Wednesday, December 24, 2014
Let us refresh our minds about strategy by looking at the past. More specifically a battle just before WWII and how it compares to Stalingrad.
Have you ever heard about a battle in China 1938 called the battle of Taierzhuang? Probably not, am I right? But why on earth should this matter? Well, let me quote a single sentence from the book Taierzhuang 1938 - Stalingrad 1942 by Lance Olsen: "The major portion of Japan´s military might was - at all times from 1931 to 1945 - consumed in China".
Yes, at all times between 1931 - not 1939! - and 1945.
The battle of Taierzhuang in 1938 was the first major Chinese victory in the largely unknown (i.e. in the West) first stage of the Asian part of WWII. It is hard not to agree with Lance Olsen that Japan´s invasion of China, that started in 1931, spared the Soviet Union from having to fight a 2-front war. For, at the battle of Moscow 1941, had those reinforcements from Siberia not been able to come - WWII would have taken a different course - perhaps even a radically different course.
Lance Olsen has done serious students of WWII a great favour by revealing a huge blind spot in the western mainstream narrative of WWII. Read his book for a very refreshing take on WWII, and after having read it consider if we today are much better at taking into account how the balance in Asia counts not only in Asia.
Thursday, November 20, 2014
A Junkers Ju 88 on Svalbard, just one of several stunning photos in this compilation.
The Ju 88 in the above clip is without location but I know from a film project I was involved in in that the location is Svalbard i.e. the group of Norwegian Arctic islands on the way to the North Pole.
I wonder, which book has the full story of the Svalbard Ju 88? Anything still at the site to see? The Ju 52 that appears after three minutes is, I think, close to Bodö in Norway. Probably photographed quite long ago. I think it has since been removed to the aircraft museum in Bodö.
Thanks, Mikke, for the tip - I hadn´t seen this one before.
Wednesday, November 05, 2014
Nice slideshow made by Erik Pakkala.
This is where my coming book largely takes place, the battlefields of Narvik. It is my first biography and is about Jan Danielsen, a young Swedish cavalry officer who first was a volunteer in Finland in the Winter War and then joins in the fight against the German invaders in Norway.
The hiker video (slide show) above features some of the places mentioned in my book as well as later German positions at the border with Sweden. The book will be released early next year.
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
On October 29, 1944, the RAF Lancaster "Easy Elsie" crash-landed just outside Porjus in Swedish Lapland. The plane had just participated in Operation Obviate, the second attempt to sink the German battleship Tirpitz outside Tromsö in Arctic Norway.
My story about how "Easy Elsie" is doing today, after 70 years in the open, will be published in a few days in the new issue of the Swedish military history journal Soldat & Teknik. For more information about the RAF, USAAF, SOE, SIS, OSS, Red Army and other Allied formations in Sweden during WWII, as well as the German troop transports through Sweden 1940-43, see my book Germans & Allies in Sweden.
Thursday, August 21, 2014
On the day I die I hope to have an intact memory and if that is the case I will no doubt be able to recall my meeting with Harry Järv, a war veteran and author from Finland/Sweden who wrote the best piece I have read about what happened in Moscow on August 23 seventy-five years ago.
The impression I got from my one and only meeting with Harry Järv, i.a. deputy director at the National Library of Sweden, was unforgettable. Sweden´s librarian number two had not only himself written a long list of important books, he had led many recon patrols behind Soviet lines after having joined the Finnish Army as a volunteer in the Winter War of 1939-40. In the midst of his wartime service he was able to reflect about leadership, art and also to change his leadership according to his evolving ideas on humanity and war. I think I can best describe him in English as a real-life Jedi.
Twenty-five years ago Järv´s article "The Exception: Finland" (Undantaget Finland) was published in the Swedish culture journal Fenix. It is not available online but I would like to give some idea about it here now, as this coming weekend it will be exactly 75 years since the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, including a secret protocol, was signed. In his article Harry Järv first reminds about the fifty years of Soviet denial of the secret protocol that divided up the territories of Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania into German and Soviet "spheres of influence", anticipating "territorial and political rearrangements" in Europe i.e. the invasions of Germany and the USSR of the listed countries.
As Järv wrote, it was only in August 1989 that the text of the secret protocol was published in Soviet press. The first paper to publish it was the Soviet weekly Argumenty i Fakty. This was possible due to the admission a few weeks earlier by Valentin Falin, Chairman of the International Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party.
Järv then provided a history of how the protocol had been used, debated and supressed for half a century, eloquently demonstrating the many similarities between how the protocol was used by the USSR against the Baltic states and Finland. As a consequence of the protocol the USSR established the Finnish People's Government/Finnish Democratic Republic. The Soviet Air Force dropped the text of a treaty between the USSR and its new Finnish republic, i.a. on the unit in which Harry Järv served. Järv thus himself could pick up a fresh copy of this treaty. And here comes a quote from Järv on its effect on the Finnish troops: "I know of not a single example of it [the treaty] having had the desired effect" (my translation from Swedish). To make a long story short the Finnish puppet state of Stalin became a very strong motivation in the fight FOR Finland. Ultimately Finland, because of its incredible resistance, became the exception to the rule, the lone survivor of the secret protocol of August 23. Large territories had to be given up but the main body of Finland could go on as an independent and democratic state.
Bearing in mind the bloody history of "spheres of influence" and "People's Republics" it will be interesting to observe how the 75th anniversary of the secret protocol will (not) be remembered in different countries.
Harry Järv kindly obliged to my request to contribute a photograph from one of his patrols to Swedes at War. It is probably the strongest photo in the book (it is not the photo at the top of this blog post).
Friday, August 01, 2014
Today it is exactly 100 years since Russia became part of World War One, or as it is still known in some countries, the Great War. But there is almost nothing that reminds about it in today´s Russia, although the Russians generally have a great interest in history and especially wars.
You will find a World War Two monument in just about every Russian town, and in many villages too. In large cities you will find several statues and busts commemorating WWII heroes and a T-34 tank in some public area. Museums and exhibitions about WWII are also very numerous. But the first monument about World War One was unveiled only in 2004 and the first-ever Russian World War I museum has not yet opened (but it will, in St. Petersburg). These and other signs of low interest and scanty knowledge are covered in a highly readable article in today´s English-language The Moscow Times.
Why this low interest? After all, three million Russians lost their lives during WWI. Yes, THREE million lives. The above article tries to explain this mystery and I am not saying it got things wrong but perhaps one could explain even more simply by saying that there was just zero use for WWI. It could not benefit the Soviet state in any way and "stole" attention from the "October Revolution", although one can argue that with no WWI there had also been no revolutions in 1917...
I was thinking a lot about Russia 1914-18 when I recently for the first time visited the former prison in Karlskrona (south Sweden) of Anton Nilson, the Swedish revolutionary who went to Russia during the last stage of WWI and became one of the Red Army´s first aviators. I interviewed him during five intense hours in 1988 and the result is in Swedes at War 1914-45. Part of Nilson´s former prison is now becoming an international school and part of it is a cool restaurant and music club called The Rock. You should definately visit it when in Karlskrona. Thanks to the kind staff I got to see several prison cells, some of which looked pretty unchanged since Anton Nilson was in the building.
Saturday, June 14, 2014
Journalists around the world are about to cover the different ceremonies commemorating the outbreak of World War One, starting in Sarajevo on June 28. Rightly so, but as a Swede dealing with war history it is my obligation to also remind about the Swedish–Norwegian War of 1814 and question the feelings about the rare peace that we have since enjoyed.
The Swedish–Norwegian War, known here in Sweden also as the Campaign against Norway, was a war fought between Sweden and Norway that broke out with a Swedish naval attack against Norway on the 26th of July 1814. It ended quickly, on the 14th of August with Norway entering into union with Sweden, but with its own parliament and constitution. That war is today of little consequence for Sweden, as the union was dissolved in 1905. But the peace we have enjoyed since 1814 can still be a hot subject, as was recently demonstrated at a debate in Stockholm when Anders Lindberg, editorial writer of Sweden´s largest newspaper, Aftonbladet, stated "neutrality is the world's most successful policy, it has spared us from wars for 200 years". This praise for neutrality was not quite correct, as Sweden since joining the EU has scrapped the principle of neutrality. However, our non-aligned policy continues, and that is most probably what Mr. Lindberg had in mind. The reaction to these words from Erik Helmerson, editorial writer at Dagens Nyheter, our largest morning paper, was scathingly self-critical: "Sure, if success is that others sacrifice their lives for our sake - then neutrality is a mega-hit".
I would say that both Mr. Lindberg and Mr. Helmerson have missed some key parts of Swedish history. For example, we were not neutral when our neighbour Finland was attacked in 1939. But the help that the Swedish government provided was not flaunted and the full scale of it only became known decades after the war. Also in 1941-44 the Swedish government allowed a volunteer movement for Finland and made it possible for Swedish officers to serve Finland. Perhaps not that many Swedish lives were laid down for Finland 1939-44, 117 lives to be exact. But let´s not forget neither them nor the around thousand Swedish lives lost in Allied supply convoys and military units 1939-45. Most were not in Allied armies but on ships under various flags. However, the Norwegian memorial in Oslo for the around hundred Swedes who died for Norway 1940-45 makes no difference at all between those that died in the Norwegian Merchant Navy and those that died on battlefields in Norway and Normandy. So, there is no reason for us to differentiate, a life is a life.
The number of Swedes who died for Finland or in Allied convoys may largely be described as volunteers and the figures pale when one compares to the war dead of other countries. But one must not forget that the Swedish state facilitated both categories and the number of Swedish sailors who assisted the Allies, 8,000, just cannot be regarded as insignificant.
Let us now look back at August 1914, when Europe was largely at war but we Swedes celebrated our first century of uninterrupted peace by erecting an 18 metre tall monument on the border between Sweden and Norway to celebrate 100 years of peace between our countries. There is a book in English that provides us with a unique view of the ceremony that day, Scandinavia in the First World War edited by Claes Ahlund. I know of no similar book in any language, as it provides insights into several very little known subjects like the intelligence and counter-intelligence war in Scandinavia, the 26,000 (sic!) ethnic Danes in the German military, the 1,100 Scandinavian volunteers in Australian (!) uniform and the immense losses of the Scandinavian merchant ships in 1914 and 1918 - Norway alone lost 829 ships. Yes, that´s right, 829 ships.
Scandinavia in the First World War really is a must if you want to get to know Scandinavia in 1914-18 and also paints vital background for the stance in 1939 - not joining the warring sides had worked in 1914-18, so why change that basic strategy? Just bear in mind that Scandinavia in the First World War is not a regular history book but exactly what the subtitle says: Studies in the War Experience of the Northern Neutrals. A more regular history of Scandinavia in 1914-18 has yet to be written and should preferably include more about Finland and thus be called something like The Nordics and the First World War. A parting tip to those who eventually will write that book, check out Swedes at War.
Finally, should we on the 14th of August celebrate that it will then be - unless the Ukraine War of 2014 turns into something much bigger - 200 years since we were officially at war with another state? Shouldn´t we rather ignore the coming anniversary, considering the many abroad that sacrificed their lives for our sake? Well, aside from that more than a thousand Swedes lost their lives for others, i.e. Finland and the Allies, let me quote the British ambassador to Sweden during WWII, Sir Victor Mallet: "Swedish neutrality was of far greater value to us than a Swedish act of suicide in 1940 would have been."