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

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Parachute Containers For Christmas

WWII parachute containers still in situ. From new book "Norges tack till Sverige".

As a reader of this blog you might recall that I have quite often mentioned the parachute operations around Narvik. Amazingly, the not-that-hard-to-find parachute container that I blogged about back in 2010 is still (2016) in situ. Finding any kind of traces of WWII still out in the open is a memorable experience, but finding airborne-related materiel is special indeed.

A new book about Norway and Sweden during WWII shows how parachute containers still today can also be found in situ in Vassfaret, south Norway - see the above photos. I am also glad to see that Swedish Narvik veteran Jan Danielsen is mentioned in the book, entitled Norway´s Thanks To Sweden (In Swedish: Norges tack till Sverige). Generally speaking, the book is filled with WWII in Scandinavia facts, photos and other illustrations. And now comes the most unexpected part - the book is directly available as a free e-book on the new English/Swedish website www.norgestack.se

The kings of Norway and Sweden are on the cover with the "police troops" stone.

The authors, Mats Wallenius and Anders Johansson, have done a great deal to make Swedish covert and not-so-covert support for Norway during WWII more known to the general public. Their work can also be seen out in the open in Stockholm, as they were key persons behind this year´s move of the huge Norwegian "police troops" stone, taken from the Norwegian resistance stronghold Vassfaret (where many parachute containers were dropped). Now, thanks to the move, more residents and guests in Stockholm can see and touch a big piece of Scandinavian WWII history that hopefully will contribute to a broader understanding of Sweden´s support for Norway.

Yours truly by the Norwegian "police troops" memorial. PHOTO: Ella Gyllenhaal

So, during the coming holidays, do please visit www.norgestack.se

Wishing you a Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 09, 2016

The Strangest Winter War Volunteer

Winter War volunteer Otto von Zwehl. Photo from the book cover.

While researching for Swedes at War 1914-1945 I came across some pretty unexpected foreign volunteers for Finland during the Winter War of 1939-40. But I missed one very remarkable German who defied both Hitler and Stalin, only to later return to German service in spite of being considered partly Jewish. The first book about him is now out.

The Winter War had an attraction similar to the Spanish Civil War, it made people volunteer from near and far. Just two examples: the US President’s son Kermit Roosevelt recruited a “Finnish Legion” in London that went to Finland with 230 legionnaires. The elderly French general Clement-Grandcourt signed up as a private, but was made an officer when he arrived at the volunteer center in Helsinki. Well, now Lars Westerlund of the National Archives of Finland, author of several books about 20th century wars, has documented one of the 15 Germans who chose to fight for Finland in spite of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. For the Bavarian Otto von Zwehl this was a step that was not as strange as it may sound, as he was among the German officers who had fought for Finland back in 1918. The year after he became a Freikorps volunteer in his native country, the commander of the artillery detachment of the Freikorps Probstmayer.

What made Otto v. Zwehl´s decision to volunteer for Finland in 1939 very special indeed was that he was then both a civil servant of the Third Reich and, according to the same state, a Mischling, meaning mixed-blood, to be precise a Vierteljude ("one-quarter Jew").

As a resident of Finland since 20 years, Otto v. Zwehl felt it was his duty to volunteer for Finland when Stalin attacked on November 30, 1939. In late December 1939 his application was accepted and he was put in charge of a motorized battery of Finland Swedes. The vehicles of the unit got markings consisting of a "Z", for Zwehl, followed by a number. In Germany, the authorities were not happy - when Hitler heard of von Zwehl´s step he "blew his top". Lars Westerlund writes that Hitler then personally made sure that Otto v. Zwehl lost his German citizenship.

In record time, though, von Zwehl was granted Finnish citizenship and refused to follow the advice to emigrate to the United States.

One year later and in spite of how he has been treated by the German state, Otto v. Zwehl became a Finnish volunteer in the German Army in Finland. As a modern reader one finds this decision particularly hard to understand. Here one misses an interview quote from Otto von Zwehl. However, Lars Westerlund has managed to put together an amazing biography even though von Zwehl died in 1960. The book provides very valuable insights into Third Reich policy toward Finland, as well as the German community in Finland. This book also constitutes one of the first Nordic books about Mischlinge in German uniform during WWII, a subject pioneered by the US historian Bryan Mark Rigg.

Otto v. Zwehl is so far only available in German, as an e-book via Amazon or as a book-on-demand in Finland.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Star Wars vs Donald Trump

The Swedish Star Wars fan film "Threads of Destiny" (Director: Rasmus Tirzitis).

It is a period of civil war. But also wars called civil wars that are more international than internal. Add to this a president-elect who has repeatedly bullied in public and does not seem to understand the meaning of basic words such as sacrifice. His main slogan was one big deception, as with every passing day it becomes clearer that what he really is going to do is MAKE AMERICA ONE GREAT REALITY SHOW.

If I had a shrink, I am sure I would be told that my recent behavior is escapism. I mean, analysis of actual wars - that´s basically my livelihood. But instead of writing more I find that I have lately been writing less. I find that I am spending too much time musing about space fantasies. Such as the coming Episode 0 of Star Wars, i.e. "Rogue One", fan films like "Threads of Destiny" and films about fans like "Elstree 1976". Thanks to SciFiNow magazine I now know a lot more about how the first Star Wars movies were designed. If you suffer from the same geekness you too will want to read the SciFiNow interview by Oliver Pfeiffer with Roger Christian, one of the main designers behind the worn-aesthetic look of Star Wars (esp the first three movies). Just the story of the most iconic Star Wars weapon of them all, Luke´s lightsaber, is well worth the price of the mag (Issue 126). And guess if I´ll be getting Roger Christian´s book? The title is Cinema Alchemist: Designing Star Wars & Alien.

So, dear humanity, as I am now unable to deal with reality I wish to at least provide you with insights about Star Wars trivia.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Finnish Hurriganes in Sweden

The Finnish rock album "Stranded In The Jungle".

The other day I made an unexpected discovery in Luleå, the largest city up here. This 1978 rock album entitled "Stranded In The Jungle" by the Finnish group Hurriganes. I now understand that this album was quite different in appearance in Finland, where it also got another name.

It may seem like a misspelling in the name of the group, "Hurriganes" with a "g". But it is a kind of joke. Having listened to them now I reckon the Hurriganes can be viewed as old school rock performers. I also just learnt the band is still around. Who knows more about this cover and especially why it was not used in Finland?

The place where I bought this rock gem is Antikvariat Samlarshoppen and here is the link to their Facebook-page.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Great US Presidential Trivia From Sweden

Theodore Roosevelt, Badlands hunter and later president of the USA. Note the Tiffany bowie knife. Photo: George Grantham Baine

By coincidence (or not) I can today blog about a new and partly Swedish book in English about US presidents. It really brings home a lot of both funny, inspiring and important facts about past presidents.

99 Peculiarities of American Presidents
by Dr Fergal Donnelly and Professor Wilhelm Engström (from Uppsala, Sweden) actually is a kind of entertaining mini-history of the United States, including some military history. Among the peculiarities let me mention that one president had actually been a hangman and another one was involved in as many as 100 duels - most of which were fought to defend the honour of his wife.

Of most interest to me were the pages about Dwight "Ike" Eisenhower and Theodore Roosevelt (the Roosevelt who was president 1901-1909). It is a truly amazing story how Roosevelt finally got his Medal of Honor only in 2001, from President Bill Clinton just before he left office. It was for actions against Spanish forces in 1898! I had believed the medal was just a PR stunt by Clinton. Now I understand why it took so long. BTW, Roosevelt's first book was The Naval War of 1812, which had a great impact on the formation of the modern US Navy. I must confess that before I picked up 99 peculiarities of American presidents I was also ignorant of the fact that President Roosevelt´s eldest son, Theodore Roosevelt Jr, was the only general on D-Day to land in Normandy by sea. Some weeks later he died of a heart attack. He was 57 and had kept his heart trouble secret. Like his father would be in 2001, Theodore Roosevelt Jr. was posthumously awarded a Medal of Honor (on 28 September 1944) for his actions on D-Day.

Incidentally, I have previously blogged about the mysterious division in honour of Theodore Roosevelt that was set up by a Swedish volunteer, Ivor Thord-Gray.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Catastrophic Love

An unexpected and very moving love story. From Sweden to South Africa and back.

If you are reading this you probably know that my research, as well as this blog, is focused on conflicts. Well, lately I have become more interested in southern Africa - due to the armed conflicts there during the classic Cold War years, that involved also South African, US, Soviet and Cuban weapons & forces.

I am now going to write a bit about a South Africa book that you may be surprised to find here. It is an autobiography by a Swedish missionary, Eivor Jele. In 1963 Mrs. Jele left Sweden for South Africa. She was prepared for a lot but not to fully confront the apartheid system - nor to fall in love with a local man. This is the thing with her book, in spite of having read about the apartheid system since my school days, it was only this book that truly made me realize a number of things about the nature of the system. Aside from that, this book is a strong love story that starts with a "catastrophe". Mrs. Jele is a talented writer, and one feels both her love pains and smiles.

I cordially recommend this book to all Swedish-speakers with an interest in Africa. The title of the book would in translation be (Im)possible. It is so far only available in Swedish, as (O)möjligt. It is available through any Swedish library.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Mosul´s Swedish Commander

Uniforms of the Swedish-led Persian gendarmerie were a mix of Sweden and Persia.

The Iraqi city of Mosul is in the global news, but few are aware of the fact that a Swedish volunteer was once in command of the city. His name was Knut Killander and he was from Stockholm. He was part of the Swedish officer contingent serving in Persia between 1911 and 1916, who were split up by the outbreak of World War One.

Captain Knut Killander survived Mosul and other postings during WWI and joined an insurance business, to die peacefully in 1951. His fate is one of many strange and exotic ones in Swedes at War 1914-45, available in both English and Swedish. Some artifacts from the Swedish volunteers in Persia, such as the above headgear, can now be seen in the Army Museum in Stockholm.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The King´s Choice

The new Norwegian WWII movie "The King´s Choice".

I am really, really keen to see this new Norwegian movie, about the German invasion on April 9, 1940 and the immediate aftermath. The Norwegian king looks a lot like the real man, and everything else looks good too, at least in the above trailer.

It has after just a few weeks become Norway's most-watched film of the year. Any day now half a million Norwegians will have seen it.

Oscar stuff, perhaps?

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

German Eyes On Nordic States

Tore Pryser´s magnificent book about German intelligence in the Nordic region.

Norwegian Professor Tore Pryser´s so far probably most important book is about the German intelligence services in the Nordic states - which is also the title in Norwegian of the book in question (Tyske hemmelige tjenester i Norden). Sadly, it has not yet been translated. But if you can understand Norwegian you really should get it, as it is a goldmine.

This book differs from almost all books about WWII in the Nordic area, as it does NOT start in 1939 and it is NOT limited to one of the Nordic states. Instead, Pryser starts his original study in the early 1930s and looks at how Nazism in the Nordic states, although small, was the foundation for much of the northern activities of the German secret services. Not being limited in scope to Norway, Pryser is also able to tell the full story - as northern German intelligence operations not seldom were cross-border ops.

Another great bonus with this book is that it does not stop in 1945 but rather in 1950. The book also looks at German war aims and war plans, e.g. against Sweden.

So, if you have a serious interest in Nordic WWII history, Tyske hemmelige tjenester i Norden is a real must.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Spanish Civil War & Narvik

One of the about 200 Norwegians who fought in Spain 1936-39.

The Swedish cover photo of the unknown Norwegian member of the International Brigades in Spain is one of several links between Sweden and the about 200 Norwegians in the Spanish Civil War. But this book also is a good reminder about Narvik.

The title of the book Tusen dager. Norge og den spanske borgerkrigen (“A thousand days. Norway and the Spanish Civil War”) is explained by the fact that the war lasted 989 days. I like the poetic title, and I am very impressed by all the history and photographs that the authors have dug up. The book´s authors Jo Stein Moen and Rolf Saether tell the story of how the Spanish Civil War affected Norway, and recount the experiences of the about 200 Norwegian volunteers - of which most were on the side of the republic. As is the case with the about 550 Swedish volunteers in Spain, only a small number fought on Franco´s side. In Norway´s case it was seven men. Although few, they too are covered in the book, not least the later SS-volunteer Per Imerslund.

The authors estimate that about 50 Norwegians died for the republic, slightly more than previously thought. In other words, every fourth Norwegian died. On this very day, the tenth of October, in the year 2000, the last surviving Norwegian veteran passed away.

Gladly, not just the International Brigades are covered, but also the joint Swedish-Norwegian hospital on the republican side. Not that many years ago I was talking to its last surviving member.

The book also describes what happened afterwards and I especially appreciate the part about the Spanish Civil War veterans who fought at Narvik 1940. In the war cemetery there rest 118 members of the French Foreign Legion - 16 of them are Spanish.

There is a website about the book, with a section in English - here is the link to that section.

I hereby would like to tell the authors how sorry I am it took so very long until I could review your fine book.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Major New Book About WWII Norway

Norway has been blessed with a number of really good WWII history books in recent years. The latest one that I find to be a real milestone is a WWII history of the Trondheim region. It has so many new and interesting photos that even if you don´t read Norwegian you should get it, provided you have a keen interest in Scandinavia during WWII.

The title in translation is The Bunker: Trondheim Under The Swastika and the authors are Karl H. Brox, Hermann Hansen and Knut Sivertsen. I agree with the authors that from the viewpoint of the German military, Trondheim, not Oslo, was the most important city in occupied Norway. But the book is both about the fighting in the area in 1940 and what happened afterwards. What strikes me as the book´s main strength, aside from the fantastic photos, is that it is the result of not years but decades of research. The collaboration of many Norwegians, the grandiose plans to remake Trondheim into a major German/Germanic city, info about little known German units - its all in this impressive book.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

How Sweden Became A Space & Drone Nation

Sweden´s space pioneer hanging in the ceiling of the Vidsel museum.

Some of the most amazing museums are those that are generally not open. Such is the status of the museum of the Vidsel Test Range in Swedish Lapland. This test range is a Swedish strategic national test and evaluation asset. The museum tells the little known stories of how Sweden became a space and drone nation.

Thanks to Mr. X I recently got the opportunity to visit a museum few outside of the aerospace industry get to visit, the Vidsel Test Range Museum. It is probably the only place in the world reminding about the first Swedish rocket launch into space. The rocket in question was a US-made Arcas rocket launched from a place called Nausta, in 1961 - i.e. 55 years ago. Not that much has been written about the launch since then and the nickname it got at the time is just about forgotten now: "Plutnik". Aside from the similarity with Sputnik the name indicates something small and cute.

The Vidsel Test Range Museum preserves many unique machines but sadly I was in a hurry and therefore can only present one more - but it is a milestone: Sweden´s first drone, the target drone RB01 Jindivik. I think the year of its first Swedish flight may surprise you, 1959. Also, few will guess the manufacturer: the Australian Government Aircraft Factories (GAF).

Sweden´s first drone and yours truly.

Yes, those are reindeer and I am not sure what they signify.

Thank you, folks, for letting me in, and the photo permit. For more photos from the museum, visit this Vidsel website (in Swedish).

Want some more little-known Swedish history? Then how about how many German aircraft the Swedish Armed Forces shot down just in 1940, or how more Swedish citizens have died for jihad than for Hitler.

Friday, July 29, 2016

German Paratrooper Bicycle Mystery

Very rare and, being made for paratroopers, collapsible: a Fallschirmjäger Fahrrad, in the new Narvik museum.

How did a German paratrooper bicycle end up in Narvik? I think I have seen every published photo of German paras at Narvik and have never seen them riding any kind of bike. But there certainly was such a thing as a special collapsible bicycle for German paras. Well, the rare bike was not the only surprise I got in the new Narvik War Museum.

To get to Narvik my pal Mikke and I took the train from Luleå in Swedish Lapland. Before entering Narvik itself we did a quick hike in the border area, as it still, after a dozen or so hikes, presents us with traces of WWII that we have not seen before. Not to speak of the splendid view you get from the WWII border positions. This time we saw three German positions we had missed previously and were surprised to see how, on the top Swedish position, the Swedish three crowns painted by Swedish soldiers in 1940 (!) were more easily discernible, thanks to the damp weather. I have some photos from that hike on my other blog (in Swedish but with several photos).

Moving on to central Narvik, the largest museum sign is still (July 2016) there, on what used to be the Red Cross War Memorial Museum. But the museum itself is no longer there but has transformed into the Narvik War Museum and is located across the street inside the very modern Narviksenteret, to be precise on Kongens gate 39.

Well, what about the contents? I have good news and not so good news.

Being able to see unique pieces of history real close, like the above hand-painted German mine sign, was one of the best aspects of the previous museum. Sadly, most artifacts are now behind glass. One can understand why (theft, vandalism), but nevertheless it is sad. This mine sign is one of the items still on open display.

Another fav artifact of mine is this British tropical helmet that was washed ashore in Narvik during the fierce naval battles of April 1940. Why a tropical helmet? Well, missions in tropical waters were considered highly probable for many British naval vessels - so it was part of standard kit on board.

Have you seen this type of Luftwaffe oxygen mask before? Interesting to see rare artifacts, but how about some more info about it?

A new and good aspect of the new museum is how some key facts are highlighted, like how 4 of 10 male adults in Norway 1940-45 were German soldiers or civilians in occupation duties.

Good to see how modern presentation technology is used to explain the fighting around Narvik.

Also good to see the very first Victoria Cross ( but a replica?) awarded during WWII, beside which are these, the last words of the recipient, Captain Bernard Warburton-Lee. However, his last name is incorrect in this place in the museum ("Warbourton") while in the other place it is correct.

Also interesting to see badges of units for Georgian, Russian and Norwegian "volunteers" (some were genuine, some not) in German military and construction service in Norway. But what about some more info and photos? This is a part of the occupation years that one would like to know more about.

Well, here there are several errors in the text. To start with these are not "service badges" but campaign shields, and German soldiers did simply not "...get badges for each battle they participated in". There were not even a dozen campaign shields. But the Narvik shield was the first one.

The French Hotchkiss tank that previously was outside the museum is now on the bottom floor and part of an arty display with some sort of peace message. There is no info about the tank itself and its role in the Allied amphibious operation of May 28, 1940.

This is one of the strangest aspects of the new museum - this is all the information about the Allied bases on Swedish territory whose personnel operated well inside the Narvik region. Not even the names of the bases are mentioned (Kari, Sepals I-III).

The whole museum starts with this large size conflict cycle. Sure, it can be said to be true for many conflicts. But how relevant is it to the Narvik 1940 scenario?

Now, my main criticism about the new museum is difficult to illustrate with artifacts now on display, because, basically, it is about what is NOT there. I have no exact stats but it is clear from many visits to the previous museum that a very large part of the artifacts one could see before are no longer displayed. There are some new things, the IMHO most interesting of them in the above photos. But even when one adds the new artifacts the total number is low when compared to similar museums. Add to this that the new entrance fee, 100 NOK, is about double what it was.

Quantities aside, the new museum largely does not highlight what was and still is so special with the battle of Narvik. Before 1940 there had only been very small scale airborne operations - in the Soviet Union against Muslim insurgents. One can therefore say that the paratroopers in Narvik are part of a milestone in warfare. Right now the airborne dimension of Narvik is shown only by that paratrooper bicycle. Do keep the rare bike in the exhibition, especially if it nevertheless was in use in Narvik in 1940 (I am not excluding that but would sure like to see a photo), but please also show a paratrooper and a parachute container with contents.

Also of significance, but mainly for the Allied side: the amphibious operation against the Germans in Narvik town on May 28, 1940. Why not at least a scale model diorama of that event, highlighting the failed use of French tanks, the extremely steep landing area, and the German use of railway guns?

Then there were the impressive Norwegian and Polish infantry operations high up in the mountains (and why not explain General Fleischer´s significance?). The challenge of the mountains was well illustrated in the previous location of the museum by a 1:1 diorama, an original German mountain position that had been moved into the museum. This was one of the most impressive displays and should be possible to show on the bottom floor of the new museum.

Many of the most interesting larger artifacts in the previous museum such as a "human torpedo" and a Kettenkrad tracked motorcycle should be possible to show either in the long winding corridor to the bottom floor or on that floor.

Lots of photographs from the previous museum could easily adorn the walls of that same corridor. And why not add some info about how to get to the unique wreck of the destroyer Georg Thiele and places where you can easily still visit German and Norwegian WWII positions, e.g. Björnfjell?

Finally, how about at least a sentence about the dozen Swedish volunteers at Narvik (in Norwegian and French uniforms)? The museum has received at least one battlefield trophy from one of them, Jan Danielsen.

Basically, the museum ought to have in storage most of what is needed to improve it.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Mercenary Behind Alexander Skarsgård: The Real Tarzan Story

The man who found Tarzan, Swedish soldier of fortune Ivor Thord-Gray, and the latest person to portray Tarzan, Swedish actor Alexander Skarsgård. PHOTOS: Umeå University Research Library & Nick Step

All reviewers of the most recent Tarzan movie have so far missed a most ironic (even spooky - compare the faces above) aspect of a Swede portraying the "lord of the jungle": the origin of the Tarzan legend can be traced to a Swedish mercenary in Africa. I have researched his long and stunning career.

Alexander Skarsgård´s face is now on several magazine covers here in Sweden and many other countries too - because of his latest film role, depicting one of the oldest and most iconic action characters ever. I too have now been to the cinema and have seen "The Legend of Tarzan". This latest version of the story mostly takes place after he has spent several years in England, but it also looks back at the crucial childhood moments of John Clayton, the baby boy that after some rather rough ape training turned into the legendary Tarzan. However, nowhere in the movie or on the internet have I found anything to suggest that any film maker, critic or Skarsgård himself is aware of the Swedish origin of the Tarzan story. True, very little has been written in English about this in recent years. But if one can understand Swedish there is a book focused on this aspect, the translated title being The Man Who Found Tarzan (so far only available in Swedish, Mannen som hittade Tarzan) by Joakim Langer.

Well, who found Tarzan, or more correctly, who gave Edgar Rice Burroughs the story that he in 1912 transformed into Tarzan of the Apes? There is much that points at a man from Stockholm, Thord Ivar Hallström. His life might seem just too incredible to be true, especially coming from such a peaceful country as Sweden. But there are many thousand documents, including good photographs, in several official archives in Sweden, Britain and the United States plus private archives in several countries - all proving that Hallström, who after entering British military service in Africa became Ivor Thord-Gray, is Sweden´s most experienced soldier of fortune ever. He served under no less than 13 different flags and fought not only in Europe and Africa but also in Asia and Latin America. In Mexico, 1914, in Pancho Villa’s service, he was in charge of the artillery. During the Russian Civil War (1917-1922) he was highly decorated and rose to the rank of a Russian general in Siberia. In 1935, he was again promoted to the rank of general, this time in the United States. Fighting in hot or freezing places was not his only talent, though. Before he died he managed to conduct enough research to become a respected ethnologist and linguist. You will find more details about Thord-Gray´s military career in Swedes at War 1914-1945 by yours truly and Lennart Westberg.

The above photograph of Thord-Gray is one of several I found in his under-researched archive within the University of Umeå. It depicts him as a cavalry volunteer on the British side in South Africa. It was during these years that he took part in the capture of a human, a boy, who had been living with some baboons. Joakim Langer has found the first traces of this account in Cape Town. It was in the Mount Nelson Hotel that Thord-Gray in September 1906, thus soon 110 years ago, told a local journalist about a boy raised by apes. That interview was later quoted by American journalists. The similarities between Thord-Gray´s account in 1906 and the 1912 tale of Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs are in themselves telling. But one can also, as Joakim Langer has done, look closer at Tarzan´s noble name. Aside from being born as John Clayton he is also Lord Greystoke. In the early 20th century Thord-Gray spellt his name Thord-Grey. Lord Greystoke and Thord-Grey...

The 1906 interview with Thord-Gray about a boy raised by apes seems not yet to have appeared on the net. However, search engines can locate, in old US newspapers, this article that appeared in print the first time in May 1934:

The story of a famous fiction character, who was raised from babyhood by a tribe of apes, is entirely plausible, says Major General Ivor Thord-Gray, soldier of fortune who recently received the most valued decoration of the Swedish Government. Thord-Gray, who has campaigned and explored in a dozen countries and holds numerous decorations, related the story of a sickly eight-year-old white boy, who was seized by baboons while he was serving in the British Army at Pondoland, South Africa. The boy was being wheeled about in a perambulator by a native girl when several score of baboons swooped down upon a nearby field, where corn was ripening. The girl became frightened and fled. Soldiers drove off the animals and found the perambulator empty. The body of a young baboon lay alongside the carriage. "Well, it was not until four years later," he said, "that we got any inkling of his whereabouts." "About a day's march from camp," he said, "a sergeant came running up and told us he had discovered a hairless baboon. We followed him to the base of a. cliff and there before us was the body of a big, husky boy. his skull cracked and bleeding "The scouting party had found him among a family of baboons. The beasts, seeing the approach of the party, tried to scamper up the cliff. Most of them escaped but the boy, not as agile as the beasts, slipped and fell to the bottom. "The boy was more ferocious than the baboons. He jabbered in their language and was as wild as any ape."

Considering Ivor Thord-Gray´s words and that Tarzan now also is portrayed by a countryman of Thord-Gray, one might say that in 2016 Tarzan of the Apes earned a new title: Tarzan of the Swedes.

What I thought about the new movie? Beautiful and pretty good entertainment, but the ending is kind of...

Friday, June 10, 2016

Remains of Panzerkampfwagen 35 S Close To Sweden

Tank commander cupola from a Panzerkampfwagen 35 S, still out in the open.

I had underestimated how much there was left to see of the 1944 battles on the Finnish side of the Tornio Valley, the bilingual region situated where Sweden and Finland share a common land border. Thanks to Finnish author Mika Kulju we got to see not only WWII foxholes - some still quite deep - but also the remains of a German tank turret cupola, still out in the open.

Mika Kulju has written extensively about both the Winter War and Continuation War. It is no wonder he knows his stuff as he actually grew up on a 1944 battlefield. So, we could not have had a better guide to see physical remains of what happened around Tornio when the Finnish Army launched a surprise attack against the German troops there, in October 1944. But how did a tank from France end up in this battle??? Because the above tank commander cupola was once attached to a French tank. It was first known as Somua S 35 and 450 of them were made...

Well, the German Army in 1940 managed to capture almost 300 of these tanks and soon put them to use against new enemies, mostly the Soviets. They made some slight improvements, like cutting down the commander's observation cupola a bit and adding a two-piece hatch to it. They called the result Panzerkampfwagen 35 S. In the big French tank museum in Saumur you can see one of these, albeit painted in pre-German fashion.

The Saumur Tank Museum´s Panzerkampfwagen 35 S with the same type of cupola (on top) as in the previous photo, but plus the two-piece hatch. PHOTO: Antonov14

When the Finnish troops were confronted with this type of tank by Tornio in October 1944 they used not least German anti-tank weapons to blow them apart. In typical Finnish fashion a local citizen then decided to put the cupola to use by making it part of a sauna! Make sauna, not war... The "tank sauna", however, did not last and the cupola was chucked out in the open, where it still is in 2016.

Mika Kulju (left) with the owner of what may be the last remaining part of the German tanks that were destroyed by the Finnish Army by Tornio.

Below are some more photos to give you an idea of our trip, including a sign in Russian and Finnish on the Tornio railway station that was fought over in 1944 but had already been part of world history, when Lenin in 1917 was there on his way from exile in Switzerland to chaos in Russia.

Just what are we doing in the above photo? Well after having walked the battlefields we of course simulated the battle by playing TORNIO ´44, a board game in English produced in 2015 by a talented wargamer, Mikael Grönroos. The game is soon to be marketed in Pennan & Svärdet. Much more can be said about what we saw and learnt thanks to the generous Mika Kulju, but I am saving some special stories from this battle for a coming book of mine in English about WWII in Arctic Europe. Meanwhile, if you can read Swedish or Finnish, make sure to check out Mika Kulju´s books and then find out from TORNIO ´44 if you can "alter" history. If you haven´t seen my previous report about WWI & WWII sights in central Tornio I think you might now want to check it out.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

German Submarine U-864 Norwegian News

Excellent video update in English.

There is some good news about the wreck of the German submarine U-864, recently the subject of a book also translated into Swedish (Jakten på ubåt 864). Check out the above video update in English from the Norwegian Coastal Administration.

Friday, April 01, 2016

Joining the Legion

Nope, I have not joined the Foreign Legion and at my age I do not think I would be accepted either.

But have a good April 1st!

And... if you are interested in Swedes (and some Norwegians too) that actually were in the French Foreign Legion - then click the tag below these words that reads "Foreign Legion" and you will then see all my blog posts about the subject.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Skorzeny, Mossad & Sweden

Otto Skorzeny in Nuremberg in late 1945. Photo: NARA

Waffen-SS special operations commander Otto Skorzeny, at one point known as the most dangerous man in Europe, became one of the Israeli Mossad’s "most valuable assets". That is the assertion in the most amazing WWII story to be published in a serious newspaper in a long, long time.

The article "The Strange Case of a Nazi Who Became an Israeli Hitman" was published yesterday in Haaretz and reads almost like a Hollywood script. The newspaper and writers behind the article force one to take the story seriously in spite of how unlikely it sounds. But, what should the next steps be? Because, considering just who Skorzeny was, more commentary is necessary, and then some documents. Who to call? Well, aside from German historians I would recommend the Swedish author and journalist Niclas Sennerteg. He has recently written a most impressive book about Third Reich officers and scientists in the service of postwar Egypt: Hakkorset & halvmånen, in English it would be "The Swastika & The Crescent". My first take is that what Sennerteg has written about the disappearance of the German rocket scientist Heinz Krug and also about Skorzeny make parts of the new story not that hard to accept, but I would especially like to see more about Skorzeny himself shooting Krug.

My interest in Skorzeny goes back many years. Right here and now I will reveal that in a coming book of mine (out next year, I reckon) there will be a chapter about a Swede who opposed Skorzeny´s unit during the Battle of the Bulge.

Monday, March 21, 2016

First Star Wars Scenes Ever Were Filmed 40 Years Ago

The Star Wars Lars´ homestead interior is now also being restored by Tunisian fans.

on March 22, 1976 the actual filming for the first ever "Star Wars" movie began, in the Tunisian desert. In moviemaking language: principal photography started. As a fan mostly of the first movie, later known as Episode IV, I will of course be watching the first recorded scenes again, exactly 40 years since they were filmed. The filming happened to start at Luke Skywalker´s home, the Lars´ homestead.

Yes, the same set that a group of fans restored in 2012 and that I blogged about then. Since that project was realized a group of Tunisian fans decided to also restore the interior of the homestead, located inside the Sidi Driss Hotel in Matmata, Tunisia (do not miss the above clip made by the fans themselves).

From the book The Making of Star Wars by J.W. Rinzler one can learn about day 1 that the first scenes to be filmed included Mark Hamill as Luke, Anthony Daniels as C-3PO, Kenny Baker in the R2-D2 shell, Phil Brown as Owen Lars (uncle Owen) and twelve Tunisians, local children, as Jawas. "I got very badly cut up" Daniels remembers about day 1, and for more memories from it you really should ge Rinzler´s great (also in size) book.

As I am writing these words I feel a great urge to go back to my roots, my early motives. Because, silly as it may sound, that first Star Wars movie affected my thinking about life in several ways. Had the good fortune to be able to see it when it came out here in Sweden in late 1977.

Right now, Episode VIII is being filmed and if you are wondering how I feel about it, well - I am not that strongly interested. Certainly, I will go see it with my family. But there is no true passion in my interest - as Episode VII in my opinion was only a small improvement compared to the previous three movies (i.e. Episodes I-III). Sure, Ep. VII has some terrific scenes and as a Swede it was pretty fun to note that it opened with a Swedish actor, Max von Sydow, and ended with a Swedish American, Mark Hamill. But, all in all, I can´t help thinking of how the immense resources available to the moviemakers could have been used with a better script, one with better dialogue. Princess Leia had such wonderful lines in Ep I-III and sadly nothing came even close to them in Ep. VII. And it is not like there was a lack of dialogue out there that could have been used. Take for example Boba Fett in book 1 of the series The Bounty Hunter Wars: The Mandalorian Armor (1998) by K.W. Jeter. To quote Jeter/Fett: "They have their standards ... and I have mine".

Boba Fett is on to something.

Speaking about Tunisia, soon after seeing Star Wars (Ep. IV) I discovered another theme that I still feel passionate about: WWII special forces in North Africa. As a result, I am currently translating a book about the first of them.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

He Found Swedish Wartime Missing Links

With Carl Finstrom, instrumental in bringing to light Swedish WWII history, in 2010.

At the time of writing, a colonel of special significance for modern Swedish history is being interred at the Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington. He had a very Swedish name: Carl Gustav Finstrom (originally Finström) and his parents were from Sweden and Norway. But Carl, as he mostly was known, was a US citizen and officer. But most of all he was a gentleman.

Carl was one of the most talented persons I have met. He was born in 1936 and graduated from Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois with a bachelor's of science degree in chemistry minoring in geology. He earned several postgraduate degrees. As an officer in the US Army he experienced many different assignments, finally as a military attache in London and Stockholm. After having retired he could use more of his time to conduct research in the sphere of history (not just military) and not least in Nordic WWII history.

To me and my co-author Lennart Westberg, Carl will always be in our memories as a cheerful friend and fellow WWII researcher. Without Carl it is most doubtful if there would exist an English version of Swedes at War 1914-1945. Therefore it was a good moment in the midst of my sadness when I learnt from Carl´s wonderful wife, Joanne, that Carl in spite of his illness was able to read our sequel to that book shortly before he died.

Carl provided lots of documentation from US archives, proving the extent of Sweden´s covert and even today not fully known support for Allied WWII operations. His research work is part of two of my books and one can also see traces of Carl´s work inside two of the still standing Sepals bases here in Swedish Lapland. Thank you, Carl, for all your support and for making us glad so many times.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Deutschland 83 & Reality

One of the best sources about GDR (DDR) elite units and a cuff title for "Dzerzhinsky".

There is a lot of praise out there for the German television series "Deutschland 83" about a 24-year-old native of East Germany (GDR/DDR) who in 1983 is sent to the West as a spy for the Stasi, the East German KGB. The series has been exported to several countries and is now being shown in my native Sweden.

Evidently, a lot of people find the series very entertaining, see e.g. the Wikipedia page about it. Yes, the series does bring back a lot of 80s atmosphere - it has the "perfect" look and soundtrack. However, yours truly just can´t help thinking that here a major opportunity was missed to do better than just entertain, because I find it to be mainly amusement. It contains so many deviations from what happened in 1983 that I don´t know where to start pointing out unrealistic or simply wrong details. In short, I would say that what has been accomplished is a German series too inspired by "The Americans", the US show about undercover KGB spies, and pure fiction like "Mission Impossible".

Of course, a "Deutschland 83" more based on reality would have risked not being as commercially successful. But, I imagine that with another script and/or director we could have seen something like the excellent Stasi drama "The Lives of Others".

Anyway, if "Deutschland 83" has sparked your interest in the Stasi (officially Ministerium für Staatssicherheit, MfS) and its elite soldiers - then I have a source for you. Alas in German, but if you are really interested then you probably understand German. The source is Die Garde des Erich Mielke (The Guard of Erich Mielke) by Hagen Koch & Peter Joachim Lapp. It mainly tells the story - with many photographs - of the Stasi´s Guards Regiment "Feliks E. Dzierzynski", named after the founder of the Soviet Cheka/KGB, Felix Dzerzhinsky. But also shows how this large regiment (actually more of a brigade) was connected to East German SOF units like the ultra-secret AGM/S.

BTW, one of the under-reported news stories in 2014 was how the prestige formation of the Russian VV-troops (Internal Troops) got back its name and is thus since September 2014 again officially known as the Dzherzhinsky Division.

I warmly welcome tips from readers re books about East German elite units in other languages than German.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Lapland 1944 Movie "Wildeye"

Teaser for "Wildeye".

I can´t recall having seen a single Finnish movie about the Lapland War of 1944 between Finland and Germany - although one famous war movie was partially made in Finnish Lapland, see my previous post about the 1993 version of "Stalingrad". But last fall such a movie premiered in Finland, entitled "Wildeye" in English.

As it has been filmed in areas where I have hiked several times I am very anxious to see this film. However, due to the lack of "film contact" between Finland and my native Sweden I guess I will have to wait for the DVD to see this one. The only other movie I can recall that deals with the Lapland War of 1944 is the 2002 Russian film "The Cuckoo".

My last post here in 2015 was about how the Lapland War is being described in new ways in Finland, e.g. in the Rovaniemi exhibition "We were friends".