Friday, July 11, 2014

The WW II Airborne Clicker

By Harold Ratzburg

History of the Clicker,  a.k.a. the "Cricket"

    Back in the 1920's, the clicker was designed and produced as a handy pocketsized signal device which band and orchestra leaders used to keep time for their players, and according to the records of the Acme Company who made the crickets, most of them were shipped to band leaders in the USA.  The official  company nomenclature was "THE ACME No. 470 CLICKER"
Come the WW II, and a vast amount of planning and preparation was being put into  figuring out how to launch the invasion into France in 1944.  One of the problems to be considered for the Airborne troopers was how to recognize friend from foe in the dark of night and surrounded by enemy forces.  Hollering out loud was NOT a good option.          
It is my understanding that some lowly Lieutenant in the Headquarters of the 101st Airborne Division, who probably had some musical background, suggested that a clicker would do the job, one click meaning "Who the hell are you/" and two clicks signaling "I am a friend, you Jerk, DON'T SHOOT!!!!"
An order was immediately placed with the English Company, J. Hudson and Co. (operating under the name of "Acme") for 10,000 clickers, and the factory jumped into production.  The Acme company had approximately 3000 clickers in stock which were nickel plated but to rush production, they started making them out of brass.  When they ran out of brass material, they made them out of biscuit tin metal.
The clickers were used during the night of June 5th / 6th, 1944, by the troopers of the 101st with the intention that they could be discarded after  that.  They were not issued to the 82 Airborne Division who also jumped that night, which must have led to some fatal confusions in the dark.  I have seen a photo or a museum display somewhere, where the clicker was taped to the stock of a Tommy Gun so that it would be handy in the dark.  Most photos however show that it was hung on a chain or string around the troopers neck.

Many of the men kept their "crickets" long after the war and the crickets have since become iconic symbols of the U.S. airborne brotherhood and indeed of D-Day itself.  Crickets have appeared in a couple of well-known feature films (The Longest Day) and the TV series (Band of Brothers) and other documentaries and they are now recognized the world over.

Crickets as a Collectible
Original Crickets are very rare because they were made to be discarded after the night jump on June 6th.  The remaining original ones bring very high prices because items from elite units like the Airborne always bring the best prices.
Because of mistakes in the earlier movie productions like "The Longest Day", where John Wayne is shown instructing the troopers with the use of a  toy cricket,------like the ones we used to get as prizes in Cracker Jack Boxes,------ the misconception was formed that toy crickets were used in combat.  Not so, only the Acme clickers were issued to the 101st.  At militaria shows I have seen toy crickets, painted OD, being passed off as issued equipment, and as recently as this week, a toy cricket, painted a bright orange, was listed as "Airborne" on Ebay.
Reproduction (repro) crickets are appearing on the market.  I found my first one in a museum store in Normandy, France, several years ago.  It did not click, but it kinda looked like the real thing.  Others have appeared from time to time and I'm sure they were and are being produced in India or China.
The best repro on the market is produced by the original Acme Company that produced them for the 101st.  These repros are produced on the original dies in England and they are so marked just like the originals.  (One wonders if this is the same "Acme" Company that produces all the Acme stuff that Wiley Cyotote uses to try to catch the Road Runner in all the "Road Runner" TV cartoons that are made for kids but what us growed up folks also enjoy tremendously.)
To minimize the chance of the new clickers being passed off as originals the manufacturers have stamped in an additional discreet pressing into the body of the clicker which can only be seen by looking inside the cavity.  (So, what does this discreet pressing look like you may ask.  It beats the heck out of me cause I looked, and without an original to compare it with, I have no idea.)
This measure does not detract in any way from the totally original appearance of the clicker which looks entirely authentic externally.  These genuine J Hudson and Co (Acme) clickers are the best available and are the must have items for the really picky airborne collector or re-enactor.
I bought my Acme cricket when I visited the Currahee Military Museum in Toccoa, Georgia, where the 101st got their Airborne basic training.  It cost $32.00 but it is the best and most authentic of any on the market.
If you gotta have one, and you are computer savvy, you can also find them for sale at:

You will also find more information on the crickets on that site.

copyright 2009 by Harold Ratzburg

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