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

Monday, July 30, 2012

British Army Swede Missed By Vatican

Yesterday I got a sad tiding about Lars Rooth, one of the Swedes who during WWII voluntarily joined the British and who is featured on several pages in Swedes at War. My namesake passed away on July 21.

Lars Rooth was most helpful to me even though he probably did not like remembering his wartime days. He served in the British Intelligence Corps (the only Swede in that branch) and the unique British 79th Armoured Division, full of very specialized tanks, and then went on to serve the Vatican as a very radio savvy priest, becoming a friend of the former pope, John Paul II.

In fact, the Vatican has issued this news article about the death of Lars Rooth.

As the Swedish media is still mostly on holiday, his death has yet to be reported by Swedish newspapers.

Lars Rooth died 90 years old in Uppsala, and will be buried there on August 22.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

New Photos From Coming Stalingrad Movie

Fedor Bondarchuk directed "The Ninth Company", about an airborne company during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

As I have said before, one of the most well-made modern Russian war movies is "The Ninth Company" directed by Fedor Bondarchuk. Now, new photos have just been released from his coming "Stalingrad".

I find it rather fitting that Thomas Kretschmann, one of the Germans from the 1993 German "Stalingrad", partly filmed up here in the Arctic, is also part of the new cast. You may also remember him as the SS-general Hermann Fegelein in the movie "Downfall" ("Der Untergang").

The new "Stalingrad" will be in 3D too, something I personally find unimportant, but hey - it may make some younger people more interested.

Considering the director, the subject and the photos it ought to be well worth watching. I gather it will be released next fall.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Stalingrad Swede Alive

Today it is exactly seventy years since Hitler issued one of his most fateful directives, the one to attack Stalingrad. "The early destruction of the city of Stalingrad is especially important", to quote Hitler´s directive.

There is a special ring to the name of Stalingrad. I reckon this was true even before the name became synonymous wíth one of the bloodiest battles of mankind. I recently learnt that the only Swede known to have fought in Stalingrad, Oskar Friberg from Estonia, is still alive. I mention him in Swedes at War in the chapter "Stalin´s Swedish Soldiers" as he was one of them, he had been enlisted into the Red Army.

Sadly, but understandably, he is not that keen to talk about the subject. However, I have seen the documents proving that he was there, thanks to a relative of his in Sweden.

Amazingly, the never issued "Stalingrad has been taken"-poster that I have blogged about earlier seems to have been made by a Russian living in Norway during the war (see the first comment under that post). Who knows more about him and his fate?

Swedish readers of this blog post can take note that Oskar Friberg is not mentioned in the Swedish editions of Swedes at War, as I was not aware of him when those were written. The English version of the book is the most comprehensive one.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Gebirgsjägers, Monty and Gebirgsmarine

Amazing what you can find on the surface in Arctic Norway, a Gebirgsjäger´s personal ice pick. Karl-Gunnar found it "just like that" walking in a Wehrmacht dumping area.

This year´s WWII in the Arctic summer expedition largely followed the route of last year´s trip, but we went higher up in the mountains, and consequently got to see more.

Like last year we this year had the privelege of having a desert war expert among us, Karl-Gunnar Norén. This may sound odd but Karl-Gunnar has an interest in the Arctic too, having been to Arctic Russia´s battlefields with me. And as for me, aside from a strong interest in the Arctic I have always had an interest in the special forces of the desert war, especially the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG). Thus it was only a matter of time before we teamed up to write a book about the "Ghost patrol".

This year´s trip started off with Karl-Gunnar immediately walking into a Gebirgsjäger ice pick, just lying about on the surface. Nobody in our Arctic fellowship, now 8 men strong, had so far discovered such an artifact...

The Opel Olympia staff car in dunkelgelb is still there in 2012, but aside from the main body very little remains.

We revisited the Wehrmacht staff car in the stream, and by standing in the not exactly lukewarm stream I was able to take the new photo above.

The ice pick was a nice discovery, but then I made a pretty weird one myself by finding a British WWII "flimsy" petrol can. A type Karl-Gunnar had seen a lot of in Egypt in April while searching for traces of the LRDG. How come a flimsy ended up there? Either the Germans took it there with some captured British vehicle from Dunkirk, or the British or Norwegians did in 1945 or soon after.

German pressure cooker in Norwegian stream.

Moving on into another valley not that far from Sweden´s northernmost point we found i.a. a Wehrmacht pressure cooker in a stream. The cooker is of the same type as the one in the Björnfjell area. Not far from it is a water tower built for the Germans by some local firm and reportedly built with some conscious flaws. But it is still standing.

One of the best then-and-now experiences was finding this German shelter, just as the ones pictured by a British war artist.

Just barely still standing was a shelter of the same type depicted by a British war artist. Great of Simon Orchard to find the painting and good that we together could locate one of the houses, possibly the last one standing and very hard to spot from just ten metres away.

One of the most intact German mountain positions around, with Karl-Gunnar in the door. Note the amount of snow although it is July 8.

Then we went up to some of the top positions and saw there was more snow up in the mountains than can be expected in July. It was rather nice to nevertheless discover some positions we had never seen before. We had been in that valley before but had somehow missed a number of positions. Well, perhaps not that strange considering they were meant to be hard to find.

The remoteness of the area also means that most, if not all, WWII artifacts that we had seen on previous trips were still there in the open, or inside shelters. On this trip we came across two primus stoves marked RAD = Reichsarbeitsdienst. I know for sure the RAD built a hangar in Tromsö, so perhaps they also worked up here? In some cases, as with remains of uniform garments out in the open, we moved artifacts to inside the shelters, so that they may be preserved longer.

The remains of an early model gas mask, from 1930, after 67 years in the open. However, for most of the time it is covered by snow.

Metal case for 98k rifle cleaning kit, after 67 years on a rock.

Name plate on ski identifying the owner as Obg = Obergefreiter Vasold. What happened to him?

Inside the remains of an anorak among the rocks there was this label, Johann clearly belonged to GJR 137 but his last name is hard to tell. I can´t see what it says, can you?

This seems to be a very elaborate Wehrmacht toilet, or could it be something else?

Moving down from the mountains we again met our friend in the Tamok valley with several WWII artifacts. According to the previous owner of this sledge it once transported the wounded commando hero Jan Baalsrud, who i.a. was awarded an MBE.

Sweden´smajor expert on the British Army in North Africa, Karl-Gunnar Norén, standing on the spot where Montgomery stood by the Rundhaug hotel, well above the polar circle.

As tradition has it we then visited the Troms Defence Museum in Setermoen and got to see a new vehicle very much connected to Sweden during WWII, a Volvo issued to the Norwegian "police troops" that were trained in Sweden 1943-45.

This year we finally took the time to climb the Reinnesfjellet mountain, where U-boat crews have left their mark, here stones commemorating the U-657. It is amazing that the stones are still there, but there are also some other "tags" up there of more recent vintage.

Exhibits in the Abisko museum. This German helmet was found in the 1970s in an Abisko mouintain pass, well inside Sweden. It is a mystery how it got there. Just to the left of it is a rather special iron cross.

The last museum we visited was on the road back to Luleå, the Abisko Border Defence Museum. It is located in Swedish Abisko but has several WWII artifacts as the battle for Narvik on several occasions "spilled over" into Sweden.

Personally, the three top highlights of the trip was being in Lyngen again, our fabulous stay at the former headquarters of the 20th Mountain Army (Gebirgs-AOK), Rundhaug gjestegård in Rundhaug (very intact and with some remains from 20 Gebirgs-AOK) and finally standing by the stones from the crew of U-657.

Speaking of U-boats, I wonder if not the "Baltic Sea UFO" (USO would be more correct, S = Unidentified Submerged Object) currently being investigated by a Swedish "X-team" turns out to be some kind of German anti-submarine installation? Or might it be something from the 1950s Cold War?

If you plan to visit both the Narvik area and WWII sights above it, like the Troms Defence Museum, the Tromsö War Museum or the Tirpitz Museum by Alta
I can think of no better - yet still affordable - place to stay than Rundhaug gjestegard, i.e. the former HQ of 20 Gebirgs-AOK and also the place where Kaiser Wilhelm and General Montgomery stayed when they came to the area.

UPDATE 23 July: The last name of the GJR 137 Gebirgsjäger was most probably Entsellner, writes a friend in Germany. Thanks for the help.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Stauffenberg On My Mind

Stauffenberg's grandson Philipp von Schulthess plays a minor part in the most recent movie about operation Valkyrie. This is an interview with him not on the "Valkyrie" DVD.

Today it is the 20th of July and I am thinking a bit extra of the 1944 bomb plot to kill Hitler on that date, for two reasons.

First, I recently read a new and riveting autobiography by one of the officer conspirators against Hitler, Knight's Cross holder Baron Rudolf-Christoph von Gersdorff. I learnt a great deal from it both about the German officer corps (especially from the cavalry) and the fighting on the Ostfront and in Normandy. In English it is entitled Soldier in the Downfall. I have by now read many books by German veterans and can say that this one ranks as my all time favourite German memoir alongside Black Edelweiss and A Mind in Prison.

Secondly, the recent bomb against the Syrian leadership made me think a lot about "Syria's Stauffenberg". I wonder what his fate will be?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

New Swedish Military Vehicle Museum

A German-designed Swedish m/38 tank with a Czech-designed m/37 in the background. Tempo Vidal grille far right.

A few weeks ago I finally got to visit Arsenalen, the new national Swedish military vehicle museum. It is not as good as Bovington (the British tank museum), but is certainly worth a visit if you are in the Stockholm area.

The museum is focused on armour somehow connected to Sweden, from WWI to the present day, but also has some really interesting "soft skins", such as a German Tempo Vidal G 1200, which for some strange reason was purchased by the Swedish Army.

The influence of German design in early Swedish tanks is apparent, the reason is very simple: the main tank supplier was initially a German plant on Swedish soil, Landsverk. For instance, the above pictured Landsverk m/38 was virtually the same vehicle that in Hungary was known as the Toldi. Interestingly, the only two surviving Toldis are in Russia.

A very rare Landsverk AA-tank, based on the Anti that served Finland and Hungary (as Nimrod) in WWII.

A US-made M8 armoured car, one of four captured by the Swedish Army in Congo.

One of the most exotic vehicles in Arsenalen is the captured M8 Greyhound, once used by the Katanga Province Gendarmerie and then by Swedish UN troops in Congo in the early 1960s.

The museum also features some large dioramas with real vehicles, such as this one with a Hetzer:

I reckon this illustrates the end of the Third Reich quite well. But the Hetzer is rather clean...

In the smaller rooms there are many small dioramas and don't miss the upper floor scale models.

Foreign Legion Viking Record

Henrik Angell from Norway joined the French Foreign Legion and fought against the WWI German Army and early Red Army.

Thanks to Henrik L, a fellow Swedish armoured troops cadet in 1989, I recently became aware of a very special Norwegian colonel who volunteered for France in WWI and served her as a 1st lieutenant (was that also his last French rank?).

His name was Henrik Angell and he survived fighting the WWI German Army but not the combat in the Arctic during the Russian Civil War. The above photo of Angell in a 1918 Swedish weekly paper was found by Henrik and states that Angell is on his way to the Murman-front, i.e. Murmansk.

I reckon Agnell must be the oldest Scandinavian volunteer in the French Foreign legion. He was 63 when he joined!

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Third Reich Comics in Swedish Book

A page about a Afrika Korps soldier's survival ordeal in the desert from the Third Reich comic book "Bilderbogen vom Kriege".

I had no idea there were comics in the Third Reich until I found Swedish comics historian Fredrik Strömberg's book Comic Art Propaganda. Nor did I know that the SS in its journal Das Schwarze Korps attacked Superman in 1940.

In Comic Art Propaganda you will find some fantastic images from the Third Reich comic book Bilderbogen vom Kriege (Picture Stories from the War) and the Superman article in Das Schwarze Korps (The Black Corps) and many, many examples of comic art used as propaganda until the present day. The author Fredrik Strömberg has put together an impressive collection, albeit not only related to war and sometimes he uses the term propaganda a bit too generously in my opinion.

Strömberg provides several gems of information about American comics in WWII and during the classic Cold War period. Sadly, there is little in his book about Soviet and Russian comic art. Thus the general impression of the Cold War era that one gets is rather one-sided (very common, but I do not think that is a good excuse). I have in my collection even a quite recent Russian election poster using comic art.

There is a German website with some other samples from Bilderbogen vom Kriege.