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

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Parachute Containers For Christmas

WWII parachute containers still in situ. From new book "Norges tack till Sverige".

As a reader of this blog you might recall that I have quite often mentioned the parachute operations around Narvik. Amazingly, the not-that-hard-to-find parachute container that I blogged about back in 2010 is still (2016) in situ. Finding any kind of traces of WWII still out in the open is a memorable experience, but finding airborne-related materiel is special indeed.

A new book about Norway and Sweden during WWII shows how parachute containers still today can also be found in situ in Vassfaret, south Norway - see the above photos. I am also glad to see that Swedish Narvik veteran Jan Danielsen is mentioned in the book, entitled Norway´s Thanks To Sweden (In Swedish: Norges tack till Sverige). Generally speaking, the book is filled with WWII in Scandinavia facts, photos and other illustrations. And now comes the most unexpected part - the book is directly available as a free e-book on the new English/Swedish website www.norgestack.se

The kings of Norway and Sweden are on the cover with the "police troops" stone.

The authors, Mats Wallenius and Anders Johansson, have done a great deal to make Swedish covert and not-so-covert support for Norway during WWII more known to the general public. Their work can also be seen out in the open in Stockholm, as they were key persons behind this year´s move of the huge Norwegian "police troops" stone, taken from the Norwegian resistance stronghold Vassfaret (where many parachute containers were dropped). Now, thanks to the move, more residents and guests in Stockholm can see and touch a big piece of Scandinavian WWII history that hopefully will contribute to a broader understanding of Sweden´s support for Norway.

Yours truly by the Norwegian "police troops" memorial. PHOTO: Ella Gyllenhaal

So, during the coming holidays, do please visit www.norgestack.se

Wishing you a Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 09, 2016

The Strangest Winter War Volunteer

Winter War volunteer Otto von Zwehl. Photo from the book cover.

While researching for Swedes at War 1914-1945 I came across some pretty unexpected foreign volunteers for Finland during the Winter War of 1939-40. But I missed one very remarkable German who defied both Hitler and Stalin, only to later return to German service in spite of being considered partly Jewish. The first book about him is now out.

The Winter War had an attraction similar to the Spanish Civil War, it made people volunteer from near and far. Just two examples: the US President’s son Kermit Roosevelt recruited a “Finnish Legion” in London that went to Finland with 230 legionnaires. The elderly French general Clement-Grandcourt signed up as a private, but was made an officer when he arrived at the volunteer center in Helsinki. Well, now Lars Westerlund of the National Archives of Finland, author of several books about 20th century wars, has documented one of the 15 Germans who chose to fight for Finland in spite of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. For the Bavarian Otto von Zwehl this was a step that was not as strange as it may sound, as he was among the German officers who had fought for Finland back in 1918. The year after he became a Freikorps volunteer in his native country, the commander of the artillery detachment of the Freikorps Probstmayer.

What made Otto v. Zwehl´s decision to volunteer for Finland in 1939 very special indeed was that he was then both a civil servant of the Third Reich and, according to the same state, a Mischling, meaning mixed-blood, to be precise a Vierteljude ("one-quarter Jew").

As a resident of Finland since 20 years, Otto v. Zwehl felt it was his duty to volunteer for Finland when Stalin attacked on November 30, 1939. In late December 1939 his application was accepted and he was put in charge of a motorized battery of Finland Swedes. The vehicles of the unit got markings consisting of a "Z", for Zwehl, followed by a number. In Germany, the authorities were not happy - when Hitler heard of von Zwehl´s step he "blew his top". Lars Westerlund writes that Hitler then personally made sure that Otto v. Zwehl lost his German citizenship.

In record time, though, von Zwehl was granted Finnish citizenship and refused to follow the advice to emigrate to the United States.

One year later and in spite of how he has been treated by the German state, Otto v. Zwehl became a Finnish volunteer in the German Army in Finland. As a modern reader one finds this decision particularly hard to understand. Here one misses an interview quote from Otto von Zwehl. However, Lars Westerlund has managed to put together an amazing biography even though von Zwehl died in 1960. The book provides very valuable insights into Third Reich policy toward Finland, as well as the German community in Finland. This book also constitutes one of the first Nordic books about Mischlinge in German uniform during WWII, a subject pioneered by the US historian Bryan Mark Rigg.

Otto v. Zwehl is so far only available in German, as an e-book via Amazon or as a book-on-demand in Finland.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Star Wars vs Donald Trump

The Swedish Star Wars fan film "Threads of Destiny" (Director: Rasmus Tirzitis).

It is a period of civil war. But also wars called civil wars that are more international than internal. Add to this a president-elect who has repeatedly bullied in public and does not seem to understand the meaning of basic words such as sacrifice. His main slogan was one big deception, as with every passing day it becomes clearer that what he really is going to do is MAKE AMERICA ONE GREAT REALITY SHOW.

If I had a shrink, I am sure I would be told that my recent behavior is escapism. I mean, analysis of actual wars - that´s basically my livelihood. But instead of writing more I find that I have lately been writing less. I find that I am spending too much time musing about space fantasies. Such as the coming Episode 0 of Star Wars, i.e. "Rogue One", fan films like "Threads of Destiny" and films about fans like "Elstree 1976". Thanks to SciFiNow magazine I now know a lot more about how the first Star Wars movies were designed. If you suffer from the same geekness you too will want to read the SciFiNow interview by Oliver Pfeiffer with Roger Christian, one of the main designers behind the worn-aesthetic look of Star Wars (esp the first three movies). Just the story of the most iconic Star Wars weapon of them all, Luke´s lightsaber, is well worth the price of the mag (Issue 126). And guess if I´ll be getting Roger Christian´s book? The title is Cinema Alchemist: Designing Star Wars & Alien.

So, dear humanity, as I am now unable to deal with reality I wish to at least provide you with insights about Star Wars trivia.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Finnish Hurriganes in Sweden

The Finnish rock album "Stranded In The Jungle".

The other day I made an unexpected discovery in Luleå, the largest city up here. This 1978 rock album entitled "Stranded In The Jungle" by the Finnish group Hurriganes. I now understand that this album was quite different in appearance in Finland, where it also got another name.

It may seem like a misspelling in the name of the group, "Hurriganes" with a "g". But it is a kind of joke. Having listened to them now I reckon the Hurriganes can be viewed as old school rock performers. I also just learnt the band is still around. Who knows more about this cover and especially why it was not used in Finland?

The place where I bought this rock gem is Antikvariat Samlarshoppen and here is the link to their Facebook-page.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Great US Presidential Trivia From Sweden

Theodore Roosevelt, Badlands hunter and later president of the USA. Note the Tiffany bowie knife. Photo: George Grantham Baine

By coincidence (or not) I can today blog about a new and partly Swedish book in English about US presidents. It really brings home a lot of both funny, inspiring and important facts about past presidents.

99 Peculiarities of American Presidents
by Dr Fergal Donnelly and Professor Wilhelm Engström (from Uppsala, Sweden) actually is a kind of entertaining mini-history of the United States, including some military history. Among the peculiarities let me mention that one president had actually been a hangman and another one was involved in as many as 100 duels - most of which were fought to defend the honour of his wife.

Of most interest to me were the pages about Dwight "Ike" Eisenhower and Theodore Roosevelt (the Roosevelt who was president 1901-1909). It is a truly amazing story how Roosevelt finally got his Medal of Honor only in 2001, from President Bill Clinton just before he left office. It was for actions against Spanish forces in 1898! I had believed the medal was just a PR stunt by Clinton. Now I understand why it took so long. BTW, Roosevelt's first book was The Naval War of 1812, which had a great impact on the formation of the modern US Navy. I must confess that before I picked up 99 peculiarities of American presidents I was also ignorant of the fact that President Roosevelt´s eldest son, Theodore Roosevelt Jr, was the only general on D-Day to land in Normandy by sea. Some weeks later he died of a heart attack. He was 57 and had kept his heart trouble secret. Like his father would be in 2001, Theodore Roosevelt Jr. was posthumously awarded a Medal of Honor (on 28 September 1944) for his actions on D-Day.

Incidentally, I have previously blogged about the mysterious division in honour of Theodore Roosevelt that was set up by a Swedish volunteer, Ivor Thord-Gray.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Catastrophic Love

An unexpected and very moving love story. From Sweden to South Africa and back.

If you are reading this you probably know that my research, as well as this blog, is focused on conflicts. Well, lately I have become more interested in southern Africa - due to the armed conflicts there during the classic Cold War years, that involved also South African, US, Soviet and Cuban weapons & forces.

I am now going to write a bit about a South Africa book that you may be surprised to find here. It is an autobiography by a Swedish missionary, Eivor Jele. In 1963 Mrs. Jele left Sweden for South Africa. She was prepared for a lot but not to fully confront the apartheid system - nor to fall in love with a local man. This is the thing with her book, in spite of having read about the apartheid system since my school days, it was only this book that truly made me realize a number of things about the nature of the system. Aside from that, this book is a strong love story that starts with a "catastrophe". Mrs. Jele is a talented writer, and one feels both her love pains and smiles.

I cordially recommend this book to all Swedish-speakers with an interest in Africa. The title of the book would in translation be (Im)possible. It is so far only available in Swedish, as (O)möjligt. It is available through any Swedish library.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Mosul´s Swedish Commander

Uniforms of the Swedish-led Persian gendarmerie were a mix of Sweden and Persia.

The Iraqi city of Mosul is in the global news, but few are aware of the fact that a Swedish volunteer was once in command of the city. His name was Knut Killander and he was from Stockholm. He was part of the Swedish officer contingent serving in Persia between 1911 and 1916, who were split up by the outbreak of World War One.

Captain Knut Killander survived Mosul and other postings during WWI and joined an insurance business, to die peacefully in 1951. His fate is one of many strange and exotic ones in Swedes at War 1914-45, available in both English and Swedish. Some artifacts from the Swedish volunteers in Persia, such as the above headgear, can now be seen in the Army Museum in Stockholm.