Timed to coincide with the 30th anniversary year of the creation of France’s Special Operations Command (COS), the Forces Spéciales exhibition at the Musée de l’Armée in Paris opens the door on the weapons and equipment used by the French Special Forces units.
In the galleries on the third floor of the Musée de l’Armée’s East Wing, visitors can view the equipment used from WW2 until the present day and a selection of special forcers related vehicles in the Salle Vauban. The pillars of the Invalides’ Cours d’Honneur are also used to display an introduction to each of the units within the French Special Operations Command (COS).
In addition, there is an exhibition of photographs taken in March 2022 by Édouard Elias during the time he spent with the Special Forces in the Sahal region of North Africa as part of Operation Barkhane. This exhibition, which was commissioned by the museum is on display on the museum’s exterior, on the Boulevrd des Invalides gates and in the moat located in the Rue de Grenelle.
L’Exposition Forces Spéciales runs from Wednesday 12 October 2022 till Sunday 29 January 2023 and open every day from 10 am till 6 pm. It is open late till 9 pm on Tuesdays, but closed on 25 December and 1st January. For more information visit their website.
In March 2020, another extraordinary group of documents and memorabilia belonging to one of the first members of the Special Air Service was sold at auction. The SAS archive of Private / Trooper Fred “Killer” Casey, an early member of the elite regiment, comprised eleven lots and included the veteran’s medals, SAS beret, insignia, pocket diary, certificates, Fairbairn Sykes dagger, map and a personal photo album featuring photographs that had never been publicly displayed before.
In March 2020, another extraordinary group of documents and memorabilia belonging to one of the first members of the Special Air Service was sold at auction. The SAS archive of Private / Trooper Fred “Killer” Casey comprised eleven lots and included the veteran’s medals, SAS beret, insignia, pocket diary, certificates, Fairbairn-Sykes dagger, map and a personal photo album featuring photographs that had never been publicly displayed before. In total it achieved a hammer price of £21,000 (not including auctioneers commission and fees).
6399236 Trooper Frederick Casey was a pre-war Territorial who had joined the 4th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment in October 1936. He completed the unit’s annual camps and was the battalion’s boxing champion for three years. At the outbreak of war in 1939 he was mobilised for full-time duty and first saw action in France with the British Expeditionary Force before being evacuated on the 30th of May 1940 as part of the retreat from Dunkirk. Back in England, he volunteered for commando training and on the 10th of July 1940 was posted to F Troop, 3 Commando. On 24 October 1940, 3 Commando and 8 (Guards) Commando were reorganised into the 4th Special Service Battalion and in February 1941 Casey was transferred to 8 (Guards) Commando before being shipped to Egypt as part of Layforce, a composite group consisting of several commando units.
Layforce was initially tasked with conducting operations to disrupt the allied lines of communication in the Mediterranean and it was planned that they would take part in operations to capture the Greek island of Rhodes. However, as the strategic situation in the Middle East turned against the Allies, the commandos found themselves being used as reinforcements throughout the Mediterranean theater. By mid 1941, the authorities in Middle East Command, who had never been able to come to terms with the use of Special Service Troops, took the decision to finally disband Layforce and so on the 6th August 1941 the men made their final journey to Abbassia Barracks in Cairo where they were to be broken up and sent to other units. It was here that Casey saw a request for volunteers for further “Special Duties”.
He applied to join the fledgling Special Air Service (S.A.S.) and in August 1941, after a brief interview with David Stirling also formerly of 8 Commando and now Commanding Officer of the new unit, Fred found himself posted to “L” Detachment, Special Air Service Brigade based at Kabrit. Soon, Fred Casey was on operations, initially working closely with the Long Range Desert Group roaming the desert, raiding the German rear areas, targeting airfields and port installations in their gunned-up, customised, Willys Jeeps. In October 1942, the unit was renamed 1st Special Air Service (1 SAS).
Page detail from Fred Casey’s wartime photo album. The album consists of approximately 283 images of various sizes including a number of unpublished photos of the 1st SAS Regiment during operations in the Western Desert, parachute training, Norway etc. It also included Casey’s certificate of service with the SAS, SAS greeting cards, newspaper cuttings etc. Bosleys estimate for this lot (#139) was between £1500 – £2000. The ‘hammer’ price was £5500
Photo of Fred Casey’s ‘L’ Detachment SAS comrades in a jeep laden with stores at base camp. Photo” Fred Casey.
Members of Fred Casey’s patrol from 1 SAS having a brew somewhere in the Western Desert, 1942.
Members of Fred Casey’s patrol from 1 SAS posing for a photo after hunting impala in North Africa, 1942. Fred Casey is on the front bonnet.
One of Fred Casey’s photo album images featuring a ragged looking group of L Detachment SAS soldiers in the Western Desert, 1942. Photo: Fred Casey
Blair ‘ Paddy’ Mayne in the Western Desert. Photo: Fred Casey.jpg
SAS founder David Stirling. Photo: Fred Casey
In March 1943 Casey along with other members of A Squadron 1 SAS became part of the Special Raiding Squadron, under the command of Blair ‘Paddy’ Mayne who had taken command of the unit following Stirling’s capture in January. Casey was allotted to 2 Troop, but then, in April he was admitted to hospital and discharged from the squadron, missing out on the spearhead role that the SRS was to play in Operation HUSKY, the Allied invasion of Sicily.
At the end of 1943, the Special Raiding Squadron reverted to the title of 1 SAS and along with 2 SAS was placed under the command of the 1st Airborne Division. On 7 January 1944, Casey returned to operations with 1 SAS after a period of leave. It was around this time in early 1944 that the idea of a SAS Brigade was approved, which resulted in 1 SAS being withdrawn from the Italian theater and returning to Britain.
By March 1944 all components of the SAS Brigade, numbering around 2000 men were assembled in Ayrshire where they were ordered to discard their sandy berets in favour of the airborne maroon beret, although many members opted to defy regulations and retained their sandy beige berets.
1st SAS cloth shoulder title belonging to Fred Casey. This example achieved a hammer price of £660 at the Bosleys auction in 2020.
One of Fred Casey’s SAS wings that was sold in the auction. This example reached a ‘hammer’ price of £900. Photo courtesy of Bosleys Auctioneers
They were also issued with battledress shoulder titles for 1, 2, 3 and 4 SAS in the airborne colours of pale blue on maroon. Fred Casey’s 1 SAS title is one of the lots that was sold at the auction achieving a hammer price of £660.
During this period in the UK Fred Casey married his sweetheart, Buddy, and prepared for operations in France as part of Operation OVERLORD, the invasion of Normandy in June 1944. The role of the SAS Brigade in this operation was to prevent German reinforcements reaching the front line and initially only half of the force would be committed, the remainder being held in reserve, including Casey who finally deployed to France in August 1944.
A 1944 dated Army Film and Photographic Unit film showing members of the Special Air Service doing a fire-power demonstration with their vehicle mounted Vickers K machine guns. Imperial War Museum Catalogue number: A70 217-4
At this stage, the SAS groups were carrying out a number of operations behind the lines, disrupting German supplies and communications, tying down large numbers of German troops in the process. Liaising with local resistance groups, operating bases were set up in remote wooded areas and the SAS parties roamed the countryside achieving some success, but also suffering severely at the hands of German security services. Dozens of captured SAS men were murdered in accordance with Hitler’s notorious ‘Commando’ order.
For his part, Fred Casey was presented with the “Commander-in Chief’s Certificate for Gallantry” by Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery in January 1945. When Germany finally surrendered in May 1945 Casey was sent along with 1 and 2 SAS to supervise the disarming of the 200 000 German troops stationed in Norway. This would be his last mission.
At the end of the war, the Special Air Service was disbanded. Fred Casey was discharged and transferred to the reserve on 20th of March 1946. After the war he settled in Brighton, East Sussex, became a parquet floor layer and with his wife, Buddy, had two sons, Michael and Charles.
Frederick Casey passed away in 1997 aged 81. His wartime archive and memorabilia which included all the pieces shown here was broken up and sold at auction by militaria auctioneers Bosleys in March 2020.
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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.
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.’
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)
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)
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.
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:
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
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.
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A look at the insignia of the Royal Australian Air Force, Combat Controller Teams (CCT) of B Flight, 4 Squadron, one of the newest additions to the Australian Special Operations community.
The Combat Controller Teams (CCT) of B Flight, 4 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force are a relatively recent addition to Australia’s special operations capability. They trace their origin to 2006 when the Australian Special Forces Commander asked the Deputy Chief of Air Force whether the RAAF was capable of fielding personnel similar to the United States Air Force Combat Controllers who had been working alongside Australian Special Forces in Afghanistan.
As a result, the RAAF Air Group Combat Commander established the Special Tactic Project Proof of Concept Trial. The aim was for selected volunteers to pass the commando training cycle and trained as Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTAC) before deploying in support of special forces.
Combat Controllers from No. 4 Squadron based at RAAF Base Williamtown practice close air support serials with PC-21 aircraft during Exercise Havoc Strike. Combat Control Teams (CCT) from No. 4 Squadron participated in Exercise Havoc Strike from 25 May – 12 June 2020 near Buladelah, New South Wales. Havoc Strike is a tactical level exercise in support of No. 4 Squadron combat control Mission Specific Training objectives. The training concentrates on preparing Combat Control Teams for the application of Close Air Support, Rules of Engagement and Laws of Armed Conflict. The exercise has two phases; a theory phase, conducted at RAAF Williamtown, NSW, followed by a practical close air support phase in a training area near the town of Bulahdelah, NSW. Photo: Department of Defence
A Combat Control Team (CCT) member briefs the Offensive Air Support (OAS) plan to aircrew for a Close Air Support (CAS) mission as part of Exercise FARU SUMU 01-2012. Combat Controllers are essential for the successful integration of OAS to maximise available combat power and focus its effects in order to support the Commander’s plan. Mid Caption: One hundred and forty Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) personnel are in the Northern Territory, to participate in Exercise FARU SUMU 01-2012. Ten F/A-18F Super Hornets from RAAF Amberley’s No. 6 Squadron and Combat Control Team (CCT) personnel from RAAF Williamtown’s No 4 Squadron are participating in this exercise for the first time from 11-29 March 2012. Exercise FARU SUMU is used by the 6 Squadron instructional staff to test and evaluate the structure and format of the exercise to ensure the desired learning outcomes can be achieved on future FARU SUMU exercises with the new F/A-18F Super Hornets. Exercise FARU SUMU is conducted out of RAAF Darwin, Tindal and Delamere Weapons Range. Photo: LACW Kylie Gibson (ADF)
Between 2008 and 2009, three intakes completed initial training and four members were deployed with the Special Operations Task Group (SOTG). This resulted in the ‘Combat Controller’ mustering (RAAF terminology for ‘trade’) and Air Surface Integration officer stream being created in 2012 and the CCT role declared an Initial Operating Capability.
A Combat Controller from No. 4 Squadron Combat Control Team conducts an airfield survey on a dry lake bed in the Nevada Test and Training Range. Photo: Department of Defence
Royal Australian Air Force Combat Control Team personnel parachute into Batchelor Airfield in the Northern Territory during Exercise Pitch Black 2018. Photo: Department of Defence
Selection to become acombat controlleris open to any member of the Australian Defence Force (ADF). Volunteers first complete an 8 week CCT intake course which provides ground skills training and prepares them for the Special Forces Entry Test (SFET). Those who pass the SFET must then undertake around 18 months of testing and training in which they are required to complete the commando reinforcement cycle, JTAC, aviation meteorology, assault zone reconnaissance and air weapons delivery courses.
The video below, shows the CCT’s conducting their annual parachute continuation training as part of Exercise Havoc Drop 20-1 which took place 13-17 July 2020 at Wagga Wagga in NSW.
Upon qualification they are presented their distinctive grey CCT beret and qualification brevet, becoming part of B Flight of4 Squadron, RAAF, which is the squadron tasked with providing operational training to Forward Air Controllers (FAC) and support of the Australian Army’s Special Operations Command. The Squadron is divided into three main roles, FAC(A) is the airborne control of air assets, JTAC training (C Flight) and CCT (B Flight).
Since their formation, the CCT’s have conducted operations with SOTG, participated in several joint exercises with allied nations and recently in late 2019 early 2020, assisted in humanitarian operations within Australia as part of the ADF efforts to combat the devastating bushfires that swept large tracts of the east coast of Australia over the summer months.
Beret & Insignia
Once qualified, Combat Controllers are awarded a distinctive Combat Controller Team insignia which is worn as a qualification badge and (a variation) also on their beret. The badge (NSN 8455-66-162-5061) consists of a Fairbairn-Sykes commando dagger on a winged shield. The dagger represents the close link combat controllers share with the special forces they support. The shield symbolises the protection of ground forces, from harm during combat operations and the wings represent the air-power integration role of the combat controller.
The badge is worn on the left breast of dress uniforms, 3mm above medals/ribbons or flying badge if applicable. Cloth, metal and a mess dress miniature versions are used, depending on the uniform type.
A similar design metal badge which features shortened wings is also worn on a black shield on the CCT beret which, unlike other RAAF berets is ‘air superiority’ grey, the colour signifying the presence of aviation in the daily duties of the combat controller. Mark Corcoran and Arthur Butler, author’s of the excellent reference books, Metal Uniform Embellishments of the Australian Army – Post 53 (‘QE II series’) volumes 1 & 2 also feature some of the prototype variations of the badge on their charliebravobooks blog which is worth checking out.
CCT’s also wear a distinctive parachute qualification wing which differs from the standard Air Force parachutist badge. The wings are referred to in the Air Force Dress Manual as a ‘Commando Badge’ (NSN 8455-66-157-9911) and reflects the Army’s commando parachutist qualification design but has a white parachute with light blue wings on an Air Force blue background. A miniature version embroidered with gold bullion on a black background (NSN 8455-66-134-1212) is worn on the upper left sleeve of the mess dress jacket. The authority for the award and withdrawal of the Commando Badge is the Commanding Officer, 4SQN.
CCT’s have also been seen wearing a variety of Combat Controller Team patches and distinctive RAAF ANF insignia, some of which are shown below. At this stage, these insignia are less well known amongst collectors as they are tightly controlled by the unit and have not (yet) been subect to the massive number of fakes and reproductions that have occurred with other Australian Special Forces insignia. Sadly, it is only a matter of time before the fakes start appearing on eBay and elsewhere. If you do have original examples of the RAAF 4 Squadron or CCT patches or insignia, for sale or trade, I am really interested in hearing from you as I’d love to add these to my collection.
2020. RAAF 4 Squadron shoulder patch worn by the CCT’s of B Flight.
2012. CCT patch and RAAF 4 Squadron patch being worn during Exercise Furu Sumu in 2012.
PVC CCT patch being used during 2017
CCT patch being used in 2019
CCT patch being used during 2017
2019. An unusual CCT helmet mounted patch which appearss to be a painted aluminium sheet. Seen being worn during Exercise Cope North 19, Guam.
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I took the above photograph back in 2018 when I flew across to Canberra to check out the Australian Special Forces exhibition, From the Shadows. This photograph shows a display in the Vietnam War section of the 1945 to Today Galleries that features items belonging to Australian SAS trooper Don Barnby during his service with 2 SAS Squadron in South Vietnam in 1971. Using the AWM’s collection search facility uncovers a trove of material related to his service, some of which is shown below.
Donald Richard Barnby was born in Brewarrina, NSW on 8 April 1950 and joined the Australian Regular Army aged 17 in May 1967. After completing basic training at Kapooka in New South Wales, Barnby was allocated to the Royal Australian Ordnance Corps and after completing his initial employment training was posted to 2 Base Ordnance at Moorebank, NSW. Frustrated by not having a combat role, Barnby volunteered for service with the Special Air Service Regiment. After completing the selection and reinforcement cycle, including Military Free-Fall parachuting, Barnby became part of F Troop of 2 Squadron.
From 17 February to 10 October 1971, Trooper Barnby deployed to South Vietnam as a member of Patol Two Five, F Troop, 2 Squadron, SASR. This was 2 Squadron’s second tour of Vietnam and the last of SASR’s involvement in the conflict. Based out of the 1st Australian Task Force base at Nui Dat, Phuoc Tuy Province, the squadron conducted clandestine reconnaissance and offensive operations against the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong.
After returning from his tour, Don Barnby decided to leave the Army in early 1973 and joined the Australian Capital Territory Police Force, which later became the Australian Federal Police (AFP). He served in numerous roles during his police career including as a United Nations Australian Civilian Police Officer (UN AUSTCIVPOL), with the AFP 1st UN Police Contingent, deployed to East Timor on behalf of the United Nations and responsible for organising the independence referendum in August 1999. His story is recounted in detail in an interview that features on the AWM’s podcast series, Life on the Line. The podcast is worth listening to as Don goes into some detail about his tour, the equipment he carried and other aspects of this service.
Nui Dat. SAS Hill, South Vietnam. 1971-04-08. Members of patrol Two Five, ‘F’ Troop, 2 Squadron, Special Air Service (SAS) at Nadzab LZ after returning from their second patrol. The patrol of nine days was from 30 March until 8 May 1971. Left to right, back row: Corporal Ian Rasmussen (patrol 2IC), Trooper Don Barnby (patrol signaller), Trooper Dennis Bird (patrol scout), 2nd Lieutenant Brian Russell (patrol commander). Front row: Trooper Bill Nisbett (rifleman), John Deakin (USN-SEAL attached). AWM Accession Number: P00966.084
Trooper Don Barnby a Member of Two Five patrol, 2 Squadron, Special Air Service Regiment on SAS Hill, Nui Dat, South Vietnam immediately prior to moving out on patrol. AWM Accession Number: P00966.047
In addition to the photographs that Don Barnby took whilst in Vietnam, searching the collection database also shows many of the individual items in the display, with the descriptions providing valuable additional information. Click on the smaller photos below to enlarge and read caption the details.
Composite webbing set : Trooper D R Barnby, 2 Squadron, Special Air Service Regiment. Description: A composite webbing set, consisting of standard US pattern waist belt, metal buckle and ‘H’ harness suspender. The suspender has been modified with the addition of five nylon webbing M79 40 mm grenade pouches, cut from a US Air Force survival vest, which are attached vertically down each front suspender strap. A blackened round brass press button secures each grenade pouch cover. Worn at the back of the belt is a large Australian 1937 Pattern basic canvas pouch and a British 1944 Pattern water bottle and carrier. In place of the standard Australian issue basic pouches at the front are twin US Special Forces M16 5.56 mm magazine pouches and two compass pouches, one containing insect repellent. Attached to the 1937 Pattern pouch is another compass pouch, containing another insect repellent container and inside the pouch is a field dressing. The webbing set has been hand camouflaged by adding random blotches of green and black paint. A US issue plastic M6 bayonet scabbard is also attached. AWM Accession Number: REL/14214.005
ERDL camouflage trousers : Trooper D R Barnby, 2 Squadron, Special Air Service Regiment. Description: Pair of ERDL camouflaged Ripstop trousers, fitted with olive green plastic buttons. A pair of slash pockets are fitted at the hips. The trousers have a waist band with four belt loops and a concealed button fly closure. The trousers feature a concealed map pocket, with button opening on each thigh. The bottom of each trouser leg has an internal loop of fabric to blouse the trousers. The Ripstop material in the trousers includes nylon threads cross hatched through the cotton base fabric. History / Summary This distinctive camouflage is the ERDL pattern which was developed by the United States Army at the Engineer Research & Development Laboratories (ERDL) in 1948, and was first issued to US special operations units and the Australian Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) operating in South Vietnam from early 1967. This ERDL variation is also known as the brown based ‘highland’ or ‘wet season’ type. AWM Accession Number: REL29666.002
US tropical pattern gloves : Trooper D R Barnby, 2 Squadron, Special Air Service Regiment. Description Two right hand, olive green, US issued tropical gloves with the tops of all fingers removed. Two thirds of the top surface of the gloves is made from an olive green nylon mesh, with the index finger being entirely covered with Nomex. This Nomex extends up the entire length of the upper glove to the cuff. The palms of the gloves are made from a worn Nomex material. The stitching for one of the glove’s right thumb is slightly frayed, and has come undone, with the other one entirely missing. The glove with the missing thumb also has a blue-green coloured number 9 hand written midway along the top of the glove above the index finger. This glove is also of a slightly lighter coloured olive green colour than the other. Around the cuff of the gloves is zig-zag stitching which slightly blouses the gloves. History / Summary These gloves were modified and worn on operations, to help protect the wearer’s hands from the harsh conditions of the jungle and when using weapons. They also provided a form of camouflage for the exposed hands of the wearer, Trooper Don Barnby. AWM Accession Number: REL/14214.004
United States experimental tropical pattern boots : Trooper D R Barnby, 2 Squadron, Special Air Service Regiment. Description: Pair of experimental United States Army tropical boots. The black leather nose caps of both boots are heavily worn, exposing raw leather. The heel of each boot is also black leather. The body and tongue of each boot consists of olive green nylon. A large metal and black nylon zip secures the boots. A vertical lacing system is a feature of the boots, incorporating eighteen metal eyelets per boot and black nylon cord. There are a pair of circular brass eyelets on the inside arch of each boot, for removing excess water. The soles of both boots are black rubber which are worn from use. AWM Accession Number: REL/14214.003
Wrist compass : Trooper D R Barnby, 2 Squadron, Special Air Service Regiment. Description: Wrist mounted magnetic compass, finished in medium green aluminium and fitted with a worn olive green nylon wrist strap. The compass has degrees etched into the edge of the rotating dial and mils indicators every 10 mils etched into the body. A small arrow is etched into the top of the compass body, next to the wrist strap. An index pointer consisting of a pair of 2 mm high vertical lines, separated by a small 1 mm diameter dot are stamped into the rotating dial. An orienting arrow and parallel orienting lines, marked in red, are fitted to the base of the compass on a rotating housing. The wrist strap has seven 2 mm diameter metal bounded holes centrally placed for adjusting the size. An indent with remnants of an unknown blue-green substance (possibly verdigris) is on the fourth hole. This indent corresponds with the wrist band metal buckle. The wrist band is fitted with a pair of horizontally arranged 5 mm diameter bands for securing the excess wrist band length. One of these horizontal bands is adjustable along the wrist band and the other, in a lesser condition, is stitched to the buckle arrangement. History / Summary Infantry and Special Forces troops on operations, need to carry a wide range of equipment such as navigational aids to successfully conduct their patrols. It is critical that these objects are as light and as compact as possible to save valuable space and weight. This commercially available self wrist compass is an example of this attitude; recent advice notes that these Silva compasses were purchased and supplied by the the American CISO (Counter Insurgency Support Office). AWM Accession Number: REL/14214.009
Plastic travel tooth brush : Trooper D R Barnby, 2 Squadron, Special Air Service Regiment. Description: Two piece plastic travel tooth brush and container. The protective container is slightly warped and cracked in places and is made from teal coloured plastic. One side of the container has etched ‘STAN[illegible]E’ and below, separated by a thin ridge is ‘TRAVEL TOOTHBRUSH’. A pair of 1 mm diameter holes are fitted to the end of the container to allow water to leave the container when closed. A shortened white plastic toothbrush, complete with worn yellowed plastic bristles, fits into the protective container leaving the handle exposed. This shortened toothbrush can then inserted into the open end of the container, forming a full length toothbrush. Remnants of toothpaste appear to still be attached to the toothbrush, handle and interior surfaces of the container. History / Summary: Infantry and Special Forces troops on operations need to carry a wide range of personal objects to maintain themselves on patrols. It is critical that these objects are as light and as compact as possible to save valuable space and weight for their military equipment and weapons. This commercially available self contained travelling toothbrush is an example of this attitude. AWM Accession Number: REL/14214.010
Two sticks of camouflage cream : Trooper D R Barnby, 2 Squadron, Special Air Service Regiment. Description: A pair of personal camouflage cream sticks made from an unknown substance, one black and one green. Both sticks are covered in a clear cellophane wrapper, the green camouflage cream stick also has a gold coloured foil paper wrapper covering 4/5 of the length. The black camouflage cream stick has been used heavily and has some of the black cream exposed at one end. History / Summary: This pair of camouflage cream sticks were used by Trooper Don Barnby while serving in South Vietnam in 1971 with 2 Squadron, Special Air Service Regiment (SASR). Virtually all SASR members camouflaged their exposed skin (face, ears and neck in particular) before and during patrols. These sticks are examples of contemporary camouflage creams carried on SASR patrols in the late Vietnam war period. AWM Accession Number: REL/14214.011
Marker panel : Trooper D R Barnby, 2 Squadron, Special Air Service Regiment. Description: Bright pink plastic marker panel, fitted with six aluminium reinforced eyelets. A piece of olive drab nylon cord, folded in half, is secured through each of the eyelets. There are no manufacturers markings on the marker panel. History / Summary: Marker panels were used during the Vietnam War for a multitude of purposes, such as indicating Landing Zones (LZs) for helicopters, for marking positions of friendly forces to aircraft providing observation or fire support. They can also come in other bright colours such as bright yellow or orange. This particular marker panel was used in Vietnam by Trooper Don Barnby. AWM Accession Number: REL/14214.008
In addition to the links and mentioned above, there are also curated online collectionsand the Australian War Memorial blog which includes a fascinating selection of articles from the AWM’s historians, curators, librarians and exhibition team that covers Australian military history, recent acquisitions, events and exhibitions. There is more than enough material to keep one engrossed for days and I found that once I started looking new avenues of exploration just kept on opening up. It is an incredible resource, even if you cannot visit in person.
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In 1941, fearing that the Japanese may launch an invasion of southern Africa from Vichy French controlled Madagascar, the OC of B Coy Rhodesian African Rifles, Captain Alan Gardiner Redfern was tasked with training a commando force of Rhodesians that could undertake guerrilla operations should an invasion occur.
Redfern was a good choice, a competent bushman who as a young school-boy had spent his weekends and school holidays camping out in the veldt with a native companion and carrying very little apart from a rifle, blanket some mealie meal (maize flour) and condensed milk. He was proficient in both the main African languages, Chishona and Sindebele and prior to the war worked in the Native Department (later renamed Internal Affairs) of the Southern Rhodesia Civil Service.
Recruits for the Southern Rhodesia Commando were a mix of volunteers and conscripts, many of whom were drawn from the farming community and as such already well versed with living in the bush. The unit was conceived as a part-time cadre, not as a regular unit, able to work behind enemy lines should the need arise. Training occurred over an initial period of six weeks with an emphasis on bushcraft, small unit guerrilla operations and a demolitions course which was conducted near Gwelo. After the initial training, the soldiers returned to their usual occupations although regular on-going training took place.
The men who finally completed the course were awarded the ‘Cobra’ badge as recognition of their qualification. The badge depicts a cobra poised to strike within a circlet containing the words “Southern Rhodesia Commando”. Each badge was individually numbered and were made from sheet brass by Keays Gold and Silversmiths in Salisbury. The award was made in two sizes, the larger version, shown above, and worn on the uniform, plus a miniature silver lapel badge (also numbered) for wear on civilian attire. In an unpublished manuscript shown to me by fellow collector, Eric Crépin-Leblond, the uniform of the Southern Rhodesia Commando is described as follows,
“The No. 1 Dress uniform for part-timers who successfully completed the course was: Bush hat, turned up on the left side, pinned with the Lion and tusk badge. Khaki bush shirt, with curved brass ‘Rhodesia’ shoulder titles; ‘cobra’ badge in brass worn on the right sleeve below the shoulder. ’04 web belt. Trousers. Veldschoen.”
Little more is known about the Commando cadre and it is thought to have numbered less than 500 qualified members before it was disbanded in 1945. Many of the men from the Southern Rhodesia Commando subsequently volunteered to serve with the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG), forming S1 Patrol. On the nominal roll/database page of the the Long Range Desert Group Preservation Society there is a small photo of Sergeant Hubert ‘Hughie’ Hein where he can be seen wearing the ‘Cobra’ badge on his left shoulder. I believe that this photo is also shown on page 110 in Craig Fourie and Jonathan Pittaway’s book LRDG Rhodesia but unfortunately I don’t have a copy to confirm if it is the same picture. Training with the Southern Rhodesia Commando is mentioned by some of the Rhodesian members of the LRDG in Pittaway’s subsequent book Long Range Desert Group Rhodesia: The Men Speakwhich also includes a picture of Signalman John “Fossie” Kevan who, once again is wearing his ‘Cobra’ on the left sleeve. I can only surmise that the reason for the LRDG members wearing the badge on the left shoulder rather than the right as outlined in the original dress instruction, is because the same position on the right sleeve would have been reserved for their parachutist qualification wing. In both photographs it also appears that there was some kind of dark cloth used as a backing for badge but I have not yet identified the colour used.
For his role in forming the Southern Rhodesia Commando, Redfern was awarded the M.B.E., which he accepted with the understanding that he could join the men that he had trained who had subsequently joined the LRDG. On 22 April 1943, Captain Redfern transferred from the KRRC, reverting to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant before taking over command of S1 Patrol (LRDG) once again as a Captain in May 1943. On October 15 he was made OC of B Squadron, but was killed in action on the 12th of November 1943 during LRDG operations in the Aegean.
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Undoubtably one of the highlights of my trip to Prague in 2015 was visiting the Army Museum Žižkov (Armádní muzeum Žižkov). The museum, located at the foot of Vitkov hill, was about half an hour’s walk from the Old Town Square and a little off the beaten track, but it was a must-visit site for me and I planned my route to pass The Military Shop to see if I could find anything for my collection. Apart from a few contemporary Czech airborne patches, there was not much there for me that time as it is more of a surplus store than a military antiques dealer.
Entrance to the Military Shop – Hybernska, an army surplus type store which is located at Hybernská 40, 110 00 Praha 1.
Interior of the Military Shop – Hybernska.
Some of the headdress items for sale at the Military Shop – Hybernska.
Some of the patches for sale at the Military Shop – Hybernska.
A much better option for older militaria is Vojenské Starožitnosti, which is in the opposite direction and much closer to the Old Town (Staré Mesto námesti). But I digress…
Walking up the hill to the museum visitors are confronted by an old Soviet T-34 tank outside a very austere looking building and, when I visited, not many people around. Entry to the museum was free and the rather unforgiving exterior belied a treasure trove of artifacts which I found fascinating. The museum exhibits covered the first World War, interwar Czechoslovakia, the second World War, persecution of members of the Czechoslovak army after the coup in 1948 and the anti-communist resistance. The museum was well laid out, with a range of very interesting uniforms and equipment exhibits accompanied by descriptions in Czech and English, it was easy to lose track of time as I encountered unusual wings and exhibits that fell directly into my own collecting areas. Of particular interest to me were the items belonging to Czech agents of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) who parachuted back into the country during the Nazi occupation and also some uniform items belonging to Czech expatriates who fled post war Communist rule and served with the US 77th Special Forces Group (Airborne).
Items belonging to Josef and Cirad Masin, Czech brothers who escaped the communist regime to West Germany and in 1954 joined the US Army. After completing basic training at Fort Dix, NJ they joined the US Special Forces, hoping to take part in the liberation of Europe from the Communists. Along with fellow Czech, Milan Paumer they served in the 77th Special Forces Group.
Green beret featuring the unofficial distinctive insignia of the American 77th Special Forces Group. Part of the collection of items belonging to Josef and Cirad Masin, Czech brothers who escaped the communist regime to West Germany and in 1954 joined the US Army. After completing basic training at Fort Dix, NJ they joined the US Special Forces, hoping to take part in the liberation of Europe from the Communists. Along with fellow Czech, Milan Paumer they served in the 77th Special Forces Group.
US Special Forces uniform worn by anti-communist Czech national, Milan Paumer in the Czech Army Museum in Prague. Paumer escaped Czechoslovakia in 1954 and joined the US Army serving in the 77th Special Forces Group. Accompanying the uniform is a photograph of a much older Paumer wearing the uniform complete with the two US Army SF patches on each sleeve and I believe that they, along with the USSF patch and Special Forces tab were added long after his service.
Detail of the US Special Forces uniform worn by anti-communist Czech national, Milan Paumer in the Czech Army Museum in Prague. Paumer escaped Czechoslovakia in 1954 and joined the US Army serving in the 77th Special Forces Group. Accompanying the uniform is a photograph of a much older Paumer wearing the uniform complete with the two US Army SF patches on each sleeve and I believe that they, along with the USSF patch and Special Forces tab were added long after his service.
German Luftwaffe Paratrooper in the WW2 display at the Army Museum Žižkov
Uniform of a Czech officer who had escaped to the UK and qualified as a parachutist before being reinserted back into German occupied Czechoslovakia during WW2.
British jumpsuit with safety cap and overboots (worn over civilian clothes during parachute insertion) as issued by the Special Operations Executive (SOE) to resistance agents for use during their insertion back into continental Europe. The parachute is the G.Q. type and this particular example was used by Czech resistance fighters of the the ANTIMONY paragroup which jumped on 24 October 1942.
Unfortunately the museum is now closed whilst a complete reconstruction takes place and I am told that it won’t reopen until at least 2020, but it will be interesting to see what changes are made. So, in the interim, here are some of the photos that I snapped on my iphone during my visit. Hopefully when the museum finally reopens these objects will be back on display because it really was a fascinating display of Czech military history.
Machine-gunner and officer of the 21st Czechoslovak Rifle Regiment of the Czechoslovak Legions in France 1918. The machine-gunner is holding the French Light Machine Gun F.M. 1915 Model Calibre 8mm Lebel.
Display in the First World War gallery at the the Army Museum Žižkov.
Uniform of an Australian officer serving on the Western Front during The Great War.
Austro-Hungarian First Lieutenant, Field Pilot uniform on display in the First World War gallery at the the Army Museum Žižkov.
Display in the First World War gallery at the the Army Museum Žižkov.
Display in the First World War gallery at the the Army Museum Žižkov.
Display in the First World War gallery at the the Army Museum Žižkov.
1930’s period Motor Transport officer wearing the ‘excellent driving of offensive vehicles for officer’ qualification award.
1930’s period Czech army display. I think that the magenta-red coloured collar tabs on the figure on the left indicate artillery. In the centre is a soldier from the Frontier Rifles, whilst the figure on the left is a gendarme sergeant of the 3rd Provincial Gendarmery Command in Bratislavia.
Inter-war years Czech Air Force display at the Army Museum Žižkov Prague.
Pre WW2 armoured qualification. Officially described as the badge for “excellent driving of offensive vehicles for officers + miniature.”
Inter-war period Czech Air Force insignia. Top Row: No.1. Unofficial badge of 5 Aviation Regiment in Brno. No.2. Moravian Aero Club badge. No.3. Republic of Czechoslovakia Aero Club badge. Bottom Row: No.1. Field Pilot qualification. No.2. Field Observer qualification. No.3. Field Air Gunner qualification. No.4. Field Air Observer of Arms.
Czechoslovak Armed Forces 1920-29 collar badges. Top row (no.21) left to right, Machine battalion, Bridge battalion, Survey company, Balloon (observation) company. No.25. Infantry and Artillery Mountain Regiments. No.26. Railway Regiment (also worn after 1930).
Exhibit of items relating to the German occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1938 at the Czech Army Museum Žižkov
Waffen SS oberscharführer wearing a Close Combat Clasp, Wound Badge 3rd Class, Iron Cross 1st Class and the ribbon indicating that he was also awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class.
World War 2 period armband of the Kuratorium for Youth Education (Kuratorium pro výchovu mládeže). Established in 1941, this was a ‘Hitler Youth’ type organisation formed in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Morovia to promote ‘Reich loyal’ Czech nationalism through the provision of cultural and athletic activities to youths between 10 and 18 years of age.
Nazi Todt Organisation armband and identification badges worn by forced labourers working at the Junkers motor production workshops in Prague.
1933 pattern SS dagger and insignia recovered from the Buchenwald Concentration Camp.
Zyklon B canister from the Gas Chamber of the Mauthausen Concentration Camp.
Sleeve cuffs worn by inmates who were required to assist with self-administration of Mauthausen Concentration Camp and part of a hammer used to smash stone in the camp’s quarry.
Diorama of Soviet troops advancing through Prague, 1945.
Royal Air Force pilot and engineer’s brevets with sleeve eagle and Czechoslovakia title worn by exiled Czech pilots serving with the RAF.
German Luftwaffe airman wearing tropical dress including the visor cap with neck-flap
Soviet Red Army soldier in winter dress.
Red Army command post 1945.
Czech resistance fighters, including a policeman in the foreground, during the Prague uprising in 1945.
‘White Russian’ SS volunteer of the POA armed with a StG 44 rifle.
Army Museum Žižkov /Armádní muzeum Žižkov U Památníku 2, Praha 3 – Žižkov,
On loan from 2 Commando Company and the Australian Commando Association – Victoria , this Dennison parachute smock was part of the recent From the Shadows: Australian Special Forces exhibition at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.
The smock was worn by WO1 Douglas “Dutchy” Holland during his time as a PJI at the Parachute Training School at Williamtown. ‘Dutchy’, served in the RAF from 1940 until 1948 before joining the RAAF. He qualified as PJI number 6 at the first Parachute Jump Instructors course run by Parachute Training Wing (PTW) in 1954. A legend in the history of Australian parachute training, he was awarded the MBE for his services to military parachuting in 1958 and in 1959 became the first person in Australia to achieve 500 jumps. When “Dutchy” retired in 1962 he had completed 663 descents including 60 at night and 29 water jumps. He decorated this Dennison jump smock with various Australian and foreign parachute badges, including some (now) very rare and desirable insignia.
Australia’s special forces trace their history back to World War 2, with the operations conducted by the Independent Commando companies, Navy Beach Commando, the Services Reconnaissance Department SRD (Z Special Unit) and the Allied Intelligence Bureau (M Special Unit). Post war, the skills and traditions were maintained by the commando companies which later evolved into 1 Commando Regiment and then in 1957 by the raising of a Special Air Service Company which became the Special Air Service Regiment in 1964. 2 Commando Regiment evolved out of the re-tasking of the 4th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, to take on the commando role becoming 4 RAR (Cdo) in 1997 and then 2 Commando Regiment in 2009.
Command and control for Australian special operations units was initially maintained by the Directorate Special Action Forces – Army (DSAF) which was formed in 1979 and underwent several changes, becoming Headquarters Special Forces (1990), Headquarters Special Operations (1997) and in 2003 Special Operations Command (SOCOM). Commanded by a Major General, SOCOM also brings other special operations support units under its control, namely the Special Operations Logistic Squadron (SOLS), Special Operations Engineer Regiment (SOER), Special Operations Training and Education Centre (SOTEC) and Parachute Training School (PTS).
In keeping with the requirements of special forces operations, the activities of many of Australia’s special operations units have, largely, been kept out of the public domain despite a gruelling tempo of operational commitments that has barely let up since the INTERFET deployment to East Timor in 1999. Public interest in the units has grown markedly and this temporary exhibition at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra provides a rare insight into the activities of the Australian special forces in recent years.
Developed in partnership with SOCOM, this exhibition features items held behind closed doors in the Special Air Service Historical Collection, Commando Regiment collection and other sources as well as some artifacts from the AWM’s collections. The displays provide some historical insights into the development of the units along with uniforms, equipment and artifacts related to its various roles, tasks and operations with an emphasis recent operational deployments.
It had been several years since I was last able to visit the AWM, so I recently took advantage of an opportunity to visit Canberra and spend a few solid days checking out this exhibition and the other displays. As previously mentioned, From the Shadows draws on objects held in the unit collections and not available for public viewing. There are over 600 artifacts on display and I was surprised to find that many of the SF related items that are held in the AWM collection such as SAS trooper Don Barnby’s uniform from Vietnam or objects relating to Z Special Unit’s operations against the Japanese, remained in their respective exhibition areas which further helps to contextualise these units roles in the conflicts represented.
The photos that I have included here are just a taste of what is on offer in the From the Shadows exhibition and I’ll leave my other photos from the AWM collection for another post. From the Shadows runs until the 8th of September 2018. If you can make the trip to Canberra to check it out, I strongly recommend that you do, it is an excellent exhibition. More details about the exhibition can be found at the Australian War Memorial website. The ABC also did a piece about it when the exhibition first opened in 2017 and it is worth taking a look at. You can find a link to their article here.
‘From the Shadows: Australia’s Special Forces – The Operators’ video that was featured in the gallery during the exhibition
US Army Special Forces Team History and Insignia 1975 to the Present by Gary Perkowski
Hardcover Size: 8 1/2″ x 11″
416 pages featuring 4,144 color and b/w photos
Publisher: Schiffer Publishing
Released in May 2017, Gary Perkowski latest book, US Army Special Forces Team History and Insignia 1975 to the Present, covers the history, training, and operations of United States Army Special Forces, including new, previously unpublished photos and information regarding the insignia that were designed and worn by the men of the United States Army Special Forces.
The book is extremely detailed with concise information about the lineage, development, structure and training of the USSF before going into chapters on each specific Special Forces Groups (SFG). The SFG’s are further broken down and include extensive photographs featuring insignia, plaques, challenge coins, training/appreciation certificates, and other documents as well as photographs of the teams and men wearing the insignia.
The author, Gary Perkowski has been a militaria collector and historian for thirty years. The past twenty years has been spent researching United States Army Special Forces and this is his second book on the subject of United States Army Special Forces insignia.