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

Saturday, February 13, 2016

He Found Swedish Wartime Missing Links

With Carl Finstrom, instrumental in bringing to light Swedish WWII history, in 2010.

At the time of writing, a colonel of special significance for modern Swedish history is being interred at the Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington. He had a very Swedish name: Carl Gustav Finstrom (originally Finström) and his parents were from Sweden and Norway. But Carl, as he mostly was known, was a US citizen and officer. But most of all he was a gentleman.

Carl was one of the most talented persons I have met. He was born in 1936 and graduated from Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois with a bachelor's of science degree in chemistry minoring in geology. He earned several postgraduate degrees. As an officer in the US Army he experienced many different assignments, finally as a military attache in London and Stockholm. After having retired he could use more of his time to conduct research in the sphere of history (not just military) and not least in Nordic WWII history.

To me and my co-author Lennart Westberg, Carl will always be in our memories as a cheerful friend and fellow WWII researcher. Without Carl it is most doubtful if there would exist an English version of Swedes at War 1914-1945. Therefore it was a good moment in the midst of my sadness when I learnt from Carl´s wonderful wife, Joanne, that Carl in spite of his illness was able to read our sequel to that book shortly before he died.

Carl provided lots of documentation from US archives, proving the extent of Sweden´s covert and even today not fully known support for Allied WWII operations. His research work is part of two of my books and one can also see traces of Carl´s work inside two of the still standing Sepals bases here in Swedish Lapland. Thank you, Carl, for all your support and for making us glad so many times.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Deutschland 83 & Reality

One of the best sources about GDR (DDR) elite units and a cuff title for "Dzerzhinsky".

There is a lot of praise out there for the German television series "Deutschland 83" about a 24-year-old native of East Germany (GDR/DDR) who in 1983 is sent to the West as a spy for the Stasi, the East German KGB. The series has been exported to several countries and is now being shown in my native Sweden.

Evidently, a lot of people find the series very entertaining, see e.g. the Wikipedia page about it. Yes, the series does bring back a lot of 80s atmosphere - it has the "perfect" look and soundtrack. However, yours truly just can´t help thinking that here a major opportunity was missed to do better than just entertain, because I find it to be mainly amusement. It contains so many deviations from what happened in 1983 that I don´t know where to start pointing out unrealistic or simply wrong details. In short, I would say that what has been accomplished is a German series too inspired by "The Americans", the US show about undercover KGB spies, and pure fiction like "Mission Impossible".

Of course, a "Deutschland 83" more based on reality would have risked not being as commercially successful. But, I imagine that with another script and/or director we could have seen something like the excellent Stasi drama "The Lives of Others".

Anyway, if "Deutschland 83" has sparked your interest in the Stasi (officially Ministerium für Staatssicherheit, MfS) and its elite soldiers - then I have a source for you. Alas in German, but if you are really interested then you probably understand German. The source is Die Garde des Erich Mielke (The Guard of Erich Mielke) by Hagen Koch & Peter Joachim Lapp. It mainly tells the story - with many photographs - of the Stasi´s Guards Regiment "Feliks E. Dzierzynski", named after the founder of the Soviet Cheka/KGB, Felix Dzerzhinsky. But also shows how this large regiment (actually more of a brigade) was connected to East German SOF units like the ultra-secret AGM/S.

BTW, one of the under-reported news stories in 2014 was how the prestige formation of the Russian VV-troops (Internal Troops) got back its name and is thus since September 2014 again officially known as the Dzherzhinsky Division.

I warmly welcome tips from readers re books about East German elite units in other languages than German.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Lapland 1944 Movie "Wildeye"

Teaser for "Wildeye".

I can´t recall having seen a single Finnish movie about the Lapland War of 1944 between Finland and Germany - although one famous war movie was partially made in Finnish Lapland, see my previous post about the 1993 version of "Stalingrad". But last fall such a movie premiered in Finland, entitled "Wildeye" in English.

As it has been filmed in areas where I have hiked several times I am very anxious to see this film. However, due to the lack of "film contact" between Finland and my native Sweden I guess I will have to wait for the DVD to see this one. The only other movie I can recall that deals with the Lapland War of 1944 is the 2002 Russian film "The Cuckoo".

My last post here in 2015 was about how the Lapland War is being described in new ways in Finland, e.g. in the Rovaniemi exhibition "We were friends".

Thursday, December 31, 2015

More Swedish Citizens Have Died For Jihad Than For Hitler

Our new book "Swedes at War 1945-2015" is the first history of the post-WWII volunteers from Sweden in foreign units.

At the end of 2015 I am pondering the fact that since our book Swedes at War 1945-2015 was published this fall yet more Swedish citizens have died for jihad and the latest statistics from Sweden´s security agency Säkerhetspolisen mean that more Swedish citizens have now died for jihad than for Hitler.

As Lennart Westberg and I wrote in our previous and also translated book, 28 Swedes died in the service of Hitler´s Waffen-SS and Wehrmacht (26 in the W-SS + 2 in the Wehrmacht). In late 2015 it became known that about 40 Swedish citizens have died in various groups fighting for jihad in either Syria or Iraq. However, if one looks back at the very first Swedes who died for jihad in different states (not just in Syria and Iraq), as we do in our new book, the total figure today is no doubt above 40. Because already in 1993 Mikael Glinka from Stockholm died for the sake of jihad in Bosnia. In the 1990s there were also Swedish citizens who died in combat in e.g. Chechnya.

So, as 2015 moves fully into history, I wonder why my state and society has been so slow to pick up the implications of jihad. Well, not only jihad, but challenges to our security in general. How was it possible that we scrapped most of our security thinking and military and civil defence capability? To end this last blog post of the year with something positive I could of course add that the current Swedish government in late 2015 decided to bring back Swedish "total defence" planning in some way. But the very late hour and lack of extra funding also weigh heavily.

If you are wondering how many Swedish citizens died against Hitler - well, there is no exact figure but it is clear that many more died against than for. In the various Allied convoys (to Liverpool, Murmansk etc) some 900 Swedish seamen died. In addition there were Swedish citizens in US, British, French, Norwegian etc army, navy & air units and approx a hundred were killed in action. For more about the Swedes on the Allied side I again refer to our previous book Swedes at War 1914-1945, also available in English.

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Wehrmacht and SS in Finnish Lapland

A German WWII sign post in Lapland has been recreated.

The exhibition "Wir Waren Freunde" i.e. "we were friends" in Arktikum in Rovaniemi in Finnish Lapland tells the story of the German military in Lapland during WWII in a new way. See it before it closes on Jan 10, 2016.

While not a large exhibition and with few objects it is still worth seeing, particularly if you already have a special interest in the Germans in the Arctic. It provides a great deal of new information, also in English, about the German military in and around Rovaniemi, making clear how much the German presence meant for the local economy. The local authorities even called the labour market in Lapland during the war years 1941-44 "the time of Babel". However, as the exhibition correctly points out, not only Finns worked in the machinery that kept the German military in Lapland functioning but also other Nordics as well as Dutchmen, Hungarians, Belgians, Russians and Ukrainians.

Tourist entrepreneurs in Finnish Lapland adapted their stuff to German military customers - two historical articfacts in the exhibition.

Of all the photos on display in the exhibition I had only seen one or two before and there is a great deal about the many local German installations and love affairs including many letters. There is also a special focus on the regional German military newspaper, the Lappland-Kurier.

The Germans in the Arctic actually had several newspapers, regional ones and for certain units. Lappland-Kurier must have been the largest of them. Here also a Finnish issue of the largest propaganda magazine the Germans made, Signal.

The exhibition booklet contains a lot of the amazing photos from the exhibition, and there is a booklet version in English/German.

There is another section in Arktikum that one should not miss, which is a permenent display. It was many years since I last saw it and I think it may have been improved as I do not remember it being as impressive as it is. It consists of two very large dioramas (scale 1:100?), one showing Rovaniemi before the war and one after the massive destruction in 1944. My photos here (below) both show the diorama of the just destroyed city. Click on them to see them in slightly larger size.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Can New Kill Level Trigger New Strategy?

Norwegian UN troops on their way up Sniper Alley in Sarajevo, November 1995. PHOTO: Paalso

Many argued against more western involvement. Resistance was strong within both the US and the UN. But close to three hundred thousand people had been killed. Am I talking about the war in Syria? No, I am talking about another and not that distant war.

In the former Yugoslavia about three hundred thousand people were killed in the fighting between 1991 and 1995. The other day I heard that the total number of killed in Syria has now probably reached three hundred thousand. In other words, the Balkan kill level from 1995 has now been reached in Syria. I do not believe that the 1995 Bosnian intervention is a step-by-step instruction for what should be done now in Syria. But this I do believe: it would be an enormous waste to now not study what brought the war in Bosnia to an end. Some of the bloody Balkan lessons are still relevant. Sure, there are many important differences, not least IS(IS) and the New Cold War. But consider also how many different groups were a part of the Bosnian puzzle and how unstoppable the wars seemed.

One starting point is to pick up and read a copy of To End A War by chief negotiator Richard Holbrooke. This is my simple message to you: read it.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Accidentally Finding WWII Dive Bomber Remains

Mikke with one of the first finds indicating an aircraft. Part of landing gear?

This year´s Narvik hike provided me and my good friend Mikke with several surprises, not least finding many uniform parts in German positions and lots of bits and pieces of a British dive bomber.

After more than a decade of Narvik hiking (see e.g. my previous post re. Ju 52 with paratroopers) the region still delivers great encounters with both nature and history. Some finds on this 4 day hike:

German mortar position with signs nobody has been in it for decades.

Some paint left on the wood inside the carrying case.

In the middle of nowhere, huge shrapnel most probably from a gun onboard a warship in the Rombak fjord, i.e. either of British or German origin.

One of the first proper rifle/machine gun positions we found. In the background mountains where some Swedish volunteers in the Norwegian Army fought. Position may not look that spectacular from this angle, but...

...look closer at the ground around it and you see perfect evidence of the shooting that was going on here. Note that this is how we found it. Rounds dated 1936-39. Please do not touch complete ammunition, for your own safety. Remember, even First World War ammunition can cause injury/death.

A bit more unexpected: thick cloth, originally black. Just like we found it. In the Narvik area it is today very rare to find uniform remains in the open.

The cloth leads us to a kind of cave probably used for resting and inside it, on the ground is a mass of the same type cloth that has obviously disintegrated after decades of contact with water. But it is possible to make out some greatcoats with large shoulder boards. Here you see just the shoulder boards.

But we also found some originally probably field grey shoulder boards. This is one of the most intact. Yes, I moved the boards and the below artifacts to take these photos, but then I put them back in the position ("cave"). One should put stuff back both for legal reasons (Norwegian law) and for the benefit of future hikers.

Black shoulder board, insignia for a private, a plain metal button and the back end of a Norwegian Krag rifle. An experienced Norwegian friend has seen these photos and identified the greatcoats thanks to the boards and button - they are late 19th century Norwegian Army greatcoats captured and used by German troops. Lots of German equipment had been sunk.

Speaking of sunk, in a small lake by one of the later positions we found there were a dozen more Madsen machine gun magazines. It is also certain that many of these were captured and used by the Germans. These positions were only used by the Germans.

Among the mags was also an older Madsen type, made of lighter metal.

Then, going back towards the Swedish border, we start finding this stuff. We think "aircraft", and then...

...we find hundreds of various bits and pieces of light metal. We know from an online Norwegian warbird archive that a carrier-based (HMS Ark Royal) British Blackburn Skua dive bomber/fighter aircraft was found in the area. But according to the archive photos there should today be very little left to see and thus we had not at all been searching for Skua remains.

Even some remains of blue Royal Navy paint, which I reckon indicates the tail of the aircraft. How can the paint be so bright after so many years? Well, it is mostly covered by snow.

We then followed the route of the two surviving British airmen and were impressed at how the men managed to slide down a very steep and long slope to the innermost part of the Rombak fjord (please do not try doing that). From there they were rescued by the British destroyer HMS Bedouin.

Before going back into Sweden we stumbled upon some more German remains in Björnfjell, just lying about in the open. Machinery parts with German instruction plates still very readable.

Although we have been by the Björnfjell railway station a number of times we had missed this old metal sign with very faded letters and bullet holes. Probably from the fighting in May 1940. To see photos larger just click on them.

If you are wondering why we took no souvenirs from the Skua it is because it would be illegal and also because they will probably fascinate future hikers and might some day also be helpful for a museum display. The parts acually still belong to the Royal Navy. If one wishes to remove parts for a museum or other display one must contact, in this case, first the UK Ministry of Defence and then the the Norwegian Aviation Museum in Bodoe.

If you are keen to get tips re Narvik hiking areas I recommend my book Jan och Nordens frihet (in Swedish) and a future book of mine in English that might be out in 2017.

Thank you Mikke, for a tough and beautiful hike into history.