of Harry Pugh’s book Insignia of the Republic of Vietnam Army Airborne Division, where it is described as an Unknown Airborne Insignia obtained in Saigon in 1967.

When I bought the badge from Harry, he elaborated a little further in an accompanying note regarding its provenance.

“When I was in Vietnam, 67 & 68, the chief of my Nung Security was an older Nung, “Song”. He had served with the French during the French Indochina war but I never asked him which unit. After the war he served with the Nung units of the U.S. Special Forces. At some point he was wounded again and retired. Was told, but no confirmation at all, that he was in the camp when Donlon got his Medal of Honor [In 1964 US Special Forces Captain Roger Donlon won the first Medal of Honor to be awarded in Vietnam]. A predecessor had hired him as the security chief at Tam Ky, Quang Tin Province, Embassy House.

Song and I were good friends as we shared an interest in planting flowers on our bunkers etc. Anyway, when he learned that I collected insignia (at the time was just starting out) he came back from a leave to Saigon and brought this patch to me. He said it was the insignia that he wore when serving with the French. – I do not know if in a Vietnamese or French unit. That is the only identification I got and never followed through.

Later, I have seen a photo of troops with this patch being worn. But I just do not know the rest of the identity.”

The badge measures 65mm wide by 65mm high and its construction methods match the insignia made during the French era and the early post-colonial period, including the use of the French style attachment pin.

ARVN unidentified Airborne SSI 2

A comparison showing the front and rear of the unidentified badge and one of the 1955-1959 period Vietnamese Airborne Group patches in my collection. The construction methods of both badges including attachment pins are very similar. Collection: Julian Tennant

 

During my research, other collectors have suggested that the design is somewhat reminiscent of the French Airborne School, Ecole des Troupes Aéroportées (ETAP) and Base-Ecole des Troupes Aéroportées (BETAP) badges (as shown below). However, I think that the connection between the French based parachute school and this insignia is incidental as the airborne training units serving in French Indochina had their own unique insignia.

Base-Ecole des Troupes Aéroportées (BETAP) circa 1953

1953 period Base-Ecole des Troupes Aéroportées (BETAP) breast badge. Some design similarity can be seen between this insignia and the unidentified bullion badge, however I think that it is purely coincidental as neither the ETAP nor BETAP served in Indochina and the differences are significant enough to discount a connection. Collection: Julian Tennant

 

I have not yet been able to track down the photograph that Harry refers to in his note, nor can I find any reference to this design in either the Malcros or Baltzer/Micheletti French Airborne insignia books and none of my French-language reference books about Vietnamese and ARVN badges feature similar insignia, so it remains a mystery to me. If anybody can help with the identification of this badge, your assistance will be greatly appreciated.

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Australian Airborne Insignia #2. The 6RAR Parachute Company Group

6RAR Para Coy Gp. Exercise Distant Bridge - Painting by K. Wenzel, commissioned by Lt Col. A.L. Mattay and presented to the Battalion.

“Exercise Distant Bridge” – Painting by Ken Wenzel  and presented to 6RAR by Lt Col. A.L. Mattay, who was CO from January 1980 until December 1981. Exercise Distant Bridge was the first deployment by the 6RAR Para Coy Gp and the largest tactical air drop in Australia since WW2.

In 1974, the Brisbane based 6th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (6RAR) under the command of Lt Col Tony Hammett took on an unofficial parachute role. At this time Australia had a special forces capability in the Special Air Service Regiment and the reservist Commando Companies, but no conventional airborne unit outside of the Airborne Platoon attached to the Parachute Training School. Hammett, who had been parachute qualified since 1959 encouraged soldiers of his battalion to undertake parachute training, but once qualified, they remained spread throughout the battalion. There were attempts in 1977 and 1978 to gain official parachute status but these were resisted until early in 1980 when the Enoggera based 6 Task Force was given approval to raise an airborne group based around an infantry rifle company.

Beret badges of 6RAR Para Coy Gp

Royal Australian Regiment (RAR) and the unofficial beret badge of the 6RAR Parachute Company Group. Approximately 150 of the unofficial beret badges were produced and presented to members of the company, but were never worn. The badge is die-struck with two clutch grip attachments and has a small ‘TAIWAN’ hallmark on the rear. Collection: Julian Tennant

Delta Company, 6RAR, which had achieved fame for its performance in the Battle of Long Tan in 1966, was selected for the task. Whilst remaining as Delta Company, it was now also officially called the 6RAR Parachute Company Group and by February 1981 had reached its target strength of 180 men. Shortly thereafter, on the 10th of April 1981, four C-130H Hercules aircraft from No. 36 Squadron flew 162 paratroopers from the company group 1600 kilometers from Amberley in Queensland to a DZ at an old WW2 airfield near Ross in Tasmania for Exercise DISTANT BRIDGE. This marked the the unit’s first full-scale deployment as an airborne force and the largest Australian tactical parachute drop since WW2.

Aust basic para pre 1998

Australian parachutist wings for summer (top) and winter dress (bottom) as worn by members of the 6RAR Parachute Company Group. Collection: Julian Tennant

Apart from the standard Australian Army parachutist badge, the paratroopers of the 6RAR Para Coy Gp did not wear any officially authorised insignia to distinguish the unit from other formations. However, the 2IC of the unit, Captain Richard ‘Dick’ Arnel did have insignia produced with the intention of having the design recognised as the official unit badge. The badge, featuring an upright SLR bayonet on a parachute with outstretched wings, over a scroll with the words “6RAR PRCHT COY GP” was produced as beret and collar badges, cuff links, tiepins, challenge coins as well as sports patches. About 150 sets of the beret and collar badges were made and issued to members of D Coy 6RAR but they were never worn. The cloth sports patches, which were made locally within Australia appear to have had production continued long after the demise of the unit and can still be found for sale in surplus stores and other retail outlets.

6RAR Para Coy Gp patch 3

Track suit / sports uniform patches of the 6RAR Parachute Company Group. The patch on the left, which has been removed from a uniform appears to be a modified variation of the patch on the right. I am not sure why the original owner may have carried out this modification. Collection: Julian Tennant

The raising of the 6RAR Parachute Company Group signaled the start of a standing conventional airborne capability for the Australian Army and led to formation of the larger battalion sized group when, in October 1983, the 3rd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR) was designated a ‘Parachute Infantry Battalion’. Members of the 6RAR Para Coy Gp made one final jump near Amberley in Queensland before handing over the role and 3RAR formerly assumed the parachute role on the 1st of December 1983. 3RAR maintained the capability until 26th of August 2011, when it relinquished its airborne status and reverted to the role of a standard infantry battalion. Australia no longer has any conventional airborne units.

6RAR Para Coy Gp tie clip

Tie-clip made for members of the 6RAR Parachute Company Group. Collection: Julian Tennant

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A rare WW2 Hungarian Paratrooper’s medal group

Medals, insignia, photographs and documents belonging to Hungarian paratrooper, Császár Vilmos. Collection: Julian Tennant

Medals, insignia, photographs and documents belonging to World War Two Hungarian paratrooper, Sergeant Császár Vilmos. Collection: Julian Tennant

Featured this week is a very nice medal group to a WWII Hungarian paratrooper that I hold in my collection.

The group belonged to Sergeant Császár Vilmos. I still know very little about him but have learned that he served in the 3rd Parachute Company in 1941 as Lance-Corporal, was later promoted to sergeant and survived the war. His medals give clues to his service, but I am still in the process of researching his story so cannot provide a more comprehensive overview of his service at this stage.

His medals include:
The Silver Medal of Courage (Magyar Nagy Ezűst Vitézségi Érem).
The Fire Cross with Wreath and Swords (Tűzkereszt koszorúval, kardokkal) which was awarded for 3 months service in the front line as a combatant.
The Six years Long Service Cross (Legénységi Szolgálati Jel III. Osztálya)
The Upper Hungary campaign medal (Felvidéki Emlékérem)
The Medal for the Liberation of Siebenbürgen (Transylvania) (Erdélyi Emlékérem) and
The Medal for the Recapture of South Hungary (Délvidéki Emlékérem)

Hopefully the Hungarian names for the medals is correct, I have found several different translated names for these medals and so am not 100% certain if my titles are right.

Also included in this group are his railway pass, bullion NCO’s parachutist wings, his extremely rare ‘Master’ parachutist badge which was awarded for 25 (perfect) jumps, plus several photographs of him in uniform and conducting parachute jumps.

Studio portrait of (Sergeant) Császár Vilmos wearing his medals, the distinctive silver bullion embroidered Hungarian parachutist wing for NCO's and the incredibly rare first class (sometimes referred to as the 'master') parachutist badge on the breast pocket. Collection: Julian Tennant

Studio portrait of (Sergeant) Császár Vilmos wearing his medals, the distinctive silver bullion embroidered Hungarian parachutist wing for NCO’s and the incredibly rare Master parachutist badge on the breast pocket. Collection: Julian Tennant

Sergeant Császár Vilmos' Railway booklet dated 26 Jan 1944. When the photograph for the pass was taken it appears that Sgt Császár Vilmos had only been awarded the Upper Hungary campaign medal (Felvidéki Emlékérem), the Medal for the Liberation of Siebenbürgen (Transylvania) (Erdélyi Emlékérem) and the Medal for the Recapture of South Hungary (Délvidéki Emlékérem). Collection: Julian Tennant

Sergeant Császár Vilmos’ Railway booklet dated 26 Jan 1944. When the photograph for the pass was taken it appears that Sgt Császár Vilmos had only been awarded the Upper Hungary campaign medal (Felvidéki Emlékérem), the Medal for the Liberation of Siebenbürgen (Transylvania) (Erdélyi Emlékérem) and the Medal for the Recapture of South Hungary (Délvidéki Emlékérem). He was subsequently awarded the ‘Fire Cross’ with wreath and swords reflecting at least 3 months in the front line as a combatant, the Silver Medal of Courage for bravery and  Six Year Long Service Cross. Collection: Julian Tennant

Studio portrait of (Sergeant) Császár Vilmos and female, possibly wife or sister? The photograph shows that his arm is in a sling, indicating a wound or injury so I am guessing that this photo was taken whilst on recovery leave. Note that Császár Vilmos is also wearing the bullion jump wing on the left side of his cap. Collection: Julian Tennant

Studio portrait of (Sergeant) Császár Vilmos and female, possibly wife or sister? The photograph shows that his arm is in a sling, indicating a wound or injury so I am guessing that this photo was taken whilst on recovery leave. Note that Császár Vilmos is also wearing the bullion NCO’s jump wing on the left side of his cap. Collection: Julian Tennant

 

I have not yet been able to discover much about Császár Vilmos. The presence of the Liberation of Siebenbürgen (Transylvania) (Erdélyi Emlékérem) medal, which was introduced on the 1st of October 1940 to commemorate the incorporation of Northern Transylvania into Hungary indicates that Császár Vilmos became a paratrooper early in the war and possibly a member of the Royal Hungarian 1st Honvéd Parachute Company, before it was expanded to a Battalion in 1941.

When the 1st Honvéd Parachute Battalion was formed, Császár Vilmos was posted to the 3rd Company. My knowledge of the operations undertaken by the Hungarian paratroopers is weak, so I am not sure about exactly where he fought although the inclusion of the Upper Hungary and Southern Hungary medals in the group provides clues for my continuing research. At this stage of my research I am still largely ignorant of the qualification requirements for these medals and what role Hungarian paratroopers may have carried out in those operations. Hungarian researcher and historian, David Kiss, has written a very informative English-language article about the early history of Hungarian paratroopers which details some of the operations they were involved in, but I am still trying to ‘connect the dots’ between the historical records and the service of this soldier. However as new information comes to light I’ll continue to update this post to reflect a more complete record of  Császár Vilmos military career.

 

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