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

Monday, December 25, 2017

SOE Camo & Midget Receiver

Probably the best SOE equipment book in the world. Yes, the authors are Danish.

The best Christmas present I received this year was SOE EQUIPMENT Air Dropped in Europe 1940 - 1945 by Anders Thygesen and Michael Sode. The word unique is quite appropriate, because it contains several photos and facts you will find nowhere else, like the best photos I have ever seen of the elusive SOE jump suit.

Special Operations Executive (SOE) agents that were parachuted into occupied countries were not seldom issued with a set of protective overalls and a jump helmet, sporting a SOE specific camouflage pattern, or simply white (I reckon basically for Norwegian ops). These items were intended to be used only once and were therefore upon landing usually buried or otherwise disposed of. As you have already figured out, they are extremely rare. Once, in Paris, around 1986, I saw a SOE jump suit for sale for about a 1,000 Francs. That was a lot of money in those days, and I could not afford it. Well, nowadays i understand the price is many times that sum. I suppose I will never have one, but now, thanks to my Christmas present (thanks, my love!), I at least can see exactly what they looked like.

BTW, why does not someone make at least a t-shirt with the SOE pattern?

Another great aspect of SOE EQUIPMENT is that I learnt the official designation of the "Sweetheart" radio receiver. Well, according to the instruction sheet pictured in the book they were called Midget Receiver. I recently helped one from the OSS/SOE Sepals operation in Sweden 1944-45 get included into the collections of the Army Museum in Stockholm. Below is a photo of it I took while it was still owned by ex-Sepals helper Gunnar Isberg in Luleå.

Midget Receiver from the Sepals operation, now repaired and again working.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Rhodes WW2 History Holiday

On my first Rhodes trip I found this presumably Italian bunker while jogging.

Three years in a row we have been spending a week or two on Rhodes. The sun, people, beaches, landscape and food of Rhodes are well known. The island also has an amazing amount of remains of ancient Greece and various European knights. However, one thing is absent in the museums and guide books - the World War Two history of Rhodes.

Being an author with a special interest in 20th century wars I naturally could not miss noticing an old bunker while jogging on Rhodes, see the above photo. Then I had the luck to one day stroll into a cafe/hotel in the Old Town, Avalon. There I noticed a young man working on a very old field radio. I asked if it might be from the war, and it was. Thanks to that chance meeting in Avalon with the archeology student Panos Mprokos I have since been able to see many amazing traces from both the Italian and German occupation periods of Rhodes and it is time I show them here to let other Rhodes visitors know that the island has more World War Two history than you have imagined.

The Old Town then and now, the vehicle is a German assault gun, a StuG III.

About an hours drive from Old Town, an abandoned Italian/German barracks.

With Nietzsche´s words "Gelobt sei, was hart macht", i.e. Praised be what hardens.

These German occupants seem to have been from Danzig, today´s Gdansk.

Then we briefly stopped at Hotel Elaphos, a military hospital during the occupation.

The Italian town of Campochiaro became a German HQ and then Greek Eleousa.

Walking around in the former Italian town/military HQ of Campochiaro (now Eleousa) is a special experience, because for some reason the buildings used by the Italian and German occupiers have been abandoned for many decades, making the occupation seem not that distant.

Back in Rhodes City, an Allied WWII memorial for a Greek officer at El Alamein.

Another chance meeting in Rhodes City, a working BMW R 12 motorcycle.

How to see these places? There are plenty of tours to Rhodes Old Town but I believe there are no organized tours to the Italian/German remains outside it. So, you either do your own research and rent a car, or you find Panos Mprokos via the Avalon cafe/hotel, which is beside the upper part of the Avenue of the Knights in Old Town. Avalon is a really great place both to stay and for a snack or meal. The atmosphere is full of history. Try searching with the words avalon hotel rhodes. Below is a photo of Avalon´s main entrance. Just some words of advice if you choose to travel around the island by car/motorcycle: traffic is not like at home, be very careful and rent a safe car model.

Avalon, my favourite cafe/restaurant/hotel on Rhodes.

P.S. I have written about Rhodes during WWII in two issues of the Swedish journal Militär Historia, in issues 8 and 11 during 2017. Sadly, my articles are neither online nor are they in English, but I can recommend one book in English that has information about British raids against the Axis forces on Rhodes, SBS in World War II by Gavin Mortimer, it is also simply a must for all SBS history buffs.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Last Jedi & Waffen-SS

Skellig Michael, the very real island of the last Jedi. PHOTO: Jerzy Strzelecki

Spoiler alert! Here follow some reflections about the real history (planet Earth history) in the latest episode of Star Wars.

In "The Last Jedi" there is a lot going on, some of it really amazing and fun to watch. Like most scenes on the Irish island of Skellig Michael - what a magnificent filming location - I think it can only be compared to Tunisia or Norway as a Star Wars location.

However, the movie also has some stuff that can disturb fans like me - who basically only really appreciate the original trilogy but cannot abstain from the rest. By disturbing stuff I mean e.g. some of the new characters, several battles and what happens to Princess Leia in space. The joke about General Hux is sort of fun the first time, but then...

Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo i.e. Laura Dern (remember her in "October Sky"?) is nice, but why was she not allowed to act more officer-like and wear something a bit more officer-like? I could bore you with more questions like that, but instead let me end with two planet Earth things in the new Star Wars episode:

Not General Hux but SS-general Sepp Dietrich, wearing a cuff title on his left arm. PHOTO: Bundesarchiv

1. Several of the bad guys are wearing Waffen-SS style cuff titles, but without German Sütterlin script or Latin letters. Instead, they are adorned with words that I could not read. as they are written in what I suppose is the Aurebesh alphabet, the most common script seen throughout Star Wars. Perhaps someone more into Aurebesh could tell me what they say? Cuff titles could be seen already in the previous episode, on General Hux, but for some reason he has zero letters on his double (!) cuff titles. In "The Last Jedi" you get to see the two types of cuff titles many times and quite up close too.

2. Last but not least, the word ´"Godspeed" is uttered, twice. That word is really old English for "May God cause you to succeed". Pretty weird for a galaxy far, far away a long time ago. "May the Force be with you" would be more natural, like? On the other hand, as a Christian, it was rather nice to hear that unexpected non-Force word. Those of you who have really payed attention will also know that already in 1977, in "A New Hope" (Episode IV), there is a reference to Christianity when "Ben" Kenobi talks to Luke while handing over the light sabre. Kenobi utters "crusade", a word that started with the cross of Jesus. Interestingly, in "The Empire Strikes Back" (Episode V), the word hell is mentioned, when Han Solo says "Then I'll see you in hell". So, besides lots of Japanese and Chinese religious ingredients in the Force, the Star Wars movies do contain some grains of the Abrahamic religions.

Interested in what remains in the Tunisian desert and mountains of Norway from Star Wars? Check out my old blog post Lars Wars.

Monday, October 09, 2017

The British Norway Campaign

In April 1942 Adolf Hitler stated that only the Battle of Moscow and the Norwegian campaign had been ”absolutely decisive” actions. Why then has, until recently, the Norwegian campaign attracted so few British or American authors? Several reasons can be stated, e.g, that it was a military failure for the Allies, but I so far have found no utterly convincing reply to this question.

What I mainly have gained from the book Churchill and The Norway Campaign (2008) by Graham Rhys-Jones is a more full realization of the Pyrrhic nature of the German victory in Norway. To quote from the book it ”sparked the upheaval which removed Chamberlain´s hesitant and divided ministry and opened the way for an implacable and uncompromising opponent, determined to see the war through to its better end.” That the Norwegian campaign sealed Chamberlain´s fate was certainly not news to me, but it was Churchill and The Norway Campaign that first made me consider the German victory in Norway more of a minus than a plus for the Germans.

The author is not uncritical of Chamberlain´s successor, Churchill. In fact, he writes such things as: ”Behind that benign even homely image, the uplifting rhetoric and the inspiring presence lay a ruthlessness (even sometimes a vindictiveness) worthy of Al Capone.”

The book examines both the strategy behind the tactical actions and many of the more significant events in the fjords and mountains of Norway.

The poor performance of the British Army in Norway seems to have largely been the result of First World War thinking, according to the author. The author confirmed something I have long suspected, that Spaniards formed the largest national group in the Foreign Legion detachment at Narvik. I am impressed with the details regarding the French troops provided by the author.

I also find it commendable that the author describes the almost totally forgotten ”Mowinckel Plan”, an idea not adopted but a great what-if scanario that in a nutshell meant that Swedish forces were to intervene and take over the Narvik area from both the Germans and Allied forces.

The author of Churchill and The Norway Campaign, Graham Rhys-Jones, is also the author of The Loss of the Bismarck (1999) and has a background in the Royal Navy where he commanded a frigate. In more recent years he has taught strategy at the US Naval War College (USNWC) and on leaving the navy he returned to the USNWC as a research fellow.

My main negative remark would be the strong expectation created by the book´s cover. It portrays in colour Winston Churchill flanked by the German generals Eduard Dietl and Nikolaus von Falkenhorst. Considering that the author devotes little space to Dietl and sursprisingly little to Falkenhorst, the overall commander of the invasion of Norway, the cover is rather misleading. That having been said I will not deny that the cover is a very attractive one!

Rhys-Jones has found some excellent photographs for his book, one only wishes he had included some more. The seven maps provide the essential geographical features and names, but not more.

If you are looking for a recent and reliable overview of the battle for Norway in 1940 I would recommend another book: Hitler´s Pre-emptive War by Henrik O. Lunde. If you, however, are mainly interested in the British aspects of this campaign, Churchill and The Norway Campaign is an excellent choice.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Attention Tank & Airborne Buffs!

The tank that actually got wings now has the stunning book it deserves.

When did I start collecting books about Soviet tanks and airborne troops? Not sure, but sometime in the 1980s. To make clear how much I like this new book, let me immediately say that this is the most amazing and well-presented one about Soviet tanks/airborne I have yet come across.

Although little known, especially in the West, the T-60 small tank (yes, small tank = official designation), was the third most numerous tank-type built in the Soviet Union 1941-45, behind only the classic T-34 and the SU-76 self propelled gun in terms of production.

Aside from the basic T-60 and its more common variants this new 176-page book by James Kinnear and Yuri Pasholok presents the incredible tank-glider variant of the T-60 known as both the KT Flying Tank and A-40. They do so with details I have never seen before and thus make this book a must also for airborne troops history buffs.

Special mention should be made of the sections about the T-60 in combat and the history of both the few preserved T-60s and the full scale T-60-replicas that have been made in Russia in recent years.

This book has set a new standard with lots of new and high quality photos, new facts from primary sources plus fine colour illustrations. I can not recommend you enough to visit the website of the Stockholm publisher, Canfora, to learn more about this book, and their other books. Here is the link you are looking for.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

WWII Narvik 2017 Update

It is a bit more than a year since I visited the then new Narvik War Museum. My blog report about that visit was a bit critical. Have things changed since? Yes, and there are both some improvements to report, and a brand new exhibit in the form of the above pictured untouched German Ford V8 towing FLAK.

Artifacts from WWII, especially vehicles, that have "simply" been preserved have a special atmosphere around them. The Hotchkiss tank in the Narvik War Museum is, sadly, not among those vehicles. The tank ought at least to be put into context with the help of some large photographs showing the type in use around Narvik.

However, since my visit last year the museum has added some vehicles from the previous museum and also one that has not been exhibited before, a Ford V8 that really takes you back in time (it is the one in the top photo). The story behind it in brief: it was a Norwegian passenger car (sedan) and then taken over by the Germans and modified so it became a hybrid truck. Two more photos of it.

Another positive change is that the 1:1 diorama is back from the old museum. It is an original German mountain position that has been reconstructed inside the museum. A bonus is that there is now no glass between the visitor and this display. Three photos of it now.

Where is the mountain diorama located? Look for the experimental German rocket launcher. BTW there are only two of these launchers still around... The diorama is right beside it.

The "human torpedo", Morris armoured car and Kettenkrad tracked motorcycle from the old museum are also now back on display.

Gladly, VC Captain Bernard Warburton-Lee´s name has also been rectified.

Now, if one may make a wish or two - how about using the long, winding and mostly empty corridor to the bottom floor - putting up some of the photographs and paintings from the previous museum there? And surely there is room for at least a small display about the paratrooper dimension of the battle of Narvik, a milestone in history, not just WWII history. How about a paratrooper and a parachute container with contents?

Visitors could also get tips for WWII sights around town, e.g. be directed to the 1940 landing sites, slave labour camps and the war cemeteries with their many strong reminders of the ultimate price, with fallen even from New Zealand ("N.Z."). BTW who knows more about Major Bowen´s death, and how Lieutenant Morrison from New Zealand was killed, why so late as May 4, 1945?

Finally, the naval history sight outside Narvik that you have to be rather fit to walk to (skip it in wet conditions, just too dangerous a walk then). In other words, the wreck of the German destroyer Georg Thiele - how is it faring? Well, here are two photos of it I have taken, the first in 2001 and the one below this week.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Mysterious German Mountain Division Remains Located

The 1st trace. I slightly moved this jerrycan to show the ground below.

Having a special interest in units that were in the area where Finland, Norway and Sweden converge, it was time for me to try to find remains in the field of the mysterious 9th German Mountain Division. I did, with the help of my Finnish friend and colleague Mika Kulju. This is my report about what we found.

In my native language, Swedish, we call the place where the borders of Sweden, Finland and Norway meet Treriksröset. That translates as Three Realms Cairn. What a wonderful ring that has, sounds like some place in a Tolkien book, right? There is also a more "official" name in English for the place, the Three-Country Cairn, but I prefer realms... Anyway, to get to that area by car I drove through the Swedish border town of Karesuando, that in 1944-45 housed several hundred Norwegian "police troops". There is a monument to their memory in front of Karesuando´s former police HQ, known as "The White House", today a local history museum. For more about the "police troops" see my book, Germans & Allies in Sweden.

In Karesuando I also noted that they still have that frontier shop that boasts "WE HAVE EVERYTHING, ALMOST".

I then drove past the enormous German fortified position of the 7th Mountain Division, called the Sturmbock-Stellung and since some years partially restored and including a small but interesting WWII museum mainly about the troops of the German 7th Mountain Division, who held the position between October 1944 and January 1945. Why did I not make a stop there? Well, I have visited it several times before and had some urgent business a bit closer to the Three Realms Cairn. The nature of that business I will not divulge here and now, as it constitutes part of a future article. But I can tell you it will be a surprising article, even for those with a particular interest in the area. I can also say that it was at the place quite close to the cairn that I rendezvoused with my friend Mika Kulju.

After having obtained the information and photos we had set out to get, we drove our cars homewards but made an important stop after about an hour. It was time to see if we during just a few hours might find any traces of the 9th Mountain Division in a place none of us had searched before, its late 1944 position between the border village of Palojoensuu and the town of Enontekiö. The position is known in some sources as the "Palojoensuu Position". Now, several readers may be wondering about the number, the NINTH division? In 1944 the unit was known as Divisional Group Kräutler (in German often just Divisionsgruppe K). On May 6, 1945 (that is what I call late in the war) there was an order re-designating it as the 9th Mountain Division. Well, by using that very late designation I may perhaps have sparked some interest...

What did we see then? First a jerrycan (see above), some parts of a lorry, some yet unidentified metal containers (suggestions about their use are most welcome):

Then, hundreds of dugouts and trenches. Not many directly visible ones (remain) close to Palojoensuu, but once you start getting hills along the road towards Enontekiö you can start looking in tactically logical places, some within sight of the modern road. Here are two photos, click on them to see them in larger size:

Thanks to the slow transformation of the Arctic landscape one can still make out many of the trenches and dugouts. Seeing them makes the WWII history of the area come alive, and the fact that there are no signs to point out anything (and until now no blog with tips about the traces) just makes them more worth seeing, in my opinion.

There is some rusty stuff still in the open, but less than in e.g. the Narvik mountains. Remember to refrain from touching anything that looks like ammunition/explosives, and let things look the way you found them. Take only photos.

Finally, driving back to my home, I was most pleasantly surprised to find a for me new SWISS coffee stop in Muonio, with what might be the best hot chocolate in the world. The place is also worth a stop for the pastries, pies and the amazing Lapland nature photographs. Yes, the place is run by a real Swiss couple. In my opinion the Swiss Cafe in Muonio is definitely worth a large detour.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

World´s Largest Tank Project

Yours truly with a trace of the world´s largest tank project. PHOTO: Mikael Norman

Being a tanker, well at least a former one, it is hard not to be extra amazed by the most insane tank project ever, as it involved a 1,000 metric tonne vehicle and the project was actually approved by Hitler.

This beast was so big that the Germans did not officially call it a tank but a Landkreuzer, a "land cruiser". So, you can imagine how keen I was to with my own eyes examine a physical trace of the Landkreuzer "Ratte" ("Rat") project. Yes, the project was cancelled in 1943 by Albert Speer, but there exists a very large piece of a "Ratte" one can say, in Norway, north of Trondheim. The primary weapon of the "Ratte" would have been a 280 mm gun turret, the same turret that was used on the German battleship Gneisenau, modified by removing one of the guns. Where to find such a preserved turret then? The place is called Austrått and the area Örlandet. More info on e.g. this Norwegian tourism website but let me add that you really should make your visit known well in advance if you want to be sure to see the interior of the turret and also the “Fosen Krigshistoriske Samlinger”, an exhibition about the years of occupation in the area. If you can time your visit in such a manner that you get to see both the exterior and interior of the turret, with its many still functional mechanisms, as well as the occupation exhibition - then it will have been very well worth all your expenses to get to this place.

As for the expenses of the Third Reich to build this massive bunker complex - the story is similar to many other German projects along the Atlantic Wall - the ultimate price was payed by other states. To build this particular complex about 120 prisoners from Yugoslavia were worked to their deaths. Of course, many more suffered - directly and indirectly. I will return to this and other enormous northern Hitler projects in a coming book.

Now, if you are going to travel by car to Austrått, do not miss the opportunity to vist Hegra Fortress, where i.a. three Swedish volunteers (see our book Swedes at War 1914-1945) held out for several weeks against the German attackers. The onslaught of the German forces, not least the Luftwaffe, can be better understood by examining the fortress roof.

Hegra Fortress is a national monument and theres also a museum beside it.

Part of the Hegra Fortress roof, with traces of Luftwaffe attacks.

When in beautiful Trondheim, you should make sure you visit three WWII-related sights. First, The Norwegian National Museum of Justice, with several artifacts from the SS, Quisling police forces and an Enigma machine that was actually saved from a scrap heap in the 1980s. This museum also has the WWI German "anthrax sugar cubes" used by a Swedish volunteer, Otto von Rosen, that you can read more about in Swedes at War 1914-1945. Then there is the army & home front museum Rustekammeret beside the amazing cathedral of Nidaros. Rustekammeret deals with the complete military history of the area, thus not only WWII.

Finally, do not miss to check out the enormous German submarine bunkers in the Trondheim harbour, just too big to miss. They are not that open to the public but you might still find a way to be allowed inside, if you find someone nice and understanding working in them. Even if you are not able to talk yourself inside, their exterior is well worth seeing up close. To prepare yourself for seeing these bunkers and many other German sites in the region, you should get this new and very well illustrated Norwegian book, Bunkeren.

The size of the German Trondheim submarine bunkers is hard to show in one photo.

Monday, July 24, 2017

The 3 Soviet Bombings of Swedish Lapland

Remains of all three Soviet bombings with museum staffer Sivert Mässing.

For the first time, remains from all three Soviet bombings of northernmost Sweden are on public display. Soviet shrapnel from the Övertorneå bombing 1944 has never been displayed in a museum before.

The Soviet bombing of the northern Swedish town of Pajala on February 21 1940 meant about 150 dropped bombs. It may have occurred due to an actual navigational error, Pajala is located on the Finnish border. The Pajala bombing caused rather great damage but no person was killed. It is the northern Soviet bombing that has made it into many Swedish history books.

However, the first ever Soviet bombing of Swedish territory was that of Kallaxön outside Luleå on January 14 1940. Three DB-3 bombers entered the Luleå area from the south east and were well over Swedish ground flying in the direction of the fortress town of Boden when they turned, probably due to the weather conditions, and then bombed Kallaxön with at least ten bombs. Amazingly, only one house was really damaged. Is is quite possible that the Soviets had intended to bomb Boden and when this was no longer possible, they instead opted for damaging the air base being constructed on Kallax. The intention may have been to send a strong signal (protest) to the Swedish government, not to support Finland during the Soviet Winter War against Finland. The Kallaxön bombing is mentioned in only a few books, but forms a rather large part of the bonus chapter in the paperback version of my book Germans and Allies in Sweden.

Now, since last week, bomb parts from the Kallaxön and Pajala bombings have been joined by two Soviet bomb fragments from Övertorneå, that was bombed on February 12 1944. Although there is little that speaks for Soviet intent (Övertorneå also being a border town) this incident too is of some interest, as it has eluded historians. But, thanks to the discovery of an original map from 1944 with bomb craters clearly marked, and evidence from locals and local newspapers, shrapnel has been found and it has been concluded that the bombs had Cyrillic script. Remains of nine were found and one did not go off. The bomb parts constitute just a small part of the museum Flygmuseet F 21 Luleå.

Did other states bomb northernmost Sweden during WWII? A couple of British bombs were dropped, in connection with the battle of Narvik 1940, but they were dropped by the Norwegian border and landed in the wilderness, not harming anyone or anything except the ground.

The above text constitutes an English summary of three articles in Swedish I have written, that were published in Soldat & Teknik 3/2014, 1/2017 and 4/2017.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Was Raoul Wallenberg´s Execution 70 Years Ago?

Sergeant Wallenberg of the Svea Life Guards Regiment, from Lars Brink´s book.

Only in October last year (2016) the Swedish Tax Agency declared Raoul Wallenberg officially dead. But when did he breathe his last breath? The Swedish Tax Agency recorded the date of his death as July 31, 1952. However, July 17, 1947 is the most presumed date for his execution by the MGB (which in 1954 became the KGB). In other words, 70 years ago.

The Swedish Tax Agency´s date of July 31, 1952 does not directly point out Wallenberg´s death day, it is just in line with the tax agency´s approach in cases where the circumstances of death are unclear. The agency has a general rule of five years after someone goes missing. Why then July 31 and not July 17? Well, again this is according to policy - which is to not mark a certain day but the last day of the month during which the person was known to be alive.

How was Raoul Wallenberg "liquidated", i.e. murdered? Poison or a bullet are the methods mentioned by different Soviet/Russian sources.

I am no Raoul Wallenberg expert but my co-author Lennart Westberg and I have followed developments around Raoul Wallenberg research and summarize these in the English translation of our book, Swedes at War 1914-1945. The latest book about Raoul Wallenberg recently landed on my desk and it is written by Lars Brink, an accomplished author and also veteran of the same voluntary defence organization that Raoul Wallenberg worked for, the Swedish Home Guard. Prior to his world famous work in Hungary, Wallenberg had been a very active Home Guard instructor - the above photo shows him in his Swedish Army uniform.

Brink´s new book includes a summary in English and is thus not only of interest for Swedish readers. The book´s title may sound academic, Raoul Wallenberg in Swedish Daily Press During the Cold War, but this is a book that should appeal not only to researchers at universities and institutions, but also to journalists and others. Brink´s book contains a credible and important analysis of how the press in Sweden, including Swedish communist papers, covered Raoul Wallenberg during the classic Cold War years. Previously, Lars Brink has written an amazing history of the Swedish Home Guard, including a very readable section about the young Wallenberg and his defence work. Brink´s books can be found in some Swedish book shops and also ordered from his own website.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

KGB Sleeper Agents: "The Americans" vs. Reality

KGB (Cheka) agent number 1, Felix Dzerzhinsky, in Moscow, USSR 1991.

OK, you have watched the TV series ”The Americans” and are curious about the reality behind the story. Well, I have a suggestion – read the book that shows, again, that fact beats fiction.

My view of ”The Americans” in a nutshell: an entertaining drama series with some really good actors, but also rather far from the very real Soviet agents masquerading as non-Soviet citizens in the West under assumed or created identities, also known as ”illegals”. While the basic idea of the TV series, of two Soviet KGB officers posing as an American married couple living in the suburbs with their children, is factual enough, most of the action in the series is pure fiction. The KGB did not plant agents in other countries to have them shoot people just about every working week. Sure, KGB agents did kill folks abroad, but only rarely, and only very rarely by using their very expensive illegals. So, like the TV series ”Manhattan”, too many important scenes in ”The Americans” simply did not happen in real life.

Also, ”The Americans” has some flaws in the way things look. Sure, the people who have procured the 1970´s and 80´s clothes, music and cars for the series have – I think – done a good job. I reckon that few recent TV series have gotten the look of the eighties as right as ”The Americans”. However, the 1980´s Soviet Embassy in Washington hardly was decorated with those really old Soviet propaganda posters. Then there are the KGB uniform mistakes in the episode ”Covert War” (season 1 episode 11). And the name Zhukov. OK, not an uncommon Soviet (Russian) name. But considering Georgy Zhukov, the Red Army´s WWII top military commander, couldn´t they have come up with another name?

Now, if you are keen to get to know the reality behind ”The Americans” I can recommend the real story of Jack Barsky, ”Deep Undercover”. Barsky was born in the GDR, better known as East Germany, in 1949 as Albrecht Dittrich. While his life and autobiography does not have the action of ”The Americans” it is still an exciting read. It is also a deeply personal and amazing story, that really should please not just espionage buffs.

”Deep Undercover” provides testimony about the preparations and purpose of the Soviet illegals after Stalin´s death. To summarize Barsky´s purpose: to become succesful and enter into the highest American circles and be ”…a rich undercover revolutionary in the United States” (quote from the book). Why all this effort then? Well, to ultimately influence US policy and promote revolutionary change in the West. But aside from this long range aim Barsky also gets to do some more immediate, practical tasks in the US.

The main objective of subversion explains Barsky´s interest in e.g. secessionist initiatives in Canada and a search for radical political leaning in the West. Left or right – equally interesting. Main thing to fan those flames, hasten revolution.

As I mentioned, Albrecht Dittrich/Jack Barsky was originally not a Soviet citizen but an East German one. Being Swedish, I think this makes him a bit extra interesting, as the KGB "outsourced" part of its work with Swedes to East Germans. For example, the more than twenty Swedish volunteers in Soviet special operation forces (spetsnaz and the ”Bernhard” sabotage group) were led by two Germans who both became top leaders within the KGB´s East German version, the Stasi (I have written about these Swedes and Germans in two books). Now, Barsky had no KGB tasks in Sweden, he only used Stockholm as an east-west transportation hub, but his relationship to the KGB provides insights into the larger KGB-GDR system.

A key term in Barsky´s book is value system. When the very expensively trained subversion agent´s own value system changes, everything changes. In this lies a huge lesson for the future. Actually, this makes the book a story of so much more than one KGB spy.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Casablanca of the North

On the cover: a USAAF + OSS marriage in Stockholm. Cover design: Jason Orr.

Liberty Lady is a highly personal yet also credible and important history of both US airmen and the men and women of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in Sweden during WWII.

The book title was natural, as it was also the name of the author´s father´s B-17 Flying Fortress, that crashed on the Swedish island of Gotland. The author, Pat DiGeorge, would simply not be around, had ”Liberty Lady” not landed safely in Sweden. One of the men aboard, Herman Allen, became one of the 1,218 (!) USAAF crew members interned in Sweden. These Americans are part of my own book Germans & Allies in Sweden. But Pat DiGeorge provides so much more colour and detail to their lives. For example she relates that the jitterbug was introduced to Sweden by a group of American aviators. As DiGeorge correctly states, ”The German internees were never given the freedom allowed to the British and the Americans.”

When Herman met «Hedy», a Swedish-American lady working for the OSS in Stockholm, he found the love of his life and among their children is Pat DiGeorge. Her book provides an amazing insight into the rich lives of both Herman and Hedvig «Hedy» Johnson Allen. On the road from their cradles to their graves one also gets fascinating peeks into the lives of personalities like Count Folke Bernadotte, highest responsible for all interned airmen in Sweden, and Arctic aviation pioneer Colonel Bernt Balchen, who like Herman Allen had one leg in the USAAF and one in the OSS.

Swedes of course also are a big part of Liberty Lady, and not only pro-Allied ones. It is amazing to follow the strange friendship between Herman and one of the Swedes who worked for the Germans.

It is pretty amazing that so few previous books in English have focused on wartime Stockholm, thick with espionage. German and Allied spies not seldom stayed in the same Stockholm hotels and sometimes ate side by side in the restaurants. As DiGeorge writes, the WWII American embassy in Stockholm ”sat at the centre of one of the most important listening posts of the war”. Liberty Lady solves several puzzles, providing valuable insights not only into the OSS in Stockholm but also the wartime visit by USAAF General Curtis.

DiGeorge´s book is also about the B-17 «Liberty Lady» aircraft itself, it is fascinating to read and see how parts of it to this day remain «all over the island of Gotland». Now a personal revelation, I have a rather strange family connection to the place where «Liberty Lady» went down, Mästermyr on Gotland. You see, I inherited a photograph from a relative of mine who was at Mästermyr. The photograph depicts a bomber that he himself photographed. But it is not a B-17, but a German Heinkel He 111. Yes, Mästermyr was the place where a He 111 went down in 1940, after having been hit by Swedish anti-aircraft fire. My photo of the He 111 on Mästermyr is in my book Germans & Allies in Sweden.

Finally, it was great to learn from Liberty Lady that Pat DiGeorge too had the privilege of working with the late Swedish-American historian Carl Finstrom.

In short, Liberty Lady is THE English language book about espionage and love in WWII Sweden, especially in Stockholm, the Casablanca of the north.

Monday, May 22, 2017

My Top 3 Star Wars 1977 Antiques

My three gems from 1977 - thanks dad!

The wear evident on my 1977 Star Wars publication is a testimony of my special interest in how Star Wars came about. The two records released the same year have also never ceased to inspire me.

The Movie Spectacular pictured above was published by Marvel Comics already in 1977 and features sources of inspiration like Amazing Stories magazine and Flash Gordon comic strips (that became movies from 1936), wonderful photos from both the filming and actual film as well as some background about the people behind the movie.

You can, of course, listen to the soundtrack on Spotify or a CD. But IMHO nothing beats listening to the 1977 record on a gramophone. Well, OK, a live performance by an orchestra might be better. But then I am also fortunate to have a 1977 record with the actual dialogue and sound effects. Although/because it is sound only it adds a dimension of imagination. So, in spite of 3D technology and what have you, listening to "The Story of Star Wars" still is a wonderful pleasure.

Interested in Star Wars behind the scenes and the history of Star Wars? In that case I am certain you will want to read about my top three Star Wars books.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Top 3 Star Wars Books

There is a pretty high probability that you too have drunk blue milk on May 4.

With the 40th anniversary of the release of the very first "Star Wars" (later retitled "Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope"), fast approaching (this May 25) these are the Star Wars books you're looking for...

Now, if you are expecting me to include Star Wars novels in my list I will have to somewhat disappoint you, although I will say that some of the Boba Fett quotes in The Bounty Hunter Wars: The Mandalorian Armor (1998) by K.W. Jeter are magnificent. The are two reasons the following list is not about the novels, or the comics: I have not read that many of them and my main interest is the movies themselves.

So, the following is "just" a list of the three books about Star Wars that I have come to value most, after almost 40 years of being a Star Wars fan. Yes, I saw Star Wars on the big screen in 1977, at least twice and it might have been thrice.

1. I find it hard to even imagine a more complete book about how it all started than The Making of Star Wars by J.W. Rinzler. But understand that it is not about the episodes that followed.

2. To get what I believe is a strong idea what it was like making and especially designing the first Star Wars movie, turn to Cinema Alchemist by Roger Christian. Mr. Christian being the gentleman who i.a. built THE lightsaber.

3. To begin to understand the whole galaxy of films, books, comics", conventions etc that Star Wars today constitutes - go to How Star Wars Conquered The Universe by Chris Taylor.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Lenin In Stockholm 1917-2017

Fake history on the cover, Stalin was not part of Lenin´s homecoming via Sweden.

As a student in Soviet Moscow 1991 I daily passed a giant Lenin poster in the entrance of our dormitory. Until one day it had just vanished. Previously, I had seen the spot-turned-into-a-monument in Stockholm where he was photographed in 1917. It is now 100 years since he was standing on that spot, on his way to revolutionary Russia.

The train trip that Vladimir Lenin made from his long exile in Switzerland to the epicenter of Russian politics in Petrograd (the former and later Saint Petersburg) is now on my mind both for historic and current reasons. One is tempted to call what Germany did, making that trip happen, an act of hybrid war against Russia. Going a step further one might say that the modern Kremlin has recently itself come to practice the German idea of helping Lenin. But not just helping one Lenin, but a bunch of "Lenins" in several countries, thus increasing the stress not only on targeted states but also on selected alliances.

Catherine Merridale's recent book Lenin on the Train makes Lenin's 1917 journey to Petrograd's Finland Station come alive, and it has now also appeared in Swedish and I have therefore reviewed it in my native language. Apparently, it has come out in English with two different covers. I must say that the one also used for the Swedish version is superior to the modernistic one. Not least because it contains a "beautiful" example of fake history standing right behind Lenin - Stalin was not on that train.

I have previously blogged in English about Lenin monuments in Sweden, like the one in Stockholm that is all about his physical presence in Stockholm on April 13, 1917. The next day he arrived at a train station not far from where I am writing these words, the one in Boden - that unlike the Stockholm station has retained very much of its outer appearance. From Boden Lenin did not have to travel long to reach Russia, as at the time the border town of Tornio in north Finland was still part of the former Russian Empire, since a few weeks called the Russian republic.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Freedom Is Not Free

The destroyer "Georg Thiele", part of the task force sent to Narvik - where she still is.

On April 9, 1940 both Denmark and Norway were invaded by Germany. Until last year there were more than a dozen defenders of Norway 1940 still alive, such as Swedish volunteer Jan Danielsen. This year Jan is no longer around and soon this major event in Nordic history will have no living witnesses.

Being with Jan and listening to him was something really special, he was simply a wonderful person that inspired me with his vitality and ideas. He didn´t have to say things like "freedom is not free" - he had lived those words.

All in all some 300 Swedes went over to Norway in 1940, all to join the Norwegian Army and none to fight for Germany. There would have been many more if the Swedish government had not suppressed this volunteer movement. There were hundreds, if not some thousands, in the just disbanded Swedish Volunteer Corps for Finland that Jan had also been in, that were eager to also fight for Norway. But the Swedish government basically stopped this from happening.

Jan with local Narvik reenactor Jon, wearing the type of uniform that Jan wore.

Thanks to veterans like Jan I have come to better understand how rich with possibilities life is, and how very small most of my "problems" actually are.

Me onboard "Georg Thiele". The life vest is because I went there by a small boat.