Saturday, June 25, 2011

19th Century Military Communications at the Speed of Light – The Heliograph

The first recorded use of a crude type of heliograph in military communications is believed to have been by the Athenians, using highly polished shields, between Athens and Marathon, a distance of 26 miles in 490 BC. This was to signal the victory over the Persians, and apparently occurred in parallel with the fabled Greek runner who also conveyed word of the outcome of the battle. This incident in history is recounted by Alan Harfield, author of a book entitled Early Signalling Equipment, THE HELIOGRAPH, A Short History, Royal Corps of Signals Museum, 1986.

An Athenian Hoplon Shield - Possibly one similar could have been
the first military 'heliograph' ( Could stand a bit of polishing) circa 400 BC

The Zulu War - Heliograph at work across the Tugela River

2nd Life Guard Signalers - Heliograph Drill

The relatively modern military heliograph found its origins in the heliothrope, invented by Karl Gauss, a German scientist and mathematician, in 1821. This ‘light-reflecting’ system evolved to the heliostat, a non-oscillating mirrored instrument, and was converted to a more effective device with the incorporation of a shutter, which facilitated the use of Morse Code. After this evolved system was being used, Henry Mance (later Sir Henry Mance) brought it to the attention of  the British Indian Government, and it was introduced into the British Army in 1875. Obviously not in time to provide communications during the Indian Mutiny (1857 – 1858), however it did see extensive service in India, particularly in the Northwest Frontier, well into the Twentieth Century. Given an optimal operational environment heliographs can efficiently operate at a range of up to 70 miles. Heliographs were extensively used for line-of-sight communications in both India and Africa. They were also widely used by the United States Army, particularly in the Southwest desert. The following link details the employment by the United States Army against Geronimo and the Chiricahua Apaches in the 1880's;

U.S. Army Portable Heliograph (Mance type) circa 188'0s

One of the more common configurations of military issued heliographs is the British and Commonwealth Army’s, HELIOGRAPH, 5-inch, Mark V. It was employed into the early part of World War II, and used by the Pakistani Army up  to 1975. It is said that the  Canadian Army retained theirs in TO&E well into WWII, because officers thought they made “excellent shaving mirrors". Complete heliograph kits can still be found today, however are becoming scarce, necessitating acquisition of multiple units in order to comprise one complete heliograph with its leather carrying case, tripod, duplex mirror assembly, accessories and cased spare mirrors. 

As a closing aside Rudyard Kipling wrote one of his more memorable poems, "A Code of Morals" about the ficticious use of the heliograph in the general area of the Khyber Pass, near the Afghan Border of then India.

Shadi Bagiar, entrance to the Khyber Pass circa 1878

British Indian Army Heliograph Party

Lest you should think this story true
I merely mention I
Evolved it lately. 'Tis a most
Unmitigated misstatement.

Now Jones had left his new-wed bride to keep his house in order,
And hied away to the Hurrum Hills above the Afghan border,
To sit on a rock with a heliograph; but ere he left he taught
His wife the working of the Code that sets the miles at naught.

And Love had made him very sage, as Nature made her fair;
So Cupid and Apollo linked , per heliograph, the pair.
At dawn, across the Hurrum Hills, he flashed her counsel wise--
At e'en, the dying sunset bore her husband's homilies.

He warned her 'gainst seductive youths in scarlet clad and gold,
As much as 'gainst the blandishments paternal of the old;
But kept his gravest warnings for (hereby the ditty hangs)
That snowy-haired Lothario, Lieutenant-General Bangs.

'Twas General Bangs, with Aide and Staff, who tittupped on the way,
When they beheld a heliograph tempestuously at play.
They thought of Border risings, and of stations sacked and burnt--
So stopped to take the message down--and this is what they learnt--

"Dash dot dot, dot, dot dash, dot dash dot" twice. The General swore.

"Was ever General Officer addressed as 'dear' before?
"'My Love,' i' faith! 'My Duck,' Gadzooks! 'My darling popsy-wop!'
"Spirit of great Lord Wolseley, who is on that mountaintop?"

The artless Aide-de-camp was mute; the gilded Staff were still,
As, dumb with pent-up mirth, they booked that message from the hill;
For clear as summer lightning-flare, the husband's warning ran:--
"Don't dance or ride with General Bangs--a most immoral man."

[At dawn, across the Hurrum Hills, he flashed her counsel wise--
But, howsoever Love be blind, the world at large hath eyes.]
With damnatory dot and dash he heliographed his wife
Some interesting details of the General's private life.

The artless Aide-de-camp was mute, the shining Staff were still,
And red and ever redder grew the General's shaven gill.

And this is what he said at last (his feelings matter not):--
"I think we've tapped a private line. Hi! Threes about there! Trot!"

All honour unto Bangs, for ne'er did Jones thereafter know
By word or act official who read off that helio.

But the tale is on the Frontier, and from Michni to Mooltan
They know the worthy General as "that most immoral man."

So much for the operational security of the heliograph!

Friday, June 24, 2011

British Cap Badges – Additional Guidance in Identifying Restrikes and Counterfeits

The following compilation of additional information is presented with acknowledgment to the membership of the British and Commonwealth Military Badge Forum. Membership in the forum is strongly recommended for advanced collector to neophyte alike. Here is an example of the detailed forensic guidance that can be found on their web site. The forum has an extensive file of high resolution photographs of a wide range of both cap badges and cloth insignia. Another outstanding forum with the same scope and depth of British and Commonwealth subject matter (particularly elite forces insignia) is surprisingly, Wehrmacht - (See British and Commonwealth Militaria Section). Both are listed in this blog’s links.

Although lacking in clarity the badges shown in the following photograph should be sufficiently clear to allow the collector to at least identify the regiment. Every badge shown is a restrike. If the badge you are trying to evaluate is amongst those shown, extra caution is certainly advised. As previously discussed on other pages of this blog, and as can be seen in this photograph (first six badges), the Highland Regiments of the British Army are a very popular subject for reproduction. (Click on image to enlarge.)

A display of the range of identified restrikes of
British Regimental Cap Badges

The following discussion is attributed to a member of the British & Commonwealth Badge Forum, who is both acknowledged and thanked.

'There are a number of things that the back of a badge reveals. The fasteners are one major indicator. The type of lug, slider, tangs, (blades in UK terms), etc are important. Flat lugs vs wire lugs tell a story. Maker marked vs plain sliders tell something, length and shape of the sliders, material the slider is made from, etc. Many of these characteristics are specific to a time period, a production method, or a particular maker. The reverse reveals other information. The back may reveal if the badge was cast or stamped, the type of material used may be visible (brass, white metal, precious metals, etc.), the position or location the fasteners were attached at, or details of the stamping / casting not visible on the face.

The first thing that I look for on the reverse of a badge is the definition of the strike; many fake badges have poor reverse definition.

As for lugs, I have seen and there are many variations in size, shape and material to be considered. I have noted that prior to pictorial evidence being uncovered that footed lugs were in the main shunned, however the modern mass produced footed lugs are pretty easy to spot.

That said I have original issued naval badges with such lugs.

Also new copper tends to be a lot brighter/pinker than that of any age, although in my opinion caution has to be exercised if a badge has been chemically dipped as new residues can be apparent.

On plated badges I would usually expect either lugs or slider to show signs of the plating as well.

I have badges in my collection that I know to have been re-lugged and on one or two the workmanship is iffy, on others that I have you would be very hard pushed to tell that they had been repaired. It suffices to say that a re-lugged/repaired genuine original cap badge is far superior to a reproduction.

Sliders are another minefield with many variations, for WW1 period badges I look for an authentic crimp mark as some indication of an original badge and also the degree of taper evident as well as the shape of the end, I look for some degree of uniformity here.

Sliders that have a wide top often arouse doubt if they are not maker marked and I also look at the gauge of metal used and have noted that on many new or fake metal badges although the gauge seems correct the metal used is very soft and pliable.

There are badges such as the Tower Hamlets Rifles where a long slider is expected in general terms but attention must be paid to the position of the fixing as often all is not what it seems.

Obviously the above statement is far from exhaustive but I hope it explains to some degree why the back of the badge is important.

To be honest I have in the past been so excited to have my hands on a particular badge that I have handed over my hard earned without so much as a glance at the back, luckily for me I have had the good fortune to have been stood at the table of one of the good guys on the occasion though he may have despaired at my lack of thoroughness and my un-questioning trust.'

Let's look now at two specific examples of British cap badges that have been widely copied.

In World War I one of the specialized units of the Royal Navy was the Royal Navy Air Service (RNAS) Armoured Car Squadron. Although frequently miss-identified (and collected) as a cap badge, the personnel wore distinctive collar dogs. The rarity of genuine surviving examples of these badges immediately makes them a prime target for reproduction. Short of holding a copy in one hand, and the genuine badge in the other, the following are reasonably high resolution photographs of the front and back of each for close comparison. Unfortunately there are better reproductions than this, so extreme care should be exercised with this badge. 

Front of an identified copy of a WWI RNAS
Armoured Car Squadron badge 

Back of the same copy; Note both the lack of
definition in the die strike and the spacing of the lugs

Front of an identified original of a WWI RNAS
Armoured Car badge; Note the fuller font and the
spacing of the periods between letters
Back of the same original badge; Note the
clarity of the die strike and the difference in
the spacing of the lugs indicative of a collar dog

Genuine examples of the second badge are at least as rare. It is the distinctive badge wore by commanding officers and ‘officers of the day’ of 21 SAS Artist Rifles on the black leather cross (‘cartridge’) pouch belt of the No.1 Dress Uniform. As such it was at least sterling silver (probably hallmarked) and had two screw posts in N-S orientation. As would be expected there are not that many photographs available of personnel in this uniform. The badge is classified by collectors as unobtainable. Apparently for a period of time a white metal die struck version (Queen’s Crown) with lugs, not screw posts, in a E-W orientation was available for sale to serving personnel in the PRI (regimental kit shop). This badge is as close as you can come to an original. Suffices to say that even these 'semi-official' replicas have been counterfeited, as can be seen below. One assessment of the differences is as follows:

Semi-Official badge characteristics:
• Rear side is smooth throughout, i.e. no ‘orange peel’ or matt type surfaces.
• Front side matt surface between wording & ‘gods’, is even thro’ out.
• Rear side of badge to, ‘21 over SAS’: no horizontal lines/striations, i.e. smooth surface.
• 2 copper lugs are brazed with a fillet of solder. Copy shown has no fillet.
• The wording on the badge, i.e. ARTISTS CVM MARTE MINERVA has crisper definition.
• The position of the lugs is different, i.e. further down on the badge.
• Bottom stems of laurel wreath are both present and well defined.
• Overall appearance of white metal different from 'sheen' evident in copy.

Front of 'Semi-official' 21 SAS Artist Rifles
cross belt badge; Note consistency of
pebbling on surface of oval area
Back of same badge; Note absence of striations
around the lettering '21SAS'
Front of copy of 21 SAS Artists Rifles cross
belt badge; Note almost anodized appearance
of the badge
Back of same copy badge; Note striations
around the lettering '21SAS'

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Elite Forces Headdress from the former USSR, France and Italy

The first photograph shows, from left to right, an officer's beret from the former Soviet Naval Infantry (also wore by Naval Spetsnaz), circa 1991, an officer's beret of the Soviet Airborne Forces (VDV, also wore by Spetsnaz), circa 1991, the next is a cloth jump helmet of the Soviet Airborne Forces, circa 1991, then an officer's winter service Ushanka of the Soviet Airborne Forces, circa 1991, and finally a replica of the WWII officer's beret of the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade Group, who were attached to the British 1st Airborne Division at Arnhem (Click on any of the images to enlarge).

The next grouping of headdress are three kepi from the French Foreign Legion. From left to right, the first is an enlisted man's service dress kepi wore in French Indochina and Algeria, circa 1954, next is an enlisted man's review dress kepi (without the white 'kepi blanc' cover), circa 1950, the next kepi is full dress for a Captaine of the Legion, finally is a winter dress Senior Colonel and General Officer's Papahka, (Astrakhan of Persian lamb) of the former Soviet Army, circa 1991.

The French Foreign Legion is steeped in tradition. and a contigent is always on display on the 14th of July, Bastille Day in Paris. The following videos shows the bearded Pioneers (Sapeurs-Pionniers) of the Legion (1er Regiment Entrangere d'Infanterie) in the parade. They are marching to the measured cadence of 'Le Boudin' ('The Sausage'), the regimental march of the Legion.

The dress uniform headdress of the Italian Army has always been unique and very colorful. Here are three examples, all still currently wore. From left to right, first is an an enlisted man's Moretto w/Cappelo piumato of the 28th Bn of the Bersaglieri (Light Infantry), WWII Pattern, circa 1950, next is the full dress Lucerna of an enlisted man of the Corpo dei Carabinieri, current issue, finally there is a field service hat of an enlisted man of the 6th Alpini Regiment, circa 1960.

Each of these military units maintain a marching band consistent with the unique traditions and character of their respective organizations. The following series of videos will hopefully afford the viewer a sample of each. First the Fanfara of the Carabinieri (note that the lucerna plumes of the bands are white over red, rather than the normal red over blue), followed by the Fanfara (Tridentina) of the Alpini, and finally the Fanfara (Bedizzole) of the Bersaglieri.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Small Collection of Military Headdress from Great Britain and the Commonwealth

Military headdress has long been, and remains, a highly popular field for the militaria collector.The following set of photographs shows a representative variety of military headdress from the world’s military forces. Because of a particular personal interest, the first group of helmets and hats are from  Great Britain and the Commonwealth, with a focus on their Airborne and Elite Forces. The initial two photographs are an overview of that part of the collection (Click on any of the images to enlarge).

In the first group (left to right) is seen; a WWII Royal Marine Commando beret, a WWII Cap Comforter as worn by both Royal Marine and Army Commandos, a WWII Royal Artillery officer’s service dress hat, frequently wore with battledress, a classic WWII Australian slouch hat, a Canadian Forces winter fur (synthetic) wedge cap (Cap, Man's Winter, Fur, C.F.) also formerly worn by the RCMP), dated 1976 and a colored field service side cap of an officer in the Royal Artillery, circa 1941.

In the next photograph can be seen: the unique foreign service helmet or solar topee of WWII South African Armed Forces, next the more common WWII foreign service helmet, universal (Wolseley Pattern) worn by British Forces, this is followed by a replica of the full dress turban of a Subedar-Major of the 2nd Punjab Regiment of the British Indian Army, circa 1923-1947. (Correction: Although the cap badge is correctly identified, the turban is from the Regiment of Artillery, post-partion Indian Army.)

First hat in this photograph is the classic Hat, Felt, Gurkha, worn as standard field service dress by all of the Gurkha Regiments, since the beginning of the 20th Century (this specific example is from the 2nd King Edward VII's Own Goorkhas, Sirmoor Rifles, circa 1950), second is a cadet’s dress forage or ‘stable cap’ from the Royal Military College of Canada (Royal Roads), next is an officer’s glengarry of the 92nd Gordon Highlanders WWII, followed by a desert shemagh of the British Special Air Service Regiment, circa 1990 (which they have worn, in this configuration and color, since the founding of the regiment in 1941 to the present) and an officer’s No. 1 dress beret of the Special Air Service Regiment.

In this series first is an Armoured Vehicle Crewman’s GRP helmet (referred to as a‘Dan Dare’) from the Falklands War Period 1982, circa 1980-1991, next a WWII Motorcycle Dispatch Rider’s steel helmet, then an early WWII British Paratroop cloth ‘Sorbo’ Training Helmet, and finally a rimless 3rd Pattern British Paratrooper’s Helmet from the Suez Campaign (Operation Musketeer), dated 1955 (identical to late WWII issue).

In this photograph of British Forces headgear are three of the more recent helmets and the classic WWII ‘Tommy’ helmet. From left to right first is a Helmet, Shell Parachutist, Pattern 1980, Light-weight Ballistic Nylon (Kevlar), W/liner, Web /leather chin cup harness, and Issue DPM Camouflage Cover. Circa 1986, next is a Helmet, Combat, General Service (GS), MK6, Light-weight Ballistic Fibre, W/Liner, Web chin harness & Issue Desert Camouflage Cover, circa 1987 followed by a Helmet, Parachutist, Pattern 1976, Light-weight Fiberglass, W/liner, GS Nylon and PVC Harness, Web chin strap (No cup) & dark drab green nylon net, as used in the Falkland Islands 1982, finally the iconic Helmet, Combat, MK II, W/liner, Chin strap & Camouflage net, WWII (dated 1942).

The final photograph in this series is of a WWII Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm flying helmet, specifically the Helmet, Leather, Flying, Navy, Type C (2nd Pattern), W/Flying goggles Mk VIII and a Type G Oxygen mask. To it's left is a model of the Fairey Swordfish Torpedo Bomber Mk I, which was instrumental in initially damaging and slowing the German battleship Bismarck in the North Atlantic in May 1941, and previously conducting the highly successful attack against the Italian Fleet moored in Taranto Harbor in 1940 (Experts will probably notice that the torpedo warhead should not be flat (indicative of a more modern acoustic homing torpedo), but fully rounded and commonly painted bright red).

For those who might be interested in more details about the headgear presented on this page, as well as many others from throughout both history and nationalities, it is recommended that you visit; .

The following video is bittersweet. It is the Bicentenary Parade of the 92nd Gordon Highlanders, commemorating the span of the regiment’s existence 1794 – 1994, and the disbanding/amalgamation of the regiment in that year. An occasion particularly poignant and bitter to Scots in the Northeast (Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire), but to Gordons and fellow Scots throughout the world as well.  The event marked the beginning of the end for all Highland Regiments of the British Army, with the ultimate conglomeration becoming the current Royal Regiment of Scotland.

This second video is of the Airborne Forces Day Parade 2010 by the 16th Air Assault Brigade. The brigade includes not only the Parachute Regiment, but elements of the Army Air Corps, thus the mixture of maroon and sky blue berets. 

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Lest We Forget - Past Glories in Miniature through Toy Soldiers

One of the reasons, perhaps a rationalization, that toy soldier collectors have collections is to give them a recollection and linkage to history. They may focus on a specific period of time, such as the Ancient Egyptians, Roman Empire, Napoleonic, Colonial Empires, or World War I or II, to name but a few examples.

In the case of W. Britains Ltd., the span of the company's production of toy soldiers (1893 - 1966) coincided with a significant span in both world and military history. If the catalog sequence of their sets is reviewed, you can see they directly reflect contemporary world events, not just the British Empire, but such  now esoteric periods, as the Balkans Wars prior to World War I.

The 'New Toy Soldier' manufacturers (dating from the 1970s), have maintained this historical perspective in the range of themes they have, and are currently offering. A classic example are the sets offered by William 'Bill' Hocker of Berkeley, California, who started his highly successful line in 1983, paralleling what he said, 'were sets which W. Britains had left unsaid'. See Links for his web page. His precise sculpting style, high gloss painting, innovative animation, composition of sets, packaging (bright red boxes) and even advertising form and content, are essentially a modern, but nostalgic, extension of W. Britains' catalog and products. His sets initially reflected the Campaigns and Armies of Queen Victoria's reign, but in recent years have reflected United States history. These have included:

Crimean War   Indian Mutiny    Abyssinian & Ashanti Wars     NorthWest Frontier
Zulu War         Nile Campaigns                 Boer War                      Indian Army
Imperial Durbar   Diamond Jubilee    Victorian Army at Ease

American Revolution  Barbary Coast Wars   War of 1812    Mexican-American Wars
American Civil War      American West       Buffalo Bill's Wild West
Spanish-American War    World War I

In the following photographs you will see a fairly wide variety of toy soldiers reflecting both famous regiments and the battles they fought, integrated with other items of militaria, including original British Campaign Medals. Those familiar with the style of W. Britains toy soldiers will readily recognize them. Britains collectors will probably also recognize the similarity of Bill Hocker's sets. Other toy soldier and military miniature manufacturers that can be seen include, Greenwood & Ball, Imperial, Steadfast, King & Country, Blenheim, All the Queen's Men, Mark Time, Asset, Rose, Imrie-Risley, Monarch Regalia, Frontline, Toy Army Workshop, St Peterburg Collection, Battlezone, British Bulldog, Chota Sahib, Crescent Toys, Corgi, Tommy Atkins, OZ Made, PNF Figurines. Kingcast, Militia, Soldiers of the Queen, Franklin Mint, Dinky Toys and Forces of Valor.  Please click on any of the images to enlarge them.

As has been told to my grandchildren, with the right kind of care and nurturing in the Arizona climate, the toy soldiers can grow. The following are two good examples.

British Parachute Regiment Officer,
Full Battledress circa 1944

Lieut-Colonel 92nd Gordon Highlanders
Review Order circa 1936