About Me

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

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

From China to Stalingrad

Soviet I-16 fighter with Chinese insignia. I-16 was the main fighter plane used by the Chinese Air Force and Soviet pilots in China 1937-41.

Let us refresh our minds about strategy by looking at the past. More specifically a battle just before WWII and how it compares to Stalingrad.

Have you ever heard about a battle in China 1938 called the battle of Taierzhuang? Probably not, am I right? But why on earth should this matter? Well, let me quote a single sentence from the book Taierzhuang 1938 - Stalingrad 1942 by Lance Olsen: "The major portion of Japan´s military might was - at all times from 1931 to 1945 - consumed in China".

Yes, at all times between 1931 (not 1939!) and 1945.

The battle of Taierzhuang in 1938 was the first major Chinese victory in the largely unknown (i.e. in the West) first stage of the Asian part of WWII. It is hard not to agree with Lance Olsen that Japan´s invasion of China, that started in 1931, spared the Soviet Union from having to fight a 2-front war. For, at the battle of Moscow 1941, had those reinforcements from Siberia not been able to come - WWII would have taken a different course - perhaps even a radically different course.

Lance Olsen has done serious students of WWII a great favour by revealing a huge blind spot in the western mainstream narrative of WWII. Read his book for a very refreshing take on WWII, and after having read it consider if we today are much better at taking into account how the balance in Asia counts not only in Asia.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Stunning WWII Aircraft Wreck Photos

A Junkers Ju 88 on Svalbard, just one of several stunning photos in this compilation.

The Ju 88 in the above clip is without location but I know from a film project I was involved in in that the location is Svalbard i.e. the group of Norwegian Arctic islands on the way to the North Pole.

I wonder, which book has the full story of the Svalbard Ju 88? Anything still at the site to see? The Ju 52 that appears after three minutes is, I think, close to Bodö in Norway. Probably photographed quite long ago. I think it has since been removed to the aircraft museum in Bodö.

Thanks, Mikke, for the tip - I hadn´t seen this one before.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Narvik Battlefields And Border Positions

Nice slideshow made by Erik Pakkala.

This is where my coming book largely takes place, the battlefields of Narvik. It is my first biography and is about Jan Danielsen, a young Swedish cavalry officer who first was a volunteer in Finland in the Winter War and then joins in the fight against the German invaders in Norway.

The hiker video (slide show) above features some of the places mentioned in my book as well as later German positions at the border with Sweden. The book will be released early next year.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Easy Elsie in Sweden 70 years

Still visible after 70 years in the open, "EASY". I took this photo some weeks ago.

On October 29, 1944, the RAF Lancaster "Easy Elsie" crash-landed just outside Porjus in Swedish Lapland. The plane had just participated in Operation Obviate, the second attempt to sink the German battleship Tirpitz outside Tromsö in Arctic Norway.

My story about how "Easy Elsie" is doing today, after 70 years in the open, will be published in a few days in the new issue of the Swedish military history journal Soldat & Teknik. For more information about the RAF, USAAF, SOE, SIS, OSS, Red Army and other Allied formations in Sweden during WWII, as well as the German troop transports through Sweden 1940-43, see my book Germans & Allies in Sweden.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Nordic Jedi & August 23

For fifty years the Soviet Union denied the existence of the secret protocol that Harry Järv (above) wrote so sharply about.

On the day I die I hope to have an intact memory and if that is the case I will no doubt be able to recall my meeting with Harry Järv, a war veteran and author from Finland/Sweden who wrote the best piece I have read about what happened in Moscow on August 23 seventy-five years ago.

The impression I got from my one and only meeting with Harry Järv, i.a. deputy director at the National Library of Sweden, was unforgettable. Sweden´s librarian number two had not only himself written a long list of important books, he had led many recon patrols behind Soviet lines after having joined the Finnish Army as a volunteer in the Winter War of 1939-40. In the midst of his wartime service he was able to reflect about leadership, art and also to change his leadership according to his evolving ideas on humanity and war. I think I can best describe him in English as a real-life Jedi.

Twenty-five years ago Järv´s article "The Exception: Finland" (Undantaget Finland) was published in the Swedish culture journal Fenix. It is not available online but I would like to give some idea about it here now, as this coming weekend it will be exactly 75 years since the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, including a secret protocol, was signed. In his article Harry Järv first reminds about the fifty years of Soviet denial of the secret protocol that divided up the territories of Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania into German and Soviet "spheres of influence", anticipating "territorial and political rearrangements" in Europe i.e. the invasions of Germany and the USSR of the listed countries.

As Järv wrote, it was only in August 1989 that the text of the secret protocol was published in Soviet press. The first paper to publish it was the Soviet weekly Argumenty i Fakty. This was possible due to the admission a few weeks earlier by Valentin Falin, Chairman of the International Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party.

Järv then provided a history of how the protocol had been used, debated and supressed for half a century, eloquently demonstrating the many similarities between how the protocol was used by the USSR against the Baltic states and Finland. As a consequence of the protocol the USSR established the Finnish People's Government/Finnish Democratic Republic. The Soviet Air Force dropped the text of a treaty between the USSR and its new Finnish republic, i.a. on the unit in which Harry Järv served. Järv thus himself could pick up a fresh copy of this treaty. And here comes a quote from Järv on its effect on the Finnish troops: "I know of not a single example of it [the treaty] having had the desired effect" (my translation from Swedish). To make a long story short the Finnish puppet state of Stalin became a very strong motivation in the fight FOR Finland. Ultimately Finland, because of its incredible resistance, became the exception to the rule, the lone survivor of the secret protocol of August 23. Large territories had to be given up but the main body of Finland could go on as an independent and democratic state.

Bearing in mind the bloody history of "spheres of influence" and "People's Republics" it will be interesting to observe how the 75th anniversary of the secret protocol will (not) be remembered in different countries.

Harry Järv kindly obliged to my request to contribute a photograph from one of his patrols to Swedes at War. It is probably the strongest photo in the book (it is not the photo at the top of this blog post).

Friday, August 01, 2014

Russian Great War Mystery

In this former prison in Karlskrona, Sweden, one of Russia´s first aviators was imprisoned. I met and interviewed him in 1988.

Today it is exactly 100 years since Russia became part of World War One, or as it is still known in some countries, the Great War. But there is almost nothing that reminds about it in today´s Russia, although the Russians generally have a great interest in history and especially wars.

You will find a World War Two monument in just about every Russian town, and in many villages too. In large cities you will find several statues and busts commemorating WWII heroes and a T-34 tank in some public area. Museums and exhibitions about WWII are also very numerous. But the first monument about World War One was unveiled only in 2004 and the first-ever Russian World War I museum has not yet opened (but it will, in St. Petersburg). These and other signs of low interest and scanty knowledge are covered in a highly readable article in today´s English-language The Moscow Times.

Why this low interest? After all, three million Russians lost their lives during WWI. Yes, THREE million lives. The above article tries to explain this mystery and I am not saying it got things wrong but perhaps one could explain even more simply by saying that there was just zero use for WWI. It could not benefit the Soviet state in any way and "stole" attention from the "October Revolution", although one can argue that with no WWI there had also been no revolutions in 1917...

I was thinking a lot about Russia 1914-18 when I recently for the first time visited the former prison in Karlskrona (south Sweden) of Anton Nilson, the Swedish revolutionary who went to Russia during the last stage of WWI and became one of the Red Army´s first aviators. I interviewed him during five intense hours in 1988 and the result is in Swedes at War 1914-45. Part of Nilson´s former prison is now becoming an international school and part of it is a cool restaurant. You should visit it when in Karlskrona. Thanks to the kind staff I got to see several prison cells, some of which looked pretty unchanged since Anton Nilson was in the building.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

World's Greatest Cowards: Swedes?

In 1914 we Swedes celebrated 100 years of peace, should we very soon celebrate the 200th anniversary, or ignore it?

Journalists around the world are about to cover the different ceremonies commemorating the outbreak of World War One, starting in Sarajevo on June 28. Rightly so, but as a Swede dealing with war history it is my obligation to also remind about the Swedish–Norwegian War of 1814 and question the feelings about the rare peace that we have since enjoyed.

The Swedish–Norwegian War, known here in Sweden also as the Campaign against Norway, was a war fought between Sweden and Norway that broke out with a Swedish naval attack against Norway on the 26th of July 1814. It ended quickly, on the 14th of August with Norway entering into union with Sweden, but with its own parliament and constitution. That war is today of little consequence for Sweden, as the union was dissolved in 1905. But the peace we have enjoyed since 1814 can still be a hot subject, as was recently demonstrated at a debate in Stockholm when Anders Lindberg, editorial writer of Sweden´s largest newspaper, Aftonbladet, stated "neutrality is the world's most successful policy, it has spared us from wars for 200 years". This praise for neutrality was not quite correct, as Sweden since joining the EU has scrapped the principle of neutrality. However, our non-aligned policy continues, and that is most probably what Mr. Lindberg had in mind. The reaction to these words from Erik Helmerson, editorial writer at Dagens Nyheter, our largest morning paper, was scathingly self-critical: "Sure, if success is that others sacrifice their lives for our sake - then neutrality is a mega-hit".

I would say that both Mr. Lindberg and Mr. Helmerson have missed some key parts of Swedish history. For example, we were not neutral when our neighbour Finland was attacked in 1939. But the help that the Swedish government provided was not flaunted and the full scale of it only became known decades after the war. Also in 1941-44 the Swedish government allowed a volunteer movement for Finland and made it possible for Swedish officers to serve Finland. Perhaps not that many Swedish lives were laid down for Finland 1939-44, 117 lives to be exact. But let´s not forget neither them nor the around thousand Swedish lives lost in Allied supply convoys and military units 1939-45. Most were not in Allied armies but on ships under various flags. However, the Norwegian memorial in Oslo for the around hundred Swedes who died for Norway 1940-45 makes no difference at all between those that died in the Norwegian Merchant Navy and those that died on battlefields in Norway and Normandy. So, there is no reason for us to differentiate, a life is a life.

The number of Swedes who died for Finland or in Allied convoys may largely be described as volunteers and the figures pale when one compares to the war dead of other countries. But one must not forget that the Swedish state facilitated both categories and the number of Swedish sailors who assisted the Allies, 8,000, just cannot be regarded as insignificant.

Let us now look back at August 1914, when Europe was largely at war but we Swedes celebrated our first century of uninterrupted peace by erecting an 18 metre tall monument on the border between Sweden and Norway to celebrate 100 years of peace between our countries. There is a book in English that provides us with a unique view of the ceremony that day, Scandinavia in the First World War edited by Claes Ahlund. I know of no similar book in any language, as it provides insights into several very little known subjects like the intelligence and counter-intelligence war in Scandinavia, the 26,000 (sic!) ethnic Danes in the German military, the 1,100 Scandinavian volunteers in Australian (!) uniform and the immense losses of the Scandinavian merchant ships in 1914 and 1918 - Norway alone lost 829 ships. Yes, that´s right, 829 ships.

Scandinavia in the First World War really is a must if you want to get to know Scandinavia in 1914-18 and also paints vital background for the stance in 1939 - not joining the warring sides had worked in 1914-18, so why change that basic strategy? Just bear in mind that Scandinavia in the First World War is not a regular history book but exactly what the subtitle says: Studies in the War Experience of the Northern Neutrals. A more regular history of Scandinavia in 1914-18 has yet to be written and should preferably include more about Finland and thus be called something like The Nordics and the First World War. A parting tip to those who eventually will write that book, check out Swedes at War.

Finally, should we on the 14th of August celebrate that it will then be - unless the Ukraine War of 2014 turns into something much bigger - 200 years since we were officially at war with another state? Shouldn´t we rather ignore the coming anniversary, considering the many abroad that sacrificed their lives for our sake? Well, aside from that more than a thousand Swedes lost their lives for others, i.e. Finland and the Allies, let me quote the British ambassador to Sweden during WWII, Sir Victor Mallet: "Swedish neutrality was of far greater value to us than a Swedish act of suicide in 1940 would have been."

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Kid That Ignited World War One

Sarajevo, where it all started.

In less than tree weeks it will be exactly 100 years since the assassination in Sarajevo that ignited World War One. Gregor Mayer has helped me better understand this event.

The whole thing started with a kid firing two bullets from a Belgian-made Fabrique Nationale model 1910 pistol. It may seem like the simplest of facts, but the age of the Sarajevo assassins of June 28 1914... the age! For some reason it just did not get to me before I had picked up the new book Conspiracy in Sarajevo by Gregor Mayer. The main assassin, Gavrilo Princip, was 19 when he shot the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg. Take away Princip´s moustache and what remains is a kid, even more apparent when you see not just his face. Some of Princip´s helpers were even younger. Perhaps one shouldn´t focus too much on the age of the assassins - as behind the historic action of the young Bosnian Serbs stood older men, members of the secret military society best known as the Black Hand - officers of the Serbian Army. But I still think the age of the assassins says something, like that one has to attract young men (kids) for extreme deeds.

Was the First World War truly a result of the actions of some students? Formally there is little doubt about this but Gregor Mayer also writes that the Austro-Hungarian Empire viewed the assassination as a "welcome reason" for a long contemplated punitive drive against Serbia. In other words, had there been no Gavrilo Princip there would sooner or later nevertheless have been some other action that would have prompted Austria-Hungary to declare war against Serbia, thus setting off the chain reaction that became World War One.

But there did exist a Gavrilo Princip, and thus the story of his short life and motivations should long since be well known. However, while much has been written about the assassination, the actual killer has until now not been the subject of a modern biography such as Gregor Mayer´s. Doctor Martin Pappenheim studied the imprisoned Princip and his notes were published in 1926 - everyone who has read them, raise your hand... Of course, Doctor Pappenheim´s notes are often quoted in Conspiracy in Sarajevo.

What emerges from Gregor Mayer´s book is that Princip was greatly motivated by other assassins who went before him and also by the fact that he had not been allowed to become a soldier. Mayer provides the reader with a strong picture of Princip´s final years as well as the environment in which he grew up. It is also remarkable to read the words from Princip´s trial in October 1914 and about what it is like today in Princip´s home village of Gornij Obljaj.

Right now Sarajevo is preparing for the WWI anniversary, a large photo of Gavrilo Princip can be seen on the site of the assassination, on a banner somewhat strangely proclaiming "The street corner that started the 20th century".

So far, Conspiracy in Sarajevo is only available in German, as Verschwörung in Sarajevo: Triumph und Tod des Attentäters Gavrilo Princip. But aside from hardcover format it is also available as an e-book.

Friday, June 06, 2014

The Last Living Normandy Swede

The Last Living Normandy Swede fought in a British uniform with Polish insignia, together with the Canadian Army. Here a clip from the Canadian D-Day film "Storming Juno".

I am glad I was sort of wrong. When I wrote my post "D-Day Swedes Forgotten in Sweden" I said I was "sorry to say that we believe that now every Swedish citizen who took part in D-Day has passed away".

Well, yesterday I came to think of that I didn´t have the obituary for Karl Habsburg, a Swedish-Polish volunteer in Normandy. He did not land in Normandy on June 6, but definately was in combat in Normandy and that is more important than the date he arrived. I believed I had heard or read somewhere that he had passed away. But then I checked the net and found out he is still very much alive and I thus could provide a tip for the Swedish daily DN, that today published this article about the Swedes in Normandy. He joined the Polish Army in Britain quite late, in early 1944 via the Polish embassy in Stockholm who put him on a plane of the secret US airline between Sweden and the UK. Although he got no lengthy training he managed to join the 1st Polish Armoured Division in time for the great invasion. His first combat experience was the battle for Caen, where the Poles fought together with the Canadians.

Quite fittingly I today remembered my veteran friends and trips to Normandy by for the first time ever watching "Storming Juno", the Canadian D-Day film (in Sweden called "D-dagen 6 juni 1944"). I must say I was favourably impressed by both the manuscript, cast and look of the movie. It differs from the previous D-Day films not just by totally focusing on the Canadians but also by not having a main hero charachter but rather telling the story of three small units, one airborne, one armoured and one infantry. The teamwork within these units but also between the units. Finally the focus shifts to the surviving (2010) veterans and this is done in a wonderful way.

I have previously blogged about "My Way", a strong war movie that ends with telling the basically true story of the many foreigners (in this case two Koreans!) in German uniform in Normandy. But what is still missing is a full movie about Normandy from a German perspective ("The Last Days of Rommel" is partially about Normandy but not enough IMHO). One could also wish for a French perspective (or is there such a movie?) and why not eventually a movie about Swedes in Normandy?

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

D-Day Swedes Forgotten in Sweden

Swedish volunteer paratrooper Gösta Wollin was one of the very first to drop over Normandy, some minutes before it was actually D-Day. PHOTO: Karin Wollin

This Friday will be the last D-Day anniversary with a fairly large number of veterans taking part. In 2024 there may still be some veterans around, but very few fit enough to be in Normandy. It made me rather sad in 2004 that our own D-Day veterans got no media attention. Will 2014 be better?

Yes, Sweden too has D-Day participants to remember. I am not talking about Americans of Swedish descent now, but men born in Sweden and who actively were a part of D-Day. But how is that possible considering that Sweden did not fight as a nation in WWII? Well, it is all explained in Swedes at War but to summarize, hundreds took part as seamen in the D-Day invasion fleet under various flags. In addition, there were men born in Sweden serving in various Allied combat units that were landed on the now world famous landing beaches or, landed by parachute or took part in D-Day as fighter or bomber pilots. How many we can still only guess, a hundred seems very plausible. If one limits oneself to those who in 1944 were still Swedish citizens, then the figure may be just a dozen, but on the other hand some more Swedish citizens arrived in Normandy in the days following D-Day.

How many Swedes were there on the other, German, side in Normandy? We have identified three, in three different divisions of the Waffen-SS. Although few they too are described in our book.

I had the great fortune to find and communicate with the probably very first volunteer from Sweden to arrive with the Allies in Normandy, Gösta Wollin from Ystad in Skåne (in southernmost Sweden). He is pictured above in his US airborne cap. Against all odds he was able to join the US 82nd Airborne Division and parachuted with them over Sainte-Mère-Église on June 5, 1944.

If one broadens the definition of Swede to all those that were called "Swede" because of their name and roots, well then several thousand such Swedes were landed in Normandy. One of them you have probably some knowledge of. If you have seen the movie "Saving Private Ryan" you remember the role played by Tom Hanks, right? He portrays the commander of Charlie Company of the 2nd Rangers. Well, in real life that commander´s name was not John Miller, as Tom Hanks is called in the famous movie, but Ralph Goranson. He was the son of a Swede who left Mönsterås in Småland to start a new life in the US of A, his mother was from Norway. I had the privelege of being in touch with Ralph Goranson by mail during his final years. Our book Swedes at War made the fact of Ralph Goranson´s important contribution on D-Day known in the Swedish language and a local paper in Småland followed up on our book´s words about him, but no national Swedish newspaper has yet done so, not even when he died in 2012.

It was similar with William Yngve Anderson from Kramfors. He took part in D-Day as a P-51 Mustang pilot - see the book cover in the above right corner. All his planes were painted with "Swede´s Steed". My co-author and I were first to document in a book that he was Sweden´s only flying ace - but he has so far never been mentioned in any Swedish nationwide newspaper.

But it is of course not too late to show these men respect and it is therefore with great joy that I can report that 69 former Swedish parachute rangers trained at FJS in Karlsborg, 23 to 72 years old, will be paying tribute to the paratroopers of D-Day by jumping this Friday over Normandy. It will also be the largest ever drop abroad of FJS-trained Swedes. It is a most suitable tribute because one of the founders of FJS was Erik Lewenhaupt from Stockholm, who parachuted over Normandy on June 6, 1944. So, thanks to the commemorative jump on Friday, I reckon at least Erik Lewenhaupt will get some recognition in our media.

Another thing that made me happy the other day is the news that Swedes at War is now available not just as a large paperback in Swedish and English but also on Kindle, in English only so far, both in the US, in the UK and also as an ePUB via iTunes.

Note that the above figures about Swedish citizens on the Allied/German sides relate to Normandy on D-Day. The total figures for all areas of operations 1939-45 are more than 1,000 Swedes in various ground, naval and air units on the Allied side (above all Norwegian units) and 8,000 in the Norwegian, British etc Merchant Marine - in comparison with 200 Swedes in different German units. There were also Swedes on tankers in the Baltic supporting the German Navy but these sailors (about 500) were not in the German Navy or Merchant Navy but on chartered Swedish ships.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Pre-enacting Pro-Russian Partisan War

This slick video of a future pro-Russian partisan hero in Ukraine has so far had over half a million views.

As has just been pointed out by Ukrainians on Twitter, Russia is now more or less demanding that Ukraine becomes the opposite of what Russia is. Will this lead to something like the scenario in the above clip?

The Russian state is a centralized state with weak minority rights and no secession rights - not even the republics within Russia have the possibility to hold a referendum like the one that was just held in Crimea with a little help from some "polite people in camouflage" or "martians" now known also in Russia as the Russian Armed Forces. However, Russia now wants Ukraine to become the opposite of what Russia is, i.e. Ukraine ought to be a decentralized state with strong minority rights and secession rights.

There are many details in the above partisan clip that merit comment. It was released on Youtube on March 4 and has soon had 600,000 views. It is striking not only for the most professional production but also many military and political details. The music is Cuban (celebrating Fidel Castro) and the setting Cold War Two, but what the story is about is rather a sort of continuation of World War Two in the near future, when there exists a pro-Russian "Donetsk Republic", as indicated by the passport of the die-hard partisan fighter. The title of the neat mini-film in English would be something like "They Came In Vain". "They" of course being Ukrainian fascists.

As far as I know, no western media has so far discussed "They Came In Vain", nor its predecessor, last year´s Youtube-hit about a civil war in Ukraine in 2015, that was actually produced in early 2012!

I would like to see comments re. the many details in "They Came In Vain" and links to relevant articles. I have already found some in Russian (on Fontanka and KP) but would very much like to read more thoughts.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Swedish Special Forces Snatch Kremlin Secret

Probable inspirational source.

You have never before heard of SABBA. That is because SABBA is the most lethal, small and ultra-secret special forces unit in the world. This elite of the elite of the elite consists of Captain K. Karlsson, Private M. Karlsson and Private Karlsson-on-the-Roof and has just returned by submarine from the ultimate raid.

SABBA got to the Kremlin by parachuting from outer space. Their raid was so successful and so unbelievably stealthy that not even the NSA knows about it until the publication of this blog post.

In the innermost situation room of the Kremlin the Ninja-Vikings found a USB marked SMERSH-SECRET. It contained the soundtrack for a future 3D movie to be called “Putin´s Heroes”. The main theme has a slight resemblance to the theme song of an old American motion picture about WWII (see the clip above). The lyrics - by one “A. Dugin” and to be sung by “the N. Wolves´ Choir” - have just been translated by Swedish military linguists. Here we go:

Obama & Bildt tried to warn me
But I held my head up high
All the time they phoned me
But I only passed them by
They also tried to tweet me
But I guess I didn't care
I burned my iPhone and
Left them shaking there

All the burning bridges that have fallen after me
All the great feelings and the burning memories
Everyone I left behind each time I closed the door
Burning bridges lost forevermore

Yanuk tried to help me get a country
A while ago
When I first lost it I didn't want to go
The spin Nuland gave to me
Really made my day
Now there's nothing left for me to say

All the burning bridges that have fallen after me
All the great feelings and the burning memories
Everyone I left behind each time I closed the door
Burning bridges lost forevermore


Now, seriously speaking, I have very strong feelings about what is happening in Ukraine. I love both Ukraine and Russia. I once even respected Vladimir Putin. FYI I have partly translated and also edited a book that perhaps better than any other book in English explains Ukraine´s 20th century: Victims, Victors.

What is happening is in my opinion insane and one of the greatest tragedies of the early 21st century. I can in no way see how invading Ukraine will be of any benefit to Russia. In fact, I can´t even see how it could be of any lasting benefit to the Kremlin. But instead of writing a serious blog post about my feelings I decided to try something else, inventing a crazy soundtrack for a particularly crazy war. And it is getting real hard to think up new crazy ideas now that Russian state media are using a dozen unarmed Swedes in their propaganda against Ukraine, to quote the Voice of Russia: “The rebel government in Ukraine is not even able to exercise sovereignty within its own borders, as Swedish Neo-Nazi groups have now begun to enter the country for militant training”. Note that the tiny Swedish volunteer group, a dozen guys, has even been transformed into “groups”. In spite of the microscopic size this group has even been debated in the Russian Federation Council: “Today's meeting of the Federation Council was an incredible sight to behold. Man after Soviet-looking man mounted the podium to deliver a short diatribe against...you name it. Against Ukrainian fascism, against Swedes…” Even after attention in several Swedish newspapers and on TV the “Swedish Ukraine volunteers” have just 245 followers on Facebook (March 3). There's nothing left for me to say…

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Swedish Volunteers In Crimea

The grave of a major in the Red Army, born and raised in Sweden. He served in Crimea.

Crimea is back in the news for sure. Balaclavas worldwide are only one largely forgotten reminder of how much Crimea has meant for military history. I happen to have met a Swedish SS-volunteer who was in Crimea and I have stood by the grave (see above) of a Swede who was on the opposing side there...

The name "balaclava" comes from the town of Balaklava near the magnificent city of Sevastopol. The HQ of both the Ukrainian Naval Forces and Russia's Black Sea Fleet are located in this city... Other reasons for Crimea´s military fame is the Charge of the Light Brigade, later this year it will be 160 years ago. The charge took place during the same war that produced the balaclava, the Crimean War of 1853-1856. Oddly enough a woman is the best remembered person from that war, i.e. in English-speaking countries. Her name: Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing. She came to prominence while serving as a nurse in the Crimean War.

During the Russian Civil War of 1917-1923 Crimea changed hands a number of times. It was in Crimea that some of the bloodiest fighting took place, plus mass executions.

During WWII Crimea was in the big news both during 1941, 1942 and 1945. Sevastopol held out against the Germans from October 1941 until 4 July 1942 when the Germans finally captured the city. In spite of that great loss the Crimean mountains remained a resistance stronghold until the end of the German occupation of Crimea. BTW the SS had all sorts of loony ideas about the mystic significance of Crimea. Finally, the Yalta Conference, also called the Crimea Conference, held in February 1945, was the BIG World War II meeting that deciced a lot about post-war Europe.

Now, in February 2014, there is talk about Swedish Nationalists/National Socialists on their way to Ukraine to support the nationalist party Svoboda as foreign volunteers. Although a fighting role is not promised by the organizers their words about volunteers ring familiar and I would therefore like to remind of the last time Ukraine, and especially Crimea, saw Swedish volunteers. Those volunteers are documented in English in Swedes at War (in Swedish Svenskar i krig) by Lennart Westberg and yours truly. What will probably come as surprise for most readers of the book is that in Ukraine there were Swedes both in the Waffen-SS and in the Red Army. The highest ranking of the latter, Anders Gustafsson (photo above), served in Crimea. Another fact is that most Swedish-speakers who fought in Ukraine were not volunteers but had been drafted. They were from the rather unknown Swedish minority group in Ukraine. Some fought in the Wehrmacht and some in the Red Army.

Thus, you will by now understand my great interest in the area. But let me mention another reason - that the Crimean War, in spite of its name, managed to spread both to the Baltic and the Arctic. In fact, even the Russian Kola Peninsula was shelled by the Royal Navy as a part of the Crimean War. Considering the many and very dispersed battles of that war the name of the war is quite misleading.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Swedish Divers Located WWII Weapons

I was just interviewed by the local paper Bärgslagsbladet/Arboga Tidning about a WWII story they are currently doing. A smaller local paper has reported with photographs that divers have located both German and Italian WWII weapons dumped in a lake.

Some minutes ago I verified that the photographed weapons indeed are of Italian and German origin. But I sure would like to know more how they got from North Africa to Sweden. In Spökpatrullen/Ghost Patrol about the Long Range Desert Group, written by Karl-Gunnar Norén and yours truly, both the depicted Italian and German weapons are to be found. Seems like Sweden was visited by the Long Range Dumping Group...

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Afghanistan War Ended 25 Years Ago

A photo I took of my fellow tankers reading about the end of the war in Afghanistan.

Today my mind is wandering back to my tanker days 1988-89, at the start of which the Soviet Army was still very much present in Afghanistan. Today it is exactly 25 years since the last Soviet tankers left that country.

I thought it was something special to read about the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan during one of our last exercises in Arctic Sweden, and therefore I took the above photo. The main headline on the front page of our conscript magazine simply reads "Slutet" i.e. "The End" with a Soviet soldier and flag. Since then I have read quite a few books about war in Afghanistan and the strongest ones I have described in this post, save one. I´d like to add Afgantsy, The Russians in Afghanistan 1979-89 by Rodric Braithwaite, a book that I mention and recommend in my latest book (so far only available in Swedish).

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The THREE Swedish Lenin Monuments

Also a monument of sorts, the Soviet book in Swedish about Lenin in Sweden.

Today page two of Sweden´s largest morning paper, Dagens Nyheter, is largely about Vladimir Lenin in Stockholm. The online article mentions nothing about the monument in Stockholm to the memory of his visit on April 13, 1917.

However, in the paper edition there is a small item about the Stockholm Lenin monument, located by the main entrance of the Museum of Modern Art, in Swedish Moderna museet. But neither online nor on paper is there any mention of the other two Lenin monuments we have here in Sweden. One of them is well known among locals and is also present on the internet, the 3,7 meter tall Lenin statue in Vittsjö in Hässleholm Municipality in southernmost Sweden. The third one is the least known one, because I have found nothing about it in any books, nor anything online. So, let me hereby present the "unknown" Swedish Lenin memorial plaque, inside the railway station in Haparanda on the border Sweden-Finland.

The text on the Lenin plaque in Haparanda states: "Here Lenin passed through Haparanda on April 15, 1917 on his way from exile in Switzerland to Petrograd in Russia". Click on the photo to view it a bit larger.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Swedish Marines, Who Are They?

Swedish marines conquering the world without a shot being fired.

The "Grease Lightning" video made by Swedish marines in Afghanistan has within a few days been watched by millions around the globe. But are there really marines in Sweden? Well, sort of. I have written about them in two of my books, one of them available in English.

Strictly speaking, Sweden has no marines. But it does have amphibious soldiers belonging to the now (sadly) only 1-battalion strong Amphibious Corps. In Swedish this type of soldier is called an amfibiesoldat and we have become rather used to this expression - it came about in the year 2000 when the Amphibious Corps was created from the Coastal Artillery.

But saying "amphibious soldier" sounds a bit strange as there are already two designations in the English language for this type of soldier, i.e. marine and naval infantryman. Thus the unofficial and more practical "Swedish marines".

I have written a book explaining the history and traditions of all Nordic elite units (Elitförband i Norden) including of course the Amphibious Corps, but it is not yet available in English. However, Swedes at War, available in English since 2010, does include some spectacular Swedish marines, such as Maths Holmström, decorated with the Order of the French Legion of Honour. Another extraordinary person in our book is Kurt Björklund, who as a Swedish volunteer in No. 6 Commando, Royal Marines, stepped ashore in Normandy on June 6, 1944.

One of the largest photos in Swedes at War actually shows three Swedish marines not unlike the now world-famous dancing Swedish marines. These marines are in the chapter "Sequels and Successors" and are shown on patrol in Chad in 2008. These kind of UN/NATO/EU-missions have largely replaced the wars in which Swedes volunteered in 1914-1945.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Stalingrad and Karelia News

The big Soviet war movie of 1975 - now with English subtitles.

Attention all students of the Eastern Front and Finland in WWII: there are some new sources and a new exhibition to check out.

Mosfilm has put several complete Soviet films on Youtube, some with English subtitles. Just click on the above to watch the first half of "They Fought for Their Country" a classic 1975 Soviet war film directed by Sergei Bondarchuk. The film lets you follow a Soviet platoon fighting a rearguard action during the German drive on Stalingrad. For more old Mosfilm movies just check out the official Mosfilm site on Youtube.

My colleague Bair Irincheev, the author of several books that I have reviewed, has recently opened a permanent exhibition in Vyborg (in Finnish Viipuri and in Swedish Viborg) called "Karelian Isthmus 1939-44 Wars". I have not yet been there myself but from visiting Bair´s page about the exhibition I reckon it is a must if you are in the area.

Finally, fellow tank buffs, Bair is now also the author of a book so new I have not yet received it, but it looks promising: "Tanki v Zimney voinye", which translates as "Tanks in the Winter War". Any chance it might be translated, Bair?

Monday, January 06, 2014

The Rise of the Eurasian Union

Popular clip warning Ukrainians of civil war, NATO intervention (above you see German troops) and stressing the necessity of the Eurasian Union.

Imagine it was less than a year before the launch of the European Union but almost no journalists reported about it. Does that sound impossible? Well, I would argue that we in the EU member states and the United States are now living in that kind of media situation.

The 2013 mass protests in Ukraine resulted in thousands of news reports in English and hundreds in my native Swedish. A fair number of them mentioned the background of the EU’s Eastern Partnership versus the Russian-led Customs Union. Not that many mentioned the underlying vision of the Eurasian Union and, here is my point, only very few western media reports have explained what the Eurasian Union vision is, where it comes from and how close it is to being launched, i.e. January 1, 2015. The launch was again verified by Vladimir Putin himself, as a little Christmas present.

One of the few English-language journals to have realized the importance of the rise of the Eurasian Union is European Business Review (EBR). Shortly before Christmas EBR interviewed British Liberal MEP Sir Graham Watson, who frankly told EBR:

"One of the main problems with ENP [European Neighbourhood Policy] is Russia, and how we deal with the rise of the Eurasian Union, which has become the elephant in the room. We need to be cannier in how we respond to Russia's overtures to our Eastern neigbours which are likely to be in full gear from the Sochi Olympics up to the launch of Eurasian Union in January 2015."

Former German Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor Joschka Fischer on December 31 commented under the headline "Europe’s Ukrainian Blunder" in a most undiplomatic manner, seeing threats to "post-Soviet order in Europe" and "a lot of violence".

EU security "does not capture the reality of today’s world” said Spain´s former Foreign Minister Ana Palacio.

That is what I call being frank.

Still, no big debate in "normal" media about the conflicting visions and projects of the EU and the Russian-led Eurasian Union.

Well, today at least a leading political risk consultancy, the Eurasia Group, published some sound conclusions about Russia in its "Top Risks 2014" guide. I especially agree with "The implications of an all-powerful leader with a shrinking support base and a flair for the unpredictable are worrisome". The following I do not agree with: "Policy has already become more erratic and lacking in strategic vision". But that doesn´t at all change how valid I find this later recommendation: "Look for brash geopolitical behavior from Russia in 2014".

BTW, if you haven´t yet read the article "Can a China-Russia Axis Bankrupt the US?", just do it...

Finally, two of the most important Youtube clips from 2013 regarding the Eurasian Union, the first one (promoting the union as the only viable solution) both in Russian and with a voice-over in English (the clips are the same although the first images differ). The last clip, "Euromaidan Anthem", has subtitles in English and features some of the strongest images from Ukraine last year:

Saturday, January 04, 2014

RIP John Gustafsson

John Gustafsson having a frontline haircut.

Today a Swedish veteran of the Winter War of 1939-40 was laid to rest. There were not many of them left in 2013 and now John Gustafsson is no longer with us.

I met John for the first time at a military ceremony last year, he was still quite fit then and invited me to visit him in his home in Boden. I am glad I made it in time and could chat with him, get some things checked and see his photographs (one here above). What was very unusual with John's service as a Swedish volunteer in Finland was that he first belonged to the artillery in Vasa. The vast majority of Swedes then served in Lapland. In the next Finnish war, the Continuation War, he served too, in the Swedish Volunteer Company.

Thank you for letting me ask those questions and rest in peace! To any family members of John Gustafsson reading this, my condolences to you.