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

Friday, July 19, 2019

Narvik History Hiking Again

Ropes and an old stair (!) to get to the higher Gebirgsjäger Narvik positions.

This year some friends and I decided to look closer at an area that Mikke and I only had started to explore four years ago. Well, the Narvik mountains again delivered some amazing discoveries plus beautiful scenery and weather.

First a warning, to make sure everyone knows the risks. Even if you do find the odd rope or stairs, please understand that these mountains have almost no signs and well marked paths. If there has been some rain recently there will also be plenty of slippery hard surfaces. The military history that is still to be found in the area is not to be removed and if anything looks like ammunition or some other sort of explosive - then it probably is and should not be touched. Remember that people still today are hurt and even killed by explosive remnants from wars that took place a hundred years ago. In other words, hiking in the Narvik area without a special guide requires that you have common sense, good health, some experience of Nordic hiking, good equipment, navigational skills and maps. To be very clear, hiking in the wilderness without a guide can be dangerous and I take no responsibility for others wishing to do something similar.

One of the first German resting positions we found, click on it for larger size.

Almost as soon as we got up on the "upper level" of the mountain we chose to explore, Mats made a great discovery - directly linking us to both the daily life of the German mountain troops and to highest command level. What he found is actually so strange that I will save that episode for a coming book. Moving away from the area where many other hikers had been before us, I almost treaded on the remains of a German stick (hand) grenade. To be precise, a model 1924 Stielhandgranate (M24). As you can see from the below image it is in pieces but still recognizable. Photographed it just like we found it, and left everything. I only take photos.

This German M24 stick hand grenade is being absorbed by nature.

Not far from that grenade we made the next find, a position with a really good view down a slope. It was probably abandoned for some serious reason. Still today it contains plenty of unspent German standard rifle ammo. One does not leave so much ammunition voluntarily, so presumably the owner was wounded, killed or in a hurry away from the position.

German rifle ammo, left in a position with a view to the base of the "path".

Next, I noticed a natural place for storing stuff. I stopped and carefully looked inside. Two more M24 stick hand grenades with some rifle ammo. As these were all unused I did not even step close, but rather took my photos a bit away. You can't be too careful.

Soon 80 years since a German mountain trooper left these M24s behind.

The final day up in the mountains we found mainly empty positions but also two big concentrations of German ammunition, one very obviously was where a MG 34 machine gun had once stood. Notice in the below photograph the rust on the rock surface. Bear in mind that most of the year this and everything else you see up there is mostly covered by snow.

Due to the battle year, the calibre (7.92×57mm) and links one can deduce: MG 34.

Finally, if some of you are wondering about what I am wearing in the first photo (thanks for taking it, Mikke), it is a British 1942 pattern windproof smock. I have an original smock of this type, from a trade I made some thirty years ago. But I no longer wish to use that piece of history on hikes, so this new replica I got from SMB is both a good stand-in and a very practical garment on warm hiking days. What about the thing I am holding on to then? Well, that is a case for my Swiss Army binoculars - a brilliant piece of kit to really examine landscapes.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Excellent M29 Weasel Book

The cover is great but does not inform about the superb colour photos inside.

Large-scale Allied raids against the Germans in Norway were the main motive for the development of the small tracked vehicle that became known as the M29 Weasel. This new book about the M29 by David Doyle tells the Weasel story better than everything I have previously read on the subject. Add to that many great photos.

The large-scale raids were basically dropped, but the development of the Weasel continued and it came to be deployed in many European and Asian countries during WWII. The service did not end there, it became an important snow vehicle in postwar Scandinavia and also served in the Korean War. The new M29 book by David Doyle tells the story of the development and service of the Weasel family of vehicles mainly by means of photographs with excellent captions. The photos are mostly of very high quality and I have seen few of them before. Doyle also informs about many prototypes, some really funny-looking that I was totally unaware of.

The cover says nothing about the many nice colour photos inside. These are mostly modern images, showing preserved Weasels with all the details you can wish for. These, like the wartime photos, should be very much appreciated by both military vehicle owners and scale modellers. Even if you are neither a MV owner or modeller but "only" interested in the history I think you will like this book a lot.

Monday, July 08, 2019

Swedes Who Fought On D-Day

Personal items from Swedes who fought on D-Day are now on display.

Swedes who fought in Normandy 1944 are for the first time in focus in a museum. Hundreds of Swedes took part in the Allied Normandy operation, mostly at sea. But the Swedish Air Force Museum has of course chosen to focus on Swedes in D-Day aircraft.

It is one thing to read about the only air ace born in Sweden, William Yngve Anderson from Kramfors (see my recent book about him and other Swedes in US WWII service), but it is really something to watch his first air victories, recorded by his Mustang´s automatic camera. Now you can see this footage yourself at the Swedish Air Force Museum, and then see some of his own pilot gear, exhibited thanks to his daughter Gina.

William Yngve Anderson´s flight helmet and goggles, then and now.

The first thing you see when you this summer enter the Swedish Air Force Museum is actually their exhibition about D-Day, and perhaps first of all you will notice a Jeep from one of the Normandy-Swedes, Gösta Wollin from Ystad. Wollin was as a Swedish civilian in Norway while Hitler invaded. Because of that experience and some previous ones acquired in Germany itself, he joined the US 82nd Airborne Division, and jumped with them, actually without parachute training, over Sainte-Mère-Église. During many years his US Army Jeep, that he had legally purchased in 1945, was painted white and used as an offroad toy. Thanks to the Jeep enthusiast Mikael Stenberg the vehicle has been restored and this summer you can see it up close, together with an 82nd airborne paratrooper, at the Swedish Air Force Museum.

Beside Gösta Wollin´s Jeep stands a paratrooper looking like Wollin did on D-Day.

Erik G:son Lewenhaupt MC and Bar from Stockholm was one of the very first men to be dropped from a British aircraft on D-Day, as he was one of the pathfinders leading the British airborne assault. In spite of being a 38 year old Swedish citizen he had been allowed to join the British airborne and was on D-Day an airborne captain (and 40 years old). His exhibited items tell something about the battles that he survived. You will notice his weapons for close quarters combat; a German flag he captured and his Military Cross (he was awarded it twice, thus the MC and Bar). Also his Pegasus-marked jump helmet is on display, and the wrist watch he wore in Normandy. All thanks to his grandson Carl. Click on the photos to watch them in larger size (this goes for all photos on my blogs).

Lewenhaupt´s medals from Finland and Norway 1940, D-Day and other actions.

Hundreds of Swedes took part in D-Day in US, British, Canadian and Polish service. At least one of them was killed in action on D-Day itself, and several were killed some days later. For more about the Swedes in British, Polish, German etc service see Lennart Westberg´s and yours truly´s book Swedes at War (available on Amazon, Adlibris etc). Finally, a cordial THANK YOU to the Swedish Air Force Museum´s Torsten Nilsson and his colleagues, for making this exhibition. It ends on 25 August 2019.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Great Escape – New Nordic Details

This new book about the 1944 prison break by 76 men has some wonderful details.

You perhaps remember from the classic 1963 movie "The Great Escape" (with Steve McQueen) how only three escapees made it to safety - meaning Sweden in two cases. There is now a terrific new book about this most famous escape, with some more Nordic detail.

75 years ago, in March 1944, 76 prisoners of war from different Allied units crawled their way to freedom. The 77th man was spotted by one of the German camp guards. The True Story of the Great Escape by Jonathan F. Vance is a must for people like me, who have always appreciated books about escapes. It is also clear how this book is the result of a lifelong personal interest, and I just love how it starts with the author´s childhood memories of learning about the great escape, contacting veterans and their kind responses to him, a stranger. I have the same experience – all but two or three of the WWII veterans I have contacted over the years have been very helpful and a privilege to get to know.

Going back to the film that has inspired both Mr. Vance and myself, the escape of “Danny” and “Willie” in the movie is based on two Norwegians who escaped by boat to Sweden. Their real names were Per Bergsland and Jens Müller and they were both Norwegian pilots. Now, being Swedish and partly Norwegian, I thought that the final leg of their indeed perfect escape could have been shown some more in the film. Well, I am grateful that the new book has informed me about many nice little escapee details from both the war years and afterwards, and one piece of postwar info about Per Bergsland I feel obliged to share here. Bergsland ended his flight career by becoming CEO of the Norwegian airline Widerøe, the largest regional airline operating in the Nordic countries. So, if you ever fly with Widerøe you can ponder how your flight is connected to one of the best escapees ever.

Read this book both for inspiration and the reading pleasure. The full title of the new book is: The True Story of the Great Escape: Stalag Luft III, March 1944.

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

The Undercover Nazi Hunter

"The Voice of Doom" and the SS general designated to lead the British SS legion.

This remarkable book by Wolfe Frank, chief interpreter at the Nuremberg war crimes trials, has two main characters that both deserve more attention: Wolfe Frank himself and the SS general that was supposed to lead the British section of the Waffen-SS.

Thanks to the editor of The Undercover Nazi Hunter, Paul Hooley, a vivid and often surprising picture of Wolfe Frank emerges. He became "the Voice of Doom" which Hermann Göring and other top Nazi leaders heard when they learned their sentences at Nuremberg. But Frank was so much more than an extremely talented interpreter. His path to Nuremberg, from playboy to German refugee to British Army volunteer, is one of those most incredible but true stories of WWII. The amount of work that the editor has invested in researching Frank´s whole career is impressive and the result is also a vast painting of post-war Germany with many insights.

A large part of the book, almost a hundred pages, deals with the testimony of SS General Waldemar Wappenhans. This amount of pages is warranted. Wappenhans was told by SS leader Heinrich Himmler that he was to take charge of the "British Legion" within the Waffen-SS. In other words the British Free Corps of the Waffen-SS originally known as the Legion of Saint George. Now, very little became of those ideas, but this book does provides some amazing pieces of the fantasy world of Himmler. The main value of the book´s large section about Wappenhans lies in something else - he managed to serve both in the German army, Luftwaffe and SS. His pilot experiences from 1918, flying against Lawrence of Arabia, are sure to interest WWI researchers and buffs. His account of fighting Soviet partisans is another highly interesting passage, although it quite surely lacks several darker aspects of these actions. While the chapters about Wolfe Frank were in some cases too long, the parts about Waldemar Wappenhans could have been longer.

Monday, June 03, 2019

LRDG & SAS Veteran Still Knows How To Win

LRDG & SAS veteran Jack Mann with the authors at the book launch in London.

There are Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) enthusiasts all over the world, but only a handful have driven in the tracks of the LRDG in WWII Jeeps to find what remains of the legendary unit in modern Egypt. Having taken part in the "2,300-mile Sahara epic", my friend Karl-Gunnar Norén decided to write a book with LRDG history highlights, original LRDG training notes and his own Jeep experiences.

Karl-Gunnar had been to several deserts, not least in Libya, but to experience something of the original environment and challenges of the LRDG he needed to find fellow enthusiasts. This he did by joining the LRDG research expedition of Toby Savage, that consisted of two 1943 made Jeeps and a team of true LRDG enthusiasts from the UK and US supported by Egyptian travel & security professionals. One of the results is the wonderful photograph on the front cover of our book, taken by John Carroll. That´s Karl-Gunnar behind the S Patrol Ford. To his own desert experiences he added LRDG training notes and photographs from the archive of LRDG founder Ralph Bagnold within the Churchill Archives Centre in Cambridge.

By inviting me to join his LRDG book project, Karl-Gunnar could add one more ingredient to the historic chapters, the story of William "Swede" Anderson of the LRDG G Patrol. I had the good fortune to be introduced to "Swede" in 1988 by the always helpful LRDG Association Secretary James D. Patch (whom I probably found thanks to the journal After the Battle - at any rate that journal´s LRDG issue played a key part in this whole project). I wrote to Bill "Swede" Anderson and received several letters in reply. Some he wrote himself, some his wife Pat wrote for him due to his health.

William "Swede" Anderson of the LRDG. Photo via Peter Anderson & David Hall.

In the 1980s I was not able to realize my dream to travel to North Africa in a Jeep and then write a book about the LRDG. But the mail from Bill Anderson did have a profound effect on me. While he had never been a Swedish citizen and was actually of Swedish-Norwegian descent, the fact that he had been known as "Swede" within the LRDG inspired me to find out how many Swedes (mainly Swedish citizens) served in various armies during WWII, a search that has so far resulted in several books in Swedish and one in English (Swedes at War with Lennart Westberg).

And in the end, thanks to Karl-Gunnar and two publishers, Lind & Co in Sweden and Helion & Company in England, my now rather old book idea has finally been realized. With some help from e.g. Jack Valenti of the LRDG Preservation Society and the family of William Anderson, some more photographs could be added to the English edition of our book, that we were able to release at the Swedish Embassy in London on May 24. We were delighted that several relatives of Bill Anderson could attend together with a very much alive LRDG and SAS veteran, Jack Mann. The best operators are not only warriors but can also talk their way out of prison. Which is exactly what Jack Mann did. You can read about Jack in the brilliant Churchill´s Secret Warriors by Damien Lewis, but meeting him in person is of course extraordinary. After just a few words from him, some in very good Swedish, it became clear why Jack Mann is still a winner. His willpower and charm are intact.

We also revisited our Egyptian "star", the LRDG Chevrolet at IWM London.

A close relative of LRDG founder Ralph Bagnold was also present, and we will never ever forget the special gift we received from you sir! We were also pleasantly surprised that a man who has long inspired us could attend the book launch, After the Battle Editor-in-Chief Winston G. Ramsey. We are also indebted to Peter Jörgensen, Colonel Per Jenvald, Nigel Hirst, John Gilmour and Mikael Norman. We hereby thank all who attended the launch and look forward to meeting you again in London, Stockholm, Cairo or up here in Swedish Lapland.

Finally, a huge thank you to all the staff at our UK publisher, Helion & Company.


Friday, May 03, 2019

Nordic Combat Uniform News

In a few years no longer standard issue: the Swedish uniform system 90.

The contract for a common uniform system for the Nordic states will be signed next year. Also, Sweden´s current standard camouflage pattern might be replaced. All according to the new issue of the official journal of the Swedish Armed Forces.

Nordic defence cooperation has been going on longer than many realize and seems to rarely spark major interest here in Sweden. However, this may be about to change due to the coming common uniform system of Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. The latest issue of the Swedish defence journal Försvarets Forum contains some interesting news about the coming Nordic Combat Uniform (NCU). First of all the article (on p. 5) makes clear that the NCU prototypes will be tested at six Swedish regiments, and the tests there will start later this year. Next year the contract will be signed and the first regular uniforms are to be delivered to Swedish units in 2023 - for some unknown reason it seems the Danes will get them before the Swedes.

The article states that the new uniforms will both be "lighter and more durable". The camouflage pattern used on the outerwear garments may differ from country to country. But, the article also states that "For Sweden, it might be time to change camouflage pattern". This is confirmed in this more illustrated article, also from an official website. The current standard Swedish camouflage pattern for outerwear is called M90 and yours truly witnessed some of the M90 tests during my basic military training in 1988-89. Agreed, that is a pretty long time ago. But personally speaking I reckon the M90 is rather perfect in Swedish forests. Well, I guess I should not exclude that they will come up with something even better.

Being a history freak I would say that NCU will not be the first Nordic uniform, as due to the Soviet Winter War against Finland in 1939-40, the Swedish Volunteer Corps (SFK) issued one uniform system to both Swedish and Norwegian volunteers for Finland. This system was essentially the Swedish m/39. The main difference was the buttons, that were not Swedish Army issue.