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

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Hitler´s Paratroopers In Normandy

If you wish to know how the German paras fought in Normandy, this book is for you.

Retired US Army Colonel Gilberto Villahermosa has produced 303 pages of top-notch German paratrooper history. He has chosen to focus on the German II Parachute Corps and its commander Eugen Meindl in Normandy.

Some German paratroopers were actually wargaming an airborne landing by the Allies just hours before the Allied airborne operation was launched. It so happened that German paras then found themselves fighting great numbers of their equivalents in the US Army. it is interesting to read how they viewed each other and compared equipment. The aspect the Germans were really impressed with seems to have been the (amount of) American medical equipment, not least the individual soldier´s medical items. The US rations also caused some German envy.

What about the US view of Fallschirmjäger equipment? An example comes from Major Salve Matheson, partly Norwegian and Swedish and at the time a staff officer in the US 506th PIR. Matheson is quoted by the author regarding the capture of a German 75 mm recoilless rifle for paratroopers: "This was the first and only weapon of this kind encountered by the regiment though its value was not realised".

The fighting between the German and US paras became bitter indeed around Vierville, where an entire Fallschirmj√§ger battalion fought an understrength battalion of US paras. It became known as the Battle of Hell´s Corner. The pages about this battle are among the most interesting in the book.

The combat experience and quality of the German paras in Normandy varied greatly - far from all had any jump training at this stage of the war, and Hitler´s Paratroopers In Normandy helps make that clear.

This book contains a document from General Meindl marked "Destroy After Reading" that sums up the first lessons learnt the hard way by the Fallschirmj√§gers in Normandy. In general, this book´s conclusions are of great value.

Hitler´s Paratroopers In Normandy has all that one expects from a good unit history including maps, photographs and useful appendixes. It contains 44 photos - not a huge number, but some of them are amazing.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

The Soviet Army On Parade 1946-1991

Now, which Soviet AFV in Sweden have I placed my review copy on?

Last year I blogged about British author James Kinnear´s original work of reference The Red Army On Parade 1917-1945. Does his new book, about the Soviet Army 1946-1991, deserve as much attention?

Already in the introduction for The Soviet Army On Parade 1946-1991 James Kinnear makes clear that we have entered a new era - he relates the history of the Soviet R-1 rocket, that began with the construction of no less than 29 V-2 rockets from components captured in Germany. Thus the post-1945 Soviet military parades, and this new book by Kinnear, encompass not only the history of Soviet AFVs, support & transport vehicles, it also constitutes a photographic encyclopedia of Soviet rockets and missiles from WWII to 1991. Due to the fact of the pioneering mechanization of the Soviet airborne forces it is also a book of great interest to airborne history buffs.

The first chapter kicks off with a grand image of a T-44 with markings that ought to inspire several modellers. Some more highlights are the images of the 2A3 "Kondensator" self-propelled nuclear gun; the (A)SU-85 airborne self-propelled gun and the ZiS-110B parade limousine. Rather surprisingly, there is even a 1947 image of amphibious Soviet DUKWs on parade in front of the Winter Palace in Leningrad. However, some Soviet military vehicles were just never paraded, such as the enigmatic tank destroyer SU-122-54. Only 77 of these beasts were built. They served in secrecy but some decommissioned examples were converted to armoured recovery vehicles and used on standby at Red Square parades in the 1980s. It was only this appearance that confirmed the existence of the tank destroyer. Mr. Kinnear provides images of both vehicles.

One of the best parts of the book is the final photo guide and glossary, the "heart" of the reference aspect of the book. But before that there is an amazing chapter on the many AFVs on "parade" during the attempted coup d´etat of August 1991.

Not only has the author located an impressive amount of great photographs, the captions show that the author really knows his stuff - he points out fine details, making the images even more interesting.

In general, this book, like Kinnear´s previous one, describes in amazing detail the vehicles and heavy weapons of an era. At the same time Kinnear provides a history of the main world events of the decades in question. This is largely a very good idea, that put the weapons and vehicles in context. I wrote "largely" because the pages about the author´s views regarding history after 1991 can be questioned both due to the years in the book´s title and the book type. Nevertheless, The Soviet Army On Parade 1946-1991 is a treasure trove for students of military history and especially for military vehicle buffs.

Thus The Soviet Army On Parade 1946-1991 is as valuable as The Red Army On Parade 1917-1945, and together the two volumes tell both the story of the world´s heaviest military parades and much about several of the most influential weapons and vehicles of the 20th century.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

No Surrender

German troops march past the Norwegian parliament in 1940. PHOTO: Riksarkivet

In a few months the 80th anniversary of the German invasion of Norway in April 1940 will be highlighted not only here in Scandinavia. There are a number of books in English about the invasion, but the aftermath is not as well documented in English. However, a key source has recently become available: No Surrender.

There is something very inspiring with well-written personal accounts of occupation resistance and imprisonment. No Surrender is one of the strongest, not least because Hans Cappelen wrote it just some months after the war. In Norwegian his WWII memoir was published as Vi ga oss ikke already in 1945. Because of this and his postwar work for the public he became rather well known in Norway, in 1970 he was made a Knight, First Class of the Order of St. Olav.

No surrender contains plenty of exciting scenes due to high stakes and daring. In spite of the grim subject matter and proximity to the events, Hans Cappelen includes humour and portrays his captors in a credible manner. Several conversations that Hans Cappelen had with Germans quite surprised me.

This book is of particular importance not just because it covers the early resistance period, Hans Cappelen was a founding member of the resistance and when he was arrested in 1941 he was tortured and eventually deported to Germany as a "Nacht und Nebel" prisoner, destined to disappear in "Night and Fog" (the meaning of "Nacht und Nebel"). He thus got to know some of Nazi Germany’s most infamous camps, among them Natzweiler, Dachau and Buchenwald. In the spring of 1945 he was rescued by Count Folke Bernadotte’s "White Buses" and transported to Sweden.

RAF veteran and now also translator of No Surrender, J. Basil Cowlishaw, first met Hans Cappelen in the spring of 1949, when Cappelen approved his job application. They became friends and often met each other until Cappelen passed away in 1979. The result of the translator´s excellent understanding of the history and language in question is a wonderful translation - just a pity it has been released only this year. But better late than never.

I usually don´t write where reviewed books are available, but as there are yet very few places that have No Surrender, I will end this review by recommending the Amazon page.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Red Assault: Soviet Airborne Forces 1939-1941

A truly stunning book, 343 pages of Soviet airborne information and photographs.

For years I have been collecting books about airborne forces and therefore I can guarantee that this book is amazing. Very few readers outside what was once the Soviet Union will have previously seen more than two or three of the book´s photographs. And Red Assault has plenty of photos - that match the surprisingly rich text. And there is a Swedish connection.

Red Assault: Soviet Airborne Forces 1939-1941 by Vladimir Kotelnikov shows, with an amazingly detailed text and lots of different illustrations, that the Soviet airborne were pioneers in more ways than imagined. Because not only does it tell the story of the known airborne equipment and experiments, but also several ideas and tests that have never been documented in any previous book. The early Soviet airborne infatuation with armoured vehicles was not limited to the T-37A amphibious tank. Several other AFVs were tested by the airborne troops. Sketches and fine drawings reveal even more advanced ideas like a "helicopter tank" and then there was the quite adorable "avia-motorcycle" in two variants.

Airborne recoilless guns, an experimental camouflaged jump suit, various parachutes, special gliders, airborne dogs, airdrop sledges - this book has them all and often the quality of both the information and photographs is astounding.

Aircraft buffs will also be baffled, because early Soviet paratroopers were not only dropped from huge TB-3s, Red Assault contains many more types, some very futuristic designs. And now a Swedish connection: "There was a shortage of alloy steel in the country at the time and it had to be imported first and foremost from Sweden."

Not that surprisingly, Mikhail Tukhachevskiy is one of the officers portrayed in this book. But Vladimir Kotelnikov, for credible reasons, writes more about the "fanatic" and "genius" Pavel Grokhovskiy. This airborne pioneer deserves to become better known.

Is there nothing lacking in this book? The parts about the operations in Poland and Finland are short. What about the scope, the book ends in 1941. Well, if it were to cover also 1941-45 with the same degree of detail as 1930-1939 it would be thick as a brick. Better focus on that period in another book. But by the very nature of the events between 1941 and 1945 such a book can not contain as much about airborne development and equipment as Red Assault does. This is because the Soviet airborne forces in 1941-45 found themselves fighting most desperately, largely without aircraft and with no time or resources for airborne development. The Soviet visions of massive airborne operations were not possible to realize until the 1960s.

Sometimes book covers claim that a book is original and contains new insights, photos etc, but the book then actually offers very little that collectors have not seen before. Well, this is just not the case with Red Assault. It delivers. Both airborne and aircraft buffs will be pleasantly surprised by Vladimir Kotelnikov´s book, translated by Kevin Bridge and published by the UK publisher Helion & Company.