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

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

German Special Operations Book Of The Year

Prewar missions over the UK and Poland; German airfields behind Soviet lines and a "Tatzelwurm" mission against Stalin himself - there is so much amazing stuff in this book, and not just about the Luftwaffe´s most secret missions. Some spectacular photos are also in the book.

The two Russian authors Dmitry Degtev and Dmitry Zubov shed light on several German top secret missions with the help of both Russian archives and previous books only available in Russian. I reckon very few people in the West have seen most of the info and photos presented in this book. It starts with naming Luftwaffe officers involved in prewar reconnaissance missions over Poland, the Soviet Union and the UK. These missions were done mainly by using Deutsche Lufthansa aircraft and the first mission over the UK seems to have taken place in 1937. There are several exact officer and aircraft details in the text but here, like in other places in the book, one would have liked to have seen original documents and/or archival details - because the information is of such great interest. However, later on in the book some original wartime documents are shown, regarding other missions.

The invasion of Norway was of course preceded by secret Luftwaffe reconnaissance flights but nowhere before have I read about the exact aircraft used, and other details. There is also a Swedish connection as the reconnaissance aircraft mostly then used were Fw 200 Condors and part of the trip to and from Norway was a route over Sweden already frequented by civilian Fw 200s from Deutsche Lufthansa.

Most of the book is of course devoted to the Eastern Front and from these pages I believe almost every reader will learn new things about German spies, their equipment, the aircraft used and several secret German airfields behind the Soviet lines. The latter can be explained by very few radar stations, no Soviet night fighters as such and vast uninhabited areas. The many spy missions launched by the Germans over the Soviets, and much increased in numbers after the first German defeats, caused the Soviets to form two new formations: destroyer (anti-sabotage) battalions and a new type of security police, SMERSH, an abbreviation for "Death to spies". But, as the authors also note, quite often the Soviet security organs arrested people who had nothing to do with the Luftwaffe, Abwehr (German military intelligence) or SD (the SS intelligence service). These three German organs came to work together on the Eastern Front to such a degree that the title of the book might as well have contained the words "German special operations". 

Having an interest in the Arctic I was especially keen to read the sections about German insertions in the Arkhangelsk and Komi regions. Even though I have read some about these missions in Finnish books I found lots of new details in The Luftwaffe´s Secret WWII Missions. There are also some to me new details about German operations in Iraq and Iran, even illustrated with a Luftwaffe aerial photograph of an airfield near Teheran. But even more spectacular are the often illustrated pages of the special ops with the rare and futuristic Ar 232 "Tatzelwurm". It had a distinct advantage for special ops: "When taking off and landing on rough ground, eleven additional pairs of small wheels under the lower fuselage came into play, to which special rubber caterpillar tracks could be fitted if necessary."

The highlight of the book is in my opinion the description of Peter Tavrin´s failed but still most amazing Kremlin mission, that includes both German and Soviet photographs and Soviet documents that highlight the role of a "Tatzelwurm" in this desperate 007-type mission to assassinate Stalin. These pages could quite easily be transformed into a blockbuster or a TV series (isn't there already a Russian movie?).

The book ends with psychological portraits of Hitler and the Abwehr´s Wilhelm Canaris, which might seem a bit odd given the Luftwaffe title. But after having read these portraits I think I see the point of the authors. With men like Hitler and Canaris at the top, no secret mission could have altered the final outcome.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Das Book


OK, you have seen "Das Boot" and want to know more about the U-boat arm, its submarine types, bunkers, missions, special insignia, awards, aces and downfall. You are also keen to see original artifacts up close. Well, in that case this new book is what you are looking for.   

U-Boats At War In 100 Objects 1939-1945 is written by Gordon Williamson and the name will probably ring a bell with many reading these words, as he has written more than 40 books - many about German WWII armed forces. Because of his long experience and not least several visits in Germany he has been able to produce a simply stunning book with 100 short but still rich chapters. Each chapter is illustrated with at least one high quality photograph, often more than one and quite often in colour.

Here are just a few of the chapter titles/subjects: The Snorkel; Enigma; Air Support; The U-Boat War Badge; Award Documents; Clocks; Toilet Facilities; The Atlantic Bunkers; The Visor Cap; Propaganda; Hygiene; U-Bootsfrontspange.

For Nordic readers there are two parts of particular interest: The Norwegian Bases and the Type XXI Elektroboot. The latter is the very advanced submarine type featured on the cover of one of my Swedish language books, as one of these submarines was salvaged by the Swedish Navy and affected Swedish submarine design a great deal. Well, that is not unique, German submarines in one way or another affected all postwar navies.

It is no wonder that the recently taken photos are in high quality colour, but it is quite amazing how Gordon Williamson has been able to find several wartime colour photos that I have not seen before. 

Directors of future "Das Boot" films/episodes would do well to purchase a copy of this book, that I will call "Das Book". They should read it carefully and have it handy during filming.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Finest Aviation Book I Have Seen


I have previously been impressed by Mikael Forslund´s work, but his latest book, about the American, British, German, Italian and SAAB bombers in the Swedish Air Force 1924-58, is so stunning it is doubtless the finest aviation book I have yet come across. But there is one annoying thing about it.

This superbly illustrated 296 page aircraft book in A4 format has a title that I find a bit misleading: Swedish Bomber Colours 1924-1958. Given the narrow focus of the title and the rather high price of the book I reckon more than a few aviation buffs will wonder if this book is really worth the money. Well, the camouflage and markings of the aircraft in question are certainly covered in the best possible way both by spectacular photographs, several in colour, and many exclusive colour profiles. But the thing is that this book provides so much background and detailed history about the aircraft types and their use that it is more of a bomber aircraft encyclopedia than just a book about paint and markings. In other words the book delivers more than the title promises. Of course, that is better than the other way around, but it may also make some people refrain from getting this book. Now, hopefully some of you who have doubts are reading these words.  

Here are the aircraft types featured in this book, first I list the Swedish Air Force designation and then the international name:

B 1 - FIAT BR
B 2 - FIAT BR 1
B 3 - Junkers Ju 86
B 4 - Hawker Hart
B 5 - Norhrop 8A-1
B 6 - Republic 2-PA Guardsman
B 7 - Fokker G.1 (not delivered but still featured on one page)
B 16A - Caproni Ca 313
B 17 - SAAB 17
B 18 - SAAB 18

Let me add that all variants are featured. Then there are the wonderful sections about Swedish bombers in foreign service, mainly Danish SAAB B 17 bombers in 1945 and the SAAB B 17s in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian photos and interview are incredible and I was very surprised to learn that two former Ethiopian B 17As in 2020 were being restored in Lithuania, of all places.

If you are into building scale models of Swedish bomber aircraft and want to find good photos and colour profiles this book will be like Eldorado for you. But again, this book is much more than a book for scale model enthusiasts, it will delight any Swedish Air Force buff and it also constitutes a great source for researchers and writers. Well done, Mr. Forslund, very well done!

Friday, December 11, 2020

P-51 Mustang

The P-51 Mustang was first flown operationally not by the USAAF but by the Royal Air Force (RAF). This is reflected in this new book that should please both warbird buffs in general and especially modellers - here you will find sharp reviews of P-51 kits in all scales.

This book combines facts about the various Mustangs produced for the RAF and USAAF; text about how they performed (not least against the German Me 262); splendid b/w and color photos from WWII and the Korean War; superb color profiles; some photos of the plane in smaller air forces (including Sweden´s) plus a beautiful section about the plane in model form. 

The chosen photographs are excellent and I have to mention one in particular, of Major James H. Howard - seeing the photo of him and his plane marked for six victories over German aircraft and six victories over Japanese immediately inspired me to build his particular plane. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for a single-handed battle against over 30 enemy fighters.

Before opening this book I was just vaguely aware of the last Mustang, the Twin Mustang, basically two Mustang fuselages joined together. Weird design - I didn't think it had seen any service. But I was wrong, during the Korean War Twin Mustangs were among the first US aircraft to fight over Korea and they soon, as well as normal Mustangs, showed that they were not obsolete. In my mind the Korean War was a jet fighter war, so the book´s section about Mustangs over Korea held several surprises for me.

Of the book´s 96 large size pages, 37 are devoted to the Mustang in model form, starting with the Academy Mustangs in 1/72 scale and then covering the different 1/48 and 1/32 scale models by various manufacturers. I was surprised at the large number of different kits and appreciate very much how the authors describe the pros and cons of them. It is also in the model section that one finds two photos of Clarence "Bud" Anderson´s "Old Crow". Considering both his Swedish roots and ace status I plan to build  his plane in the near future and while doing so will no doubt have good use of this fine aircraft study produced by Robert Jackson and Lynn Ritger. "Bud" is still alive (!) and I hope he will soon be reading these words.

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

The LRDG In Action 1940-1943

 

This book is different from most books about the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) as it contains a great deal of rare or never before published photographs. It includes a lot of details of special interest to military vehicle buffs, special forces insignia collectors and scale modelers.

 

The New Zealander and LRDG buff Brendan O´Carroll has made this book in the series “Images of War” truly stand out. To start with, most books in this series are thinner. This one is 215 pages long and largely photographs but also some really good text. Sure, it does contain some photos I have seen before – but as Mr. O´Carroll is a true expert who knows how to write informative captions he has added new value to those photos. 

 

The many images in The Long Range Desert Group In Action 1940-1943 were taken both by official photographers and the LRDG men themselves, many come from private photo albums, drawers etc. The quality of the photos from personal cameras is not seldom poor (some have been enhanced), but this can both be forgiven, as they can still reveal a lot, and be explained – the films were often developed in Cairo photo shops with unclean water. The resulting images thus could show not only specks of dust but also hairs and parts of insects. Still, there are also plenty of photos in Brendan O´Carroll´s new book that are clear and sharp. Being Swedish I was particularly happy to find a new and crisp photo of a Bofors (made in Sweden) mounted on an LRDG Ford.

 

Uniforms and insignia of patrolmen are featured in some superb photographs I have never seen before. LRDG members could certainly look very strange and exotic! 

 

Several images ought to constitute strong inspiration for dioramas, and some of these also feature non-LRDG vehicles and I here have to make special mention of an Afrika Korps Panzerfunkwagen and a Marmon Herrington armoured car of the King´s Dragoon Guards. Simply stunning photos.

 

Those of you who have read the LRDG book I wrote with Karl-Gunnar NorĂ©n may recall the story of Nick Wilder, the LRDG captain who performed a miracle for Montgomery nor far from Tataouine, the town that later became Tatooine in the Star Wars films. Well, sadly we could not locate any good enough photos of Captain Wilder. But Brendan O´Carroll has succeeded in finding some photos of Wilder in preparation for the attack on the Barce airfield. It is just incredible to see these photos.    

 

You might think that the book ends with the LRDG operations in Tunisia – but this it does not! Instead, it follows the desert veterans to their next assignment as part of the Raiding Forces, Middle East, made up of around 200 LRDG patrolmen and 150 men of the Special Boat Squadron (SBS) and No. 30 Commando. In other words the book ends with some photos from Greek Islands. As soon as I saw them I started thinking about visiting these islands in a year or two. The vaccinations have started folks, so let us start planning to visit LRDG sites again – yet another reason to purchase The Long Range Desert Group In Action 1940-1943.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

SAS Jeep Operations in Germany and Norway


It´s not every day that you find a new book about the SAS in Norway and discover one more Nordic in the ranks of the SAS. Well, With the SAS Across the Rhine is mainly about final operations on German soil. Still, it is well worth getting and now for some details.

 

Unlike some SAS books this one by the late (he died in 2002) Colonel Ian Wellsted OBE, MA, is very personal, it has plenty of details about his love life. This may put off some readers, but should not – because Wellsted´s memoir highlights something probably quite common – how a turbulent emotional conflict at home can follow a soldier to the battlefield and affect his behaviour a lot.    

 

In January 1945 Ian Wellsted is trained in the French alps for operations in Norway together with a Danish SAS member I had never heard of before. No, I am not talking about Anders Lassen VC. Every Nordic reader into SAS history knows about Lassen. Wellsted writes about Paul Jensen, a former Spanish Civil War volunteer who after the German invasion of his homeland had become active in a Danish resistance organization until he had to flee to the UK, where he joined the SAS. No year for this is given but Wellsted writes about the man on several pages and Danish history buffs should thus be able to track him down. Would love to find out more about Paul Jensen, or perhaps that was not his actual name? Let me know, dear Danish readers.

 

To get into the right shape for Norway the SAS men are helped by French alpine rangers, chasseurs alpins, and the part about them was for me extra enjoyable as I have had the pleasure of observing them on an exercise. To be precise I was skiing with the 27thAlpine Ranger Battalion. I thus relate to Ian Wellsted´s warm feelings for his cool French hosts. 

 

After about a month in the alps the SAS skiers were told Norway was no longer a top priority (but Norway will come back on the agenda) and they were instead sent to Germany to there constitute an advance party with armoured jeeps. So, all you SAS jeep fans, here is a book you will definitely want to read. Wellsted´s jeep battle accounts are supported by 16 photos, not always top quality but none of which I have seen before, and some tactical maps. 

 

In Germany the author confronts not only German snipers but also a most tense situation with one of his own that obviously is suffering from extreme battle fatigue. 

 

Once Germany has fallen Norway returns on the SAS agenda. Of course, we now all know that this also broke the German will to fight on in Norway. But at the time things were not so evident, and Wellsted paints a vivid picture of what Norway was like just after the general German surrender. One only wishes this part had been a bit longer and that there had been more photos from it. But the one photo that there is, is of particular interest, with many nice jeep details.

 

With the SAS Across the Rhine (155 pages) ends with a very modern take on what the WWII SAS was all about and lessons to be learnt from them. This part has been written by one of New Zealand´s greatest SAS history buffs, Terence Gardiner, a retired air commodore, and is in itself worth your time. 

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Hitler´s V-weapons

The story of the battle against the German V-1 flying bomb and V-2 rocket is more fascinating than I thought. The official history of this battle, recently compiled by John Grehan, reminds of how the unmanned aerial vehicle made its debut long ago and includes Norwegian and Swedish aspects.    

The very secret war against the V-1 and V-2 actually began in Norway already in November 1939, most unexpectedly. This was several months before the country was invaded and became a battleground. What happened was that the British Embassy in Oslo then received two letters from an anonymous German scientist whose name turned out to be Hans Ferdinand Mayer. The embassy staff passed on his letters to the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS/MI6) HQ in London for further analysis. The letters turned out to be a leak from the heart of German high tech weapons research, or as the official history puts it: "the first serious evidence to fall into British hands that the Germans were developing rockets for military purposes". 

It is almost beyond belief how much the Germans poured into the V-1 and V-2 projects and this new book brings home both the scale of the German efforts and how the British analysts and leaders learnt of them and tried to prepare themselves for what was to come, and then acted. What the rocket threat more exactly consisted of became a lot clearer thanks to a V-2 that accidentally flew to Sweden on the 13th of June 1944. It was an incredible moment to stand by this rocket´s crater - it is still well preserved in a dark forest not too far from Kalmar in south Sweden. In fact, this crater is one of the highlights in my latest book.  

Having recently researched the V-2 that ended in Sweden I can say that I know of no previous book that mentions the following aspect of what happened once the Swedish authorities had become aware of the cause of the explosion. Basically all relevant previous books report that debris from the exploded V-2 was collected and brought to Swedish technical experts and then the debris was sent on to the Allies, to British experts in Farnborough. However, Hitler´s V-weapons also states that two British technical intelligence officers were allowed to enter Sweden soon after the explosion, and here immediately made some important discoveries. In other words the first Allied examination  of a V-2 took place not in Farnborough but in Sweden.

There is also an exciting "what if" scenario in Hitler´s V-weapons - the Special Operations Executive (SOE) selected a German technician for capture, a key person for the V-weapons. But the man turned out to be so closely guarded that the SOE deemed it impossible to get him alive. 

Well, this 328 page book with 16 photographs (some quite moving) should please both V-weapon and UAV buffs, as well as civil defense and London historians.