About Me

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

Friday, September 24, 2010

One More Parachute Container

I did not think it would be possible to find one more parachute container. But then, on this year´s final Narvik trip, I stumbled upon one. What amazed me most was the location, not far from the very centre of Björnfjell. And this was not the only Fallschirmjäger find the other week.

Here it is, the parachute container I found the other week. Some smaller parts of it are scattered about.

It started with recognizing a hut as the one used by the Propaganda Company during the battle of Narvik, according to the German period publication Narvik im Bild. The container is a stone´s throw from that house. So, there are today not one but two complete (well, almost) parachute containers still in situ on the Norwegian side of the border, plus one top-only and I believe one on the Swedish side - it is so flattened I am not totally sure about it. The latter is part of the Ju 52/3m wreckage I wrote about last week. Of course, we had to return to that site. It did not disappoint us - i.a. I found the below part of a set of binoculars.

It says Dienstglas, meaning service binoculars. These were generally issued to squad leaders.

On board the crashed aircraft there were eleven paratroopers. The crew consisted of four. Seven men, five paratroopers and two crew members, survived by parachuting.

Please note that I did not dig up the binoculars. I found them simply by looking closely at the ground around the aircraft wreckage. This is the most fascinating kind of find in my opinion, finds that are still in situ out in the open or in a crevice. If you should visit the site I hope they still will be there for you to see as well.

For comparison, the same kind on display in the Narvik War Museum.

Moving on from the border towards Narvik itself we stopped by some positions that have long confounded me. But I now know from having asked the director of the Narvik War Museum that these positions are not from WWII but from the war that never was in 1905, between Norway and Sweden. Let me explain why that "war" has a special significance for me. My father´s father was born in Oslo in 1906. His mother was Norwegian and his father was Swedish. BTW, my grandpa´s mother´s father was a Norwegian general, Major General Hans Jacob Raeder, commanding i.a. the fortress of Fredriksten.

These positions are of a different kind than the WWII ones (almost all WWII positions in the area are made by Germans).

A larger position from 1905, presumably for a cannon of some sort.

Revisiting the Troms Defence Museum in Setermoen I took some photos I did not have time to take the previous time:

A WWII US-made M 24 Chaffee light tank. A very nice light tank that served in the Norwegian Home Guard until the 1980s. Or was it even 1990s??

This is what the heating thing inside an Esbit food heater looks like. Must be very few around.

For comparison, a rusty Esbit heater still in situ in Finnish Lapland.

The parachute container presented to us by a kind family in the Björnfjell area back in 2004. The museum staff has since attached to it a part that was missing, in original light yellow paint.

Here is what the above container looked like when we noticed it in the yard of a Björnfjell family. Incidentally, a new book just arrived, that includes an almost identical photo, taken by my British friend Simon Orchard. I will soon review the book in question: German Paratroops in Scandinavia by Óscar Gonazález.

Speaking of parachutes, here is the most amazing para-related display in the museum IMHO. The complete uniform with all medals of local war veteran Alfred Henningsen. Mr. Henningsen during WWII served both in the Norwegian Army, the Soviet NKVD (thus the PPSh SMG on the wall) and finally was a commando for MI6/SIS, the British Secret Intelligence Service. He was probably the only highranking officer in postwar Norway to have served both in the NKVD and SIS. I will write more about him in a coming book

The final Narvik tour of the year of course ended with the "Adolf Cannon" in Harstad. Here we are about to theoretically fire the 406 mm gun.

Finally, some may wonder why most of my Narvik photos show traces of the Wehrmacht. What about the Norwegian, Polish, British, French etc soldiers that fought in and around Narvik in 1940? Well, from several years of hiking in the area I can just say that there are very few traces left on the ground from these men. One explanation is that not all German finds are from 1940, as the Germans stayed on until 1945. But still, I had expected more traces from the Allies.

For more on the actual Battle of Narvik, look for my Battle Studies article, "Dietl at Narvik, 1940", slated for the upcoming March 2011 issue of Armchair General magazine on sale and to subscribers in mid-January.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Last Destroyer´s Last Year?

Since a couple of years I have worked as a guide for the Swedish Tourist Association (STF) in the Abisko-Narvik area, taking groups to WWII sites. During this year´s tour we experienced both snow, history and the Norwegian fjords at their best. Perhaps it was the last year to see the warship Georg Thiele?

Abisko in Arctic Sweden is a rather natural (and beautiful) starting point for a WWII tour if you are coming from Sweden. Since last fall there is a museum in Abisko itself about the military history of the Swedish-Norwegian border area, the Border Defence Museum of Abisko, part of the larger Defence Museum of Boden.

Here are some of the battlefield finds displayed in the small but interesting Border Defence Museum. Most of these items were picked up in the 1960s by Swedish rangers:

Danish Madsen machine gun magazine and German flare gun with cartridge ("use before June 30, 1946") from the fighting around Björnfjell in 1940. Click on the photo for details.

Belgian (?) pistol with holster from the Narvik area. Who knows more about it? Could it be a private purchase by an officer? Above the pistol a German MP 40 can be seen.

Moving on towards the border itself a natural first stop is the railway station in Vassijaure, where a Swedish armoured train on its very first day in service got involved in a duel with a German airplane, resulting in the loss of one Swedish soldier, antitank-gunner Sven Sjöberg from Piteå. Since 2002 there is a monument to his memory on the station. On the outer walls of it, mainly facing north, there is some writing (graffiti) from WWII done by soldiers.

Our next stop was the remains of the Junkers Ju 52 just barely within Sweden, see previous post. While studying this wreckage we were actually walking on snow, and it was just the first of September...

Moving on into Norway, i.e. Björnfjell, we saw several ex-German buildings and studied the same Norwegian (?) soldier´s bowl and German Marschgetränk that I had found some weeks earlier during my private visit.

We then checked out four of the "caves" (manmade) in the area and were glad to see that the pieces of uniforms (some probably from foreign slave workers, prisoners of war) and even paper from 1943 was still in situ. It is my hope that these things will be left in place for many more visitors to see.

Mostly empty German parcels for explosives (Donarit) dated 1943. Click on the photo to see the writing.

The second tour day we spent partly on the deck of a ship that took us to the very end of the Rombak fjord, Rombaksbotn. After a quick walk there we sailed to the last German warship still above water, the destroyer Georg Thiele.

Georg Thiele on September 2, 2010. Slowly but steadily she is sliding down into the fjord.

The ship was named in honour of a German naval officer killed in World War I. It was on April 13, 1940 that Georg Thiele ran itself ashore after several hits by British warships.

For comparison, this is a photo I took of her in the fall of 2001.

From the director of the Narvik War Museum (an absolute must for all visitors) we got the estimate that Georg Thiele will probably be completely down below the waterline in 5-10 years. It could happen quite suddenly as the ship is more disintegrated below water.

The third and final day of the quick tour of the area we visited the Troms Defence Museum of Setermoen, which has an indoor section and a large collection of military vehicles located outdoors and in several sheds.

Setermoen´s moving history: US Army White scout car and British Humber scout car, both in driving condition.

Those who so desired could take a ride in an unusual WWII armoured vehicle, a Canadian C15.

Testing the C15. Great sound effects!

Inside the Defence Museum we got to listen to a lecture by none other than WWII warbird historian Kjetil Åkra. I have visited the museum annually since 2001 but never get tired of seeing it, not least because additions and changes are made. Here are just a few photos to give you an idea of the museum.

A Norwegian soldier in 1940 armed with a Danish Madsen machine gun, used extensively by both sides around Narvik. Also during WWI this weapon was used by many nations including Russia and Germany.

A Norwegian soldier of the Waffen-SS regiment "Norge" itself part of the "Nordland" division, as is apparent from the Norwegian arm shield and "Norge" cuff title.

Finnish, Norwegian and German WWII history in one single garment. This tunic was worn by a Norwegian Quisling paramilitary work unit in northern Finland (Finnish Lapland) that supported the German troops there.

Enare is Norwegian (and Swedish) for the Finnish town of Inari in Finnish Lapland. Sveit is Norwegian for a district unit. I have never seen this cuff title anywhere else, has it been documented?

The final afternoon of the tour we spent in Harstad, examining a 406 mm "Adolf Gun", one of the largest naval guns placed ashore in Europe. The condition of this gun is remarkable in many ways. Theoretically it can still fire and in fact it did long after WWII, in the service of Norway.

Even more impressive in real life, I can tell you.

Same place as above but some 50-60 years ago. These are Norwegian soldiers well after WWII. There was still a lack of helmets, so German helmets were used.

Many of the German fire control instruments are mechanical computers.

Thus ended this year´s WWII history tour for the Swedish Tourist Association. As a guide I had a great time, mainly thanks to very amiable tour participants. Hope to meet you again someday!

Unidentified Submerged Objects in Norway

Fellow author and friend Roger Albrigtsen in Lakselv in Arctic Norway has sent me three photos I cannot really help him out with. Perhaps someone reading this blog can? I am therefore publishing these photos here, with permission from Roger.

The photos show two unidentified objects of which one, the carriage, is still submerged in a river by Lakselv:

Submerged carriage by Lakselv, presumably from the Wehrmacht. Underwater photo by local diver Odd-Bjørn Henriksen.

From another angle.

My guess is: part of a mobile German field kitchen. What do you think? Perhaps someone even knows the type?

This gasmask looks kind of Soviet 1930s to me. But I have been unable to identify it in my books about Soviet equipment. Does anyone recognize the model?

Please reply through the comments function of this blog.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

German Paratroopers in Sweden

Traces of Fallschirmjägers on Swedish soil, still in situ at the time of writing, and a mysterious "marching drink". These are some of the things I´d like to show and discuss through this post.

There is still much to report from the July trip to Norway. Here is the first report, and the second and third. Now comes the fourth and final one:

After having seen what might be the last intact window in a Wehrmacht shelter (see the first report) we continued upwards and towards the Norwegian-Swedish border. We found several more shelters on the way but none as good or interesting as the "window-shelter". We did, however, meet some reindeer and among the things we found left behind was a grey blanket and an intact champagne bottle - alas, empty and lacking the main label, probably removed by a previous visitor. But the remaining upper label told us it was a Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin.

Just before crossing into Sweden we stumbled upon this rusty "briefcase":

A German grenade case in the open. This type was for mortar grenades.

It was just some ten meters from the border. Having found this we guessed there would be more to find in the vicinity. We were right, we soon found three German positions. Here is the best one:

One of three German positions facing facing one wartime Swedish border hut. This was probably where the German border guards slept.

This German bakelite cup was still standing inside the above position. This type of cup was attached with a strap on top of a Feldflasche, a canteen. Note the factory marking (the cup is upside down).

Just how close it is to the hut used by a Swedish Army border squad is apparent from this photo. In the foreground German wood, in the background the Swedish hut roof.

The roof in the background is in Sweden.

Same roof up close. You can still make out remains of yellow paint exclaiming SCHWEDEN, German for Sweden.

The Swedish border hut dates back to the early 20th century when it was used for weather observations.

Going down the mountain on the Swedish side we knew we probably would find some more German traces, from the Luftwaffe. We were approaching the crash site of a Junkers Ju 52 shot down by Swedish AA-gunners on June 2, 1940. This was one of at least three German aircraft downed by the Swedish Army in the area in the spring of 1940.

We had visited the site before but knew there was more to find as the place is hard to reach, too steep for many visitors. Thanks to that and that there are no signs or paths there still is a lot left to see. We were again fortunate as we found sections of the aircraft that we had not found before, thanks to approaching from above.

These are some of the larger remains, that one finds quite easily:

Wreckage from the the Ju 52/3m "DC+SP", shot down just some seconds before reaching Norwegian airspace. The aircraft belonged to the 1./K.Gr.z.b.V. 106.

In contrast to the debris lower down we now found several items that had to do with the crew and paratroopers on board the aircraft: D-rings, pieces of cloth and some metal caps from German stick hand grenades. But also some things we have not seen before and are not able to identify.

The upper thing is a metal cap from a German stick hand grenade, a Stielhandgranate 24. This was part of the load of the paratroopers, as was the rusty clip for a Karabiner 98k (short carbine model 1898).

I have no idea what this is but it has remains of paint and in the middle reads "WFCC" above the year 1936. To see the letters and year, just click on the photo. The original size is 7x5 cm. Does anyone know what it is, or can make a qualified guess?

This has the look and size of a film roll container but no film or anything else inside.

These large pieces of leather made me think they might have been part of an aircraft crew member´s leather jacket.

Unfortunately it was getting late and we had to get to a shop before closing time. But the stuff will probably remain in situ for long - first of all the things are covered by snow most of the year, secondly few people know the exact sites and even fewer have the will and strength to get up to them, especially the upper sites.

For traces of paratroopers on the Norwegian side of the border, see this report I wrote some years ago.

The next day we went back inside Norway, to Björnfjell, and made some pretty neat discoveries in the village "centre" (it is very spread out) just by looking into large crevices.

German rifle cartridge cases, a tube of marching drink tablets and a bottle of Glockengasse 4711 eau de Cologne.

When we found the bottle of "Glockengasse 4711" we did not know it was an eau de Cologne. The name is actually the address of the house where the original eau de Cologne was produced. 4711 being the number assigned to the house during French occupation. The bottle etc is back in place now and hopefully will remain there, to be found many times again.

A tube cap stating two liters of Marschgetränk, meaning marching drink. I have never found this in Finland and Russia which makes me wonder if it is a drink that was available only in the early stage of WWII? What did it contain, just sugar and vitamins or? I really would like to know about the ingredients.

Among the German stuff we found also this:

Norwegian soldier´s eating bowl.

In the middle a crowned Norwegian state shield. Below it the owner´s name: "E. Krause". That sounds like a German, not a Norwegian soldier. However, the owner might well have been a Norwegian with German roots, or it may have come from the large Norwegian Army depot that the Germans captured and made use of.

Norwegian soldiers held as prisoners by the Germans, most probably at Björnfjell. Note the bowl - of the same type we found.

On our final day in the Björnfjell area we revisited the German "field kitchen" which I have since come to realize is a pressure cooker used mostly inside forts.

Pretty good quality.

These uniform pieces were lying in a puddle inside a cave used by the Germans (probably not built by them but long before WWII).

Detail of pocket - the pointy aspect makes me think of a non-German uniform. A slave worker´s perhaps? Any ideas? The pieces are back inside the cave now.

SS Polizei machine gun position by the Norddal bridge. Photo used with permission of Tore Eggan. See his amazing site about wartime Norwegian photos.

Same place today - the position is still there but trees and bushes have taken over, which is why you have to step inside the position and look though the foliage. Then you will see this:

The German-made Norddal bridge (in Norwegian: Norddalsbrua), built in 1902.

The Norwegian Army attempted to destroy the Norddal bridge in 1940 but only managed to damage it. The Germans were able to quickly repair it. Since 1988 it is no longer used but there is now talk of modernizing it and putting it back in service, due to an increase in ore exports.

Moving into Narvik itself we did two final then-and-now photos.

Swedish Air Force soldier Lennart Engerby in Narvik 1945, standing in front of a French artillery piece used by the Germans a 14.5 cm called the K405 (f) by the Germans. In the background you can make out the tower of a church.

The church is still there.

The first Swedish tourists in Narvik after the war: Swedish Air Force buddies Björn Blomberg and Lennart Engerby.

Yours truly and what is probably the same spot. The street level seems to have been raised. The place is on the railway bridge by the city centre roundabout.

Finally two photos that have nothing to do with WWII, but...

We met these hitch-hiking German carpenters just outside the Narvik war cemetery. They said they were obliged by carpenter traditions to wear these rather archaic costumes during a three year long obligatory work tour abroad. Does someone know more about German carpenter traditions?

I stumbled upon this petrified flower up in the mountains of Björnfjell. Can someone say what it is???

That was some trip. Hey, please, if you know something about Marschgetränk, then share it.