Nazi flag with Airborne (?) patches sewn on?
February 10, 2021 7:44 PM   Subscribe

Uncle passed; we found behind a large, heavy red piece of material, with large swastika in the middle. There were dozens of military patches sewn on it. Some in English, (Mars Attack Force, Philippine Army, Honor Guard, but mostly symbols. Any clue what this might be? One theory was that GIs might have kept a captured flag and put their patches on it.
posted by ebesan to Society & Culture (38 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You would have to show pictures of some of the patches. It's fine if you don't want to show the swastika-- unfortunately we all know what that looks like. I have a pretty good familiarity with military unit insignia, and myself or other veterans can try to ID them for you.
posted by seasparrow at 8:04 PM on February 10, 2021 [2 favorites]

Did he serve, or inherit it from someone else? Or was he just a collector?
posted by wenestvedt at 4:46 AM on February 11, 2021

Is the flag the usual nazi flag? I.E. red, with a white circle in the middle, and a black swastika inside the white circle?

There was no "Mars Attack Force" in WWII. There was, though, a Mars Task Force, but it operated in Burma, not in the ETO (where, assumedly, a nazi flag would have come from). Does the patch at the top of that linked article resemble the one on the flag?

This is the seal of the Philippine Army. Does it match the one on the flag?
posted by Thorzdad at 6:22 AM on February 11, 2021 [2 favorites]

Could be a unit flag of some kind? A bunch of Army & Army Air Force units served in the Philippine Islands in WWII (like my grandpa's). His squadron received a couple of decorations from the Philippine government, which suggests something similar about this flag.

Wait, how big is this thing?
posted by wenestvedt at 6:30 AM on February 11, 2021

If you have a military museum near by maybe they can tell if it is authentic.
posted by tman99 at 10:22 AM on February 11, 2021 [2 favorites]

Tman99 has a solid suggestion, not just for authenticity but other general significance. In my youth, I remember learning that as my grandparents' generation aged and passed curators at war museums were being asked this sort of question by their descendants a lot.
posted by mhoye at 10:50 AM on February 11, 2021

45th Infantry Division had a yellow swastika on a red badge pre WW-II... what are the colors?
posted by cgs06 at 7:27 PM on February 11, 2021

This boils down to "no one can help without seeing the item, and no one blames you for it." :7)
posted by wenestvedt at 7:30 PM on February 11, 2021 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: how do I attach photos?
posted by ebesan at 9:31 AM on February 13, 2021

We don't have photos here but you can upload it to another site and then post a link. A lot of people use imgur for that; there might be better ones. (I use Flickr but it's a mess.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:58 PM on February 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

Yeah, Imgur works fine.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:45 AM on February 14, 2021

Response by poster: link to this -
posted by ebesan at 2:25 PM on February 15, 2021

Yep, these are largely (or all?) unit badges active in the South West Pacific Area in WWII - you can see the SWPA GHQ (General Headquarters) badge in the top right.
posted by zamboni at 5:18 PM on February 15, 2021

First row:
Ninth Air Force
97th Infantry Division
81st Infantry Division
US Army Air Forces
3rd Infantry Division
XXIV Corps
Merrill's Marauders, aka the 5307th Composite Unit (See the CBI Theater patches here.)
SWPA as mentioned above. The Honor Guard bar thing could be related to MacArthur's Honor Guard.
ROTC, circa WWII.
posted by zamboni at 5:45 PM on February 15, 2021

Strike the comment about Merrill's Marauders - that patch is specific to the China Burma India Theater, not that particular unit.
posted by zamboni at 5:57 PM on February 15, 2021

Unknown 1 is a Ledo Road patch.

Third row:
XI Corps
Unknown 2 - my guess is it's related to the CBI Theater badge, but with diagonal stripes and no star.
Army Amphibious Command, e.g. the Engineer Special Brigades.
Variant 1st Army
US Army Bomb Disposal, WWII Red Bomb
Second United States Army
US Army Europe Africa
Unknown 3
Persian Gulf Command
posted by zamboni at 6:59 PM on February 15, 2021

While Zamboni is doing such a fantastic job of identifying individual unit insignia, I'd like to give a couple of first impressions:

1. The preponderance of insignia are from units that in WW2 were assigned to the Pacific or China-Burma-India theaters.
2. There are more logistics and communications units than combat units represented.
3. I feel that eventually the triangular insignia down the outside center portion will probably be revealed to be communications or ordnance units, even though at first glance they have the same shape and color scheme of European US Army Armored divisions. They are not.
4. The two army unit insignia are for a Staff Sergeant. Interestingly, the US Army at this time had an equivalent rank called Technical Sergeant, but that is not represented here. A reasonable guess is that the two Staff Sergeant insignia belonged to the owner of the flag, since he would have two of them on his uniform. Another supposition would be that he was in a logistics field, not communications, ordnance or other technical specialty. If he was a technical specialist, he would probably have the other rank. Using straight Staff Sergeant rank denotes that he was probably not a technician.
5. One important note, at this time the Air Force was part of the Army, so your uncle may have been in the Army Air Force. There is at least one Army Air Force general insignia on this flag.
6. The Navy rating badge, according to this website, is "Temporary Wartime Specialist, IBM Punch Card Operator", which is just fascinating. Despite serving ten years in the US Navy, I did not know that was even a historical thing until now.

Well, those are my first hot takes. An enduring question, of course, is why someone who appears to have served in the Pacific is putting all these patches on a Nazi flag from the European Theater of Operations. It's odd.
posted by seasparrow at 7:25 PM on February 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

oops typo, in item #4, for unit insignia, instead read "rank insignia".
posted by seasparrow at 7:33 PM on February 15, 2021

Left side of circle, left to right, top to bottom:
South Atlantic Command (patch documentation)
Fourteenth Army (UK)
US Army Military District of Washington
Unknown 4
7th Service Command patch embroidered with Crowder (doco)
26th Infantry Division
XVIII Airborne Corps
Ninth US Army Airforce The Airborne tab probably indicates Troop Carrier Command (doco)
Generic Armored Forces insignia
6th Armored Division
8th Armored Division
9th Armored Division
posted by zamboni at 7:48 PM on February 15, 2021

OK, I see it now. Zamboni is right, those are Armored Division patches. I'm more used to seeing their modern versions, and also my eyes are old.
posted by seasparrow at 7:51 PM on February 15, 2021

First line below circle:
US Army Air Forces Specialist Badge: Photographer
US Army Air Force Specialist Badge: Communication
Army Ground Forces with a white border.
Yellow and black Prop and Wings
Blue and yellow Prop and Wings
US Army Air Forces Specialist Badge: Armament
US Army Air Forces Specialist Badge: Weather
US Army Air Forces Specialist Badge: Engineering
posted by zamboni at 8:44 PM on February 15, 2021

Third line below circle:
Army Service Forces Service Commands, First through Ninth
Anti-Aircraft Command
Anti-Aircraft Eastern Defense Command
99th Infantry Div
posted by zamboni at 9:25 PM on February 15, 2021

Fourth line below circle:
III Corps
Iceland Base Command
Army Specialized Training Program
Unknown 6 (Red bomb starburst)
Unknown 7 (Roundel)
US Military Academy
Unknown 8 (SC)
Unknown 9 (Two red bombs)
Tank destroyer
Northwest Service Command (upside down)
posted by zamboni at 10:08 PM on February 15, 2021

Unknown 2 may be the Chinese Training & Combat Command.
posted by zamboni at 10:41 PM on February 15, 2021

Fifth line below circle:
11th Airborne Div
US Army Pacific
42nd Infantry Div
Unknown 10 (White circle, azure fess wavy, arrow)
65th Infantry Div
87th Infantry Div
71st Infantry Div
70th Infantry Div
38th Infantry Div
69th Infantry Div
75th Infantry Div

Below US Army Pacific and 42nd Infantry Div:
78th Infantry Div
Unknown 11 (Grey circle, square starburst ornament)
posted by zamboni at 6:50 AM on February 16, 2021

Sixth line below circle:
Western Defense Command
88th Infantry Div
Unknown 12 (Winged shield)
Ports of Embarkation Command
45th Infantry Div
84th Infantry Div
2nd Infantry Division (UK) ?
90th Infantry Div
104th Infantry Div
33rd Infantry Div
posted by zamboni at 7:13 AM on February 16, 2021

7th line below circle, which seasparrow has already mostly covered:
Staff Sergeant rank insignia
US Army Airborne Command
Navy Specialist (I) 3rd Class
China Burma India Theater
103rd Infantry Division
Fourteenth Air Force
The other Staff Sergeant rank insignia
posted by zamboni at 7:29 AM on February 16, 2021

Unknown 12 is Allied Land Forces South East Asia. (doco)
posted by zamboni at 7:58 AM on February 16, 2021

Unknown 11 is a German rank insignia.
posted by zamboni at 8:04 AM on February 16, 2021

Based on Insignia of the Coast Artillery Corps,

Unknown 6 is Ninth Coast Defense Command
Unknown 9 is Second Coast Defense Command.

So we're missing:
Unknown 3: Shield, White China star on Blue, White lightning bolts and yellow V on red, probably CBI Theater related.
Unknown 4: Large circle, yellow eagle and man(?) on blue.
Unknown 5: Blue and yellow diagonal field, white parachute over a red dagger. SEARCH & RESCUE tab.
Unknown 7: Red, white and blue roundel. I suppose it could be a very odd Cockade of France.
Unknown 8: Small black circle, green entwined SC (or CS).
Unknown 10: Green square, white circle bordered with blue. Circle bisected with wavy blue line, upwards pointing arrow with red tail, blue arrowhead.
posted by zamboni at 2:00 PM on February 16, 2021

127 badges, all told. Ignoring unknowns:

SWPA/CBI Commands and Theatres:
China Burma India Theater, three times
One Merrill's Marauders patch, one MARS Task Force
Fourteenth Army Air Force, twice
Twentieth Army Air Force, twice
South West Pacific Area
US Army Pacific
Chinese Training & Combat Command
South East Asia Command
Allied Land Forces South East Asia
Ledo Road

Other Geographic Command & Theatres:
US Army Europe Africa
Persian Gulf Command
South Atlantic Command
Iceland Base Command

Misc commands and patches:
Tank destroyer
US Army Airborne Command
Army Amphibious Command
Anti-Aircraft Command

Mainland and training Commands:
US Army Military District of Washington
7th Service Command patch embroidered for Fort Crowder
Anti-Aircraft Eastern Defense Command
Second Coast Defense Command
Ninth Coast Defense Command
Replacement and School Command
Army Specialized Training Program
All nine Army Service Forces Service Commands
Western Defense Command
Ports of Embarkation Command
Northwest Service Command (upside down)

Armies: US First (twice), Second, Third, and Fourth. (All of which were either Eastern Theatre or US based, I think.)
UK Fourteenth, Philippines Army tab.(UK Fourteenth was heavily involved with Burma.)

III, XI, XVIII Airborne, XXIII, XXIV Corps

Air Force:
First Air Force
Second Air Force
Third Air Force
Fourth Air Force
Fifth Air Force
Eighth Air Force
Ninth Air Force (twice, once with Airborne tab)
Tenth Air Force
Fourteenth Air Force (twice)
Twentieth Air Force (twice)

27 Infantry divisions, 7 specific armor divisions, 1 cavalry, 1 airborne.

So, basically a grab bag, but with significant CBI Theater and domestic components. The flag and German rank insignia are an additional complication.
posted by zamboni at 5:42 PM on February 16, 2021

Response by poster: Hi, this is Ebesan's wife. First of all, thank you very, very much for all the attention and information. I'm amazed. I had no idea how to approach finding out more about these badges.

We found this flag when cleaning out my parents' house. My father was a WWII veteran who served in the CBI in India, as a sergeant. When I was growing up I heard lots about India and looked at Dad's WWII scrapbook, he got the "CBI Roundup", and was still in touch with some people he had met in the army. So finding this flag was very puzzling to me because I have no memory of ever seeing it before. The CBI badges make sense; and I can imagine my father collecting badges, but have no idea where he got the flag.

(Sorry, it is "Mars Task Force" not "Attack" Force.)

I'm going to make myself a diagram, and also do some thinking about how to keep this safe or donate. Thank you again for the help!
posted by ebesan at 11:28 AM on February 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

You're very welcome! Glad I and seasparrow could help. I had an interesting time puzzling out some of the insignia, and now know more about the structure of the US Army during WWII than I did before.

The Skylighters Guide to U.S. Army Shoulder Sleeve Insignia of World War II was very helpful, as were the relevant Wikipedia pages, although they're not WWII specific. For the slightly more obscure stuff, it was just a lot of persistent googling and semi-educated guesses. The US Militaria Forum reference guide is very useful if you already know what unit you're looking for, but isn't set up for finding stuff the other way around. If you're interested in figuring out the remaining mystery patches, that forum is probably your best bet.
posted by zamboni at 3:39 PM on February 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Do you have any suggestions for donations? A military museum or something?
posted by ebesan at 11:41 AM on February 19, 2021

I’m not that familiar with US military museums - you might try contacting any in your state, for the local connection? seasparrow may have some other ideas. The flag is a challenging artifact to display in a sensitive manner, and the mix of insignia adds to the complicated provenance, so it’s possible it will take some effort to find a museum where it fits in their collection.
posted by zamboni at 5:13 AM on February 20, 2021

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