Identify a badge - possible RA air observer?

Discussion in 'WW2 Militaria' started by PackRat, Jan 8, 2021.

  1. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member

    Can anyone identify the badge just above the rank chevrons on this man's arm?


    We don't know his name, but can be almost certain of the following:
    • He is standing by a Stinson L5
    • Photo was taken in late 1944 or early 1945 in North Burma (August 44 to May 45 at the very earliest/latest)
    • He is a member of 130th Field Regt RA, 36th Infantry Division, NCAC (or was attached to/working closely with the Regiment)
    • War diary confirms that the Regiment was using Air Observation Posts for reconnaissance and directing fire. 36 Division was being supplied by air in North Burma by 10th USAAF, who were also using Stinsons for liaison/urgent casualty evacuation etc. for the Division.
    Looks like it might be wings so I wondered if it could be an AOP badge, but this page says that they didn't come in until after the war. I also had a feeling that AOP observers were commissioned officers, like FOOs, but not sure where I might have read that. Could he be RAF instead?

    Or am I way off and it is part of the rank badge - CSM, RSM? Not very knowledgeable on these things.

    Bonus question - any guesses at the name of the aircraft (by his hand)? 'Little' something perhaps? Full photo doesn't include the tailplane or any other identifying marks unfortunately.

    (This is a close-up from a photo that belongs to forum member Rachael - posted with permission)
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  2. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Isn't it a cannon ?
    RA Sgts often seen with the cannon above their stripes.

    Attached Files:

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  3. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member

    Aha, that could be it, thanks Owen. In the full image he is holding a pair of binoculars which made me wonder if it was some sort of specialist insignia for an AOP observer.

    Did the cannon above the chevrons denote any difference in rank ('full' sergeant rather than lance-sergeant, perhaps?). Or was it just an additional insignia for sergeants in the RA?
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  4. Uncle Target

    Uncle Target Well-Known Member

    RA FOO's, AOP and OP Observers were Commissioned Officers (most AOP I come across in research are Captains or above) as they had the power to call in various levels of fire from their own Troop, Battery, Regiment, Division or above on the communication networks. i.e.telephone or radio. Other ranks i.e. OP Assistant could do so only in an emergency if the Officer was killed or injured until he could be replaced. (In practice the FOO would speak to his OP/A on a field telephone who then relayed the message to the radio net.
    There were of course Sergeant pilots so he might have been in effect a flying taxi driver for the AOP.
    The gun above the stripes is the equivalent of placing a crown above the stripes in an Infantry Regiment for Staff Sergeant, the rank between Sergeant and Warrant Officer Class 2 (Sergeant Major).
    In WW2 many RA Units still used the rank of Lance Sergeant equivalent to a Bombardier (Corporal) these ranks go back to Cavalry origins. Not sure which badge they used without digging out all my photos it might take a while.
    The photo is unclear and I thought at first it might have been a cine camera but I dont think the Photo and Film units used things like that so it is probably a gun.
    He might be an AOP Assistant in the aircraft as a signaller I am surprised that they painted sharks teeth on their
    un- armed aircraft very brave if they did. I doubt it scared the Japs.
    Last edited: Jan 8, 2021
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  5. High Wood

    High Wood Well-Known Member

    Little Herman?
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  6. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

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  7. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    see post #1. The plane has been IDed as a Stinson L5. ;)
  8. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

    If theyu are wrong then its a good chance its an Auster and as there were a minimum number of Air Observation Squadrons flying in that theatre they may be able to find which squadron, hence possibly obtain a war diary hence possibly find a mention of a Warrant Officer in that squadron flying a plane named 'Little ??????'

  9. Blutto

    Blutto Plane Mad

    I'd hazard a guess that its 'Little Woman'.

    The screen and framing doesn't look right for an Auster III.
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  10. timuk

    timuk Well-Known Member

    This is the insignia of the BQMS (Battery Quartermaster Sergeant).

    Don't think this is correct. There were Lance Bombardiers (Lance Corporal) and Bombardiers (Corporal). Lance Sergeants and Sergeants were SNCOs with three chevrons. I don't think there was a visible difference. As far as I know the only difference was that a Lance Sergeant could be demoted by the CO whereas a full Sergeant could only be demoted by Court Martial.
    Above the Sergeant you had the Battery Sergeant Major (WO 2), the Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant (WO2) and the Regimental Sergeant Major (WO 1).
    Add to this the Acting/Local/Paid/Unpaid and it gets very confusing, plus for a time there was also a WO 3.

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  11. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member

    This is great stuff, many thanks everyone.

    The man who took the photograph was an NCO of 315 Battery so if the cannon denotes a BQMS then the man pictured is most likely to be the BQMS of 315 Battery, 130th Field Regiment, 36th Infantry Division.

    36 Division in North Burma was unusual in that it fell outside of the 14th Army, being assigned to the American/Chinese NCAC under Stilwell, so I'm not sure that the British AOP Squadrons covered them at any point. Combing through the 36 Div HQRA diary I've just turned up this in the appendices:


    From Uncle Target's post, that would seem to suggest that the man pictured wasn't the observer (as he's not an officer) but couldn't be a sergeant-pilot either (as the pilots were American) - and if he was the BQMS he would probably be busy enough with his supply work. All of this suggests that observing from an AOP was not his job, yet he is leaning on the plane in a familiar way with a pair of binoculars in his hand.

    The only men ever mentioned to be flying AOP duties are Captain Gray, later relieved by Lieutenant Flowers (though there must have been others as the Regiment had two AOPs assigned to it), the rank fitting with Uncle Target's info about AOPs:

    AOP Pilots.jpg

    The regiment's war diary suggests that their AOPs were as important for reconnoitring the route ahead as they were for directing arty fire, so maybe there's a vague possibility the man pictured observed on a purely recon flight while the usual AOP observation officer rested. Or maybe it's not an AOP at all - other Stinsons were being used to bring in reinforcements and fly senior individuals around the Divisional area for conferences or other business; maybe he was flying in/out as a passenger to sort out a serious supply issue in the rear and had binoculars with him to enjoy the view. Or maybe it just happened to land nearby and it made for a good photo op!

    Anyway, looks like he's not one of the Regiment's arty observers, but any other thoughts and info very much appreciated.
  12. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member

    Some other AOP stuff that came up in the regiment's diary appendices while I was searching. 130 Fd Regt's Air OP radio net setup (there's a full page of this available with a lot more detail if it's useful to anyone):


    Two AOPs assigned to each regiment, confirming the number mentioned in the HQRA document:


    I think the aircraft were supplied by 71st Liaison Squadron of 1st Liaison Group, 10th USAAF. War diary briefly mentions an officer away on attachment to that unit, and the Regiment received a letter of thanks for assistance provided to a crashed pilot (the men listed are REME from 130 Fd Regt's Light Aid Detachment):

    71st Liaison.jpg
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  13. Derek Barton

    Derek Barton Senior Member

    Let's clear up this business about rank in the RA. During WW2 the ranks were Gunner, Lance Bombardier, Bombardier, Lance Sergeant, Sergeant, Staff Sergeant, Warrant Officer Class 3, Warrant Officer Class 2 & Warrant Officer Class 1.
    Lance Sergeants wore 3 chevrons while Sergeants wore 3 chevrons with the gun above. Staff Sergeants (BQMS mostly) wore 3 chevrons with a gun above and a crown above that. The gun is the regimental badge for Sergeants & Staff Sergeants and shows only that they are RA.
    For a full explanation of the rank system in the RA with possible appointments for some and all the trade, qualification & specialist badges worn see the Insignia sections on my site.
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  14. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake All over the place.... Patron

    The gun was worn by a gun No 1 - a full sergeant. Two crossed flags indicated a signals sergeant. Three stripes alone was a lance sergeant, such as the Survey sergeant or BC's assistant.
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  15. Uncle Target

    Uncle Target Well-Known Member

    Ref Post 13
    Thats what I like, Command Decision! Post 14 is interesting, I recall the cross flags (Post 14), the BQMS slipped my memory but the Staff Sergeant rank was I thought the same as RQMS but the title being an appointment rather than a paid rank, BQMS being pro rata. I was a cadet at the time and learned to do as I was told, complain afterwards.
    Hope we aren't heading for handbags at dawn but a gentleman's agreement on this rank thing, things have changed over the years it seems. Any doubt I will try to contact two old mates, one a BSM and one a Major RA but they were relatively modern.
    Sorry to go out of context but nice to meet you Derek, could you please PM me as they dont seem to work when I try them.
    I have some corrections for your website.
  16. Derek Barton

    Derek Barton Senior Member

    Sorry Sheldrake, have to disagree with you. The gun badge was worn above the chevrons of ALL sergeants & staff sergeants since before 1865. I would think that the Survey Sgt as a highly qualified specialist would be a substansive Sgt not a Lance Sgt (sorry for nitpicking on this - I'm an ex Svy Sgt). The rank of Lance Sergeant was introduced in 1920 and abolished in 1946.
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  17. Uncle Target

    Uncle Target Well-Known Member

    Post 11
    The Americans did not require the Observer to be an Officer as they had different Target Designation rules. The Chinese were I believe under American Command. I think they were in communication only with their own unit whereas RA worked in Groups up to Army level or possibly higher.
    RA Regiments were in Support of Infantry Brigades but under Command from their Divisional CRA (Commander Royal Artillery). Guns could be called to join in a barrage on any target within range whether they were in support of their Infantry Brigade or under an AGRA (Artillery Group Royal Artillery). These rules applied in the MEF,CMF and other European Theatres but I am not sure what happened in the Far Eastern Areas.
    It appears from what you say that this chap is not operating under RA Command but in support of others. Rules of engagement differ between Being in Command or in Support.
    If he was purely reconnaissance then it would not matter but I woulddoubt they would send a plane up and not be able to direct fire if necessary.
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2021
  18. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member

    Thanks Derek, good to see your site back online. So the insignia tells us that this chap was a 'full' (rather than lance) sergeant in the Royal Artillery.

    Thanks also Uncle Target. 36 Division was a strange case in North Burma, I believe it was officially under US command (Stilwell/Sultan) for about 8 months, passing back to the British 14th Army in April 45, but lines seem blurry. 36 Div CRA had two 'Assault' field regiments under command (130th & 178th), plus an AT regiment (partly re-equipped with mortars) with an Indian mountain regiment added later.

    Though that's confused during the early part of the campaign (August to November 44) as an artillery group under Colonel T. Dupuy (made up mainly of Chinese gunners with American staff) provided 36 Div with artillery support until its own guns could be moved into theatre - but this group lacked sufficient FOOs and signallers, which were supplied by the arty regiments of 36 Div, then it was gradually strengthened as the lighter guns of 36 Division (6-pounders and 3.7-inch howitzers) were airlifted in, so it ended up as a pretty multi-national outfit.

    Then it's confused again as 29 Brigade Group (with 130 Fd Regt in support, to which the taker of this photo belonged) split off from the main Divisional column between December 44 and March 45, during which time 130 Fd was completely out of touch with the 36 Div CRA (other than by Stinson liaison flight). How much the normal rules went out the window with all of this I'm not sure - neither 130 Fd Regt or 36 Div CRA diary are all that descriptive.
  19. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake All over the place.... Patron

    Fair one re the gun for the full sergeant, regardless of role. BQMS as a staff sergeant with a crown.

    According to Nigel Evans's extracts from WE
    Organisation of a Field Regiment 1940
    There were only 30 SNCOs in a Field Regiment. That allows for 24 x Gun Nos 1, 2 x BQMS, Tech stores Sgt (Now RQ Tech), Cook Sgt, Regt Sig Sgt, & one other (LAD Sgt?)

    I suspect Survey NCOs & the BC's Ack were Lance Sgts. It was an NCO role in WW1.

    This is from the Trux Field Artillery - Field Regiment

    A survey serjeant for the regiment - but only NCOs for the battery survey.
    The RA ranks changed a bit over the years and those of us with service in recent decades are apt to forget...
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  20. Uncle Target

    Uncle Target Well-Known Member

    So have we actually satisfied the requirement of the thread and identified who and what the gentleman in the photo was.
    It certainly produced some thought about RA ranks, organisation and admin.
    Hope I dont sound like a killjoy but I often go from here with a feeling of guilt.
    But then looking back the question was about his insignia of rank so I dont feel so bad.
    Stand at ease gentlemen!
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2021
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