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

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.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

From China to Stalingrad

Soviet I-16 fighter with Chinese insignia. I-16 was the main fighter plane used by the Chinese Air Force and Soviet pilots in China 1937-41.

Let us refresh our minds about strategy by looking at the past. More specifically a battle just before WWII and how it compares to Stalingrad.

Have you ever heard about a battle in China 1938 called the battle of Taierzhuang? Probably not, am I right? But why on earth should this matter? Well, let me quote a single sentence from the book Taierzhuang 1938 - Stalingrad 1942 by Lance Olsen: "The major portion of Japan´s military might was - at all times from 1931 to 1945 - consumed in China".

Yes, at all times between 1931 - not 1939! - and 1945.

The battle of Taierzhuang in 1938 was the first major Chinese victory in the largely unknown (i.e. in the West) first stage of the Asian part of WWII. It is hard not to agree with Lance Olsen that Japan´s invasion of China, that started in 1931, spared the Soviet Union from having to fight a 2-front war. For, at the battle of Moscow 1941, had those reinforcements from Siberia not been able to come - WWII would have taken a different course - perhaps even a radically different course.

Lance Olsen has done serious students of WWII a great favour by revealing a huge blind spot in the western mainstream narrative of WWII. Read his book for a very refreshing take on WWII, and after having read it consider if we today are much better at taking into account how the balance in Asia counts not only in Asia.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Stunning WWII Aircraft Wreck Photos

A Junkers Ju 88 on Svalbard, just one of several stunning photos in this compilation.

The Ju 88 in the above clip is without location but I know from a film project I was involved in in that the location is Svalbard i.e. the group of Norwegian Arctic islands on the way to the North Pole.

I wonder, which book has the full story of the Svalbard Ju 88? Anything still at the site to see? The Ju 52 that appears after three minutes is, I think, close to Bodö in Norway. Probably photographed quite long ago. I think it has since been removed to the aircraft museum in Bodö.

Thanks, Mikke, for the tip - I hadn´t seen this one before.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Narvik Battlefields And Border Positions

Nice slideshow made by Erik Pakkala.

This is where my coming book largely takes place, the battlefields of Narvik. It is my first biography and is about Jan Danielsen, a young Swedish cavalry officer who first was a volunteer in Finland in the Winter War and then joins in the fight against the German invaders in Norway.

The hiker video (slide show) above features some of the places mentioned in my book as well as later German positions at the border with Sweden. The book will be released early next year.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Easy Elsie in Sweden 70 years

Still visible after 70 years in the open, "EASY". I took this photo some weeks ago.

On October 29, 1944, the RAF Lancaster "Easy Elsie" crash-landed just outside Porjus in Swedish Lapland. The plane had just participated in Operation Obviate, the second attempt to sink the German battleship Tirpitz outside Tromsö in Arctic Norway.

My story about how "Easy Elsie" is doing today, after 70 years in the open, will be published in a few days in the new issue of the Swedish military history journal Soldat & Teknik. For more information about the RAF, USAAF, SOE, SIS, OSS, Red Army and other Allied formations in Sweden during WWII, as well as the German troop transports through Sweden 1940-43, see my book Germans & Allies in Sweden.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Nordic Jedi & August 23

For fifty years the Soviet Union denied the existence of the secret protocol that Harry Järv (above) wrote so sharply about.

On the day I die I hope to have an intact memory and if that is the case I will no doubt be able to recall my meeting with Harry Järv, a war veteran and author from Finland/Sweden who wrote the best piece I have read about what happened in Moscow on August 23 seventy-five years ago.

The impression I got from my one and only meeting with Harry Järv, i.a. deputy director at the National Library of Sweden, was unforgettable. Sweden´s librarian number two had not only himself written a long list of important books, he had led many recon patrols behind Soviet lines after having joined the Finnish Army as a volunteer in the Winter War of 1939-40. In the midst of his wartime service he was able to reflect about leadership, art and also to change his leadership according to his evolving ideas on humanity and war. I think I can best describe him in English as a real-life Jedi.

Twenty-five years ago Järv´s article "The Exception: Finland" (Undantaget Finland) was published in the Swedish culture journal Fenix. It is not available online but I would like to give some idea about it here now, as this coming weekend it will be exactly 75 years since the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, including a secret protocol, was signed. In his article Harry Järv first reminds about the fifty years of Soviet denial of the secret protocol that divided up the territories of Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania into German and Soviet "spheres of influence", anticipating "territorial and political rearrangements" in Europe i.e. the invasions of Germany and the USSR of the listed countries.

As Järv wrote, it was only in August 1989 that the text of the secret protocol was published in Soviet press. The first paper to publish it was the Soviet weekly Argumenty i Fakty. This was possible due to the admission a few weeks earlier by Valentin Falin, Chairman of the International Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party.

Järv then provided a history of how the protocol had been used, debated and supressed for half a century, eloquently demonstrating the many similarities between how the protocol was used by the USSR against the Baltic states and Finland. As a consequence of the protocol the USSR established the Finnish People's Government/Finnish Democratic Republic. The Soviet Air Force dropped the text of a treaty between the USSR and its new Finnish republic, i.a. on the unit in which Harry Järv served. Järv thus himself could pick up a fresh copy of this treaty. And here comes a quote from Järv on its effect on the Finnish troops: "I know of not a single example of it [the treaty] having had the desired effect" (my translation from Swedish). To make a long story short the Finnish puppet state of Stalin became a very strong motivation in the fight FOR Finland. Ultimately Finland, because of its incredible resistance, became the exception to the rule, the lone survivor of the secret protocol of August 23. Large territories had to be given up but the main body of Finland could go on as an independent and democratic state.

Bearing in mind the bloody history of "spheres of influence" and "People's Republics" it will be interesting to observe how the 75th anniversary of the secret protocol will (not) be remembered in different countries.

Harry Järv kindly obliged to my request to contribute a photograph from one of his patrols to Swedes at War. It is probably the strongest photo in the book (it is not the photo at the top of this blog post).

Friday, August 01, 2014

Russian Great War Mystery

In this former prison in Karlskrona, Sweden, one of Russia´s first aviators was imprisoned. I met and interviewed him in 1988.

Today it is exactly 100 years since Russia became part of World War One, or as it is still known in some countries, the Great War. But there is almost nothing that reminds about it in today´s Russia, although the Russians generally have a great interest in history and especially wars.

You will find a World War Two monument in just about every Russian town, and in many villages too. In large cities you will find several statues and busts commemorating WWII heroes and a T-34 tank in some public area. Museums and exhibitions about WWII are also very numerous. But the first monument about World War One was unveiled only in 2004 and the first-ever Russian World War I museum has not yet opened (but it will, in St. Petersburg). These and other signs of low interest and scanty knowledge are covered in a highly readable article in today´s English-language The Moscow Times.

Why this low interest? After all, three million Russians lost their lives during WWI. Yes, THREE million lives. The above article tries to explain this mystery and I am not saying it got things wrong but perhaps one could explain even more simply by saying that there was just zero use for WWI. It could not benefit the Soviet state in any way and "stole" attention from the "October Revolution", although one can argue that with no WWI there had also been no revolutions in 1917...

I was thinking a lot about Russia 1914-18 when I recently for the first time visited the former prison in Karlskrona (south Sweden) of Anton Nilson, the Swedish revolutionary who went to Russia during the last stage of WWI and became one of the Red Army´s first aviators. I interviewed him during five intense hours in 1988 and the result is in Swedes at War 1914-45. Part of Nilson´s former prison is now becoming an international school and part of it is a cool restaurant and music club called The Rock. You should definately visit it when in Karlskrona. Thanks to the kind staff I got to see several prison cells, some of which looked pretty unchanged since Anton Nilson was in the building.