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

Monday, October 09, 2017

The British Norway Campaign

In April 1942 Adolf Hitler stated that only the Battle of Moscow and the Norwegian campaign had been ”absolutely decisive” actions. Why then has, until recently, the Norwegian campaign attracted so few British or American authors? Several reasons can be stated, e.g, that it was a military failure for the Allies, but I so far have found no utterly convincing reply to this question.

What I mainly have gained from the book Churchill and The Norway Campaign (2008) by Graham Rhys-Jones is a more full realization of the Pyrrhic nature of the German victory in Norway. To quote from the book it ”sparked the upheaval which removed Chamberlain´s hesitant and divided ministry and opened the way for an implacable and uncompromising opponent, determined to see the war through to its better end.” That the Norwegian campaign sealed Chamberlain´s fate was certainly not news to me, but it was Churchill and The Norway Campaign that first made me consider the German victory in Norway more of a minus than a plus for the Germans.

The author is not uncritical of Chamberlain´s successor, Churchill. In fact, he writes such things as: ”Behind that benign even homely image, the uplifting rhetoric and the inspiring presence lay a ruthlessness (even sometimes a vindictiveness) worthy of Al Capone.”

The book examines both the strategy behind the tactical actions and many of the more significant events in the fjords and mountains of Norway.

The poor performance of the British Army in Norway seems to have largely been the result of First World War thinking, according to the author. The author confirmed something I have long suspected, that Spaniards formed the largest national group in the Foreign Legion detachment at Narvik. I am impressed with the details regarding the French troops provided by the author.

I also find it commendable that the author describes the almost totally forgotten ”Mowinckel Plan”, an idea not adopted but a great what-if scanario that in a nutshell meant that Swedish forces were to intervene and take over the Narvik area from both the Germans and Allied forces.

The author of Churchill and The Norway Campaign, Graham Rhys-Jones, is also the author of The Loss of the Bismarck (1999) and has a background in the Royal Navy where he commanded a frigate. In more recent years he has taught strategy at the US Naval War College (USNWC) and on leaving the navy he returned to the USNWC as a research fellow.

My main negative remark would be the strong expectation created by the book´s cover. It portrays in colour Winston Churchill flanked by the German generals Eduard Dietl and Nikolaus von Falkenhorst. Considering that the author devotes little space to Dietl and sursprisingly little to Falkenhorst, the overall commander of the invasion of Norway, the cover is rather misleading. That having been said I will not deny that the cover is a very attractive one!

Rhys-Jones has found some excellent photographs for his book, one only wishes he had included some more. The seven maps provide the essential geographical features and names, but not more.

If you are looking for a recent and reliable overview of the battle for Norway in 1940 I would recommend another book: Hitler´s Pre-emptive War by Henrik O. Lunde. If you, however, are mainly interested in the British aspects of this campaign, Churchill and The Norway Campaign is an excellent choice.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Attention Tank & Airborne Buffs!

The tank that actually got wings now has the stunning book it deserves.

When did I start collecting books about Soviet tanks and airborne troops? Not sure, but sometime in the 1980s. To make clear how much I like this new book, let me immediately say that this is the most amazing and well-presented one about Soviet tanks/airborne I have yet come across.

Although little known, especially in the West, the T-60 small tank (yes, small tank = official designation), was the third most numerous tank-type built in the Soviet Union 1941-45, behind only the classic T-34 and the SU-76 self propelled gun in terms of production.

Aside from the basic T-60 and its more common variants this new 176-page book by James Kinnear and Yuri Pasholok presents the incredible tank-glider variant of the T-60 known as both the KT Flying Tank and A-40. They do so with details I have never seen before and thus make this book a must also for airborne troops history buffs.

Special mention should be made of the sections about the T-60 in combat and the history of both the few preserved T-60s and the full scale T-60-replicas that have been made in Russia in recent years.

This book has set a new standard with lots of new and high quality photos, new facts from primary sources plus fine colour illustrations. I can not recommend you enough to visit the website of the Stockholm publisher, Canfora, to learn more about this book, and their other books. Here is the link you are looking for.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

WWII Narvik 2017 Update

It is a bit more than a year since I visited the then new Narvik War Museum. My blog report about that visit was a bit critical. Have things changed since? Yes, and there are both some improvements to report, and a brand new exhibit in the form of the above pictured untouched German Ford V8 towing FLAK.

Artifacts from WWII, especially vehicles, that have "simply" been preserved have a special atmosphere around them. The Hotchkiss tank in the Narvik War Museum is, sadly, not among those vehicles. The tank ought at least to be put into context with the help of some large photographs showing the type in use around Narvik.

However, since my visit last year the museum has added some vehicles from the previous museum and also one that has not been exhibited before, a Ford V8 that really takes you back in time (it is the one in the top photo). The story behind it in brief: it was a Norwegian passenger car (sedan) and then taken over by the Germans and modified so it became a hybrid truck. Two more photos of it.

Another positive change is that the 1:1 diorama is back from the old museum. It is an original German mountain position that has been reconstructed inside the museum. A bonus is that there is now no glass between the visitor and this display. Three photos of it now.

Where is the mountain diorama located? Look for the experimental German rocket launcher. BTW there are only two of these launchers still around... The diorama is right beside it.

The "human torpedo", Morris armoured car and Kettenkrad tracked motorcycle from the old museum are also now back on display.

Gladly, VC Captain Bernard Warburton-Lee´s name has also been rectified.

Now, if one may make a wish or two - how about using the long, winding and mostly empty corridor to the bottom floor - putting up some of the photographs and paintings from the previous museum there? And surely there is room for at least a small display about the paratrooper dimension of the battle of Narvik, a milestone in history, not just WWII history. How about a paratrooper and a parachute container with contents?

Visitors could also get tips for WWII sights around town, e.g. be directed to the 1940 landing sites, slave labour camps and the war cemeteries with their many strong reminders of the ultimate price, with fallen even from New Zealand ("N.Z."). BTW who knows more about Major Bowen´s death, and how Lieutenant Morrison from New Zealand was killed, why so late as May 4, 1945?

Finally, the naval history sight outside Narvik that you have to be rather fit to walk to (skip it in wet conditions, just too dangerous a walk then). In other words, the wreck of the German destroyer Georg Thiele - how is it faring? Well, here are two photos of it I have taken, the first in 2001 and the one below this week.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Mysterious German Mountain Division Remains Located

The 1st trace. I slightly moved this jerrycan to show the ground below.

Having a special interest in units that were in the area where Finland, Norway and Sweden converge, it was time for me to try to find remains in the field of the mysterious 9th German Mountain Division. I did, with the help of my Finnish friend and colleague Mika Kulju. This is my report about what we found.

In my native language, Swedish, we call the place where the borders of Sweden, Finland and Norway meet Treriksröset. That translates as Three Realms Cairn. What a wonderful ring that has, sounds like some place in a Tolkien book, right? There is also a more "official" name in English for the place, the Three-Country Cairn, but I prefer realms... Anyway, to get to that area by car I drove through the Swedish border town of Karesuando, that in 1944-45 housed several hundred Norwegian "police troops". There is a monument to their memory in front of Karesuando´s former police HQ, known as "The White House", today a local history museum. For more about the "police troops" see my book, Germans & Allies in Sweden.

In Karesuando I also noted that they still have that frontier shop that boasts "WE HAVE EVERYTHING, ALMOST".

I then drove past the enormous German fortified position of the 7th Mountain Division, called the Sturmbock-Stellung and since some years partially restored and including a small but interesting WWII museum mainly about the troops of the German 7th Mountain Division, who held the position between October 1944 and January 1945. Why did I not make a stop there? Well, I have visited it several times before and had some urgent business a bit closer to the Three Realms Cairn. The nature of that business I will not divulge here and now, as it constitutes part of a future article. But I can tell you it will be a surprising article, even for those with a particular interest in the area. I can also say that it was at the place quite close to the cairn that I rendezvoused with my friend Mika Kulju.

After having obtained the information and photos we had set out to get, we drove our cars homewards but made an important stop after about an hour. It was time to see if we during just a few hours might find any traces of the 9th Mountain Division in a place none of us had searched before, its late 1944 position between the border village of Palojoensuu and the town of Enontekiö. The position is known in some sources as the "Palojoensuu Position". Now, several readers may be wondering about the number, the NINTH division? In 1944 the unit was known as Divisional Group Kräutler (in German often just Divisionsgruppe K). On May 6, 1945 (that is what I call late in the war) there was an order re-designating it as the 9th Mountain Division. Well, by using that very late designation I may perhaps have sparked some interest...

What did we see then? First a jerrycan (see above), some parts of a lorry, some yet unidentified metal containers (suggestions about their use are most welcome):

Then, hundreds of dugouts and trenches. Not many directly visible ones (remain) close to Palojoensuu, but once you start getting hills along the road towards Enontekiö you can start looking in tactically logical places, some within sight of the modern road. Here are two photos, click on them to see them in larger size:

Thanks to the slow transformation of the Arctic landscape one can still make out many of the trenches and dugouts. Seeing them makes the WWII history of the area come alive, and the fact that there are no signs to point out anything (and until now no blog with tips about the traces) just makes them more worth seeing, in my opinion.

There is some rusty stuff still in the open, but less than in e.g. the Narvik mountains. Remember to refrain from touching anything that looks like ammunition/explosives, and let things look the way you found them. Take only photos.

Finally, driving back to my home, I was most pleasantly surprised to find a for me new SWISS coffee stop in Muonio, with what might be the best hot chocolate in the world. The place is also worth a stop for the pastries, pies and the amazing Lapland nature photographs. Yes, the place is run by a real Swiss couple. In my opinion the Swiss Cafe in Muonio is definitely worth a large detour.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

World´s Largest Tank Project

Yours truly with a trace of the world´s largest tank project. PHOTO: Mikael Norman

Being a tanker, well at least a former one, it is hard not to be extra amazed by the most insane tank project ever, as it involved a 1,000 metric tonne vehicle and the project was actually approved by Hitler.

This beast was so big that the Germans did not officially call it a tank but a Landkreuzer, a "land cruiser". So, you can imagine how keen I was to with my own eyes examine a physical trace of the Landkreuzer "Ratte" ("Rat") project. Yes, the project was cancelled in 1943 by Albert Speer, but there exists a very large piece of a "Ratte" one can say, in Norway, north of Trondheim. The primary weapon of the "Ratte" would have been a 280 mm gun turret, the same turret that was used on the German battleship Gneisenau, modified by removing one of the guns. Where to find such a preserved turret then? The place is called Austrått and the area Örlandet. More info on e.g. this Norwegian tourism website but let me add that you really should make your visit known well in advance if you want to be sure to see the interior of the turret and also the “Fosen Krigshistoriske Samlinger”, an exhibition about the years of occupation in the area. If you can time your visit in such a manner that you get to see both the exterior and interior of the turret, with its many still functional mechanisms, as well as the occupation exhibition - then it will have been very well worth all your expenses to get to this place.

As for the expenses of the Third Reich to build this massive bunker complex - the story is similar to many other German projects along the Atlantic Wall - the ultimate price was payed by other states. To build this particular complex about 120 prisoners from Yugoslavia were worked to their deaths. Of course, many more suffered - directly and indirectly. I will return to this and other enormous northern Hitler projects in a coming book.

Now, if you are going to travel by car to Austrått, do not miss the opportunity to vist Hegra Fortress, where i.a. three Swedish volunteers (see our book Swedes at War 1914-1945) held out for several weeks against the German attackers. The onslaught of the German forces, not least the Luftwaffe, can be better understood by examining the fortress roof.

Hegra Fortress is a national monument and theres also a museum beside it.

Part of the Hegra Fortress roof, with traces of Luftwaffe attacks.

When in beautiful Trondheim, you should make sure you visit three WWII-related sights. First, The Norwegian National Museum of Justice, with several artifacts from the SS, Quisling police forces and an Enigma machine that was actually saved from a scrap heap in the 1980s. This museum also has the WWI German "anthrax sugar cubes" used by a Swedish volunteer, Otto von Rosen, that you can read more about in Swedes at War 1914-1945. Then there is the army & home front museum Rustekammeret beside the amazing cathedral of Nidaros. Rustekammeret deals with the complete military history of the area, thus not only WWII.

Finally, do not miss to check out the enormous German submarine bunkers in the Trondheim harbour, just too big to miss. They are not that open to the public but you might still find a way to be allowed inside, if you find someone nice and understanding working in them. Even if you are not able to talk yourself inside, their exterior is well worth seeing up close. To prepare yourself for seeing these bunkers and many other German sites in the region, you should get this new and very well illustrated Norwegian book, Bunkeren.

The size of the German Trondheim submarine bunkers is hard to show in one photo.

Monday, July 24, 2017

The 3 Soviet Bombings of Swedish Lapland

Remains of all three Soviet bombings with museum staffer Sivert Mässing.

For the first time, remains from all three Soviet bombings of northernmost Sweden are on public display. Soviet shrapnel from the Övertorneå bombing 1944 has never been displayed in a museum before.

The Soviet bombing of the northern Swedish town of Pajala on February 21 1940 meant about 150 dropped bombs. It may have occurred due to an actual navigational error, Pajala is located on the Finnish border. The Pajala bombing caused rather great damage but no person was killed. It is the northern Soviet bombing that has made it into many Swedish history books.

However, the first ever Soviet bombing of Swedish territory was that of Kallaxön outside Luleå on January 14 1940. Three DB-3 bombers entered the Luleå area from the south east and were well over Swedish ground flying in the direction of the fortress town of Boden when they turned, probably due to the weather conditions, and then bombed Kallaxön with at least ten bombs. Amazingly, only one house was really damaged. Is is quite possible that the Soviets had intended to bomb Boden and when this was no longer possible, they instead opted for damaging the air base being constructed on Kallax. The intention may have been to send a strong signal (protest) to the Swedish government, not to support Finland during the Soviet Winter War against Finland. The Kallaxön bombing is mentioned in only a few books, but forms a rather large part of the bonus chapter in the paperback version of my book Germans and Allies in Sweden.

Now, since last week, bomb parts from the Kallaxön and Pajala bombings have been joined by two Soviet bomb fragments from Övertorneå, that was bombed on February 12 1944. Although there is little that speaks for Soviet intent (Övertorneå also being a border town) this incident too is of some interest, as it has eluded historians. But, thanks to the discovery of an original map from 1944 with bomb craters clearly marked, and evidence from locals and local newspapers, shrapnel has been found and it has been concluded that the bombs had Cyrillic script. Remains of nine were found and one did not go off. The bomb parts constitute just a small part of the museum Flygmuseet F 21 Luleå.

Did other states bomb northernmost Sweden during WWII? A couple of British bombs were dropped, in connection with the battle of Narvik 1940, but they were dropped by the Norwegian border and landed in the wilderness, not harming anyone or anything except the ground.

The above text constitutes an English summary of three articles in Swedish I have written, that were published in Soldat & Teknik 3/2014, 1/2017 and 4/2017.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Was Raoul Wallenberg´s Execution 70 Years Ago?

Sergeant Wallenberg of the Svea Life Guards Regiment, from Lars Brink´s book.

Only in October last year (2016) the Swedish Tax Agency declared Raoul Wallenberg officially dead. But when did he breathe his last breath? The Swedish Tax Agency recorded the date of his death as July 31, 1952. However, July 17, 1947 is the most presumed date for his execution by the MGB (which in 1954 became the KGB). In other words, 70 years ago.

The Swedish Tax Agency´s date of July 31, 1952 does not directly point out Wallenberg´s death day, it is just in line with the tax agency´s approach in cases where the circumstances of death are unclear. The agency has a general rule of five years after someone goes missing. Why then July 31 and not July 17? Well, again this is according to policy - which is to not mark a certain day but the last day of the month during which the person was known to be alive.

How was Raoul Wallenberg "liquidated", i.e. murdered? Poison or a bullet are the methods mentioned by different Soviet/Russian sources.

I am no Raoul Wallenberg expert but my co-author Lennart Westberg and I have followed developments around Raoul Wallenberg research and summarize these in the English translation of our book, Swedes at War 1914-1945. The latest book about Raoul Wallenberg recently landed on my desk and it is written by Lars Brink, an accomplished author and also veteran of the same voluntary defence organization that Raoul Wallenberg worked for, the Swedish Home Guard. Prior to his world famous work in Hungary, Wallenberg had been a very active Home Guard instructor - the above photo shows him in his Swedish Army uniform.

Brink´s new book includes a summary in English and is thus not only of interest for Swedish readers. The book´s title may sound academic, Raoul Wallenberg in Swedish Daily Press During the Cold War, but this is a book that should appeal not only to researchers at universities and institutions, but also to journalists and others. Brink´s book contains a credible and important analysis of how the press in Sweden, including Swedish communist papers, covered Raoul Wallenberg during the classic Cold War years. Previously, Lars Brink has written an amazing history of the Swedish Home Guard, including a very readable section about the young Wallenberg and his defence work. Brink´s books can be found in some Swedish book shops and also ordered from his own website.