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

Saturday, July 27, 2019

The Great Escape With Many Nordic Details

Only now, 73 years after the Norwegian release, this book can be read in English.

While The True Story of the Great Escape tells the story of all those that took part in the action that became the hit movie "The Great Escape", this new book is the personal account of Jens Müller, one of the only three men who made it all the way to freedom - in his case freedom was in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Jens Müller had no ordinary Norwegian childhood but a very exotic one, and was thus perhaps destined for an unusual fate during WWII. He was born in Shanghai, China, the son of a Norwegian engineer and a British actress. Müller got a pilot's license while he was still a teenager and was studying in Switzerland when the war broke out. In May 1940 he arrived in England (he should have written more about his motives but with a British mother he had at least one extra motive) and two years later he was an officer in 331 (Norwegian) Squadron at North Weald in England. On 19 June 1942 his Spitfire was shot down by a Focke-Wulf Fw 190. He survived landing in the sea and managed to paddle ashore in Belgium but was soon caught.

Müller´s work for what became known as the "great escape" consisted not least in constructing an air pump for ventilation of the escape tunnel. I do not wish to spoil your reading experience but think I can remark that Jens Müller mostly was treated well by the Germans and initially had no problems escaping. But, just like in many thrillers, he did indeed encounter some tight spots before finding some friendly Swedish sailors. Then two very bad things happen...

The reasons why Jens Müller´s escape was ultimately successful are quite clear from his book. Luck, or whatever it is, always plays a role - but Müller´s home run was perhaps mainly the result of [SPOILER ALERT!] superb intelligence work, amazing planning, some very convincing forged papers and finally some really good nerves.

The Swedish sailors that made the final leg of the escape possible are described rather well, but sadly without their names. They were supposed to get rewards from British authorities, but it is not clear if they got them, nor what their reward was. Does anyone reading this know more about rewards for helpers?

Film buffs will appreciate that this book makes clear how the actual escape differed from the famous movie. This first English language edition of Müller's memoir includes several very good comments by Norwegian historian Asgeir Ueland as well as a preface by Jens Müller's son Jon.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Nordic Counter-Terrorist Units

Winged dagger patch for Reinforced Regional Task Force of the Swedish Police.

The new edition of my book Elitförband i Norden (Swedish for Nordic Elite Units) will be released in the book stores in a few months. As it does not cover police forces (as stated in the book´s introduction), I am here posting an overview of these units and am at the same time reviewing European Counter-Terrorist Units 1972-2017.

As I promised in my review of Fighting the War on Terror, I shall now review a book focused on the equipment and insignia of Europe´s specialists in striking against various terrorists. The book in question is an Osprey guide first released in 2017, entitled European Counter-Terrorist Units 1972-2017, written by Leigh Neville and illustrated by Adam Hook. While I am no expert in police matters I can still say that I perceive this book as very useful for anyone interested in how these units look and are equipped. It also gives an idea of their training, tactics and techniques.

The book first provides a picture of how terrorism has evolved since the 1972 milestone terrorist attack in Munich. The main change since the 1970s and 80s: ransoms and political demands have been more and more replaced by a simpler desire for mass casualties, often combined with "martyrdom" for the terrorists themselves. A major technology change within the European counter-terrorist (CT) units is the emergence of new CT tools like unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and unmanned ground vehicles (UAGs). Another equipment development is how many more weapons CT units now can choose from, not only from Germany (mainly Heckler & Koch) but also from countries like Russia. An example: French RAID teams use Russian Vepr-12 shotguns (looks basically like a Kalashnikov assault rifle) and Adam Hook has made a superb illustration showing a RAID operator wielding one of these.

While I reckon Leigh Neville has done a great job covering the largest European CT units, he has fewer words and no illustrations for the Nordic states. Still, he does provide sections about Nordic CT units: Denmark´s AKS; Finland´s Karhu (Bear Group) and Norway´s Delta. Sadly, there is no section about Sweden´s NI but the unit is mentioned in the section about the ATLAS network, as NI is a member of ATLAS. Well then, what more is nice to know about Swedish CT capability? NI stands for Nationella insatsstyrkan and simply means National Task Force. It is a unit primarily for CT and within the National Operations Department. However, NI is not the only special ops/SWAT unit of the Swedish Police. There are two more levels, first the Förstärkt regional insatsstyrka (FRI), meaning Reinforced Regional Task Force, and finally "just" regional task forces (i.e. not reinforced).

European Counter-Terrorist Units 1972-2017 is, like most Osprey guides, a very useful and concise guide, but has too little info about Swedish units.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Swedish Intervention In Norway

Not just about Swedish humanitarian efforts during the final year of WWII.

Although the focus of Escape from the Third Reich by Sune Persson is the one indicated by the subtitle, Folke Bernadotte and the White Buses, a rather substantial amount of the book deals with the plans for Swedish military intervention in Norway 1945.

The original Swedish title of this book, Vi åker till Sverige: de vita bussarna 1945, first published in 2002, also did not quite capture how rich this book is. Sune Persson´s book is simply put one of the most important ones for any student of the Nordic states during WWII, along with John Gilmour´s Sweden, the Swastika and Stalin. Why do I say so? Well, aside from providing a convincing account of Count Folke Bernadotte´s "salami-slice strategy" during his negotiations with SS leader Heinrich Himmler, and the resulting transports to Sweden of many thousand prisoners of the SS, this book has a chapter entitled "Operation Rescue Norway!". In it you will find both the so-called "police troops", in effect an Allied infantry division established from 1943 on Swedish soil, and the more than 6,400 Swedes who 1944-45 enlisted in what became the "Swedish Norway battalion". Persson explains how the "police troops" were used, first in Arctic Norway thanks to US transportation aircraft, and why the Swedish volunteers were not allowed by the Norwegian government to participate in Norway´s liberation. This in spite of that, to quote from Person´s book: "...General Eisenhower was of the opinion that the Germans would put up organised resistance in Norway [and] that Norway could be reached effectively only through Sweden...". Persson also writes about the plans to use the regular Swedish Armed Forces in a joint western Allies & Sweden attack on the Germans in Norway. Thus an operation without the Soviets.

This English edition of Sune Persson´s book (translated by Graham Long) has an addition to the Swedish edition, a short but important introduction to English readers, written by Brian Urquhart. The number of photographs is not large, fifteen, but they are well chosen.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Narvik History Hiking Again

Ropes and an old stair (!) to get to the higher Gebirgsjäger Narvik positions.

This year some friends and I decided to look closer at an area that Mikke and I only had started to explore four years ago. Well, the Narvik mountains again delivered some amazing discoveries plus beautiful scenery and weather.

First a warning, to make sure everyone knows the risks. Even if you do find the odd rope or stairs, please understand that these mountains have almost no signs and well marked paths. If there has been some rain recently there will also be plenty of slippery hard surfaces. The military history that is still to be found in the area is not to be removed and if anything looks like ammunition or some other sort of explosive - then it probably is and should not be touched. Remember that people still today are hurt and even killed by explosive remnants from wars that took place a hundred years ago. In other words, hiking in the Narvik area without a special guide requires that you have common sense, good health, some experience of Nordic hiking, good equipment, navigational skills and maps. To be very clear, hiking in the wilderness without a guide can be dangerous and I take no responsibility for others wishing to do something similar.

One of the first German resting positions we found, click on it for larger size.

Almost as soon as we got up on the "upper level" of the mountain we chose to explore, Mats made a great discovery - directly linking us to both the daily life of the German mountain troops and to highest command level. What he found is actually so strange that I will save that episode for a coming book. Moving away from the area where many other hikers had been before us, I almost treaded on the remains of a German stick (hand) grenade. To be precise, a model 1924 Stielhandgranate (M24). As you can see from the below image it is in pieces but still recognizable. Photographed it just like we found it, and left everything. I only take photos.

This German M24 stick hand grenade is being absorbed by nature.

Not far from that grenade we made the next find, a position with a really good view down a slope. It was probably abandoned for some serious reason. Still today it contains plenty of unspent German standard rifle ammo. One does not leave so much ammunition voluntarily, so presumably the owner was wounded, killed or in a hurry away from the position.

German rifle ammo, left in a position with a view to the base of the "path".

Next, I noticed a natural place for storing stuff. I stopped and carefully looked inside. Two more M24 stick hand grenades with some rifle ammo. As these were all unused I did not even step close, but rather took my photos a bit away. You can't be too careful.

Soon 80 years since a German mountain trooper left these M24s behind.

The final day up in the mountains we found mainly empty positions but also two big concentrations of German ammunition, one very obviously was where a MG 34 machine gun had once stood. Notice in the below photograph the rust on the rock surface. Bear in mind that most of the year this and everything else you see up there is mostly covered by snow.

Due to the battle year, the calibre (7.92×57mm) and links one can deduce: MG 34.

Finally, if some of you are wondering about what I am wearing in the first photo (thanks for taking it, Mikke), it is a British 1942 pattern windproof smock. I have an original smock of this type, from a trade I made some thirty years ago. But I no longer wish to use that piece of history on hikes, so this new replica I got from SMB is both a good stand-in and a very practical garment on warm hiking days. What about the thing I am holding on to then? Well, that is a case for my Swiss Army binoculars - a brilliant piece of kit to really examine landscapes.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Excellent M29 Weasel Book

The cover is great but does not inform about the superb colour photos inside.

Large-scale Allied raids against the Germans in Norway were the main motive for the development of the small tracked vehicle that became known as the M29 Weasel. This new book about the M29 by David Doyle tells the Weasel story better than everything I have previously read on the subject. Add to that many great photos.

The large-scale raids were basically dropped, but the development of the Weasel continued and it came to be deployed in many European and Asian countries during WWII. The service did not end there, it became an important snow vehicle in postwar Scandinavia and also served in the Korean War. The new M29 book by David Doyle tells the story of the development and service of the Weasel family of vehicles mainly by means of photographs with excellent captions. The photos are mostly of very high quality and I have seen few of them before. Doyle also informs about many prototypes, some really funny-looking that I was totally unaware of.

The cover says nothing about the many nice colour photos inside. These are mostly modern images, showing preserved Weasels with all the details you can wish for. These, like the wartime photos, should be very much appreciated by both military vehicle owners and scale modellers. Even if you are neither a MV owner or modeller but "only" interested in the history I think you will like this book a lot.

Monday, July 08, 2019

Swedes Who Fought On D-Day

Personal items from Swedes who fought on D-Day are now on display.

Swedes who fought in Normandy 1944 are for the first time in focus in a museum. Hundreds of Swedes took part in the Allied Normandy operation, mostly at sea. But the Swedish Air Force Museum has of course chosen to focus on Swedes in D-Day aircraft.

It is one thing to read about the only air ace born in Sweden, William Yngve Anderson from Kramfors (see my recent book about him and other Swedes in US WWII service), but it is really something to watch his first air victories, recorded by his Mustang´s automatic camera. Now you can see this footage yourself at the Swedish Air Force Museum, and then see some of his own pilot gear, exhibited thanks to his daughter Gina.

William Yngve Anderson´s flight helmet and goggles, then and now.

The first thing you see when you this summer enter the Swedish Air Force Museum is actually their exhibition about D-Day, and perhaps first of all you will notice a Jeep from one of the Normandy-Swedes, Gösta Wollin from Ystad. Wollin was as a Swedish civilian in Norway while Hitler invaded. Because of that experience and some previous ones acquired in Germany itself, he joined the US 82nd Airborne Division, and jumped with them, actually without parachute training, over Sainte-Mère-Église. During many years his US Army Jeep, that he had legally purchased in 1945, was painted white and used as an offroad toy. Thanks to the Jeep enthusiast Mikael Stenberg the vehicle has been restored and this summer you can see it up close, together with an 82nd airborne paratrooper, at the Swedish Air Force Museum.

Beside Gösta Wollin´s Jeep stands a paratrooper looking like Wollin did on D-Day.

Erik G:son Lewenhaupt MC and Bar from Stockholm was one of the very first men to be dropped from a British aircraft on D-Day, as he was one of the pathfinders leading the British airborne assault. In spite of being a 38 year old Swedish citizen he had been allowed to join the British airborne and was on D-Day an airborne captain (and 40 years old). His exhibited items tell something about the battles that he survived. You will notice his weapons for close quarters combat; a German flag he captured and his Military Cross (he was awarded it twice, thus the MC and Bar). Also his Pegasus-marked jump helmet is on display, and the wrist watch he wore in Normandy. All thanks to his grandson Carl. Click on the photos to watch them in larger size (this goes for all photos on my blogs).

Lewenhaupt´s medals from Finland and Norway 1940, D-Day and other actions.

Hundreds of Swedes took part in D-Day in US, British, Canadian and Polish service. At least one of them was killed in action on D-Day itself, and several were killed some days later. For more about the Swedes in British, Polish, German etc service see Lennart Westberg´s and yours truly´s book Swedes at War (available on Amazon, Adlibris etc). Finally, a cordial THANK YOU to the Swedish Air Force Museum´s Torsten Nilsson and his colleagues, for making this exhibition. It ends on 25 August 2019.