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Posted on Nov 13, 2007 in Front Page Features, Stuff We Like

Arctic POW Escape

By Lars Gyllenhaal

In 2004 Norwegian hikers in Sweden stumbled upon the remains of a man in a German uniform. After three years of research the soldier has now finally been laid to rest, in Arjeplog, Sweden. Armchair General reader and member of the Swedish Military History Commission Lars Gyllenhaal was one of the experts that supported the Swedish police in ascertaining the identity of the soldier. This is Gyllenhaal´s report.

In August 2004 four Norwegian hikers in the mountains of Swedish Lapland made an unexpected discovery in an extremely barren and isolated area: the skeleton of a human with a few personal items. It was clear that the person had been dead for decades but the Swedish police were soon on the site and collected everything that could be connected to the remains. From the items around the skeleton it would seem that he had been a WWII soldier, probably a German one. Several dozen German soldiers deserted to Sweden during the course of the Second World War.


Having worked on several books and documentaries on the subject of WWII in the Arctic I am considered something of an expert on Arctic military history and was thus immediately asked by the police to assist them with the case. I quickly could tell that the uniform was indeed from the German Wehrmacht. The color, cut and buttons were clearly German. The button makers name, ”A & S”, could still be made out inside some of the buttons.

Arctic POW 11.jpg
The German Wachmantel collar that was found by the skeleton. In the upper
right corner a rusty fastening hook can be made out. Photo: Lars Gyllenhaal

The police had also found a lighter that reminded me of a British WWI lighter, a handmade little box, a comb and a pocket knife. Even more importantly though, was the discovery of an identification tag. To the police officer who had found it, it seemed that the man had wrapped himself around the tag. As if it had been a precious gem. Well, he had been right about that.

I have seen many German dog tags and also some Soviet plastic capsules for ID-papers during my visits to the battlefields of the Eastern Front. But the tag that the police put before me was of a different shape and with some effort  one could make out ”Stalag IIA” and a serial number on it.

I remembered that Stalags were a sort of German POW camp. After some searching on the internet there was no doubt, Stalag IIA had been a camp not far from Berlin.

Arctic POW 22.jpg
The German identification tag that Alexey Matveyev
was clutching. Photo: Lars Gyllenhaal

My friends with extensive collections of German militaria could establish from my photos that the uniform remains had been a Wachmantel, an older type of heavy coat for guard duty. It was a model generally not in use by the Germans themselves during WWII. But a Norwegian collector explained to me that coatless prisoners of the Germans were sometimes given these kind of coats, without insignia.

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  1. I enjoyed this story. A well-written human interest story.

  2. My father, Noel G Slay, T Sgt in the 9th armored division, was a POW at Stalag IIa near Nuebrandenburg, He was captured near Malmady during the Battle of the Bulge, this story touches my heart,

    • Hi Mark, it’s your niece Susan Slay. It’s fascinating to know my grandfather was such a big part of history and made such a huge sacrifice for his country. Hope all is well, take care.