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

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

The Last 1945 Battle in Northwest Europe

The general public might think mostly of Nordics when hearing “foreign troops in German uniform”, while in fact the typical foreigner from Western Europe was from Spain and if one looks also eastwards the typical foreigner was from one of the Soviet republics. Thus Night of the Bayonets, is mainly about a very underreported group of soldiers. 

This new book by historian and journalist Eric Lee should be on your WWII reading list not only for focusing on Eastern European soldiers in German service. It is above all a surprising and well-written account of the last fighting to take place in 20thcentury Northwest Europe. Then there is a special reason for learning more about the homeland of the main characters, Georgia. By any measure a man from that part of the world was one of the most influential men of the 20thcentury, Joseph Stalin (born Dzhugashvili). Georgia has played and will play a large role in the fate of both Caucasia and Russia. 

 

It was in Oslo in the 1980s that I first heard about a strange and bloody battle in which Georgian troops in German uniform fought against much better armed German troops. This battle took place on Texel, a Dutch island, and ended only several days after the formal end of WWII in Europe. Ever since I have been keen to learn more about the fighting on Texel, what initiated it and what the underlying motives were. Sure, there have been some books and articles mentioning the battle for Texel. But until I read Night of the Bayonets I had only a rough idea of what happened. 

 

Eric Lee wisely begins his book by showing how the Georgian Legion in German WWII service was a revival – there had been such a legion during the First World War. Of course, that first legion had no National Socialist profile, and it gained a good reputation in Georgia, from which the second legion could benefit. Georgian history in this respect is similar to Finland´s – during WWII the phenomenon of Finnish volunteers in German uniform was to a great extent a consequence of the battalion of Finnish Jaegers in German service between 1915 and 1918.


Just like the Finnish Jaeger Battalion veterans, men who had served in the first Georgian Legion played an important role in the formation of a new national army. The Soviet authorities did their best to erase the memory of that army and most parts of Georgia´s independent period 1918 to 1921. But Eric Lee summarizes those years well and lets the reader glimpse into an amazing alternative to what happened in Lenin´s Russia. German troops arrived in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi just two weeks after Georgia had proclaimed independence in 1918. Knowing that is fundamental to understanding the relationship between Germany and Georgia. 

 

Likewise it is fundamental to Georgian history that there was a nationwide rebellion after the Soviet conquest. It took place in August 1924 and led to both thousands of deaths and a great career boost to a local Soviet secret police officer, Lavrenty Beria – later second only to Stalin and actually described as “our Himmler” by Stalin during the Yalta summit in 1945.  

 

During his invasion of the Soviet Union, Hitler´s forces never made it far beyond the Georgian frontier, although they somehow found the energy and time to climb Mount Elbrus, the highest peak in the Caucasus. 

 

While German WWII troops never were able to hold any sizeable Georgian town they did manage to take a number of Georgian prisoners, who were joined by Georgian deserters and Georgians in German and French exile. At first, while Germany was basically on the offensive, there could be no new Georgian Legion, due to Nazi optimism and racism. But long before the new legion was formed, German military intelligence set up a largely Georgian unit within the Brandenburg Regiment (Wehrmacht special forces). This unit was the Sonderverband Bergmann and by the spring of 1943 it was itself of regimental size. But, rather tellingly, all the officers in it were German. The Germans, especially Hitler, just didn´t really trust former Red Army soldiers. This somewhat changed, initially, with the advent of the Georgian Legion.

 

The low trust was quite rational, as very many Georgians (and other nationalities) had “volunteered” to serve in German uniform mainly to avoid starvation. Especially during the first year of the great invasion the conditions for Soviet prisoners of war were incredibly grim. The Germans realized that it would be much harder for their Georgian troops to desert (attempt to rejoin the Red Army) on another front than the Eastern one. So, Georgians were sent to Northwest Europe, even to the Channel Islands (Guernsey etc). Still, even in France some managed to desert also in groups, and Eric Lee´s account of what happened in Hirson is remarkable – a Georgian group there managed to join the French resistance. There is also an amazing passage about a similar mutiny by Ukrainian troops in France.

 

Until April 1945 one of the most peaceful places to end up in as a Georgian was the Dutch island of Texel. Although it did have a large amount of bunkers, some 500, it was also a haven for children from the Dutch mainland. Why the Georgians rebelled there in April 1945 and not just waited calmly for the war to end has puzzled me ever since that day I learnt about the very bloody Texel mutiny. Well, to avoid spoilers I will here just say that Mr. Lee provides credible motives for this seemingly irrational course of action. 

 

The Germans, of course, counter-attacked, not least with an impressive amount of artillery rounds. Texel, the peaceful oasis, was shot to pieces while the war in Europe was largely winding down. The reader learns about these events both through accounts of Georgians, Germans, Dutchmen and Canadians. Mr. Lee has found some fantastic quotes. 

 

Night of the Bayonets also deals with the many misunderstandings and remains of Soviet era propaganda that still surround “the Russian War”, as the uprising on Texel is to this day called among the Dutch. More than 3,000 people died in the battle, mostly Germans. No Russians, but the name has stuck.

 

The photographs are not that many (20) but they are very interesting and some of the WWII photos of the Germans on Texel are even in colour.

   

So, Night of the Bayonets is a great book, a real must if you are into the last WWII fighting in Europe or Soviet/Georgian history.     

Thursday, October 08, 2020

From Averting Another Armageddon To Losing Norway

 

You probably have read a number of books about Winston Churchill, and seen several films about him. There is now even a decent Churchill biography in comic book format - that I have previously reviewed. But Churchill was not ”the man who averted another Armageddon”. Those words were about the man most associated with appeasement policy, Neville Chamberlain.

 

Military and natural historian Nicholas Milton has written a very readable biography about “the architect of appeasement”, Neville Chamberlain´s Legacy, and not far into the book I started thinking of it as a good foundation for a TV series. Like no other book, Milton´s book (his first!) captures the incredible and genuine popularity that Chamberlain experienced following the signing of the Munich peace agreement on 30 September 1938. The prime minister who sincerely believed he had thus secured “peace for our time” soon thereafter received 20,000 letters and telegrams from a grateful public. To say that he was greeted like a rock star just after Munich is something of an understatement. More precise would be to say that he was treated like the Beatles. Even the royal family showed him unprecedented respect, also in public.

 

Nicholas Milton has found such a wonderful illustration that says a lot about the immense enthusiasm for Chamberlain and his policy – a photo of a Chamberlain doll that was actually produced, to cash in on the general mood in 1938. The name of the product was “Chamberlain the Peacemaker”. I believed that such dolls, mainly of Hollywood/TV stars, only appeared in the 1950s. I was wrong.

 

But Milton also lets the reader sense the completely different mood in the state that was sacrificed at Munich. The prime minister of Czechoslovakia even called his new task “a duty which is worse than dying”.

 

The British media was during these days almost totally focused on the peace that a large chunk of the world thought had been secured by Chamberlain. Especially in the UK Chamberlain was the man who had averted another huge war in Europe. Here is what Nicholas Milton writes about one of the few British newspapers that contained a different take, the Manchester Guardian: “Their diplomatic correspondent presciently reported, `[Hitler] will be master of Czechoslovakia´s main defences, and there is nothing to stop him from making himself master of all Czechoslovakia in the course of time´.” 

 

How did Chamberlain then handle the outbreak of war in Europe, less than a year after Munich? This is where the book gets most interesting for us readers in Norway and Sweden. Nicholas Milton shows how Chamberlain viewed the Norway campaign, how especially impressive the German air component seemed to be. Here, as a reader in Scandinavia, one would have wished for some more pages. Still, this is an important source to better understand how the “strategic withdrawal” from Norway for most members of parliament was more of a “humiliating defeat”, and how this perception very much put an end to Chamberlain´s career.  

 

Two major surprises in the book that I also feel I should mention are Chamberlain´s fanatical birdwatching, and how – as one of his last acts as a statesman – he was crucial for the creation of the Special Operations Executive (SOE). An international movement for German-occupied countries that was a total contrast to regular armies, and to the image of Neville Chamberlain. There really is a lot more to him than his, at the time, extremely popular policy of appeasement. Historical TV drama producers ought to contact Nicholas Milton as soon as possible.

Tuesday, October 06, 2020

Essential Study of Foreign Volunteers in the Waffen-SS & Wehrmacht


There are lots of books about foreign volunteers in the Waffen-SS and not as many about the foreigners in the Wehrmacht. What makes A European Anabasis unusual is that it looks at both categories, and contains a lot of credible military analysis.

 

Last year a paperback version of A European Anabasis: Western European Volunteers in the German Army and SS, 1940-45 by Kenneth W. Estes was published by Helion & Company and it is this version of the book that I shall now review. Unlike many books about foreign volunteers in German formations I would say it treats Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS volunteers with equal attention and the author´s background as a marine, tanker (lieutenant colonel) and professor of history has made possible a convincing evaluation of how the different volunteer groups actually performed. The volunteers from Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Denmark and Norway (I have placed them in the order of contingent size) are the main focus, and this is a good choice by Estes, in my opinion. Sure, there were also groups from several other Western European states, like Switzerland and Sweden, but as these groups never reached anything even close to the number of Spaniards and Dutchmen etc their significance for the battles of WWII was, basically, microscopic. 

 

Well then, two-thirds of the West European volunteers in German formations came from Spain and the Netherlands. Kenneth W. Estes does, however, on occasion mention both Swiss and Swedish volunteers and in one case highlights a Swiss national, Dr. Franz Riedweg, as he was a key figure in the Waffen-SS recruitment program aimed at Germanic populations.  

 

The author in no way hides the fact that Volksdeutsche from Eastern and Southern Europe played the major role in alleviating the mostly unsuccessful recruiting in Western Europe, especially in Scandinavia. Here the author could have inserted a quote from my co-author Lennart Westberg about how dissatisfied Hitler was with the low Swedish turnout, barely 200 men.  

 

In the Netherlands the recruiting drive had a rather different level of support. Even the former Dutch Army Chief of Staff, General Hendrik Seyffardt, lent his prestige for a Dutch national “legion” under German SS command. However, it should be noted (as Estes does) that Anton Mussert, leader of the Dutch collaborationist NSB, was too optimistic about Dutch willingness to volunteer for German frontline formations.

 

Speaking of the frontline, the Wehrmacht´s Spanish Division experienced over three thousand (!) casualties in the fighting at Krasny Bor and the Izhora alone. 

 

Although Estes has concentrated on understanding the fate of contingents and units, he also presents fascinating details about individual volunteers - men that mostly went down with the Third Reich but in some cases also became rather successful, like the first commander of the Spanish Division, General Augustin Munoz Grandes. In fact, Munoz Grandes became the second-ranking man in the postwar Franco regime. 


Of the book´s 50 photos and paintings most are interesting and often depict Spaniards and Belgians (Walloons). In addition there are 15 useful maps. 

  

A European Anabasis remains an essential study to better understand the complicated German use of foreign volunteers from Western Europe, and their actual military/political value.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Hitler´s Hangmen: The Secret German Plot to Kill Churchill

German prisoners of war in the UK had ambitious plans for December 1944.

Years of research by retired Queen´s Counsel Brian Lett has led him to present spectacular conclusions about German plans for the UK connected to the German 1944 Ardennes campaign. This book is of special interest both to those into late German plans and fans of exploring WWII places. 

Recently I have reviewed two other books by Brian Lett that have expanded my knowledge of WWII special operations, see my blog posts "A Deniable Operation Under the Swedish Flag" and "SOE:s Mastermind". Here I will review Hitler´s Hangmen: The Secret German Plot to Kill Churchill, a 2019 book by Lett about British fascists, Axis POWs in the UK and how these, possibly even working together, might have affected world history during the German 1944 Ardennes offensive.

Having practiced law for almost half a century it is no wonder that Brian Lett begins his book with a thorough explanation of the Vehmic court, a German punishment court with medieval origins. This vigilante court system was revived among German POWs, also in Britain. Vehmic "justice" seems to have made many German POWs feel that the Third Reich was present also in very small and rural British locations. Lett has visited and photographed a number of these German POW places, and the book will surely inspire several readers to themselves visit them. Few camps are as unchanged as Camp 21 in Scottish Comrie ("British Colditz"), but I must say that even the rather small traces that remain of Camp 17 in Lodge Moor, Sheffield, hold a strange attraction (I confess to being a bit fascinated by WWII-related sites, my latest book is about visiting 200 WWII sites in Sweden).

Now, most readers will be aware of the British Union of Fascists (BUF) under Oswald Mosley - and the BUF certainly is part of this book - but Brian Lett shows that Mosley at the time was only one of several influential fascists in British society. Lett paints portraits also of British fascists like Arnold Leese and his Imperial Fascist League, and MP Jock Ramsay and his Right Club. The latter seems to have had special opportunities to cause serious damage. 

Considering the information that Brian Lett has provided about British fascists I would say that most (or even all?) authors outside Britain have underestimated the original British fascist groups and are largely ignorant of the Right Club.

Another reason to read Brian Lett´s latest book is that he writes eloquently about characters like the head of Churchill´s personal security, Detective Inspector Walter Thompson, and the officer of the German Army who became the head of the London Interrogation Centre (London Cage), Colonel Alexander Scotland.    

Well, what evidence does the author present to justify the sensational subtitle of this book, The Secret German Plot to Kill Churchill? Quite a lot hangs on the plans developed in the Devizes Camp in Wiltshire and I would like to know more about the interrogation team from the US XVIII Airborne Corps that discovered the Devizes plan. To begin with I will read the whole book one more time, not least for the sheer pleasure, but then I hope to some day get more details both about the interrogators and the interrogated.

Monday, September 28, 2020

SOE´s Mastermind

A great read about one of the most influential special operations officers of all time.

His codename was actually “M” as Operations and Training Director of the Special Operations Executive (SOE). He was one of the leading British officers on the ground in Arctic Norway 1940. Long before that he had served in Arctic Russia.

 

Thus I kick myself for not sooner having read this terrific book about Sir Colin Gubbins. SOE´s Mastermind was first published in 2016 and reviews ought not to appear so long afterwards. But, better late than never. Lawyer and SOE expert Brian Lett starts his book perfectly with the escape from Germany in 1914 that was one of the most fundamental learning experiences of young Colin. Then follow years of extreme hardship as a gunner in the First World War and immediately afterwards, in 1919, on the Russian Archangel front. There he had to adapt not only to the Arctic but also to Soviet fighting methods.

 

On Ireland and in India Colin Gubbins, initially a very conventional warrior, had to learn even more about irregular fighting methods. The Irish Republican Volunteers became his best “teachers” in how to undermine a conventional army, the British Army. The Army realized that Gubbins had learnt a thing or two about irregular warfare and thus he came to write three handbooks for a planned British resistance movement, the first being The Art of Guerilla Warfare, then A Partisan Leader´s Handbook and finally How to Use High Explosives

 

But Lieutenant Colonel Gubbins was not to become an armchair general - due to various mishaps he had to assume the role of Temporary Brigadier not far from the Arctic Circle in Norway. In spite of very little relevant training and unfavourable geographical conditions he managed to put up a rather good fight against the Germans, until ordered to evacuate his brigade. In spite of being under attack he managed quite well, earning the Distinguished Service Order (DSO). Many of the men he had led in Norway were recruited into the newly formed Commandos. Gubbins himself was needed elsewhere, to form the British guerrilla army called “Auxiliary Units” or “Auxies” that were never employed but would no doubt have made life difficult for the Germans in an occupied United Kingdom.

 

Well, then follow the years as SOE´s mastermind, from 1943 also formal overall boss at SOE. Author Brian Lett refrained from writing another history of SOE, instead he mainly focused on what leading an organization for sabotage in several countries entailed. This being a Nordic-focused blog I will here only mention some Scandinavian aspects. It turns out that SOE from Stockholm launched a number of non-violent sabotage operations directly against the Germans in Norway. For example, capsules with utterly evil smelling fluid were smuggled into Norway and there were smeared on German greatcoats. The terrible smell made the garments impossible to wear and, like broken German windows, caused serious discomfort during the winter. 

 

In my blog post "A Deniable Operation Under the Swedish Flag" I wrote about Brian Lett´s wonderful book Ian Fleming & SOE´s Operation Postmaster. Well, in SOE´s Mastermind one learns of what became of the “Swedes”, among them not least the Danish volunteer Anders Lassen, who later was awarded a Victoria Cross.

 

Operation Gunnerside, the operation against the German atomic project in Norway, has been covered in many books. Still, the Gunnerside chapter in SOE´s Mastermind does not fail to keep me interested and it makes perfectly clear that Gunnerside became an immediate milestone. To quote Lett: “After Operation Gunnerside Colin found it much easier to obtain cooperation of the regular services for SOE´s operations.”

 

Finally, there is a very personal link between Colin Gubbins and the Swedish-British SOE operator Malcolm Munthe. His own son Michael served in the SOE together with Munthe. What happened next to Michael was a major blow to the Gubbins family but I shall here only say: do not miss this book and specially not if you are curious about what became of the SOE networks after 1945 - to quote the last chapter´s title “Did SOE Refuse to Die?”.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Axis Armour You Never Knew Existed

Panzer IVs, Panthers and even Tigers served in the WWII Hungarian Army.

Quite many Axis tankers were Hungarians, which is why also several German Armoured Fighting Vehicles (AFVs) were in Hungarian service. A new book looks closer at these, and also the Hungarian vehicles with Swedish roots. 

An amazing number of rare photos and quite a lot of information has been assembled in the new book Hungarian Armoured Fighting Vehicles in the Second World War by Eduardo Manuel Gil Martinez. Being Swedish I was initially mainly interested in the Swedish aspects of his book, but it turned out that the German AFV presence in the Hungarian Army was greater than I thought, and also more interesting than I had imagined. If you are a modeller and you feel like you have run out of Panzer subjects - well, this book will provide you with some extra years of modelling challenges.

Most Swedish armor buffs will know that the Hungarian Toldis and Nimrods were to a large extent Landsverk vehicles, i.e. they were designs from the Landsverk factory in Landskrona in southernmost Sweden. But from this book I learnt something I had no idea of. Not only were the Toldis designed in Sweden, they also contained some components from Sweden, because the Hungarian industry was not able to supply all necessary parts.

Much to my surprise I also learnt from this book that there was even a Toldi converted to a tank destroyer, armed with a German PaK 40. Yes, the book has a photo of it. I can divulge that the result is very similar to a Marder II. Another good reason to release the Toldi also in scale 1/35 - or is there already such a kit and I have just missed it?

Many of the 111 pages of this book are of course devoted to AFVs that were mostly the result of Hungary´s own AFV design efforts. I am talking not least about the Turan tanks and Zrinyi "StuGs". Especially the latter should appeal to modellers. 

Generally speaking this book is a treasure chest for modellers and also provides some insights into the role that Hungary played for the Axis during WWII. The translation at times has some issues but that does not diminish the value of this book. Every tank buff, at least outside Hungary, ought to check out this one.

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Early Jet Fighters 1944-1954

144 pages of some of the first (and some of the coolest) jet fighters ever. 

If you are looking for good images of the Third Reich´s jet fighters and are intrigued by how these  designs influenced the aviation industries of the Soviet Union, France, Sweden and other nations... well, then this is a book you will appreciate.

As a kid I remember seeing a model (Airfix?) of a Messerschmitt Me 262 and being quite astonished at learning that it was a WWII aircraft. Over the years I have of course learnt of the even more advanced German jet designs, e.g. from the Horten brothers (Reimar and Walter). But it was only through this book that I got the whole picture of German jet fighter development, and just how much it affected Soviet etc aircraft design. Even from a short distance you can mistake a Soviet Sukhoi Su-9/1946 for a Me 262. In fact, some early Soviet jet fighters not only looked rather German, their engines were actually BMW 003s and Jumo 004s - just one of many interesting facts that one learns from Leo Marriott´s book.

There are many astonishing designs in this book that I have seen nowhere else before. But as a Swede I am of course familiar with the planes of the Swedish chapter. Still, even there was a photo that surprised me - of a Lancaster in Swedish service with a jet engine under the belly, the STAL Dovern project. I learnt even more from Marriott´s text and captions about our early jet fighters. I had no idea that when the prototype for the Saab J 29 "Flying Barrel" (largest photo on the book cover) first flew on 1 September 1948 it was flown not by a Swede but by British test pilot Squadron Leader Bob Moore. Swedish pilots then just had no jet experience, of course. 

There is a also a German story behind the development of the J 29. Marriott explains how the plane´s swept wing design originated in the Third Reich and in 1945 reached Sweden via Switzerland. The new wing type was then tested for real with a strange looking Saab Safir trainer aircraft.
   
Leo Marriott has found wonderful images of many beautiful and "less beautiful" early jet fighters, and he rightly lets the photos dominate the book. But he also has provided the photos with some really interesting captions. 

Hm, should I now build a 1:72 scale Heinkel He 162, a Yak-25 or a Caproni-Campini N. I?

Monday, August 03, 2020

Astonishing Normandy Discoveries

Two books that have changed my understanding of the great invasion. 

In recent years there have hardly been any finds in Normandy more astonishing than those of UK author Gary Sterne. It all began when he found a map in a pocket of a US Army veteran´s uniform - a map that led him to the forgotten German Maisy Battery battlefield. 

As the Maisy Battery could be forgotten and buried for so long one must wonder what else there is that we Normandy buffs have missed? Well, each year since the discovery in 2006 more and more of the Maisy trenches and bunkers are being restored. At the time of writing this (August 2020) the Maisy Battery is also again open for visitors. Recently I have been reading Gary Sterne´s two-volume work about the US Army ranger history that is so very much part of Maisy (on maps also known as Grandcamp-Maisy). Maisy for decades has been virtually unknown, in the shadow of the Pointe du Hoc battle. 

To summarize the two books by Gary Sterne is no easy task, given their almost incredible amount of facts, maps, photos and previously top secret documents. These books differ a lot from most WWII books in that the author, Mr. Sterne, has chosen to not just quote documents he has found but also to reproduce very many of them in the end product. He has really discovered a lot of ranger history previously unknown to the public, and it is therefore understandable that he was eager to include a lot of documents. Still, especially volume one suffers from simply too many documents. Well, if you are doing serious ranger research or are a relative of one of the most relevant men, the rangers of the 2nd and 5th US Army Ranger Infantry Battalions, you will probably benefit from this abundance of documents – because there is a high probability that the persons you are most interested in are mentioned on one or several of the 492 pages of volume one and/or 668 pages of volume two. 

The value of owning volume one is that you can see where each company was preparing for D-Day on any given day, plus that you get some good and sometimes amusing insights into the evolution of the relationship between the rangers and their British hosts, both commandos and civilians. The rangers were to a large extent the US equivalent of the commandos. A favourite paragraph of mine in volume one is: “The British don’t know how to make a good cup of coffee. You don´t know how to make a good cup of tea. It´s an even swap." This is a quote from the instruction Interaction with the British

The period document written by Maurice Prince of the 2nd Rangers is quoted a lot by Sterne, and rightly so, because it is a rather charming unit history. An example from 5 December 1943 about getting to know wartime Britain: “We learned what rationing really was, the darkness of a total black-out, the shortage of petrol, and the absence of motor vehicles.” The average WWII buff, however, may not be that interested in the many months of preparations for Normandy – which is the focus of volume one – and thus can go straight to volume two. Here one finds not only the most interesting invasion documents of the rangers and lots of Normandy photographs I have seen nowhere else, but also Gary Sterne´s groundbreaking conclusions. 

Learning more about Pointe du Hoc and Maisy it is probably impossible to not long for another trip to Normandy. I have previously reviewed this Normandy travel guide that should both be studied before trips and also be brought along. 

Being especially interested in Swedish-American Captain Ralph Goranson of the 2nd Rangers, as I have written about him in two of my books, I was pleased to find the most relevant after action report about him in D-Day Cover Up At Pointe Du Hoc. Goranson again appears in the chapter “Medals and Battle Honours”, where one gets all the information about every relevant Distinguished Service Cross and Silver Star. Relatives and researchers of 2nd and 5th rangers will indeed find a great deal of important documents in these books, the most interesting ones in volume two.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

The U-Boat Commanders

323 pages of U-boat history with a bio for every Knight´s Cross holder.

When researching WWII U-boat history you get to a point where you need a good reference book. Well, this is it. This is not a book about every single U-boat and every U-boat commander. But just about all major U-boat actions and key commanders are present in The U-Boat Commanders: Knight´s Cross Holders 1939-1945 by Jeremy Dixon.

This is not the kind of book that puts the U-boat actions into context - there are other books that do that. This is more of a very specialized compilation of biographies and it is organized in such a manner that the first section is very short - it contains only two men: Albrecht Brandi and Wolfgang Luth - because only these two were awarded the Knight´s Cross with Oakleaves, Swords and Diamonds. Then there is a section about the three who received the above but minus the diamonds; then the 23 recipients of the Knight´s Cross with Oakleaves and finally the 93 who "only" received the cross.

Each biography starts with the number of ships the recipient sunk and how many tons and then the life and career of each recipient is summarized on two to four pages. Postwar life - if the recipient survived the war - is mentioned, but there are not that many details. Every biography ends with a list of other wartime awards that the person received.

There is at least one photograph of every recipient, sometimes there are two and at times also the victims of these men are present in so far that some of the ships they sunk are pictured and the captions provide some data about their histories.

Are you trying to research some major action with U-boats involved? Then the 323 pages of The U-Boat Commanders: Knight´s Cross Holders 1939-1945 will most probably provide several of the facts that you are looking for. The book also provides good information on several decorations, Kriegsmarine terminology and ends with a bibliography.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Sirius, A Watchful Eye In The North

I simply can not imagine a more beautiful book about special forces than this one.

If you have read my book about elite forces in the Nordic states (so far only available in Swedish: Elitförband i Norden) you may have noticed that I have a special interest in the Danish Sirius rangers. Patrolling with dog sleds over huge and uninhabited areas on Greenland is their everyday work.

Sadly, I only recently got hold of Sirius A Watchful Eye In The North by Peter Bondo Christensen, biologist at Aarhus University, with photos taken by Sweden's probably most Arctic photographer ever, Magnus Elander. All the Arctic travel behind their book is in itself worth a lot of respect. The thing is that they have also achieved something brilliant. I simply can not imagine a better, more beautiful book about special forces, dogs and Greenland than this one.

Sirius A Watchful Eye In The North not only provides the reader with an understanding of the unit's history and tasks, I think Peter Bondo Christensen and Magnus Elander have managed to convey some of the feeling of "flow" that the Sirius rangers get when they have learned the "craft" and solve tasks in harmony with both dogs, snow, ice and extreme temperatures.

Magnus Elander's photographs are so beautiful that words fail me - it is such a joy to see them that I can only compare to going to the best art galleries I have visited. No wonder his pictures can be found in magazines such as National Geographic Magazine and he has been named "Wildlife Photographer of the Year".

Serving for a period with the Sirius Patrol means, in a way, being away from the "real" world for two years. You might think that two years is just too much - talk about social distancing! But Sirius A Watchful Eye In The North lets the reader understand that the time on Greenland creates extremely strong friendships, with both humans and animals. The book allows the reader to perceive another world, both more difficult, easier and more beautiful than the "normal world".

The only sad thing about Sirius A Watchful Eye In The North, released in 2018, is that the book is very difficult to get hold of. It is a little easier to find the Danish version, published in 2009 and 2018. Those editions are also completely sold out, but several copies are available in Danish libraries.

The book is 206 pages and the format is slightly larger than A4. Should you manage to find a copy for sale, be prepared to pay a lot. But whatever it costs, you will find that it was worth it - because this is one of the finest books ever created.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Fallschirmjäger!

307 pages of German paratrooper biographies and personal photographs.

From Norway to Crete, German WWII Fallschirmjägers i.e. paratroopers made a strong impression on the battlefield. The new book Fallschirmjäger! by Greg Way has a personal focus, it lets the reader get to know 18 German paras - mainly their frontline memories but also what they experienced in captivity.

Royal Navy veteran Greg Way started corresponding and then meeting with German paratrooper veterans more than twenty years ago, and his book is the result of these years of contact. While Mr. Way has chosen to concentrate on the history of the individual rather than the unit, he does begin his book with a good summary of the Luftwaffe paratrooper operations and campaigns, and a useful glossary of relevant terminology and abbreviations.

Having lived in the Netherlands and last year written a chapter about how German paras met some rather stiff resistance from Dutch cavalrymen in Landsverk armoured cars (from Sweden), it was of special interest to me to read about the invasion of the Netherlands from the perspective of Kurt Schulz. His recollections are the most gripping I have so far read about that operation. I only wish there had been some more paragraphs about his later service with the 14. Luftwaffen-Feld-Division by the Arctic Circle in Norway. Although this part is not even a page long it contains some highly interesting details and a photo from Norwegian Nesna that make me want to find out more about this little-described division.

The memories of captivity i.e. POW camps are surprising. For example German paratrooper veteran Wilhelm Schulte reported that German POWs in Arkansas were treated well and when one of them died the man was given a proper burial outside the camp that included full military honors from American soldiers.

Combat on Crete is covered i.a. in the chapters about Josef Jendryschik and Bernd Bosshammer. Russia, Monte Cassino and other actions in Italy are covered in several chapters. The book contains an unusually high amount of private photographs, some modern photos of equipment and battle sites plus other types of illustrations like drawings and documents.

To sum things up, Fallschirmjäger! gives the reader good insights into the wartime service and captivity of a cross-section of German paras, and should be of special interest to those researching Crete and Monte Cassino.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Bren Gun Carrier

Contains 64 pages crammed with first class information and photographs.

Let me immediately confess that I have been wrong about the Bren Gun and Universal Carriers. For some reason I until recently thought it was a simple, dull type of vehicle. I have been VERY wrong.

Last year I reviewed a previous Land Craft series book about a more universally (forgive the pun) appreciated vehicle, the Jeep in SAS & LRDG service. Now it is time for Robert Jackson´s book about something of an armoured equivalent of the Jeep. Bren Gun and Universal Carriers did not only serve in every theatre of WWII, they were also produced in several countries. I had been aware of the Canadian Universal Carriers but have now, thanks to Jackson´s new book, learnt also of the US, Canadian and New Zealand Universals.

Carriers not only had machine guns, there were some with artillery and anti-tank weapons mounted on top - both in Allied and German service. Yes, the Germans used captured Universal Carriers, and that is how I came to develop an interest in them. The thing is that I last year discovered that German trains transported i.a. a Carrier from a Swedish railway station (Haparanda) to an unknown destination in Norway or Germany. The vehicle in question may have been captured at Dunkirk and then sent to serve with a German unit somewhere in Lapland. There definitely exist photos of Universal Carriers in German Arctic service, in Kari Kuusela´s book Panzers in Finland. Why at least one Carrier (there is only one in the photos) was transported by the Germans via Sweden is not known. While Robert Jackson´s new book has not solved this mystery it does have some photos and colour drawings of Universal Carriers in German service.

Especially scale modellers and MV buffs will appreciate Bren Gun Carrier - Britain´s Universal War Machine, because it contains the best photos I have ever seen of many different scale models of the type. Several of the scale models also carry all kinds of equipment and some are part of magnificent dioramas.

The combat performance of the Universal Carrier is not the main focus of this book - but it does provide examples of the type´s strengths and weaknesses. There are some surprising examples of actions with Carriers. While the section about Carriers in conflicts after 1945 is not long, it is certainly interesting. BTW I hope to rather soon visit a Carrier abandoned in an Arctic forest.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Special Operations South-East Asia 1942-1945

220 pages of amazing special operations in some truly exotic places.

When one hears "special operations during WWII" few will think of other continents than Europe and Africa. But special ops were of course also one method of fighting in Asia. David Miller´s book focuses on three special operations in Asia and especially one of them will surprise just about everyone - as the target was not Japanese but German. There is a Swedish connection, too.

German U-boat successes against Allied merchant ships in the Indian Ocean in 1942-43 became a real problem for the Allies. In fact, German naval forces were active in several parts of Asia, and more active than I had imagined. David Miller´s book has been a real eye-opener for me regarding this aspect of German operations. All three ops featured in his book Special Operations South-East Asia 1942-1945 are amazing to learn about, but the struggle against Japanese forces is what you expect and therefore the Special Operations Executive (SOE) raid against the Germans in Goa is the most spectacular.

At the time, i.e. early 1943, Goa was formally not part of India but Portugal, which explains the German presence. A charming aspect of the British Goa raid, Operation Longshanks/Creek, was that enthusiastic and somewhat unlikely volunteers from the Calcutta Light Horse played a key role. Now, some of you who read this blog post may now be saying "that rings a bell", because you have seen a film from 1980 starring Roger Moore and David Niven, called "The Sea Wolves". That film, based on the 1978 James Leasor novel Boarding Party, was an early signal to the world about the particularly secret SOE operation. But I think you will find this book to be more interesting than that film, not least because it busts a few myths present in the movie.

You might recall from my blog post "A Deniable Operation Under The Swedish Flag" that Swedish aspects manage to pop up even in some very faraway places. Well Special Operations South-East Asia 1942-1945 reminds also of how the US Department of State chartered the Swedish ocean liner Gripsholm as an exchange and repatriation ship. It carried many Japanese and Germans to ports where she could pick up US and Canadian citizens - and bring them home. She sailed with a Swedish captain and crew and made 12 round trips. Exchanges took place at neutral ports such as Goa in Portuguese India. In the article below is a photo showing the Gripsholm in Goa 1943, unloading Red Cross supplies for internees and prisoners of war.

The Gripsholm in The Shanghai Evening Post and Mercury on 24 December 1943.

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Panzers in Berlin 1945

392 pages of exactly what the cover says. The most amazing Panzer book ever.

If you like me have been collecting armour books since the 1980s it will take quite a lot to be surprised. But with Panzers in Berlin 1945 the surprises are MANY. The book is so rich that it is hard to summarize what is most baffling.

Not only does the book contain hundreds of black-and-white photos of Tigers, Panthers and more rare AFVs (some extremely rare), it even has some colour photos from Berlin 1945 I have not seen anywhere before, plus a large separate map showing where in Berlin most pictured AFV wrecks were situated. The total number of photos in the book is 360 and in addition it has 16 colour artworks of the highest quality. There is also a time travel aspect, as many pages include QR codes - one just points a smartphone camera at the code and then one sees the location as it is today in Google Street View.

The armour aside, the book provides a sense of the conditions in Berlin in April and May 1945 as well as during the first months after the war. Because in many photos you also get to see the everyday life of both soldiers and civilians from several states. So, a special interest in the last days of the war in Europe is also a motive to get this book.

The German Heer, Luftwaffe, Waffen-SS and Volkssturm units that employed AFVs and other vehicles in Berlin 1945 are the main focus of the text and many, many names of tankers and other soldiers appear. Very few people will previously have seen many of the included photographs. When occasionally previously published photos do appear they have better captions than before and generally speaking all images are perfectly reproduced and large. The text, like the photos, is full of news even for those with a special interest in Panzers.

Let me mention some of the rare vehicles pictured in this book: Panzerjäger B IV Ausf. B, Wilton-Fijenoord armoured car and the gepanzerter Munitionsschlepper. Soviet AFV buffs also get to see some Red Army vehicles in Berlin. The bloody reality of war is in no way censored, some images might well illustrate pacifist brochures. Quotes from veterans of the Battle for Berlin are of course included. Being from Sweden I must of course also mention that the units with Nordic volunteers are on several pages.

I can not imagine a better book if you want to study the last battles with WW2 Panzers, and how the battleground looks like today. Panzers in Berlin 1945 by Lee Archer, Robert Kraska and Mario Lippert is a gold mine for WW2 buffs planning to visit Berlin. The price of the book might seem high, but once you have the book and realize how much research is behind it, and see how well it turned out, the price is almost low. The book can be purchased in several places but my favourite is Canfora.

Friday, July 03, 2020

The Americans From The Ardennes To VE Day

Highlighting US and German troops in the Ardennes and Operation Varsity.

Last year I reviewed another book by Brooke S. Blades, The Americans On D-Day & In Normandy and I found it to be better than I had expected. What about this new book by Mr. Blades then?

Well, the amount of photographs in The Americans From The Ardennes To VE Day is again unusually high, and the photos are generally large and nicely reproduced. This time the book consists of 256 pages and the focus is mainly on the Ardennes i.e. the Battle of the Bulge and to a lesser degree it is about the Allied advance to the Rhine, the airborne operation called Varsity and the final days of the war in Europe. There are several stunning images I have never seen before and the captions are often more informative than normally is the case. Several photos should be able to inspire modellers and reenactors. Some are also quite puzzling, like a British 6th Airborne paratrooper during Operation Varsity, who is wearing several American uniform items. Could he in fact be an American para? Hardly, because his helmet and Sten Mk V ("commando" type) are both British. Thus I reckon the man is either a British or Canadian para.

The text provides views from all ranks and my favorite is a quote from Alfred Jodl that shows just how deluded he was about how British and American soldiers thought. The evaluation of Operation Varsity, a huge airborne operation in which Swedish volunteer Erik G:son Lewenhaupt took part, is sobering. Was Varsity really that necessary? By the way, British airborne volunteer Lewenhaupt is not mentioned in this book but he is in three of mine. James Gavin´s insights about the attitude among regular US infantrymen at the end of the war are also a highlight in the text.

In case you are new to collecting books about the Battle of the Bulge, that constitutes half of this book, you will probably be very pleased with The Americans From The Ardennes To VE Day. If you, like me, already have many Ardennes books, you will recognize several photos from previous books and articles. But, because of the strong images I had not seen before I "forgive" the author for having included those classic photos.

Friday, June 19, 2020

An Eagle´s Odyssey

Ju 52 and Bf 110 are highlighted but in the end the author commanded Bf 109s.

Luftwaffe pilot memoirs are not rare but An Eagle´s Odyssey by Johannes Kaufman deserves special attention. Kaufmann was an extremely experienced pilot when the war ended and tells his story with precision.

Johannes Kaufmann´s first training flights took place in 1935. Ten years later, in April 1945, he escorted colleagues on Kamikaze type missions. What you get from reading An Eagle´s Odyssey is a real insider´s account of what life in the Third Reich´s Luftwaffe was like, from the incredibly fast rise to the ferocious end.

Professor Richard Overy provides a fitting foreword to this piece of air power history and I find it hard to not agree with him both about the great value of the book and also what it is lacking. It is a book that is very, very focused on the Luftwaffe pilot´s training, tools and combat experience. It is almost as if the war beyond the view from the cockpit did not exist. But the author explains this somewhat in passage about when news reached him of Hitler´s order to unleash war upon the West in 1940:

“All hopes of an early end to the war appeared to be dashed. Every radio bulletin was followed with keen interest. There was a definite feeling of apprehension, not to say concern [but] nobody expressed their misgivings out loud. We had already reached the stage where most of us were beginning to think it prudent to keep our views on current events to ourselves.”

Well, if you are aware of the book´s focus on aircraft and flying and are trying to understand e.g. the German side of some event in the air war, then you will be rewarded. To begin with, Johannes Kaufmann will take you along to the Luftwaffe´s early version of basic flying training. Then he flies Ju 52s during the war against Poland, becomes a flight instructor and is put in charge of collecting captured aircraft from all over France. All the time Kaufmann vividly describes his flights.

Messerschmitt´s twin-engined long-range Zerstörer (destroyer), i.e. heavy fighter, the Bf 110, then comes alive. This is thanks to Kaufmann´s posting to the Zerstörerschule (destroyer school) Schleissheim. Then follows a pilot´s view of the Eastern Front and here is a quote from the book to illustrate the early missions over the Soviet Union: “First we dive-bombed the hangars and technical sites, and then went in low to strafe the few aircraft dispersed about the field.”

Of great interest to UK readers should be Kaufmann´s words about how the RAF performed, and how he viewed the Spitfire. The real gem, though, in my opinion, is his time in Jagdgeschwader 4 and especially what he writes about the German Kamikaze equivalents, in German called SO pilots, SO meaning Selbstopfer = self-sacrifice.

This book was first published in German in 1989 but only last year appeared also in English. I have a strong feeling that the translation has captured both the meaning and style of the original text. It has also been somewhat updated, I understand. There are only four photos, on the back cover, but the text is the richest I have so far come across about a Luftwaffe pilot´s flight experiences.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

New LRDG Field Research Expedition

The issue includes two LRDG buff expeditions and some remarkable barn finds.

The times are strange and more trouble seems to be brewing. Still, there is some good news for fans of the early Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) and Special Air Service (SAS) - in the June 2020 issue of Classic Military Vehicle.

CMV has put together a very special LRDG 80th anniversary issue. It starts with a terrific and very visual summary by Toby Savage about the Egyptian LRDG field research trip featured in-depth in Karl-Gunnar Noréns and my book The Long Range Desert Group: History & Legacy, which is also shown in the article.

Very happy too see our book and the LRDG Preservation Society in CMV.

Toby brought along a kite on the trip and took aerial photographs with it and his article starts with a stunning example. The same CMV issue contains a complete surprise for me, an article by James Davis and Martin Spriggs about their Tunisia expedition in late 2019 to find LRDG patrol vehicles. While no complete vehicles were found, LRDG buffs will still find the article of interest and the finds they did make prove that there is more out there to be found. Good to learn about this and that the search in the area will continue.

I was chuffed to bits that CMV editor Andrew Stone was also able to do an interview with LRDG veteran Jack Mann, who was present at our book launch in London last year. Just before Stone was to meet the amazing Mann the pandemic changed everything. But IMHO the interview, mainly by telephone, turned out nicely and above all transmits some of Jack Mann´s remarkable attitude. No wonder he later served with the SAS.

Another morale-boosting section of this CMV issue is the "Military Vehicle Market" that includes some really inspiring barn finds. If you too have a soft spot for the Daimler Dingo - well, then you will just love the issue´s Dingo story. Now, don´t tell me that you also appreciate the odd Panzer? Well, the June issue also has a great Jagdpanzer 38 article that of course also has a Swedish connection. If you have trouble finding CMV for sale where you live, you might consider getting a (digital) CMV subscription.

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Hitler´s Spanish Division

This book covers more units than the "Blue Division" of Spanish volunteers.

One of the baffling things about foreigners in the Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS is how the really large categories are often ignored, like the Spaniards. This is not least true if we look at articles and books produced here in Scandinavia. Hitler´s Spanish Division provides a surprisingly rich visual overview of the different units with Spanish volunteers.

To give an idea of just how popular it initially was in Spain to volunteer for service in German units on the Eastern Front we can start by just looking at the number of Spanish volunteers in the Luftwaffe, 659 men. That in itself is many more than the number of Swedes in all types of German formations 1939-1945 - there were about 200 Swedes all in all. However, the vast majority of Spaniards of course served in German Army (Heer) units, more than 46,000. Well, if one adds up these with Spains Luftwaffe volunteers and the Spaniards in the Kriegsmarine, Waffen-SS and various Wehrmachtsgefolge (Wehrmacht auxiliaries) like Organisation Todt, then the total figure is around 48,000 Spanish men and women.

Hitler´s Spanish Division by Pablo Sagarra, Óscar González and Lucas Molina make clear just how large the Spanish contribution to Operation Barbarossa was. This they do in an unexpected way - not by focusing on the actions of the German 250th Infantry Division more commonly known as the Blue Division (blue = colour of Spain´s Falangist/Fascist Party) and other German units with Spaniards, but by looking at a select number of individual volunteers. The first chapter is about the three Spanish generals on the Eastern Front, the next about three of the sixteen Spanish colonels in German uniform. I bet you can guess what the third chapter is about. After the two chapters about NCOs and men follows a short but fascinating chapter about the Blue Legion, the successor of the Blue Division (the legion was more like a regiment). The remainder of the book briefly covers Spaniards in the Waffen-SS, Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine etc.

The strength of the book lies in the many Eastern Front photos, studio portraits and Osprey-style colour illustrations by Ramiro Bueiro. A large number of original artifacts from volunteers are also shown in colour, mainly decorations and documents. The uniforms demonstrate that the look of the Spaniards could differ quite a lot from German regulations.

In other words, this is a book above all for readers who are into militaria and scale models. But readers more interested in studying volunteer movements, especially Falangist/Fascist volunteers, are at the same time provided with an overview of the Spanish presence on the Eastern Front, plus a rather good glimpse into how much Eastern Front veterans affected the postwar Spanish Armed Forces.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

A GI in the Ardennes

A terrific cover for a book full of amazing photos and essays, not just about GIs.

As a collector of WWII books since the 1980s it takes quite a lot to stun me. But I am truly stunned by A GI in the Ardennes by Denis Hambucken. This book is so filled with brilliant essays about GIs, the Battle of the Bulge and relevant artifacts that I must immediately congratulate the author and his publishers.

Having read several Battle of the Bulge books, seen lots of documentaries and driven around in the Ardennes in an original WWII Jeep one comes to think of new questions about what the fighting there was like and how various practical matters were resolved. In Belgian author Denis Hambucken´s new (2020) book, first published in French in 2017, so many of these questions are answered in 109 short but brilliant essays on subjects such as the draft, the GI uniform, dog tags, individual and squad weapons, a solder´s pay, field rations, "battle fatigue", V-mail and German trophies. I find myself especially impressed with the sections about the M1928 haversack, "Axis Sally", German mines and Christmas in the Ardennes.

What makes this book so outstanding is that combines excellent photographs of original artifacts (many types I have never seen before) with testimonies of veterans and Belgian civilians. You might think that the author is uncritical of the GIs, considering his deep passion for their artifacts. Well, there are actually several passages that are critical, moving and surprising.

Briefly put, I would say that Denis Hambucken has set a new standard for WWII books. The Ardennes aside, this is one of the best WWII books I have ever come across.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

When The SAS Stormed An Embassy

The SAS operation "Nimrod" took place here in 1980. My photo from 2019.

30 April 2020 it is 40 years since the start of one of the most famous anti-terrorist operations ever. In the end, Special Air Service (SAS) operators saved all but one of the remaining hostages. Do watch the movie about the event, but bear in mind that it says very little about one lesson from the event - a lesson that we ought to be more aware of.

As a kid in the early 1980s I was favourably impressed by the abseiling SAS soldiers that hit the global news. But their appearance at the Iranian embassy in London was also a bit terrifying. Dressed largely in black, with their faces inside black respirators and wielding black submachine guns (Heckler & Koch MP5s), they looked rather sinister (Darth Vader-ish). Naturally, as soon as "6 Days" was released I was keen to see how a detailed reenactment of the event would look like. Well, it is not just about the 17 minute SAS assault, but about the whole Iranian embassy siege of 30 April to 5 May 1980. The siege situation is presented from three perspectives and it is quite moving to follow the negotiator Max Vernon (Mark Strong). But, being fond of books about the SAS, I was more interested in the SAS perspective, i.e. Rusty Firmin (Jamie Bell). "6 Days" made me wonder about some of his decisions and therefore I wanted to know more from the actual Rusty Firmin. Here is the book by him that I then got:

The book Rusty Firmin wrote about his career in the SAS. Some surprising insights.

Rusty Firmin´s The Regiment (2015) explains a key moment in the embassy that the movie "6 Days" portrays rather poorly, it seems to me. There is also the book focusing on the siege that Firmin wrote together with Will Pearson, entitled Go! Go! Go! (2011), and then there is e.g. Who Dares Wins (2009) by Gregory Fremont-Barnes. But hey, no book will probably affect the general public´s knowledge about the event as much as the movie "6 Days", which is why I decided to write this blog post. In spite of everything that I appreciate in "6 Days", there is one big thing the film makers could have done better. Who was behind the whole thing? Of course, the movie informs a bit about the terrorist group that took over the embassy, the Democratic Revolutionary Front for the Liberation of Arabistan. However, there was a state behind the group: Iraq. The Iraqi state under Saddam Hussein not only prepared, financed and supplied the terrorists (e.g. with Soviet RGD-5 hand grenades and Czechoslovak Skorpions). One of their Iraqi intelligence handlers had even taken them to London. In "6 Days" this is summarized too much, the relevant scene is so short that some may miss it.

So, what on the surface looked like the act of a terrorist group of Arabian separatists from Iran was more like an Iraqi strike against Iran. Byt why is this small proxy war in London forty years ago relevant for us in 2020? Well, there were several terrorist actions during the 1980s, in different countries, that still today are sometimes not portrayed as what they mostly were, war by proxy. That is a form of warfare that has made a comeback in recent years, and therefore we need to be able to identify and understand it. Iraq under Saddam was not the main culprit, usually it was one or more security/intelligence agencies from the Soviet bloc. But these quite often used terrorists, not least Arab terrorists. This modus operandi even affected my native Sweden, and it took many years for Swedes to start realizing this.

Seeing the Iranian embassy in London today is just like seeing it on 30 April 1980. It was seriously damaged at the end of the siege but has been nicely restored. It is easy to see the embassy yourself as it is in the heart of London. There are some other places connected to SAS history not far from the embassy and I will be writing about these in a London guide that I intend to release here in a month or so.

Monday, April 27, 2020

T-14 Armata MBT

The first book to focus on the most radical new MBT since the Swedish S-tank.

The Russian T-14 Armata tank differs so much from previous main battle tanks that one could say it is the most radical "production" tank since the turretless Swedish "S-tank" (strv 103). The first book in English about this vehicle, written by James Kinnear, is more interesting than the parade photo on the cover indicates.

Of course, some who read this blog post will not consider the S-tank to have been a tank. Some will say it was actually a tank destroyer or an assault gun. Well, let us not here argue about that vehicle´s capabilities. I could argue quite a lot, because I was trained to use it during 15 months. But whatever your opinion is, it is a fact that in the Swedish Army the strv 103 was officially classified as a tank. "Strv" is short for stridsvagn which is Swedish for a tank (MBT). Let us move on to what is new. Well, at least fairly new. This May 9 it will be exactly 5 years since the T-14 was officially presented during the Victory Day parade in Moscow. But the T-14 still can be considered "the new kid on the block" and there still are good reasons to read the first book in English to focus on the T-14, written by the armour expert James Kinnear and first published in 2018.

At first glance the T-14 might not look so revolutionary. But first of all its resemblance to previous Russian and Soviet tanks is almost zero. It thus constitutes a break with tradition. Then, inside, there is a huge difference. The tank turret has no tankers, it is remotely controlled by the three-man crew, located safely within the hull. The latter two features were two of the main features of the S-tank.

Looking closer at the exterior lots of interesting features become clear. And this book will certainly delight both tankers and scale modellers because it has many really nice photos of the exterior. But, to me, the real gem is the surprisingly detailed chapter about the development of the vehicle. However, before I describe it I must say something about the current status of the T-14. There are huge doubts about the T-14, mainly if it will become a mass produced tank. Media sources have gone from stating that there would be over two thousand T-14s by now (are there more than twenty now?), to playing down the need for the T-14. There seem to be endless amounts of Soviet tanks that can be modernized to a remarkable degree.

So, there is much that is unclear about the future of the T-14, something which was evident already when James Kinnear wrote his book. Kinnear also made the question marks clear already on the rear cover.

Well, no matter what the future holds, the history of the T-14 is amazing and not something you will find on Wikipedia. Kinnear´s book describes several design bureau projects with details and some photos that I have never come across before. Scale modellers into making "what if" tanks ought to get some inspiration from this chapter.

T-14 Armata by James Kinnear has no doubt expanded my understanding of the T-14s history, but at the same time it has made me wonder if not the Soviet tank design bureaus in Kharkov (Kharkiv) and Leningrad (Saint Petersburg) had been studying developments in Sweden during the 1980s quite a lot. I am thinking of the various Swedish UDES vehicles, especially the UDES 19 and UDES XX20. While I did not have the privilege of seeing a UDES 19 IRL (check it out via the link to the UDES page I just provided) I did get to see the UDES XX20. Below is a photo from my one and only encounter with it.

Seeing an UDES XX20 up close. Not sure about the year but I reckon 1985/86.

Finally, I must say I am very impressed with the quality of all Canfora books, T-14 Armata is just one of several terrific books from Swedish Canfora. Do visit the Canfora website and look around.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Churchill: A Graphic Biography

Yes, I am reviewing a comic book now! But, trust me - it is seriously good.

Now, Churchill is one fellow that is very hard to summarize. With such a rich and long life in various positions, almost an impossible task. But I´d say that Vincent Delmas has succeeded, both because of the comics and the superb introduction, which is more like an illustrated article.

Of course, lots of important stuff is not part of Churchill: A Graphic Biography, and as a Nordic reader I wanted more about Norway 1940. Still, most of the key moments in his life are here. Speaking about Norway - the heavy water sabotage operation is in the book.

My one real criticism is that the military hardware shown could have been more correct and detailed. But, generally speaking, this is one of the best, if not the best, fact-based comic books that I have read.

One subject that takes up a fairly large part in the final pages of the book is the failure to secure Poland´s independence. Rightly so!

Being a history nerd you have either seen or will probably see the brilliant historical drama web television series "The Crown" created and principally written by Peter Morgan for Netflix. Well, here comes a suggestion for you TV people out there. Check out Churchill: A Graphic Biography by Vincent Delmas etc. Because it is both brilliant and credible. I suspect that this has a lot to do with Francois Kersaudy, the project´s historical consultant. It should be possible to use Churchill: A Graphic Biography as the basis for a Netflix movie, or even a TV series.

Monday, March 09, 2020

A Deniable Operation Under The Swedish Flag

SAS VC holder Anders Lassen (1st from the left) always catches my attention.

The story they presented was that they were a neutral Swedish crew on a neutral Swedish yacht. In fact, they were a group of SOE agents on an incredibly daring mission, commanded by an actual "M", with whom Ian Fleming worked. This is a book that especially Nordic SOE, SAS & Fleming/Bond buffs can appreciate.

While the Swedish flag was mere camouflage, there were actually Danes aboard, one of whom later would join the SAS and earn a VC, Anders Lassen. Thus it should already be apparent that Ian Fleming & SOE´s Operation Postmaster by Brian Lett is of special interest to Danish military history buffs. Norwegian WWII buffs also have several reasons to pick up this book, because Brigadier Colin Gubbins was "M" and he had a great deal to do with Norway from 1940.

Well, what kind of special operation is Ian Fleming & SOE´s Operation Postmaster about? In 1941 the British started receiving reports that German submarines were using rivers in French parts of Africa for refuelling. At the time, the Special Operations Executive (SOE) was a new outfit with many enemies, not just among the enemy. The SOE had to prove its worth. The cunning plan was to sail a "Swedish" SOE ship, with some great characters, to West Africa and locate German submarine bases. But having arrived in the area the main aim became to steal enemy ships from a neutral Spanish port on the volcanic island of Fernando Po. I will here not give away the wonderful story of what happened but just say that the British Government lied in order to conceal British responsibility for the operation, and basically recommend that you read this book yourself.

Being the author that I am, I do not think that the characterization of Sweden as "pro-German" in Lett´s book is fair. Regardless if one means the Swedish state or the majority of the Swedish people, the largest Swedish sympathies were about Finland, Norway and Denmark. Yes, there were Swedish Nazis and pro-German sympathies, but they never dominated. The thousands of Swedish citizens in Finnish, US and Norwegian service can be compared with the 200 in various German units. For more about Sweden during WWII please turn to e.g. John Gilmour or yours truly.

Nevertheless, Brian Lett´s book is an inspiring and exciting book that should please not just SOE and Fleming/Bond buffs. First published in 2012, the edition I got is from last year. Brian Lett has written other books about special ops and I just recently became aware of his SOE`s Mastermind - Sir Colin Gubbins, a book that I very much look forward to reading.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

The Real James Bonds

That strange gun on the cover is a Welrod, a British bolt action suppressed pistol.

Having reviewed Nigel West´s Secret War: The Story Of SOE, I must of course also review his take of the organization that SOE quite often found itself in conflict with, MI6/SIS, i.e. the home of James Bond.

Being an entirely factual book, Nigel West´s MI6: British Secret Intelligence Service Operations 1909-1945, does not waste words on James Bond and only mentions Ian Fleming on one page. Fleming is mentioned not because of his later secret agent novels but due to the fact that he during WWII was an assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence. However, it is hard not to think of Captain America´s enemy Red Skull when reading about agent SKULL, one of the most important double agents of the war in West´s opinion.

Secret intelligence operations can be hard to explain and summarize. Yet, West often manages to do so. One of the most catastrophic aspects of the the initial stage of the intelligence war 1939-45 is how almost unbelievably unprepared the British were for the eventuality of Germany actually overrunning other countries. In spite of six years of Hitler in command of Germany the SIS had set up no stay-behind networks. Initially there were not even aircraft to fly agents into occupied Europe. Such a unit, 419 Flight (Special Duties), was set up only in July 1940.

Well, what about my favorite aspects of any WWII book, the Nordic aspects? The Norwegian heavy water is of course covered but after the German invasions of 1940 the SIS was itself not that active in Norway and Denmark. In those countries intelligence gathering was mainly performed by the SOE. Stockholm was much more of a stage for the SIS, and West provides a wonderful picture of how absurd it was to be stationed there considering that "[...] personnel from the German, Japanese and British [embassies were] all visiting the seaside together on Sundays during the Swedish summer".

Nigel West is very clear about his view of SIS performance in Stockholm during WWII: "The Stockholm Station was arguably the most successful of the war". West also states that thanks to "unofficial assistance" from Swedish military intelligence, more than fifty Norwegians were detained in Sweden as known infiltration agents from the Sicherheitsdienst in Oslo.

Like West´s SOE book, MI6 is not new but a new edition of a 1983 book. Still, MI6 by Nigel West is a highly readable book and ought to be a useful source for many years yet to come.