Monday, December 30, 2019
This year (2019) was the final year in the life of Rudolf von Ribbentrop, son of the Third Reich´s foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop - the German half of the most common name for the Hitler-Stalin Pact (Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) that in August 1939 stunned the world. Speaking about 2019, one of the final meetings of President Vladimir Putin this year was largely about this pact.
President Putin has lately talked a great deal about the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. There have been reactions to this, not least from the first victim of the pact, Poland. In other words, this first English language edition of Rudolf von Ribbentrop´s book about his father has been released with rather good timing. Most of its 476 pages are indeed about Joachim von Ribbentrop and several passages about him, as well as quotes from him and others, are of great interest. But aside from the direct quotes My Father Joachim von Ribbentrop is a mixed bag. The idea to let the book also be about the author´s own past is understandable. Rudolf von Ribbentrop not only witnessed the rise of the Third Reich from a rather unique position, he joined the SS Infantry Regiment "Deutschland" and took part in the invasion of France 1940. Afterwards he led a platoon of what later became "Nord", in Finland; was assigned to the Leibstandarte "Adolf Hitler"; participated as a tank commander in the Third Battle of Kharkov/Kharkiv and was shot by a sniper while rescuing wounded.
After recovering, the young von Ribbentrop became a Panzer company commander and led his company during the recapture of Kharkov/Kharkiv, after which he received the Knight’s Cross. He was transferred to the SS Division "Hitlerjugend" and was again wounded when a Spitfire attacked his car. Ribbentrop was awarded the German Cross in Gold during the defense of Normandy in 1944. He also took part in the Battle of the Bulge and met Hitler in his bunker in February 1945. All this he describes himself and his words are often fascinating to read. The problem is how these personal experiences are spread out over the book, and that there are passages that indicated to me that the author´s age introduced errors of memory into the text - he was 87 when he finished writing the original (German) manuscript.
Rudolf von Ribbentrop´s take on the origin and conduct of the Second World War is thought-provoking but at times simply not convincing. He did realize that he had served a murderous dictator but he nevertheless believed that Hitler had above all been tricked into attacking Poland - indirectly tricked by conspiring German generals. Where is Alfred Naujocks, Gleiwitz and other German-orchestrated incidents along the Polish-German border? Was I just too tired or did the author attempt to explain away the Lebensraum motive? The pages about his father´s enthusiasm for the pact with Stalin are more interesting, and also credible. My Father Joachim von Ribbentrop does contribute to the picture of Hitler´s foreign minister, but one should read it bearing in mind who wrote it, when he wrote it and only after having read other books about the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact.
Sunday, December 08, 2019
The new Tolkien movie, simply called "Tolkien", takes place in England and France. It is about J.R.R. Tolkien's childhood, youth and time at the front during the First World War. The film seems to have received mostly lukewarm reviews - well, here comes my take.
It seems that few Swedish cinemas (any at all?) have shown "Tolkien". Maybe it was released directly on DVD in Sweden? However, I have now seen it, on DVD, and my opinion is that it is not only well worth seeing, it is simply wonderful. As a film, it is gripping, romantic and beautiful. AND the director is Nordic, Dome Karukoski. What, a director from Finland? Actually, not so strange, considering that the Finnish language was important for Tolkien's saga languages, as was Kalevala - Finland's national epic. The Finnish language is actually mentioned in the film, and rightfully so.
In other words, ignore the reviews and watch the movie yourself. If you then want to know more about Lieutenant Tolkien's war experiences, I highly recommend Tolkien and the Great War by John Garth. A fantastic read if you are really interested in Tolkien and also are a military history buff.
Thursday, December 05, 2019
Having a special interest in StuGs it takes a special StuG book to surprise me. Well, Dennis Oliver´s new book StuG III & IV: German Army, Waffen-SS and Luftwaffe, Western Front 1944-1945 contained some news for me - not least about Danish postwar StuG use.
Why are WWII assault guns/tank destroyers of special interest among AFV buffs and modellers? I reckon there are several different answers depending on who you ask, but here in Sweden I think quite a few guys (now rather mature AFV buffs/modellers) once trained to use the Swedish "S-tank" (strv 103), like myself, will be aware of the historical roots between the S-tank and the WWII assault guns. I recall my 1980s exchange of letters with the chief designer of the S-tank, Sven Berge - from which I understood that the design similarities of StuGs and S-tanks were no coincidence.
Now, having read about StuGs since the glorious 1980s it takes quite a lot to impress me. But Dennis Oliver´s book has done so. Almost all WWII photographs in his new book are new to me and then he has produced 23 brilliant colour illustrations, clearly displaying different types of camouflage and markings. Aside from these Oliver provides short but good unit histories with graphics plus all the different StuG scale models ever made and very good photos of assembled and painted kits.
Being a blogger/writer with a Nordic angle on military history I must of course also mention my big surprise when I found Oliver´s photo of a StuG III Ausf. B belonging to Minenkommando Dänemark, a company-sized formation formed by the Allies after WWII to remove the about 1 million mines that the Germans had laid along the Danish coast. I knew of this mine-clearing operation but did not knew it had StuG IIIs and PzKpfw IIIs. Well, Oliver knows a lot about StuGs, and has the ability to transfer his knowledge in this quite short (64 pages) but large size book in the excellent TankCraft series.
Thursday, November 28, 2019
Retired US Army Colonel Gilberto Villahermosa has produced 303 pages of top-notch German paratrooper history. He has chosen to focus on the German II Parachute Corps and its commander Eugen Meindl in Normandy.
Some German paratroopers were actually wargaming an airborne landing by the Allies just hours before the Allied airborne operation was launched. It so happened that German paras then found themselves fighting great numbers of their equivalents in the US Army. it is interesting to read how they viewed each other and compared equipment. The aspect the Germans were really impressed with seems to have been the (amount of) American medical equipment, not least the individual soldier´s medical items. The US rations also caused some German envy.
What about the US view of Fallschirmjäger equipment? An example comes from Major Salve Matheson, partly Norwegian and Swedish and at the time a staff officer in the US 506th PIR. Matheson is quoted by the author regarding the capture of a German 75 mm recoilless rifle for paratroopers: "This was the first and only weapon of this kind encountered by the regiment though its value was not realised".
The fighting between the German and US paras became bitter indeed around Vierville, where an entire Fallschirmjäger battalion fought an understrength battalion of US paras. It became known as the Battle of Hell´s Corner. The pages about this battle are among the most interesting in the book.
The combat experience and quality of the German paras in Normandy varied greatly - far from all had any jump training at this stage of the war, and Hitler´s Paratroopers In Normandy helps make that clear.
This book contains a document from General Meindl marked "Destroy After Reading" that sums up the first lessons learnt the hard way by the Fallschirmjägers in Normandy. In general, this book´s conclusions are of great value.
Hitler´s Paratroopers In Normandy has all that one expects from a good unit history including maps, photographs and useful appendixes. It contains 44 photos - not a huge number, but some of them are amazing.
Saturday, November 23, 2019
Last year I blogged about British author James Kinnear´s original work of reference The Red Army On Parade 1917-1945. Does his new book, about the Soviet Army 1946-1991, deserve as much attention?
Already in the introduction for The Soviet Army On Parade 1946-1991 James Kinnear makes clear that we have entered a new era - he relates the history of the Soviet R-1 rocket, that began with the construction of no less than 29 V-2 rockets from components captured in Germany. Thus the post-1945 Soviet military parades, and this new book by Kinnear, encompass not only the history of Soviet AFVs, support & transport vehicles, it also constitutes a photographic encyclopedia of Soviet rockets and missiles from WWII to 1991. Due to the fact of the pioneering mechanization of the Soviet airborne forces it is also a book of great interest to airborne history buffs.
The first chapter kicks off with a grand image of a T-44 with markings that ought to inspire several modellers. Some more highlights are the images of the 2A3 "Kondensator" self-propelled nuclear gun; the (A)SU-85 airborne self-propelled gun and the ZiS-110B parade limousine. Rather surprisingly, there is even a 1947 image of amphibious Soviet DUKWs on parade in front of the Winter Palace in Leningrad. However, some Soviet military vehicles were just never paraded, such as the enigmatic tank destroyer SU-122-54. Only 77 of these beasts were built. They served in secrecy but some decommissioned examples were converted to armoured recovery vehicles and used on standby at Red Square parades in the 1980s. It was only this appearance that confirmed the existence of the tank destroyer. Mr. Kinnear provides images of both vehicles.
One of the best parts of the book is the final photo guide and glossary, the "heart" of the reference aspect of the book. But before that there is an amazing chapter on the many AFVs on "parade" during the attempted coup d´etat of August 1991.
Not only has the author located an impressive amount of great photographs, the captions show that the author really knows his stuff - he points out fine details, making the images even more interesting.
In general, this book, like Kinnear´s previous one, describes in amazing detail the vehicles and heavy weapons of an era. At the same time Kinnear provides a history of the main world events of the decades in question. This is largely a very good idea, that put the weapons and vehicles in context. I wrote "largely" because the pages about the author´s views regarding history after 1991 can be questioned both due to the years in the book´s title and the book type. Nevertheless, The Soviet Army On Parade 1946-1991 is a treasure trove for students of military history and especially for military vehicle buffs.
Thus The Soviet Army On Parade 1946-1991 is as valuable as The Red Army On Parade 1917-1945, and together the two volumes tell both the story of the world´s heaviest military parades and much about several of the most influential weapons and vehicles of the 20th century.
Wednesday, November 20, 2019
In a few months the 80th anniversary of the German invasion of Norway in April 1940 will be highlighted not only here in Scandinavia. There are a number of books in English about the invasion, but the aftermath is not as well documented in English. However, a key source has recently become available: No Surrender.
There is something very inspiring with well-written personal accounts of occupation resistance and imprisonment. No Surrender is one of the strongest, not least because Hans Cappelen wrote it just some months after the war. In Norwegian his WWII memoir was published as Vi ga oss ikke already in 1945. Because of this and his postwar work for the public he became rather well known in Norway, in 1970 he was made a Knight, First Class of the Order of St. Olav.
No surrender contains plenty of exciting scenes due to high stakes and daring. In spite of the grim subject matter and proximity to the events, Hans Cappelen includes humour and portrays his captors in a credible manner. Several conversations that Hans Cappelen had with Germans quite surprised me.
This book is of particular importance not just because it covers the early resistance period, Hans Cappelen was a founding member of the resistance and when he was arrested in 1941 he was tortured and eventually deported to Germany as a "Nacht und Nebel" prisoner, destined to disappear in "Night and Fog" (the meaning of "Nacht und Nebel"). He thus got to know some of Nazi Germany’s most infamous camps, among them Natzweiler, Dachau and Buchenwald. In the spring of 1945 he was rescued by Count Folke Bernadotte’s "White Buses" and transported to Sweden.
RAF veteran and now also translator of No Surrender, J. Basil Cowlishaw, first met Hans Cappelen in the spring of 1949, when Cappelen approved his job application. They became friends and often met each other until Cappelen passed away in 1979. The result of the translator´s excellent understanding of the history and language in question is a wonderful translation - just a pity it has been released only this year. But better late than never.
I usually don´t write where reviewed books are available, but as there are yet very few places that have No Surrender, I will end this review by recommending the Amazon page.
Thursday, November 14, 2019
For years I have been collecting books about airborne forces and therefore I can guarantee that this book is amazing. Very few readers outside what was once the Soviet Union will have previously seen more than two or three of the book´s photographs. And Red Assault has plenty of photos - that match the surprisingly rich text. And there is a Swedish connection.
Red Assault: Soviet Airborne Forces 1939-1941 by Vladimir Kotelnikov shows, with an amazingly detailed text and lots of different illustrations, that the Soviet airborne were pioneers in more ways than imagined. Because not only does it tell the story of the known airborne equipment and experiments, but also several ideas and tests that have never been documented in any previous book. The early Soviet airborne infatuation with armoured vehicles was not limited to the T-37A amphibious tank. Several other AFVs were tested by the airborne troops. Sketches and fine drawings reveal even more advanced ideas like a "helicopter tank" and then there was the quite adorable "avia-motorcycle" in two variants.
Airborne recoilless guns, an experimental camouflaged jump suit, various parachutes, special gliders, airborne dogs, airdrop sledges - this book has them all and often the quality of both the information and photographs is astounding.
Aircraft buffs will also be baffled, because early Soviet paratroopers were not only dropped from huge TB-3s, Red Assault contains many more types, some very futuristic designs. And now a Swedish connection: "There was a shortage of alloy steel in the country at the time and it had to be imported first and foremost from Sweden."
Not that surprisingly, Mikhail Tukhachevskiy is one of the officers portrayed in this book. But Vladimir Kotelnikov, for credible reasons, writes more about the "fanatic" and "genius" Pavel Grokhovskiy. This airborne pioneer deserves to become better known.
Is there nothing lacking in this book? The parts about the operations in Poland and Finland are short. What about the scope, the book ends in 1941. Well, if it were to cover also 1941-45 with the same degree of detail as 1930-1939 it would be thick as a brick. Better focus on that period in another book. But by the very nature of the events between 1941 and 1945 such a book can not contain as much about airborne development and equipment as Red Assault does. This is because the Soviet airborne forces in 1941-45 found themselves fighting most desperately, largely without aircraft and with no time or resources for airborne development. The Soviet visions of massive airborne operations were not possible to realize until the 1960s.
Sometimes book covers claim that a book is original and contains new insights, photos etc, but the book then actually offers very little that collectors have not seen before. Well, this is just not the case with Red Assault. It delivers. Both airborne and aircraft buffs will be pleasantly surprised by Vladimir Kotelnikov´s book, translated by Kevin Bridge and published by the UK publisher Helion & Company.
Saturday, October 26, 2019
The report of this discovery was printed yesterday, in the Swedish newspaper Expressen. The report and part of the first film footage went online the day before. Yours truly is the reporter and all images except those from WWII come from one of the divers, Simon Kenttä.
Resting at 75 metres in a lake north of Norwegian Narvik and not far from Sweden, the Junkers Ju 52 "Ace of Hearts" has so far not been filmed, only last year photographs of the plane appeared online. In the same lake, Hartvikvatnet (also Hartvigvannet), there is a much more accessible Ju 52 wreck. As a consequence, that plane is very incomplete. The Junkers aircraft now in question constitutes a contrast - it has an amazing amount of details and lots of paint and markings including the ace of hearts.
The Junkers Ju 52 "Ace of Hearts" helps tell the story of the battle of Narvik - that provides important lessons about WWII in Scandinavia.
Diving 75 metres down in an Arctic lake is extremely dangerous and requires special training, equipment and safety precautions. Before one dives one also has to be very sure about the exact location of the target. Also please bear in mind that German WWII equipment left behind in Norway belongs to the Norwegian state, meaning the Norwegian defence museums.
To very easily examine one of the Junkers Ju 52 machines that went down into lake Hartvikvatnet, see the one taken out of the lake in 1983 and preserved in the splendid Norwegian Aviation Museum in Bodö. Here is the link to immediately see their Ju 52.
Saturday, October 12, 2019
When you have read about Special Operations Executive (SOE) operations in certain countries you might want to better understand the SOE in general - why it was created in 1940, how it began its existence and what became of it. Secret War by Nigel West answers such questions and has some parts of particular interest to Nordic readers.
Secret War: The Story Of SOE includes the original Cabinet memorandum, drafted by Neville Chamberlain in July 1940, which created SOE. West´s book has many details about the origins of SOE and the serious rivalry it from the start experienced with the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, also known as MI6). Nigel West even writes that an "undeclared war" existed between the SOE and SIS. West also makes it clear that he has studied not just the successful SOE operations, and that he wants to shed light on how the SOE tipped the resistance balance in favor of Communist groups in several countries, not only in Yugoslavia.
West does not devote many paragraphs to describe Operation Gunnerside, the successful SOE action in the Norwegian mountains to stop the German development of nuclear weapons, through the destruction of heavy water production and stocks. But that operation is well documented in several other books and West instead clarifies how Gunnerside was to the benefit of the status of SOE in general.
Early SOE activities in Sweden and Norway are covered rather extensively. One wishes West had written as much about the last activities, that interest me more. Still, one learns some important facts about the SOE in all of Scandinavia and regarding the Danes I learnt of something I had no idea of - how the US Office of Strategic Services (OSS) had plans for a Danish Operational Group (OG). In fact, several pages of this book are very informative about the OSS.
If you are mainly interested in SOE and OSS activities in France, this book will be even more useful to you.
The edition of Secret War: The Story Of SOE that I have just reviewed is the one that was printed this year (2019). The first edition was published in 1992. I believe it remains a good investment.
Thursday, October 10, 2019
Having previously blogged about two guides about all of Normandy it is time to look at a new book focusing on an area of particular interest to armour buffs, the area covered by Operation Totalize, during which German tank ace Michael Wittmann was killed.
The new book Operation Totalize by Tim Saunders is filled with both the information, photos and maps that you need to get a good idea of this offensive launched by Allied troops to break through the German defences south of Caen. If you are mostly interested in US forces this book is not for you, because Totalize is the story of Canadian, British and Polish troops fighting against Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS units.
Tim Saunders is of the opinion that it was most likely Sherman Trooper Joe Ekins who took out Michael Wittmann´s Tiger. Ekins belonged to the British 1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry. Saunders presents a plausible scenario but does not exclude another Sherman due to the nature of armoured warfare. Well, thanks to the relevant text, air photograph and map in Operation Totalize one has the tools necessary to visit the battleground in question and oneself judge what is more likely, Joe Ekins or a tank from the Canadian Sherbrooke Fusilier Regiment.
Speaking of tanks, during Totalize the Germans used also some radio-controlled tanks of the type Borgward B IV, operated by the Funklenk-Abteilung 301. This part of the book was a surprise for me, and Saunders has also found a Borgward photo I had not seen before.
If you are an AFV buff, wargamer or intend to do a battlefield tour of the Operation Totalize battlegrounds, you will find this book very helpful and you will want to bring it with you to Normandy.
Let me finally say that the author, Tim Saunders, has found many great photos I had never seen before and I also like how he uses maps and unit insignia.
Thursday, September 19, 2019
Thanks to a Norwegian friend I was recently invited to a WWII research meeting right beside Hitler´s largest Arctic project, his railway line that was meant to end in Kirkenes by the Finnish (now Russian) border. This blog post is mainly to provide a visual idea of the amazing days we spent up there.
The Organisation Todt (OT) was a German paramilitary engineering organization named after Fritz Todt, an engineer and senior Nazi leader. The OT was one of the Wehrmachtgefolge, German Armed Forces auxiliaries. The organization was responsible for implementing the vision of connecting by rail south Norway with Kirkenes, the northeasternmost town not far from Soviet Murmansk. This meant working in one of the most challenging landscapes on earth due to a staggering amount of mountains and fjords. The Arctic climate and often total lack of roads for supporting motor vehicles did not make things easier. As usual, the OT would rely on forced labour, mostly Soviet and Yugoslav prisoners of war. The section responsible for this most extreme railway project was called OT-Einsatzgruppe "Wiking". The project was pursued right to the very end of the Third Reich, at the cost of thousands of lives.
Our trip last week began with a visit at Klungset, beside the town of Fauske, about 70 kilometres inside the Arctic Circle. Klungset is probably the most intact OT base that there is in 2019, and one of few WWII German military hospitals still around. Last time I visited it, 18 years ago, it was in a deplorable state. Now several parts of it have been restored. In 2015 it became protected by the Directorate for Cultural Heritage in Norway.
In connection with the huge Arctic railway project to Kirkenes, this hospital complex was built in 1942-43, mainly for the benefit of German OT staff. Construction was carried out by forced labour, local companies, a southern Norwegian construction company and others. When the base was completed in 1943, it consisted of 12 buildings with a total capacity of 200 beds. Today, four of these buildings are preserved. Although the bulk of the labour force consisted of prisoners of war, this group received limited treatment at the base. This changed radically after the German capitulation, when, in June 1945, the US Army flew Swedish Red Cross personnel, diet foods and medical equipment to treat the most ill Soviet former prisoners of war. Thus American C-47 aircraft flew a Swedish hospital staff from Luleå to Bodö, not far from Klungset. The above 1945 photo from Klungset shows the main building with Swedish medical staff and also some Germans under Norwegian command.
Hopefully Klungset will sometime in the future also become a true museum. We saw why that would be a good idea - not only has the main building been restored, another building has been left virtually untouched since 1945 and contains many both unusual and moving artifacts and photographs. Just walking around on the base, especially in the cellars, is a remarkable experience in itself. The two gentlemen who own the premises also have some relevant WWII military vehicles, some virtually untouched since the war, some restored.
Thank you so much, Trond Ole Slettvoll, for showing us around on Klungset. Our next big thank you goes to Trond Inge Mathisen of Hamaröy, whose WWII researcher event took place by a mountain lake 90 kilometres north of Klungset, beside the last large German tunnel that was made before the German capitulation. It was never completed and is dangerous to enter, but can be entered with a guide and special equipment - see the last photograph below.
What is inside the last large German Arctic railway tunnel? First, please understand that abandoned WWII tunnels should not be entered, or at least not without safety equipment and a guide, as they are more or less unsafe for various reasons. Well, what about my experiences from the above tunnel? I am saving them and the relevant photos for a manuscript I hope to finish next year which will contain largely unknown and unpublished material. You can support this by reading my books, two are available in English (check Amazon etc). The next one (in October) in Swedish you can see below. It contains chapters i.a. about some very large gifts from Soviet former prisoners of war in Sweden and a previously unknown Allied base on Swedish soil - the Norwegian SOE operators on the cover came from one of these bases. If you are wondering about the submarine on the cover it is U 3503, one of the extremely advanced German submarines of the type XXI class, en route to Norway but scuttled on 8 May 1945 west of Göteborg, Sweden.
Thursday, September 12, 2019
Recently I reviewed Visiting the Normandy Invasion Beaches and Battlefields, a terrific book for first-time visitors to Normandy and those planning to lead school groups and similar groups. Now I will review a Normandy guide so comprehensive that it could also be considered a battlefield encyclopedia.
This book, Major & Mrs Holt´s Definitive Battlefield Guide to the D-Day Normandy Landing Beaches (75th Anniversary edition) by Tonie and Valmai Holt, is an impressive mix of good maps, photos and information, the result of decades of Normandy experience and countless meetings with veterans. Aside from many colour maps inside the book you also get a separate map which in itself will probably be very helpful, not least while you are in the area. Simply put, I have never seen a better battlefield tour map before.
Major & Mrs Holt´s new guide can be used not only to plan a trip to battlegrounds or museums of special interest, it is a tool for historians, serving officers, history buffs and wargamers. Even if you have been to Normandy a couple of times I bet you will find several new and highly interesting places thanks to this guide. I did. Also, you will probably find the purely historical information in the book very readable, motivating, and sometimes also very moving.
Nordic readers will be pleased to know that Major & Mrs Holt have not missed the Norwegian and Danish memorials in Normandy and thanks to the maps and photos you will be able to locate them. So far there is no memorial to the Swedes who were also a part of the Normandy landings (mostly at sea but also on the ground and in the air), but there is at least a Bofors anti-aircraft gun in the Bayeux Museum (there is a photo of it in the guide), one of hundreds of Bofors guns used in Normandy.
Major & Mrs Holt´s guide also cover where to stay and eat and special tips for those wishing to tour Normandy by bicycle. The book is 350 pages long but still quite handy (not that large), and filled with good illustrations, mainly in colour.
Tuesday, September 10, 2019
Rather surprisingly, this year two books focused on Nordics in the Waffen-SS have been released. First The Finnish SS-volunteers and Atrocities 1941–1943 by Professor Lars Westerlund, and just recently III. Germanic SS Panzer-Korps by Lennart Westberg, Petter Kjellander & Geir Brenden.
This SS corps was a Waffen-SS armoured corps which saw action mainly on the Eastern Front and is often associated with the Estonian city of Narva due to its fighting there. The corps was formed in April 1943 and first commanded by the former Wiking commander Felix Steiner. III. Germanic SS Panzer-Korps is being released in two volumes by the UK publisher Helion & Company. The first volume, just released, covers the background of the corps, its creation and history until September 1944.
Counting myself as a close friend of Lennart Westberg (we have written two books together) I should not really review his new book, but I see no reason why I can not give an idea of the contents. Naturally, the III. Germanic SS Panzer-Korps is the main focus, but the first 45 pages summarize the latest research about the roots and purposes of the Waffen-SS and especially about its recruits from the Nordic states. The authors describe both the incredible expansion of the Waffen-SS and how the SS "brand" was renewed in 1944. Already in the introduction there are several images that few will have seen before, and not just propaganda photographs.
While photographs, especially previously unpublished ones, are important (not least in this book), the III. Germanic SS Panzer-Korps also contains new insights, e.g. into the serious difficulties to keep Norwegian volunteers within the Waffen-SS. Associate Professor Sigurd Sörlie has contributed a summary of his relevant research to this book.
Many books about the Waffen-SS just mention the often very large component of ethnic Germans/Volksdeutsche (from German minorities outside the Third Reich), but in III. Germanic SS Panzer-Korps they are very much present.
The many large photographs are in some cases of spectacular quality and those from within the city of Narva 1944 should be of interest to a wide group, not least those who plan to visit the city. Military vehicle (tank) buffs will find several images of Panthers and other vehicles, also Italian ones, of great interest.
Finally, the propaganda posters in the book deserve special mention. The SS, for Ersatzkommando Danmark, even produced a poster highlighting the significance of Narva, and the book´s poster captions explain the symbols and messages in this and other relevant Waffen-SS posters.
Friday, September 06, 2019
Very pleasantly surprised by this one. Visiting the Normandy Invasion Beaches and Battlefields is both a great guide and a compact WWII reference book.
This book by history teacher and guide Gareth Hughes is mostly intended for those planning and leading groups of young people to the World War Two sites in Normandy. But I do believe it should be read and used also by those with a deep interest in Normandy and WWII in general. It starts with a short but brilliant section entitled “D-Day in Numbers”. Two figures that I found to be of particular interest were: “127 – aircraft lost by the Allies” and “15 – percentage of paratroopers that landed in their planned drop zone”.
The general planning and travel tips are in themselves very valuable. The author then provides a very good WWII timeline followed by one of the best summaries I have come across of both the world wars. Then comes a short but still good glossary of key D-Day terms, such as Bigot, Bocage, PLUTO and SHAEF. A 14-page history of Normandy and D-day follows – a very nice summary.
The WWII location parts of the guide do not include every WWII site in Normandy but instead focus on places suitable for school groups and similar groups. One gets really invaluable advice both how to effectively present these places and their context, why they matter. Now, you might want to instead show around a group of military cadets or aviation/tank buffs. Well, I would still recommend this book as your primary Normandy guide. In my next posts I will present some more “extreme” Normandy guides for those already interested in particular units or vehicles.
As I am always looking for connections to the Nordic countries I was glad to note that the author among the tips for extended tours has included the Utah Danish Memorial, that commemorates the about 800 Danes who were also a part of the D-Day landings. They, like the Swedes, served mainly on board ships, but were nevertheless part of the D-Day machinery.
Saturday, August 31, 2019
Could there really be traces of the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) and Special Air Service (SAS) on the island of Rhodes, not far from the old town? Yes there are such traces but you will not learn about them from most Rhodes guides.
The Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes is not just a Gothic castle inside the old town on Rhodes. During the Italian period on Rhodes (1912-1943) the castle was extensively restored and became a holiday residence first for the Italian king and later for Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, whose name can actually still be seen on a wall by the castle entrance. That wall and the The Rhodes Jewish Museum would to many visitors seem to be the only traces of WWII on the island, but there is actually much, much more to see, especially if you venture outside the old town.
In this old blog post I presented my first tips where to look for traces of the Italian and German occupation periods. Some days ago I returned from our latest Rhodes holiday, during which I found rather intact WWII trenches and the ruins of an Italian WWII workshop, and visited two sites connected to the LRDG and SAS.
Why on earth is there a Long Range Desert Group trooper in the Commonwealth war cemetery on Rhodes? Surely there are no deserts on Rhodes? Well, let me first explain that after the North African campaign ended in May 1943 the LRDG became more like the SAS/SBS and was used mainly for raids/sabotage on various Mediterranean islands and in Italy and Yugoslavia. New Zealand LRDG Trooper Hector Mallett died from wounds he sustained during an assault against the Germans on the small island of Levita (now Levitha), more than 100 kilometers from Rhodes. The cemetery is not only for those who lost their lives on Rhodes but also on many other islands in the region, some quite isolated. The Rhodes cemetery is located in the southern outskirts of the city of Rhodes, by the old coastal road to Lindos, opposite the Italian, Jewish and Turkish cemeteries.
What about traces of the SAS then? Well, first find Mandraki Port. Just north of it stands a war memorial not far from the water, topped with a winged bronze figure representing Victory. It is located in Pl. Antinavarchou Perikli Ioannidi. One of the units specifically named on the memorial and also represented by its insignia is the Sacred Band (or Sacred Squadron). This Greek special forces unit was attached to the SAS from March 1942 and below is a close up of their insignia including the motto "Return Victorious or Dead" (in Greek), said to be the words with which Greek wives once saw their men off to battle.
By conducting literally hundreds of island raids together with the SBS, the Sacred Band pinned down thousands of German troops on many islands, thus preventing them from reinforcing the German troops in Italy or France. There are two images of the Sacred Band in action on the war memorial, the better preserved one can be seen below.
In the modern Greek Army, the Sacred Band's traditions are carried on by the 1st Raider/Paratrooper Brigade, that sports both the band´s sword and the motto of the SAS "Who Dares Wins" in Greek: O Tolmon Nika. If you are a bit of a patch collector you might want to know that the below one was purchased in an army store a short walk from the memorial.
What about the WWII trenches and ruins of an Italian workshop that I also found? Well, I need some more input before blogging about them - but don't worry, I will eventually get that and then blog some more about Rhodes.
Tuesday, August 27, 2019
If you are looking for the greatest books about Normandy 1944 I have some suggestions for you in this and several coming blog posts. Let us start in an unorthodox way with the German view.
There is an abundance of books that focus on the Allied side of this story. In The Germans in Normandy by Richard Hargreaves it is the other way around, and this in itself raises ones interest. Then I was also encouraged to read the book by some words from a fellow author and the Guild of Battlefield Guides (more about Normandy guides in future posts). But, before I venture into actually reviewing The Germans in Normandy I should mention that this 2019 paperback edition is not an entirely new book, as the first edition was published in 2006. Well, that having been said, this book should still rank as one of the best Normandy books.
Richard Hargreaves paints convincing portraits not only of the highest German officers involved. The quotes from them that he presents are both fascinating and in some cases even amusing. One gets the feeling that Hargreaves has correctly identified both the strengths and weaknesses of the German occupiers in northern France. He makes it very clear how much the Germans relied on foreign volunteer troops (many of whom were no true volunteers): “By the spring of 1944, one in six infantry battalions along the Atlantic Coast was composed of Osttruppen and [other] foreign volunteers […]”. In fact, as Hargreaves also points out, in some parts of France the ratio was even higher, so that in certain areas one in five “German” soldiers was not German at all.
The pre-battle conflict between Field Marshal Erwin Rommel and General Leo Geyr von Schweppenburg is amazing to follow and perhaps that row even caused the world famous “longest day” words from Rommel. What about the frontline soldiers then? Well, they are in the book too. Air power enthusiasts also do not have to worry – this book does not just cover the Heer and Waffen-SS but also Luftwaffe aspects.
How were the catastrophic German defeats in Normandy communicated to the German population? Richard Hargreaves shows how the main newspaper of the national socialist party at first rather convincingly “balanced” the defeats with colourful descriptions of the first V1 (flying bomb) strikes against London.
Hargreaves does not end his book with just the final shots in Normandy, but also gives an idea of what the cleaning up there entailed.
You might be tired of Normandy books – but even if you are I reckon you will appreciate The Germans in Normandy. It certainly renewed my interest in that beautiful and once very bloody part of France.
Tuesday, August 13, 2019
Many books have been made about the first, now iconic, Second World War Jeeps. So why one more? Well, this is a Jeep book with a difference, being specially focused on modelmakers and military vehicle restorers - and not least those with a special interest for SAS and LRDG Jeeps.
Being a co-author of The Long Range Desert Group: History & Legacy my interest in LRDG & SAS Jeeps is pretty strong. I was therefore pleasantly surprised to see a SAS European Theatre of Operations Jeep as the main illustration on the cover of the new Pen & Sword Land Craft series book The Jeep by car designer, author, journalist, restorer etc Lance Cole. The scale model focus of the series (like in the Tank Craft series) is apparent from the SAS Jeep on the cover, as it is a model. But photographs of actual vehicles and color line drawings are also very much part of the book. I would say that even if you are not at all into models and rather describe yourself as a restorer and/or reenactor, you will find this book to be both helpful and simply a pleasant read and good source.
Basically, this book contains the essential development and design history, describes the lovely details of wartime Jeeps, many variants and, of course, the services they provided on various WWII battlefields. Lance Cole delivers both excellent text and many photographs of actual Jeeps and model Jeeps. Modern military vehicle designers would do well by studying the small, very clever touches of the original Jeeps.
The scale models of SAS Jeeps are well covered, both the Jeeps used in North Africa and in the ETO. The book has only one wartime SAS Jeep photo - the most classic one there is. But the many excellent colour photos of SAS Jeep models made me forgive that. The LRDG part is just one page of line drawings, but on the other hand the four page SAS in North Africa showcase features two wonderful LRDG figures that have replaced the original Tamiya SAS figures. The book informs exactly where these figures are from, and describes and shows just about every 1:24, 1:35, 1:72 and 1:76 scale Jeep kit ever made by various manufacturers around the world. The mostly stunning photos show lots of details, scale model modifications (improvements) and in some cases the models have figures and diorama bases.
Not every aspect of this vast subject is covered in the 64 pages and one hopes that Lance Cole might one day produce a second volume with e.g. Red Army Jeeps, captured Jeeps, unpublished wartime photos of SAS & LRDG Jeeps etc. But, let me be clear, this first Land Craft series book is both a very useful and beautiful guide for Jeep lovers and especially those into scale models of this superb little green machine.
Saturday, July 27, 2019
While The True Story of the Great Escape tells the story of all those that took part in the action that became the hit movie "The Great Escape", this new book is the personal account of Jens Müller, one of the only three men who made it all the way to freedom - in his case freedom was in Gothenburg, Sweden.
Jens Müller had no ordinary Norwegian childhood but a very exotic one, and was thus perhaps destined for an unusual fate during WWII. He was born in Shanghai, China, the son of a Norwegian engineer and a British actress. Müller got a pilot's license while he was still a teenager and was studying in Switzerland when the war broke out. In May 1940 he arrived in England (he should have written more about his motives but with a British mother he had at least one extra motive) and two years later he was an officer in 331 (Norwegian) Squadron at North Weald in England. On 19 June 1942 his Spitfire was shot down by a Focke-Wulf Fw 190. He survived landing in the sea and managed to paddle ashore in Belgium but was soon caught.
Müller´s work for what became known as the "great escape" consisted not least in constructing an air pump for ventilation of the escape tunnel. I do not wish to spoil your reading experience but think I can remark that Jens Müller mostly was treated well by the Germans and initially had no problems escaping. But, just like in many thrillers, he did indeed encounter some tight spots before finding some friendly Swedish sailors. Then two very bad things happen...
The reasons why Jens Müller´s escape was ultimately successful are quite clear from his book. Luck, or whatever it is, always plays a role - but Müller´s home run was perhaps mainly the result of [SPOILER ALERT!] superb intelligence work, amazing planning, some very convincing forged papers and finally some really good nerves.
The Swedish sailors that made the final leg of the escape possible are described rather well, but sadly without their names. They were supposed to get rewards from British authorities, but it is not clear if they got them, nor what their reward was. Does anyone reading this know more about rewards for helpers?
Film buffs will appreciate that this book makes clear how the actual escape differed from the famous movie. This first English language edition of Müller's memoir includes several very good comments by Norwegian historian Asgeir Ueland as well as a preface by Jens Müller's son Jon.
Friday, July 26, 2019
The new edition of my book Elitförband i Norden (Swedish for Nordic Elite Units) will be released in the book stores in a few months. As it does not cover police forces (as stated in the book´s introduction), I am here posting an overview of these units and am at the same time reviewing European Counter-Terrorist Units 1972-2017.
As I promised in my review of Fighting the War on Terror, I shall now review a book focused on the equipment and insignia of Europe´s specialists in striking against various terrorists. The book in question is an Osprey guide first released in 2017, entitled European Counter-Terrorist Units 1972-2017, written by Leigh Neville and illustrated by Adam Hook. While I am no expert in police matters I can still say that I perceive this book as very useful for anyone interested in how these units look and are equipped. It also gives an idea of their training, tactics and techniques.
The book first provides a picture of how terrorism has evolved since the 1972 milestone terrorist attack in Munich. The main change since the 1970s and 80s: ransoms and political demands have been more and more replaced by a simpler desire for mass casualties, often combined with "martyrdom" for the terrorists themselves. A major technology change within the European counter-terrorist (CT) units is the emergence of new CT tools like unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and unmanned ground vehicles (UAGs). Another equipment development is how many more weapons CT units now can choose from, not only from Germany (mainly Heckler & Koch) but also from countries like Russia. An example: French RAID teams use Russian Vepr-12 shotguns (looks basically like a Kalashnikov assault rifle) and Adam Hook has made a superb illustration showing a RAID operator wielding one of these.
While I reckon Leigh Neville has done a great job covering the largest European CT units, he has fewer words and no illustrations for the Nordic states. Still, he does provide sections about Nordic CT units: Denmark´s AKS; Finland´s Karhu (Bear Group) and Norway´s Delta. Sadly, there is no section about Sweden´s NI but the unit is mentioned in the section about the ATLAS network, as NI is a member of ATLAS. Well then, what more is nice to know about Swedish CT capability? NI stands for Nationella insatsstyrkan and simply means National Task Force. It is a unit primarily for CT and within the National Operations Department. However, NI is not the only special ops/SWAT unit of the Swedish Police. There are two more levels, first the Förstärkt regional insatsstyrka (FRI), meaning Reinforced Regional Task Force, and finally "just" regional task forces (i.e. not reinforced).
European Counter-Terrorist Units 1972-2017 is, like most Osprey guides, a very useful and concise guide, but has too little info about Swedish units.
Thursday, July 25, 2019
Although the focus of Escape from the Third Reich by Sune Persson is the one indicated by the subtitle, Folke Bernadotte and the White Buses, a rather substantial amount of the book deals with the plans for Swedish military intervention in Norway 1945.
The original Swedish title of this book, Vi åker till Sverige: de vita bussarna 1945, first published in 2002, also did not quite capture how rich this book is. Sune Persson´s book is simply put one of the most important ones for any student of the Nordic states during WWII, along with John Gilmour´s Sweden, the Swastika and Stalin. Why do I say so? Well, aside from providing a convincing account of Count Folke Bernadotte´s "salami-slice strategy" during his negotiations with SS leader Heinrich Himmler, and the resulting transports to Sweden of many thousand prisoners of the SS, this book has a chapter entitled "Operation Rescue Norway!". In it you will find both the so-called "police troops", in effect an Allied infantry division established from 1943 on Swedish soil, and the more than 6,400 Swedes who 1944-45 enlisted in what became the "Swedish Norway battalion". Persson explains how the "police troops" were used, first in Arctic Norway thanks to US transportation aircraft, and why the Swedish volunteers were not allowed by the Norwegian government to participate in Norway´s liberation. This in spite of that, to quote from Person´s book: "...General Eisenhower was of the opinion that the Germans would put up organised resistance in Norway [and] that Norway could be reached effectively only through Sweden...". Persson also writes about the plans to use the regular Swedish Armed Forces in a joint western Allies & Sweden attack on the Germans in Norway. Thus an operation without the Soviets.
This English edition of Sune Persson´s book (translated by Graham Long) has an addition to the Swedish edition, a short but important introduction to English readers, written by Brian Urquhart. The number of photographs is not large, fifteen, but they are well chosen.
Friday, July 19, 2019
This year some friends and I decided to look closer at an area that Mikke and I only had started to explore four years ago. Well, the Narvik mountains again delivered some amazing discoveries plus beautiful scenery and weather.
First a warning, to make sure everyone knows the risks. Even if you do find the odd rope or stairs, please understand that these mountains have almost no signs and well marked paths. If there has been some rain recently there will also be plenty of slippery hard surfaces. The military history that is still to be found in the area is not to be removed and if anything looks like ammunition or some other sort of explosive - then it probably is and should not be touched. Remember that people still today are hurt and even killed by explosive remnants from wars that took place a hundred years ago. In other words, hiking in the Narvik area without a special guide requires that you have common sense, good health, some experience of Nordic hiking, good equipment, navigational skills and maps. To be very clear, hiking in the wilderness without a guide can be dangerous and I take no responsibility for others wishing to do something similar.
Almost as soon as we got up on the "upper level" of the mountain we chose to explore, Mats made a great discovery - directly linking us to both the daily life of the German mountain troops and to highest command level. What he found is actually so strange that I will save that episode for a coming book. Moving away from the area where many other hikers had been before us, I almost treaded on the remains of a German stick (hand) grenade. To be precise, a model 1924 Stielhandgranate (M24). As you can see from the below image it is in pieces but still recognizable. Photographed it just like we found it, and left everything. I only take photos.
Not far from that grenade we made the next find, a position with a really good view down a slope. It was probably abandoned for some serious reason. Still today it contains plenty of unspent German standard rifle ammo. One does not leave so much ammunition voluntarily, so presumably the owner was wounded, killed or in a hurry away from the position.
Next, I noticed a natural place for storing stuff. I stopped and carefully looked inside. Two more M24 stick hand grenades with some rifle ammo. As these were all unused I did not even step close, but rather took my photos a bit away. You can't be too careful.
The final day up in the mountains we found mainly empty positions but also two big concentrations of German ammunition, one very obviously was where a MG 34 machine gun had once stood. Notice in the below photograph the rust on the rock surface. Bear in mind that most of the year this and everything else you see up there is mostly covered by snow.
Finally, if some of you are wondering about what I am wearing in the first photo (thanks for taking it, Mikke), it is a British 1942 pattern windproof smock. I have an original smock of this type, from a trade I made some thirty years ago. But I no longer wish to use that piece of history on hikes, so this new replica I got from SMB is both a good stand-in and a very practical garment on warm hiking days. What about the thing I am holding on to then? Well, that is a case for my Swiss Army binoculars - a brilliant piece of kit to really examine landscapes.
Tuesday, July 09, 2019
Large-scale Allied raids against the Germans in Norway were the main motive for the development of the small tracked vehicle that became known as the M29 Weasel. This new book about the M29 by David Doyle tells the Weasel story better than everything I have previously read on the subject. Add to that many great photos.
The large-scale raids were basically dropped, but the development of the Weasel continued and it came to be deployed in many European and Asian countries during WWII. The service did not end there, it became an important snow vehicle in postwar Scandinavia and also served in the Korean War. The new M29 book by David Doyle tells the story of the development and service of the Weasel family of vehicles mainly by means of photographs with excellent captions. The photos are mostly of very high quality and I have seen few of them before. Doyle also informs about many prototypes, some really funny-looking that I was totally unaware of.
The cover says nothing about the many nice colour photos inside. These are mostly modern images, showing preserved Weasels with all the details you can wish for. These, like the wartime photos, should be very much appreciated by both military vehicle owners and scale modellers. Even if you are neither a MV owner or modeller but "only" interested in the history I think you will like this book a lot.
Monday, July 08, 2019
Swedes who fought in Normandy 1944 are for the first time in focus in a museum. Hundreds of Swedes took part in the Allied Normandy operation, mostly at sea. But the Swedish Air Force Museum has of course chosen to focus on Swedes in D-Day aircraft.
It is one thing to read about the only air ace born in Sweden, William Yngve Anderson from Kramfors (see my recent book about him and other Swedes in US WWII service), but it is really something to watch his first air victories, recorded by his Mustang´s automatic camera. Now you can see this footage yourself at the Swedish Air Force Museum, and then see some of his own pilot gear, exhibited thanks to his daughter Gina.
The first thing you see when you this summer enter the Swedish Air Force Museum is actually their exhibition about D-Day, and perhaps first of all you will notice a Jeep from one of the Normandy-Swedes, Gösta Wollin from Ystad. Wollin was as a Swedish civilian in Norway while Hitler invaded. Because of that experience and some previous ones acquired in Germany itself, he joined the US 82nd Airborne Division, and jumped with them, actually without parachute training, over Sainte-Mère-Église. During many years his US Army Jeep, that he had legally purchased in 1945, was painted white and used as an offroad toy. Thanks to the Jeep enthusiast Mikael Stenberg the vehicle has been restored and this summer you can see it up close, together with an 82nd airborne paratrooper, at the Swedish Air Force Museum.
Erik G:son Lewenhaupt MC and Bar from Stockholm was one of the very first men to be dropped from a British aircraft on D-Day, as he was one of the pathfinders leading the British airborne assault. In spite of being a 38 year old Swedish citizen he had been allowed to join the British airborne and was on D-Day an airborne captain (and 40 years old). His exhibited items tell something about the battles that he survived. You will notice his weapons for close quarters combat; a German flag he captured and his Military Cross (he was awarded it twice, thus the MC and Bar). Also his Pegasus-marked jump helmet is on display, and the wrist watch he wore in Normandy. All thanks to his grandson Carl. Click on the photos to watch them in larger size (this goes for all photos on my blogs).
Hundreds of Swedes took part in D-Day in US, British, Canadian and Polish service. At least one of them was killed in action on D-Day itself, and several were killed some days later. For more about the Swedes in British, Polish, German etc service see Lennart Westberg´s and yours truly´s book Swedes at War (available on Amazon, Adlibris etc). Finally, a cordial THANK YOU to the Swedish Air Force Museum´s Torsten Nilsson and his colleagues, for making this exhibition. It ends on 25 August 2019.