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

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Winter War Photos and Guide

The new book WINTER WAR: Forgotten Images is more than a collection of unpublished images from the Soviet-Finnish Winter War of 1939-40.

WINTER WAR: Forgotten Images contains a bunch of images that henceforth will not be forgotten, such as the gruesome cover image from 1941 of the Taipale battlefield. But the book is more than unpublished photographs, bunker blueprints and magnificent paintings from the Winter War.

WWII historian and professional guide Bair Irincheev is the author of a recent Osprey guide about the Mannerheim Line. Being Russian but living in Finland since many years he has had great opportunities to get to know the main scenes of Winter War fighting and has taken many tourists and some TV-teams to the most interesting WWII sites in the region.

Now Irincheev is openly disclosing much of his most valuable finds in Russian and Finnish archives and on the blood-soaked Karelian isthmus itself. His new book, a 190 page hard cover in large format, is a truly unique collection of unpublished photographs - not only Soviet ones - maps and bunker blueprints. The paintings from the Winter War as well as the contemporary photos are in colour.

Above all the images speak of what the Karelian battlefield really looked like at the time - I have never seen any book doing it as well as this one - and what it looks like today, including from above (aircraft).

For the historian and history enthusiast WINTER WAR: Forgotten Images has one extra important and very modern feature: GPS coordinates of the featured bunkers. BTW there are some fascinating photos of stalactites and stalagmites that have formed in some of the bunkers.

The book is not just trilingual, it is in four languages, English, Russian, Finnish and Swedish. This was made possible by the type of book, the text consists mostly of captions. I find that the English is fine, the Russian perfect and many of the Swedish captions are lacking in quality. About the Finnish I can say nothing.

My main complaint would be that the Salla and Petsamo sectors of the Winter War are lacking, or have perhaps some of those very interesting images of Soviet ski troops been taken between Kandalaksha and Märkäjärvi?

Swedish volunteers are also not covered, sadly, but there is one large-size awesome Soviet colour painting in the book, showing a Swedish Bofors 37 mm gun in Finnish use against attacking Soviet troops.

Finally it is noteworthy that part of the money earned from the sales of the book will be donated to the construction of a Karelian Isthmus war museum - a subject that I hope Bair can comment on below. For instance I think all readers would like to know what the time frame is?

For information on ordering WINTER WAR: Forgotten Images, visit Bair´s website.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Vikings in Lapland

A friend recently moved down south and in conjunction with that decided to donate most of his militaria collection. In this previous post I described how I passed on half of his collection to the new museum in Salla. Here are some artifacts from the other half.

These latter objects of Soviet and Swedish origin are all from the Salla area in Finnish Lapland and come from what was mainly a battleground during the Winter War of 1939-40, between the Swedish Volunteer Corps (SFK) and the Soviet 122nd and 88th Rifle Divisions.

A glass container with the word "VIKING" protruding from the glass. This was a Swedish-made shoe wax that is still today produced but now sold only in all-metal cans. In the Swedish press the SFK were also sometimes called Vikings.

A Soviet M1936 helmet from a battleground outside Salla. I believe I read somewhere that the helmet profile was similar to the German Stahlhelm´s seen from a distance, and thus caused the Red Army some problems (cases of friendly fire).

What I think must be a Madsen machine gun magazine. Thus probably used by the SFK and perhaps one can even associate it with the 727 Norwegian volunteers within the SFK, as I would think they had most (all) Madsens (Madsen being the standard Norwegian MG). Can someone verify this theory?

The above objects and some more are now in the collections of the Defence Museum in Boden, Sweden.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

S-tanks in Cold War Battle

I was surprised to learn that there is a board game about my old tank outfit, Sweden´s only Arctic tank battalion. But the tank I was trained to use, the much-hyped turretless S-tank, never fired a shot in anger. So which war is "Operation Garbo" about?

Yours truly in 1989 doing an advert for a kind of "tankers spam" in front of my strv 103C, better known as the S-tank.

Well, the war is one that thankfully never took place. But the year that the game company has chosen for this war, was quite aptly chosen, I believe.

I sure look forward to getting to play myself 20 years younger, and some of the other games by Lock´ n Load Publishing. Are you reading this, Father Christmas?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Swedish American MIA Coming Home

Richard Ryrholm and his four siblings all served in the United States Armed Forces during WWII. Only he disappeared, 19 years old. At last, his remains in the jungle have been found, identified and are coming home.

Richard Ryrholm flew one of these, a P-38 Lightning. Five years ago his aircraft was found in the deep jungle of Papua New Guinea, but only now has he been positively identified so that he can be brought home. PHOTO: USAF

Second Lieutenant Richard S. Ryrholm came from a family that definately took part in WWII. His father was from the Swedish West Coast, his mother from Stockholm. Ryrholm’s twin brother, 2nd Lt. Robert W. Ryrholm, also served in the USAAF. His older brother, Arthur Ryrholm, served as a US Army captain in the Philippines and received a Bronze Star. Both of his sisters became officers too: Eleanor Ryrholm Scatchard in the Coast Guard and Ruth Marie Ryrholm in the Army Nurses Corps.

Richard Ryrholm enlisted in Boston, Massachusetts, in December, 1942. On September 4, 1943 Ryrholm was just 19 year old but had been flying P-38 Lightnings for five months when he on that fateful day crashed while on a combat mission against Japanese aircraft over Lae, Papua New Guinea.

His unit, the 432nd Fighter Squadron, searched for Ryrholm for two days but failed to locate anything. He was thus declared as missing in action. In 1949 a military review board said that his remains were unrecoverable.

At the time of writing I have no photo myself of Richard Ryrholm, but this is another Swedish American in the same type of aircraft in the same theatre of war. The pictured pilot, Richard Bong, is still today the top US air ace. PHOTO: USAF

A local paper in California, Calaveras Enterprise, has more details and reports that Ryrholm´s family was "devastated and some members continued to believe that Ryrholm might still be alive". Presumably, some family members were affected by the true stories about Pacific War soldiers surviving in the jungle years, even decades, after WWII.

Here you can see photographs of the Ryrholm possessions that were found deep in the jungle. Yes, it was only this year, after 67 years of uncertainty, that his remains and possessions were positively identified, although his aircraft was located five years ago.

Now that there is no doubt about the identity, the U.S. military has sought out Ryrholm´s family and is bringing Richard Ryrholm home. His burial will take place in Massachusetts, where he enlisted and where he has many living relatives.

The news has been received with great interest also among Ryrholm family members in Sweden. One of them being the first source of this post, Professor Nils Ryrholm, who for several years was the curator of i.a. the Leonard Gyllenhaal collection at Uppsala University. Incidentally, some of Leonard Gyllenhaal´s descendants also served in the Pacific during WWII, one of them, Charles Gyllenhaal, even on Papua New Guinea!

For more on Ryrholm see this other California newspaper.

P.S.
Not only the top US air ace flew the same aircraft type in the same area as Ryrholm, so did the world famous Swedish American pilot Charles Lindbergh. Many presume his flying career ended prior to WWII, but here is just one of several articles about Lindbergh´s war service in the Pacific. For more Swedish American wartime fates see my book Swedes at War (with Lennart Westberg).

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Sweden´s Only Flying Ace

Someone (not me!) has just created a Wikipedia page in English about William Yngve Anderson. Anderson is the P-51 Mustang pilot from Sweden on the cover of Swedes at War.

Coincidentally, or not, this week an article I wrote about Anderson was published, including an interview with him and his wife Lois. It was published in the Swedish monthly Militär Historia ("Military History").

According to my research William Anderson is the only person from Sweden to have attained flying ace status, which requires an official score of at least five victories. Anderson´s is seven.

All three P-51s flown by Anderson were called "Swede´s Steed".

In 2011 Mr. Anderson will turn 90. He has had a stroke and has difficulties to speak, but his wife Lois says that he has retained his sense of humour.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Evolution of Norwegian SS Posters

I think I have indentified the most extreme SS posters that were produced in Norway. They mirror the evolution of the recruiting pitch for the SS in Norway.

This 1941 poster for the Norwegian Legion, which became a part of the Waffen-SS, has zero SS symbols. The soldiers do not even wear German helmets. In fact, aside from the Finnish flag, the poster might well have been used by the Allies. This one is on display in the Narvik War Museum.

This 1943 poster for the Norwegian Germanic SS is the absolute opposite, the most black, SS- and viking-filled poster imagineable. This one is on display in the Troms Defence Museum in Setermoen.

This Norwegian page in English has virtually all Norwegian SS posters in a row, with some comments.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

SS-Division "Schwarze Sonne"

Thanks to "Iron Sky" cinematographer Mika Orasmaa I can now provide a photo of the coming film´s stormtroopers. Magnifying the photo I discovered the name of their fictional unit.

Please don´t get me wrong now. I have a license to blog not only about serious books and films. In this case I am writing about a science fiction comedy. Well, if - and that is one huge if - SS-Obergruppenführer Hans Kammler (who was a real person) had somehow managed to secretly set up a SS-base on the moon - which is a major ingredient of "Iron Sky" - what would those national socialist astronauts, or nazinauts, have called their lunar base and its Waffen-SS unit? Well, I must say I totally agree with the filmmakers about their choice.

SS-troopers on the Moon sporting "Schwarze Sonne" cuff titles. PHOTO: Mika Orasmaa

"Schwarze Sonne", i.e. "Black Sun", was the logical choice. The black sun being both the most cosmic and hyped SS-variant of the swastika.

The SS-eagle on the upper left arm of the lunar stormtroopers is not quite WWII-style, but hey, this movie is taking place in 2018! On the other hand the MP 40s look totally unimproved. What, no small-arms development in 73 years!? And those steel helmets look more WWI than WWII... But those Haunebu spaceships look utterly correct, much better than anything I´ve seen before.

Seriously speaking, it will be great to see some more trailers and finally the whole thing. I suspect it will be a treat to watch and at the very least quite entertaining. Could it even have some serious message as well?

Yes, I do have a special interest in the esoteric side of the SS. I have not yet written much about this but I have collected books on the subject for years and thus was given the opportunity to write the preface for the Swedish version of The Master Plan, Heather Pringle´s groundbreaking book on the Ahnenerbe and related themes. This is the Swedish cover:

"Härskarplanen" is the Swedish version of "The Master Plan" by Heather Pringle. Unlike the English-language cover, the Swedish one features the rock carvings in Tanum, Sweden. These carvings attracted great attention by the "Ahnenerbe" and a chapter of the book is about them.

Now, if you want to learn more specifically about the black sun symbol, I want to recommend a book and documentary by German author & filmmaker Rüdiger Sünner. Both are called Schwarze Sonne. The book has unfortunately not yet been translated but the documentary is available on DVD with subtitles in English. You can check out all of Sünner´s books and film productions on his website.

BTW there is a Swedish connection to Sünner aside from the Tanum rock carvings, Sunner has also examined the late Swedish UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld, whom I recently mentioned.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Stahlhelms in Space

As I wrote some months ago, Darth Vader´s helmet was not as inspired by the classic German Stahlhelm (steel helmet) as one might think. But next year a movie will appear featuring totally WWII-style Stahlhelms in space. On planet earth the Stahlhelm is still serving in at least one country.

This post about the lasting influence of the most classic steel helmet is a sequel to "From Dürer To Darth". If you have not read that one you might want to do so before reading what follows.

Without any inspiration from yours truly my wife recently purchased something for our son that proves just how universal Darth Vader´s helmet has become:

Yes, Darth Vader´s reach now extends to the the socks of our children.

Now I must correct myself, in my previous Stahlhelm-post I wrote "During the final years of East Germany the basic Stahlhelm design was adopted by the US Armed Forces. The result was the PASGT". As an American reader kindly has pointed out to me, that sentence made it sound almost as if the US Armed Forces developed the PASGT-helmet from the Stahlhelm. I was expressing myself carelessly - sorry about that. I think the resemblance of the PASGT-helmet with Stahlhelms was unintentional. The resemblance did, however, lead to the PASGT-helmet being called the "Fritz-helmet".

A helmet similar to the "Fritz" was adopted by the Swedish Armed Forces in 1990, the m/90 helmet. Here is a photo of a guy training for United Nations service wearing a m/90 with a blue helmet cover.

The "Swedish Fritz", the m/90 helmet. I reckon this photo is from 1999.

Swedish firefighters had adopted an even more German-style helmet long before the m/90, but I am not sure when they started using these:

Old Swedish firefighter helmet, in the Piteå Museum. Does someone know when it was intoduced?

But the PASGT-helmet and m/90 can hardly compare with Finnish postwar helmets. For one thing, original German WWII-issued Stahlhelms continued to see service in the Finnish Armed Forces well after WWII and the "new" steel helmet introduced in 1955, the M55 (or m/55), was a copy of the the German WWII M40.

In the field the Finnish Armed Forces used the M55 well into the 1980s and I believe they retained it for ceremonial use a bit longer, does someone know exactly when they stopped using them?

I am not sure which year the armed forces of Afghanistan stopped using original German M16/18 helmets. But there is a photograph from US President Eisenhower's visit to Afghanistan in 1959 where they are still being worn.

There is at least one country that still to this day is using Stahlhelms, Chile:

Chilean military guards of honour still use a Chilean variant of the German M35 helmet. This photo was taken in 2009 in Santiago, Chile. PHOTO: Master Sgt. Adam M. Stump, USAF

From Peter Suciu´s really amazing helmet site I also understand that these Chilean helmets were introduced in the 1930s. The shape is closest to the German M35 helmet. The last (?) batch was produced in the 1980s.

A final question to you, dear reader, exactly which helmet model is featured in the coming movie "Iron Sky"? In the trailer for this dark science-fiction comedy you can see both Stahlhelms and MP 40s on the moon:



So, which is it? Are the storm troopers on the moon wearing repro/original M35s, M40s, M42s or perhaps Finnish M55s? The latter would be most suitable considering it is mainly a Finnish production. Interestingly, the cast of "Iron Sky" includes some internationally rather well-known actors such as Götz Otto, who played Otto Günsche in "The Downfall". The premiere of "Iron Sky" is now more or less exactly one year away (December 2011).

Will "Iron Sky" cement the Stahlhelm as a symbol of Nazism and evil? Possibly, but I find it quite interesting that not only in Finland and Chile the Stahlhelm is not automatically associated with Nazism, and not even with German soldiers. Where do you think the below hero monument stands?

The Warsaw insurgents monument. PHOTO: Cezary Piwowarski

Yes, in Warsaw. The soldiers are Polish guerrillas, resistance fighters. They often wore German helmets as can be seen in numerous wartime photographs.

Well, that was my concluding take on the influence and significance of the Stahlhelm, from sock icon to "Iron Sky".

P.S.
There is a movie being made in what was once the heart of Swedish America, Minnesota, that features both Stahlhelms and PASGT-helmets. It is called "Souvenirs" and the trailer has made me really keen to see the end result. Watch the trailer:



Not that surprisingly the "Souvenirs" movie website includes some Swedish American names, such as Fryklund.

P.S. No. 2
Thanks to a blog reader and helmet collector I am now aware of this almost-too-good-to-be-true Iraqi helmet actually inspired by Darth Vader´s helmet. No kidding!

European Volunteers in Vietnam

While writing Swedes at War, we, the authors, were only aware of two Swedish citizens who fought as volunteers for the United States in the Vietnam War. Since then, thanks to our readers, we have found some more.

In our book we mention Björn Dahlin and Per-Olof Ödman who both joined the US Marine Corps to fight in Vietnam. Both saw heavy fighting but survived. I can recommend Björn Dahlin´s memoirs (they are in English) if you would like to know more about him.

If you are interested in a modern Swedish officer´s analysis of the war itself, then this is the book to get, here in its brand new paperback format:


I agree with the quote on the cover from a Swedish newspaper review of the book: "a real gem". Marco Smedberg, who has written the book, is a lieutenant colonel in the Swedish Army and editor-in-chief of Militär Historia, the leading Swedish military history journal.

Vietnamkrigen ("The Vietnam Wars") has the important subtitle "1880-1980". This book is thus not only about the United States and Vietnam but so much more. Smedberg puts everything into context and as objectively as possible. The book is filled with more or less unknown facts and good quotes from all sides. Plus good photos and proper maps.

Perhaps most importantly, Smedberg shows how Vietnam lessons still apply in today´s wars where western high-tech forces meet guerrilla tactics.

I think this book deserves to be translated. But if you can read Swedish you should get it now.

Going back to the subject of Swedes in US uniform in Vietnam we have since the publication of our book become aware of some more Swedish volunteers, including one on the opposing side. Some day we will write a sequel to Swedes at War, focusing on the Swedes in wars and conflicts after 1945. In that book (several years away) we will present these other Swedes and also write more about drafted Swedish American soldiers in Vietnam. It was only at the very end of writing our book that I became aware of that my own family had a member in the US Special Forces in Vietnam, who was killed in action there.

Vietnam War movies are also part of Marco Smedberg´s book. He lists eighteen movies, and not just American ones. Interestingly, Smedberg reports that "The Green Berets" (1968), the one with John Wayne portraying a character based on the the real-life Finnish volunteer Lauri Törni/Larry Thorne, was at first banned in Sweden. I had heard so but forgotten about it.

Thanks to Smedberg´s Vietnam movie list I also discovered "Rescue Dawn", a movie about a German volunteer in the USAF:



I have not yet seen it but would certainly like to. The Wikipedia-page about "Rescue Dawn" is very detailed, as is the page about the German volunteer pilot, Dieter Dengler. It would appear that family experiences in Germany during WWII motivated Dengler to join the USAF.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Sarah Palin´s Nordic Predecessors

No less than three governors of Alaska have been Nordics, two of them ethnic Swedes. The latter were also officers of the Russian Imperial Navy.

Adolf Etolin, an ethnic Swede from Finland who ruled Russian America 1840-45, on the cover of K-G Olin´s amazing book. In the background Novoarkhangelsk, which today is Sitka.

The Arctic has entered a period of both great industrial and military development. History is again being written up north. Reason enough to look back at one of the most amazing aspects of Arctic history, that Russia ruled Alaska not that long ago, until 1867, and just some years less than the United States now has ruled the territory (Russia: 134/USA: 143 years).

It is only one year ago since one of the Russian political parties, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, dropped Alaska from its party emblem. Here is a photo of the party shield I took myself in 1993 when I met and interviewed party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky:

The photo I took in 1993 of Liberal Democrat leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky (left). In the background the party emblem sporting both Alaska and Finland. Only in 2009 the map was replaced with one showing a modern map of Russia.

The Zhirinosky map may mainly have been a way of gaining attraction but on the other hand he is still today supported by ten percent of the Russian electorate (he peaked at 23 percent in 1993) and has since been made a vice-chairman of the Russian State Duma and a colonel of the Russian Army - positions that he still holds today.

Well, should Alaska´s former governor Sarah Palin continue to rise in American politics it is probably a good thing Zhirinovsky has removed Alaska from his shield.

Sadly, my grandmother´s brother in Alaska had moved from there by the time I was able to go there. But now I have been able to make up for that thanks to a recent book by Karl-Gustav Olin, Alaska: ryska tiden ("Alaska: The Russian Era"). Thanks to it I am now aware of Palin´s Nordic predecessors. No less than three Nordics have been governors of Alaska. The above pictured ethnic Swede Adolf Etolin had a quite typical background among the Russian civil servants in Alaska. K-G Olin reports that at the time (1840s) citizens from Russian Finland dominated among the white population in Alaska.

The penultimate governor of Russian America was another ethnic Swede from Finland, Johan Hampus Furuhjelm. Like Etolin he was a navy man and ended his naval career as Commander of the Russian Baltic Fleet.

K-G Olin spent about two years researching for this book and he must surely be Finland´s greatest expert on the subject. It is hard to imagine that Olin has missed some archive, diary or previously published book on the subject. Thus the book is a goldmine of information and it is also very well illustrated.

So far, Alaska: ryska tiden, is only available in Swedish. Hopefully it will someday be translated. Here is the author´s website.

Someone may have noticed I wrote Alaska has had three Nordic governors. That is correct, many years after the United States had purchased Alaska for 7 million Dollars (largely possible due to the Crimean War) another Nordic was made governor of Alaska, but this man, Waino Hendrickson, had not been born in Finland, he was the child of Finnish immigrants.

Imagine for a moment if Russia had not accepted the offer by the United States, and had retained Alaska. How probably very different not only the history of the Arctic then would have turned out. For one thing, Sarah Palin would probably be unknown.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Viking Versus Viking



I will here review and compare two books that do not have that much directly to do with my main area of research, Swedes at war in the 20th century. But as Vikings were a reoccuring theme among Swedes in both world wars, even in the Spanish Civil War and with the WWII Allies, I think Vikings are OK for me to blog about ;-)

The Viking Manifesto and Leadership Principles of the Vikings both were published in 2007, so I hardly think the authors read each others books until their own had been published.

Let me first make one thing clear: neither one of these books should be taken that seriously regarding historical accuracy. These are above all books about the legacy of the Vikings, and they are both entertaining, light-hearted books. However they at the same time manage to be inspiring and thought-provoking. These are both books that I will return to many times.

The Viking Manifesto by Steve Strid and Claes Andréasson focuses on how to do business in the modern world, inspired by the Vikings, e.g. through quotes from Hávamál.

Brands is perhaps what the authors discuss best. The authors have refreshing ideas about marketing, especially about how to adopt a target group. Let me examplify this with a quote from the book: "A Viking always begins by making himself the target group. He asks himself: What do I want personally? What sort of brands and products do I like?"

Another thing I appreciate with this book is its attitude towards money, summed up by "Money is a good servant, but a bad master".

Finally, do not miss the warning "All assault, rape, drug use, theft, property damage and killing of monks referred to in this book are meant for literary and metaphorical purposes only". I guess that was almost seriously meant considering the risk of getting sued by a US lawyer...

The Leadership Principles of the Vikings by Jan Kallberg is in some respects a very similar book, but as the title says it is focused on leadership, which can be applied far outside the world of business. However, business is a reoccuring theme, as are the military tactics of the Viking raiders.

Kallberg´s book is a bit more serious than The Viking Manifesto but is at times at least as hilarious. I love the way Kallberg has matched nationalistic Viking illustrations with new captions like "Hey, dude, we are here to talk to you about bullshitting! The fortune and gold of Atlantis were gone centuries ago, liar!"

This to illustrate that the Vikings, according to Kallberg, had zero tolerance for "corporate bullshit".

Two more favourite quotes from the book:

"The Dark Ages was a troublesome era in world history but it also resembles the changes we are facing in the early 21st century with turbulence in the economy and the social order, and with questions about our belief system."

and:

"Vikings would redefine the corporate concept in a heartbeat by first dismissing all leaders who are only title holders and can not lead when there is uncertainty and hardship."

To sum up things, Leadership Principles of the Vikings is not always as well-written & edited as The Viking Manifesto, but I still think you should get both books.

Tiger Tanks in Sweden

Shortly after WWII the Swedish Army purchased some Panzers from the Allies for testing, such as a Panther and a King Tiger (Tiger II). The latter was shot to pieces, but since a couple of days a Swedish private museum has a functioning full-scale replica of a Tiger I.

This is the vehicle, based on a Soviet T-55 tank:

This is while it still was in the UK, where it was made. PHOTO: Roland Jarl

This is the arrival the other day at the Global War Museum north of Gothenburg. AFV-buffs will know that the wheels do not look quite right, but this is something the new owner intends to improve on. PHOTO: Roland Jarl

The replica Tiger I was brought to Sweden this fall but only arrived some days ago at the Global War Museum located between Gothenburg and Norway, owned and operated by Roland and Pernilla Jarl. The delay was due to that it first took part in some reenactments in southernmost Sweden. Thanks for sending the photos, Roland.

BTW, in the 1980s I believe there were still some Tiger II parts lying around in Västergötland on the site where it had been shot up (in the 50s?). I am positive these parts are long since gone. Does someone know who took care of them, a museum I should hope.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Foreign Legion Swedes Remembered

I knew that in Paris, in the Swedish Church, there is a large memorial with the names of the Swedes in the French Foreign Legion who died for France in WWI. But thanks to a reader of Swedes at War I now know there is one more, in the town of Craonne in Picardy.

This is the plaque that Tommie Andersson, a Swedish resident of France, discovered in Craonne:

This is how I read the message: "Sweden, in memory of its sons fallen in the service of France in the Craonne area contributed to this city hall of the heroic municipality of Craonne". PHOTO: Tommie Andersson

Tommie Andersson explains that Craonne was totally destroyed during WWI. The new Craonne was built in 1921-27 beside the ruins of the old town, partly using materials from the ruins. The Franco-Swedish Friendship Society, the Amitié Franco-Suédois, donated a sum for a new city hall, which is where the above plaque is located.

More information about the plaque and the Swedish links to Craonne would be most welcome.

New Winter War Images

This is just a teaser for a coming book of unpublished images from the Soviet-Finnish Winter War of 1939-40. Here is the cover:


The book is filled with strong images that virtually nobody has seen since the war. The text is in English, Finnish, Swedish and Russian and the book has been produced by one of the leading experts on the Mannerheim Line, Bair Irincheev.

Is is being printed right now. More news about it to follow.

Walter Schuck Meets Vera Lynn!

One of the Luftwaffe´s absolute top aces (206 combat victories) in the Nordic area, Walter Schuck, recently met Vera Lynn:

Walter schuck with Vera Lynn. Yes, this is a real image, not something photo-shopped. PHOTO: KI Michael Johansson

The above photo was taken by a friend also living in Arctic Sweden (in Luleå, not that far from me). His name is KI Michael Johansson and he is a documentary film maker. Johansson right now is involved in several very interesting projects involving German and Allied pilot veterans. In one of the next issues of the Finnish magazine Suomen Sotilas ("Soldier of Finland") Johansson will tell more about his meetings with Walter Schuck and his last adversary during WWII, former USAAF pilot Joe Peterburs.

If you have not seen the following TV news video with Walter Schuck and Joe Peterburs I think you will want to see it:



I have Schuck´s autobiography in German, Abschuss! and it is the finest book on a Luftwaffe pilot that I have. Here it is in English.

Some of my Norwegian friends met Schuck when he recently revisited Arctic Norway.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Quisling No 1 Not Quisling


This is how "Strictly Confidential" opens, with subtitles in English.

The Norwegian WWII documentary "Strictly Confidential" is certainly one of the best documentaries I have ever seen. It is so well made, personal and contains astounding interviews with both Quislings and SOE-operatives.

Among the things that "Strictly Confidential" really brings home is that the most effective and dangerous Quisling was not Vidkun Quisling himself.

Here is the documentary´s website.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Waiting for the Taliban

Since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 I have had a strong interest in what is going on in that country. These are the books about Afghanistan at war that I value most.

The order of the following books does not correspond with how valuable the books are in my opinion. But I can say without a doubt that the one that is most explosive and adrenaline-filled, is this one:


Briefly put, this must be the ultimate book about life and death at an American outpost in Afghanistan. Reading this book is simultaneously addictive and painful. "Very hard to put down" is such a cliché, but for me, in this case, it was true.

I believe that the author, Sebastian Junger, has done more research in Afghanistan for this book than anyone could demand. But then he was at the same time making the documentary "Restrepo" together with Tim Hetherington.

Having a special interest in soldiers from Swedish American families I was amazed by how many Swedish names pop up at the featured remote US Army positions.

There is one thing I do not like about this book. War gives the impression that the book could be about war in general. It is not even about the current war in Afghanistan in general, it is a book specifically about the fighting in the Korengal Valley, seen almost exclusively from an American perspective. On the other hand, Junger in War goes to impressive lengths to understand what war in general does to man. But I still think Combat in the Korengal (or something like that) would have been a better title.

Before moving on to the next book I must ask if anyone out there knows if Sebastian Junger had read the German WWI stormtrooper Ernst Jünger before writing War (could they even be distant relatives?)? In some respects I would say Junger compares to Jünger, I am especially thinking of the latter´s Storm of Steel. For clarity, I do not mean this in any negative way (re. Ernst Jünger there is this brilliant companion to Storm of Steel, written by the Swede Nils Fabiansson).

There is a book about the Soviet war in Afghanistan that I would compare to War, this one:


I read The Hidden War when it came out in 1990 and can say that it really made a lasting impression on me. In contrast to War it is not limited to one valley or one unit but is about the whole Soviet war in Afghanistan. I believe the author, a young Russian reporter, probably wrote the best Russian civilian account of that war.

I have not read many accounts written by Soviet soldiers who served in Afghanistan. I only have two such books. The most recent one I can absolutely recommend:


This is the 2010 Swedish edition of the book. The title translates as "The Soviet Union Invades Afghanistan: an Airborne Soldier´s Account". This book provides a very detailed and critical view of how Soviet airborne units operated in Afghanistan. Aside from a unique text it contains a number of very interesting photos.

At the time of writing it is only available in Swedish and Lithuanian - it was first written in that language. Hopefully it will be translated to English.

Now I have come to the final two books and I would say that they are the best I have found so far about the general situation in today´s Afghanistan. The first one is entitled I väntan på talibanerna ("Waiting for the Taliban") by Swedish reporter Jesper Huor. Here is the cover:


To date the book is only available in Swedish. There is a new book in English with the same title, but that is a book I have not yet read and can say nothing about.

About Huor´s book I will say this: it is one superb read and gives insights not only about the fighting in today´s Afghanistan but also about the country itself and its many peoples. Jesper Huor has been able to experience more than most western reporters because he blends in quite easily in Afghanistan - he is half Cambodian and thus can pass as an Afghan.

Jesper Huor has really talked with all sides, even the Russian ambassador to Kabul. The interview with him is just one of several really amazing ones.

Finally we come to a book as recent as Huor´s and somewhat similar to it, but so far only available in German: Eine Nacht in Kabul ("A Night in Kabul") by the Austrian reporter Ulrich Ladurner:


Quouting from the preface by the former Chancellor of West Germany Helmut Schmidt (in my translation from German): "Nine years ago the NATO intervention in Afghanistan began. The operation thus has lasted longer than WWII, longer than the Vietnam War, longer than the Korean War. There is still no end in sight". Schmidt then concludes that regardless of what one thinks about how to best tackle the issues ahead we will have to deal with Afghanistan also in the future, one way or the other.

In addition, as Helmut Schmidt also writes, the current situation in Afghanistan speaks not only of Afghanistan, but also a great deal about how the world of today functions.

The author Ulrich Ladurner´s method for trying to explain to us what Afghanistan is and what is going on in Afghanistan consists both of reporting about his own many travels in Afghanistan and the visits of other foreigners, not least British ones in the 19th century and the German adventurer and officer ("German Lawrence of Arabia") Oskar von Niedermayer in the early 20th century.

Importantly, Ladurner has spent time not only in Kabul (in spite of the title), but has also been to Taliban-rich areas in the south and to the area where Germany and Sweden has most of its troops.

Eine Nacht in Kabul does not have the adrenaline of War but I believe it is one of the most important and well-written books ever about Afghanistan and today´s NATO in action. Hopefully someone will have it translated to English. Like real soon.

Stalingrad in Lapland

I am no big fan of the German 1993 movie "Stalingrad" . Many aspects of it are impressive but I still lost interest. E.g. the tank scenes seem unrealistic to me - being a tanker I think I have some idea about tank realism. But what I recently learnt made me want to give it a second try.

I recently learnt from a Finnish WWII buff from Lapland that the film´s battle in the snow with Soviet T-34 tanks was filmed around Kemijärvi NE of Rovaniemi in Finnish Lapland. The T-34s are coming from the island of Pieskansaari, that briefly can be seen. Yes, this means that a frozen lake is part of what you see. You get a glimpse of this scene at the end of this trailer:


"Stalingrad" (1993) trailer.

I understand some more scenes were shot in Lapland, in Ketola, some klicks west of Kemijärvi. I believe these are the snow storm scenes in an "Arctic wasteland". The place is a huge industrial area with sand, sand, sand. A man-made desert in Lapland. Am I right about this?

Now, all you Norwegian readers, am I correct in remembering that some scenes, with large bunkers, were shot in Arctic Norway, or was that for the movie "Winter War"?

Finnish OSS Volunteer

I knew about a Finnish volunteer in an OSS Operational Group, Karl Hoffman/Matti Raivio, but had never heard about this guy: Eero Saarinen. Now there is even this temporary exibition about him in Washington D.C.

Cold War Hipsters

Yesterday I finally got to see one of the most brilliant and inspiring Russian movies ever made, IMHO: "Stilyagi" (Hipsters). It may be mainly a comedy/drama and musical but it also about the Cold War and even to some extent about WWII, as is evident from this Youtube-clip:



The official movie website is not worse, albeit only in Russian.

There are so many things about this film that I like. To mention at least one I love the way rock songs from the 1980s also are part of the film. Here is an example with an adaptation of one of my favourite Nautilus Pompilius songs:



This film was released in 2008. I wonder if anything comparable was made last year or this year? I doubt it.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Arctic and Alpine Warfare

I reckon one of the reasons I am so into snow, skiing and Arctic history is that some of my formative years (the most?) I spent in Switzerland with superb skiing in the Alps every winter week.

I often think of the fact that the WWII Gebirgsjägers (mountain infantry) in Norway and Finland had a somewhat similar background, they were almost all raised in the Alpine areas of Austria and Bavaria. In addition quite a few of the Gebirgsjäger officers had fought in the Alps during WWI.

Enter almost any graveyard in Austria and you will find images of Gebirgsjägers who died in the Arctic/Russia. This gravestone that I photographed in Fulpmes, Austria, belongs to one Heinrich Sterzinger, fallen somewhere "in the east" in 1942.

Because of this I have "always" wondered about how the WWI and WWII battlegrounds in the Alps look like today. Well, here is the answer. Nice website, Herr Mößlang, and thank you for the tip, Dom.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Coldest Cold War

I recently wrote about how German WWII submachine guns and pistols were still used in the 1960s by Norwegian soldiers in UN service in Africa and the Middle East. No small wonder then that they were in use within Norway even longer.

To illustrate the use of MP 40 submachine guns within postwar Norway there is this recent book cover:

Yes, the submachine gun raised into the air is a German WWII weapon.

The book title Isfront translates as "Ice Front". It is a Norwegian book that recently came out in Swedish. The book is about the Cold War in the Arctic, mainly on the border between the Soviet Union and Norway. You might think not much happened up there on the desolate tundra. Well, that is not the case, as author Asbjørn Jaklin amply shows.

In 1968, for example, the Norwegian border guards (some presumably with MP 40s) got ready to fire on a large Soviet mechanized unit that was obviously about to cross into Norway. A few Soviet vehicles even did cross, but just a few meters.

Several of the Norwegian soldiers had their weapon safety levers in the "off" mode.

The Norwegians might very well have fired upon the Soviets, but wisely they abstained from doing so.

It turned out that the Soviet move was "just" a massive protest against a NATO exercise. The Norwegians did not immediately realize this, as the NATO exercise in question was not held by the border and not even close to it. The reasons for this Soviet demonstration of military might are very interesting indeed and have a lot to do with the Soviet experience of WWII, to be exact Operation Barbarossa.

Amazingly, the Norwegian authorities were able to stop the story of this very serious Cold War incident from reaching the Oslo media. Things were so much easier to control without mobile phones and the internet! This event only became fully known in 2008 through a Norwegian TV documentary. But Isfront also contains many other dramatic passages.

Isfront is not yet available in English, but it ought to be. The author´s previous book, The Northern Front (2006) about WWIIs northernmost battles (in my opinion not as good as this one), has been translated into several languages.

Norwegian SS Fantasy Uniform

Another Norwegian WWII poster I would like to read some comments about is this one:

The message reads: "We win! Join the Norwegian Legion´s Ski Ranger Battalion".

This poster is on display in the amazing Svolvaer War History Museum on Lofoten.

As neither the ski hat (looks almost like a postwar one) nor Norwegian national insignia on it were worn in the field by any Norwegians in the Waffen-SS one wonders if these posters were on display for long? Also note the absence of any German insignia.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

German Paratroops in Scandinavia

As a Nordic author with a special interest in the German paras at Narvik I am a bit ashamed I did not write this book myself, or some Nordic colleague. Instead, a Spaniard, Óscar González, beat us to it. But, well done Mr. González!


Soviet WWII parachute operations against Finland were minute and Finnish parachute ops vs. the Red Army were also very few and small-scale. The British Special Operations Executive (SOE) did drop a number of agents and soldiers over Norway and Denmark, but, again, very few at a time.

To study larger airborne actions in the Nordic area one must turn to the German invasion of Denmark and Norway in the spring of 1940, which is what Óscar González has done. His book German Paratroops in Scandinavia starts with a prologue written by one of the most experienced German paratroopers ever, Knight´s Cross holder Alexander Uhlig, who died two years ago. BTW a friend was able to interview Uhlig on video shortly before Uhlig´s death. I sure am looking forward to see that documentary.

Alexander Uhlig was personally part of the Narvik action and this is one of the great things about German Paratroops in Scandinavia, the author has located a number of veterans and visited the sites of action. Thus there are a number of experiences, facts and photos in the book that you will find in no other book.

Although I have been interested in the subject of German paratroops at Narvik for years the author has documented a number of things about the paras at Narvik, even some significant points, that are absolute news for me.

The book is very well illustrated and the quality of most of the photographs (some in colour), paper and binding are top notch. My only complaint is that some of the most unique photographs should have been reproduced in larger size. The photo on the cover is of course well-known to all interested in the subject. Perhaps a more unusual photo could have been chosen? But then it is a striking image.

If you wish to see the relevant areas and have a special interest in German paratroops - well, then this book is simply mandatory. I should think many WWII historians, elite unit buffs and collectors will also want to own this book.

German Paratroops in Scandinavia has been produced by Schiffer Military History in the United States. In Europe the book is distributed by Bushwood Books, who have a number of other titles about German paratroops and other elite units.

Finally I shall quote from the prologue written by Alexander Uhlig, because I truly believe that this was his heartfelt wish: "My only hope is that future generations will be spared the experience of war".

Monday, November 08, 2010

Raiders of Modern Empires

World War Two and the Cold War are still present in the countryside of Poland and the Baltic states in such a strong way that is hard to grasp for us citizens from historically more fortunate nations.

Remains of a Soviet sailor in a former Soviet naval base. PHOTO: Jan Jörnmark

To comprehend what Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania went through during the 20th century, reading can only get you so far. Then you have to talk to those who were there and see the remains of the imperial projects in the region.

Jan Jörnmark has documented with his camera not only various remains of the German and Soviet empires but also all kinds of forgotten giant projects in Europe and the United States. Jörnmark´s website is simply a must if you are into travelling back 30, 70 or a 100 years ago.

But to get the full story of these mainly WWII and Cold War related sites you should get his latest book, produced together with Katarina Wikars. The book is so far only available in Swedish but can be bought just for the sake of the photographs. If you can read Swedish you are in for an ever stronger experience. The title is Atomtorg, porrharar & Hitlerslussar, which translates as "Atomic Squares, Porn-Hares and Hitler Sluices".

Imagine a very disturbing but also beautiful roadmovie - that´s what this book is like.

Awesome Clip from Brest

This clip from "The Brest Fortress" is simply awesome:



The official Brest movie website starts with a superb slideshow. If the movie is as good as it looks it must be terrific.

Its about the first days of the 1941-45 German-Soviet War, in Russian: the Great Patriotic War.

The movie is a project of the Union State of Russia and Belarus.

There is a Swedish connection, the lead role is played by Andrei Merzlikin, who also starred in the Swedish-Russian production "Newsmakers" (2009) which was directed by "Frostbite"-director Anders Banke.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Wehrmacht Clashes with Swedes

There´s a new Swedish WWII movie coming and it looks interesting. It takes place on the Norwegian-Swedish border. The title simply translates as "The Border". Here´s a clip:



The production has this website.

I have nothing to do with the production - have had no contact with the filmmakers.

USAAF Special Ops in Norway

The main website about USAAF special operations during WWII - for example in Norway and to some extent Sweden - has moved and been improved.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Norwegian Stalingrad Poster Unique?

I have been wondering about this Norwegian propaganda poster ever since I "discovered" it in the Defence Museum in Oslo in the mid-1980s. By the way, is it still hanging there today?

The words "Stalingrad er tatt!" are Norwegian and mean "Stalingrad has been taken!".

I understand that the poster was produced by the Norwegian Quisling government and never displayed during the war and most copies were destroyed. What I do not know is:

1. Was there a German, French etc version of this poster of which none have survived, or was it unique for Norway already at the time?

2. Exactly who made it?

UPDATE:
The source for the below info on this poster (see first comment) is the Norwegian book Den Norske Nasjonalsosialismen (1990) by Hens Fredrik Dahl, Bernt Hagtvedt and Guri Hjeltnes (1990). Thanks T-H!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Nordic Soldiers in Congo

Twenty thousand UN-soldiers served in Congo during the long "Congo Crisis" of the 1960s. No less than six thousand of these troops were from Sweden. A new Norwegian book provides an interesting perspective on them.

Nineteen Swedish soldiers were killed in action in UN-service in Congo in the 1960s. The operation in which they died, ONUC, was officially a peacekeeping operation. One Swedish civilian died too, the Swedish UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld, in a still somewhat mysterious incident.

Not only the Swedish Army contributed to the UN forces in Congo. This wreck of a Saab 29 fighter aircraft, in Sweden often called Flygande tunnan ("The Flying Barrel"), was photographed in Congo by Svenn Willy Mikaelsen from Narvik, Norway. PHOTO: Svenn Willy Mikaelsen

Several books have been written about the Swedes in Congo and I have most of them. However, it is always refreshing to read something about Swedish soldiers from another perspective. Therefore I was glad to hear there was a new Norwegian book that mentions the Swedes in several places. FN-tjeneste i Kongo ("UN-Service in Congo") by Svenn Willy Mikaelsen came out only this year, released by a publisher in Arctic Norway as the author is from Narvik.

Mikaelsen describes with many personal anecdotes - some very painful - his experiences in Congo as a Norwegian military policeman (then sergeant). He lets the reader join him on guard duty and patrols in a very exotic environment. I should think that quite a lot of what Mikaelsen writes about cultural differences is still valid today.

The extremely multinational nature of his MP-job has become very relevant for Nordic soldiers of today. It is good to read about Swedes from a Norwegian perspective. I reckon that the Swedish armoured cars Mikaelsen calls "rolling bath tubs" were m/42 KPs.

But how come Mikaelsen was armed with a German Walther pistol and even a MP 40 submachine gun in Congo, twenty years after WWII? Well that´s not strange at all, actually. The MP 40 was a weapon of the Norwegian armed forces until the late 1980s, finally being used only by the home guard.

I took this photo of a Norwegian MP 40-armed UN-soldier in the Norwegian Defence Museum in Oslo in the 1980s. The depicted soldier shows what the Norwegian troopers looked like in the Middle East in the 1960s.

There is no photo in the book of Mikaelsen with his MP 40 - it has many other photos - but the above photo proves I am not kidding.

Still today in 2010 there is some Wehrmacht equipment in use by the Norwegian Army (no weapons though as far as I know). Perhaps not in Oslo but definately in more remote areas - I know this from a first-hand source.

BTW I recently wrote a piece about the MP 40 in Finland.

The cover of "UN-Service in Congo" shows the author, Svenn Willy Mikaelsen, in white MP-helmet in Kaminaville in 1964.

For more information about the book and ordering see the publisher´s website.

P.S.
Writing about Congo I feel I must mention a Swedish soldier who was there, because his story is just amazing. Armed with a Carl Gustaf recoilless rifle Torsten Stålnacke took out an enemy armoured car (M8 Greyhound?) and several shooters but then he himself was hit - his jaw was virtually blown away. Although he almost suffocated from this he still somehow managed to save the lives of two comrades by dragging and carrying them to safety.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Lapland´s New War Museum

A crucial thing during my childhood was inheriting some things from Finnish Lapland. These souvenirs from the Winter War and also the Continuation War were to a large extent the spark that ignited my interest in military history.

The souvenirs came from a relative I never got to meet, my paternal grandfather´s brother Gunnar Gyllenhaal who was one of the Swedes at war for Finland during WWII. He died some years before I was born but his will was written in such a way that when his widow died I inherited his military belongings. In the Swedish Army he was finally a captain of the Svea Life Guards, one of the world's oldest regiments.

Finnish WWII infantryman in Salla´s new museum, armed with a "Suomi" submachine gun that had an international influence (i.a. it was bought by Sweden) and served Finland till the 1980s. The small bottle hanging from the belt was for mosquito repellent.

Thus it is with great interest I have followed the development of the first war museum in the Salla area in Finnish Lapland, which is where my great uncle was a company commander (heavy weapons company) in 1940. It opened some months ago but I have been unable to visit it until now. The full name is Salla´s Museum of War and Reconstruction.

It was moving to see the souvenirs I had earlier handed over to the museum, now on display, including several that I had received from Russian searchers active on the Salla/Kandalaksha Front.

Among the largest photos in the museum is this studio portrait of Swedish volunteer Gösta Kihlberg. I received the photo of Kihlberg from his son, who lives just some hundred meters from our home. Note the northern knife which is probably something Kihlberg bought locally.

A reproduction of a Molotov cocktail. Behind it a Red Army eating bowl with many inscriptions in Russian. Judging from the words it is probable the owner was a Soviet prisoner of war from the Narva area.

The German forces on the Salla/Kandalaksha Front presented this wooden chest, filled with money, to the municipality of Salla sometime before their retreat in the fall of 1944. The gift was for the postwar reconstruction of the area.

Do any readers know anything about the German chest pictured above? Was the money (partly) from the common soldiers? I gather it contained an impressive sum and is something the local community appreciates. Was this unique for the Salla area and exactly when was the chest handed over? The carved letters on it say "To the community of Salla from the German brothers in arms on the Kandalaksha Front".

There are many small items in the museum including an original Mannerheim Cross. However, I had no time to photograph them properly. But I can describe with words that there are half a dozen rooms with interesting and recent finds from the Arctic battlefields. Some personal soldier items are really moving, especially when you get to hear the story behind them. Many rusty remains are the result of years of searching with metal detectors and careful hands. The local search group has gone to great lengths to locate soldiers missing in action in the area. But many still remain unlocated, of all nationalities. Also some Finnish civilian casualties are still out there.

Uniform of a twelve-year-old Finnish "Lotta". The Lotta Svärd organisation was a Finnish voluntary auxiliary paramilitary organisation for women. Both Sweden and Norway copied the Finnish Lotta concept.

What moved me most during my museum visit was to hear how a civilan victim was found only after several years although it was known where the person had been killed. There was one single metallic giveaway, one bullet. Had that bullet not stopped inside the body, the person would probably never have been found. Many tragic episodes like this happened in Finnish Lapland due to the actions of Soviet partisans who had been encouraged by their instructors to "take revenge" on the Finnish people as much as possible.

Far from all about 5,000 Soviet partisans sent against Finland committed war crimes. But the totally around 200 Finnish civilians murdered by them have marked them in Finland.

By the way, did you know that Yuri Andropov, one of the last leaders of the Soviet Union, trained partisans that were sent to Finland? If he himself operated in Finland is unclear to me - quality sources (books) regarding this are welcome.

An enlarged photograph in the museum, illustrating the first period after the war, is also something that will always remain with me. Few places in Europe 1945-1950 had such harsh living conditions.

From the left, a supporter of the museum, local school headmaster Tapani Niskala together with the director of the Salla Museum of War and Reconstruction, Asko Viitanen. The XL coffee kettle is another Lotta item.

Although the museum to a large extent is about human tragedy it also speaks of some of the best qualities in humanity. Courage, perseverance and also cross-border cooperation are illustrated by many exhibits. Since many years Finnish and Russian historians and search groups are cooperating, e.g. exchanging remains of soldiers and honouring their memory regardless of the uniform they wore.

Regarding my own family I can add that my grandfather´s youngest brother, Carl Gustaf, also volunteered for Finland during the Winter War, but could not enter the Volunteer Corps. As for my paternal grandfather, Lars-Herman, I am not sure if he tried to volunteer for Finland but I do know from newly discovered wartime documents, found by my dad, that he clearly volunteered for Norway. But as he could not find a means of transport to the Norwegian forces in exile he was unable to serve Norway in that capacity. Thus he chose to never bring up this subject with his son or grandson (me).

Forced Landings in Sweden

If you have the slightest interest in downed Luftwaffe, RAF and USAAF aircraft in Sweden, check out the Swedish FORCED LANDING COLLECTION. You can see photos of those individual aircraft that are white.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

"Wiking" and Rutger Hauer

"Frostbite", the Swedish movie featured in my previous post, was not the first film featuring a soldier of the "Wiking" division. It turns out there is an old Dutch movie with a bit of "Wiking", starring Rutger Hauer.

Thanks to a tip from the Axis History Forum I am now aware of "Soldier of Orange"/"Survival Run" (originally "Soldaat van Oranje"), a 1977 Dutch film starring one of my favourite actors, Rutger Hauer. Wikipedia has an extensive description of the film.

In this trailer you get a glimpse of some Waffen-SS soldiers (including one in a SS Panzer uniform):



In the following scene you can see more of the same Dutch SS Panzer ace including his "Wiking´" cuff title:



I wonder, as I am sure someone from the Netherlands will read this, how much does the film show from the Eastern Front? Does it mention the division and give any idea of it? What about that Knight´s Cross, is there an explanation for it in the movie?

The movie is based on the bestselling book with the same title written by Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema, who during WWII was a RAF-pilot and spy. The book/film is being turned into a musical featuring life-size aircraft and vehicles. Does anyone know if there is some "Wiking" in the musical? That would be a definitive first...

Hm, I will have to find this one on DVD somewhere...

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Waffen-SS Viking Vampire

In the Waffen-SS chapter of Swedes at War my co-author and I mention the only movie (so far) about Swedes in the SS: "Frostbite". Here I can describe the movie a bit more.

"Frostbite" (Swedish title: "Frostbiten") was released in 2006 and was a pioneering work in many respects. The first Swedish vampire movie; the first Swedish film to include a massive amount of modern special effects and the first movie featuring a Swedish soldier of the Waffen-SS.

Nordic and German soldiers of the SS-division "Wiking" in the winter battle scene from the vampire movie "Frostbite". The soldier to the far left is clutching a Panzerfaust anti-tank weapon. Photo courtesy of Solid Entertainment.

Like the Waffen-SS soldier on the cover of Swedes at War, the main character of "Frostbite" belongs to the 5th SS Division "Wiking". "Frostbite" was not, however, the first movie with a horror theme to be shot up here in Swedish Lapland, but the second. It is rather ironic that our first ever horror movie focused on the midnight sun, whereas the plot of "Frostbite" turned around the polar night phenomenon.

Selecting the most relevant genre for "Frostbite" is difficult. Some have suggested vampire comedy. I am not able to suggest anything better using just two words, but with more words I´d say it starts out extremely seriously as a movie about the WWII Eastern Front, with vampires sneaking into the story in a rather credible way, and then the movie transforms. There is zero comedy element in the first segment, the ten-minute long part in Ukraine 1944.

The main character (at least while in Ukraine) is a Swedish SS-volunteer, Gerhard Beckert. He holds the rank of a Unterscharführer, a kind of junior sergeant. Together with a Swedish-speaking Finnish comrade and a few German soldiers he is cut off from his company. They belong to "Wiking", apparent also from their cuff titles.

Among the insignia worn by the Swedish vampire-to-be one can notice a tank destruction badge (on the upper right arm) and cuff title (on the lower left arm) of the "Wiking" division. Photo courtesy of Solid Entertainment

The movie is actually very close to reality in two respects here. First, the name of the Swedish SS-volunteer is quite similar to that of an actual Swede in the SS. It signals German family. This is a realistic detail - several Swedes in the Waffen-SS had a German father or mother. Secondly, it is realistic to portray the Swede (Gerhard Beckert) as part of a multinational group. It was only in the "Nordland" division that Swedes were really concentrated so that a Schwedenzug, a Swedish platoon, could come about.

"Wiking" soldier retreating with his Panzerfaust and MP 40 submachine gun. Photo courtesy of Solid Entertainment

Could it be that the man behind the script, Daniel Ojanlatva, and the director, Anders Banke, were well-versed in the reality of the Swedes in German uniform? I think so. The plot and main location of the story in northernmost Sweden are also explained by the fact that Ojanlatva comes from Kiruna, which like the town where the movie mainly was shot, Kalix, is located in the county of Norrbotten (Swedish Lapland), where yours truly also resides.

About the plot of "Frostbite" I will here only add that the SS-veteran Gerhard Beckert surfaces in present-day Kalix as a medical doctor and because of two careless colleagues at his hospital, Beckert's past as a SS-soldier infected by a Ukrainian vampire catches up with him. Alas, there is then only a brief flashback into his wartime past.

If you can accept the way that the movie changes from dead serious to comedy, and especially if you are into vampire movies, I do think you will want to see this one. By the way, it seems that the Swedish moviegoers generally had a problem with the switch from serious to comedy, but the Russian moviegoers did not. The movie was no big hit in Sweden but did really well in Russia. Presumably, the Russians were better at appreciating the Arctic and the Russian opening music, the classic 1940s song "Dark Night".

Watch the movie till the very end and you will see some rather funny credits.