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Posted on Jan 11, 2011 in Stuff We Like

A Luger Returns To Narvik

By Lars Gyllenhaal

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Swedish volunteer Jan Danielsen hands over his still deadly German war trophy from the high-altitude fighting around Narvik in 1940, a classic and still functioning German Luger P08, with ammunition. It was not without difficulties that Danielsen could bring these items on the plane to Narvik! On the receiving end is the director of the Nordland Red Cross War Museum of Narvik, Ulf Eirik Torgersen. (Lars Gyllenhaal)

During the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Narvik one of the Swedish veterans of the Arctic mountain battles decided to return something that he had liberated 70 years ago. Another veteran who returned to his old battlefield said: ”Now I can die”.

In the summer of 1940 and until the following summer, German mountain infantry General Eduard Dietl and his invasion force were much celebrated in Germany as the Heroes of Narvik. Dietl had indeed taken over Narvik in June 1940. But this was after having been pushed out of the town on May 28 by a task force from the French Foreign Legion and the Norwegian army, supported by the British Royal Navy and Polish mountain infantry. The reason Dietl could march very unopposed into Narvik shortly after the Allies had reconquered the town, was that the Allies lost the will to remain in Norway – France had just been lost and the British isles seemed to be the next target. The Allies simply left and Dietl could move back to Narvik from his encircled position at the border with Sweden.

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Whatever came after, the Allied amphibious attack of May 28 is considered as the first major military victory of the World War II Allies. And, as was pointed out during the anniversary speeches, the victory was not just good for the history books. The experience of landing a multinational amphibious task force went into the ”brain” of the Allies. The lessons learned at Narvik were put to good use during, for example, the invasion of Normandy.

Narvik also meant working in a joint and multinational way that is now very relevant to today´s German, French, Polish, British and Norwegian forces in Afghanistan. This was emphasized in several anniversary speeches.

The German ambassador to Norway had the full attention of the audience when he spoke in Narvik. He was very clear about modern Germany’s stance towards the Hitler regime and ended with the words “I bow before the victims of the war”.

The days of remembrance in Narvik were filled with impressive displays of marching and modern weaponry (not least Norwegian F-16s). However, I think one of the most moving ceremonies was one of the smallest ones, with Swedish volunteer Jan Danielsen. This Swede is the last living veteran of the dozen Swedes who fought for the Allies at Narvik (there were no Swedes in German uniform at Narvik). Danielsen was a young Swedish cavalry officer who joined the Norwegians after just having served in the Finnish army against Stalin.

As a de facto platoon commander one of the greatest moments in Jan Danielsen’s experience of the mountain battles around Narvik was when he succeeded in forcing the Germans off a key mountain, Kuberget (the Cow’s Mountain). As a war trophy from that action he picked a Luger P08 from German platoon commander Oberleutnant Ernst Trautner, killed in action by Kuberget. Now, in 2010, Danielsen felt it was time that he return the Luger to where it came from. Thus the Luger flew with Jan to Narvik.

Witnessing the handover of the Luger was a humbling experience.

 

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