Saturday, December 22, 2012

WWI Royal Naval Division Cap Badges - An Addendum

There has been a continuing and intense interest on The British and Commonwealth Military Cap Badge Forum with regard to the cap badges of the WWI Royal Naval Division. Much of this is due to the fact that the badges have long been popular with collectors, and as a result have been a frequent and continuing target of counterfeiters. In order to protect their collections and investment, possessors of righteous badges, with impeccable provenance, are justifiably reticent to show their specimens to the collector's community, simultaneously affording the same information to counterfeiters.

This results in one valid set of cap badges being shown as if they were sealed pattern, at the unintended exclusion of legitimate variants from other manufacturers or a different set of genuine dies under contract (not re-strikes). Fortunately a second member of the forum has come forward with a complete set of the cap badges with reasonably established provenance. Both acknowledgement and gratitude are extended to 'Chrisr' of the forum for his contribution.

It was debated whether to publish this article as a new page, or incorporate it as an addendum to one of the previous other RND Badge discussions in the blog. Finally optioned for a new page, as the other could easily be lost in the intervening time warp. For cross-reference and the convenience of the reader the other pages are as follows;, and also;

The badges are presented in the same alphabetic order as in the page entitled "WWI Royal Naval Division Cap Badges - A Forensic Analysis", the first badge being the Anson Battalion.

The second badge is the Drake Battalion. In this example it has a joined motto on the bottom and the font in the word DRAKE at the top is slightly finer than in the other genuine specimen.

The third badge is the Hawke Battalion. In this specimen neither of the talons touch the 'R' or 'I' in STRIKE. Both go over the raised bit of the scroll and the left talon (looking at the badge) touches the top of the 'T'. The bird is similar to the other cited genuine specimen but with a narrower head, however not the same as the copy. The fleur de lys however looks more like the copy. Also note the north/south orientation of the lugs.

Next is the Hood Battalion. Note that this example has a narrower font, no void between 'STEADY' and HOOD scrolls and the bird is slimmer, when compared to the genuine badge. Again note the north/south orientation of the lugs.

The badge of the Howe Battalion. As can be observed there is voiding between the pennants and the sails, however differing from the cited copy in that there are joins between the central ship's aft and the sails, and the joins between the other half hulls and the sails are thicker. Finally the metal is a yellower brass color.

Finally the badge of the Nelson Battalion. In the case of this specimen the pennant is the same as the other genuine example but not voided, and the ship's figurehead is not as broad. Also note the north/south orientation of the lugs.

Here are an additional pair of examples of the Nelson Battalion badge, both of which are modern copies intentionally made to decieve the buyer and profit for the seller. The first is artificially bronzed and aged, even incorporating a fraudulent J.R. Gaunt plaque to afford it added "authenticity". Also note  the artificial wear induced on the right hand side of the sails and the figurehead. The second example may or may not be struck from the same fraudulent set of dies, but appears very similar while not including the Gaunt plaque.

Obviously the final word of caution is that a given badge under evaluation must have all features coincident with one or the other of the described examples of genuine badges, or have its own independent provenance. Personally I'm more than sufficiently challenged evaluating WWII British and Commonwealth Special Forces insignia, but hope that this additional information will not muddy the waters further, and will prove to be of some limited assistance.

On fact can be stipulated with absolute certainty. As experts will tell you, if ever offered a RND Benbow or Collingswood Cap Badge, courteously decline. WHATEVER badge it might be, it is sheer fantasy, as both battalions were disestablished prior to the issuance of any authorized badge.

As an adjunct of possible interest the following video is of the annual Royal Navy Field Gun Competition 1988, a competition that was held as part of the annual Royal Tournament (another tradition fallen casualty, however the competition endures) recreating/commemorating another historic land action by the Royal Navy. During the Boer War 1899-1902, Gun crews of HMS Terrible and HMS Powerful transported modified naval guns over land (190 mi., after a sea voyage of 800 naut. mi. from Simonstown to Durban.) to aid in the Relieve of Ladysmith, South Africa (28 February - 1 March 1900).

Friday, November 30, 2012

Early British Paratroop Training - Parachute School Ringway 1941

"We ought to have a corps of at least 5,000 parachute troops, including a proportion of Australians, New Zealanders and Canadians, together with trustworthy Norwegians and Frenchmen... I hear that something is being done already to form such a corps but only, I believe, on a very small scale. Advantage of the summer must be taken to train these troops, who can nonetheless play their part meanwhile as shock troops in home defense. Pray let me have a note from the War Office on the subject."

Prime Minister Winston Churchill to General Sir Hastings Ismay
22 June 1940

The following photographs show very early training of British Army paratroops at the then newly established No.1 Parachute Training School, Ringway (formerly Manchester Corporation civil airport). An educated guess would place them on or about April 1941, which was the date when Prime Minister Winston Spencer Churchill paid a formal visit to the facility. Due to the posed nature, and quality of the photography, they may have been taken during a dress rehearsal for the Prime Minister's visit. However, the date could be as much as a year later.

Evident are the early canvas/sorbo rubber training ('bungee') helmets (some even without ear grommets) and first pattern jump smocks, which were copied from the German Fallschirmjager pattern, and predated the Denison Smock. The photographs also provide good detail of the then relatively new 'X' Type Statichute and Service Respirators in their unique carried position. Note two short web 'press the dot' tabs at the bottom corners of the respirator case, facilitating its being carried up-side-down, with ready access even while still descending to the DZ if required.

It is also interesting to note, by virtue of the brevet on their right shoulder, that the majority, if not all of these men, are qualified paratroops. Another uniform item which others may have spotted (I didn't until reviewing magnified photographs) was the Polish eagle insignia (presumably yellow) on some of the sorbo helmets of the paratroops in massed formation, identifying members of the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade Group formed in September 1941 ('TOBIE OJCYZNO'). While helping to date that specific photograph, it should be stated that it was acquired independently from the others in the group.

In addition to the obviously posed sergeant with a .45 cal. Thompson Sub-Machine Gun M1928, it is interesting to note that in some photographs the paratroops are under arms, and in others they are not. It is my best understanding that at that point in time they jumped without weapons (prior to the collapsed 9mm Sten Mk II being tucked into the parachute harness), and retrieved them once on the ground from CLE containers. Also note secondary anti-aircraft hand-grips still on the underside of the stocks of the .303 cal. Bren Mk I Light Machine-Guns.

Also seen are the obsolete (considered infamous by many) Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft Ltd. Whitley Mk II bombers, six of which were used as initial interim transport aircraft for training jumps. Call letters, as can be discerned from the photographs, are 'R', 'T', 'X', 'Y', 'Z', and one aircraft apparently un-lettered. A keen eye will probably also spot the classic double deck bus parked by the hangar, RAF 'Tilly' light utility truck, and the Westland Lysander Army Co-operation aircraft (probably Mk Is)  positioned on the airfield, as well as in formation with the Whitleys in flight. Finally, beyond and to the right of the Lysander, barely discernible, are two GAL Hotspur Gliders (unidentifiable Mk at that range).

Although it probably post dates the photographs, by almost a year possibly due to security reasons, the following is the official Army Order formally documenting the formation of both the Parachute Regiment and the Glider Pilot Regiment.

With full acknowledgement and gratitude to the Airborne Assault ParaData web site, the following segment of archival film footage records the visit of Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill to Ringway in April 1941;

For those who might be interested in a more extensive history of the development of the British Airborne Forces there is an excellent book; CHURCHILL'S SPEARHEAD, The Development of Britain's Airborne Forces during World War II, J. Greenacre, Pen and Sword Books Ltd., Barnsley, Yorkshire, 2010, ISBN 978-1-84884-271-7.

While hardly Tennyson or Kipling, the lyrics of the songs sung in the previous newsreel camera film footage, may prove interesting in reflecting both the terms and tenor of the times:

(Tune: Knees Up, Mother Borwn)

When first I came to PTS, My CO he advised
Take lots and lots of underwear, you'll need it, I surmise,
By I replied, "By Gad, Sir, Whatever may befall,
I'll always keep my trousers clean,
When jumping through the hole".

[Chorus] Jumping through the hole,
Jumping through the hole,
I'll always keep my trousers clean
When jumping through the hole.

I went into the hangar, Instructor by my side,
And on Kilkenny's Circus had many a glorious ride,
"On these ingenious gadgets", said he, "You'll learn to fall
And keep your feet together, when yer jumping through the hole."

He swung me in the swings boys, he shot me down the chute,
He showed me the high aperture, I thought it rather cute;
Said he "This apparatus will teach you one and all
To centralise your C of G, when yer jumping through the hole.

I saw the glorious statichutes, with camouflage design,
I heard the Warrant Officer shoot such a lovely line,
"This loverly bit of stuff, lads," said he, "Upon my soul,
T'is sweeter than your sweetheart, when jumping through the hole."

One morning very early, cold and damp and dark,
They took me in a so-called bus, out to Tatton Park,
In keeping with the weather, I said to one and all,
"I take a dim and misty view, of jumping through the hole."

He fitted me with parachute and helmet for my head,
The Sergeant looked with expert eye, "It fits you fine," he said,
"I'll introduce you now to 'Bessie', that's what we call the nice balloon
From which you'll very soon be jumping through the hole."

"OK - Up six hundred! Four to drop," said he.
"Four to drop? Good God!" I cried, "And one of them is me!"
So clinging very tightly to the handles on the floor,
I cursed the day I volunteered for jumping through the hole.

Sarg' told a funny story, I couldn't see the joke,
In fact, I thought he was a most unsympathetic bloke,
But when he shouted "Action stations!" and then he shouted "GO!"
I simply couldn't stop myself from jumping through the hole.

I hit my pack, I rang the "bell", I twisted twenty times
I came down with both feet entangled in the rigging lines,
But floating upside down to earth, I didn't care at all,
For I had kept my trousers clean when jumping through the hole.

(Tune: Red River Valley)

Come and sit by my side if you love me,
Do not hasten to bid me adieu,
Just remember the poor parachutist,
And the job he is trying to do.

When the red light goes on we are ready,
For the sergeant to shout "Number One"
Though we sit in the plane close together,
We all tumble out one by one.

When we're coming in for a landing,
Just remember your sergeants advice,
Keep your feet and your knees close together,
And you'll land on the ground very nice.

When we land in one certain country,
There's a job we'll do very well,
We'll fire Goering and old Adolf Hitler,
And all of those bastards as well.

So stand by your glasses steady,
And remember the men from the sky,
Here's to the dead already,
And three cheers for the next man to die.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Uniforms of the British Empire c.1888 by Richard Simkin

Presented herein another series of watercolor prints from the prolific brush of military artist Richard Simkin. This set depicts uniforms of troops of the then far-flung British Empire circa 1888. The date can be fairly accurately established by the fact that the majority of the soldiers are armed with the .577/.450 cal. Martini-Henry rolling block rifle (both short and long lever versions) and two of the Canadian soldiers are shown with a .303 cal. Lee-Metford (bolt action, magazine fed) introduced into the British Army in 1888. Again this set of uniform prints was reproduced in 'Tradition' magazine in the late 1960's. Full acknowledgement and gratitude is once more extended to the magazine's publishers. For those who may be interested in obtaining original copies of 'Tradition', they may be obtained from;

First shown are regiments of the Bengal Army of British India.

Next are regiments of the Madras Army of British India.

The next group of regiments is from the Bombay Army of British India.

This group of regiments is from the Punjab Frontier Force of British India.

The next group of regiments represents the Dominion of Canada.

This group of regiments is from Tasmania and New Zealand.

The next group of regiments is from Victoria, Australia.

This final group of regiments is from New South Wales, Australia.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Infantry Weapons of the 1st Airborne Division at Operation Market-Garden - 1944

The following photograph depicts the Airborne's variety of hand grenades, a Projector Infantry Anti-Tank (PIAT) with one of its rounds and fuze assembly, a Mortar, 2 in., M.L. Mk VIII* with an inert training bomb, and the .303 cal. Rifle, No.4 Mk 1* (third rifle from the left). The hand-grenades (all inert) from left to right are; No.75 Anti-Tank Grenade (Hawkins Bomb), No. 69 Grenade (Australian manufacture, with black incorrect British "All Ways" fuze cap), No.69 Grenade (British manufacture), No.36M Grenade (ubiquitous "Mills Bomb"), No.77 Grenade (White Phosphorous Smoke), and finally the No.82 Anti-Tank Grenade ("Gammon Bomb"). The object which at a glance initially appears to be a water bottle, is an early infrared receiver used by 'COPPist' teams, and discussed in detail in an earlier blog page. If the reader is interested it can be found at;

The second photograph is of the venerable .303 cal. Bren Light Machine Gun, Mk I, shown with its correct sling and spare parts/maintenance wallet. This specific example is a deactivated DP (Drill Purpose) weapon manufactured by the John Inglis Company, Ltd. of Canada. The weapon as employed by the Airborne Forces (for that matter all British Forces), would have had the secondary and obsolete anti-aircraft hand-grip (on the underside of the stock) removed.

Shown next are the two principal weapons employed by the personnel of the British 1st Airborne Division and the Glider Pilot Regiment at Arnhem and Oosterbeek. First is the .303 cal. Rifle, No. 4 Mk I, in this case the example is the I* manufactured at the Long Branch Arsenal in Canada. The second weapon being the 9mm Sten Machine Carbine Mk V, commonly referred to as the 'Airborne' version. Experts will note that the pistol grip of the weapon is the later modified design intended to simplify fabrication. 

Also employed in limited number, by designated snipers, was a variant of the No. 4, the .303 cal. Rifle, No. 4 Mk I (T). The majority of these rifles were converted from selected No. 4 Mk I and Mk I* rifles by the firm of Holland & Holland, as well as some by B.S.A. Shirley, J. Purdey, and 500 by the Long Branch Arsenal in Canada.

Next is a photograph of the principal revolvers and semi-automatic pistols that were employed. From top left; .38 cal. Pistol, Revolver No. 2 Mk 1* (Enfield), and next .38 cal Pistol, Revolver, Webley Mk IV (Limited Standard). Moving to the lower left is the .45 cal. Semi-automatic Pistol M1911A1 (most common in this caliber, however some produced/modified to British .455 cal.). Finally, although to my knowledge not employed (certainly not in general issue) at Arnhem and Oosterbeek, is the 9mm HP Pistol Self-loading, Inglis Browning No. 2 Mk 1*. Only entering production in late fall of 1944 (September/ October with 0T XXXX serials), it is associated with the British Airborne because of its wide issue and use during Operation Varsity, the crossing of the Rhine in the spring of 1945. Re-designated as the L9A1 it still remains in limited service with the British Army, but is in the process of being replaced by the Glock.


This represents the vast majority of the infantry small arms employed at Operation Market Garden (excluding .303 cal. Vickers Medium Machine Gun and the 3 in. Mortar Mk II), however limited numbers of other weapons were present in British hands, based either on personal narrative and/or photographs. These included; .45 cal. Thompson Sub-machine Gun Model 1928A1 & variants, .30 cal Carbine M1/M1A1, as well as captured German weapons such as the 9mm Machinen Pistole MP 40 (commonly referred to as a "Schmeisser"), and 9mm Pistole P-38 (Walther).

Although normally vehicle mounted in the jeeps of the 1st Airborne Reconnaissance Squadron, the .303cal Vickers "K" Gun saw albeit limited use in an unmounted status at Arnhem.