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

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Nordic Soldiers in Congo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 comment:

  1. And the very next day Stålnacke was up shaving. No suffering from shock or trauma there! I have also read the book "Katanga", and I, likewise what you, couldn´t read out wether they blew his Jaw off or not. But I distinctly read that he was up shaving the very next day, so they must have attached it successfully, or it was never that bad to begin with. In any case, he was one of a kind. I recall reading that the doctors were in awe of his mental stability already the day after the encounter incident with his wounds.

    Roger Klang