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

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.

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