REFERENCE BOOK: Commandos et Forces Suppletives Indochine 1945 – 1954 by Jacques Sicard

COMMANDOS ET FORCES SUPPLETIVES INDOCHINE 1945-1954

Commandos et Forces Suppletives Indochine 1945 – 1954 by Jacques Sicard with assistance from M. Duflot and F. Pitel.

Softcover: 54 pages.
Published by Symboles & Traditions (Paris)
ISBN: None

COMMANDOS ET FORCES SUPPLETIVES INDOCHINE 1945-1954

Commandos et Forces Suppletives Indochine 1945 – 1954 is one of the excellent series of insignia reference books published by the French Symboles & Traditions Association based in Paris.

This volume covers the insignia used by French commando units as well as the locally raised Indochinese commando and auxiliary partisan/irregular forces. The 54 pages includes 30 full colour plates featuring the unit badges along with brief descriptions outlining a brief historical overview of the unit and specific information relating to their insignia including manufacturers and variations. Like the other S&T books the text is in French but that should not dissuade any collector of Vietnam and French Indochina period special operations insignia from adding this valuable reference to their bookshelf.

COMMANDOS ET FORCES SUPPLETIVES INDOCHINE 1945-1954

Advertisements

Information for the Vietnam war historian

French troops crossing delta country in outdated US tanks during campaign against Viet Minh. 1950
Photographer: Howard Sochurek for LIFE magazine.

I’ll add this to the links list, but for anybody interested in the conflict in Indochina, the Vietnam War Resource site is probably the best online source for information covering all aspects of the war.

http://www.cc.gatech.edu/fac/Thomas.Pilsch/Vietnam.html

The Long Tan Memorial cross

11:00 hrs, 18 August 1966. Nui Dat, South Vietnam.

Delta Company from the 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (D Coy, 6RAR), comprising 105 Australian infantrymen and 3 New Zealand Forward Artillery Observation party gunners from 161 Battery, Royal New Zealand Artillery step off from the 1st Australian Task Force (1ATF) base at Nui Dat to commence Operation VENDETTA. Each soldier is carrying 3 x 20 round magazines and another 60 rounds in boxes in their packs. Each M60 machine gun team carries 5 x 100 round belts and another 5 x 100 round belts in their packs.

Soldiers of the 6th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (6RAR), push through dense scrub country in search of retreating Viet Cong. This photograph was taken the day after the battle. CUN/66/0693/VN

Aerial view of the Long Tan rubber plantation on 18 August 1966.

The company-sized patrol, under the command of Major Harry Smith, is part of a response to a mortar and recoilless rifle (RCL) attack on the 1 ATF base in the early hours of the previous morning. D Coy is tasked to relieve B Coy, 6RAR, who had just discovered a dug in position for about 20 men plus signs of a 75ml RCL that had fired at the base. For most of the company this was just another patrol, nothing special apart from missing out on a concert being held at the base by Little Patti and Col Joyce that evening.

Long Tan Action, Vietnam, 18 August 1966. Bruce Fletcher, 1970. [Oil on canvas 152 x 175cm. AWM ART40758]

Just before 16:00hrs in the rubber plantation at Long Tan they made contact with the enemy. For the next three and a half hours, in an area no larger than two football fields and in a blinding monsoon thunderstorm, the men of D Coy fought off an enemy force that outnumbered them 26 to 1. By the end of the battle, 16 members of D Coy lay dead and 23 were wounded. Two more (one from D Coy and one Armoured Corps soldier from the relieving force carried aboard 3tp 1 APC Squadron) would die from their wounds. Four other Aussies from the relieving force, three from A Coy, and one from B Coy were wounded.

The Fallen: 19 August 1966. The body of 11 Platoon Commander Second Lieutenant Gordon Sharp on the battlefield of Long Tan. In the background is the body of another unidentified Australian soldier from 11 Platoon, 6RAR.

Of the 2650+ NVA regulars and Viet Cong guerrillas who were on the battlefield 245 bodies were counted on the battlefield and 3 were captured. However during Operation MARSDEN in late 1969, Australian forces captured a Viet Cong dispensary that had a casualty list attributed to the battle at Long Tan. That list identified 878 as KIA/Missing/Died of Wounds and approximately 1500 wounded in action. It was a significant defeat for the NVA and VC forces whose stated aim was to lure an Australian battalion out of the task force base to destroy them, then attack the base at Nui Dat itself. Instead, the battle severely weakened the enemy in Phuoc Tuy province and they never again posed a serious threat to the Nui Dat base.

The Presidential Unit Citation awarded by US President Lyndon B Johnson to D Company 6 RAR for heroism at the battle of Long Tan.

In May 1968, US President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded D Coy, 6RAR the Presidential Unit Citation (Army) “For Extraordinary Heroism”. This prompted plans by 6RAR BHQ to build a memorial in Vietnam during their second tour of Vietnam, which commenced in May 1969. The cross was built in the battalion lines at Nui Dat out of concrete by pioneers from 6RAR-NZ Anzac Battalion’s Assault Pioneer Platoon and was overseen by Sgt Allan McLean. It was suspended under a RAAF UH1H helicopter and flown to the site of the battle in the Long Tan rubber plantation, where it was erected and dedicated in memory of the fallen by 6 RAR-NZ Anzac Battalion on the 18th of August 1969, the third anniversary of the battle. In 1987, Australian Prime Minister, Bob Hawke also announced that the 18th of August, Long Tan day, would also be known as Vietnam Veterans Day.  The site at Long Tan remains one of only two foreign war memorials permitted in Vietnam, the other being French at Dien Bien Phu.

Pipers from the 6 RAR-NZ Anzac Battalion band surround the Memorial Cross and play a lament for the dead of Long Tan during it’s dedication on the 18th of August 1969. Picture: Christopher Bellis

Close up of the plaque on the cross, which reads
“In Memory of those members of D Coy 6 RAR and 3 Tp 1 APC Sqn who gave their lives near this spot during the Battle of Long Tan on 18th August 1966. Erected by 6 RAR/NZ (ANZAC) Bn 18 Aug 69”.
Photograph by Jay Cronan/The Canberra Times.

Sometime after the war the cross was removed, reportedly by a Catholic farmer for his father’s grave and a replica was constructed by the local population at Xa Long Tan and placed on the site. The original cross was subsequently found by an Australian researcher and placed on display at the Dong Nai museum (Nguyen Ai Quoc Street [Dong Nai Province Square] Tan Phong Ward , Bien Hoa City, Dong Nai Province, Vietnam). The replica cross remains on the battlefield site and special permission must be sought to visit the memorial.

The battlefield and memorial, featuring the replica cross, when I visited Long Tan in 1998.

In July 2012, the cross was sent to Australia, on loan to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. It was put on public display on the 17th of August and will remain in Australia until April 2013 before being returned to Vietnam. For many veterans of the battle it will be the first time they have seen the original cross as they never returned to Vietnam after their tour ended in June 1967.

Vietnam vets examine the cross at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, prior to it going on public display in August 2012.
Photograph by Jay Cronan/The Canberra Times.

Accounts of the Battle of Long Tan

There are numerous excellent on-line accounts of the battle of Long Tan. If you would like to do further reading, I recommend checking out the OC of D Coy, 6 RAR,  Harry Smith’s page, Bob Buick, who was the platoon sergeant of 11 Platoon at the battle, Terry Burstall’s (who was a private in D Coy during the battle) research into the enemy’s perspective, with further information being found at the Australian Government’s official  Vietnam War page and the 6 RAR Association website. An ABC regional radio interview with Albany farmer and Long Tan veteran, Harley Webb is also worth listening to for a personal account of the battle.

In August 2006, on the 40th anniversary of the battle, Martin Walsh of Red Dune Films, in conjunction with FOXTEL premiered this excellent documentary of the battle. Narrated by Sam Worthington and running for an hour and forty one minutes it provides an excellent account of the battle through the experiences of the participants. It is definitely worth taking the time to check it out.

Revisiting Vietnam’s infamous Dan Sinh “War Surplus” Market

Deciding to collect Vietnam War militaria is fraught with danger as the marketplace is saturated with fakes and reproductions. I was fortunate that during my first trip to Vietnam in 1997, the late Peter Aitken (who was then at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra) introduced me to a Vietnamese friend of his in Saigon who was able to guide me through the minefield that Vietnam War militaria had already become. I arrived in Saigon with ideas of finding rare Vietnamese Airborne insignia and left convinced that only the brave or foolish would start collecting militaria from the ‘American War’ period… And this was before eBay and the Internet started to take off as a source for collectors!!!

One of the first places that we visited was the Dan Sinh market, also known as the ‘War Surplus’ or ‘American’ market it is the place where much of the supposed Vietnam War militaria originate. Situated at 104 Yersin next door to the Phung Son Tu pagoda, it consists of a rabbit warren of stalls offering everything from electrical parts to footwear. Part of the market consists of small stalls selling military related items. During that first visit most of the stuff was related, in appearance, if not actual age or authenticity, to the 1962 – 75 period but more recently the reproducers have started to include post Vietnam war conflicts and one can find copies of current issue US army multicam, British desert DPM and Australian DPCU camouflage uniforms and equipment amongst the usual ‘junk’.

As collectors become more aware of the Vietnam era fakes being produced at the market, the manufacturers have turned to other areas and conflicts, including these poorly copied British SAS insignia.

Faked French, Rhodesian and contemporary multicam jackets.

Australian DPCU bush-hat. This camouflage pattern wasn’t introduced until 1988, long after the war ended… and this wide brimmed style sometime in the 90’s.

During that first trip my guide, Loi and I devised a system to identify the fakes and at the same time protect him from recriminations from the sellers. If I found something that I liked I would pick it up, inspect it and then pass it on to him. He would look at it, mutter something like “very nice” then, if it was genuine, hand it back to me and if not, place it back on the table. I quickly became disappointed as everything from MACV SOG patches to ARVN Ranger helmets were placed back on the table. The thing that I didn’t fully grasp at the time was that after the war and the economic difficulties that followed the ‘surplus’ was either recycled or whenever possible, broken down to it’s component parts, brass, aluminium, acrylic etc and sold as scrap. It was only after Vietnam reopened to Western tourism and foreign interest in the war became apparent that the potential of the war legacy became apparent. A lot of the remaining bits and pieces disappeared quickly, but the demand was there and the ever-resourceful Vietnamese started to fill demand by reproducing the items that were in demand.

Make no mistake; the guys at Dan Sinh are not fools and know what the state of the marketplace is for their creations… and as collectors become more savvy they shift their focus to take advantage of new opportunities. Over the years I have returned many times and come to know some of the dealers reasonably well. Even back in the 90’s they were already aware of what was in demand and were producing items for unsuspecting collectors. Unscrupulous western dealers had been visiting Vietnam and providing the designs and reference material for their ‘orders’ since the 80’s and the Vietnamese were more than happy to oblige. During that trip in 97 I was shocked to see that one dealer had a copy of the out of print and extremely sought after “Special Forces of the United States Army 1952-2002by LTC Ian D. W. Sutherland (Ret). Back then, one could expect to pay $200+ for a copy if you could find one and these guys were using it as a standard reference (a ‘gift’ of a US based dealer/customer) for their creations. During a visit around 2007 or 2008, one of the main guys at Dan Sinh showed me an autographed copy of a Schiffer published reference book on insignia from a certain US branch of service. Nothing unusual in that, but what threw me was when he admitted that he was asked by the author, to make the insignia for the book and many of those same rare patches are still being offered for sale (as authentic) by the author via his eBay store. That’s not hearsay; I gleaned that bit of info during a recorded interview with the maker of the fakes. I shudder to think how many people use that book as a reference and placed their trust in the author as a ‘reputable’ dealer.

Current retail (not wholesale) price for these supposedly rare flags… $5 to $10 each

The lesson that I learnt during that first trip was to view all items from the Vietnam War with suspicion. I have a modest collection of Vietnam War period ARVN Airborne, Australian SAS and AATTV items, but tread very carefully. If it doesn’t have provenance, I’ll pass on it. There’s just too much shit out there. I would go as far to say that 99% of the Vietnam War militaria that you can find on eBay are faked, everything from maps and paperwork, through uniforms to aircraft gauges. Supposedly rare MACV SOG patches can be bought for as little as $1 each, wholesale, VC flags, $5 – $10, Zippos (and there will be an entire post devoted to the changes I’ve seen over the years) about $5 retail and less for bulk purchases. Recently I’ve even found reproductions such as those made by George Peterson’s NCHS in the USA being brought IN to the markets and offered by one of the sellers as original.

Reproductions (including those made and sold by NCHS in the USA) such as the ARVN Special Forces beret badge near the left corner of the picture are being brought into the Dan Sinh market where they are being resold as ‘original’. Click here for a link to the NHCS listing of the same copy.

As a collector, visiting the Dan Sinh market is a ‘must do’ on any Vietnam itinerary; just don’t fall for the bullshit. Unlike my first visit, these days many, but not all, of the dealers will admit that the items are copies and one or two will even offer to make the items that you require. It’s definitely worth a visit, but if the experience doesn’t make you want to steer well clear of collecting Vietnam War militaria… well then you need counselling.

The Dan Sinh Market is open until about 6pm but many of the militaria dealers start closing up around 5. It can be found at 104 Yersin, District 1 and is open every day.