About Me

My photo
Author, film researcher and member of the Swedish Military History Commission.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Mosul´s Swedish Commander

Uniforms of the Swedish-led Persian gendarmerie were a mix of Sweden and Persia.

The Iraqi city of Mosul is in the global news, but few are aware of the fact that a Swedish volunteer was once in command of the city. His name was Knut Killander and he was from Stockholm. He was part of the Swedish officer contingent serving in Persia between 1911 and 1916, who were split up by the outbreak of World War One.

Captain Knut Killander survived Mosul and other postings during WWI and joined an insurance business, to die peacefully in 1951. His fate is one of many strange and exotic ones in Swedes at War 1914-45, available in both English and Swedish. Some artifacts from the Swedish volunteers in Persia, such as the above headgear, can now be seen in the Army Museum in Stockholm.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The King´s Choice

The new Norwegian WWII movie "The King´s Choice".

I am really, really keen to see this new Norwegian movie, about the German invasion on April 9, 1940 and the immediate aftermath. The Norwegian king looks a lot like the real man, and everything else looks good too, at least in the above trailer.

It has after just a few weeks become Norway's most-watched film of the year. Any day now half a million Norwegians will have seen it.

Oscar stuff, perhaps?

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

German Eyes On Nordic States

Tore Pryser´s magnificent book about German intelligence in the Nordic region.

Norwegian Professor Tore Pryser´s so far probably most important book is about the German intelligence services in the Nordic states - which is also the title in Norwegian of the book in question (Tyske hemmelige tjenester i Norden). Sadly, it has not yet been translated. But if you can understand Norwegian you really should get it, as it is a goldmine.

This book differs from almost all books about WWII in the Nordic area, as it does NOT start in 1939 and it is NOT limited to one of the Nordic states. Instead, Pryser starts his original study in the early 1930s and looks at how Nazism in the Nordic states, although small, was the foundation for much of the northern activities of the German secret services. Not being limited in scope to Norway, Pryser is also able to tell the full story - as northern German intelligence operations not seldom were cross-border ops.

Another great bonus with this book is that it does not stop in 1945 but rather in 1950. The book also looks at German war aims and war plans, e.g. against Sweden.

So, if you have a serious interest in Nordic WWII history, Tyske hemmelige tjenester i Norden is a real must.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Spanish Civil War & Narvik

One of the about 200 Norwegians who fought in Spain 1936-39.

The Swedish cover photo of the unknown Norwegian member of the International Brigades in Spain is one of several links between Sweden and the about 200 Norwegians in the Spanish Civil War. But this book also is a good reminder about Narvik.

The title of the book Tusen dager. Norge og den spanske borgerkrigen (“A thousand days. Norway and the Spanish Civil War”) is explained by the fact that the war lasted 989 days. I like the poetic title, and I am very impressed by all the history and photographs that the authors have dug up. The book´s authors Jo Stein Moen and Rolf Saether tell the story of how the Spanish Civil War affected Norway, and recount the experiences of the about 200 Norwegian volunteers - of which most were on the side of the republic. As is the case with the about 550 Swedish volunteers in Spain, only a small number fought on Franco´s side. In Norway´s case it was seven men. Although few, they too are covered in the book, not least the later SS-volunteer Per Imerslund.

The authors estimate that about 50 Norwegians died for the republic, slightly more than previously thought. In other words, every fourth Norwegian died. On this very day, the tenth of October, in the year 2000, the last surviving Norwegian veteran passed away.

Gladly, not just the International Brigades are covered, but also the joint Swedish-Norwegian hospital on the republican side. Not that many years ago I was talking to its last surviving member.

The book also describes what happened afterwards and I especially appreciate the part about the Spanish Civil War veterans who fought at Narvik 1940. In the war cemetery there rest 118 members of the French Foreign Legion - 16 of them are Spanish.

There is a website about the book, with a section in English - here is the link to that section.

I hereby would like to tell the authors how sorry I am it took so very long until I could review your fine book.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Major New Book About WWII Norway

Norway has been blessed with a number of really good WWII history books in recent years. The latest one that I find to be a real milestone is a WWII history of the Trondheim region. It has so many new and interesting photos that even if you don´t read Norwegian you should get it, provided you have a keen interest in Scandinavia during WWII.

The title in translation is The Bunker: Trondheim Under The Swastika and the authors are Karl H. Brox, Hermann Hansen and Knut Sivertsen. I agree with the authors that from the viewpoint of the German military, Trondheim, not Oslo, was the most important city in occupied Norway. But the book is both about the fighting in the area in 1940 and what happened afterwards. What strikes me as the book´s main strength, aside from the fantastic photos, is that it is the result of not years but decades of research. The collaboration of many Norwegians, the grandiose plans to remake Trondheim into a major German/Germanic city, info about little known German units - its all in this impressive book.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

How Sweden Became A Space & Drone Nation

Sweden´s space pioneer hanging in the ceiling of the Vidsel museum.

Some of the most amazing museums are those that are generally not open. Such is the status of the museum of the Vidsel Test Range in Swedish Lapland. This test range is a Swedish strategic national test and evaluation asset. The museum tells the little known stories of how Sweden became a space and drone nation.

Thanks to Mr. X I recently got the opportunity to visit a museum few outside of the aerospace industry get to visit, the Vidsel Test Range Museum. It is probably the only place in the world reminding about the first Swedish rocket launch into space. The rocket in question was a US-made Arcas rocket launched from a place called Nausta, in 1961 - i.e. 55 years ago. Not that much has been written about the launch since then and the nickname it got at the time is just about forgotten now: "Plutnik". Aside from the similarity with Sputnik the name indicates something small and cute.

The Vidsel Test Range Museum preserves many unique machines but sadly I was in a hurry and therefore can only present one more - but it is a milestone: Sweden´s first drone, the target drone RB01 Jindivik. I think the year of its first Swedish flight may surprise you, 1959. Also, few will guess the manufacturer: the Australian Government Aircraft Factories (GAF).

Sweden´s first drone and yours truly.

Yes, those are reindeer and I am not sure what they signify.

Thank you, folks, for letting me in, and the photo permit. For more photos from the museum, visit this Vidsel website (in Swedish).

Want some more little-known Swedish history? Then how about how many German aircraft the Swedish Armed Forces shot down just in 1940, or how more Swedish citizens have died for jihad than for Hitler.

Friday, July 29, 2016

German Paratrooper Bicycle Mystery

Very rare and, being made for paratroopers, collapsible: a Fallschirmjäger Fahrrad, in the new Narvik museum.

How did a German paratrooper bicycle end up in Narvik? I think I have seen every published photo of German paras at Narvik and have never seen them riding any kind of bike. But there certainly was such a thing as a special collapsible bicycle for German paras. Well, the rare bike was not the only surprise I got in the new Narvik War Museum.

To get to Narvik my pal Mikke and I took the train from Luleå in Swedish Lapland. Before entering Narvik itself we did a quick hike in the border area, as it still, after a dozen or so hikes, presents us with traces of WWII that we have not seen before. Not to speak of the splendid view you get from the WWII border positions. This time we saw three German positions we had missed previously and were surprised to see how, on the top Swedish position, the Swedish three crowns painted by Swedish soldiers in 1940 (!) were more easily discernible, thanks to the damp weather. I have some photos from that hike on my other blog (in Swedish but with several photos).

Moving on to central Narvik, the largest museum sign is still (July 2016) there, on what used to be the Red Cross War Memorial Museum. But the museum itself is no longer there but has transformed into the Narvik War Museum and is located across the street inside the very modern Narviksenteret, to be precise on Kongens gate 39.

Well, what about the contents? I have good news and not so good news.

Being able to see unique pieces of history real close, like the above hand-painted German mine sign, was one of the best aspects of the previous museum. Sadly, most artifacts are now behind glass. One can understand why (theft, vandalism), but nevertheless it is sad. This mine sign is one of the items still on open display.

Another fav artifact of mine is this British tropical helmet that was washed ashore in Narvik during the fierce naval battles of April 1940. Why a tropical helmet? Well, missions in tropical waters were considered highly probable for many British naval vessels - so it was part of standard kit on board.

Have you seen this type of Luftwaffe oxygen mask before? Interesting to see rare artifacts, but how about some more info about it?

A new and good aspect of the new museum is how some key facts are highlighted, like how 4 of 10 male adults in Norway 1940-45 were German soldiers or civilians in occupation duties.

Good to see how modern presentation technology is used to explain the fighting around Narvik.

Also good to see the very first Victoria Cross ( but a replica?) awarded during WWII, beside which are these, the last words of the recipient, Captain Bernard Warburton-Lee. However, his last name is incorrect in this place in the museum ("Warbourton") while in the other place it is correct.

Also interesting to see badges of units for Georgian, Russian and Norwegian "volunteers" (some were genuine, some not) in German military and construction service in Norway. But what about some more info and photos? This is a part of the occupation years that one would like to know more about.

Well, here there are several errors in the text. To start with these are not "service badges" but campaign shields, and German soldiers did simply not "...get badges for each battle they participated in". There were not even a dozen campaign shields. But the Narvik shield was the first one.

The French Hotchkiss tank that previously was outside the museum is now on the bottom floor and part of an arty display with some sort of peace message. There is no info about the tank itself and its role in the Allied amphibious operation of May 28, 1940.

This is one of the strangest aspects of the new museum - this is all the information about the Allied bases on Swedish territory whose personnel operated well inside the Narvik region. Not even the names of the bases are mentioned (Kari, Sepals I-III).

The whole museum starts with this large size conflict cycle. Sure, it can be said to be true for many conflicts. But how relevant is it to the Narvik 1940 scenario?

Now, my main criticism about the new museum is difficult to illustrate with artifacts now on display, because, basically, it is about what is NOT there. I have no exact stats but it is clear from many visits to the previous museum that a very large part of the artifacts one could see before are no longer displayed. There are some new things, the IMHO most interesting of them in the above photos. But even when one adds the new artifacts the total number is low when compared to similar museums. Add to this that the new entrance fee, 100 NOK, is about double what it was.

Quantities aside, the new museum largely does not highlight what was and still is so special with the battle of Narvik. Before 1940 there had only been very small scale airborne operations - in the Soviet Union against Muslim insurgents. One can therefore say that the paratroopers in Narvik are part of a milestone in warfare. Right now the airborne dimension of Narvik is shown only by that paratrooper bicycle. Do keep the rare bike in the exhibition, especially if it nevertheless was in use in Narvik in 1940 (I am not excluding that but would sure like to see a photo), but please also show a paratrooper and a parachute container with contents.

Also of significance, but mainly for the Allied side: the amphibious operation against the Germans in Narvik town on May 28, 1940. Why not at least a scale model diorama of that event, highlighting the failed use of French tanks, the extremely steep landing area, and the German use of railway guns?

Then there were the impressive Norwegian and Polish infantry operations high up in the mountains (and why not explain General Fleischer´s significance?). The challenge of the mountains was well illustrated in the previous location of the museum by a 1:1 diorama, an original German mountain position that had been moved into the museum. This was one of the most impressive displays and should be possible to show on the bottom floor of the new museum.

Many of the most interesting larger artifacts in the previous museum such as a "human torpedo" and a Kettenkrad tracked motorcycle should be possible to show either in the long winding corridor to the bottom floor or on that floor.

Lots of photographs from the previous museum could easily adorn the walls of that same corridor. And why not add some info about how to get to the unique wreck of the destroyer Georg Thiele and places where you can easily still visit German and Norwegian WWII positions, e.g. Björnfjell?

Finally, how about at least a sentence about the dozen Swedish volunteers at Narvik (in Norwegian and French uniforms)? The museum has received at least one battlefield trophy from one of them, Jan Danielsen.

Basically, the museum ought to have in storage most of what is needed to improve it.