British Militaria

Buyer’s Guide: WWII British and Commonwealth Militaria 
Buyer’s Guide for World War II British and Commonwealth Militaria on eBay: Avoiding some of the minefields of fakes and forgeries.
 • Not that long ago “intentional misrepresentations” were largely limited to World War II German militaria. In the field of British and Commonwealth items this practice for financial gain was basically limited to shaving and renaming campaign medals from mundane names to those from famous battles and the participating regiments. THIS IS NO LONGER THE CASE, everything from embroidered/printed cloth insignia to specialized clothing (even fake labels, i.e. Trousers, Parachutist) and field equipment have been or are being reproduced. Collecting should be fun, and the challenge limited to trying to find a given item, not the constant application of forensic science.
 • The growing demand of World War II re-enactment groups has driven this market. Legitimate, enterprising individuals have filled this need with copies which are identified as such. Unfortunately pure greed, and probably a bit of one-ups-man-ship, has caused unprincipled persons to either produce intentional fakes, or pass reproductions off as a righteous article. Personally I find the latter practices to be reprehensible, as it not only cheats the unaware new collector, but casts doubt on righteous collectors. What is even worse is the significant increase of these items appearing on e-Bay, with the unsuspecting buyer giving the unscrupulous seller glowing positive feedback out of sheer ignorance. This imposes a severe detriment to the total e-Bay process. A specific ploy that has been unfortunately occurring with increasing  regularity on e-Bay is to describe an item as being of a WWII type, without using the words, "original", "genuine", or "issue".

 • Check the nature of any negative feedback, is it related to questioned authenticity? Ask seller for additional clear close-up photos and/or an expanded description of condition and details. Most will be happy to provide it. Most reputable dealers, like most major auction houses, will offer an unconditional lifetime guarantee on the items they handle. Check sites of known honest dealers (What Price Glory, Pegasus, and formerly King and Country) selling identified reproductions/replicas. Check specific web sites that discuss and show examples of faked items. Test thread, cotton and rayon (WWII vintage) burns to ash; synthetic thread (post WWII) melts. A helmet or painted piece of field equipment, which is over 50 years old, will not have the smell of new paint or leather, but it may well smell of long-term storage if newly discovered. Some enterprising soul will probably soon come up with spray cans of “Essence of Warehouse”. 
 • As the supply diminishes campaign medals and regimental cap badges are now more frequently subject to reproduction; normally both medals and badges are die-struck not cast, and not plated. Exception being a limited number of badges to WWII Indian regiments of the British Army, i.e. 2nd Punjab Regiment, and officer’s regimental cap badges and collar dogs in silver plate and gilt. An excellent book on British and Commonwealth Cap Badges is Military Badge Collecting(several editions) by Gaylor (ISBN 0 85052 758 9). The definitive work on British Cap Badges (up to 1979) remains the tomes by Arthur L. Kipling and Hugh L. King, Head-Dress Badges of the British Army Vol. I and Vol. II (ISBN 13: 9780584109474 and 0584109474), but these two books, in any condition, are very expensive and represent a major investment. If you decide to invest in either of the Kipling and King volumes it is strongly suggested that you try and find copies of the older editions. The quality of the plates in the older editions is far superior to those in the newer reprints. An excellent discussion on original versus reproduction cap badges (with detailed colored photographs) can be found on the web site; http://www.canadiansoldiers.com, created by Michael A. Dorosh, CD (go to old format pages as directed on the site). Why Canada, a former member of the Commonwealth, as the first example? Because Canadian Parachute Corps insignia have been one of the most frequently reproduced of all "British" special forces insignia, and being a relatively small unit, along with the 1st Special Service Force, provide furtive ground for counterfeiters. Thus providing a classic example for discussion.

Comparative Examples of original WWII 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion Cap Badge and Reproduction (Images courtesy of canadiansoldiers.com, Bill Alexander and Michael A. Dorosh, CD)

WWII Canadian Parachute Corps, O.R.s
Brass

WWII Canadian Parachute Corps
Fantasy Badge

Figure 1 - The first badge is a genuine WWII 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion (introduced in 1942), whereas the next badge is slightly larger, not authorized and of totally unknown origin, i.e. a fantasy badge. The badge is similar to the WWII bi-metal badge issued to officers in silver plate and gilt, however with one glaring exception, the metals used are reversed. On the righteous badge the parachute canopy and scroll are silver and the wings are gilt (see figure below).  A more detailed discussion of these two badges, as well as others, can be found on the www.canadiansoldiers.com web site.

WWII Canadian Parachute Corps, Officer's (left), O.R.s
Bakelite (right)

 Figure 2 - At left is WWII 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion officer's cap badge (possibly by W. Scully, Ltd. of Toronto), and at right is an example of the chocolate-colored plastic (bakelite) badge issued to the battalion from 1944. There are also excellent close-up colored photographs of these badges (obverse and reverse) in both the books, The Canadian Soldier in North-West Europe, 1944-1945, Jean Bouchery, Histoire & Collections, Paris, 2003, ISBN 2-913903-51-7 and D-Day Paratroopers, The British, The Canadians, The French, Jean Bouchery and Philippe Charbonnier, Histoire & Collections, Paris, 2004, ISBN 2-915239-31-2. The latter book being an outstanding reference on the subject, with extensive detailed colored photography. Insignia being particularly well covered. It is highly recommended and well worth the investment. 
Figure 3 - The following figure provides another close up of the detail on both the bakelite and brass WWII Canadian Parachute Corps O.R.s cap badges. Unfortunately both are frequent subjects of reproduction. In many instances a side by side comparison with a verified genuine badge is the only way of insuring a badge's authenticity (With acknowledgment to "silverwash" on the British and Commonwealth Military Badge Forum).

Genuine WWII Canadian Parachute Corps O.R.s
Bakelite and Brass Cap Badges

Figures 4 and 5 - These two photographs show the front and reverse of a genuine WWII Canadian Parachute Corps Officer's cap badge manufactured by W. Scully. It is bi-metal, executed in sterling silver and gilt. Genuine specimens, when they infrequently come on the current market are realizing prices in the $1200.00 to $1800.00 CDN range (See http://upthe royalsmilitaria.com/). It is acknowledged by most collectors that all genuine WWII Canadian Parachute Corps badges, both Officers and O.R.s, are lugged rather than having a slider (With acknowledgment to "GregK"  on the British and Commonwealth Military Badge Forum).

Genuine WWII Canadian Parachute
Corps bi-metal Officer's Cap Badge

Reverse of same badge showing
attachment pins and lugs

As additional guidance the following examples were recently presented on the British & Commonwealth Military Badge Forum. The first badge was acquired from a highly respected dealer, and sold as authentic, but the purchaser still had some doubts due to some lack of "crispness" apparent in the badge. Plausible explanation is that the badge was struck by an already well used die.



The following annotated photograph details specific features of the badge that render it suspect.


This second example was temporally removed from a World War II beret, both of which have impeccable provenance, establishing it as genuine.


The following two images show an excellent reproduction of the WWII Canadian Parachute Corps beret badge which is currently available for sale on the Internet. They are clearly being advertised and sold as reproductions, but due to their high quality, both weight and accuracy, may in a few years present a major challenge to collectors in differentiating them from originals. Particularly note the artificial aging on the second image.



• Embroidered unit titles, formation badges, skill-at-arms badges, parachute wings which are genuine, normally show exposed clean stitching on the underside. Reproductions frequently have thicker thread, with the threads crossing over, or are totally covered by a black cloth backing, but there are even exceptions with backing, for example the black paper backing on glider pilot wings. Be wary of items, which are offered as rare and/or unique, this is particularly the case with items from elite units, i.e. Parachute Regiment, Glider Pilot Regiment, Commandos, Special Air Service Regiment, Commando Special Boat Section, Royal Marine Special Boat Service, 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, First Special Service Force, Gurkha Parachute Battalions, Long Range Desert Group, Jedburgh Teams, Combined Operations Pilotage Parties, and Royal Navy Midget Submarines. Be aware that like current US Navy Seal Teams, official insignia of these units was often very limited. Be extremely careful of insignia offered in pairs, particularly of units from WWII. Genuine original items are most commonly offered as single items. The exception to this guidance would be current issue to an elite unit, and even then militaria dealers and collectors will normally offer single examples. Excellent books are available which give description of the unit and photographic examples of their insignia. Four such books are Parachute Wings by Bragg and Turner (ISBN 0-9506426-2-2), Allied Special Forces Insignia by Taylor (ISBN 0- 850252-582-9), Special Forces Insignia British and Commonwealth Units by Shortt (ISBN 0-85368-875-3) and British Army Cloth Insignia 1940 to the present by Davis (ISBN 0-85368-709-9). The previously cited web site; www.canadiansoldiers.com also includes an equally detailed discussion of reproduction cloth insignia and webbed equipment, again with photographic examples.

SPECIFIC COMPARATIVE EXAMPLE OF QUESTIONABLE VS ORIGINAL BRITISH WWII CLOTH INSIGNIA

Alleged WWII British Airborne Forces Formation Badge

Figure 4 - Recent WWII British Airborne Forces Formation Badge offered on e-Bay (Described as matching pair, war dated; In fairness to the seller there was no use of the words "genuine" or "original" in the description of the badges. However, in 47 years of collecting I personally have never seen a British Formation badge, or for that matter any British cloth insignia, with a "Broad arrow", WD (War Department) and date marking on the underside. The only possible exception to this apparently being an extremely few WWI shoulder titles, which I have never seen. Please note the color and level of detail in the embroidery. Also observe the thickness and crossover stitching of the light blue thread on the underside.If possible recommend download all the figures shown, as jpgs, and enlarge view of each for clearer detail. This specific formation badge was probably manufactured in Pakistan, where there is a thriving cottage industry of both forth-rightly declared replicas and otherwise. The same seller sold two identical pairs of this patch within a 24 hour period, one pair at $45.00 USD and the other at $50.99 USD, both with praising feedback from the buyer. One unsuspecting soul purchased in excess of $1200.00 USD worth of these poor quality reproductions from the same seller, and left glowing feedback regarding his "good fortune"!?  CAVEAT EMPTOR.


Another reproduction of the WWII British Airborne
Formation Badge, although better executed it was
probably manufactured in the 1980's 

Figure 5 - WWII British Airborne Forces Formation Badge which for quite some time I had thought was righteous. An excellent reproduction, none the less a reproduction. Upon further 'guided' reflection I have at least retained the capacity to remember that most of the insignia I purchased at Laurence Corners, London, as a midshipman in 1955 were regimental shoulder titles, not formation badges. I did have the presence of mind at the time, however, to obtain a pair of RAF and RAAF wings which I still retain.

The specific source of reproduction patch shown in Figure 3 isn’t even worthy of the finer levels of discernment which should be used in detecting a copy from an original printed Pegasus patch. These include (but are not limited to):

• Compare the tail part from the original with the reproduction.
The reproduction version has a thinner tail coming out of the body than the original!
And the curves in the tail differ from the original!

• Compare the spear-point from the original with the reproduction.
The repro version has a triangle like point, the originals have more of a harpoon point, and note the ribbons on spear’s shaft end from the original and the reproduction.

• Compare the wing tips with each other, the original has better outlines in the small segments.

• Compare Bellerophon’s foot sticking out under the horse’s body, they are much thicker in the reproduction than the original.

• Compare on printed patches whether the print runs more diagonally (on the bias) to the cloth weave (WWII) versus more horizontally (post WWII).

• Compare where the spear shaft passes through the feathers of Pegasus’s wing. On the original between feather 4 and 5, counting from where the wing starts to curve back, and on the copy directly through feather 4.

• Compare the weight of the cloth. Originals tend to be stiffer (thicker) than reproductions. The print should also be slightly visible on the backside of the cloth, as the manufacturers used maroon ink printed on light blue cloth.


• On the printed patches the fold/sewing border near the edge of the square should be indicated by dots, not dashes.


It is my personal opinion that the decade from 2000 to 2010 were the halcyon years for the e-Bay auction site, particularly in the collection of militaria. I acquired items that I thought I would never see, and others that had I had the resources, would and tried to bid on. As mentioned elsewhere, it seems like from that period forward there has been a precipitous decline in both the scope and quality of items which have been available. This has been exacerbated by the proliferation of both reproductions and outright fraudulent offerings. All that having been said, there are still occasional “gems” that come on the e-Bay auction block.

Recently one of the members of the British and Commonwealth Military Badge Forum successfully bid and won such an item. An Australian member of the forum acquired an almost pristine pair of embroidered World War II British Airborne Formation Badges. The seller, as well as a number of bidders, recognized them as righteous, so the hammer price was not a bargain. Having received permission from that forum member, and with acknowledgement and gratitude, they are shown here as an example of what is still occasionally out there, and precisely what the collector should be looking for.

A matching pair of genuine WWII British Airborne Formation
Badges (Embroidered Type - Front Side)

The same pair of badges (Equally important for authentication
 - Reverse side showing embroidery stitching)

As you can see I did not mention the application of forensic science in total jest. And all this is applicable to a single formation badge. Refer to this author's companion guide describing WWII British Combined Operations (Commandos) formation badges. Per the theme song of "Monk"(the television detective program), “It’s a jungle out there.” To help navigate that jungle there are three excellent web sites that I have discovered. The first is The British Military Badge Forum (http://www.britishbadgeforum.com; Truly an exceptional site with real experts forthcoming with extremely accurate and detailed information!) and the second is the Australian Military Reference  (http://auspfor.tripod.com) which includes the Special Air Service Insignia of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth (A caveat however on this site, as an expert has advised that some of the badges are in his words, "a bit dodgy", i.e. reproductions or worse), and a third on Australian Army Badges and Patches (http://www.military-badge.com). All three of sites provide a broad range of expert knowledge, including detailed photographs and extensive discussions. In addition, for an extremely detailed set of excellent color photographs and discussion of RAF, Army Air Corps (AAC), Glider Pilot Regiment and Fleet Air Arm (FAA), as well as Commonwealth wings and insignia, see; Aviation Wings and Badges of World War II (http://www.ww2wings.com/main.shtml). Another very informative site for cap badges of Scottish regiments of the British Army and some Commonwealth nations, with excellent colored photography, is http://www.geocities.com/scotlandswarriors/main.html.

Genuine WWII British Airborne Forces Formation Badges
and Airborne Stripe

Figure 6 - Matching Pair of WWII British Airborne Forces Formation Badges and Airborne Stripe offered at auction by Bosley's Military Auctions on bidwyze.com in April 2006 (These insignia were authenticated by the auctioneers and guaranteed to be original.
.
Alleged WWII Airborne Stripes
Curved Configuration

Alleged WWII Airborne Stripes
Curved Configuration (back)

Figure 7 - Matching pair of WWII British Airborne Forces Curved Title Stripes recently offered on e-Bay. Given close inspection of enlarged views of the imagery I would say, with about a 90 - 95% confidence level, that these are very good reproductions. Note the slight irregularity of the lettering and off-set positioning of the lettering on the wool felt strip. What is deceiving is the clean tight consistency of the stitching on the underside. Lettering (in a single color) is easier to reproduce in embroidery than more complex figures and symbols, particularly with multiple colors. There was a whole series of extremely well done reproductions of British elite forces insignia which were produced in the 1970's, including these title stripes. I am basing my judgment on an original of this exact title strip which I obtained from a London war surplus store in 1955. In the original insignia the lettering is slightly thicker and more consistent in both form and size. Compare with the lettering in the straight AIRBORNE strip in Figure 5, which is an original. This would have been a tough call without an original for direct comparison. Again in fairness to the seller, they are not stipulating these to be genuine and provide a full return policy, but there is an inference in the wording of the description.


Here in a larger scale photograph is another example of an original WWII curved Airborne Forces title showing both the stitching in the front as well as the reverse.




Alleged WWII British Parachute Brevet
"Jump Wings"

Figure 8 - This pair of wings was recently being offered on e-Bay as a set of British jump wings. Note the inverted U-shaped highlighting stitches in the parachute canopy, the canopy's bulbous shape, as well as the decidedly triangular shape of each wing. Note that the lower edge of the wings is straight across, without even a hint of a downward slope towards the tips. Also note the excessive cross-stitching on the back side of the wings. If this set of wings was being offered as a reproduction of WWII Indian Airborne wings the description would be accurate. If compared with current issue Pakistani jump wings and either current or WWII issue British wings (see Bragg & Turner's book cited above; pp.17 and 87), the highly probable recent Pakistani manufacture of this set of wings is evident. It's of interest that multiple duplicates of this very same brevet have been offered on several recent e-Bay auctions by the same individual as the insignia in Figure 4 above.

Although I'm not absolutely certain, based upon both books by Bob Bragg and Roy Turner, as well as extended visits with both gentlemen going over a wide range of specimen insignia, I believe that the following set of British jump wings to be genuine. They are probably mid to late WWII issue. As a brief aside qualifying the bona fides of these two experts; Maj Robert J. Bragg was in pilot training with the RAF in the waning days of WWII, and served with 13 BN PARA (TA), of the Parachute Regiment. Roy Turner served in 45 Royal Marine Commando and saw action in Malaya and Aden. In addition to jointly authoring two definitive works on Parachute Wings of the World, each has been repeatedly cited over decades for their extensive knowledge and invaluable contributions by many other authors of insignia references. Bob Bragg served for an extended period as the president of the Manchester Chapter of the Parachute Regimental Association.  Roy Turner has been a frequent and continuing contributor to Chute and Dagger The Journal of Parachute and Special Forces Insignia Collector Group, for decades.


Figure 9 - Conversely the next example set of jump wings, while evaluated as genuine WWII and unissued on a well established internet appraisal/price guide page, are in my personal opinion highly suspect. The exact wording was, "ORIGINAL WOOL WWII BRITISH AIRBORNE PARATROOPER JUMP WINGS BADGE PATCH CHEESECLOTH BACK WITH SERIAL NUMBER Y8763 PATCH IS IN MINT/EXCELLENT UNISSUED CONDITION BLACKLIGHT TESTED DOES NOT GLOW!!!" Unfortunately I have in my personal collection several sets of excellent reproductions produced in the 1970s, which bear a remarkable similarity. I do not have exact information when the practice of serializing the wings was initiated, but believe it to be post-WWII, and am researching.


Figure 10 - Although not quite as popular a target for reproduction, British WWII Glider Pilot wings have also fallen victim to copying. I have reasonable confidence, again based on several specimens in my personal collection, that the following example is a reproduction set. Obviously they are more intricate than the jump wings and more demanding for the counterfeiter  to copy. The detailing in the lion, king's crown, wing structure, and most importantly the back, should be closely examined.
.

• In the areas of Armament, Ordnance, Headgear, Uniforms and Field Equipment the following excellent books are available; WWII Tommy Series by Gordon (ISBN’s 1-57510-018-5, 1-57510-107-6, 01- 57510-108-4, 1-57510-122-X), British Army Uniforms & Insignia of World War Two by Davis (ISBN 0-85368-609-2), For King and Country, British Airborne Uniforms, Insignia & Equipment in World War II by Glenn (has some errors in details, ISBN 0-7643-0794-0), The World War II Tommy and Khaki Drill & Jungle Green by Brayley and Ingram (ISBN’s 1-86126-190-X and 1-86126-360-0).
 • Reference material not only provides you with knowledge and resultant opportunity, it also provides a form of provenance in esoteric areas substantiating the existence and authenticity of items in your collection. Some advanced collectors have probably acquired early on, now unique items, which the newer collector may suspect as being reproductions because of their rarity combined with exceptional condition. Acquire what you can afford in a reference library in the field(s) of your interest. Although infrequently, a good reference library affords you privileged knowledge on an item which is scarce, if not unique. One classic example: In James Ladd’s book, Commandos and Rangers of World War II there is a line drawing of a 1943 COPP Swimmer and his gear. Included is a very simple drawing of what is named R.G. infrared gear. The very existence of this equipment was Top Secret until March 1944. A very brief description of it’s function is found in the book’s glossary. Even the existence and employment of Combined Operations Pilotage Parties (COPP’s) was classified up to 1957. A few years ago a small quantity of Receiver, RG (Red-Green Infrared, O.S. 960 G.A., ZA 23119, aka Type K TABBY I-F Receiver) complete with virtually new leather carrying case and Ministry of Supply acceptance label (signed and dated 27 April 1944) came onto the surplus market and e-Bay. In addition to their use in the invasion of North Africa and Normandy, these receivers represent “0” Generation night vision technology (1939), pre-dating the US M2 Sniperscope by four years. Without the book I would have had no knowledge of what I was looking at on the e-Bay auction site.
• For anyone who might be interested there is additional discussion with photographic examples of another famous formation badge, which the COPP's specifically wore. Please see the author's companion guide on the WWII British Combined Operations Formation Badge (Commandos) which follows below on this same page..
 • One caveat, be careful of books authored by less than knowledgeable persons, showing equipment and insignia which is inaccurate for the time and place. Example; Patchett machine carbine (became the successor to the Sten, known as the Sterling, but not until much later, although there is the contention by some that a very limited number of prototypes were present ) in the hands of a paratrooper at Arnhem (September 1944). Honorary South Staffordshire title with glider (issued later) on the shoulder of an air-landing trooper during the same battle. Referring to contemporary photographs, when available, can help alleviate this potential problem.
 • Try to build and maintain a computer reference file, i.e. jpgs, of verified authentic militaria items of specific interest. A recommendation would be to use the various sites mentioned in this guide as an initial basis for a reference file. Particularly try and find detailed, close-up images and pictures of the underside of cloth insignia and cap badges. Run off colored copies of your files to carry with you when going to collectors shows, and when traveling to areas with potential. Obviously if the data is on a laptop, and with you, this isn't necessary. 
• Having solely focused on how to try and avoid fakes, re-strikes and replicas, it should be said that for all but the most die-heart purists they have a place, and are usually found in most collections. This is due to the fact that in most cases eventually it is realized that the “real thing” is virtually unobtainable, either due to rarity and/or cost. At this point an identified copy, marked as such, may serve as a “filler” depending on the individual collector’s attitude and means.  There are several highly reputable firms, as mentioned above, which produce replicas that are identified and sold as precisely that. Their products range over a wide spectrum, everything from rare uniforms and field equipment, to regimental cap badges and decorations. I’m not personally endorsing any specific producer, but the following web sites come to mind as having quality offerings at reasonable prices; http://egframes.net/, http://www.whatpriceglory.com/, http://www.ima-usa.com/index.php, http://www.replicaters.com/index.html. Although outside the WWII scope, http://www.highlandbrigade.com/index.asp, produces replicas of historical dress uniforms of the Scottish Regiments of the British Army which are not cheap, but  truly of museum quality. It was only through this source of uniforms and accoutrements that I was able to complete a mannequin of a Lieutenant-Colonel of the Gordon Highlanders in full-dress, circa 1936, the year I was born. Unfortunately Highland Brigade is no longer in business.

Lieut-Colonel 92nd Gordon Highlanders
Review Order circa 1936

A completely safe alternative to all of this, particularly to those with limited space and resources, are the current range of 1:6 Scale military figures, armaments, and equipments. These are not your dad’s G.I. Joes! The realism, accuracy and completeness of these figures is unbelievable. You can acquire a significant miniature museum which, except for size, rivals the displays of the Imperial War Museum in London.

WWII British Combined Operations Formation Badges
WWII British Combined Operations Formation Badges on e-Bay and the Combined Operations Pilotage Parties (COPPs) - A Classic Case Study

Every time I believe I have seen everything in the way of blatantly fraudulent examples of British WWII insignia, another even more glaring item turns up. Case in point being the recent offerings of the famous Combined Operations formation badge (Eagle, Anchor and Thompson sub-machine gun (aka “Tommy gun” or machine carbine). Collecting should be fun, and the challenge limited to trying to find a given item, not the constant application of forensic science.

One of the more obscure and highly classified elite units of the British Armed Forces during WWII were the Combined Operations Pilotage Parties (COPPs). Their primary mission was landing beach and littoral reconnaissance (also known as Assault Pilotage) ahead of Allied amphibious invasion forces. Their very existence, let alone their actual operations, was classified until 1957 under the provisions of the Official Secrets Act.



A WWII Mk 9 Powered Aluminum Sectional Bulkheaded Canoe';
 COPP's used a similar, but simpler, cofiguration; circa 1943

In one of only a few available photographs, is a posed picture of an officer and petty officer of a COPP in a 'Cockle' (a collapsible kayak/canoe) clearly showing the “tombstone” configuration of the Combined Operations formation badge on their standard khaki battledress. In addition Royal Navy personnel wore the RN COMMANDO shoulder title (white lettering on curved dark blue felt stripe), and Royal Marine and Army personnel wore the COMMANDO SBS shoulder title (red lettering on curved dark blue felt stripe) and the green beret. To the best of my knowledge this is the only distinguishing insignia worn by the COPPs.

In regard to historical reference material, it not only provides you with knowledge and resultant opportunity, it also provides a form of provenance in esoteric areas substantiating the existence and authenticity of items in your collection. Some advanced collectors have probably acquired early on, now unique items, which the newer collector may suspect as being reproductions because of their rarity combined with exceptional condition. Acquire what you can afford in a reference library in the field(s) of your interest. Although infrequently, a good reference library affords you privileged knowledge on an item which is scarce, if not unique. One classic example: In James Ladd’s book, Commandos and Rangers of World War II there is a line drawing of a 1943 COPP Swimmer and his gear. Included is a very simple drawing of what is named R.G. infrared gear. The very existence of this equipment was Top Secret until March 1944. A very brief description of it’s function is found in the book’s glossary. A few years ago a small quantity of Receiver, RG (Red-Green Infrared, O.S. 960 G.A., ZA 23119, aka Type K TABBY I-F Receiver) complete with virtually new leather carrying case and Ministry of Supply acceptance label (signed and dated 27 April 1944) came onto the surplus market and eBay. In addition to their use in the invasion of North Africa and Normandy, these receivers represent “0” Generation night vision technology (1939), pre-dating the US M2 Sniperscope by four years. Without the book I would have had no knowledge of what I was looking at on the e-Bay auction site. There is a page in the blog archive titled, WWII British Special Forces Night Vision Technology, which contains a detailed analysis of this receiver.


Receiver, RG Infrared, O.S. 960 G.A., ZA 23119 circa 1944

There is an extensive and highly professional web page, http://www.combinedops.com/index.htm authored and maintained by Geoff Slee and Terry Carney. The research, drawings and photographs are an excellent resource to both novice and advanced collector alike.

The following example of current offerings on e-Bay, when compared with genuine original insignia, can only be classified as pathetic. It may be of interest to note that it has been offered, on multiple occasion, by the same seller who is regularly offering pairs of “war dated, WD and Broad arrow marked” Airborne Forces (Pegasus) formation badges. In 47 years of collecting I personally have never seen a British Formation badge, or for that matter any British cloth insignia, with a "Broad arrow", WD (War Department) and date marking on the underside. They must be so rare that they fall into the category collectors classify as "unobtainable"!!



Alleged WWII British Combined Operations
Formation Badge

Figure 1 - Several details can be immediately cited on this badge. The embroidery is not centered or correctly oriented on the blue felt  background. The details of the badge are extremely crude. Please note the slope/shape of the wings, the lack of accurate shape and detail in the gun, and the pointed triangular shape of the anchor flukes. The color of the red is off, perhaps intentionally to give the appearance of age. Note the thick thread and extensive cross-stitching on the under-side. Compare this badge with the following example. If possible download this image as well as the others in jpg format, in order to enlarge the size and clarify the resolution on the details.


Alleged WWII British Combined Operations
Formation Badges ("Tombstone" Configuration")
Figure 1a - Another pair of Combined Operations formation badges in the "tombstone" configuration, being offered on e-Bay by the same seller. The same observations as for Figure 1 apply here, with the exception that the shape of the anchor flukes has improved.


Genuine WWII British Combined Operations
Formation Badge

Figure 2 - A genuine original WWII Combined Operations formation badge. Contrast the orientation and placement of the insignia on the background material and the brightness of the red embroidery. Note the sharpness and level of detail in the execution of all elements of the design. The anchor is derived from the standard configuration of Baldt anchor, widely in use at the time. Note the shape of the anchor flukes. The eagle replicates the design found in Royal Air Force badges of the same vintage. Note the graceful slope of the wings and the beak of the  eagle. The M1921 Thompson sub-machine gun can actually be identified. Note the Cutts compensator on the muzzle, the fore-grip, trigger group, bolt, rear sight group and the accurate shape of the stock (Courtesy of www.combinedops.com, Geoff Slee and Terry Carney).


Alleged "variant"

Figure 3 - As if the insignia shown in Figure 1 isn't a sufficient insult to the collector's intelligence this example is over the top. Any similarity of this insignia to the original article is purely coincidental. I'm only being slightly facetious in claiming that this badge is the result of a faulty translation of a limited verbal description from English to Pakistani. The shape of the eagle is "unique". A particularly interesting note is the outline of the anchor shackle in the correct location, shown on the under-side, but not executed in the embroidery. I would certainly also enjoy an explanation of the anchor stock. Please don't try and offer the classic explanation that this is an extremely rare in-theatre made example.


Genuine WWII Combined Operations
Formation Badge ("Tombstone" Configuration)
Original Design submitted by
Lieut. D.A. Grant R.N.V.R.

Figures 4 and 5 - At least to end on a positive note, and provide another example of a righteous insignia, this badge reflects the intended end-product based upon an original approved sealed pattern, shown in the drawing. Note the consistency with Figure 2 (Courtesy of www.combinedops.com, Geoff Slee and Terry Carney.)

Genuine WWII Combined Operations Formation Badges
(Printed Circular Configuration - Front Side)


Genuine WWII Combined Operations Formation Badges
(Printed Circular Configuration - Reverse Side)

Figures 6 and 7 - Shown are a pair of genuine printed WWII Combined Operations Formation Badges in the circular configuration,  both sides of each badge are depicted, showing the correct "bleed through" of the printing.