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.
Wednesday, June 12, 2019
You perhaps remember from the classic 1963 movie "The Great Escape" (with Steve McQueen) how only three escapees made it to safety - meaning Sweden in two cases. There is now a terrific new book about this most famous escape, with some more Nordic detail.
75 years ago, in March 1944, 76 prisoners of war from different Allied units crawled their way to freedom. The 77th man was spotted by one of the German camp guards. The True Story of the Great Escape by Jonathan F. Vance is a must for people like me, who have always appreciated books about escapes. It is also clear how this book is the result of a lifelong personal interest, and I just love how it starts with the author´s childhood memories of learning about the great escape, contacting veterans and their kind responses to him, a stranger. I have the same experience – all but two or three of the WWII veterans I have contacted over the years have been very helpful and a privilege to get to know.
Going back to the film that has inspired both Mr. Vance and myself, the escape of “Danny” and “Willie” in the movie is based on two Norwegians who escaped by boat to Sweden. Their real names were Per Bergsland and Jens Müller and they were both Norwegian pilots. Now, being Swedish and partly Norwegian, I thought that the final leg of their indeed perfect escape could have been shown some more in the film. Well, I am grateful that the new book has informed me about many nice little escapee details from both the war years and afterwards, and one piece of postwar info about Per Bergsland I feel obliged to share here. Bergsland ended his flight career by becoming CEO of the Norwegian airline Widerøe, the largest regional airline operating in the Nordic countries. So, if you ever fly with Widerøe you can ponder how your flight is connected to one of the best escapees ever.
Read this book both for inspiration and the reading pleasure. The full title of the new book is: The True Story of the Great Escape: Stalag Luft III, March 1944.
Wednesday, June 05, 2019
This remarkable book by Wolfe Frank, chief interpreter at the Nuremberg war crimes trials, has two main characters that both deserve more attention: Wolfe Frank himself and the SS general that was supposed to lead the British section of the Waffen-SS.
Thanks to the editor of The Undercover Nazi Hunter, Paul Hooley, a vivid and often surprising picture of Wolfe Frank emerges. He became "the Voice of Doom" which Hermann Göring and other top Nazi leaders heard when they learned their sentences at Nuremberg. But Frank was so much more than an extremely talented interpreter. His path to Nuremberg, from playboy to German refugee to British Army volunteer, is one of those most incredible but true stories of WWII. The amount of work that the editor has invested in researching Frank´s whole career is impressive and the result is also a vast painting of post-war Germany with many insights.
A large part of the book, almost a hundred pages, deals with the testimony of SS General Waldemar Wappenhans. This amount of pages is warranted. Wappenhans was told by SS leader Heinrich Himmler that he was to take charge of the "British Legion" within the Waffen-SS. In other words the British Free Corps of the Waffen-SS originally known as the Legion of Saint George. Now, very little became of those ideas, but this book does provides some amazing pieces of the fantasy world of Himmler. The main value of the book´s large section about Wappenhans lies in something else - he managed to serve both in the German army, Luftwaffe and SS. His pilot experiences from 1918, flying against Lawrence of Arabia, are sure to interest WWI researchers and buffs. His account of fighting Soviet partisans is another highly interesting passage, although it quite surely lacks several darker aspects of these actions. While the chapters about Wolfe Frank were in some cases too long, the parts about Waldemar Wappenhans could have been longer.
Monday, June 03, 2019
There are Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) enthusiasts all over the world, but only a handful have driven in the tracks of the LRDG in WWII Jeeps to find what remains of the legendary unit in modern Egypt. Having taken part in the "2,300-mile Sahara epic", my friend Karl-Gunnar Norén decided to write a book with LRDG history highlights, original LRDG training notes and his own Jeep experiences.
Karl-Gunnar had been to several deserts, not least in Libya, but to experience something of the original environment and challenges of the LRDG he needed to find fellow enthusiasts. This he did by joining the LRDG research expedition of Toby Savage, that consisted of two 1943 made Jeeps and a team of true LRDG enthusiasts from the UK and US supported by Egyptian travel & security professionals. One of the results is the wonderful photograph on the front cover of our book, taken by John Carroll. That´s Karl-Gunnar behind the S Patrol Ford. To his own desert experiences he added LRDG training notes and photographs from the archive of LRDG founder Ralph Bagnold within the Churchill Archives Centre in Cambridge.
By inviting me to join his LRDG book project, Karl-Gunnar could add one more ingredient to the historic chapters, the story of William "Swede" Anderson of the LRDG G Patrol. I had the good fortune to be introduced to "Swede" in 1988 by the always helpful LRDG Association Secretary James D. Patch (whom I probably found thanks to the journal After the Battle - at any rate that journal´s LRDG issue played a key part in this whole project). I wrote to Bill "Swede" Anderson and received several letters in reply. Some he wrote himself, some his wife Pat wrote for him due to his health.
In the 1980s I was not able to realize my dream to travel to North Africa in a Jeep and then write a book about the LRDG. But the mail from Bill Anderson did have a profound effect on me. While he had never been a Swedish citizen and was actually of Swedish-Norwegian descent, the fact that he had been known as "Swede" within the LRDG inspired me to find out how many Swedes (mainly Swedish citizens) served in various armies during WWII, a search that has so far resulted in several books in Swedish and one in English (Swedes at War with Lennart Westberg).
And in the end, thanks to Karl-Gunnar and two publishers, Lind & Co in Sweden and Helion & Company in England, my now rather old book idea has finally been realized. With some help from e.g. Jack Valenti of the LRDG Preservation Society and the family of William Anderson, some more photographs could be added to the English edition of our book, that we were able to release at the Swedish Embassy in London on May 24. We were delighted that several relatives of Bill Anderson could attend together with a very much alive LRDG and SAS veteran, Jack Mann. The best operators are not only warriors but can also talk their way out of prison. Which is exactly what Jack Mann did. You can read about Jack in the brilliant Churchill´s Secret Warriors by Damien Lewis, but meeting him in person is of course extraordinary. After just a few words from him, some in very good Swedish, it became clear why Jack Mann is still a winner. His willpower and charm are intact.
A close relative of LRDG founder Ralph Bagnold was also present, and we will never ever forget the special gift we received from you sir! We were also pleasantly surprised that a man who has long inspired us could attend the book launch, After the Battle Editor-in-Chief Winston G. Ramsey. We are also indebted to Peter Jörgensen, Colonel Per Jenvald, Nigel Hirst, John Gilmour and Mikael Norman. We hereby thank all who attended the launch and look forward to meeting you again in London, Stockholm, Cairo or up here in Swedish Lapland.
Finally, a huge thank you to all the staff at our UK publisher, Helion & Company.
NON VI SED ARTE
Friday, May 03, 2019
The contract for a common uniform system for the Nordic states will be signed next year. Also, Sweden´s current standard camouflage pattern might be replaced. All according to the new issue of the official journal of the Swedish Armed Forces.
Nordic defence cooperation has been going on longer than many realize and seems to rarely spark major interest here in Sweden. However, this may be about to change due to the coming common uniform system of Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. The latest issue of the Swedish defence journal Försvarets Forum contains some interesting news about the coming Nordic Combat Uniform (NCU). First of all the article (on p. 5) makes clear that the NCU prototypes will be tested at six Swedish regiments, and the tests there will start later this year. Next year the contract will be signed and the first regular uniforms are to be delivered to Swedish units in 2023 - for some unknown reason it seems the Danes will get them before the Swedes.
The article states that the new uniforms will both be "lighter and more durable". The camouflage pattern used on the outerwear garments may differ from country to country. But, the article also states that "For Sweden, it might be time to change camouflage pattern". This is confirmed in this more illustrated article, also from an official website. The current standard Swedish camouflage pattern for outerwear is called M90 and yours truly witnessed some of the M90 tests during my basic military training in 1988-89. Agreed, that is a pretty long time ago. But personally speaking I reckon the M90 is rather perfect in Swedish forests. Well, I guess I should not exclude that they will come up with something even better.
Being a history freak I would say that NCU will not be the first Nordic uniform, as due to the Soviet Winter War against Finland in 1939-40, the Swedish Volunteer Corps (SFK) issued one uniform system to both Swedish and Norwegian volunteers for Finland. This system was essentially the Swedish m/39. The main difference was the buttons, that were not Swedish Army issue.
Sunday, March 31, 2019
Having seen many books about uniforms and equipment I can say few are in the same league as The Luftwaffe Battle of Britain Fighter Pilot´s Kitbag by Mark Hillier. Yes, it is not about the invasion of Norway - but as the Battle of Britain began only a month after the fall of Norway, most items featured in this book were also used in the skies over Scandinavia.
As the long subtitle makes clear, Uniforms & Equipment from the Summer of 1940 and the Human Stories Behind Them, this book provides more than uniform photos and captions. It also contains rare and excellent period photographs and other illustrations, as well as text filled with insights and Luftwaffe terminology. The mostly large size photographs are splendid, all those showing preserved items are of course in colour.
Mark Hillier´s new book clearly demonstrates how different the Luftwaffe was in its uniform and insignia style, when compared to the army, navy and SS. My favourite section of the book is "Other Flying Equipment and Paperwork" because it includes two types of watches, the Luftwaffe basic flight computer and ground strafing/dive bombing flight computer, maps, pencils, logbook, Wehrpass and handbook.
This is a very useful guide for museum staff, private collectors, the film industry, reenactors and model figure enthusiasts.
Friday, March 15, 2019
There are so many books about Normandy 1944, so why another one? Well, The Americans On D-Day & In Normandy by Brooke S. Blades was better than I expected because it largely consists of 252 pages of great photos with mostly excellent captions. The majority of the photos are new to me, a "Normandy buff" since the 1980s.
What about the Swedish connection to the front cover photograph? Well, it is also featured in my latest WWII book. I had the good fortune to be able to establish good contact with one of the paratroopers who sat in the captured Volkswagen pictured above, or one just like it. His name was Gösta Wollin and he was a volunteer from Ystad in south Sweden. In my book Gösta Wollin mentions this vehicle and what it was like riding around Normandy in it.
The captions in The Americans On D-Day & In Normandy are mostly very informative and the book includes good credits, notes and references. A few of the photos I had seen before - but Brooke S. Blades has then provided a better caption than in previous publications. Several of the images are not only interesting for military historians but are just really amazing photographs - I was baffled I had not seen these before. Several maps and after the battle photographs (so important for trips to the area) make this book a must to bring along on my next trip to Normandy. Simply put, The Americans On D-Day & In Normandy is the best photo book about Normandy 1944 that I have so far come across.