Friday, January 05, 2018
In 2017 the world´s attention was on several occasions focused on the Korean Peninsula and many feared some kind of war there. But there was no new major violence in 2017. Instead, the ISIS/Daesh terror cult experienced major losses. Will we be so fortunate in 2018? This is my quick review of 2017 - from global to personal - plus some words about 2018.
As I write this blog post there are ominous signals coming from Asia. Sadly, there are more hotspots there than the Korean Peninsula. This does not mean there has to be a new Asian war in 2018, there have been several really bad signs before and no war. Still, the risk for a new war in Asia is IMHO more tangible than, say, five years ago. One might also say that there is an ongoing, slow, war taking place inside North Korea, the persecution of a very large number of North Korean citizens.
In Europe, the year 2017 meant no major change to the Kremlin´s unfinished war against Ukraine - meaning e.g. that, again, more people were killed there by anti-vehicle mines than in any other place, according to this SIPRI report. So far, there is no strong indication where the war is going, but the coming presidential election in Russia, with the first round on 18 March, might provide such an indication. Regarding the presidential candidates aside from Vladimir Putin, Alexei Navalny is not allowed to run and the two major contenders are right now thus Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Pavel Grudinin. Zhirinovsky has threatened the Baltic states and claimed that many in Finland desire that their country again be part of Russia. I heard the latter from the man himself, as I have interviewed him face to face. Nevertheless, Mr. Zhirinovsky, who also happens to be a Russian Army colonel, has been decorated several times by both Presidents Putin and Medvedev.
Finally, in 2017, a book appeared in Swedish about the ideology that since about 1997 has been the rising star among the Moscow security elite, Eurasianism. Like the 2016 English book Black Wind, White Snow by Charles Clover, the new Swedish book, Vi och dom by Bengt Jangfeldt, provides a highly readable history of Eurasianism. It describes, for instance, how one of the 20th century founders of this ideology, Prince Nikolai Trubetzkoy, in the end renounced his Eurasianism. Strangely, this did not stop the resurgence of the Eurasian movement in conjunction with the fall of the Soviet Union, and the first new Eurasian handbook, The Foundations of Geopolitics, has had, to quote Bengt Jangfeldt: "[...] more significance for the ideological development in Russia than any other political publication published after the fall of the Soviet Union".
Considering what is said in The Foundations of Geopolitics (written with the explicit support of a Russian general) about Finland and the Finnish-Swedish border in the section "The Finnish Question", Eurasianism is an ideology that should have been discussed here many years ago. Yet it is only now that this discussion is perhaps emerging.
Now, moving to the personal level, some highlights from my 2017. Aside from several smaller articles I was able to conduct the necessary research in Stockholm for two large articles about the discoveries in 1987 and 1988 of Eastern Bloc explosives and weapons beside one of the largest fuel depots in the country and not far from the main Swedish airport of Arlanda. The articles are based on several different Swedish, German, Austrian, Ukrainian, Russian and British sources, not least documents from the East German Stasi, proving e.g. that the terrorist group that had planted the weapons cache by Arlanda had not only received financing and shelter from the Stasi but also training from its special forces group AGM/S. In the course of my investigation in the field, supported by a good friend, I was able to visit the location of the Arlanda weapons cache and take a series of then-and-now photos and establish the distance between the forest cache and the airport, five kilometres.
Speaking of special forces, I had the pleasure of working together with Finnish military historian Mika Kulju, to also establish on the actual spot, the physical evidence from an Allied base on Swedish soil 1944-45 used for intelligence work against the German forces passing on the other side of the border, in Finnish Lapland. The first physical evidence from this base I was given about a year ago, by Gunnar Isberg, who took part in founding the very first Allied base in Sweden, "Kari", in 1943. It was a pair of US Army snow goggles that since a few weeks are preserved by the Norrbotten Museum in Luleå. These goggles were used by the SOE-trained Norwegian soldiers that lived in the Allied "Sepals" bases on Swedish soil 1944-45.
What Mika Kulju and I found was pretty amazing and forms part of Mika´s latest book, Käsivarren sota - the cover is here below. You will have to wait a year or so until I can write my book relating our findings.
Finally, 2017 was also the year when I finished working on the translation of Spökpatrullen, meaning "The Ghost Patrol", that was published in Swedish in 2012 and written by Karl-Gunnar Norén and yours truly. The book both tells the story of the WWII Long Range Desert Group and what it takes to today find remains of their special vehicles and equipment, still out there in the Egyptian desert. Of course, Karl-Gunnar got to these very remote locations by driving an original 1943 jeep. While nothing can yet be said about its publication I can recommend you to right now open Spotify and type: Long Range Desert Group. It was my greatest pleasure in 2017 to be part of the team behind this song, led by the Swedish musician and artist Tore Berger.
Monday, December 25, 2017
The best Christmas present I received this year was SOE EQUIPMENT Air Dropped in Europe 1940 - 1945 by Anders Thygesen and Michael Sode. The word unique is quite appropriate, because it contains several photos and facts you will find nowhere else, like the best photos I have ever seen of the elusive SOE jump suit.
Special Operations Executive (SOE) agents that were parachuted into occupied countries were not seldom issued with a set of protective overalls and a jump helmet, sporting a SOE specific camouflage pattern, or simply white (I reckon basically for Norwegian ops). These items were intended to be used only once and were therefore upon landing usually buried or otherwise disposed of. As you have already figured out, they are extremely rare. Once, in Paris, around 1986, I saw a SOE jump suit for sale for about a 1,000 Francs. That was a lot of money in those days, and I could not afford it. Well, nowadays i understand the price is many times that sum. I suppose I will never have one, but now, thanks to my Christmas present (thanks, my love!), I at least can see exactly what they looked like.
BTW, why does not someone make at least a t-shirt with the SOE pattern?
Another great aspect of SOE EQUIPMENT is that I learnt the official designation of the "Sweetheart" radio receiver. Well, according to the instruction sheet pictured in the book they were called Midget Receiver. I recently helped one from the OSS/SOE Sepals operation in Sweden 1944-45 get included into the collections of the Army Museum in Stockholm. Below is a photo of it I took while it was still owned by ex-Sepals helper Gunnar Isberg in Luleå.
Saturday, December 23, 2017
Three years in a row we have been spending a week or two on Rhodes. The sun, people, beaches, landscape and food of Rhodes are well known. The island also has an amazing amount of remains of ancient Greece and various European knights. However, one thing is absent in the museums and guide books - the World War Two history of Rhodes.
Being an author with a special interest in 20th century wars I naturally could not miss noticing an old bunker while jogging on Rhodes, see the above photo. Then I had the luck to one day stroll into a cafe/hotel in the Old Town, Avalon. There I noticed a young man working on a very old field radio. I asked if it might be from the war, and it was. Thanks to that chance meeting in Avalon with the archeology student Panos Mprokos I have since been able to see many amazing traces from both the Italian and German occupation periods of Rhodes and it is time I show them here to let other Rhodes visitors know that the island has more World War Two history than you have imagined.
Walking around in the former Italian town/military HQ of Campochiaro (now Eleousa) is a special experience, because for some reason the buildings used by the Italian and German occupiers have been abandoned for many decades, making the occupation seem not that distant.
How to see these places? There are plenty of tours to Rhodes Old Town but I believe there are no organized tours to the Italian/German remains outside it. So, you either do your own research and rent a car, or you find Panos Mprokos via the Avalon cafe/hotel, which is beside the upper part of the Avenue of the Knights in Old Town. Avalon is a really great place both to stay and for a snack or meal. The atmosphere is full of history. Try searching with the words avalon hotel rhodes. Below is a photo of Avalon´s main entrance. Just some words of advice if you choose to travel around the island by car/motorcycle: traffic is not like at home, be very careful and rent a safe car model.
P.S. I have written about Rhodes during WWII in two issues of the Swedish journal Militär Historia, in issues 8 and 11 during 2017. Sadly, my articles are neither online nor are they in English, but I can recommend one book in English that has information about British raids against the Axis forces on Rhodes, SBS in World War II by Gavin Mortimer, it is also simply a must for all SBS history buffs.
Sunday, December 17, 2017
Spoiler alert! Here follow some reflections about the real history (planet Earth history) in the latest episode of Star Wars.
In "The Last Jedi" there is a lot going on, some of it really amazing and fun to watch. Like most scenes on the Irish island of Skellig Michael - what a magnificent filming location - I think it can only be compared to Tunisia or Norway as a Star Wars location.
However, the movie also has some stuff that can disturb fans like me - who basically only really appreciate the original trilogy but cannot abstain from the rest. By disturbing stuff I mean e.g. some of the new characters, several battles and what happens to Princess Leia in space. The joke about General Hux is sort of fun the first time, but then...
Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo i.e. Laura Dern (remember her in "October Sky"?) is nice, but why was she not allowed to act more officer-like and wear something a bit more officer-like? I could bore you with more questions like that, but instead let me end with two planet Earth things in the new Star Wars episode:
1. Several of the bad guys are wearing Waffen-SS style cuff titles, but without German Sütterlin script or Latin letters. Instead, they are adorned with words that I could not read. as they are written in what I suppose is the Aurebesh alphabet, the most common script seen throughout Star Wars. Perhaps someone more into Aurebesh could tell me what they say? Cuff titles could be seen already in the previous episode, on General Hux, but for some reason he has zero letters on his double (!) cuff titles. In "The Last Jedi" you get to see the two types of cuff titles many times and quite up close too.
2. Last but not least, the word ´"Godspeed" is uttered, twice. That word is really old English for "May God cause you to succeed". Pretty weird for a galaxy far, far away a long time ago. "May the Force be with you" would be more natural, like? On the other hand, as a Christian, it was rather nice to hear that unexpected non-Force word. Those of you who have really payed attention will also know that already in 1977, in "A New Hope" (Episode IV), there is a reference to Christianity when "Ben" Kenobi talks to Luke while handing over the light sabre. Kenobi utters "crusade", a word that started with the cross of Jesus. Interestingly, in "The Empire Strikes Back" (Episode V), the word hell is mentioned, when Han Solo says "Then I'll see you in hell". So, besides lots of Japanese and Chinese religious ingredients in the Force, the Star Wars movies do contain some grains of the Abrahamic religions.
Interested in what remains in the Tunisian desert and mountains of Norway from Star Wars? Check out my old blog post Lars Wars.
Monday, October 09, 2017
What I mainly have gained from the book Churchill and The Norway Campaign (2008) by Graham Rhys-Jones is a more full realization of the Pyrrhic nature of the German victory in Norway. To quote from the book it ”sparked the upheaval which removed Chamberlain´s hesitant and divided ministry and opened the way for an implacable and uncompromising opponent, determined to see the war through to its better end.” That the Norwegian campaign sealed Chamberlain´s fate was certainly not news to me, but it was Churchill and The Norway Campaign that first made me consider the German victory in Norway more of a minus than a plus for the Germans.
The author is not uncritical of Chamberlain´s successor, Churchill. In fact, he writes such things as: ”Behind that benign even homely image, the uplifting rhetoric and the inspiring presence lay a ruthlessness (even sometimes a vindictiveness) worthy of Al Capone.”
The book examines both the strategy behind the tactical actions and many of the more significant events in the fjords and mountains of Norway.
The poor performance of the British Army in Norway seems to have largely been the result of First World War thinking, according to the author. The author confirmed something I have long suspected, that Spaniards formed the largest national group in the Foreign Legion detachment at Narvik. I am impressed with the details regarding the French troops provided by the author.
I also find it commendable that the author describes the almost totally forgotten ”Mowinckel Plan”, an idea not adopted but a great what-if scanario that in a nutshell meant that Swedish forces were to intervene and take over the Narvik area from both the Germans and Allied forces.
The author of Churchill and The Norway Campaign, Graham Rhys-Jones, is also the author of The Loss of the Bismarck (1999) and has a background in the Royal Navy where he commanded a frigate. In more recent years he has taught strategy at the US Naval War College (USNWC) and on leaving the navy he returned to the USNWC as a research fellow.
My main negative remark would be the strong expectation created by the book´s cover. It portrays in colour Winston Churchill flanked by the German generals Eduard Dietl and Nikolaus von Falkenhorst. Considering that the author devotes little space to Dietl and sursprisingly little to Falkenhorst, the overall commander of the invasion of Norway, the cover is rather misleading. That having been said I will not deny that the cover is a very attractive one!
Rhys-Jones has found some excellent photographs for his book, one only wishes he had included some more. The seven maps provide the essential geographical features and names, but not more.
If you are looking for a recent and reliable overview of the battle for Norway in 1940 I would recommend another book: Hitler´s Pre-emptive War by Henrik O. Lunde. If you, however, are mainly interested in the British aspects of this campaign, Churchill and The Norway Campaign is an excellent choice.
Sunday, October 08, 2017
When did I start collecting books about Soviet tanks and airborne troops? Not sure, but sometime in the 1980s. To make clear how much I like this new book, let me immediately say that this is the most amazing and well-presented one about Soviet tanks/airborne I have yet come across.
Although little known, especially in the West, the T-60 small tank (yes, small tank = official designation), was the third most numerous tank-type built in the Soviet Union 1941-45, behind only the classic T-34 and the SU-76 self propelled gun in terms of production.
Aside from the basic T-60 and its more common variants this new 176-page book by James Kinnear and Yuri Pasholok presents the incredible tank-glider variant of the T-60 known as both the KT Flying Tank and A-40. They do so with details I have never seen before and thus make this book a must also for airborne troops history buffs.
Special mention should be made of the sections about the T-60 in combat and the history of both the few preserved T-60s and the full scale T-60-replicas that have been made in Russia in recent years.
This book has set a new standard with lots of new and high quality photos, new facts from primary sources plus fine colour illustrations. I can not recommend you enough to visit the website of the Stockholm publisher, Canfora, to learn more about this book, and their other books. Here is the link you are looking for.
Saturday, September 09, 2017
It is a bit more than a year since I visited the then new Narvik War Museum. My blog report about that visit was a bit critical. Have things changed since? Yes, and there are both some improvements to report, and a brand new exhibit in the form of the above pictured untouched German Ford V8 towing FLAK.
Artifacts from WWII, especially vehicles, that have "simply" been preserved have a special atmosphere around them. The Hotchkiss tank in the Narvik War Museum is, sadly, not among those vehicles. The tank ought at least to be put into context with the help of some large photographs showing the type in use around Narvik.
However, since my visit last year the museum has added some vehicles from the previous museum and also one that has not been exhibited before, a Ford V8 that really takes you back in time (it is the one in the top photo). The story behind it in brief: it was a Norwegian passenger car (sedan) and then taken over by the Germans and modified so it became a hybrid truck. Two more photos of it.
Another positive change is that the 1:1 diorama is back from the old museum. It is an original German mountain position that has been reconstructed inside the museum. A bonus is that there is now no glass between the visitor and this display. Three photos of it now.
Where is the mountain diorama located? Look for the experimental German rocket launcher. BTW there are only two of these launchers still around... The diorama is right beside it.
The "human torpedo", Morris armoured car and Kettenkrad tracked motorcycle from the old museum are also now back on display.
Gladly, VC Captain Bernard Warburton-Lee´s name has also been rectified.
Now, if one may make a wish or two - how about using the long, winding and mostly empty corridor to the bottom floor - putting up some of the photographs and paintings from the previous museum there? And surely there is room for at least a small display about the paratrooper dimension of the battle of Narvik, a milestone in history, not just WWII history. How about a paratrooper and a parachute container with contents?
Visitors could also get tips for WWII sights around town, e.g. be directed to the 1940 landing sites, slave labour camps and the war cemeteries with their many strong reminders of the ultimate price, with fallen even from New Zealand ("N.Z."). BTW who knows more about Major Bowen´s death, and how Lieutenant Morrison from New Zealand was killed, why so late as May 4, 1945?
Finally, the naval history sight outside Narvik that you have to be rather fit to walk to (skip it in wet conditions, just too dangerous a walk then). In other words, the wreck of the German destroyer Georg Thiele - how is it faring? Well, here are two photos of it I have taken, the first in 2001 and the one below this week.