Tag Archives: bren gun

KNIL KST, Ok?

As we have touched on in past articles, the Dutch East Indies had its own army, totally separate from the one based in Europe, that dated back to 1814– the Koninklijk Nederlands Indisch Leger, or KNIL. Coming up on the losing side (among good company) against the Empire of Japan in 1942, the KNIL was rebuilt in exile with the “Free Dutch” forces that ran a clandestine infiltration and intelligence gathering campaign behind Japanese lines (see Korps Insulinde) and helped liberate Borneo in 1945. Post-war, it was tossed into the maelstrom (along with British Army– mostly Indian troops– and, curiously, recycled Japanese occupation forces) that was the four-year, often very bloody, conflict that is listed in the history books as the Indonesian War of Independence.

As the history books and any map of the globe will tell you, the Dutch politionele acties (“police actions”) in what is now Indonesia would ultimately fail, and a Sukarno-led independent country would emerge and enter the greater Soviet influence, but that is going past the point of this post.

No, what I want to highlight here is the special COIN unit set up by the KNIL to fight Sukarno and company, one whose model would be recycled throughout the Cold War to tackle insurgent guerillas in bush wars ranging from Malaysia to Mozambique and Bolivia. The company-sized (Depot Speciale Troepen) and later battalion-sized Korps Speciale Troepen, literally the Special Troops Corps, was formed from a mix of Dutch volunteers– including veterans of the disbanded British No. 2 (Dutch) Troop and the Korps Insulinde— along with Eurasians and native soldiers– often drawn heavily from minorities in the islands such as the Moluccans. The latter was a tactic used in Vietnam by the U.S. a decade later with the persecuted ethnic Degar, Bahnar, Hmong, Nung, Jarai, Khmer Krom, and Montagnards who made up the core of the Mike Force and CIDG units fighting the Viet Cong and NVA.

Led by such men as the infamous Capt. Raymond Westerling, aka “The Turk,” who had become so good in commando training with the Free Dutch in 1942 that Fairbairn had selected him to become an instructor, the KSK was sent to islands and regions where guerilla fighters held more sway than the Dutch government. To get to these remote regions, the Dutch established a local parachute school on Java, forming 1e Paracompagnie (1st Para Company), to augment amphibious operations.

Due to their lineage, they were equipped with a strange mix of American, Australian, British, and– sometimes– even Dutch kit. They often wore a green beret, a holdover from the old No. 2 (Dutch) Commando days of WWII. 

Photo dump ensues.

KST paratrooper in school at Hollandia, Dutch New Guinea 1946-47. Note the Australian-made Owen submachine gun. NIMH AKL023561

A stick of 1e Parachutisten Compagnie troopers loaded in a Dakota on Operatie Ekster (Magpie) 12.29.49. Note the American chutes, British HSAT helmets and the SMLE .303 rifle. NIMH AKL023617

KST training paratrooper school, Hollandia (New Guinea) 1946-1947. Providing fire support. Note the Bren gun, centered, flanked by two Own SMGs, and American M1 helmets. AKL023560

Paratroopers from the KST gather in the field after a jump during an action or exercise. Dutch East Indies. 1948. One could easily imagine this photo captioned to be French paras in Dien Bien Phu. NIMH 2155_502065

KST Paratroopers are being prepared for an action 1948-50. Note the American frogskin “duck hunter” camo pants to the left, USMC HBT shirts, M1 Carbines, US-marked canteens and aid kits, and field knives, coupled with British HSAT para helmets. NIMH AKL023638

KST troops training in an old factory complex near the barracks, 1949. Dutch East Indies. This photo could almost pass for commando training in Scotland in 1945. NIMH AKL023619

Troop II of the 1st Para Company in action northeast of Krawang in West Java. 2.1948. Note the Owen gun in the foreground, sans magazine, and American M1 helmets

The advance of Dutch airborne troops from Magoewo airport to Djokjakarta at the start of the Second Police Action in Central Java. A Bren gunner positions his weapon at a signpost 4 km away from the city to be captured. 12.19.1948. NIMH AKL024567

Paratroopers of the Special Troops Corps walk at Magoewo airport near Djokjakarta to a number of (not visible) Dakotas. Note the PBY Catalina on the tarmac and slung SMLEs. NIMH AKL024539

Korps Speciale troepen Padalarang, West Java 11.29.1949. Note the skrim’d helmets and SMLEs

KST two man rubber rafts Padalarang, West Java 11.29.1949 AKL023586

KST assault boat with Bren gun Padalarang, West Java 11.29.1949 AKL023606

American paramarines, err, never mind, KST exercise, Batoedjadjar, Java, Dutch East Indies, 1949. NIMH

KST troops late in the conflict with locally-made Dutch camouflagekleding uniforms.

While we aren’t getting into the more controversial aspects of the KST such as its record of extrajudicial killings– the somewhat factually incorrect film The East (De Ost), which is currently available on Hulu, does plenty of that– the KST did go on to be the stepping stone that today’s professional Korps Commandotroepen of the Dutch Army counts in its linage.

The Free Dutch vs The Emperor in the East Indies

Following the fall of the Netherlands East Indies, the remnants of the Dutch colonial army– the KNIL– and Royal Dutch Navy fell back to Australia to regroup and carry on the fight for independence from exile. They were the lucky ones. Of the 42,000 European POWs taken by the Japanese in the East Indies in early 1942, almost one in five (8,200) would die before liberation.

This rag-tag group of survivors would carry on the war– with the Dutch submarine force being especially active— while the land forces would reform. Ultimately, in the liberation of Borneo in 1945, a 3,000-strong force dubbed 1ste Bataljon Infanterie and the Technisch Bataljon of the KNIL, landed on the beaches alongside Allied troops. Before that, the unit had its baptism of fire supporting the Americans at Biak.

Australian and Dutch units land in Borneo on the island of Tarakan. On April 30, 1945, units of the Australian Imperial Forces 9th Division and the KNIL land on the island of Tarakan of Borneo, starting the first combined Australian and KNIL attack on the Japanese army in Dutch- India. The photo shows Captain FE Meynders, commander of the 2nd Company of the 1ste Bataljon Infanterie of the KNIL, discussing the progress of the Tarakan campaign with Mr. L. Broch, war reporter for the Dutch news agency Aneta, on the beach of Lingkas on Tarakan Island.

However, before the 1ste Bataljon Infanterie and the Technisch Bataljon went back to the East Indies, the islands were often visited by Free Dutch forces running a clandestine war that gets no attention.

Meet the NEIFIS & the Korps Insulinde

The Netherlands East Indies Forces Intelligence Service, or NEIFIS, was formed in Australia from KNIL remnants starting in April 1942, some 80 years ago this month.

Regrouping of exiled Dutch/Dutch East Indies soldiers in Perth, Australia. Inspection by, among others, lieutenant commander of the first-class JAFH Douw van der Krap. Van der Krap was later assigned to the Netherlands Forces Intelligence Service (NEIFIS) as head of Division II; Internal Security & Security.

Besides counterintelligence duties such as censoring mail of Dutch refugees in the region and vetting volunteers, they soon formed commando units in conjunction with MacArthur’s Inter-Allied Services Department (ISD) that, dropped covertly via coasters and submarines on beaches in the East Indies, and later by parachute into the interior, they tried to gather intel on the Japanese and ignite a guerilla resistance in the archipelago.

NEIFIS was eventually given its own clandestine operations unit, dubbed the Korps Insulinde. Drawn initially from 150 men of the 1st Battalion, Koninklijke Brigade “Prinses Irene,” which had trained in England in 1940-41 then had been shipped to the Pacific, arriving at Ceylon just after the fall of Java, these Free Dutch went commando quite literally, and served alongside the SOE’s Force 136 Intelligence in the region. Ultimately, No. 2 (Dutch) Troop of the No. 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando would contribute volunteers to the enterprise as well.

In all, the Korps Insulinde would muster no less than 36 teams made up of 250 agents. They made 17 landings in Sumatra alone in 1943-44, in addition to operations in Borneo, the Celebes, New Guinea, and Java.

Members of the Korps Insulinde, made available to the Netherlands Forces Intelligence Service (NEIFIS), patrolling a fordable area in the vicinity of Merauke, New Guinea. Second from left is possibly First Lieutenant Infantry of the Royal Dutch East Indies Army J. de Roo. 2.9.1944. Note the American weapons and uniforms. NIMH AKL027827

Some of the operations performed by the Dutch:
 
Operations Tiger I-VI (Java) November 1942- July 1943, 10 men landed in six different teams. It is thought all members were captured and shot as none were seen again.
 

An IDS report on Tiger II

 
Operation Lion (1942) Celebes, all men missing in action. The follow-on Operation Apricot which landed in January 1945 to find the Lion commandos was also unlucky but was able to extract via Cataline after losing just one man.
 
Operation Flounder (1942)  Ceram Island, eight men, at least two executed
 
Operations Walnut I-III (1942-43) Aroe Islands, all teams presumed killed
 
Operation Oaktree/Crayfish (1942–44)– saw Dr. Jean Victor de Bruyn, a Dutch colonial district officer who had escaped in early 1942, return via Australian flying boat insertion in November 1942 with rifles and ammunition to organize and train native Papuan guerillas that spent the next 22 months raiding and ambushing Japanese positions, pillaging supplies and destroying ammunition dumps. Dr. De Bruyn was withdrawn by PBY in July 1944 from Hagers lake, escaping advancing Japanese once again
 

Dr Jean Victor de Bruyn and his native Papuan soldiers in Dutch New Guinea, 1943. Note the five soldiers in KNIL uniforms. Never stronger than a platoon, De Bruyn’s partisans tied down a battalion-strong Japanese force

 
Operation Whiting (1943) A joint six-man Dutch/Australian force was sent in to establish a coast watching station above Hollandia in February. By October, they had been captured and publicly beheaded. 
 

A photograph found on the body of a dead Japanese soldier showed Indonesian Private (Pte) M. Reharin, a member of the Netherlands East Indies (NEI) Forces wearing a blindfold about to be beheaded with a sword by Yunome Kunio. The execution was ordered by Vice Admiral Kamada, the commander of the Japanese Naval Forces at Aitape

 
Operation Prawn (1944) landing seven men of a NEFIS shore party from the Dutch submarine K XV on the coast of Sorong, New Guinea. 
 
Operation Firetree (1945) involved a 10-man NEIFIS team landing on the Soela Islands to access the situation. The detailed report on the shore party by its English-speaking Christian Ambonese commander, LT (and future Indonesian minister) Julius Tahija, shines a light on the types of operations these groups conducted. 
 

A page from the Firetree after action report

 
Operation Inco (1945) Dutch submarine K XV landed and extracted a small NEIFIS shore party at six different places along the Damar islands off Java for recon. 
 
Operation Opossum— April 1945, a 10-man Z Special Unit op with 3 Dutch officers attached to the island of Ternate near Borneo to rescue the Sultan of Ternate, Muhammad Jabir Syah. The sultan and his family were taken to Morotai by PT boat. 
 
Operation Parsnip (1945) a five-man NEIFIS shore party landed from Dutch submarine K XV on the north coast of Java. They were picked up almost immediately by the Japanese and two commandos were killed.
 
Operations Platypus I-XI (1945) involved small 2-man teams of mixed Australian and Dutch commandos inserted by folboats, prahu canoes, and rubber dinghies from submarines along the Balikpapan area of Dutch Borneo between March and July then resupplied by air as needed. This is one of the more successful operations and most operators survived. The companion all-Australian Operations Python I-V, Agas, and Semut, involving about 90 Z Special Unit Commandos operating deep into the interior of British Borneo and Sarawak, were likewise successful. 
 
As noted by the Australian War Memorial: 
 
These operations were at best dangerous, and at worst suicidal. The series of landing parties on Java known as “Tiger I–VI” were captured and executed almost to a man. Similar fates befell the “Walnut” ( Aroe Islands ) and “Whiting” (Dutch New Guinea) groups, and in all, nearly 40 lives were lost.
 
However, some successful operations were undertaken. In general, however, they tended to be those involving groups already cut off behind enemy lines, reasonably well-armed, and acting as guerrillas. The “Oaktree” party, in particular, based in the remote country of central Dutch New Guinea, and under the command of the redoubtable Captain J.V. de Bruijn, remained a thorn in the side of the Japanese for more than two years between 1942 and 1944. This group was able to supply valuable intelligence, tie-down a superior enemy force, and maintain the prestige of the Dutch among the inhabitants of the area. Sadly, it was the exception rather than the rule.
A Dutch commando is a character, Lieutenant J.A. (Jan) Veitch, in the 1982 Australian war sleeper, Attack Force Z, featuring an Australian Z Special Unit team in a covert operation based on Operation Opossum, where a team of commandos rescued the local sultan on the Japanese-occupied island of Ternate near Borneo.
 
 
In the end, the NEIFIS and Korps Insulinde would accept the surrender of some 15,000 Japanese troops on Sumatra. 
 
Speaking of the end, post VJ-Day, the NEFIS and Korps Insulinde would soon morph into the Korps Speciale Troepen to fight the budding Indonesian insurgency into 1950, then grow into today’s modern Korps Commandotroepen. 
 
But that is another story. 

How Many Can You ID?

Check out this layout of Warsaw Pact and WWII Allied small arms captured by U.S. Marines of the 22nd MAU from Cuban stores of the Grenadan People’s Revolutionary Army in that briefly-Marxist British Commonwealth nation in October 1983:

Note the Marine in the top left corner in ERDL camo with a slung M16A1, M1 helmet, smoke grenade, and early PASGIT kevlar vest. Notably, the Army’s 82nd Airborne and Ranger units in the same op had kevlar helmets. DOD Photo 330-CFD-DN-ST-85-0202 by PH2 D. Wujcik, USN, via the National Archives. https://catalog.archives.gov/id/6395935

Give up?

Official caption: Seized weapons on display are: (clockwise from the back) Soviet-made 82 mm M-36 mortars, 5 Soviet 7.62 mm PK general-purpose machine guns, two Bren light machine guns, 7.62 mm ammunition, two AK-47 assault rifles, an RPG-2 portable rocket launcher, a 7.62 mm Mosin-Nagant rifle, a Czechoslovakian made Model-52 7.62 mm rifle and a US-made .45 cal. M-3A1 submarine gun

Brenning Up, 75 Years ago today

WWII, Papua New Guinea. 14 April 1945. Skrim-and-leaf camoed Private John Davies, armed with a Bren Mark 2 gun, conceals himself behind some cover during an attack by the 24th Australian Infantry Battalion against the Japanese at the Hatai Junction on Buin Road.

AWM 091023

Pvt. Davies has the tool wallet, typically carried on the webbing, strapped to the butt of his Bren.

Each British Commonwealth soldier at the time typically carried a pair of magazines for his section’s Bren gun. The large ammunition pouches on the 1937 Pattern Web Equipment were designed around the Bren magazine. However it was the task of the gunner himself to tote his tool kit.

A 1943-marked Bren tool tin in my collection, along with an Australian-marked Enfield .38/200 and holster.

The Bren remained in common use in the British Army, rechambered in 7.62 NATO, through the Falklands. The Australians, who kept the gun in very active service in the Korean War, the Malayan Emergency, and the Indonesia–Malaysia confrontation, kept the later L4A4 model (7.62) LMG in reserve until 1990.

PIATing around Holland with the lads, 75 Years ago today

An eight-man fighting patrol of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI), Elst, Gelderland, 2 March 1945.

Photograph B 15008 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums.

They are well-armed with Lee–Enfield No. 4 Mk I .303 rifles, a beautiful Mk.I/II Bren gun with its distinctive champaign flute muzzle cone, STEN MkII submachine guns, and a PIAT tank zapper. Notably, all of the above were adopted after 1938.

The 83mm PIAT first saw service in 1943 during the Allied invasion of Sicily, and, while it looks light, weighed 32-pounds, unloaded. Nonetheless, it was considered “outstandingly effective” and remained in service through the 1950s, even seeing secondary use by Israel in Palestine and the French in Indochina.

You never know what is in those Danish cookie tins

When I was a little kid, my Nana, who hailed from Central Europe and never really gave up the accent among other things, used to have a love of Danish cookies. The kind that come in the little tin. Well, whenever I visited I would love to run across one of these said tins and pluck out a tasty morsel.

– Only to find they were, more often than not, filled with knickknacks, sewing supplies, or other odds and ends of grandmadom.

Well, in Denmark, it seems that you never really knew what was in gran’s attic, closet, or basement. Maybe gran’s family was in the Resistance back in the day…and kept some of the goodies just in case.

The South Jutland Police posted images to social media last week of some 25 weapons and 100 grenades turned in as part of a reprieve for those with illegal or unregistered arms, many of which may have a connection to Danish history.

Occupied by Germany during World War II, Denmark was home to a well-organized network of underground resistance units, often equipped by the Allies through the OSS and SOE. Among the weapons brought down from attics and up from under floorboards last month were STEN submachine guns, an anti-tank rocket launcher, a BREN light machine gun, and various bolt-action rifles including German Mausers.

What a cookie assortment!

Check out more in my column at Guns.com.

And don’t get too exited on that next tin of cookies.

Related: Freddie Oversteegen was 14 years old when a gentleman visited her family home in the Netherlands to ask her mother if she’d allow her daughters to join the resistance.

 

 

Bren Light Machine Guns: A British import/export

One of the iconic light machine gun designs of the past century has to be the British Bren gun with their distinctive top-mounted magazine and WWII starring role. Yet ironically, if you look into the history of these guns, they may owe more to a town in central Europe named Brno and Toronto Canada than they do to England.

In 1921, the Czech firm of Zbrojovka Brno, (ZB) began experimenting with a compact light machine gun that fired a full sized round from a 20-round top-mounted box magazine. Gas operated, air cooled, selectively fired, this gun became fully fleshed out by 1926 and was adopted by the Czech army as the ZB v26. By 1938 when Hitler marched into Czechoslovakia, over 120,000 of these handy guns were sold to two dozen countries around the world.

Then production really took off…

ronnie bren giun girl
Read the rest in my column at Guns.com

The new CZ 805 BREN Gun, oh how sweet it is

After World War One the country of Czechoslovakia emerged from the ashes of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. The new nation had to build everything up from scratch. Her army, made up of men who had fought for the Russians, Austrians, and French, had an amalgam of arms and munitions that was as varied as the colors of the rainbow. The first thing the new country did was seek its own armament.

In 1926 this led to a new light machine gun known in Czechoslovakia as the Zb.v 26. With its plans escaping from the country after it was taken over by Hitler in 1938, the gun went into production in Britain as the BREN gun. The name Bren was derived from Brno, Moravia, the Czechoslovak city where the Zb vz. 26 was originally designed (in the Zbrojovka Brno Factory), and Enfield, site of the British Royal Small Arms Factory.

(The WWII Bren gun was about as old-school sexy as you could get)

(The WWII Bren gun was about as old-school sexy as you could get)

This gun went on to be possibly one of the best light machine guns in history, seeing service around the world as late as the 1982 Falklands War and the 1991 Gulf War.

Still following along?

Well fast forward to the 1950s. The Soviets had come in after 1945 and ran Hitler out but decided to stick around for the next four decades, placing the country on the front lines of the Cold War. Not wanting to arm their forces with the AK-47, the Czechs designed the Vz.58 rifle, considered by many to be the best 7.62x39mm assault rifle ever made, and issued it for generations.

When the Soviets moved to the 5.45x45mm caliber in the late 1970s, the CZ factory started a redesign of the Vz.58 to accept this new caliber. This led to the LADA project in 1986. By the 1990s the Soviets themselves had left and the now Czech Republic was looking to join NATO.

Which in a round about way led to this bad boy:

And no, its not airsoft...

And no, its not airsoft…

Read the rest in my column at CZTalk.com