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

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Raiders of the Lost Spear

Note the long spear/lance and "LOGINOS" in Greek characters above the soldier who is holding it. This is a crucifixion scene painted in the year 586 and part of the the Rabbula Gospels.

Regular readers of this blog will have noticed my interest in Star Wars (the old ones). Well, it should come as no surprise then, that I am also a fan of Indiana Jones (except the most recent one). I am currently reading a book that makes me think the first Indy film could have been entitled "Raiders of the Lost Spear".

If you haven't noticed, 2011 is the 30th anniversary of the first movie about OSS Colonel Henry Walton "Indiana/Indy" Jones, Jr., Ph.D.. BTW the name was initially Indiana Smith. As I wrote in the foreword for the Swedish edition of The Master Plan (2007) by Heather Pringle, the Indiana Jones movies have effectively communicated the fact that archeology had a high status in the Third Reich. Quite considerable resources were made available to pre-war archeological SS-expeditions to places like Sweden and Iraq.

But instead of searching for the Ark, it seems as if Indy could have been looking for the Spear of Destiny aka the Holy Spear, Lance of Longinus or Spear of Christ. Different names given to the spear/lance that pierced Jesus' side as he hung on the cross. How did I reach this conclusion? From reading The Complete Making of Indiana Jones (2008) by J.W. Rinzler and Laurent Bouzereau it is clear (p. 17) that initially George Lucas had an open mind about which supernatural artifact that was to be the MacGuffin (plot device) of the first Indy adventure. It was Philip Kaufman that brought the Ark into the movie, i.e. the Ark of the Covenant. From Kaufman's own words it seems he got the Ark from "...an old dentist I went to in Chicago who was obsessed with the lost Ark's legendary powers."

Now then, which artifact would Indy have been wanting to find had Kaufman and his dentist not been? Well, the only other artifact mentioned in the first draft for the film is the Spear of Destiny (p. 28 and 30). Thus, although there is no explicit admission that the Spear would have been the MacGuffin, it seems rather probable to me.

By reading The Complete Making of Indiana Jones one also learns more about how the film's sadistic Nazi intelligence agent Arnold Toht was first imagined. He was initially an SS-Obersturmbannführer (lieutenant colonel) with a mechanical arm that could transform into a flamethrower and/or machine gun.

The book also portrays the Flying Wing in both amazing drawings and several photographs, as well that fantasy Panzer of Indy III. Speaking of fantasy tanks, don't miss these highly skilled modellers and especially this thread.

Yesterday the LA Times had some Indy news, Steven Spielberg said earlier that he and George Lucas have discussed a possible fifth Indiana Jones movie. LA Times has Indy himself, i.e. Harrison Ford, talking about this with Spielberg.

Now, considering that Indy has already chased around in Tibet, Italy, South America and the Biblical lands it is high time for Indiana Jones to have a showdown with the SS in Swedish Tanumshede or Himmelstalund. Just two of the places with major rock carvings in Sweden that attracted SS-expeditions. But what about Indy's age? No problem, he does not even have to go back in time - he can fight the SS-division "Schwarze Sonne" due to be activated in 2018 ;-)

Nordic Views of WWII

I dig the front cover illustration, from the 2008 Danish movie "Flame & Citron", and the book itself, but the title could have been shorter i.e. better.

Nordic Narratives of the Second World War is a fascinating analysis of what has been written about WWII not only in Sweden, Finland and Norway but also in Denmark and Iceland.

Through this short book (173 pages) eight Nordic historians give you a good idea about how the Second World War has been viewed and is presently viewed in the Nordic countries. They also manage to explore the difference between scholarly and popular understandings of WWII. That difference can be pretty large.

I especially appreciated the Danish and Icelandic chapters, as my knowledge of the WWII history and historiography of these nations is very limited. I was absolutely fascinated to read in Professor Uffe Östergård's chapter about how WWII history played a major role in the debate about Danish participation in the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

The book's Swedish chapter, written by Johan Östling, could have mentioned some more recent themes, such as the Swedish volunteers & sailors of the Allies, Allied troops and bases in Sweden 1943-45 ("police troops" and special operation forces). I am not the only one to have written about these subjects. But Östling at least ends with a short review of John Gilmour's Sweden, the Swastika and Stalin. That book is certainly worthy of mention.

Hopefully more books like this one will follow, focusing more on the narratives that perhaps matter most nowadays, i.e. films and TV-documentaries. Considering that the front cover of Nordic Narratives of the Second World War is from a recent film there should have been more about movies in it. But I reckon it was a good idea to make this first book of its kind a short one.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Finland's Last (?) Two Wars

The front cover shows German mountain troops on the march towards Loukhi in Soviet/Russian Karelia.

Finland's War of Choice covers a great deal of WWII history that is virtually unknown to most English-only readers. About time, as several of the battles covered in this book are among the most extreme in the history of warfare.

Aside from learning much about the Finnish and Soviet armies, the reader will gain insight into the German 20th Mountain Army.

The book's author, retired US Army Colonel Henrik O. Lunde, was born in Norway. Thus his interest in Nordic history is natural, and he had some advantages for this book project from his background.

I liked Lunde's previous book, Hitler's Preemptive War: The Battle for Norway, 1940, but I have a similar problem with both books. However, let me start with the very first impression the book makes through the images on the front and back covers. These photographs (and the others inside) have been chosen wisely. They are not well known but are both strong images and say something about both the troops and terrain in focus.

The Germans on the front cover are Gebirgsjägers (mountain troops) advancing towards Loukhi in May, 1942. From studying the photo closely I can add that the NCO in the centre is wearing a Narvik shield and thus must be a veteran of the 1940 battle of Narvik. The Finnish troops on the back cover are crossing the Murmansk railway in October, 1941. They are wearing various helmet types, the soldier closest to the camera a Swedish one.

I understand there already exists a new edition (book club edition?) of this book with another photo on the front cover, one of the most used photos from Finland during the Winter War, and not the two wars described in this book. Yes, the title is lacking not least because the book describes both Finland's “war of choice” and the hopefully very last war in Finnish history, the Lapland War (Finland vs. Germany 1944-45).

The book starts with a very brief summary of the Winter War of 1939-40, that is useful but the author is incorrect in stating that “assistance from the west had not materialized”. In fact, both British and French aircraft did materialize. Not in any vast numbers, but worthy of mention together with the fact that they were sent via Sweden.

Although the Winter War is not the main subject of this book another fact about it that Colonel Lunde could have been mentioned is that the Red Army attacked also in the north, threatening to cut Finland in half and seizing the roads and railway to Sweden.

What Lunde does best is to give English-only readers a detailed description of the Soviet-Finnish War of 1941-44, in Finland and Sweden mostly called the Continuation War, meaning a continuation of the Winter War. Lunde argues against using the Finnish term Continuation War. He has a point there. But was it instead a Finnish war of choice? Actually, Lunde delivers three arguments for renaming his book.

First, Lunde writes about the aftermath of the Winter War, that it left Finland with a “monumental problem” of having to move about half a million Finnish citizens to other parts of Finland. The country at the time had a population of a mere 3,7 million. I agree with Lunde but believe that even more important was the pressure from Finnish society to make it possible for the very large refugee part of the Finnish population to return to their home towns and villages.

Secondly, the ceded territories were of great military significance to Finland. The peninsula of Hanko was by itself, to use Marshal Mannerheim's words (quoted by Lunde), “a pistol aimed at the heart of the country and its most important communications”.

Thirdly, as Lunde writes:

“There are no doubts that the Soviets followed a policy that made Finland fear for its safety. This short-sighted policy helped propel isolated Finland into the arms of Germany. For example, at the time of the Moscow Peace in March 1940, Finland approached Sweden and Norway about a defensive alliance. Things looked promising until the Soviet Union vetoed the idea. Such an alliance may [might?] have worked to the great advantage of the Soviets by causing the Germans to have second thoughts about their planned attack on Denmark and Norway.”

Lunde adds that a second attempt at a Nordic alliance, consisting of just Finland and Sweden, was also stopped by the Soviet Union, in October 1940. Slightly concealed under this great “what if” lies another one. What if the Germans in 1941 could have attacked the Soviet Union also with those troops that were stationed in the Nordic countries?

In spite of my argument against the book's title – basically I believe it was only partly a war of choice - and other aspects, I consider this book a real must for English-only readers interested of Nordic WWII history.

The book has 409 pages and contains 14 maps.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Back to 1631 and 1991

Visiting the Breitenfeld battlefield on September 7, 1991, 360 years after Sweden's perhaps most important battle.

When I walked the Breitenfeld battlefield, tomorrow exactly 20 years ago, it was less than a year since it had been in the state known as East Germany (GDR). This year my thoughts often go back to that trip and my experiences in Moscow also during that year.

I believe it was my paternal grandfather who told me about the role that the first Gyllenhaal, the cavalry Lieutenant Nils Haal, played during the battle of Breitenfeld on September 7, 1631. What he told me astounded me and probably explains some of my interest in wars. Unfortunately I have since not been able to locate written sources that match my memory of what I heard, or think I heard.

We do know though, from 17th century records, that Nils Haal was there, on that field, on that day, and performed well. But exactly what he did I do not yet know for sure.

Many will this week, understandably, be looking back at September 11, 2001. As for me, for some reason I thought more about that day at the start of this year.

I am now more often contemplating what I experienced in 1991, above all the last year of the Soviet Union as a student in Moscow. The most vital part in that was getting to know my future wife Ann-Sofie, another Swedish student there. The no doubt most weird part was finding these two destroyed armoured vehicles on the same street where president Mikhail Gorbachev lived, Kosygin Street.

A destroyed Soviet BMP and T-54 not far (200 metres?) from president Gorbachev's official residence.

To this day I have found no explanation for the presence of these destroyed military vehicles. Their hatches were open and kids were playing in and around them while we were there, as they were actually standing right beside a school. I reckon they may have been standing just a couple of hundred metres from the Soviet president's residence. If you saw these wrecks in Moscow 1991, or know anything about their story, I'd be very much indebted for your comments.

To be on the safe side, I made peace with Peter the Great before leaving Moscow. The gentleman dressed up as Peter was (is?) probably Russia's greatest (not tallest) reenactor of the era of Peter the Great.

Swedish Heavy Metal

The all-metal 1:6 scale S-tank being constructed by Peter in Boden, Sweden. PHOTO: PE

Tigers and T-34s in scale 1:6 and even 1:4 have been around for some years now. But what about Swedish heavy metal and more specifically the tank yours truly once commanded, the much hyped/hated S-tank?

Well, there are no giant S-models for sale but I have met Peter E., a gentleman in Boden who is making his own all-metal S-tank in 1:6. Thanks to Peter I could attach the above photo of his amazing work so far.

Peter told me he saw Armorteks Tigers in 1:6 about ten years ago and then felt he should try doing something himself in that scale. Why an all-metal S-tank in 1:6? Well, Peter lives not far from the P 5 museum in Boden that has a 1:1 S-tank and thus he thought he would have some edge.

To make a project like this come true Peter has involved something like ten different firms and spent perhaps 500 hours on the project.

Interestingly, Peter's ultimate goal is not a total scale copy but a metal model with functioning suspension and gun elevation. The problem-solving process interests him more than the construction itself.

You can follow the evolution of this project in this thread which is part of a Swedish forum for large-scale model armour projects.