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

Saturday, November 21, 2020

SAS Jeep Operations in Germany and Norway

It´s not every day that you find a new book about the SAS in Norway and discover one more Nordic in the ranks of the SAS. Well, With the SAS Across the Rhine is mainly about final operations on German soil. Still, it is well worth getting and now for some details.


Unlike some SAS books this one by the late (he died in 2002) Colonel Ian Wellsted OBE, MA, is very personal, it has plenty of details about his love life. This may put off some readers, but should not – because Wellsted´s memoir highlights something probably quite common – how a turbulent emotional conflict at home can follow a soldier to the battlefield and affect his behaviour a lot.    


In January 1945 Ian Wellsted is trained in the French alps for operations in Norway together with a Danish SAS member I had never heard of before. No, I am not talking about Anders Lassen VC. Every Nordic reader into SAS history knows about Lassen. Wellsted writes about Paul Jensen, a former Spanish Civil War volunteer who after the German invasion of his homeland had become active in a Danish resistance organization until he had to flee to the UK, where he joined the SAS. No year for this is given but Wellsted writes about the man on several pages and Danish history buffs should thus be able to track him down. Would love to find out more about Paul Jensen, or perhaps that was not his actual name? Let me know, dear Danish readers.


To get into the right shape for Norway the SAS men are helped by French alpine rangers, chasseurs alpins, and the part about them was for me extra enjoyable as I have had the pleasure of observing them on an exercise. To be precise I was skiing with the 27thAlpine Ranger Battalion. I thus relate to Ian Wellsted´s warm feelings for his cool French hosts. 


After about a month in the alps the SAS skiers were told Norway was no longer a top priority (but Norway will come back on the agenda) and they were instead sent to Germany to there constitute an advance party with armoured jeeps. So, all you SAS jeep fans, here is a book you will definitely want to read. Wellsted´s jeep battle accounts are supported by 16 photos, not always top quality but none of which I have seen before, and some tactical maps. 


In Germany the author confronts not only German snipers but also a most tense situation with one of his own that obviously is suffering from extreme battle fatigue. 


Once Germany has fallen Norway returns on the SAS agenda. Of course, we now all know that this also broke the German will to fight on in Norway. But at the time things were not so evident, and Wellsted paints a vivid picture of what Norway was like just after the general German surrender. One only wishes this part had been a bit longer and that there had been more photos from it. But the one photo that there is, is of particular interest, with many nice jeep details.


With the SAS Across the Rhine (155 pages) ends with a very modern take on what the WWII SAS was all about and lessons to be learnt from them. This part has been written by one of New Zealand´s greatest SAS history buffs, Terence Gardiner, a retired air commodore, and is in itself worth your time. 

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Hitler´s V-weapons

The story of the battle against the German V-1 flying bomb and V-2 rocket is more fascinating than I thought. The official history of this battle, recently compiled by John Grehan, reminds of how the unmanned aerial vehicle made its debut long ago and includes Norwegian and Swedish aspects.    

The very secret war against the V-1 and V-2 actually began in Norway already in November 1939, most unexpectedly. This was several months before the country was invaded and became a battleground. What happened was that the British Embassy in Oslo then received two letters from an anonymous German scientist whose name turned out to be Hans Ferdinand Mayer. The embassy staff passed on his letters to the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS/MI6) HQ in London for further analysis. The letters turned out to be a leak from the heart of German high tech weapons research, or as the official history puts it: "the first serious evidence to fall into British hands that the Germans were developing rockets for military purposes". 

It is almost beyond belief how much the Germans poured into the V-1 and V-2 projects and this new book brings home both the scale of the German efforts and how the British analysts and leaders learnt of them and tried to prepare themselves for what was to come, and then acted. What the rocket threat more exactly consisted of became a lot clearer thanks to a V-2 that accidentally flew to Sweden on the 13th of June 1944. It was an incredible moment to stand by this rocket´s crater - it is still well preserved in a dark forest not too far from Kalmar in south Sweden. In fact, this crater is one of the highlights in my latest book.  

Having recently researched the V-2 that ended in Sweden I can say that I know of no previous book that mentions the following aspect of what happened once the Swedish authorities had become aware of the cause of the explosion. Basically all relevant previous books report that debris from the exploded V-2 was collected and brought to Swedish technical experts and then the debris was sent on to the Allies, to British experts in Farnborough. However, Hitler´s V-weapons also states that two British technical intelligence officers were allowed to enter Sweden soon after the explosion, and here immediately made some important discoveries. In other words the first Allied examination  of a V-2 took place not in Farnborough but in Sweden.

There is also an exciting "what if" scenario in Hitler´s V-weapons - the Special Operations Executive (SOE) selected a German technician for capture, a key person for the V-weapons. But the man turned out to be so closely guarded that the SOE deemed it impossible to get him alive. 

Well, this 328 page book with 16 photographs (some quite moving) should please both V-weapon and UAV buffs, as well as civil defense and London historians.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

The Battle for Norway 1940-1942

If you are researching or wargaming Norway 1940 and/or Operation Claymore 1941, this book will be of great interest to you. Because in The Battle for Norway 1940-1942 you will find the original words of the commanding British officers. Written not with hindsight, but as they saw things at the time.

This 174 page book is mainly a collection of wartime despatches and is very ably introduced by the men who have compiled them, John Grehan and Martin Mace. They correctly point out the crucial factor for the Norwegian campaign of 1940, air superiority. As the Allies never achieved air superiority over Norway their attempts at contesting the German invasion forces were doomed. 

From a Swedish perspective it is of special interest to see how clearly the value of the Swedish port of Luleå is stated. "To interfere with ore supplies to Germany from Luleå" is the second priority of the British forces. After that came preserving "a part of Norway as a seat of Government for the Norwegian King and Government". I incorrectly supposed that Luleå came after that.  

On the other hand, the despatches and reports from Operation Claymore, the March 1941 raid on the Norwegian Lofoten Islands, are full of successful action. It was time for Hitler to taste some of his own medicine - the element of surprise. To attain this the Royal Navy first had to reach an exactness of timing, and so it did. The list of shipping and factories (fish oil plants) destroyed is impressive.

From a Norwegian perspective it is pleasant to read how highly the Norwegian detachment commanded by Captain Martin Linge was praised. In the relevant passage it becomes clear why Martin Linge became the founder of the most celebrated Norwegian WWII unit, the Linge Company of the Special Operations Executive.   

For researchers the index of persons is great. There are not that many illustrations (16) but the book still gets a high score as it constitutes a source of great historical value.