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Several combat flags from Britain, France, Greece, Russia and the United States used in European Theatre during World War II, the majority of them collected by veterans, were up for grabs in the auction on 29 April at Bonhams (New York, USA) to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of the ending of World War II in 1945. 

We have selected some of them to show them to you. They have a story and we want to tell you about them. 

  • Dunkirk: A red ensign inscribed at the hoist end "Dunkirk May-June 1940 'Polly'"  (the sailing barge Polly, from crew member George Saunders, 1940 and later)

George Saunders and the crew of the Polly were typical of the volunteers who answered the call from the British Government for an armada of ships to rescue the British soldiers stranded in France at Dunkirk. The 28-foot Polly (built in 1931) was one of the 700 who carried out "Operation Dynamo." Saunders and his shipmates may have "only" rescued 38 soldiers, but in combination with larger vessels they eventually rescued a total of over 338,000 soldiers.

  • RAF Digby Squadron Flag, Flown (Arthur Dunn; Private Collection of the Former Assistant Secretary of the Battle of Britain Association; The War Museum, 1939-1940)

Heavy Cotton flag in red, white, blue and light blue, with a British Union Jack canton on a light blue field with the RAF roundel, with hoist and rope halyard.​

Established in Lincolnshire during the closing months of World War I, RAF Digby entered the Second World War hosting No. 46 Squadron RAF. October 1939 saw several new squadrons take up residence, including No. 29 Squadron RAF with the soon-to-be-famous officer Guy Gibson, who would be awarded a Victoria Cross as the commander of the Dambuster raids. For six weeks in May and June 1940 the station was home to No. 222 Squadron RAF during its recuperation break from the Battle of Britain. The squadron's flight commander was the famous fighter ace Flight Lieutenant Douglas Bader, who took this Digby station flag into his possession during his stay there. The station would be heavily bombed by the Luftwaffe through early 1940, but remained in action throughout the war.

  • RAF Tangmere Squadron Flag, Flown (Arthur Dunn; Private Collection of the Former Assistant Secretary of the Battle of Britain Association; The War Museum, 1939-1941)

A heavy cotton RAF squadron flag, with turquoise blue field, RAF roundel and Union Jack canton. The flag comes with hempen binding rope with wooden dowels attached at the hoist. Some light wear.

RAF Tangmere was an RAF station famous for its frontline role in the Battle of Britain and as a secret base for supporting the Special Operations Executive's clandestine war in occupied Europe. Located near Chichester, West Sussex near the southern coast of the British Isles, Tangmere was home to the first squadron of Supermarine Spitfires in August, 1940, and was subject to heavy bombing raids by the Luftwaffe. The base would fly SOE agents in and out of occupied France throughout the war and would eventually shift from defensive to offensive operations under the famous RAF ace Douglas Bader. Bader was promoted to acting Wing Commander and came to Tangmere in March 1941, and throughout the summer of 1941 conducted "circus operations" as bomber support over NW Europe, the plan being to draw out Luftwaffe units that might normally be serving on the Russian Front. In August 1941 he bailed out over occupied Germany, was captured and sent to Colditz for the duration of the War. This historic squadron flag flew over a base and at some point came into the possesion of Bader. Bader made a point of acquiring a squadron flag for every base he flew from.

  • British "False Flag" in the form a Spanish Merchant Navy Ensign, Flown (The War Museum; Private Collection of the Former Assistant Secretary of the Battle of Britain Association, 1939)

A burlap "false flag" of a Spanish Merchant Navy Ensign, in red, white and yellow, marked with an "A" inside a circle, the year "1939" and the number "510" on the hoist. A Spanish galleon emblem in black is displayed in the center field. The flag somewhat bleached with some moth damage and wear.

The Battle of the Atlantic was a continuous struggle of attrition, lasting from the outbreak of War in the Fall of 1939 to the surrender of Germany. It was a war that pitted the German Navy's 1000 U-Boats against the Allied merchant marine convoys supplying Britain. One of the means by which the ships of the various merchant navies could hope to avoid being sunk was through flying another, neutral nation's flag. In this case the choice of a Spanish design was particularly well considered: Nazi Germany was eager to coax the newly victorious Fascist government in Spain into an alliance in 1939 and would have taken pains to avoid targeting any Spanish merchant shipping. A rare piece of naval history.

  • Royal Navy White Ensign Battle Flag (Private Collection of the Former Assistant Secretary of the Battle of Britain Association; The War Museum, 1940)

A sackcloth flag with markings on the luff reading "1 ½ Yd ENSIGN / ACS 81" and "LONDON 1940 L.N" with a Royal Navy stamp. Some light moth damage.

Unfortunately although we do not know from which British Warship this flag flew, we know it was in service at one of the darkest times of the War for Britain. The evacuation of British and French forces from Dunkirk, and fall of France, were followed by a need for a naval commitment to protect the British coastline from German invasion, as well as protect the Atlantic supply convoys to Britain from a relentless U-Boat War. It would not be until the middle of 1941 that new technologies, a change in British U Boat tactics, and increased but unofficial American food aid and armaments, would turn the tide again in the favor of the Royal Navy. This rare and historic White Ensign is a remarkable survivor of the early years of World War II.

  • Soviet Tank Commander's Battle Flag (Private Collection of the Former Assistant Secretary of the Battle of Britain Association; The War Museum, 1943)

A hand-stitched flag of red, white and yellow canvas. White left border with handmade flag post holes hand-stitched yellow hammer and sickle. Some minor wear.

The German invasion of the USSR in June, 1941 caught the Soviet people virtually unprepared and caused widespread destruction as the Germans advanced quickly across a broad front. Handmade battle flags such as this were common amongst both civilians and military and represented the common resolve of the Soviet people to defend their country. This particular flag was found by an American soldier in a private German home after 1945 and was apparently captured by a German soldier from the Soviets in 1943. 

  • French Resistance Flag and Free French Naval Forces Poster and Badge Signed by Charles de Gaulle (The War Museum, 1940-1944)

A Free French Naval Forces (FNFL) framed poster reading "La France a perdu une bataille! Mais la France n'a pas perdu la guerre!" and "Aux armes Citoyens! Formez vos Bataillons," displaying the FNFL logo and an armed angel and signed "C. de Gaulle" in cursive black pen; one FNFL badge below the framed poster in brass with blue, white and red enamel inlay showing the Cross of Lorraine and the words "Libre France" in brass lettering; one canvas and cloth French Resistance flag showing the French national flag with a central Cross of Lorraine in blue.

The fall of France in June, 1940 did not spell the end of French resistance to the Axis powers. Under the leadership of General Charles de Gaulle in London, the French military who refused to surrender gradually coalesced into the Free French Forces. The latter included a naval wing of escaped or defecting French vessels known as the Free French Naval Forces. In mainland France, a vigorous resistance movement emerged, gradually gaining strength to the point where it could credibly support Allied operations in the aftermath of the June, 1944 Normandy landings. This collection serves as a potent reminder of the French will to resist in the face of the overwhelming defeat and occupation of their homeland.

  • Greek resistance: A partisan flag (Purchased in the early 1970s as a Greek resistance flag, from Mannion Auctions in Texas, in their World War II and Military Surplus sales, 1941-1945)

A Greek national flag, made of blue and white cotton, with a canton of the white cross on blue, and the frame of 5 blue and 4 white horizontal lines, two hand sewn rings at upper and lower hoist, some slight discoloration of the white linen, and a few rust holes and red stains.

The Greeks are deeply patriotic and took up against both the Italian and the German occupying Forces. A flag like this with just two small rings at the head and foot of the hoist, would have been much easier to be taken off and on a pole quickly, when used in a raid. Churchill praised the courage of the Greek resistance often using the phrase "Fight like Greeks" in his speeches.

  • An American 48-Star Ensign Flag, flown at Battle of Gela, Allied Invasion of Sicily, 10-12 July 1943

A heavy cotton 48-star national flag with two steel grommets and cotton tab on hoist noting makers name Annin,the hoist inscribed by "HARRY RUEFEMANN BM 2/C US NAVY C51-52-07 GELA, SICILY 1943" in a green pen.

This US flag was flown on a US Landing Craft during the amphibious landings at Gela as part of the Allied invasion of Sicily, codenamed Operation Husky. Despite heavy Axis air attacks with little defensive fighter cover, the Battle at Gela ended in the American and British Forces safely landed in Sicily.

An important American flag from the collection of Chief Boatswain Harry Ruetemann, and flown from his landing craft B24 LC, during the Allied invasion of Italy at the Battle of Gela. Ruetemann had served for two years on a German battleship in WWI , and after came to the united States, spent some years in the merchant marine, and in 1942 joined the navy and trained on landing craft. He took part in both the invasions of Sicily and of Southern Italy, and after that trained crews for Operation Dragoon in southern France in August 1944

  • A D-Day Red Cross Flag on one of the First Boats, LCT-537, to land on Omaha Beach, Normandy, June 6, 1944 (Estate of CW Weiss; The War Museum)

A white heavy cotton Red Cross flag with central Red Cross and white cotton hoist, recovered by C W Weiss from LCT-537

An important battlefield flown US Navy Red Cross flag draped or flown from the side of the open bow door or used for beach first aid units. LCT-537 was part of Assault Group O-1, flotilla 19, a 8 LST flotilla commanded by Lt J.E. Barry USNR sent in on the first waves. As a tank carrier it was probably part of the wave of 32 specially adapted Sherman tanks that were to be landed that morning on the beach. In reality as they approached the shore under fire the obstructions blocked their path and apparently the pilot gunned the throttle by mistake, and the craft bounced over the wire and landed further up the shore. The LCT was tasked with trying to recover the wounded, once they had unloaded their cargo and this somewhat small flag was supposed to be flown from the bow doors and help minimize enemy fire. It is somewhat doubtful that this could have happened in the first 7 hours of the assault on Omaha beach, the cross fire from the cliffs being ferocious. There was in each crew a red cross complement and they would try to set up First Aid Stations in whatever cover was available on the beach, rescue the wounded were they had a chance, and get them back to hospital ships offshore. Many photographs of the Omaha beach show the Red Cross groups clustered around small flags like this. Out of all the Allied landing sites, Omaha would generate the highest volume of killed and wounded at over 10,000 casualties.

  • D-day "UNION JACK" Liberation Flag, flown from a window of a house in St Aubin-Sur-Mer, 6 June 1944

A hastily made "Union Jack" flag of blue cotton with red crosses stitched over, probably made rapidly on June 6th 1944, and apparently flown out of a window in the seaside resort of St Aubin-sur-Mer, as the attackers came ashore and moved the Germans out of the town. The blue cotton ground bleached out to gray, a few small holes and rust holes, very creased. 

A fascinating relic with a written affidavit from the present owner, that he bought this flag from a man in St. Aubin whose father made it in 1944 and flew it as the Germans retreated the town, hoping to ensure that the attackers would not shoot at his house. Curiously this seaside town is at the eastern edge of Juno beach, where it wasn't the British who came ashore but the Canadians, though surely most of them identified with the "Union Jack." The fighting in St. Aubin was fierce, as the preliminary bombardment missed most of its targets and the 100 strong German defense unit held off a large Canadian attacking force for many hours. There is no doubt that the maker would not have been expecting a Canadian force to come into his town, and some of those troops were French Canadians from Quebec.

  • A 48-Star Ensign flown both in Salerno and on D-day from USS LST-2 "Dirty Duece," salerno, September 9 1943 and D-day june 6 1944

A heavy cotton US flag, with white hoist and four brass grommets. The flag with some light discoloration from dirt and age. 

The USS LST-2 "Dirty Deuce" was used to ferry men, supplies and armored vehicles to the Allied beachhead at Salerno, Italy in September 1943 and later at Normandy, France from 6 June 1944. Dirty Deuce survived shelling by the German defenses at Normandy without casualties before being turned over to the British in December, 1944. Casanueva was a Chief Boatswain's Mate on LST-2, and took the flag home with him after he returned to the States in December 1944. His vessel, like so many LST's, served in a series of invasions throughout World War II at Tangiers, Salerno, Anzio, D-Day and on Operation Dragoon, and many even went on to the Pacific to carry out the Okinawa Invasion. They were the workhorses of the US and British Navies, built in the US or Britain, from 1943 onwards. Hundreds were damaged or did not survive the landings, and LST-2 obviously saw some fierce action both in Salerno and D-Day. Boatswain Casanueva, proud of his service, prized this flag all his life.

  • D-Day Flag of The Free French Forces (Found in the Normandy; Private Collection of the Former Assistant Secretary of the Battle of Britain Association; The War Museum, 1940-1945)

A heavy cotton and wool tri-color flag of the Free French Forces, without the characteristic Cross of Lorraine insignia used by the mainland Free French, possibly due to its production in England, with English text on the hoist reading "3 x 6" and "France." 

A D-Day french tricolor, probably brought ashore by a member of the Free French Forces. On June 6, 1944, the Free French Forces were landed on Sword Beach, led by Captain Kieffer with 177 men, and others were in parachute jumps earlier in the day. They were known as the Bérets verts ("Green berets"), landing in Ouistreham, Benouville, Amfreville and Bavant, designated as Sword Beach. Kieffer, recently promoted to Capitaine de Corvette, led his men personally. The unit suffered 21 killed and 93 wounded. Kieffer himself was almost immediately wounded twice, hit by shrapnel in the leg, but refused evacuation for two days. Kieffer rejoined his unit on 14 June, in time to take part in the breakthrough towards the Seine and Honfleur. Along with two of his men, he was the first member of the Free French Forces to enter Paris. 

  • A 48-star Ensign flown at D-Day on LCI 510, omaha beach, 6 June 1944

A heavy cotton US flag with four steel grommets, labeled "US EN3" on hoist.

An important D-Day flag flown from LCI 510 on Omaha Beach on the afternoon of June 6th and on other Normandy beaches up to June 25 1944. This flag was taken from the ship after its Normandy service by Lt Leys. The LCI was designed to ferry larger numbers of troops and with heavier armament to defend them in transit than the smaller Landing Craft. LCI (L) 510 landed hundreds of soldiers on Omaha Beach on D-Day, continuing to ferry soldiers, nurses, and equipment to and from the beach thereafter. All crewmen under the ship's Commanding Officer survived the war unscathed, Lt.Leys eventually receiving the French Legion of Honor on 21 July 2014 for his actions. Leys is now aged 101, and almost the oldest veteran of World War II alive, this was a flag he treasured all his life, he flew it every 4th July outside his house, and is now being sold as part of his retirement.

  • 505th Parachute Infantry Regt, 82nd Airborne Division: A 48 star American flag carried in the pack of captain George B. Eldridge, 3rd battalion, at D-day, operation market garden and at the battle of the Bulge, carried June 6 1944, September 17 1944, and December/January 1945

A 48-Star American flag, battle flag in size, made of red, white and blue heavy cotton, hoist marked "6" at top and bottom, brass grommets at hoist. This flag carried by a 505th parachutist, Captain George Eldridge, in his pack as he went into battle on D-Day and later Operation Market Garden and the Battle of the Bulge. Several small holes, the blue ground of the canton slightly faded, the stripes of the body stained and marked, a small section at the lower hoist strengthened with an extra strip. Together with: a small file entitled "World War II Memories," [of Eldridge] including the marching song of the 505th (written by George), in manuscript, various typed accounts of his experiences; the regimental history by Allen Langdon, signed by Eldridge with his notes on Market-Garden on first page; and two A.M.S maps for Nijmegan and Groesbeek, both folded, some tears but in good condition. 

An important American flag carried by a member of one of the elite parachute regiments. The flag is probably of the 1930s, and was given to Eldridge by his father as a 'talisman' for him to take into battle. I suspect as a Captain, Eldridge planned to fly it when he could from buildings, or even church towers, in Normandy, in Holland and the Ardennes, and the damage suggests it certainly has been well flown. As a talisman the flag seems to have helped, as George survived the war, when so many comrades in arms did not. The lot is accompanied by a typed account of his wartime experiences, two maps of Holland and the regimental history during the war. The 505th were in the thick of the fighting behind the beaches at Utah from early light on June 6th. In Market Garden they jumped into Groesbeek, and found themselves surrounded by an entire German Infantry Battalion with tanks. During the Bulge the 505th fought to the north of the 101st, along the Salem river in Belgium, stopping and ultimately defeating Joachim Pieper's SS kampfgruppe at Bastogne. For its valor in the seven theaters of operations in Europe, the 505th was awarded two Distinguished Unit citations and three Foreign decorations. A magnificent flag, it would be difficult to find a flag so well travelled, and so decorated in battle. 



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