Wednesday, July 29, 2020
When researching WWII U-boat history you get to a point where you need a good reference book. Well, this is it. This is not a book about every single U-boat and every U-boat commander. But just about all major U-boat actions and key commanders are present in The U-Boat Commanders: Knight´s Cross Holders 1939-1945 by Jeremy Dixon.
This is not the kind of book that puts the U-boat actions into context - there are other books that do that. This is more of a very specialized compilation of biographies and it is organized in such a manner that the first section is very short - it contains only two men: Albrecht Brandi and Wolfgang Luth - because only these two were awarded the Knight´s Cross with Oakleaves, Swords and Diamonds. Then there is a section about the three who received the above but minus the diamonds; then the 23 recipients of the Knight´s Cross with Oakleaves and finally the 93 who "only" received the cross.
Each biography starts with the number of ships the recipient sunk and how many tons and then the life and career of each recipient is summarized on two to four pages. Postwar life - if the recipient survived the war - is mentioned, but there are not that many details. Every biography ends with a list of other wartime awards that the person received.
There is at least one photograph of every recipient, sometimes there are two and at times also the victims of these men are present in so far that some of the ships they sunk are pictured and the captions provide some data about their histories.
Are you trying to research some major action with U-boats involved? Then the 323 pages of The U-Boat Commanders: Knight´s Cross Holders 1939-1945 will most probably provide several of the facts that you are looking for. The book also provides good information on several decorations, Kriegsmarine terminology and ends with a bibliography.
Saturday, July 25, 2020
If you have read my book about elite forces in the Nordic states (so far only available in Swedish: Elitförband i Norden) you may have noticed that I have a special interest in the Danish Sirius rangers. Patrolling with dog sleds over huge and uninhabited areas on Greenland is their everyday work.
Sadly, I only recently got hold of Sirius A Watchful Eye In The North by Peter Bondo Christensen, biologist at Aarhus University, with photos taken by Sweden's probably most Arctic photographer ever, Magnus Elander. All the Arctic travel behind their book is in itself worth a lot of respect. The thing is that they have also achieved something brilliant. I simply can not imagine a better, more beautiful book about special forces, dogs and Greenland than this one.
Sirius A Watchful Eye In The North not only provides the reader with an understanding of the unit's history and tasks, I think Peter Bondo Christensen and Magnus Elander have managed to convey some of the feeling of "flow" that the Sirius rangers get when they have learned the "craft" and solve tasks in harmony with both dogs, snow, ice and extreme temperatures.
Magnus Elander's photographs are so beautiful that words fail me - it is such a joy to see them that I can only compare to going to the best art galleries I have visited. No wonder his pictures can be found in magazines such as National Geographic Magazine and he has been named "Wildlife Photographer of the Year".
Serving for a period with the Sirius Patrol means, in a way, being away from the "real" world for two years. You might think that two years is just too much - talk about social distancing! But Sirius A Watchful Eye In The North lets the reader understand that the time on Greenland creates extremely strong friendships, with both humans and animals. The book allows the reader to perceive another world, both more difficult, easier and more beautiful than the "normal world".
The only sad thing about Sirius A Watchful Eye In The North, released in 2018, is that the book is very difficult to get hold of. It is a little easier to find the Danish version, published in 2009 and 2018. Those editions are also completely sold out, but several copies are available in Danish libraries.
The book is 206 pages and the format is slightly larger than A4. Should you manage to find a copy for sale, be prepared to pay a lot. But whatever it costs, you will find that it was worth it - because this is one of the finest books ever created.
Friday, July 24, 2020
From Norway to Crete, German WWII Fallschirmjägers i.e. paratroopers made a strong impression on the battlefield. The new book Fallschirmjäger! by Greg Way has a personal focus, it lets the reader get to know 18 German paras - mainly their frontline memories but also what they experienced in captivity.
Royal Navy veteran Greg Way started corresponding and then meeting with German paratrooper veterans more than twenty years ago, and his book is the result of these years of contact. While Mr. Way has chosen to concentrate on the history of the individual rather than the unit, he does begin his book with a good summary of the Luftwaffe paratrooper operations and campaigns, and a useful glossary of relevant terminology and abbreviations.
Having lived in the Netherlands and last year written a chapter about how German paras met some rather stiff resistance from Dutch cavalrymen in Landsverk armoured cars (from Sweden), it was of special interest to me to read about the invasion of the Netherlands from the perspective of Kurt Schulz. His recollections are the most gripping I have so far read about that operation. I only wish there had been some more paragraphs about his later service with the 14. Luftwaffen-Feld-Division by the Arctic Circle in Norway. Although this part is not even a page long it contains some highly interesting details and a photo from Norwegian Nesna that make me want to find out more about this little-described division.
The memories of captivity i.e. POW camps are surprising. For example German paratrooper veteran Wilhelm Schulte reported that German POWs in Arkansas were treated well and when one of them died the man was given a proper burial outside the camp that included full military honors from American soldiers.
Combat on Crete is covered i.a. in the chapters about Josef Jendryschik and Bernd Bosshammer. Russia, Monte Cassino and other actions in Italy are covered in several chapters. The book contains an unusually high amount of private photographs, some modern photos of equipment and battle sites plus other types of illustrations like drawings and documents.
To sum things up, Fallschirmjäger! gives the reader good insights into the wartime service and captivity of a cross-section of German paras, and should be of special interest to those researching Crete and Monte Cassino.
Tuesday, July 21, 2020
Let me immediately confess that I have been wrong about the Bren Gun and Universal Carriers. For some reason I until recently thought it was a simple, dull type of vehicle. I have been VERY wrong.
Last year I reviewed a previous Land Craft series book about a more universally (forgive the pun) appreciated vehicle, the Jeep in SAS & LRDG service. Now it is time for Robert Jackson´s book about something of an armoured equivalent of the Jeep. Bren Gun and Universal Carriers did not only serve in every theatre of WWII, they were also produced in several countries. I had been aware of the Canadian Universal Carriers but have now, thanks to Jackson´s new book, learnt also of the US, Canadian and New Zealand Universals.
Carriers not only had machine guns, there were some with artillery and anti-tank weapons mounted on top - both in Allied and German service. Yes, the Germans used captured Universal Carriers, and that is how I came to develop an interest in them. The thing is that I last year discovered that German trains transported i.a. a Carrier from a Swedish railway station (Haparanda) to an unknown destination in Norway or Germany. The vehicle in question may have been captured at Dunkirk and then sent to serve with a German unit somewhere in Lapland. There definitely exist photos of Universal Carriers in German Arctic service, in Kari Kuusela´s book Panzers in Finland. Why at least one Carrier (there is only one in the photos) was transported by the Germans via Sweden is not known. While Robert Jackson´s new book has not solved this mystery it does have some photos and colour drawings of Universal Carriers in German service.
Especially scale modellers and MV buffs will appreciate Bren Gun Carrier - Britain´s Universal War Machine, because it contains the best photos I have ever seen of many different scale models of the type. Several of the scale models also carry all kinds of equipment and some are part of magnificent dioramas.
The combat performance of the Universal Carrier is not the main focus of this book - but it does provide examples of the type´s strengths and weaknesses. There are some surprising examples of actions with Carriers. While the section about Carriers in conflicts after 1945 is not long, it is certainly interesting. BTW I hope to rather soon visit a Carrier abandoned in an Arctic forest.
Tuesday, July 14, 2020
When one hears "special operations during WWII" few will think of other continents than Europe and Africa. But special ops were of course also one method of fighting in Asia. David Miller´s book focuses on three special operations in Asia and especially one of them will surprise just about everyone - as the target was not Japanese but German. There is a Swedish connection, too.
German U-boat successes against Allied merchant ships in the Indian Ocean in 1942-43 became a real problem for the Allies. In fact, German naval forces were active in several parts of Asia, and more active than I had imagined. David Miller´s book has been a real eye-opener for me regarding this aspect of German operations. All three ops featured in his book Special Operations South-East Asia 1942-1945 are amazing to learn about, but the struggle against Japanese forces is what you expect and therefore the Special Operations Executive (SOE) raid against the Germans in Goa is the most spectacular.
At the time, i.e. early 1943, Goa was formally not part of India but Portugal, which explains the German presence. A charming aspect of the British Goa raid, Operation Longshanks/Creek, was that enthusiastic and somewhat unlikely volunteers from the Calcutta Light Horse played a key role. Now, some of you who read this blog post may now be saying "that rings a bell", because you have seen a film from 1980 starring Roger Moore and David Niven, called "The Sea Wolves". That film, based on the 1978 James Leasor novel Boarding Party, was an early signal to the world about the particularly secret SOE operation. But I think you will find this book to be more interesting than that film, not least because it busts a few myths present in the movie.
You might recall from my blog post "A Deniable Operation Under The Swedish Flag" that Swedish aspects manage to pop up even in some very faraway places. Well Special Operations South-East Asia 1942-1945 reminds also of how the US Department of State chartered the Swedish ocean liner Gripsholm as an exchange and repatriation ship. It carried many Japanese and Germans to ports where she could pick up US and Canadian citizens - and bring them home. She sailed with a Swedish captain and crew and made 12 round trips. Exchanges took place at neutral ports such as Goa in Portuguese India. In the article below is a photo showing the Gripsholm in Goa 1943, unloading Red Cross supplies for internees and prisoners of war.
Wednesday, July 08, 2020
If you like me have been collecting armour books since the 1980s it will take quite a lot to be surprised. But with Panzers in Berlin 1945 the surprises are MANY. The book is so rich that it is hard to summarize what is most baffling.
Not only does the book contain hundreds of black-and-white photos of Tigers, Panthers and more rare AFVs (some extremely rare), it even has some colour photos from Berlin 1945 I have not seen anywhere before, plus a large separate map showing where in Berlin most pictured AFV wrecks were situated. The total number of photos in the book is 360 and in addition it has 16 colour artworks of the highest quality. There is also a time travel aspect, as many pages include QR codes - one just points a smartphone camera at the code and then one sees the location as it is today in Google Street View.
The armour aside, the book provides a sense of the conditions in Berlin in April and May 1945 as well as during the first months after the war. Because in many photos you also get to see the everyday life of both soldiers and civilians from several states. So, a special interest in the last days of the war in Europe is also a motive to get this book.
The German Heer, Luftwaffe, Waffen-SS and Volkssturm units that employed AFVs and other vehicles in Berlin 1945 are the main focus of the text and many, many names of tankers and other soldiers appear. Very few people will previously have seen many of the included photographs. When occasionally previously published photos do appear they have better captions than before and generally speaking all images are perfectly reproduced and large. The text, like the photos, is full of news even for those with a special interest in Panzers.
Let me mention some of the rare vehicles pictured in this book: Panzerjäger B IV Ausf. B, Wilton-Fijenoord armoured car and the gepanzerter Munitionsschlepper. Soviet AFV buffs also get to see some Red Army vehicles in Berlin. The bloody reality of war is in no way censored, some images might well illustrate pacifist brochures. Quotes from veterans of the Battle for Berlin are of course included. Being from Sweden I must of course also mention that the units with Nordic volunteers are on several pages.
I can not imagine a better book if you want to study the last battles with WW2 Panzers, and how the battleground looks like today. Panzers in Berlin 1945 by Lee Archer, Robert Kraska and Mario Lippert is a gold mine for WW2 buffs planning to visit Berlin. The price of the book might seem high, but once you have the book and realize how much research is behind it, and see how well it turned out, the price is almost low. The book can be purchased in several places but my favourite is Canfora.
Friday, July 03, 2020
Last year I reviewed another book by Brooke S. Blades, The Americans On D-Day & In Normandy and I found it to be better than I had expected. What about this new book by Mr. Blades then?
Well, the amount of photographs in The Americans From The Ardennes To VE Day is again unusually high, and the photos are generally large and nicely reproduced. This time the book consists of 256 pages and the focus is mainly on the Ardennes i.e. the Battle of the Bulge and to a lesser degree it is about the Allied advance to the Rhine, the airborne operation called Varsity and the final days of the war in Europe. There are several stunning images I have never seen before and the captions are often more informative than normally is the case. Several photos should be able to inspire modellers and reenactors. Some are also quite puzzling, like a British 6th Airborne paratrooper during Operation Varsity, who is wearing several American uniform items. Could he in fact be an American para? Hardly, because his helmet and Sten Mk V ("commando" type) are both British. Thus I reckon the man is either a British or Canadian para.
The text provides views from all ranks and my favorite is a quote from Alfred Jodl that shows just how deluded he was about how British and American soldiers thought. The evaluation of Operation Varsity, a huge airborne operation in which Swedish volunteer Erik G:son Lewenhaupt took part, is sobering. Was Varsity really that necessary? By the way, British airborne volunteer Lewenhaupt is not mentioned in this book but he is in three of mine. James Gavin´s insights about the attitude among regular US infantrymen at the end of the war are also a highlight in the text.
In case you are new to collecting books about the Battle of the Bulge, that constitutes half of this book, you will probably be very pleased with The Americans From The Ardennes To VE Day. If you, like me, already have many Ardennes books, you will recognize several photos from previous books and articles. But, because of the strong images I had not seen before I "forgive" the author for having included those classic photos.