Monday, December 30, 2019
This year (2019) was the final year in the life of Rudolf von Ribbentrop, son of the Third Reich´s foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop - the German half of the most common name for the Hitler-Stalin Pact (Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) that in August 1939 stunned the world. Speaking about 2019, one of the final meetings of President Vladimir Putin this year was largely about this pact.
President Putin has lately talked a great deal about the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. There have been reactions to this, not least from the first victim of the pact, Poland. In other words, this first English language edition of Rudolf von Ribbentrop´s book about his father has been released with rather good timing. Most of its 476 pages are indeed about Joachim von Ribbentrop and several passages about him, as well as quotes from him and others, are of great interest. But aside from the direct quotes My Father Joachim von Ribbentrop is a mixed bag. The idea to let the book also be about the author´s own past is understandable. Rudolf von Ribbentrop not only witnessed the rise of the Third Reich from a rather unique position, he joined the SS Infantry Regiment "Deutschland" and took part in the invasion of France 1940. Afterwards he led a platoon of what later became "Nord", in Finland; was assigned to the Leibstandarte "Adolf Hitler"; participated as a tank commander in the Third Battle of Kharkov/Kharkiv and was shot by a sniper while rescuing wounded.
After recovering, the young von Ribbentrop became a Panzer company commander and led his company during the recapture of Kharkov/Kharkiv, after which he received the Knight’s Cross. He was transferred to the SS Division "Hitlerjugend" and was again wounded when a Spitfire attacked his car. Ribbentrop was awarded the German Cross in Gold during the defense of Normandy in 1944. He also took part in the Battle of the Bulge and met Hitler in his bunker in February 1945. All this he describes himself and his words are often fascinating to read. The problem is how these personal experiences are spread out over the book, and that there are passages that indicated to me that the author´s age introduced errors of memory into the text - he was 87 when he finished writing the original (German) manuscript.
Rudolf von Ribbentrop´s take on the origin and conduct of the Second World War is thought-provoking but at times simply not convincing. He did realize that he had served a murderous dictator but he nevertheless believed that Hitler had above all been tricked into attacking Poland - indirectly tricked by conspiring German generals. Where is Alfred Naujocks, Gleiwitz and other German-orchestrated incidents along the Polish-German border? Was I just too tired or did the author attempt to explain away the Lebensraum motive? The pages about his father´s enthusiasm for the pact with Stalin are more interesting, and also credible. My Father Joachim von Ribbentrop does contribute to the picture of Hitler´s foreign minister, but one should read it bearing in mind who wrote it, when he wrote it and only after having read other books about the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact.
Sunday, December 08, 2019
The new Tolkien movie, simply called "Tolkien", takes place in England and France. It is about J.R.R. Tolkien's childhood, youth and time at the front during the First World War. The film seems to have received mostly lukewarm reviews - well, here comes my take.
It seems that few Swedish cinemas (any at all?) have shown "Tolkien". Maybe it was released directly on DVD in Sweden? However, I have now seen it, on DVD, and my opinion is that it is not only well worth seeing, it is simply wonderful. As a film, it is gripping, romantic and beautiful. AND the director is Nordic, Dome Karukoski. What, a director from Finland? Actually, not so strange, considering that the Finnish language was important for Tolkien's saga languages, as was Kalevala - Finland's national epic. The Finnish language is actually mentioned in the film, and rightfully so.
In other words, ignore the reviews and watch the movie yourself. If you then want to know more about Lieutenant Tolkien's war experiences, I highly recommend Tolkien and the Great War by John Garth. A fantastic read if you are really interested in Tolkien and also are a military history buff.
Thursday, December 05, 2019
Having a special interest in StuGs it takes a special StuG book to surprise me. Well, Dennis Oliver´s new book StuG III & IV: German Army, Waffen-SS and Luftwaffe, Western Front 1944-1945 contained some news for me - not least about Danish postwar StuG use.
Why are WWII assault guns/tank destroyers of special interest among AFV buffs and modellers? I reckon there are several different answers depending on who you ask, but here in Sweden I think quite a few guys (now rather mature AFV buffs/modellers) once trained to use the Swedish "S-tank" (strv 103), like myself, will be aware of the historical roots between the S-tank and the WWII assault guns. I recall my 1980s exchange of letters with the chief designer of the S-tank, Sven Berge - from which I understood that the design similarities of StuGs and S-tanks were no coincidence.
Now, having read about StuGs since the glorious 1980s it takes quite a lot to impress me. But Dennis Oliver´s book has done so. Almost all WWII photographs in his new book are new to me and then he has produced 23 brilliant colour illustrations, clearly displaying different types of camouflage and markings. Aside from these Oliver provides short but good unit histories with graphics plus all the different StuG scale models ever made and very good photos of assembled and painted kits.
Being a blogger/writer with a Nordic angle on military history I must of course also mention my big surprise when I found Oliver´s photo of a StuG III Ausf. B belonging to Minenkommando Dänemark, a company-sized formation formed by the Allies after WWII to remove the about 1 million mines that the Germans had laid along the Danish coast. I knew of this mine-clearing operation but did not knew it had StuG IIIs and PzKpfw IIIs. Well, Oliver knows a lot about StuGs, and has the ability to transfer his knowledge in this quite short (64 pages) but large size book in the excellent TankCraft series.