In the early hours of 6 June 1944, Private John Marvin Steele, an American paratrooper from F Company, 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division jumps over Sainte-Mère-Église village on the Cotentin Peninsula, Normandy as part of Mission BOSTON. His unit’s objective is to capture the village, a crucial communications crossroad behind UTAH Beach and block German approaches from the west and southwest.
Unfortunately for Steele, a house in the village is on fire after being hit by a stray bomb and the usually quiet town square is filled with German troops who are trying to extinguish the blaze. The flames illuminate the square and many of the paratroopers are killed as they descend. John Steele is hit in the foot and his canopy catches on the village church’s bell tower. He tries to free himself but drops his knife and is left dangling helplessly for a couple of hours. Eventually, two German soldiers climb up to cut him down and take him to an aid station. Three days later Steele escapes and crosses back into Allied lines. He goes on to jump in Holland, participating in the liberation of Nijmegen and later the Battle of the Bulge. John Steele survived the war and returned to Sainte-Mère-Église several times to commemorate the landings before finally succumbing to throat cancer in 1969. His D-Day experience, hanging from the chapel bell tower has been immortalised in the movie “The Longest Day”.
Sainte-Mère-Église was captured by the 3rd Battalion of the 505th at 04:30, not too long after Steele was taken to the aid station and the village became the first town in France to be liberated by the Allies on D-Day. The German counter-attacks involving infantry and armour began at 09:30 and after eight hours of fighting only sixteen of the forty-two paratroopers holding village were still alive. But the American paras held their ground and on 7 June tanks from UTAH Beach finally arrived. The beachhead was secure and the link-up between air and ground forces had been achieved.
There are several points of interest commemorating the battle in the town along with a few militaria dealers. Many of the local shopkeepers also recognise the historical importance of the event and some include small displays of their own, so it is worth setting some time aside just to relax and explore. I would recommend buying a copy of Major & Mrs Holt’s D-Day Normandy Landing Beaches battlefield guide and using their walking tour as a way of exploring the area.
Interior of well known militaria dealer, Andrew Butler’s 6thjune1944.com / Butler’s shop in Sainte-Mère-Église. Photo: Julian Tennant
Airborne Museum – Sainte Mère Eglise. Photos: Julian Tennant
Musée Airborne – Sainte Mère Eglise
However, the start point of any visit to Sainte-Mère-Église should be the Airborne Museum, which is located metres away from the church and is actually on the site of the house fire of that fateful night of 5-6 June 1944.
Opened in 1964, the original museum building was designed by architect François Carpentier to reflect the shape of an open parachute canopy. Since its inauguration the museum has had several additions and currently consists of three exhibition buildings. The original museum building is referred to as the WACO building. Its centerpiece is an original Waco CG-4A glider surrounded by various uniform, weapons and equipment displays.
Front of the Waco CG-4A glider at the Airborne Museum – Sainte Mere Eglise. Photo: Julian Tennant
Interior of the Waco CG-4A glider at the Airborne Museum – Sainte Mere Eglise. Photo: Julian Tennant
Willys MB 4×4 Jeep of the 82nd Airborne Division. Photos: Julian Tennant
German Wehrmacht POA volunteer uniform display. By the spring of 1944, one in six infantry battalions along the Atlantic Coast was composed of Osttrupen and foreign volunteers. On the east coast of the Cotentin Peninsula, the 709th Infantry Division was a typical example with one in five in its ranks being a volunteer from the east. Photo: Julian Tennant
Helmet and uniform of General James Maurice “Jumpin’ Jim” Gavin, who was the assistant division commander of the 82nd Airborne Division on D-Day. He later went on to command the division. Photo: Julian Tennant
Ralph Busson, Bill Farmer and Don Furlong, three squad leaders with H Company 508 PIR divided this dollar bill in Nottingham England on 5 June 1944. The pieced it back together at the unit reunion in 1983. Unfortunately, Bill Farmer was killed during the fighting in Normandy. Photo: Julian Tennant
US Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) uniform. Photo: Julian Tennant
Uniform detail featuring a bullion German Fallschirmjäger parachutist qualification badge. Photo: Julian Tennant
Insignia detail on a M-1944 NCO’s field jacket from the 319th Glider Field Artillery Battalion of the 82nd Airborne Division. Photo: Julian Tennant
506th PIR display at the Airborne Museum, Sainte Mere Eglise. Photo: Julian Tennant
M42 jump jacket and side cap belonging to Captain Robert “Bob” Piper of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Bob Piper took part in all the actions of the 82nd Airborne Division in WW2 and made five combat jumps. Photo: Julian Tennant
82nd Airborne Division uniform display cabinet detail at the Airborne Museum. Photo: Julian Tennant
The second gallery is referred to as the C-47 building and features the Douglas C-47 Skytrain ‘Argonia,’ which was flown by Lt. Col. Charles H. Young, CO, of the 439th Troop Carrier Group during Operation NEPTUNE. The aircraft was also used for the drop during Operation MARKET GARDEN, but in this display, it is used as the focal point for a scene that is loosely based on General Eisenhower’s visit to the paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division just before they departed for the Normandy.
US Army Air Force crew in front of the Douglas C-47 Skytrain “Argonia” of 92 Squadron of the 439th Transportation Group. Photo: Julian Tennant
US Army Cushman Airborne Scooter Model M-53 in the foreground of the C-47 display featuring General Dwight D. Eisenhower visiting paratroopers of the 502nd PIR, 101st Abn Div at Greenham Common airfield on 5 June 1944. Photo: Julian Tennant
Centre-piece of the C-47 Building is a reconstruction of a scene featuring General Dwight D. Eisenhower visiting paratroopers of the 502nd PIR, 101st Abn Div at Greenham Common airfield on 5 June 1944. Photo: Julian Tennant
Paratrooper of the 502nd PIR. Photo: Julian Tennant
Overhead view of the C-47 room centre-piece display. Photo: Julian Tennant
Paratrooper of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division. Photo: Julian Tennant
T3 (Technician Sergeant 3rd Grade) of the 505th PIR, 82nd Abn Div. Photo: Julian Tennant
The newest exhibition building, named Operation NEPTUNE was opened to the public for the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings and uses several life-sized diorama displays combined with sound and lighting effects to give the visitor an impression of the paratrooper’s D-Day experience.
Model of the jump over over Normandy which can be seen through the fuselage floor of the paratrooper filled C-47. Photo: Julian Tennant
Paratroopers aboard a C-47 heading towards the DZ. Photo: Julian Tennant
Detail of the paratroopers aboard a C-47 heading towards their Normandy DZ. Photo: Julian Tennant
German para from Fallschirmjäger Regiment 6 who fought against their American counterparts during the early days of the Normandy invasion. Photo: Julian Tennant
In May 2018 the museum introduced the HistoPad, an augmented reality tablet device that allows visitors to manipulate a series of 3D virtual relics and artifacts, see inside of aircraft, virtually operate and manipulate full 360-degree views of equipment, compare scenes today to how they appeared in 1944, view unpublished photographs and extracts of archival films. It is provided free to all visitors over six years old who are not part of a group tour. You can view one of the museum’s HistoPad promotional videos below or visit the creator’s website to see more pictures and details of the Airborne Museum’s HistoPad experience.
In addition to the exhibition spaces, the Airborne Museum also has conference rooms for hire and gift shop. The shop, is definitely no match for Paratrooper shop at the D-Day Experience and Dead Man’s Corner Museum in Saint-Côme-du-Mont, but it does offer some interesting books and DVD’s along with the usual reproduction souvenirs aimed at the (non-collector) tourist.
At the time of writing (June 2020) the Airborne Museum has just reopened to the public, so visiting is possible, however there are new visitor requirements to take into account the COVID-19 pandemic. The current restrictions are outlined here.
The Airborne Museum
14 rue Eisenhower
Open: Every day. From May to August, the museum is open from 10:00 until 19:00. October thru March the museum is open from 10:00 until 18:00. April to September, the museum is open from 09:30 until 19:00. Note. Last ticket sales are one hour before closing and check their website for updated COVID-19 visiting restrictions
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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 1948. Chanute 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.
Postcard. Entrance to the US Air Corps Technical School, Chanute Field.
Postcard. US Army Air Corps Parachute Rigging Class at Chanute Field, 1942.
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.
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.
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.
Birdie Draper and her co-performer, Captain F. F. (Bowser) Frakes.. Image courtesy the San Diego Air and Space Museum’s Library & Archives
Birdie Draper carrying out one of her famous car crash stunts. Image courtesy the San Diego Air and Space Museum’s Library & Archives
Birdie Draper’s co-performer, Captain F. F. (Bowser) Frakes crashing his aircraft through a barn. Image courtesy the San Diego Air and Space Museum’s Library & Archives
Birdie Draper’s R.C.C.W. certificate. Image courtesy the San Diego Air and Space Museum’s Library & Archives
Birdie Draper. 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).
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.
Reverse of the Rip Cord Club of the World badge. Unfortunately the horizontal pin is no longer present on this example.
The reverse of two examples of the RCCW badge from the S French Collection.
Detail showing the Hardie Jewelry Co maker’s mark on the reverse of the R.C.C.W. badge.
Reverse of the Rip Cord Club of the World badge showing the H.J.Co. makers mark on the lower part of the globe, just above the parachute jumper.
A variation of the Rip Cord Club of the World badge with a screwpost attachment in the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum. Smithsonian Inventory Number: A19710694118
Photograph from the Birdie Draper Collection showing members of the Minneapolis chapter of the RCCW at dinner with St Paul’s Mayor, George Leach (seated centre) following the Minnesota State Fair in 1938. Note the RCCW badges being worn by various members of the group. Image courtesy the San Diego Air and Space Museum’s Library & Archives
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A couple of the earlier Congo Mercenary insignia in my collection.
Here are a couple of relatively recent additions to my Congo mercenary collection, an early 5 Commando shoulder title and the shoulder patch of the Congo Commando Force Publique, both of which were worn on the right shoulder.
Both are featured in Gérard Lagaune’s excellent reference book Histoire et insignes des parachutistes et des commandos de Pays des Grand Lacs but unfortunately the book provides little contextual information about the insignia.
I am not sure when either of these two badges were introduced or superseded. The aforementioned book suggests that the Congolese Commando Force Publique was created in the 1950’s and based at Sonankulu near Thysville, receiving their training from Belgian Commando instructors and that the patch dates from before 1960. Other information suggests that the Commando Force Publique patch was only worn between 1957 and 1960.
However whilst researching these badges I found this photograph of one of the original South African mercenaries in the Congo, Georg Schroeder wearing the insignia whilst a 1st Lieutenant in 5 Commando.
Georg Schroeder was a former South African Parachute Jump Instructor who arrived in the Congo in 1964 and was the last commanding officer of 5 Commando in Congo before they were disbanded and returned to South Africa in 1967.
This studio photograph shows him wearing an interesting assortment of insignia, including the aforementioned 5 Commando shoulder title and Congolese Commando shoulder patch. His rank is that of a 1st Lieutenant, which according to the information on Terry Aspinall’s Mercenary Wars site, indicates that this photograph was taken sometime between 17 September and 26 December 1964, when he was promoted to Captain and took over the command of 53 Commando.
Also visible are his South African PJI wings on his left breast above what appears to be the United Nations Medal with CONGO clasp that was awarded to denote service with the ONUC Mission (1960-64). I am not sure if he was entitled to the medal issue as he is also wearing a Belgian 1st Para Battalion beret despite not having served with that unit. The badge on his right breast remains unknown (to me) although I think it may be the same qualification that is shown as #911, but also unidentified in Andrew Ross Dinnes’ book, Border War Badges: A Guide to South African Military & Police Badges 1964-1994.
Congo mercenary insignia is one of my areas of collecting interest and whilst my collection remains quite small it does contain some nice pieces that I have previously featured on this page, most notably a patch worn by 10 Commando led by Jean ‘Black Jack’ Schramme and a nice group featuring insignia, medals, photographs and paperwork that belonged to another South African, Bill Jacobs, who served with the British Parachute Regiment in Cyprus, prior to enlisting in 5 Commando in 1966. If you are a collector of Mercenary insignia and have spares that you are interested in trading or selling, I will be very interested in hearing from you, so please contact me.
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During the Vietnam war there was at least two sport parachuting clubs operating in South Vietnam although I have patches in my collection that indicates there may have been as many as three. Detailed information about the histories of these clubs appears to be quite scant although two of the three are mentioned in various accounts and the crossover is such that I wonder if they may in fact be exactly the same group of skydivers, just jumping under two different club names? But if that were the case why the different patches?
Viet-Nam Parachute Club Nhay Du
The Viet-Nam Parachute Club Nhay Du was co-located with the Vietnamese Airborne Division HQ at Tan Son Nhut airbase. The club had a mix of Allied and Vietnamese members, with most of the latter coming from the Airborne School staff who sometimes used the opportunity for free-fall descents to qualify for the higher-grade parachute monitor wings. Thom Lyons a long time skydiver, served with the USAF in Vietnam andrecounted his experiencesjumping with the club during his tour of duty in 1966-67. He recalled that after “Charles” had made jumping difficult at the old DZ“, jumps were done on the military DZ at Ap Dong, which was used by the Vietnamese Airborne school.
The Saigon Sport Parachute Club
Thom Lyons also jumped with the Saigon Sport Parachute Club (SSPC), which used the same DZ at Ap Dong. Thom recalls,
I was in a group of crazies in 1966-67 called the Saigon Sport Parachute Club jumping at Ap Dong. We used H-34’s which is strange cause when you spot you can yell “5 BACK!”.
The first incident was a 10,000 footer and at about 4000′ I noticed that the DZ was being shelled!!! I seriously wondered if it was worth it to open at all or just get it over with, but I wasn’t that young or that stupid.
Next was a few weeks later when the crew chief ordered everyone out for some reason. We were down wind over a jungle canopy to the east of the DZ and no way could we get back. I spotted a small clearing maybe 25′ in diameter and started towards it with my 28′ cheapo. I had to work the target and put my M-45 Swedish 9mm sub-machine gun together at the same time. I land in the clearing, but the canopy was in the trees and I was dangling a foot or so off the ground. I heard people running towards me and I almost shot three kids who came after me to carry gear or whatever for money or cigarettes. They got my gear out of the tree and when I went to put some ripstop tape on some small tears from the tree, I found two small calibre bullet holes! Don’t know when I got them. Let’s say the experience was UNIQUE! The DZ was also had as rock so you either did an excellent PLF or stood it up which wasn’t often in that heat and humidity. AP DONG was also the DZ for the Vietnamese 2nd Airborne Division and there was a small triangular fort on the DZ. The chopper could land right next to the packing area, but we discouraged that for obvious reasons.
Every time we jumped, we were plagued by people trying to sell us everything from Coke-Cola to their daughters and these boys were all over who would field pack for you for a couple of cigarettes. Carry your gear back for another one.
The club had mostly Army in it, and a couple of Navy and Air Force but also some Aussies and American Civilians. The first CrossBow in Viet Nam didn’t get jumped more than a few times. An American civilian brought it in and did a hook turn into a tree trunk and the H-34 had to fly him to the 3rd field hospital which left us without a jump ship for several hours.
By the way, the H-34 was Viet in VNAF colors and we paid the pilots a (5th) bottle of Johnny Walker each to fly for us, the chopper was free. I didn’t drink so it was usually my ration for 5th’s that got used up.
After TET in 1968 the club couldn’t get the chopper anymore and the club folded, I’m told.
The club jumped every Sunday morning and had a mix of military and civilian members from Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand, Germany and the USA. The club seems to be run on a shoestring budget, with Dan Bonfig, the President, Vice-President, Secretary, Treasurer and Chief Rigger who was working for the RMK-BRJ construction consortium based at 12 Thong Nhut, Saigon administering the club from his workplace. Unfortunately, he has passed away and I have not yet been able to find out any more information about the SSPC or its relationship to the Viet-Nam Parachute Club. A lot of the anecdotal information that I have uncovered so far seems to cross over between the two clubs, hence my belief that there may be a direct connection between the two.
Cape St Jacques Skydivers VN
The club represented by this last patch is a complete mystery to me. Cap Saint-Jacques was the French Indochinese name for Vũng Tàu, which during the 2nd Indochina War was home to the1st Australian Logistics Support Groupas well as various US military units. It was also a popular in-country R&R destination during the war so it does seem logical that a skydiving club may have existed there. However, I cannot find any record of this club existing during the war and none of the Australian veterans I have asked about it have any recollection of a parachute club being located there. The spelling of Cap Saint-Jacques as Cape St-Jacques on the patch suggests to me that it is post French era and my best guess is that it may be an earlier club that had folded by the mid 1960’s when the military presence started to build up in the area, but this is speculation on my part.
If anybody can help provide more detail about any of these clubs, I would love to hear from you to help clarify the situation and record some more detail about their respective histories before they are lost forever.
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Without a doubt one of the best military museums in the Normandy region. If you’re an airborne collector, the D-Day Experience is a must see.
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.
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.
The D-Day Experience Museum. Photo: Julian Tennant
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.
C-47, 8Y-S ‘Stoy Hora’ flight simulator that ‘transports’ visitors to the drop zones of the Cotentin Peninsula in the D-Day Experience. Photo: Julian Tennant
General Dwight D. Eisenhower addresses American paratroopers from E Co. 502nd PIR, on the afternoon before D-Day. The paratrooper with the number 23 around his neck is Lt Wallace C. Strobel who was the jumpmaster for that aircraft number in the packet. U.S. Army photograph. No. SC 194399
Insignia detail on the jacket of 2nd Lt George N. Wirtanen. 304th Troop Carrier Sqn, 442nd Troop Carrier Group. Photo: Julian Tennant
Sgt. Joseph F. Gorenc from Sheboygen, Wisconsin, the assistant S3 of HQ/3, 506th PIR, 101st Airborne Division climbing aboard the lead transport aircraft C-47 Dakota 8Y-S “Stoy Hora” of the 440th Troop Carrier Group at RAF Exeter Airfield, Devon, UK on the night of 5/6th June 1944. Sgt. Gorenc was taken prisoner on June 8th at St. Côme-du-Mont and reported as MIA. He escaped from a Prison train on 20 July and he was in action again at ‘Operation Market Garden’. Photo: US Signal Corps.
Thompson sub-machinegun and copy of ‘Yank’ magazine featuring Sgt. Joseph F. Gorenc of HQ/3, 506th PIR, 101st Airborne Division climbing aboard the lead transport aircraft C-47 Dakota 8Y-S “Stoy Hora” of the 440th Troop Carrier Group at RAF Exeter Airfield, Devon, UK on the night of 5 June 1944. 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.
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.
Paratroopers Clarence C. Ware and Charles R. Plaudo from HQ Co. 506 PIR. 101 Abn Div, painting each other’s faces on the afternoon of June 5, 1944. This phot was printed in Stars and Stripes, and helped form the legend of “The Filthy Thirteen. US National Archives Accession Number: 111-SC-193551
Sleeve from the jacket worn by Pfc. Jack N. “Hawkeye” Womer, one of the legendary ‘filthy 13’ of HQ Co. 506 PIR. The sleeve is from the actual jacket he can be seen wearing in Carentan in the photo on the caption panel. He decided to keep the sleeve as a souvenir of his first combat experience. The signalling ‘cricket’ (no.2) also belonged to Womer, whilst the glove (no.3) belonged to another member of the ‘filthy 13, Pfc. John Agnew. Photo: Julian Tennant
An example of the exhibit captions, written in the voice of Lt. Col. Wolverton. This one featuring the Pathfinder brevet of Captain Frank L. Lillyman of I Co., 3rd Bn, 502nd PIR. Lillyman was the first American paratrooper to hit French soil. Photo: Julian Tennant
US Airborne Pathfinder qualification badge. 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.
Nose of a Waco CG-4A of the 434th Troop Carrier Group piloted by Lt. Col. Michael C. Murphy as part of a 52 glider flight serial named “Chicago” which carried the only 101st Airborne Division glider troops to enter the battle via glider on the morning of 6 June 1944. Photo: Julian Tennant
Detail of a Waco CG-4A glider that has been stripped of it’s canvas skin to reveal the support struts, control cables and cargo of the glider. Photo: Julian Tennant
US 101st Abn Division paratrooper and C-47 Dakota transport crew member. Photo: Julian Tennant
M42 paratrooper jacket of Maj. Richard D. “Dick” Winters, CO of the 2nd Battalion, 506 PIR. Photo: Julian Tennant
Jacket of Maj. Richard D. “Dick” Winters, CO of the 2nd Battalion, 506 PIR. Photo: Julian Tennant
Display featuring objects belonging to Francis L. Sampson, the 501st PIR’s “Parachuting Padre”. Photo: Julian Tennant
Various uniform and personal items belonging to paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division at the D-Day Experience museum. Photo: Julian Tennant
Exhibit detail at the D-Day Experience Museum, Normandy, France. Photo: Julian Tennant
American paratrooper James Flanagan (2nd Platoon, C Co, 1-502nd PIR), among the first to make successful landings on the continent, holds a Nazi flag captured in a village assault. Marmion Farm at Ravenoville, Utah Beach, France. 6 June 1944. Source: US-Army history images
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.
2 Vierge de l’Amont
50500 Carentan les Marais
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The Caterpillar Club, started in 1922 by Leslie Irvin’s Irving Air Chute Company, as a way of recording the names of individuals whose lives had been saved by using a parachute to make an emergency descent. Stanley Switlik, owner of the Switlik Parachute Co. saw the potential of the Caterpillar Club as a means to promote its parachutes and soon instituted their own, Switlik Caterpillar Club.
Other companies also adopted the idea, awarding their own ‘Caterpillar Club’ awards to people who had saved their lives using the manufacturer’s parachutes. This included the Pioneer Parachute Co., Inc. which was established in 1938 in Manchester, Connecticut as a subsidiary of the Cheney Brothers Mills, the world’s largest silk factory complex. Pioneer Parachute Co. was the result of a partnership with DuPont and the Army Air Force to develop a new parachutes and on June 6, 1942, parachute packer, Adeline Gray made the first jump by a human with a nylon parachute at Brainard Field in Hartford. Like the other manufacturers of the time, Pioneer had its own Caterpillar Club pin for emergency descents, which featured a gold caterpillar on a rectangle box filled with red, white and blue enamel.
The Pioneer Parachute Co. Inc. which has evolved into the Pioneer Aerospace Corporationand is now a subsidiary of Safran Electronics and Defense no longer issues it’s own Caterpillar Awards and membership is now administered by the Switlik Caterpillar Club. However, for several years there has been a badge made for Pioneer and bearing its name on the reverse which is often described as being a Pioneer Caterpillar Club award with collectors sometimes paying sizeable sums of money in order to add it to their collection.
The pin, which is made from nickel plated brass, shows a parachutist with a deployed parachute. It measures approximately 25mm (1”) in height and 18mm (11/16”) in width. The reverse features the words PIONEER PARACHUTE CO. and a single clutch pin grip attachment mechanism.
This Pioneer pin is not a Caterpillar Club award but is actually just a promotional pin made for another of Pioneer’s innovations developed in collaboration Parachutes Incorporated (PI), namely the Para-Commander (PC) and Para-Sail parachute. The design of the pin’s parachute reflected this new PC canopy, which was a modification to an ascending, 24-gore (segment) parachute designed by the Frenchman Pierre M. Lemoigne and sold to Pioneer in 1962. These pins were given to buyers of this new parachute rig.
The multiple segments used to construct the canopy was revolutionary for parachutes of the time. Increased manoeuvrability and glide were provided by a vented rear and turn slots supported by stabilising segments on the sides. The skirt of the leading edge of the canopy was also positioned slightly higher thereby decreasing the drag and allowing air to be directed rearward towards the slots. The rate of descent was slowed further because a lower porosity nylon taffeta used which added to the lifting characteristics of the canopy design.
The PC was first demonstrated at the Orange Sport Parachute Centre in Massachusetts on the 4th of December 1962 and a patent (SN 159,606) filed on the 21st of December 1962. This new ‘high performance’ parachute quickly became popular and by 1966 they were being used by all the competitors in the US National Parachuting championships, with trials also underway for its adoption by the US military.
By the 1970’s rectangular canopied Ram-air parachutes, such as the ParaflitePara-Plane were starting to take over the sport parachuting market, although PC rigs were still used for trainee and military parachuting applications into the 1980’s.
The Pioneer PC pin was given to new buyers of the Para-Commander rig and whilst it is a memento reflecting an important development in the history of parachuting, collectors should not confuse the badge with the pins associated with membership of the Caterpillar Club.
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This is the first of an ongoing series of articles which will take a closer look at some of the insignia used by the Airborne and Special Operations units of the Australian Defence Force (ADF).
This week, my thoughts on a couple of mystery Australian Airborne patches which have not yet been positively identified. I suspect that both of the badges featured have a connection to the platoon of qualified parachutists, known as Airborne Platoon, that has been attached to the Australian parachute training units since the 1950’s.
Airborne Platoon has been an integral part of the parachute training activities carried out within the Australian Defence Force since 1951. The platoon formation was promulgated in Military Board Instruction 145 of 21 September 1951 and states,
“Establish in the Australian Military Forces a mobile group capable of providing Army, inter-service and public duties in the following fields.
Land/Air Warfare tactical research and development;
Demonstrations to assist Land/Air Warfare training and security;
Airborne fire fighting
Airborne search and rescue;
Aid to the civil power – national catastrophes.
Method: By regular attachment of a rifle platoon from the Royal Australian Regiment to the component of the School of Land/Air Warfare. Platoon to be relieved annually.”
In subsequent years the role and tasks performed by the Airborne Platoon has evolved and today its function is different to that originally outlined above. Soldiers from Airborne Platoon, which number around 20, assist with various training activities conducted at the Parachute Training School (PTS). Colloquially known as ‘stooging’ these include providing sticks of qualified parachutists for trainees to use during advanced courses for example the stick commander’s course as well as demonstrating techniques, operating simulators and training equipment etc.
Members of the platoon wear the maroon beret and wing type for which they are qualified, but my research, thus far, does not indicate the use of any other authorised uniform insignia. However, photographs of the platoon show that the platoon displayed a distinctive unit crest for official photographs and also at the platoon lines on base. The crest features a stylised version of the Australian parachute qualification with white parachute and blue wings, surmounted by a red/brown kangaroo above a boomerang. Photographs from the 1950’s and 60’s show the boomerang featuring the words “AIRBORNE PLATOON” but by the 1970’s this had evolved to include the words “ROYAL AUSTRALIAN REGIMENT”.
The use of this crest could provide clues to a couple of unusual Australian military parachutist insignia that are known to exist but have not yet been formally identified. The first is a printed calico badge (shown at the top of the page) of the type used for shoulder patches by Australian Commonwealth Military Forces during the 1950’s and 60’s.
The second badge which I hold in my collection also incorporates the same design elements. The manufacturing style and weave of this badge indicates that it dates from the 1960’s and possibly made by the ACE Novelty Company in Japan. There are differences in scale, shape of the various design elements and colours when compared to the later RAR Airborne Platoon insignia. However, the symbolism used in both the badges and the Airborne Platoon crests leads me to suspect that both these two insignia may both have been made for and used by the Airborne Platoon in the first couple of decades of its existence.
At this stage these observations are my own and unsubstantiated by any verifiable evidence that I am aware of. If anybody can provide any more information about either of the badges (or has an example of the printed calico patch for sale or trade), I would welcome your input and any additional information, so please contact me if you can help.
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This is part of a larger collection of items belonging to a South African mercenary who served with the British Parachute Regiment and then went on to become a decorated mercenary officer of 5 Commando of the Armee Nationale Congolaise (ANC) in the Congo from 1966 until it was disbanded in 1967.
At this stage I am still researching and am awaiting a promised detailed personal biography of the soldier from the seller in South Africa. So, right now the details that I have are scant, largely based on the photos and documents contained in the group. As more information comes to light I will update this post.
William (Bill) Martin Jacobs was born in Cape Town, South Africa on the 20th of March 1933. In 1957 he went to the United Kingdom and joined the Parachute Regiment passing out from Depot, The Parachute Regiment as a member of either 103 or 104 platoons according to one of the newspaper clippings in the group.
Bill was then posted to the 1st Battalion, The Parachute Regiment in time for it’s redeployment to Cyprus after the Suez operation, to combat the Greek terrorist organisation EOKA who were waging a campaign to drive the British out. Included in the group are some photographs from his deployment to Cyprus including a picture of the Police station in the village of Kilani and a photo of Bill in the Troodus Mountains, however I am yet to discover more information about his activities there.
Newspaper clipping showing Major-General R.A. Bramwell Davis, G.O.C., Aldershot District inspecting newly graduated recruits from Airborne Forces Depot Recruit Company Platoons 103 and 104. Private Bill Jacobs is the soldier on the right speaking with the General. I am unsure of the exact date of this event. Collection: Julian Tennant
Group photo of Bill Jacobs (back right) and fellow paras from the 1st Battalion the Parachute Regiment, during camouflage training in Aldershot. Collection: Julian Tennant
William Jacobs in the Troodus Mountains of Cyprus during his deployment with the 1st Battalion, The Parachute Regiment in 1958. Collection: Julian Tennant
At the time of his discharge in 1960, Bill had attained the rank of corporal, qualified as a Marksman and Light Machine Gunner, plus been awarded the General Service Medal (1918) with Cyprus clasp. I am not sure what Bill did then and I assume that at some point he returned to South Africa before signing up as a Mercenary with Colonel ‘Mad Mike’ Hoare’s famous 5 Commando (The Wild Geese) of the Armee Nationale Congolaise.
According to the documents accompanying the group, I believe that he joined 5 Commando in 1966, which is after Mike Hoare had left the Congo at the time when the unit was commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel John Peters, then subsequently by Georg Schroeder.
Included in the 5 Commando section of the group are several rare company patches, beret badge, rank slides, photographs, his ANC Identification book and a Bronze Cross of Valour (Croix de la Bravoure Militaire des Forces Armee Nationale Congolaise), which according to Jacobs’ documents, was only awarded to six members of 5 Commando. However, inspection of the Bronze Cross of Valour indicates that this particular medal is actually the subsequent variant used when Congo had evolved into Zaire, so I believe that this medal is a replacement that was added later and I can find no evidence of Jacobs himself being awarded this medal. Bill Jacobs left 5 Commando in 1967 and I assume that it was as a result of all the mercenary contracts being suspended by Mabutu Sese Seko in April 1967.
When I obtained this group, Bill Jacobs was living in South Africa. It’s a fascinating and rare record of a unique individual’s service, which fits well into my mercenary insignia collection. Hopefully I will be able to find out more about his service in the near future, but I’ll definitely be showing more of the group in future posts featuring the insignia used by mercenaries in the various African wars that sit in my collection.
Some of William Jacobs souvenirs of his military service including insignia from the Parachute Regiment and from 5 Commando in the Congo. Also included in the group is his British GSM with Cyprus clasp and a Congolese Bronze Cross of Valour (which was awarded to only six members of 5 Commando), identification book and Lieutenant’s rank insignia. Collection: Julian Tennant
Cover of the Armee Nationale Congolaise (ANC) Identity Card issued to Lieutenant William Martin Jacobs whilst serving with 5 Commando in the Congo, 1966-67. Collection: Julian Tennant
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The Airborne Museum Hartenstein, is one of the best known museums dedicated to the battle for the ‘bridge too far’ and the focal point for commemorative celebrations every September.
Major-General Robert E Urquhart, commanding 1st British Airborne Division, with the Pegasus airborne pennant in the grounds outside his headquarters at the Hartenstein Hotel in Oosterbeek, 22 September 1944. Photograph by Sergeant D.M. Smith (Army Film & Photographic Unit). Imperial War Museum accession number: BU 1136
Memorial to the People of Gelderland on the grounds of the Airborne Museum Hartenstein. Photo: Julian Tennant
A British Paratrooper taking aim with an American M1 carbine from the first floor balcony of the Hartenstein Hotel in Oosterbeek, near Arnhem in The Netherlands. September 1944. The photograph was taken by Sergeant D M Smith, Army Film & Photographic Unit on Saturday the 23rd of September 1944. Sergeant Dennis Smith, the photographer, wrote: “We have had a very heavy shelling this morning, September 23rd and now the situation is serious. the shelling is hellish. We have been holding out for a week now. The men are tired, weary and food is becoming scarce, and to make matters worse, we are having heavy rain. If we are not relieved soon, then the men will just drop from sheer exhaustion”. The British 1st Airborne Division headquarters had been established in the Hotel during ‘Operation Market Garden’ and it is now the Airborne Museum ‘Hartenstein’.
17 Pounder anti-tank gun and re-enactor vehicle outside the Airborne Museum Hartenstein. This gun was part of X-Troop of the 2nd Airlanding Anti-Tank Battery, arriving by glider on September 18 at Landing Zone X between Wolfheze and Renkum. It took up several positions in the area north of the railway to support the advance of the 156th and 10th Battalions The Parachute Regiment along the Northern route into Arnhem, before being withdrawn to Oosterbeek. The crew managed to defend their position until the night of the withdrawal on September 25th/26th, 1944. They then buried the breech block, remaining ammunition and drained oil from the recoil cylinder. All the crew except for one wounded gunner managed to reach safety on the opposite bank of the river Rhine. Photo: Julian Tennant
The Hotel Hartenstein as it appeared in 1945, shortly after Operation Market Garden. From a photograph album compiled by Frank Tomlinson, 74th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery of North West Europe from 1944-46. Held in the National Army Museum. Accession number: NAM. 2014-08-16-447
For visitors exploring the battlefields related to Operation Market Garden, the Airborne Museum ‘Hartenstein’ in Oosterbeek serves as a rallying point and provides a focus for much of the activity surrounding the annual anniversary commemorations of the battle for Arnhem. The museum is housed in what was formally the Hotel Hartenstein, which served as the Headquarters for Major General Roy Urquhart, commander of the 1st Airborne Division during this famous battle in September 1944.
Operation Market Garden was launched in an attempt to capture a number of bridgeheads that would allow the Allies to bypass the Siegfried line and cross the Rhine, entering the German industrial base of the Ruhr pocket. Allied Airborne troops were dropped in the Netherlands to secure key towns and bridges along the axis of advance. The British 1st Airborne Division was tasked with seizing the most distant bridges at Arnhem and hold them for two to three days whilst awaiting the arrival of the British XXX Corps who were advancing up the corridor created by the Airborne operation.
Although Initially taken surprise by the landing of the 1st Airborne Division at Wolfheze and north of Heelsum the German forces quickly moved to regain the initiative. Allied intelligence had not accounted for the presence of the 9th SS Panzer Division in the area around Arnhem. This combined with poor communications and the distance of the landing zones from their objectives undermined British attempts to seize the bridges. Only the 2nd Battalion Parachute Regiment under the command of Lt-Col John Frost managed to reach the northern side of Arnhem bridge, which they held for four days.
The bulk of the British forces became trapped in Oosterbeek, fighting a brutal defensive action until the 25th of September when their situation became untenable and a retreat, code-named Operation Berlin began in an attempt to evacuate the remaining airborne troops to the South side of the Rhine. British engineers assisted in evacuating 2200 men across the river but on the morning of the 26th September, the operation was halted leaving 300 troops behind. In the nine days of Market Garden, combined Allied losses amounted to more than 17.000. The British 1st Airborne Division was almost completely destroyed and of the 10,000 men committed to the operation, casualties numbered 7,578 dead, wounded or missing.
Hartenstein, which was built as a villa in 1865 before becoming a hotel in 1942 was commandeered as the 1st Airborne Division’s headquarters during Operation Market Garden and badly damaged during the fighting. It was subsequently restored and once again used as a hotel before being purchased as the site for the Airborne Museum ‘Hartenstein’ which was officially opened by Major General Roy Urquhart in 1978.
In 2008 it was temporarily closed for an extensive renovation and expansion program which included a basement displaying the ‘Airborne Experience’, a series of dioramas which takes the visitor through the battle from the perspective of a British soldier. After being briefed on the mission you enter an Airspeed AS.51 Horsa Glider replica being battered by flak before exiting into the dimly lit streets of Arnhem as the battle rages around you. You then wander through a juxtaposition of life-size dioramas combined with period visual footage and an audio soundscape, approaching Arnhem bridge before retreating back to the perimeter around the Hotel Hartenstein and finally the Rhine River.
British airborne troops and vehicles at the Airborne Experience diorama at the Airborne Museum Hartenstein. Photo: Julian Tennant.
Entry to the Airborne Experience at the Airborne Museum Hartenstein Photo: Julian Tennant
Clark CA-1 Bulldozer transported in a Horsa glider and used by Royal Engineers of the 1st Airlanding Brigade during Operation Market Garden. Photo: Julian Tennant
Glider pilot at the Airborne Experience diorama in the Airborne Museum Hartenstein. Photo: Julian Tennant
The Airborne Experience display in the basement of the Airborne Museum Hartenstein. Photo: Julian Tennant
Parachute Regiment mortar crew in “The Airborne Experience” diorama at the Airborne Museum Hartenstein. Photo: Julian Tennant
“The Airborne Experience” diorama at the Airborne Museum Hartenstein. Photo: Julian Tennant
“The Airborne Experience” at the Airborne Museum Hartenstein. Photo: Julian Tennant
In addition to the ‘Airborne Experience’, the museum also features dioramas representing how the Hotel Hartenstein was used during the operation. One shows the medical post that was situated in the basement and the other shows the headquarters of Roy Urquhart. It also features several other exhibits and displays reflecting the experience of the battle from Dutch and German perspectives as well as a large collection of medals that have been donated to the museum by deceased veterans. The current displays reflect the current trend in exhibition design and many of the items that I saw at the museum during my first visit in 1991 are unfortunately no longer on display. This includes some of the uniforms and insignia that I was particularly interested in examining once again. In this respect, the Airborne Museum ‘Hartenstein’ is quite different to the Arnhem Oorlogsmuseum 40-45, which maintains an old-style approach to exhibit presentation and should also definitely be on your itinerary. In addition to the permanent collection, the museum also exhibits temporary displays related to the conflict and the grounds surrounding the building feature artillery pieces, a Sherman tank and memorials commemorating the battle.
Diorama featuring Major General Roy Urquhart in his HQ at the Hotel Hartenstein at the Airborne Museum Hartenstein. Photo: Julian Tennant
Detail from the Medical Aid Post that was set up at the Hotel Hartenstein during the battle. Note the bullion parachute wings on the chaplain’s sash. An interesting touch, but I am not sure that bullion wings were used during WW2. Photo: Julian Tennant
Signaller in the Command Post diorama at the Airborne Museum Hartenstein. Photo: Julian Tennant
Waffen SS insignia on display at the Airborne Museum Hartenstein. Photo: Julian Tennant
A selection of German cuff titles on display at the Airborne Museum Hartenstein. Photo: Julian Tennant
German Luftwaffe insignia on display at the Airborne Museum Hartenstein. Photo: Julian Tennant
Paratrooper of the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade. Photo: Julian Tennant
Polish parachutist and glider borne infantry qualification badges. The initial parachutist qualification is the badge on the left, with each qualifying soldier being awarded an individually numbered badge. After completing an operational jump, a separate serial numbered wreath is attached to the badge (centre). The badge on the right is the Glider pilot qualification worn by the Polish troops. Photo: Julian Tennant
Watch, map, British medic’s brassard, British para qualification wing and plastic economy issue Royal Army Medical Corps beret badge.
RAF aircrew and British Paratrooper with a ‘dummy’ para in the background. Photo: Julian Tennant
An example of the uniform worn by a German SS soldier in 1944. Photo: Julian Tennant
Display featuring uniforms and equipment items used during Operation Market Garden at the Airborne Museum Hartenstein. Photo: Julian Tennant
German uniforms and equipment used during the battle for Arnhem’s bridges. Photo: Julian Tennant
A selection of 2nd and 3rd pattern Fairbairn Sykes daggers carried by troops of the 1st Airborne Division on display at the Airborne Museum Hartenstein. Photo: Julian Tennant
The museum also features a large display of medals which have been donated by veterans of Operation Market Garden.
Parachutist qualification and shoulder titles of the Parachute Regiment and 21st Independent Parachute Company, which acted as the pathfinder force for the operation. Photo: Julian Tennant
Insignia worn by members of the Glider Pilot Regiment. Photo: Julian Tennant
Detail of the helmet worn by a Glider pilot of the 1st Airlanding Brigade. Photo: Julian Tennant
The Airborne Museum also has an annex, Airborne at the Bridge, on the banks of the Rhine, opposite the John Frost Bridge. This annex tells the story of the battle fought by John Frost’s 2nd Parachute Battalion at the bridge from three perspectives, British Lieutenant John Grayburn, German Hauptsturmführer Viktor Eberhard Gräbner and Dutch Captain Jacob Groenewoud. Unlike the Airborne Museum Hartenstein, entry to Airborne at the Bridge is free and if you don’t have a MuseumKaart (see below), you can buy a discounted ticket to the Airborne Museum Hartenstein when visiting.
Military re-enactors in their jeep at the Airborne Museum Hartenstein for the Operation Market Garden commemoration held every September. Photo: Julian Tennant
Military vehicles being inspected by visitors to the Airborne Museum Hartenstein for the Operation Market Garden commemoration held every September. Photo: Julian Tennant
Norton WD Big 4 motorcycle and side-car at the commemoration event held at the museum each September. Photo: Julian Tennant
Airborne Museum Hartenstein Utrechtseweg 232
6862 AZ Oosterbeek
T: 026 333 77 10
Open daily from 10:00 – 17:00
Closed on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
The MuseumKaart entry option
The MuseumKaart is a Dutch annual pass scheme which gives the holder unlimited free entry into over 400 museums in the Netherlands. It costs €54.95 (excluding €4.95 administration fee) for adults and €32.45 for teenagers up to 18 years of age.
Previously buying a MuseumKaart was a great deal as it included a number of military-interest museums around the Netherlands, including the Airborne Museum, National Military Museum at Soesterberg, OorlogsmuseumOverloon, Verzetsmuseum (Dutch Resistance Museum), Rijksmuseum, Scheepvaartmuseum (Maritime Museum), National Holocaust Museum and Anne Frank House in Amsterdam to name a handful. If you were travelling around the Netherlands and dropping into the museums it was a ‘must have’ but unfortunately since 2018 the full unlimited year-long entry is now limited to Dutch residents and (for the same price) tourists receive a card that expires after only 5 museum visits or 31 days. However it can still be a worthwhile savings option depending on your plans.
The MuseumKaart website is in Dutch language only and online purchase is only to Dutch residents. However, you can buy the temporary (tijdelijk) MuseumKaart over-the-counter at some of the museums, including at the Airborne Museum Hartenstein.
Major & Mrs Holt’s Battlefield Guide to Operation Market-Garden. (Third Edition) Published 2013
British paratrooper removing his Welbike motorcycle from it’s drop container in the Market Garden display at the Arnhem Oorlogsmuseum 40-45. Photo: Julian Tennant.
Plastic ‘economy’ issue Parachute Regiment beret badge and half section of a German dog-tag. Arnhem Oorlogsmuseum 40-45. Photo: Julian Tennant
Operation Market Garden German soldiers and British para captive on display at the Oorlogsmuseum 40-45. Photo: Julian Tennant.
British and German paratrooper on display at the Oorlogsmuseum 40-45. Photo: Julian Tennant
Various British 1st Airborne Division shoulder and beret badges. Arnhem Oorlogsmuseum 40-45. Photo: Julian Tennant
German fallschirmjäger (paratrooper) helmet on display at the Arnhem Oorlogsmuseum 40-45. Photo: Julian Tennant
German weapons display at the Arnhem Oorlogsmuseum 40-45. Photo: Julian Tennant
British Sten gun variations on display at the Arnhem Oorlogsmuseum 40-45. Photo: Julian Tennant
Like the Glider Collection Wolfheze, the Arnhem Oorlogsmuseum (sometimes referred to in English language search engines as the Arnhem War Museum) is another private museum in the Arnhem area.
Owner Eef Peeters started collecting militaria as a boy, storing his collection at first in his home, followed by a shed and then finally, in 1994, moving the collection to its current location, an old school, in Schaarsbergen. The collection does not focus specifically on Operation Market Garden but paints a much broader picture of what happened in Arnhem and the surrounding areas during the war years. This includes a number of objects relating to less popular subjects including collaboration and the Dutch Nazi Party, the Nationaal-Socialistische Beweging in Nederland (NSB).
Dutch Nationaal-Socialistische Beweging in Nederland (NSB) uniform. The printed caption in Dutch referred to Carolus Huygen, the Secretary General of the NSB fron 1940. However it did not indicate whether this uniform was his or belonged to another member. Photo: Julian Tennant
Various insignia and items relating to the Dutch Nazi Party, the Nationaal-Socialistische Beweging in Nederland (NSB). Photo: Julian Tennant
Dutch Nazi Party, the Nationaal-Socialistische Beweging in Nederland (NSB) cap. Photo: Julian Tennant
Dutch volunteer of the Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 10 ‘Westland’ / SS-Standarte ‘Westland’ and propaganda recruiting poster. Photo: Julian Tennant
Two Dutch SS cufftitles. The “Frw. Legion Nederland” title was worn by members of the “Freiwillige Legion Niederlande”. The “Landstorm Nederland” was originally a a home guard unit, which the SS took over in 1943 and became the SS-“Freiwilligen-Brigade Landstorm Nederland” before evolving into the “34. SS-Freiwilligen-Grenadier-Division Landstorm Nederland” in February 1945. I am not sure of the significance of the newspaper beneath the cuff titles. Photo: Julian Tennant
This is an old-style museum concentrating on artifacts, rather than interactive displays. It’s a fascinating and at times eclectic collection of items squeezed into the available space. A lot of the memorabilia is not captioned in English, so I had to rely on my rusty Afrikaans/Dutch skills to interpret some of the captions, but the staff were helpful and friendly. When one of the volunteer staff members found out that I was a collector, after I asked if there were any antique or shops around which may have militaria for sale, he invited me into the office to show me some of the original items that were available for sale to help fund the museum upkeep. But, whilst I was tempted by a couple of period Dutch National Socialist badges, I decided that I had better try to maintain focus on my airborne interest and left empty handed.
German Luftwaffe display at the Arnhem Oorlogsmuseum 40-45. Photo: Julian Tennant
Shoulder patch of the Legion Freies Arabien (Free Arabian Legion), which was worn by units raised by the Germans using recruits from the Middle East and North Africa. Photo: Julian Tennant
Selection of German gorgets that have seen better days, on display at the Arnhem Oorlogsmuseum 40-45. Photo: Julian Tennant.
German Waffen SS officer’s cap with bevo type Totenkopf skull on display at the Arnhem Oorlogsmuseum 40-45. Photo: Julian Tennant.
German Luftwaffe uniforms worn during the occupation of Holland. Photo: Julian Tennant
German army officer uniforms worn during the occupation of Holland. Photo: Julian Tennant
Dutch resistance ‘Oranje’ armbands on display at the Arnhem Oorlogsmuseum 40-45. Photo: Julian Tennant
Items for sale at the Arnhem Oorlogsmuseum 40-45. Like many museums, there are a selection of replica items for sale. However after chatting to the staff and mentioning my collecting interest, they also showed me some original pieces that were not on display that were also available to help fund the museum. Photo: Julian Tennant
If you have a car, Arnhem Oorlogsmuseum is about 10 minutes drive from central Arnhem or if you are using public transport can be reached in under half an hour via the #9 bus departing from near Arnhem Centraal train station.