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

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Gebirgsjägers, Monty and Gebirgsmarine

Amazing what you can find on the surface in Arctic Norway, a Gebirgsjäger´s personal ice pick. Karl-Gunnar found it "just like that" walking in a Wehrmacht dumping area.

This year´s WWII in the Arctic summer expedition largely followed the route of last year´s trip, but we went higher up in the mountains, and consequently got to see more.

Like last year we this year had the privelege of having a desert war expert among us, Karl-Gunnar Norén. This may sound odd but Karl-Gunnar has an interest in the Arctic too, having been to Arctic Russia´s battlefields with me. And as for me, aside from a strong interest in the Arctic I have always had an interest in the special forces of the desert war, especially the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG). Thus it was only a matter of time before we teamed up to write a book about the "Ghost patrol".

This year´s trip started off with Karl-Gunnar immediately walking into a Gebirgsjäger ice pick, just lying about on the surface. Nobody in our Arctic fellowship, now 8 men strong, had so far discovered such an artifact...

The Opel Olympia staff car in dunkelgelb is still there in 2012, but aside from the main body very little remains.

We revisited the Wehrmacht staff car in the stream, and by standing in the not exactly lukewarm stream I was able to take the new photo above.

The ice pick was a nice discovery, but then I made a pretty weird one myself by finding a British WWII "flimsy" petrol can. A type Karl-Gunnar had seen a lot of in Egypt in April while searching for traces of the LRDG. How come a flimsy ended up there? Either the Germans took it there with some captured British vehicle from Dunkirk, or the British or Norwegians did in 1945 or soon after.

German pressure cooker in Norwegian stream.

Moving on into another valley not that far from Sweden´s northernmost point we found i.a. a Wehrmacht pressure cooker in a stream. The cooker is of the same type as the one in the Björnfjell area. Not far from it is a water tower built for the Germans by some local firm and reportedly built with some conscious flaws. But it is still standing.

One of the best then-and-now experiences was finding this German shelter, just as the ones pictured by a British war artist.

Just barely still standing was a shelter of the same type depicted by a British war artist. Great of Simon Orchard to find the painting and good that we together could locate one of the houses, possibly the last one standing and very hard to spot from just ten metres away.

One of the most intact German mountain positions around, with Karl-Gunnar in the door. Note the amount of snow although it is July 8.

Then we went up to some of the top positions and saw there was more snow up in the mountains than can be expected in July. It was rather nice to nevertheless discover some positions we had never seen before. We had been in that valley before but had somehow missed a number of positions. Well, perhaps not that strange considering they were meant to be hard to find.

The remoteness of the area also means that most, if not all, WWII artifacts that we had seen on previous trips were still there in the open, or inside shelters. On this trip we came across two primus stoves marked RAD = Reichsarbeitsdienst. I know for sure the RAD built a hangar in Tromsö, so perhaps they also worked up here? In some cases, as with remains of uniform garments out in the open, we moved artifacts to inside the shelters, so that they may be preserved longer.

The remains of an early model gas mask, from 1930, after 67 years in the open. However, for most of the time it is covered by snow.

Metal case for 98k rifle cleaning kit, after 67 years on a rock.

Name plate on ski identifying the owner as Obg = Obergefreiter Vasold. What happened to him?

Inside the remains of an anorak among the rocks there was this label, Johann clearly belonged to GJR 137 but his last name is hard to tell. I can´t see what it says, can you?

This seems to be a very elaborate Wehrmacht toilet, or could it be something else?

Moving down from the mountains we again met our friend in the Tamok valley with several WWII artifacts. According to the previous owner of this sledge it once transported the wounded commando hero Jan Baalsrud, who i.a. was awarded an MBE.

Sweden´smajor expert on the British Army in North Africa, Karl-Gunnar Norén, standing on the spot where Montgomery stood by the Rundhaug hotel, well above the polar circle.

As tradition has it we then visited the Troms Defence Museum in Setermoen and got to see a new vehicle very much connected to Sweden during WWII, a Volvo issued to the Norwegian "police troops" that were trained in Sweden 1943-45.

This year we finally took the time to climb the Reinnesfjellet mountain, where U-boat crews have left their mark, here stones commemorating the U-657. It is amazing that the stones are still there, but there are also some other "tags" up there of more recent vintage.

Exhibits in the Abisko museum. This German helmet was found in the 1970s in an Abisko mouintain pass, well inside Sweden. It is a mystery how it got there. Just to the left of it is a rather special iron cross.

The last museum we visited was on the road back to Luleå, the Abisko Border Defence Museum. It is located in Swedish Abisko but has several WWII artifacts as the battle for Narvik on several occasions "spilled over" into Sweden.

Personally, the three top highlights of the trip was being in Lyngen again, our fabulous stay at the former headquarters of the 20th Mountain Army (Gebirgs-AOK), Rundhaug gjestegård in Rundhaug (very intact and with some remains from 20 Gebirgs-AOK) and finally standing by the stones from the crew of U-657.

Speaking of U-boats, I wonder if not the "Baltic Sea UFO" (USO would be more correct, S = Unidentified Submerged Object) currently being investigated by a Swedish "X-team" turns out to be some kind of German anti-submarine installation? Or might it be something from the 1950s Cold War?

P.S.
If you plan to visit both the Narvik area and WWII sights above it, like the Troms Defence Museum, the Tromsö War Museum or the Tirpitz Museum by Alta
I can think of no better - yet still affordable - place to stay than Rundhaug gjestegard, i.e. the former HQ of 20 Gebirgs-AOK and also the place where Kaiser Wilhelm and General Montgomery stayed when they came to the area.

UPDATE 23 July: The last name of the GJR 137 Gebirgsjäger was most probably Entsellner, writes a friend in Germany. Thanks for the help.

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