Tuesday, July 25, 2017
Being a tanker, well at least a former one, it is hard not to be extra amazed by the most insane tank project ever, as it involved a 1,000 metric tonne vehicle and the project was actually approved by Hitler.
This beast was so big that the Germans did not officially call it a tank but a Landkreuzer, a "land cruiser". So, you can imagine how keen I was to with my own eyes examine a physical trace of the Landkreuzer "Ratte" ("Rat") project. Yes, the project was cancelled in 1943 by Albert Speer, but there exists a very large piece of a "Ratte" one can say, in Norway, north of Trondheim. The primary weapon of the "Ratte" would have been a 280 mm gun turret, the same turret that was used on the German battleship Gneisenau, modified by removing one of the guns. Where to find such a preserved turret then? The place is called Austrått and the area Örlandet. More info on e.g. this Norwegian tourism website but let me add that you really should make your visit known well in advance if you want to be sure to see the interior of the turret and also the “Fosen Krigshistoriske Samlinger”, an exhibition about the years of occupation in the area. If you can time your visit in such a manner that you get to see both the exterior and interior of the turret, with its many still functional mechanisms, as well as the occupation exhibition - then it will have been very well worth all your expenses to get to this place.
As for the expenses of the Third Reich to build this massive bunker complex - the story is similar to many other German projects along the Atlantic Wall - the ultimate price was payed by other states. To build this particular complex about 120 prisoners from Yugoslavia were worked to their deaths. Of course, many more suffered - directly and indirectly. I will return to this and other enormous northern Hitler projects in a coming book.
Now, if you are going to travel by car to Austrått, do not miss the opportunity to vist Hegra Fortress, where i.a. three Swedish volunteers (see our book Swedes at War 1914-1945) held out for several weeks against the German attackers. The onslaught of the German forces, not least the Luftwaffe, can be better understood by examining the fortress roof.
When in beautiful Trondheim, you should make sure you visit three WWII-related sights. First, The Norwegian National Museum of Justice, with several artifacts from the SS, Quisling police forces and an Enigma machine that was actually saved from a scrap heap in the 1980s. This museum also has the WWI German "anthrax sugar cubes" used by a Swedish volunteer, Otto von Rosen, that you can read more about in Swedes at War 1914-1945. Then there is the army & home front museum Rustekammeret beside the amazing cathedral of Nidaros. Rustekammeret deals with the complete military history of the area, thus not only WWII.
Finally, do not miss to check out the enormous German submarine bunkers in the Trondheim harbour, just too big to miss. They are not that open to the public but you might still find a way to be allowed inside, if you find someone nice and understanding working in them. Even if you are not able to talk yourself inside, their exterior is well worth seeing up close. To prepare yourself for seeing these bunkers and many other German sites in the region, you should get this new and very well illustrated Norwegian book, Bunkeren.
Monday, July 24, 2017
For the first time, remains from all three Soviet bombings of northernmost Sweden are on public display. Soviet shrapnel from the Övertorneå bombing 1944 has never been displayed in a museum before.
The Soviet bombing of the northern Swedish town of Pajala on February 21 1940 meant about 150 dropped bombs. It may have occurred due to an actual navigational error, Pajala is located on the Finnish border. The Pajala bombing caused rather great damage but no person was killed. It is the northern Soviet bombing that has made it into many Swedish history books.
However, the first ever Soviet bombing of Swedish territory was that of Kallaxön outside Luleå on January 14 1940. Three DB-3 bombers entered the Luleå area from the south east and were well over Swedish ground flying in the direction of the fortress town of Boden when they turned, probably due to the weather conditions, and then bombed Kallaxön with at least ten bombs. Amazingly, only one house was really damaged. Is is quite possible that the Soviets had intended to bomb Boden and when this was no longer possible, they instead opted for damaging the air base being constructed on Kallax. The intention may have been to send a strong signal (protest) to the Swedish government, not to support Finland during the Soviet Winter War against Finland. The Kallaxön bombing is mentioned in only a few books, but forms a rather large part of the bonus chapter in the paperback version of my book Germans and Allies in Sweden.
Now, since last week, bomb parts from the Kallaxön and Pajala bombings have been joined by two Soviet bomb fragments from Övertorneå, that was bombed on February 12 1944. Although there is little that speaks for Soviet intent (Övertorneå also being a border town) this incident too is of some interest, as it has eluded historians. But, thanks to the discovery of an original map from 1944 with bomb craters clearly marked, and evidence from locals and local newspapers, shrapnel has been found and it has been concluded that the bombs had Cyrillic script. Remains of nine were found and one did not go off. The bomb parts constitute just a small part of the museum Flygmuseet F 21 Luleå.
Did other states bomb northernmost Sweden during WWII? A couple of British bombs were dropped, in connection with the battle of Narvik 1940, but they were dropped by the Norwegian border and landed in the wilderness, not harming anyone or anything except the ground.
The above text constitutes an English summary of three articles in Swedish I have written, that were published in Soldat & Teknik 3/2014, 1/2017 and 4/2017.
Wednesday, July 12, 2017
Only in October last year (2016) the Swedish Tax Agency declared Raoul Wallenberg officially dead. But when did he breathe his last breath? The Swedish Tax Agency recorded the date of his death as July 31, 1952. However, July 17, 1947 is the most presumed date for his execution by the MGB (which in 1954 became the KGB). In other words, 70 years ago.
The Swedish Tax Agency´s date of July 31, 1952 does not directly point out Wallenberg´s death day, it is just in line with the tax agency´s approach in cases where the circumstances of death are unclear. The agency has a general rule of five years after someone goes missing. Why then July 31 and not July 17? Well, again this is according to policy - which is to not mark a certain day but the last day of the month during which the person was known to be alive.
How was Raoul Wallenberg "liquidated", i.e. murdered? Poison or a bullet are the methods mentioned by different Soviet/Russian sources.
I am no Raoul Wallenberg expert but my co-author Lennart Westberg and I have followed developments around Raoul Wallenberg research and summarize these in the English translation of our book, Swedes at War 1914-1945. The latest book about Raoul Wallenberg recently landed on my desk and it is written by Lars Brink, an accomplished author and also veteran of the same voluntary defence organization that Raoul Wallenberg worked for, the Swedish Home Guard. Prior to his world famous work in Hungary, Wallenberg had been a very active Home Guard instructor - the above photo shows him in his Swedish Army uniform.
Brink´s new book includes a summary in English and is thus not only of interest for Swedish readers. The book´s title may sound academic, Raoul Wallenberg in Swedish Daily Press During the Cold War, but this is a book that should appeal not only to researchers at universities and institutions, but also to journalists and others. Brink´s book contains a credible and important analysis of how the press in Sweden, including Swedish communist papers, covered Raoul Wallenberg during the classic Cold War years. Previously, Lars Brink has written an amazing history of the Swedish Home Guard, including a very readable section about the young Wallenberg and his defence work. Brink´s books can be found in some Swedish book shops and also ordered from his own website.