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

Saturday, October 26, 2019

German Warbird Discovery In Arctic Lake Now Filmed

Two Swedish divers have now released the first film of this Junkers Ju 52 at a depth of 75 metres. PHOTO: Simon Kenttä (who owns both this photo and the films)

The report of this discovery was printed yesterday, in the Swedish newspaper Expressen. The report and part of the first film footage went online the day before. Yours truly is the reporter and all images except those from WWII come from one of the divers, Simon Kenttä.

Resting at 75 metres in a lake north of Norwegian Narvik and not far from Sweden, the Junkers Ju 52 "Ace of Hearts" has so far not been filmed, only last year photographs of the plane appeared online. In the same lake, Hartvikvatnet (also Hartvigvannet), there is a much more accessible Ju 52 wreck. As a consequence, that plane is very incomplete. The Junkers aircraft now in question constitutes a contrast - it has an amazing amount of details and lots of paint and markings including the ace of hearts.

The Junkers Ju 52 "Ace of Hearts" helps tell the story of the battle of Narvik - that provides important lessons about WWII in Scandinavia.

Diving 75 metres down in an Arctic lake is extremely dangerous and requires special training, equipment and safety precautions. Before one dives one also has to be very sure about the exact location of the target. Also please bear in mind that German WWII equipment left behind in Norway belongs to the Norwegian state, meaning the Norwegian defence museums.

To very easily examine one of the Junkers Ju 52 machines that went down into lake Hartvikvatnet, see the one taken out of the lake in 1983 and preserved in the splendid Norwegian Aviation Museum in Bodö. Here is the link to immediately see their Ju 52.

Media interested in purchasing rights for the new photos and film footage should contact Simon Kenttä in Kiruna directly, his e-mail is simpek@yahoo.com. He can also be reached via mobile phone: +46 70 202 91 23.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Secret War - Not Just About SOE

An attractive cover for a special operations reference book not just about the SOE.

When you have read about Special Operations Executive (SOE) operations in certain countries you might want to better understand the SOE in general - why it was created in 1940, how it began its existence and what became of it. Secret War by Nigel West answers such questions and has some parts of particular interest to Nordic readers.

Secret War: The Story Of SOE includes the original Cabinet memorandum, drafted by Neville Chamberlain in July 1940, which created SOE. West´s book has many details about the origins of SOE and the serious rivalry it from the start experienced with the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, also known as MI6). Nigel West even writes that an "undeclared war" existed between the SOE and SIS. West also makes it clear that he has studied not just the successful SOE operations, and that he wants to shed light on how the SOE tipped the resistance balance in favor of Communist groups in several countries, not only in Yugoslavia.

West does not devote many paragraphs to describe Operation Gunnerside, the successful SOE action in the Norwegian mountains to stop the German development of nuclear weapons, through the destruction of heavy water production and stocks. But that operation is well documented in several other books and West instead clarifies how Gunnerside was to the benefit of the status of SOE in general.

Early SOE activities in Sweden and Norway are covered rather extensively. One wishes West had written as much about the last activities, that interest me more. Still, one learns some important facts about the SOE in all of Scandinavia and regarding the Danes I learnt of something I had no idea of - how the US Office of Strategic Services (OSS) had plans for a Danish Operational Group (OG). In fact, several pages of this book are very informative about the OSS.

If you are mainly interested in SOE and OSS activities in France, this book will be even more useful to you.

The edition of Secret War: The Story Of SOE that I have just reviewed is the one that was printed this year (2019). The first edition was published in 1992. I believe it remains a good investment.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Operation Totalize & Michael Wittmann

Great to better understand Operation Totalize and Michael Wittmann´s last battle.

Having previously blogged about two guides about all of Normandy it is time to look at a new book focusing on an area of particular interest to armour buffs, the area covered by Operation Totalize, during which German tank ace Michael Wittmann was killed.

The new book Operation Totalize by Tim Saunders is filled with both the information, photos and maps that you need to get a good idea of this offensive launched by Allied troops to break through the German defences south of Caen. If you are mostly interested in US forces this book is not for you, because Totalize is the story of Canadian, British and Polish troops fighting against Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS units.

Tim Saunders is of the opinion that it was most likely Sherman Trooper Joe Ekins who took out Michael Wittmann´s Tiger. Ekins belonged to the British 1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry. Saunders presents a plausible scenario but does not exclude another Sherman due to the nature of armoured warfare. Well, thanks to the relevant text, air photograph and map in Operation Totalize one has the tools necessary to visit the battleground in question and oneself judge what is more likely, Joe Ekins or a tank from the Canadian Sherbrooke Fusilier Regiment.

Speaking of tanks, during Totalize the Germans used also some radio-controlled tanks of the type Borgward B IV, operated by the Funklenk-Abteilung 301. This part of the book was a surprise for me, and Saunders has also found a Borgward photo I had not seen before.

If you are an AFV buff, wargamer or intend to do a battlefield tour of the Operation Totalize battlegrounds, you will find this book very helpful and you will want to bring it with you to Normandy.

Let me finally say that the author, Tim Saunders, has found many great photos I had never seen before and I also like how he uses maps and unit insignia.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Hitler´s Largest Arctic Project Then & Now

Org. Todt chief Albert Speer (right) with General Eduard Dietl in the Arctic 1943. Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-J16636 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Thanks to a Norwegian friend I was recently invited to a WWII research meeting right beside Hitler´s largest Arctic project, his railway line that was meant to end in Kirkenes by the Finnish (now Russian) border. This blog post is mainly to provide a visual idea of the amazing days we spent up there.

The Organisation Todt (OT) was a German paramilitary engineering organization named after Fritz Todt, an engineer and senior Nazi leader. The OT was one of the Wehrmachtgefolge, German Armed Forces auxiliaries. The organization was responsible for implementing the vision of connecting by rail south Norway with Kirkenes, the northeasternmost town not far from Soviet Murmansk. This meant working in one of the most challenging landscapes on earth due to a staggering amount of mountains and fjords. The Arctic climate and often total lack of roads for supporting motor vehicles did not make things easier. As usual, the OT would rely on forced labour, mostly Soviet and Yugoslav prisoners of war. The section responsible for this most extreme railway project was called OT-Einsatzgruppe "Wiking". The project was pursued right to the very end of the Third Reich, at the cost of thousands of lives.

Our trip last week began with a visit at Klungset, beside the town of Fauske, about 70 kilometres inside the Arctic Circle. Klungset is probably the most intact OT base that there is in 2019, and one of few WWII German military hospitals still around. Last time I visited it, 18 years ago, it was in a deplorable state. Now several parts of it have been restored. In 2015 it became protected by the Directorate for Cultural Heritage in Norway.

The German hospital in Klungset shortly after the German capitulation.

The same place the other day, now in private Norwegian hands.

In connection with the huge Arctic railway project to Kirkenes, this hospital complex was built in 1942-43, mainly for the benefit of German OT staff. Construction was carried out by forced labour, local companies, a southern Norwegian construction company and others. When the base was completed in 1943, it consisted of 12 buildings with a total capacity of 200 beds. Today, four of these buildings are preserved. Although the bulk of the labour force consisted of prisoners of war, this group received limited treatment at the base. This changed radically after the German capitulation, when, in June 1945, the US Army flew Swedish Red Cross personnel, diet foods and medical equipment to treat the most ill Soviet former prisoners of war. Thus American C-47 aircraft flew a Swedish hospital staff from Luleå to Bodö, not far from Klungset. The above 1945 photo from Klungset shows the main building with Swedish medical staff and also some Germans under Norwegian command.

This Phänomen was an ambulance at the base and after 1945 used by a farmer.

Hopefully Klungset will sometime in the future also become a true museum. We saw why that would be a good idea - not only has the main building been restored, another building has been left virtually untouched since 1945 and contains many both unusual and moving artifacts and photographs. Just walking around on the base, especially in the cellars, is a remarkable experience in itself. The two gentlemen who own the premises also have some relevant WWII military vehicles, some virtually untouched since the war, some restored.

US Army Dodge ambulance with a German BMW R75 motorcycle in Klungset.

Thank you so much, Trond Ole Slettvoll, for showing us around on Klungset. Our next big thank you goes to Trond Inge Mathisen of Hamaröy, whose WWII researcher event took place by a mountain lake 90 kilometres north of Klungset, beside the last large German tunnel that was made before the German capitulation. It was never completed and is dangerous to enter, but can be entered with a guide and special equipment - see the last photograph below.

All around our research meeting there were traces of German slave labour camps.

The foundations for a German Arctic railway bridge between two mountains.

The quality of the work is just amazing but also largely covered by vegetation.

German bridge foundations are everywhere but the bridges long gone (sold).

Some of the construction equipment used by the slave workers is still in situ.

The WWII weekend brought together more than 50 Norwegians and 3 Swedes.

Part of the weekend was the unveiling of a new memorial by the last large tunnel.

One of the WWII Soviet (Norwegian) reenactors unveiled the memorial.

The text to the memory of the prisoners of war is in Russian and Norwegian.

Entering the last tunnel should only be done with safety equipment and a guide.

What is inside the last large German Arctic railway tunnel? First, please understand that abandoned WWII tunnels should not be entered, or at least not without safety equipment and a guide, as they are more or less unsafe for various reasons. Well, what about my experiences from the above tunnel? I am saving them and the relevant photos for a manuscript I hope to finish next year which will contain largely unknown and unpublished material. You can support this by reading my books, two are available in English (check Amazon etc). The next one (in October) in Swedish you can see below. It contains chapters i.a. about some very large gifts from Soviet former prisoners of war in Sweden and a previously unknown Allied base on Swedish soil - the Norwegian SOE operators on the cover came from one of these bases. If you are wondering about the submarine on the cover it is U 3503, one of the extremely advanced German submarines of the type XXI class, en route to Norway but scuttled on 8 May 1945 west of Göteborg, Sweden.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

The Normandy Battlefield Encyclopedia

Superb for those of you who have been to Normandy but want to discover more.

Recently I reviewed Visiting the Normandy Invasion Beaches and Battlefields, a terrific book for first-time visitors to Normandy and those planning to lead school groups and similar groups. Now I will review a Normandy guide so comprehensive that it could also be considered a battlefield encyclopedia.

This book, Major & Mrs Holt´s Definitive Battlefield Guide to the D-Day Normandy Landing Beaches (75th Anniversary edition) by Tonie and Valmai Holt, is an impressive mix of good maps, photos and information, the result of decades of Normandy experience and countless meetings with veterans. Aside from many colour maps inside the book you also get a separate map which in itself will probably be very helpful, not least while you are in the area. Simply put, I have never seen a better battlefield tour map before.

Major & Mrs Holt´s new guide can be used not only to plan a trip to battlegrounds or museums of special interest, it is a tool for historians, serving officers, history buffs and wargamers. Even if you have been to Normandy a couple of times I bet you will find several new and highly interesting places thanks to this guide. I did. Also, you will probably find the purely historical information in the book very readable, motivating, and sometimes also very moving.

Nordic readers will be pleased to know that Major & Mrs Holt have not missed the Norwegian and Danish memorials in Normandy and thanks to the maps and photos you will be able to locate them. So far there is no memorial to the Swedes who were also a part of the Normandy landings (mostly at sea but also on the ground and in the air), but there is at least a Bofors anti-aircraft gun in the Bayeux Museum (there is a photo of it in the guide), one of hundreds of Bofors guns used in Normandy.

Major & Mrs Holt´s guide also cover where to stay and eat and special tips for those wishing to tour Normandy by bicycle. The book is 350 pages long but still quite handy (not that large), and filled with good illustrations, mainly in colour.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

III. Germanic SS Panzer-Korps

277 large size pages about the Waffen-SS and the battle of Narva 1944.

Rather surprisingly, this year two books focused on Nordics in the Waffen-SS have been released. First The Finnish SS-volunteers and Atrocities 1941–1943 by Professor Lars Westerlund, and just recently III. Germanic SS Panzer-Korps by Lennart Westberg, Petter Kjellander & Geir Brenden.

This SS corps was a Waffen-SS armoured corps which saw action mainly on the Eastern Front and is often associated with the Estonian city of Narva due to its fighting there. The corps was formed in April 1943 and first commanded by the former Wiking commander Felix Steiner. III. Germanic SS Panzer-Korps is being released in two volumes by the UK publisher Helion & Company. The first volume, just released, covers the background of the corps, its creation and history until September 1944.

Counting myself as a close friend of Lennart Westberg (we have written two books together) I should not really review his new book, but I see no reason why I can not give an idea of the contents. Naturally, the III. Germanic SS Panzer-Korps is the main focus, but the first 45 pages summarize the latest research about the roots and purposes of the Waffen-SS and especially about its recruits from the Nordic states. The authors describe both the incredible expansion of the Waffen-SS and how the SS "brand" was renewed in 1944. Already in the introduction there are several images that few will have seen before, and not just propaganda photographs.

While photographs, especially previously unpublished ones, are important (not least in this book), the III. Germanic SS Panzer-Korps also contains new insights, e.g. into the serious difficulties to keep Norwegian volunteers within the Waffen-SS. Associate Professor Sigurd Sörlie has contributed a summary of his relevant research to this book.

Many books about the Waffen-SS just mention the often very large component of ethnic Germans/Volksdeutsche (from German minorities outside the Third Reich), but in III. Germanic SS Panzer-Korps they are very much present.

The many large photographs are in some cases of spectacular quality and those from within the city of Narva 1944 should be of interest to a wide group, not least those who plan to visit the city. Military vehicle (tank) buffs will find several images of Panthers and other vehicles, also Italian ones, of great interest.

Finally, the propaganda posters in the book deserve special mention. The SS, for Ersatzkommando Danmark, even produced a poster highlighting the significance of Narva, and the book´s poster captions explain the symbols and messages in this and other relevant Waffen-SS posters.

Friday, September 06, 2019

Valuable Normandy Battlefield Guide

This new battlefield guide by Gareth Hughes will improve most trips to Normandy.

Very pleasantly surprised by this one. Visiting the Normandy Invasion Beaches and Battlefields is both a great guide and a compact WWII reference book.

This book by history teacher and guide Gareth Hughes is mostly intended for those planning and leading groups of young people to the World War Two sites in Normandy. But I do believe it should be read and used also by those with a deep interest in Normandy and WWII in general. It starts with a short but brilliant section entitled “D-Day in Numbers”. Two figures that I found to be of particular interest were: “127 – aircraft lost by the Allies” and “15 – percentage of paratroopers that landed in their planned drop zone”.

The general planning and travel tips are in themselves very valuable. The author then provides a very good WWII timeline followed by one of the best summaries I have come across of both the world wars. Then comes a short but still good glossary of key D-Day terms, such as Bigot, Bocage, PLUTO and SHAEF. A 14-page history of Normandy and D-day follows – a very nice summary.

The WWII location parts of the guide do not include every WWII site in Normandy but instead focus on places suitable for school groups and similar groups. One gets really invaluable advice both how to effectively present these places and their context, why they matter. Now, you might want to instead show around a group of military cadets or aviation/tank buffs. Well, I would still recommend this book as your primary Normandy guide. In my next posts I will present some more “extreme” Normandy guides for those already interested in particular units or vehicles.

As I am always looking for connections to the Nordic countries I was glad to note that the author among the tips for extended tours has included the Utah Danish Memorial, that commemorates the about 800 Danes who were also a part of the D-Day landings. They, like the Swedes, served mainly on board ships, but were nevertheless part of the D-Day machinery.