Another item from my collection this week. This time it is a WW2 USN “deep wave” type 2 Submariner badge made by Hillborn & Hamburger that I acquired from a family here in Australia. The badge originally belonged to Lieutenant Sidney Alfred Kelf who served aboard the Salmon class submarine, USS Slipjack (SS-184) in 1941 and 1942.
The badge came from the estate of Audrey Beryl Hughson an Australian who was given it as a keepsake by Kelf whilst he was stationed in Australia during WW2. The badge is engraved “To Audrey from Sidney Kelf 11.25.42” which indicates the engraving was done at the conclusion of the boat’s 5th war patrol which took Skipjack from the submarine base at Fremantle in Western Australia to Pearl Harbor.
USS Skipjack (SS-184) was laid down on 22 July 1936, launched 23 October 1937 and commissioned on 30 June 1938. It was one of the 29 submarines that formed the US Navy’s Asiatic Submarine Fleet that was based in Manila in the Philippines at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. Skipjack left for her first war patrol off the east coast of Samar two days later. It ended on 14 January 1942 in Darwin, Australia and after 16 days in port, commenced her second patrol in the Celebes sea which concluded in March at the Fremantle base in Western Australia.
On the 14th of April, under the command of Lt. Cdr. James Wiggins Coe, Skipjack left Fremantle for her third war patrol, this time in the South China Sea. The submarine had her first success on 6 May 1942 when it torpedoed and sank the Japanese transport ship Kanan Maru (2567 GRT) about 25 nautical miles north-east of Cam Ranh Bay, French Indochina. It followed this up on 8 May when it sank the Japanese transport ship Bujun Maru(4804 GRT) about 125 nautical miles east of Cam Ranh Bay and then the Japanese troop transport Tazan Maru (5477 GRT) near the Gulf of Siam on 17 May before returning to Fremantle on the 2nd of June.
On 18 July 1942, USS Skipjack left Fremantle for her 4th war patrol, this time in the Banda Sea and had her next victory when she torpedoed and damaged the Japanese fleet oil-tanker Hayatomo(14050 GRT) south-west of Ambon, Netherlands East Indies on 23 August. The patrol ended when she returned to Fremantle on 4 September.
I am not sure of when Sidney Kelf met Audrey or the circumstances of their meeting and the Audrey’s family could not provide me with any additional information about the relationship, but it would have occurred before Skipjack left for her 5th war patrol on 29 September 1942. Once again she was ordered to patrol in the Banda Sea, then work her way up north and end this war patrol at Pearl Harbor. On 14 October Skipjack had her next success sinking the Japanese transport ship Shunko Maru (6780 GRT) about 450 nautical miles west-south-west of Truk.
The submarine concluded her 5th war patrol in Pearl Harbor on 26 November 1942, before being ordered to Mare Island Navy Yard for an overhaul. It appears that Sidney Kelf did not accompany the submarine for refit to California but remained in Pearl Harbor and assigned to the Lapwing class Minesweeper, USS Seagull (AM-30)which was reclassified as a Submarine tender.
USS Skipjack returned to Pearl Harbor after her overhaul and completed another 5 war patrols, sinking Japanese destroyer Suzukazeand transport ship Okitsu Maru on her 9th patrol and damaging the Japanese motor sail ship Tatsu Maru No.6 on her 10th and final patrol in November 1944. The submarine was then retired to training duties before being sunk during Test Baker, the second of two atomic bomb tests conducted at Bikini Atoll on 25 July 1946.
My research regarding the life and service of submariner, Lt. Sidney Alfred Kelf is far from complete and I do need to do a lot more research as my original records were lost when a computer hard-drive failed. I do know that he originally joined the navy as an enlisted man and was a Chief Torpedo-man before being commissioned. I also have a photograph of his grave headstone which indicates that he was born on May 8 1902, died October 31 1966 having served in the Navy in both World War 1 and 2.
In addition to his submariner ‘dolphins’ badge, Sidney Kelf’s participation in two successful war patrols would have qualified him for the Submarine Combat Insigniawith gold star. I am not sure what his medal entitlement is but as I intend to continue to research this individual, I’ll update this article as new information presents itself.
EDIT: 01 May 2020.
Not directly related to Sidney Kelf, but I just found this amusing article from the National WW2 Museum in New Orleans relating the to frustration felt by the skipper, Lieutenant Commander James Coe, when the submarine’s request for toilet paper was denied. You can read the Skipjack’s battle for toilet paper on the museum website.
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The Merredin Military Museum, Great Eastern Highway, Merredin, Western Australia. Photo: Julian Tennant
The Merredin Military Museum is easily found from the street with this World War 1 Vickers manufactured Ordnance BL 6 inch 26cwt howitzer sitting out the front of the museum. Photo: Julian Tennant
Bell 206B-1 Kiowa recon helicopter used by the Australian Army from 1972 – 2019. Photo: Julian Tennant
View of the open air exhibits at the Merredin Military Museum. Some of the vehicles on display include a Mk III Valentine tank, Staghound armoured car, Aermacchi MB-326H jet, UH-1H and Bell 206B-1 Kiowa helicopters and a M113 Armoured Personnel Carrier. Photo: Julian Tennant
Situated approximately 256 km (159 miles) east of Perth and roughly halfway to the goldfields surrounding Kalgoorlie, the town of Merredin was established as a rest stop for travellers making their way to the goldfield region. Being so far from the coast the town also became an important military base during World War 2 when military planners were establishing a defensive line in the event of a Japanese invasion. Merredin was considered distant enough from the coast to be out of range of carrier borne aircraft, close to major road and rail supply routes and in an area where there were good food and water supplies. As a result the town and surrounding district was home to several military bases during the war and since the early 1990’s, home to the Merredin Military Museum.
I had been wanting to visit this museum for some time and after giving the curator, Rob Endersbee a call to confirm that it would be open, I left Perth early on Friday morning for the three-hour drive. Because of its history during WW2, there are a number of military related sites around the area, so the plan was to stay in town overnight and make a leisurely drive back to Perth on Saturday or Sunday, checking out anything that took my fancy on the way.
Despite leaving quite early, I did get a little distracted on the drive when I passed an old service station in the town of Meckering, just over an hour outside of Perth. The gas station had been redecorated to look like a huge SLR camera and was now The Big Camera – Museum of Photography, a private collection of hundreds, if not thousands, of old cameras and photographic equipment that made for a nice little rest stop.
Arriving at the Merredin Military Museum shortly after 11am, I was met by Bill Beer, one of the volunteers and a little later, Rob the curator, both of whom were happy to talk about the exhibits and provide additional information about the pieces on display. The museum was established in the early 1990’s after three local collectors accepted an offer from the Merredin army cadet unit to pool their collections and set up a display in one of their sheds.
By 1998 and with support from the local shire the collections had been relocated to a new home, the old railway communications building less than 200m away from the train station and tourist information centre making it very convenient for any visitor arriving from Perth. The current location houses the three private collections as well as the museum’s own growing collection, so it is rather eclectic and as a result quite fascinating, including items that I had not expected to encounter in a regional town.
The first of these is in the main display room where an extremely rare Folbot (folding boat) canoe used by the Australian Services Reconnaissance Department’s “Z” Special Unit operators is suspended from the ceiling. This was the same type of canoe used by the two-man teams during OPERATION JAYWICK to paddle into Singapore harbour and attach limpet mines to the Japanese shipping. There is also a small display of other “Z” Special Unit items, including a detonator timer and a very rare Australian Army Stiletto (AAS) which is the Australian made dagger based on the famed Fairbairn Sykes design.
Clock timer used for initiating explosives. Part of the “Z” Special Unit display at the Merredin Military Museum. Photo: Julian Tennant
World War 2 period uniform of the 2/23rd Infantry Battalion (left) and Royal Australian Army Nursing Corps officers tunic circa 1945 (right).
World War 2 period RAAF winter greatcoat belonging to WJ (Bill) Allen who served in the Battle of Britain as an Air Gunner and finished his war service in 1945 with the rank of Flight Lieutenant. Photo: Julian Tennant
Items belonging to WX16991 Jack Flinders, who served with the SRD (Z Special Unit). Photo: Julian Tennant
Other rooms in the building feature an extensive selection of models and communications equipment, including an interesting display relating to one of Australia’s first surveillance units, the 2/1st Northern Australia Observation Unit, whose role was to carry out horse mounted patrols in the arid north watching for signs of Japanese invasion. There are also spaces dedicated to the local military history including several uniforms related RAAF personnel and the nurses who served with the 2/1st Australian General Hospital that was based at Merredin in 1942-3, as well as the Vietnam war, a weapons display and the WW1 Honour Rolls room. This last room reminds us that of the approximately 375 local men who left to serve in WW1, 70 were killed in action. A significant number for any small rural community of the time.
World War 2 period RAAF Air Gunner’s tunic and sign from the old Merredin Hotel. Photo: Julian Tennant
Two of the Australian Army issued booklets on display at the Merredin Military Museum. Photo: Julian Tennant
Uniform worn by nurses who served with the 2/1st Australian General Hospital in Merredin, 1942/3. Photo: Julian Tennant
Uniform worn by nurses who served with the 2/1st Australian General Hospital in Merredin, 1942/3. Photo: Julian Tennant
2/1st Australian General Hospital display depicting the tent wards that existed when the unit first relocated to Merredin from Guildford in July 1942. Photo: Julian Tennant
A nice WW2 period Submarine Trench Art piece made from brass shell casings and bullet heads. Photo: Julian Tennant
Royal Australian Navy submariner wearing the Disruptive Pattern Navy Uniform (SW12). Photo: Julian Tennant
Some of the extensive range of model tanks and AFV’s on display at the Merredin Military Museum. Photo: Julian Tennant
A section of the Vietnam War display room at the Merredin Military Museum. Photo: Julian Tennant
Australian Armed Forces Vietnam airmail envelopes and an anti-union card which originated after the postal union urged its members not to send mail to the servicemen in Vietnam. Photo: Julian Tennant
Dolls in Vietnamese national dress presented to Australian troops as a token of gratitude from the Government of the Republic of Vietnam. For many, these dolls are best known as the ‘award’ that was presented to members of Delta Company 6 RAR after the Battle of Long Tan in 1966 after the Australian Government denied the Vietnamese Government’s request to award them gallantry medals after the battle. The dolls were, however, given to many Australian servicemen, not just the Long Tan participants. Photo: Julian Tennant.
Vietnam war period 3 Cavalry Regiment, Royal Australian Armoured Corps (RAAC) beret and badge. Photo: Julian Tennant
Australian infantryman, Vietnam. Photo: Julian Tennant
First World War Australian Imperial Force digger’s uniform in the WW1 room at the Merredin Military Museum. Photo: Julian Tennant
First World War Australian Light Horse uniform in the WW1 room at the Merredin Military Museum. Photo: Julian Tennant
First World War Australian medics uniform in the WW1 room at the Merredin Military Museum. Photo: Julian Tennant
Outside and in the vehicle shed are a several military vehicles plus aircraft, some of which are undergoing restoration, including a working Mk III Valentine tank, an CAC Aermacchi MB-326H (Macchi) training jet built under license by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation, a 1980’s era Toyota station wagon (something that for some reason I never expected to see in a museum) and an interesting Bren Gun carrier, officially designated the Universal Carrier MG, Local Pattern No. 2 (LP2), that had been converted to carry a QF 2 Pounder anti-tank gun. Designated the Carrier, Anti-tank, 2-pdr, (Aust) or Carrier, 2-pdr Tank Attack, it is a heavily modified and lengthened LP2 carrier with a fully traversable QF 2 pounder anti-tank gun mounted on a platform at the rear and the engine moved to the front left of the vehicle. Stowage was provided for 112 rounds of 2pdr ammunition. Bill said that around 200 were produced and were used for training but he did not think that they saw operational service.
Mk III Valentine and M3 Grant tanks undergoing conservation and restoration at the Merredin Military Museum. Photo: Julian Tennant
Officially designated ‘Car, Armoured, Heavy,’ but colloquially known by Australian crews as the ‘Stag’. The Staghound Armoured Car entered service with the Australian Army in 1943, and the last of the vehicles were retired in the late 1960s. Photo: Julian Tennant
Toyota station wagon used by the Australian Army in the 1980’s. Photo: Julian Tennant
Australian Army M113 Armoured Personnel Carrier at the Merredin Military Museum. Photo: Julian Tennant
A WW1 period 18 Pounder wagon/limber that had been converted to be used with the 25 Pounder gun (as seen in the background) due to the shortage of purpose built limbers for these artillery pieces. The limbers had new axel bars, truck tyres, breaks and mud-guards added. These went on to serve in the Middle East and Pacific Campaigns. Photo: Julian Tennant
Australian M3 Stuart tank undergoing restoration at the Merredin Military Museum. Photo: Julian Tennant
The Wiles Junior Mobile Cooker. Invented by Boer War veteran, James Fletcher Wiles, who recognised the difficulties involved in preparing hot meals for troops close to the front-line. During World War 1 over 300 of these cookers were used in Australia, Egypt and France by Australian troops. Photo: Julian Tennant
25 Pounder Gun on display at the Merredin Military Museum. Photo: Julian Tennant
Chatting with Rob and Bill towards the end of my visit, it was quite interesting to hear some of stories surrounding the exhibits, but it also reinforced my respect for the people who keep places like the Merredin Military Museum open to the public. This is a private museum, running on a very tight budget, relying on donations and the goodwill of the public, plus its dedicated volunteers to stay afloat. When Rob heard that I was coming up from Perth for the visit, he told Bill, who actually turned up before the 10am opening time to make sure that somebody would be there when I arrived… which kinda made me feel bad for taking the break at The Big Camera in Meckering.
Rob also told me that despite a lot of information still stating that the museum is only open from Monday to Friday, it is NOW OPEN 7 DAYS PER WEEK from 10:00 until 15:00, but if you’re passing through Merredin and want to visit outside of those hours, give him a call and he will try to arrange to have it opened so that you can get in. That shows real dedication and I definitely recommend a visit the Merredin Military Museum as a day or overnight trip from Perth or if you’re making a trip to visit the goldfields around Kalgoorlie. Finally, if you are interested in exploring more of the sites related to the war history of Merredin and the wheatbelt region this RAC magazine article and this guide from the Merredin Tourist Visitors Centre are also worth reading.
The Merredin Military Museum
Great Eastern Highway
Western Australia 6415
Some of the more desirable of the WW2 era US Navy Submarine Combat Patrol badges are those made by the West Australian company of Sheridan in Perth. This company made USN submariner badges to supply the large US submarine fleet operating out of Fremantle during the war.
Recently, incomplete strikes of the Sheridan type1 badge have been appearing on eBay. Concerned that these may be ‘finished’ and aged then sold as originals to collectors I bought one for comparison to my original badge and also contacted the seller. He told me that he is the grandson of a former USN submariner and he had these made by Sheridan around ten years ago. According to him, the die was quite fragile and incomplete which is why the badges have not been sheared-cut from the sterling sheet. This also explains why the detail is not as sharp and defined when viewed next to an original example. This is particularly noticeable on the reverse and the difference can be clearly seen around the lettering of the hallmark and ‘silver’ stamp. It should be noted that, John, the guy who had these restrikes made has never attempted to sell them as anything other than restrikes/reproductions, but it will be worthwhile for collectors to make note of the differences shown in my picture for future reference.
On March 26, 1943, the US Navy authorized an award, known as the Submarine Combat Insignia, for successful completion of a ‘war’ patrol in which the submarine sunk, or assisted with the sinking of at least one enemy vessel or carried out a combat mission of comparable importance. The award consisted of a silver submarine pin approximately 5.6cm (2 ¼ inches) long with a scroll beneath the waves where a gold star was affixed for each successful war patrol. The badge itself represented the first successful patrol, so the addition of the first gold star represented the second patrol, an additional star the third patrol and so on. The scroll only allowed space for three stars (four successful war patrols) so if a fifth successful patrol was carried out, one of the gold stars was removed and replaced with a silver star. The attachment for the badge was a horizontal pin back. Clutch backed versions do exist, although they are post WW2 replacements.
Both officers and men wore the Submarine Combat Insignia on the left breast just above the centre of ribbons or medals and in the case of officers, directly below the gold submariner ‘dolphins’ badge. It should be noted that enlisted seamen who qualified for submarine duty prior to and during WW2 wore an embroidered version of the ‘dolphins’ badge on their right sleeve. This was moved to the chest in mid 1947, but the ‘enlisted’ silver metal variation of ‘dolphins’ badge was only approved in September 1950.
My interest in these badges was aroused when I saw WW2 veteran Australian Special Forces operator, Jack Wong Sue DCM wearing a USN Submarine Combat Insignia badges on his medals during an ANZAC Day commemoration. Jack served with Z Special Unit and was one of a seven-man team that operated for six months behind Japanese lines in Borneo. The team, code named AGAS-1, was inserted by the US submarine, USS Tuna, a Tambor class submarine on it’s thirteenth patrol of the war.
As I researched a little further I started to uncover a multitude of manufacturers variations of this fascinating badge and soon had developed a sideline collection of combat patrol insignia, some of which are shown below.