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

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Axis Armour You Never Knew Existed

Panzer IVs, Panthers and even Tigers served in the WWII Hungarian Army.

Quite many Axis tankers were Hungarians, which is why also several German Armoured Fighting Vehicles (AFVs) were in Hungarian service. A new book looks closer at these, and also the Hungarian vehicles with Swedish roots. 

An amazing number of rare photos and quite a lot of information has been assembled in the new book Hungarian Armoured Fighting Vehicles in the Second World War by Eduardo Manuel Gil Martinez. Being Swedish I was initially mainly interested in the Swedish aspects of his book, but it turned out that the German AFV presence in the Hungarian Army was greater than I thought, and also more interesting than I had imagined. If you are a modeller and you feel like you have run out of Panzer subjects - well, this book will provide you with some extra years of modelling challenges.

Most Swedish armor buffs will know that the Hungarian Toldis and Nimrods were to a large extent Landsverk vehicles, i.e. they were designs from the Landsverk factory in Landskrona in southernmost Sweden. But from this book I learnt something I had no idea of. Not only were the Toldis designed in Sweden, they also contained some components from Sweden, because the Hungarian industry was not able to supply all necessary parts.

Much to my surprise I also learnt from this book that there was even a Toldi converted to a tank destroyer, armed with a German PaK 40. Yes, the book has a photo of it. I can divulge that the result is very similar to a Marder II. Another good reason to release the Toldi also in scale 1/35 - or is there already such a kit and I have just missed it?

Many of the 111 pages of this book are of course devoted to AFVs that were mostly the result of Hungary´s own AFV design efforts. I am talking not least about the Turan tanks and Zrinyi "StuGs". Especially the latter should appeal to modellers. 

Generally speaking this book is a treasure chest for modellers and also provides some insights into the role that Hungary played for the Axis during WWII. The translation at times has some issues but that does not diminish the value of this book. Every tank buff, at least outside Hungary, ought to check out this one.

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Early Jet Fighters 1944-1954

144 pages of some of the first (and some of the coolest) jet fighters ever. 

If you are looking for good images of the Third Reich´s jet fighters and are intrigued by how these  designs influenced the aviation industries of the Soviet Union, France, Sweden and other nations... well, then this is a book you will appreciate.

As a kid I remember seeing a model (Airfix?) of a Messerschmitt Me 262 and being quite astonished at learning that it was a WWII aircraft. Over the years I have of course learnt of the even more advanced German jet designs, e.g. from the Horten brothers (Reimar and Walter). But it was only through this book that I got the whole picture of German jet fighter development, and just how much it affected Soviet etc aircraft design. Even from a short distance you can mistake a Soviet Sukhoi Su-9/1946 for a Me 262. In fact, some early Soviet jet fighters not only looked rather German, their engines were actually BMW 003s and Jumo 004s - just one of many interesting facts that one learns from Leo Marriott´s book.

There are many astonishing designs in this book that I have seen nowhere else before. But as a Swede I am of course familiar with the planes of the Swedish chapter. Still, even there was a photo that surprised me - of a Lancaster in Swedish service with a jet engine under the belly, the STAL Dovern project. I learnt even more from Marriott´s text and captions about our early jet fighters. I had no idea that when the prototype for the Saab J 29 "Flying Barrel" (largest photo on the book cover) first flew on 1 September 1948 it was flown not by a Swede but by British test pilot Squadron Leader Bob Moore. Swedish pilots then just had no jet experience, of course. 

There is a also a German story behind the development of the J 29. Marriott explains how the plane´s swept wing design originated in the Third Reich and in 1945 reached Sweden via Switzerland. The new wing type was then tested for real with a strange looking Saab Safir trainer aircraft.
   
Leo Marriott has found wonderful images of many beautiful and "less beautiful" early jet fighters, and he rightly lets the photos dominate the book. But he also has provided the photos with some really interesting captions. 

Hm, should I now build a 1:72 scale Heinkel He 162, a Yak-25 or a Caproni-Campini N. I?

Monday, August 03, 2020

Astonishing Normandy Discoveries

Two books that have changed my understanding of the great invasion. 

In recent years there have hardly been any finds in Normandy more astonishing than those of UK author Gary Sterne. It all began when he found a map in a pocket of a US Army veteran´s uniform - a map that led him to the forgotten German Maisy Battery battlefield. 

As the Maisy Battery could be forgotten and buried for so long one must wonder what else there is that we Normandy buffs have missed? Well, each year since the discovery in 2006 more and more of the Maisy trenches and bunkers are being restored. At the time of writing this (August 2020) the Maisy Battery is also again open for visitors. Recently I have been reading Gary Sterne´s two-volume work about the US Army ranger history that is so very much part of Maisy (on maps also known as Grandcamp-Maisy). Maisy for decades has been virtually unknown, in the shadow of the Pointe du Hoc battle. 

To summarize the two books by Gary Sterne is no easy task, given their almost incredible amount of facts, maps, photos and previously top secret documents. These books differ a lot from most WWII books in that the author, Mr. Sterne, has chosen to not just quote documents he has found but also to reproduce very many of them in the end product. He has really discovered a lot of ranger history previously unknown to the public, and it is therefore understandable that he was eager to include a lot of documents. Still, especially volume one suffers from simply too many documents. Well, if you are doing serious ranger research or are a relative of one of the most relevant men, the rangers of the 2nd and 5th US Army Ranger Infantry Battalions, you will probably benefit from this abundance of documents – because there is a high probability that the persons you are most interested in are mentioned on one or several of the 492 pages of volume one and/or 668 pages of volume two. 

The value of owning volume one is that you can see where each company was preparing for D-Day on any given day, plus that you get some good and sometimes amusing insights into the evolution of the relationship between the rangers and their British hosts, both commandos and civilians. The rangers were to a large extent the US equivalent of the commandos. A favourite paragraph of mine in volume one is: “The British don’t know how to make a good cup of coffee. You don´t know how to make a good cup of tea. It´s an even swap." This is a quote from the instruction Interaction with the British

The period document written by Maurice Prince of the 2nd Rangers is quoted a lot by Sterne, and rightly so, because it is a rather charming unit history. An example from 5 December 1943 about getting to know wartime Britain: “We learned what rationing really was, the darkness of a total black-out, the shortage of petrol, and the absence of motor vehicles.” The average WWII buff, however, may not be that interested in the many months of preparations for Normandy – which is the focus of volume one – and thus can go straight to volume two. Here one finds not only the most interesting invasion documents of the rangers and lots of Normandy photographs I have seen nowhere else, but also Gary Sterne´s groundbreaking conclusions. 

Learning more about Pointe du Hoc and Maisy it is probably impossible to not long for another trip to Normandy. I have previously reviewed this Normandy travel guide that should both be studied before trips and also be brought along. 

Being especially interested in Swedish-American Captain Ralph Goranson of the 2nd Rangers, as I have written about him in two of my books, I was pleased to find the most relevant after action report about him in D-Day Cover Up At Pointe Du Hoc. Goranson again appears in the chapter “Medals and Battle Honours”, where one gets all the information about every relevant Distinguished Service Cross and Silver Star. Relatives and researchers of 2nd and 5th rangers will indeed find a great deal of important documents in these books, the most interesting ones in volume two.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

The U-Boat Commanders

323 pages of U-boat history with a bio for every Knight´s Cross holder.

When researching WWII U-boat history you get to a point where you need a good reference book. Well, this is it. This is not a book about every single U-boat and every U-boat commander. But just about all major U-boat actions and key commanders are present in The U-Boat Commanders: Knight´s Cross Holders 1939-1945 by Jeremy Dixon.

This is not the kind of book that puts the U-boat actions into context - there are other books that do that. This is more of a very specialized compilation of biographies and it is organized in such a manner that the first section is very short - it contains only two men: Albrecht Brandi and Wolfgang Luth - because only these two were awarded the Knight´s Cross with Oakleaves, Swords and Diamonds. Then there is a section about the three who received the above but minus the diamonds; then the 23 recipients of the Knight´s Cross with Oakleaves and finally the 93 who "only" received the cross.

Each biography starts with the number of ships the recipient sunk and how many tons and then the life and career of each recipient is summarized on two to four pages. Postwar life - if the recipient survived the war - is mentioned, but there are not that many details. Every biography ends with a list of other wartime awards that the person received.

There is at least one photograph of every recipient, sometimes there are two and at times also the victims of these men are present in so far that some of the ships they sunk are pictured and the captions provide some data about their histories.

Are you trying to research some major action with U-boats involved? Then the 323 pages of The U-Boat Commanders: Knight´s Cross Holders 1939-1945 will most probably provide several of the facts that you are looking for. The book also provides good information on several decorations, Kriegsmarine terminology and ends with a bibliography.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Sirius, A Watchful Eye In The North

I simply can not imagine a more beautiful book about special forces than this one.

If you have read my book about elite forces in the Nordic states (so far only available in Swedish: Elitförband i Norden) you may have noticed that I have a special interest in the Danish Sirius rangers. Patrolling with dog sleds over huge and uninhabited areas on Greenland is their everyday work.

Sadly, I only recently got hold of Sirius A Watchful Eye In The North by Peter Bondo Christensen, biologist at Aarhus University, with photos taken by Sweden's probably most Arctic photographer ever, Magnus Elander. All the Arctic travel behind their book is in itself worth a lot of respect. The thing is that they have also achieved something brilliant. I simply can not imagine a better, more beautiful book about special forces, dogs and Greenland than this one.

Sirius A Watchful Eye In The North not only provides the reader with an understanding of the unit's history and tasks, I think Peter Bondo Christensen and Magnus Elander have managed to convey some of the feeling of "flow" that the Sirius rangers get when they have learned the "craft" and solve tasks in harmony with both dogs, snow, ice and extreme temperatures.

Magnus Elander's photographs are so beautiful that words fail me - it is such a joy to see them that I can only compare to going to the best art galleries I have visited. No wonder his pictures can be found in magazines such as National Geographic Magazine and he has been named "Wildlife Photographer of the Year".

Serving for a period with the Sirius Patrol means, in a way, being away from the "real" world for two years. You might think that two years is just too much - talk about social distancing! But Sirius A Watchful Eye In The North lets the reader understand that the time on Greenland creates extremely strong friendships, with both humans and animals. The book allows the reader to perceive another world, both more difficult, easier and more beautiful than the "normal world".

The only sad thing about Sirius A Watchful Eye In The North, released in 2018, is that the book is very difficult to get hold of. It is a little easier to find the Danish version, published in 2009 and 2018. Those editions are also completely sold out, but several copies are available in Danish libraries.

The book is 206 pages and the format is slightly larger than A4. Should you manage to find a copy for sale, be prepared to pay a lot. But whatever it costs, you will find that it was worth it - because this is one of the finest books ever created.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Fallschirmjäger!

307 pages of German paratrooper biographies and personal photographs.

From Norway to Crete, German WWII Fallschirmjägers i.e. paratroopers made a strong impression on the battlefield. The new book Fallschirmjäger! by Greg Way has a personal focus, it lets the reader get to know 18 German paras - mainly their frontline memories but also what they experienced in captivity.

Royal Navy veteran Greg Way started corresponding and then meeting with German paratrooper veterans more than twenty years ago, and his book is the result of these years of contact. While Mr. Way has chosen to concentrate on the history of the individual rather than the unit, he does begin his book with a good summary of the Luftwaffe paratrooper operations and campaigns, and a useful glossary of relevant terminology and abbreviations.

Having lived in the Netherlands and last year written a chapter about how German paras met some rather stiff resistance from Dutch cavalrymen in Landsverk armoured cars (from Sweden), it was of special interest to me to read about the invasion of the Netherlands from the perspective of Kurt Schulz. His recollections are the most gripping I have so far read about that operation. I only wish there had been some more paragraphs about his later service with the 14. Luftwaffen-Feld-Division by the Arctic Circle in Norway. Although this part is not even a page long it contains some highly interesting details and a photo from Norwegian Nesna that make me want to find out more about this little-described division.

The memories of captivity i.e. POW camps are surprising. For example German paratrooper veteran Wilhelm Schulte reported that German POWs in Arkansas were treated well and when one of them died the man was given a proper burial outside the camp that included full military honors from American soldiers.

Combat on Crete is covered i.a. in the chapters about Josef Jendryschik and Bernd Bosshammer. Russia, Monte Cassino and other actions in Italy are covered in several chapters. The book contains an unusually high amount of private photographs, some modern photos of equipment and battle sites plus other types of illustrations like drawings and documents.

To sum things up, Fallschirmjäger! gives the reader good insights into the wartime service and captivity of a cross-section of German paras, and should be of special interest to those researching Crete and Monte Cassino.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Bren Gun Carrier

Contains 64 pages crammed with first class information and photographs.

Let me immediately confess that I have been wrong about the Bren Gun and Universal Carriers. For some reason I until recently thought it was a simple, dull type of vehicle. I have been VERY wrong.

Last year I reviewed a previous Land Craft series book about a more universally (forgive the pun) appreciated vehicle, the Jeep in SAS & LRDG service. Now it is time for Robert Jackson´s book about something of an armoured equivalent of the Jeep. Bren Gun and Universal Carriers did not only serve in every theatre of WWII, they were also produced in several countries. I had been aware of the Canadian Universal Carriers but have now, thanks to Jackson´s new book, learnt also of the US, Canadian and New Zealand Universals.

Carriers not only had machine guns, there were some with artillery and anti-tank weapons mounted on top - both in Allied and German service. Yes, the Germans used captured Universal Carriers, and that is how I came to develop an interest in them. The thing is that I last year discovered that German trains transported i.a. a Carrier from a Swedish railway station (Haparanda) to an unknown destination in Norway or Germany. The vehicle in question may have been captured at Dunkirk and then sent to serve with a German unit somewhere in Lapland. There definitely exist photos of Universal Carriers in German Arctic service, in Kari Kuusela´s book Panzers in Finland. Why at least one Carrier (there is only one in the photos) was transported by the Germans via Sweden is not known. While Robert Jackson´s new book has not solved this mystery it does have some photos and colour drawings of Universal Carriers in German service.

Especially scale modellers and MV buffs will appreciate Bren Gun Carrier - Britain´s Universal War Machine, because it contains the best photos I have ever seen of many different scale models of the type. Several of the scale models also carry all kinds of equipment and some are part of magnificent dioramas.

The combat performance of the Universal Carrier is not the main focus of this book - but it does provide examples of the type´s strengths and weaknesses. There are some surprising examples of actions with Carriers. While the section about Carriers in conflicts after 1945 is not long, it is certainly interesting. BTW I hope to rather soon visit a Carrier abandoned in an Arctic forest.