Tag: France

12 Historical Inaccuracies in The History Channel’s VIKINGS Series

VIKINGS is an Irish-Canadian television series written and created by Michael Hirst, for the History Channel, and is tremendously successful.

I love the show, but if you have an understanding of Viking, Anglo Saxon and Frankish history, then I would advise that in order to enjoy the series you should suspend disbelief, or at the very least take it with a LARGE pinch of salt. But hey, it’s TV, it’s entertainment, and it’s for fun, right?

The life and times of Viking Ragnar Lodbrok, “a farmer who rose to fame by successful raids into England and eventually became king of Denmark,” has gripped popular imagination and renewed interest in the Vikings.

Indeed, most of the enthusiastic fans of the VIKINGS series were probably not even aware of much of the history of the Vikings before this series were launched March 2013. VIKINGS is now in a fifth season, and with any luck, they will go on to do a sixth. One understands that some artistic licence needs to be made for films, but the series does consist of some minor and some quite major historical inaccuracies. 

1. Where are their helmets?

Inexplicably, none of the Vikings seem to wear any helmets in combat. Considering that most combat fatalities come from head wounds, the helmet was the single most important piece of armour for any veteran warrior. Viking helmets were advanced and effective, presenting a terrifying visage to their enemies. Viking helmets were effective at intimidating their enemies.

Most, when faced with these Viking warriors emerging from the sea, with helmet, shield, chain-mail armour and sword, or axe, and spear, fled without even attempting to oppose them. Presumably, the filmmakers wanted their stars to be easily identified and so have dispensed with helmets entirely. Many of their key actors, such as Rollo, survives despite wearing no armour at all and are presented as fighting wearing only trousers!

2. Looks are everything?

Many of the Vikings are depicted as having shaved their heads, including Ragnar, who apparently has his head covered in tattoos. There is no historical evidence that the Vikings did that. Anyone who has lived in Scandinavia would be aware that it gets incredibly cold in the winter. To deliberately remove the hair from ones’ head when living in often icy conditions and sailing the open seas, would be uncomfortable to say the least.

Ragnar Lodbrok in Vikings series 4, played by Travis Fimmel.

3. Absence of security for settlements.

There are some graphic scenes of massacres of civilians – women and children, depicted in VIKINGS. However, these are not of Saxon civilians killed by Viking invaders, but Viking settlers killed by Saxons. In a bizarre twist, the History Channel portrays the Vikings as settling without any semblance of security, with indefensible villages spread out in the open, without any form of stockade, fortification or protective measures.

Not even towers are erected. That just never happened. Considering that the Vikings were invaders, they took extraordinary measures to erect comprehensive fortified structures, normally in circles, surrounded by a moat and sharpened stakes, with all their dwellings neatly organised around a great hall within the fortification. Archaeologists are still digging up these Viking settlements within the British Isles.

Large Viking settlements were often surrounded by pallisades and the entrances protected by towers. None of this is in evidence in the TV series.

4. Inexplicably, Hirst’s VIKINGS television series depicts the temple to Odin at Uppsala as a wooden stave church in the mountains. The historic temple was actually situated on flat land and the stave churches were a hallmark of Christian architecture from the 11th Century onward.

5. Crucifixion by Christians

Hirst’s VIKINGS program portrays a crucifixion of a prominent character, the Christian monk, Athelstan, who had been abducted from Lindisfarne monastery, as being crucified by the orders of a Christian bishop in Wessex.

There is absolutely no case recorded where Christians used this form of execution to punish apostates. The Emperor Constantine officially outlawed crucifixion in the 4th Century.

Not only would such a mode of execution be abhorrent and blasphemous to any Christian, but there is no example of any Christians anywhere, let alone in Wessex, in the 9th Century, practising it.

6. Anachronistic clothing and fashions.

The wardrobe department has evidently had a lot of fun clothing the actors. However, many of the fashions seem more 20th and 21st Century, particularly the leather trouser designs. Some of the outfits seem to have come from a futuristic Mad Max episode. As for the bizarre and impractical hairstyles, shaven heads and abundance of tattoos, it would appear that great liberties have been taken with actual Viking culture and history.

7. The dates don’t add up.

Appropriately, the VIKING series begins with 793 A.D., with the launch of the Viking age and the notorious raid on the Lindisfarne monastery. However, the same man, Ragnar Lodbrok, who is meant to have been involved in the raid of Lindisfarne, is historically the one who led the siege of Paris in 846 B.C. That would have made him extremely old indeed by that time if he had also been at Lindisfarne in 793.

8. Rollo was not Ragnar’s brother.

The famous Viking Rollo (846 – 932 A.D.) seized Rouen in 876 A.D. and led the Viking fleet that besieged Paris 885-886 A.D. He was baptized as a Christian, married a French princess and it was his great, great, great grandson, William, Duke of Normandy, who invaded England in 1066 and became William I of England. Therefore, Rollo is one of the ancestors of the present-day British Royal family. Chronologically, there is no way he could have been contemporary with Ragnar Lodbrok, let alone his brother.

Rollo, (Clive Standen) as depicted in the History Channels hit TV series ‘Vikings’.

9. What do we know of Ragnar Lodbrok?

The Norse Sagas identify Ragnar Lodbrok as the father of Ivar the Boneless, Björn Ironside, Halfdan Ragnarsson, Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye and Ubba.

He was married three times:  to the shield maiden Lagertha, to the noble woman Dôra, and to Aslaug (all Scandinavian women).

Ragnar was the son of the Swedish king Sigurd Hring and a cousin of the Danish king, Gudfred. He distinguished himself with many raids and conquests, including the first siege of Paris, 846 A.D. He was seized by King Aella of Northumbria and killed by being thrown into a pit of snakes. His sons avenged him by invading England with the Great Heathen Army in 865 A.D.

10. In VIKINGS, the Christian’s are made out to be more treacherous than the heathen. Hirst’s History Channel saga depicts the Christians as more (or on a par with) treacherous, vile and perverted than the heathen. Whilst Christian’s of the period did engage in acts of terror, they were no more or less ‘barbarous’ than their Viking neigbours.

11. The Missionary Ansgar

The Apostle Ansgar was not the failure that Hirst depicts being executed by queen Aslaug when he failed a test. In fact Ansgar (801-865) known as The Apostle to the North, not only lived a long life, but succeeded in winning Vikings to Christ.

Numerous miracles accompanied his ministry and so impressed the Vikings, that they concluded that Christ is greater than Thor. Not that you would know any of this from watching Hirst’s History Channel fiction.

12. Alfred was the illegitimate son of the monk Athelstan. 

Possibly the biggest stretch of the truth in the series, was to suggest that the Princess Osburh had an affair with Athelstan and bore him a child, the future King Alfred the Great.

In the series, the King of Wessex, King Egbert, encouraged this infidelity and then blackmailed Osburh (his son’s wife) into becoming his mistress. The King’s son, Æthelwulf, is then persuaded that this was all the work of Christ and that he should accept it. None of this is in any way true.

Æthelwulf and Osburh were said to be extremely pious Christians, and there is no evidence of infidelity or impropriety on the part of the future Queen, and Alfred of Wessex was very much Æthelwulf’s son.

Æthelwulf and Osburh

Original post by Dr. Peter Hammond

Editor’s Note:  Dr. Peter Hammond is a Missionary in Africa with Frontline Fellowship P.O. Box 74 Newlands 7725 Cape Town South Africa, Tel: 021-689-4480 Email:  mission@frontline.org.za Website:  www.frontline.org.za.

For an account of how the Vikings were won to Christ, see “Winning the Vikings for Christ on www.ReformationSA.org. This can also be viewed as a PowerPoint with pictures though our Slideshare link. You can also listen to an audio lecture, “How the Vikings Were Won to Christ, on our SermonAudio.com link.

 

The Viking Siege of Paris (885-886)

The Siege of Paris of 885–886 was part of a Viking raid on the Seine, in the Kingdom of the West Franks. The siege was the most important event of the reign of Charles the Fat, and a turning point in the fortunes of the Carolingian dynasty and the history of France.

It also proved to the Franks the strategic importance of Paris, at a time when it also was one of the largest cities in France. The siege is the subject of an eyewitness account in the Latin poem Bella Parisiacae urbis of Abbo Cernuus.

With hundreds of ships, and possibly tens of thousands of men, the Vikings arrived outside Paris in late November 885, at first demanding tribute. This was denied by Odo, Count of Paris, despite the fact that he could assemble only a couple of hundred soldiers to defend the city. The Vikings attacked with a variety of siege engines, but failed to break through the city walls after some days of intense attacks. The siege was upheld after the initial attacks, but without any significant offence for months after the attack. As the siege went on, most of the Vikings left Paris to pillage further upriver. The Vikings made a final unsuccessful attempt to take the city during the summer, and in October, Charles the Fat arrived with his army.

To the frustration of the Parisians who had fought for a long time to defend the city, Charles stopped short of attacking the Viking besiegers, and instead allowed them to sail further up the Seine to raid Burgundy (which was in revolt), as well as promising a payment of 700 livres (257 kg) of silver. Odo, highly critical of this, tried his best to defy the promises of Charles, and when Charles died in 888, Odo was elected the first non-Carolingian king of the Franks.

Although the Vikings had attacked parts of Francia previously, they reached Paris for the first time in 845, eventually sacking the city. They attacked Paris three times more in the 860s, leaving only when they had acquired sufficient loot or bribes. In 864, by the Edict of Pistres, bridges were ordered built across the Seine at Pîtres and in Paris, where two were built, one on each side of the Île de la Cité. These would serve admirably in the siege of 885. The chief ruler in the region around Paris (the Île-de-France) was the duke of Francia (who was also count of Paris), who controlled the lands between the Seine and Loire.Odo,

Originally this was Robert the Strong, margrave of Neustria and missus dominicus for the Loire Valley. He began fortifying the capital and fought the Norsemen continuously until his death in battle against them at Brissarthe. Although his son Odo succeeded him, royal power declined. However, Paris continued to be fortified but due to local rather than royal initiative.

Meanwhile, West Francia suffered under a series of short-reigning kings after the death of Charles the Bald in 877. This situation prevailed until 884, when Charles the Fat, already King of Germany and Italy, became king, and hopes were raised of a reunification of Charlemagne’s empire. It had been thought that the Franks had gained an upper hand against the Vikings after the victory of Louis III at the Battle of Saucourt in 881, but in 885, a year after the succession of Charles, the Vikings launched their most massive attack on Paris yet.

Charles the Fat.

Danish Vikings under Sigfred and Sinric sailed towards West Francia again in 885, having raided the north-eastern parts of the country before. Sigfred demanded a bribe from Charles, but was refused, and promptly led 700 ships up the Seine, carrying perhaps as many as 30,000 or 40,000 men. The number, the largest ever recorded for a Viking fleet in contemporary sources, originates from Abbo Cernuus.

Although an eyewitness, there is general agreement among historians that Abbo’s numbers are “a gross exaggeration,” with Abbo being “in a class of his own as an exaggerator.” Historian C. W. Previté-Orton has instead put the number of ships at 300, and John Norris at “some 300.” Although the Franks tried to block the Vikings from sailing up the Seine, the Vikings eventually managed to reach Paris.

Paris at this time was a town on an island, known today as Île de la Cité. Its strategic importance came from the ability to block ships’ passage with its two low-lying foot bridges, one of wood and one of stone. Not even the shallow Viking ships could pass Paris because of the bridges. Odo, Count of Paris prepared for the arrival of the Vikings by fortifying the bridgehead with two towers guarding each bridge.

He was low on men, having no more than 200 men-at-arms available (also according to Abbo Cernuus), but led a joint defence with Gozlin, Bishop of Paris (the first “fighting bishop” in medieval literature), and had the aid of his brother, Robert, two counts and a marquis.

Paris – Ile de la Cité, clearly showing the island where the City was situated during the 9th Century.

The Vikings arrived in Paris on 24 or 25 November 885, initially asking for tribute from the Franks. When this was denied, they began a siege. On 26 November the Danes attacked the northeast tower with ballistae, mangonels, and catapults. They were repulsed by a mixture of hot wax and pitch.

All Viking attacks that day were repulsed, and during the night the Parisians constructed another storey on the tower. On 27 November the Viking attack included mining, battering rams, and fire, but to no avail. Bishop Gozlin entered the fray with a bow and an axe. He planted a cross on the outer defences and exhorted the people.

His brother Ebles also joined the fighting. The Vikings withdrew after the failed initial attacks and built a camp on the right side of the river bank, using stone as construction material. While preparing for new attacks, the Vikings also started constructing additional siege engines. In a renewed assault, they shot a thousand grenades against the city, sent a ship for the bridge, and made a land attack with three groups.

The forces surrounded the bridgehead tower, possibly mainly aiming to bring down the river obstacle. While they tried setting fire to the bridge, they also attacked the city itself with siege engines.

For two months the Vikings maintained the siege, making trenches and provisioning themselves off the land. In January 886 they tried to fill the river shallows with debris, plant matter, and the bodies of dead animals and dead prisoners to try to get around the tower. They continued this for two days. On the third day they set three ships alight and guided them towards the wooden bridge.

The burning ships sank before they could set the bridge on fire, but the wooden construction was nonetheless weakened. On 6 February, rains caused the debris-filled river to overflow and the bridge supports to give way. The bridge gone, the northeast tower was now isolated with only twelve defenders inside. The Vikings asked the twelve to surrender, but they refused, and were all subsequently killed.

The Vikings left a force around Paris, but many ventured further to pillage Le Mans, Chartres, Evreux and into the Loire. Odo successfully slipped some men through Norse lines to go to Italy and plead with Charles to come to their aid. Henry, Count of Saxony, Charles’ chief man in Germany, marched to Paris. Weakened by marching during the winter, Henry’s soldiers made only one abortive attack in February before retreating.

The besieged forces sallied forth and to obtain supplies. Morale of the besiegers was low and Sigfred asked for sixty pounds of silver. He left the siege in April. Another Viking leader, Rollo, stayed behind with his men. In May, disease began to spread in the Parisian ranks and Gozlin died. Odo then slipped through Viking-controlled territory to petition Charles for support; Charles consented.

Rollo, (Clive Standen) as depicted in the History Channels hit TV series ‘Vikings’.

Odo fought his way back into Paris and Charles and Henry of Saxony marched northward. Henry died after he fell into the Viking ditches, where he was captured and killed.

That summer, the Danes made a final attempt to take the city, but were repulsed. The imperial army arrived in October and scattered the Vikings. Charles encircled Rollo and his army and set up a camp at Montmartre. However, Charles had no intention of fighting. He allowed the Vikings to sail up the Seine to ravage Burgundy, which was in revolt. When the Vikings withdrew from France the next spring, he gave them 700 livres (pounds) of silver as promised, amounting to approximately 257 kg.

Aftermath

The Parisians and Odo refused to let the Vikings down the Seine, and the invaders had to drag their boats overland to the Marne in order to leave the country. When Charles died in 888, the French elected Odo as their king. Odo’s brother was later elected king as well. Throughout the next century the Robertians, descendants of Robert the Strong, fought the Carolingians for the French throne. Their duchy (Francia) gave its name to the Kingdom of France and the Carolingian Empire was never again reconstituted.

References

The Frankish Empire

Expansion of the Frankish Empire AD 768-811

The Franks (Latin: Franci or gens Francorum) were a collection of Germanic peoples that originated in the lands between the Lower and Middle Rhine in the 3rd century AD and eventually formed a large empire dominating much of western and central Europe during the Middle Ages.

During ancient times some Franks raided Roman territory, while other Frankish tribes joined the Roman troops of Gaul. The Salian Franks lived on Roman-held soil between the Rhine, Scheldt, Meuse, and Somme rivers in what is now Northern France, Belgium and the central and southern part of the Netherlands. The kingdom was acknowledged by the Romans after 357 AD.

They became a powerful ally of Rome, providing many imperial generals, and integrated remarkably well into Roman society, speaking Latin fluently, obtaining Roman citizenship, and being often promoted by the emperors to consular ranks (including senators) for their competence.

Following the collapse of Rome in the West, the Frankish tribes were united under the Merovingians, who succeeded in conquering most of Gaul in the 6th century, which greatly increased their power. The Merovingian dynasty, descendants of the Salians, founded one of the French monarchies that would absorb large parts of the Western Roman Empire. The Frankish state consolidated its hold over the majority of western Europe by the end of the 8th century, developing into the Carolingian Empire.

With the coronation of their ruler Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor by Pope Leo III in 800 AD, he and his successors were recognised as legitimate successors to the emperors of the Western Roman Empire. As such, the Carolingian Empire gradually came to be seen in the West as a continuation of the ancient Roman Empire. This empire would give rise to several successor states, including France, the Holy Roman Empire and Burgundy, though the Frankish identity remained most closely identified with France.

After the death of Charlemagne, his only adult surviving son became Emperor and King Louis the Pious. Following Louis the Pious’s death however, accordingly with Frankish culture and law that demanded equality among all living male adult heirs, the Frankish Empire was now split between Louis’ three sons.

This led to the creation of independent Kingdoms, which would later become known as the Kingdom of France, the Holy Roman Empire (itself evolving eventually into the German States, and then Germany), the Low Countries (which would later break-up into the Kingdom of Belgium, Kingdom of the Netherlands, and Luxembourg), Switzerland, and the northern Italian city-states that would later become part of the Kingdom of Italy.

In the Middle Ages, the term Frank was used in the east as a synonym for western European, as the Franks were then rulers of most of Western Europe.

Frankish arms and Grave Goods from the Merovingian Period.

The name Franci was originally socio-political. To the Romans, Celts, and Suebi, the Franks must have seemed alike: they looked the same and spoke the same language, so that Franci became the name by which the people were known. Within a few centuries it had eclipsed the names of the original tribes, though the older names have survived in some place-names, such as Hesse, which originates from the Chatti tribe.

Following the precedents of Edward Gibbon and Jacob Grimm, the name of the Franks has been linked with the word frank in English. It has been suggested that the meaning of “free” was adopted because, after the conquest of Gaul, only Franks were free of taxation. It is traditionally assumed that Frank comes from the Germanic word for “javelin” (such as in Old English franca or Old Norse frakka). There is also another theory that suggests that Frank comes from the Latin word francisca meaning “throwing axe”. Words in other Germanic languages meaning “fierce”, “bold” or “insolent” (German frech, Middle Dutch vrac, Old English frǣc and Old Norwegian frakkr), may also be significant.

Eumenius addressed the Franks in the matter of the execution of Frankish prisoners in the circus at Trier by Constantine I in 306 and certain other measures: Ubi nunc est illa ferocia? Ubi semper infida mobilitas? (“Where now is that ferocity of yours? Where is that ever untrustworthy fickleness?”). Feroces was used often to describe the Franks.

Contemporary definitions of Frankish ethnicity vary both by period and point of view. A formulary written by Marculf about 700 AD described a continuation of national identities within a mixed population when it stated that “all the peoples who dwell [in the official’s province], Franks, Romans, Burgundians and those of other nations, live … according to their law and their custom.” Writing in 2009, Professor Christopher Wickham pointed out that “the word ‘Frankish’ quickly ceased to have an exclusive ethnic connotation. North of the River Loire everyone seems to have been considered a Frank by the mid-7th century at the latest; Romani were essentially the inhabitants of Aquitaine after that”.

The Franks AD 400-600

Two early sources that describe the origin of the Franks are a 7th-century work known as the Chronicle of Fredegar and the anonymous Liber Historiae Francorum, written a century later.

The author of the Chronicle of Fredegar claimed that the Franks came originally from Troy and quoted the works of Vergil and Hieronymous, and the Franks are mentioned in those works, by Hieronymous. The chronicle describes Priam as a Frankish king whose people migrated to Macedonia after the fall of Troy. In Macedonia, the Franks then divided. The European Franks reached Francia under King Francio, just as Romulus went to Rome. Another branch, under King Turchot, became the Turks. Fredegar stated that Theudemer, named king of the Franks by Gregory, was descended from Priam, Friga and Francio.

Another work, the Gesta, described how 12,000 Trojans, led by Priam and Antenor, sailed from Troy to the River Don in Russia and on to Pannonia, which is on the River Danube, settling near the Sea of Azov. There they founded a city called Sicambria. The Trojans joined the Roman army in accomplishing the task of driving their enemies into the marshes of Mæotis, for which they received the name of Franks (meaning “savage”).

A decade later the Romans killed Priam and drove away Marcomer and Sunno, the sons of Priam and Antenor, and the other Franks.

The major primary sources on the early Franks include the Panegyrici Latini, Ammianus Marcellinus, Claudian, Zosimus, Sidonius Apollinaris and Gregory of Tours. The Franks are first mentioned in the Augustan History, a collection of biographies of the Roman emperors. The Life of Aurelian, which was possibly written by Vopiscus, mentions that in 328, Frankish raiders (possibly Ripuarians) were captured by the 6th Legion stationed at Mainz. As a result of this incident, 700 Franks were killed and 300 were sold into slavery. Frankish incursions over the Rhine became so frequent that the Romans began to settle the Franks on their borders in order to control them. In 288 the emperor Maximian defeated the Salian Franks, Chamavi, Frisians and other Germans living along the Rhine and moved them to Germania inferior to provide manpower and prevent the settlement of other Germanic tribes.

In 292 Constantius, the father of Constantine I defeated the Franks who had settled at the mouth of the Rhine. These were moved to the nearby region of Toxandria. Eumenius mentions Constantius as having “killed, expelled, captured [and] kidnapped” the Franks who had settled there and others who had crossed the Rhine, using the term nationes Franciae for the first time.

Detail of the Tabula Peutingeriana, showing Francia at the top.

The Salians, who eventually became the Merovingians, were first mentioned by Ammianus Marcellinus, who described Julian‘s defeat of “the first Franks of all, those whom custom has called the Salians,” in 358. He promoted them to the status of fœderati within the Empire. The 5th century Notitia Dignitatum lists their soldiers as Salii. Jordanes, in Getica mentions the Riparii as auxiliaries of Flavius Aetius during the Battle of Châlons in 451: “Hi enim affuerunt auxiliares: Franci, Sarmatae, Armoriciani, Liticiani, Burgundiones, Saxones, Riparii, Olibriones …”  The Riparii may not have been the Ripuarian Franks, as they do not appear for certain under that name until their final subjugation by Clovis I.

The Franks are mentioned in the Tabula Peutingeriana, an atlas of Roman roads. It is a 13th-century copy of a 4th or 5th century document that reflects information from the 3rd century. The Romans knew the shape of Europe, but their knowledge is not evident from the map, which was only a practical guide to the roads to be followed from point to point.

In the middle Rhine region of the map, the word Francia is close to a misspelling of Bructeri. Beyond Mainz is Suevia, the country of the Suebi, and beyond that is Alamannia, the country of the Alamanni. Four tribes at the mouth of the Rhine are depicted: the Chauci, the Amsivarii (‘Ems dwellers’), the Cherusci and the Chamavi, followed by qui et Pranci (‘who are also Franks’). The Tabula was probably based on the Orbis Pictus, a map of twenty years’ labour commissioned by Augustus and then kept by the Roman’s treasury department for the assessment of taxes. It did not survive as such. Information about the imperial divisions of Gaul probably derives from it.

Claudius Ptolemy‘s two maps of Germany portrayed Germania Inferior on the left bank of the Rhine, which was populated by Germanics, including those who had occupied the region before the Romans, and Magna Germania on the other side of the river, which acted as the Roman frontier. Tensions between the Empire and the Franks existed because of this artificial division: the Franks saw no reason why they should be kept from settling on either side of the river and eventually they convinced the Emperors to allow this to happen.

The topography of the mouth of the Rhine was even more troubling: the Rhine divided far inland into a fan of outlets, in which there was a significant settlement area, the island of Batavia. The Romans diverted the Rhine into the Yssel through a canal, which emptied into an inland lagoon. After the construction of the canal, Batavia was left under Roman jurisdiction, although it was settled by Germanics.

Ptolemy’s maps reflect generally the same tribal names as the Tabula Peutingeriana, except that the Tabula does not mention the Sicambri. This difference suggests that, in the few decades between the Ptolemaic map and the Tabula, the Sicambri were absorbed by the Franks.

Ripuarians

Approximate location of the original Frankish tribes in the 3rd century.

According to the ancient writers, the Franks emerged at the first half of the 3rd century from a number of earlier, smaller Germanic groups: the Sicambri, Chamavi, Bructeri, Chatti, Chattuarii, Ampsivarii, Tencteri and the Ubii, who inhabited the Rhine valley from the Yssel (which flows from the Rhine) between Lacus Flevo, (later the Zuiderzee now the IJsselmeer) and Mainz.

The Romans held Lacus Flevo and all the marsh and riverland to the south. The Frankish confederation probably began to coalesce in the 210s, north of the Roman province called Germania Inferior which had been settled earlier by Celticised Germanic immigrants, known to Julius Caesar as the Belgae (among them, the notable Tungri). Along the Rhine itself were a number of cities constituting the interface between Roman and Germanic civilisation. Germanics who settled south of the Rhine without Roman authority were punished.

Franks interested in reoccupying the Roman-controlled left bank of the Rhine marauded these Romans to the south by land and sea using the tactics of forced marches and surprise attacks. During the 3rd century, the Franks attempted to appropriate Batavia to the south of Lacus Flevo. This time the Romans allowed them to stay, settling them in Toxandria (near modern Antwerp), where they became an independent maritime power known as the Salians, or “maritime people”.

Other Franks, from Mainz to Duisburg, raided across the Rhine and at some point acquired the name Ripuarians, or “river people”. Both groups remained politically distinct until Clovis, a Salian and a member of the Merovingian dynasty, unified Francia.

Salians

The Franks were described in Roman texts both as allies (laeti) and enemies (dediticii). About the year 260 one group of Franks penetrated as far as Tarragona in present-day Spain, where they plagued the region for about a decade before they were subdued and expelled by the Romans. In 287 or 288, the Roman Caesar Maximian forced the Salian leader Genobaud and his people to surrender without a fight. Maximian then forced the Salians in Toxandria (the present Low Countries) to accept imperial authority, but was not able to follow on this success by reconquering Britain.

Some decades later, the Salian Franks controlled the River Scheldt and were disrupting transport links to Britain in the English Channel. Although Roman forces managed to pacifiy them, they failed to expel the Franks, who continued to be feared as pirates at least until 358, when, according to the Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus, Julian the Apostate allowed the Franks to settle as foederati in Toxandria. By the end of the 5th century, the Salian Franks had largely moved to a territory (what is now the Netherlands south of the Rhine, Belgium, and northern France), where they formed a kingdom that eventually gave rise to the Merovingian dynasty.

Merovingian kingdom (481–751)

Numerous small Frankish kingdoms existed during the 5th century around Cologne, Tournai, Le Mans, Cambrai and elsewhere. The kingdom of Tournai eventually came to dominate its neighbours, probably because of its association with Aegidius, the magister militum of northern Gaul. A Frankish king, Childeric I, fought with Aegidius in 463: historians have assumed that Childeric and his son Clovis I were both commanders of the Roman military in the Province of Belgica Secunda and were subordinate to the magister militum.

The Seal Ring of Childeric I.

Clovis later turned against the Roman commanders, defeated Syagrius in 486 or 487 and then had the Frankish king Chararic imprisoned and executed. A few years later, he killed Ragnachar, the Frankish king of Cambrai, and his brothers. By the 490s, he had conquered all the Frankish kingdoms to the west of the River Maas except for the Ripuarian Franks and was in a position to make the city of Paris his capital. He became the first king of all Franks in 509, after he had conquered Cologne. After conquering the Kingdom of Soissons and expelling the Visigoths from southern Gaul at the Battle of Vouillé, he established Frankish hegemony over most of Gaul, excluding Burgundy, Provence and Brittany, which were eventually absorbed by his successors.

Clovis I divided his realm between his four sons, who united to defeat Burgundy in 534. Internecine feuding occurred during the reigns of the brothers Sigebert I and Chilperic I, which was largely fuelled by the rivalry of their queens, Brunhilda and Fredegunda, and which continued during the reigns of their sons and their grandsons. Three distinct subkingdoms emerged: Austrasia, Neustria and Burgundy, each of which developed independently and sought to exert influence over the others. The influence of the Arnulfing clan of Austrasia ensured that the centre of political gravity in the kingdom gradually shifted eastwards to the Rhineland.

The Frankish realm was reunited in 613 by Chlothar II, the son of Chilperic, who granted his nobles the Edict of Paris in an effort to reduce corruption and reassert his authority. Following the military successes of his son and successor Dagobert I, royal authority rapidly declined under a series of kings, traditionally known as les rois fainéants. After the Battle of Tertry in 687, each mayor of the palace, who had formerly been the king’s chief household official, effectively held power until in 751, with the approval of the Pope and the nobility, Pepin the Short deposed the last Merovingian king Childeric III and had himself crowned. This inaugurated a new dynasty, the Carolingians.

Carolingian empire (751–843)

The Frankish Kingdoms.

The unification achieved by the Merovingians ensured the continuation of what has become known as the Carolingian Renaissance. The Carolingian Empire was beset by internecine warfare, but the combination of Frankish rule and Roman Christianity ensured that it was fundamentally united. Frankish government and culture depended very much upon each ruler and his aims and so each region of the empire developed differently. Although a ruler’s aims depended upon the political alliances of his family, the leading families of Francia shared the same basic beliefs and ideas of government, which had both Roman and Germanic roots.

The sons of Louis the Pious fought a civil war after Louis’ death, which ended when the Frankish lands were divided between them. Charles the Bald was given West Francia, which would later become France, Louis the German received the eastern lands, which would later become Germany and Lothair I was given Middle Francia, which consisted of Lotharingia, Provence and Northern Italy. Middle Francia was not united, and by the next generation it had disintegrated into smaller lordships, which West Francia and East Francia fought for control over.

Military

Participation in the Roman army

Germanic peoples, including those tribes in the Rhine delta that later became the Franks, are known to have served in the Roman army since the days of Julius Caesar. After the Roman administration collapsed in Gaul in the 260s, the armies under the Germanic Batavian Postumus revolted and proclaimed him emperor and then restored order. From then on, Germanic soldiers in the Roman army, most notably Franks, were promoted from the ranks.

A few decades later, the Menapian Carausius created a Batavian–British rump state on Roman soil that was supported by Frankish soldiers and raiders. Frankish soldiers such as Magnentius, Silvanus and Arbitio held command positions in the Roman army during the mid 4th century. From the narrative of Ammianus Marcellinus it is evident that both Frankish and Alamannic tribal armies were organised along Roman lines.

After the invasion of Chlodio, the Roman armies at the Rhine border became a Frankish “franchise” and Franks were known to levy Roman-like troops that were supported by a Roman-like armour and weapons industry. This lasted at least till the days of the scholar Procopius (c. AD 500 – c. AD 565), more than a century after the demise of the Western Roman Empire, who wrote describing the former Rhine army as still in operation with legions of the style of their forefathers during Roman times.

The Franks under the Merovingians melded Germanic custom with Romanised organisation and several important tactical innovations. Before their conquest of Gaul, the Franks fought primarily as a tribe, unless they were part of a Roman military unit fighting in conjunction with other imperial units.

Military practices of the early Franks

The primary sources for Frankish military custom and armament are Ammianus Marcellinus, Agathias and Procopius, the latter two Eastern Roman historians writing about Frankish intervention in the Gothic War.

Writing of 539, Procopius says:

At this time the Franks, hearing that both the Goths and Romans had suffered severely by the war … forgetting for the moment their oaths and treaties … (for this nation in matters of trust is the most treacherous in the world), they straightway gathered to the number of one hundred thousand under the leadership of Theudebert I and marched into Italy: they had a small body of cavalry about their leader, and these were the only ones armed with spears, while all the rest were foot soldiers having neither bows nor spears, but each man carried a sword and shield and one axe. Now the iron head of this weapon was thick and exceedingly sharp on both sides, while the wooden handle was very short. And they are accustomed always to throw these axes at a signal in the first charge and thus to shatter the shields of the enemy and kill the men.

His contemporary, Agathias, who based his own writings upon the tropes laid down by Procopius, says:

The military equipment of this people [the Franks] is very simple … They do not know the use of the coat of mail or greaves and the majority leave the head uncovered, only a few wear the helmet. They have their chests bare and backs naked to the loins, they cover their thighs with either leather or linen. They do not serve on horseback except in very rare cases. Fighting on foot is both habitual and a national custom and they are proficient in this. At the hip they wear a sword and on the left side their shield is attached. They have neither bows nor slings, no missile weapons except the double edged axe and the angon which they use most often. The angons are spears which are neither very short nor very long. They can be used, if necessary, for throwing like a javelin, and also in hand to hand combat.

While the above quotations have been used as a statement of the military practices of the Frankish nation in the 6th century and have even been extrapolated to the entire period preceding Charles Martel‘s reforms (early mid-8th century), post-Second World War historiography has emphasised the inherited Roman characteristics of the Frankish military from the date of the beginning of the conquest of Gaul.

The Byzantine authors present several contradictions and difficulties. Procopius denies the Franks the use of the spear while Agathias makes it one of their primary weapons. They agree that the Franks were primarily infantrymen, threw axes and carried a sword and shield. Both writers also contradict the authority of Gallic authors of the same general time period (Sidonius Apollinaris and Gregory of Tours) and the archaeological evidence.

The Lex Ribuaria, the early 7th century legal code of the Rhineland or Ripuarian Franks, specifies the values of various goods when paying a wergild in kind; whereas a spear and shield were worth only two solidi, a sword and scabbard were valued at seven, a helmet at six, and a “metal tunic” at twelve. Scramasaxes and arrowheads are numerous in Frankish graves even though the Byzantine historians do not assign them to the Franks.

The frontispiece of Gregory’s Historia Francorum.

The evidence of Gregory and of the Lex Salica implies that the early Franks were a cavalry people. In fact, some modern historians have hypothesised that the Franks possessed so numerous a body of horses that they could use them to plough fields and thus were agriculturally technologically advanced over their neighbours. The Lex Ribuaria specifies that a mare’s value was the same as that of an ox or of a shield and spear, two solidi and a stallion seven or the same as a sword and scabbard, which suggests that horses were relatively common. Perhaps the Byzantine writers considered the Frankish horse to be insignificant relative to the Greek cavalry, which is probably accurate.

Merovingian military

Composition and development

The Frankish military establishment incorporated many of the pre-existing Roman institutions in Gaul, especially during and after the conquests of Clovis I in the late 5th and early 6th centuries. Frankish military strategy revolved around the holding and taking of fortified centres (castra) and in general these centres were held by garrisons of milities or laeti, who were former Roman mercenaries of Germanic origin. Throughout Gaul, the descendants of Roman soldiers continued to wear their uniforms and perform their ceremonial duties.

Merovingian Cavalry Nobleman V-VII Century.

Immediately beneath the Frankish king in the military hierarchy were the leudes, his sworn followers, who were generally ‘old soldiers’ in service away from court. Some historians have gone to the length of relating their oath-making to the later development of feudalism. The king had an elite bodyguard called the truste. Members of the truste often served in centannae, garrison settlements that were established for military and police purposes. The day-to-day bodyguard of the king was made up of antrustiones (senior soldiers who were aristocrats in military service) and pueri (junior soldiers and not aristocrats). All high-ranking men had pueri.

The Frankish military was not composed solely of Franks and Gallo-Romans, but also contained Saxons, Alans, Taifals and Alemanni. After the conquest of Burgundy (534), the well-organised military institutions of that kingdom were integrated into the Frankish realm. Chief among these was the standing army under the command of the Patrician of Burgundy.

In the late 6th century, during the wars instigated by Fredegund and Brunhilda, the Merovingian monarchs introduced a new element into their militaries: the local levy. A levy consisted of all the able-bodied men of a district who were required to report for military service when called upon, similar to conscription. The local levy applied only to a city and its environs. Initially only in certain cities in western Gaul, in Neustria and Aquitaine, did the kings possess the right or power to call up the levy. The commanders of the local levies were always different from the commanders of the urban garrisons. Often the former were commanded by the counts of the districts. A much rarer occurrence was the general levy, which applied to the entire kingdom and included peasants (pauperes and inferiores). General levies could also be made within the still-pagan trans-Rhenish stem duchies on the orders of a monarch. The Saxons, Alemanni and Thuringii all had the institution of the levy and the Frankish monarchs could depend upon their levies until the mid-7th century, when the stem dukes began to sever their ties to the monarchy. Radulf of Thuringia called up the levy for a war against Sigebert III in 640.

Soon the local levy spread to Austrasia and the less Romanised regions of Gaul. On an intermediate level, the kings began calling up territorial levies from the regions of Austrasia (which did not have major cities of Roman origin). However, all the forms of the levy gradually disappeared in the course of the 7th century after the reign of Dagobert I. Under the so-called rois fainéants, the levies disappeared by mid-century in Austrasia and later in Burgundy and Neustria. Only in Aquitaine, which was fast becoming independent of the central Frankish monarchy, did complex military institutions persist into the 8th century. In the final half of the 7th century and first half of the 8th in Merovingian Gaul, the chief military actors became the lay and ecclesiastical magnates with their bands of armed followers called retainers. The other aspects of the Merovingian military, mostly Roman in origin or innovations of powerful kings, disappeared from the scene by the 8th century.

Strategy, tactics and equipment

Merovingian armies used coats of mail, helmets, shields, lances, swords, bows and arrows and war horses. The armament of private armies resembled those of the Gallo-Roman potentiatores of the late Empire. A strong element of Alanic cavalry settled in Armorica influenced the fighting style of the Bretons down into the 12th century. Local urban levies could be reasonably well-armed and even mounted, but the more general levies were composed of pauperes and inferiores, who were mostly farmers by trade and carried ineffective weapons, such as farming implements. The peoples east of the Rhine – Franks, Saxons and even Wends – who were sometimes called upon to serve, wore rudimentary armour and carried weapons such as spears and axes. Few of these men were mounted.

Arms and Armour of a Carolingian Horseman 8-9th Centuries.

Merovingian society had a militarised nature. The Franks called annual meetings every Marchfeld (1 March), when the king and his nobles assembled in large open fields and determined their targets for the next campaigning season. The meetings were a show of strength on behalf of the monarch and a way for him to retain loyalty among his troops. In their civil wars, the Merovingian kings concentrated on the holding of fortified places and the use of siege engines. In wars waged against external foes, the objective was typically the acquisition of booty or the enforcement of tribute. Only in the lands beyond the Rhine did the Merovingians seek to extend political control over their neighbours.

Tactically, the Merovingians borrowed heavily from the Romans, especially regarding siege warfare. Their battle tactics were highly flexible and were designed to meet the specific circumstances of a battle. The tactic of subterfuge was employed endlessly. Cavalry formed a large segment of an army, but troops readily dismounted to fight on foot. The Merovingians were capable of raising naval forces: the naval campaign waged against the Danes by Theuderic I in 515 involved ocean-worthy ships and rivercraft were used on the Loire, Rhône and Rhine.

Culture

Language

In a modern linguistic context, the language of the early Franks is variously called “Old Frankish” or “Old Franconian” and refers to the West Germanic dialects of the Franks prior to the advent of the Second Germanic consonant shift, which took place between 600 and 700 CE. After this consonant shift the Frankish dialect diverges, with the dialects which would become modern Dutch not undergoing the consonantal shift, while all others did so to varying degrees and thereby became part of the larger German dialectal domain.

The Frankish language has not been directly attested, apart from a minute amount of runic inscriptions found within contemporary Frankish territory such as the Bergakker inscription. The distinction between Old Dutch and Old Frankish is largely negligible, with Old Dutch (also called Old Low Franconian) being the term used to differentiate between the affected and non-affected variants following the aforementioned Second Germanic consonant shift.

A significant amount of Old Frankish vocabulary has been reconstructed by examining early Germanic loanwords found in Old French as well as through comparative reconstruction through Dutch. The influence of Old Frankish on contemporary Gallo-Roman vocabulary and phonology, have long been questions of scholarly debate. Frankish influence is thought to include the designations of the four cardinal directions: nord “north”, sud “south”, est “east” and ouest “west” and at least an additional 1000 stem words.

Art and architecture

The pinnacle of Carolingian architecture: the palatine chapel at Aachen, Germany.

Early Frankish art and architecture belongs to a phase known as Migration Period art, which has left very few remains. The later period is called Carolingian art, or, especially in architecture, pre-Romanesque. Very little Merovingian architecture has been preserved. The earliest churches seem to have been timber-built, with larger examples being of a basilica type. The most completely surviving example, a baptistery in Poitiers, is a building with three apses of a Gallo-Roman style. A number of small baptistries can be seen in Southern France: as these fell out of fashion, they were not updated and have subsequently survived as they were.

Jewelery (such as brooches), weapons (including swords with decorative hilts) and clothing (such as capes and sandals) have been found in a number of grave sites. The grave of Queen Aregund, discovered in 1959, and the Treasure of Gourdon, which was deposited soon after 524, are notable examples. The few Merovingian illuminated manuscripts that have survived, such as the Gelasian Sacramentary, contain a great deal of zoomorphic representations. Such Frankish objects show a greater use of the style and motifs of Late Antiquity and a lesser degree of skill and sophistication in design and manufacture than comparable works from the British Isles. So little has survived, however, that the best quality of work from this period may not be represented.

The objects produced by the main centres of the Carolingian Renaissance, which represent a transformation from that of the earlier period, have survived in far greater quantity. The arts were lavishly funded and encouraged by Charlemagne, using imported artists where necessary, and Carolingian developments were decisive for the future course of Western art. Carolingian illuminated manuscripts and ivory plaques, which have survived in reasonable numbers, approached those of Constantinople in quality. The main surviving monument of Carolingian architecture is the Palatine Chapel in Aachen, which is an impressive and confident adaptation of San Vitale, Ravenna — from where some of the pillars were brought. Many other important buildings existed, such as the monasteries of Centula or St Gall, or the old Cologne Cathedral, since rebuilt. These large structures and complexes made frequent use of towers.

Religion

A sizeable portion of the Frankish aristocracy quickly followed Clovis in converting to Christianity (the Frankish church of the Merovingians). The conversion of all under Frankish rule required a considerable amount of time and effort.

Paganism

Drawing of golden bees or flies that was discovered in the tomb of Childeric I.

Echoes of Frankish paganism can be found in the primary sources, but their meaning is not always clear. Interpretations by modern scholars differ greatly, but it is likely that Frankish paganism shared most of the characteristics of other varieties of Germanic paganism. The mythology of the Franks was probably a form of Germanic polytheism. It was highly ritualistic. Many daily activities centred around the multiple deities, chiefest of which may have been the Quinotaur, a water-god from whom the Merovingians were reputed to have derived their ancestry. Most of their gods were linked with local cult centres and their sacred character and power were associated with specific regions, outside of which they were neither worshipped nor feared. Most of the gods were “worldly”, possessing form and having connections with specific objects, in contrast to the God of Christianity.

Frankish paganism has been observed in the burial site of Childeric I, where the king’s body was found covered in a cloth decorated with numerous bees. There is a likely connection with the bees to the traditional Frankish weapon, the angon (meaning “sting”), from its distinctive spearhead. It is possible that the fleur-de-lis is derived from the angon.

Christianity

Baptism of Clovis by Paul Dubois, 1896, at the side of the Abbey of Saint- Remi, in Reims.

Some Franks, like the 4th century usurper Silvanus, converted early to Christianity. In 496, Clovis I, who had married a Burgundian Catholic named Clotilda in 493, was baptised by Saint Remi after a decisive victory over the Alemanni at the Battle of Tolbiac. According to Gregory of Tours, over three thousand of his soldiers were baptised with him. Clovis’ conversion had a profound effect on the course of European history, for at the time the Franks were the only major Christianised Germanic tribe without a predominantly Arian aristocracy and this led to a naturally amicable relationship between the Catholic Church and the increasingly powerful Franks.

Though many of the Frankish aristocracy quickly followed Clovis in converting to Christianity, the conversion of all his subjects was only achieved after considerable effort and, in some regions, a period of over two centuries. The Chronicle of St. Denis relates that, following Clovis’ conversion, a number of pagans who were unhappy with this turn of events rallied around Ragnachar, who had played an important role in Clovis’ initial rise to power. Though the text remains unclear as to the precise pretext, Clovis had Ragnachar executed. Remaining pockets of resistance were overcome region by region, primarily due to the work of an expanding network of monasteries.

 

Gelasian Sacramentary, c. 750.

The Merovingian Church was shaped by both internal and external forces. It had to come to terms with an established Gallo-Roman hierarchy that resisted changes to its culture, Christianise pagan sensibilities and suppress their expression, provide a new theological basis for Merovingian forms of kingship deeply rooted in pagan Germanic tradition and accommodate Irish and Anglo-Saxon missionary activities and papal requirements. The Carolingian reformation of monasticism and church-state relations was the culmination of the Frankish Church.

The increasingly wealthy Merovingian elite endowed many monasteries, including that of the Irish missionary Columbanus. The 5th, 6th and 7th centuries saw two major waves of hermitism in the Frankish world, which led to legislation requiring that all monks and hermits follow the Rule of St Benedict. The Church sometimes had an uneasy relationship with the Merovingian kings, whose claim to rule depended on a mystique of royal descent and who tended to revert to the polygamy of their pagan ancestors. Rome encouraged the Franks to slowly replace the Gallican Rite with the Roman rite. When the mayors took over, the Church was supportive and an Emperor crowned by the Pope was much more to their liking.

Laws

As with other Germanic peoples, the laws of the Franks were memorised by “rachimburgs”, who were analogous to the lawspeakers of Scandinavia. By the 6th century, when these laws first appeared in written form, two basic legal subdivisions existed: Salian Franks were subject to Salic law and Ripuarian Franks to Ripuarian law. Gallo-Romans south of the River Loire and clergy remained subject to traditional Roman law. Germanic law was overwhelmingly concerned with the protection of individuals and less concerned with protecting the interests of the state. According to Michel Rouche, “Frankish judges devoted as much care to a case involving the theft of a dog as Roman judges did to cases involving the fiscal responsibility of curiales, or municipal councilors”.

Legacy

The term Frank has been used by many of the Eastern Orthodox and Muslim neighbours of medieval Latin Christendom (and beyond, such as in Asia) as a general synonym for a European from Western and Central Europe, areas that followed the Latin rites of Christianity under the authority of the Pope in Rome. Another term with similar use was Latins.

Modern historians often refer to Christians following the Latin rites in the eastern Mediterranean as Franks or Latins, regardless of their country of origin, whereas they use the words Rhomaios and Rûmi (“Roman”) for Orthodox Christians. On a number of Greek islands, Catholics are still referred to as Φράγκοι (Frangoi) or “Franks”, for instance on Syros, where they are called Φραγκοσυριανός (Frangosyrianos). The period of Crusader rule in Greek lands is known to this day as the Frangokratia (“rule of the Franks”). Latin Christians living in the Middle East (particularly in the Levant) are known as Franco-Levantines.

During the Mongol Empire in the 13-14th centuries, the Mongols used the term “Franks” to designate Europeans. The term Frangistan (“Land of the Franks”) was used by Muslims to refer to Christian Europe and was commonly used over several centuries in Iran and the Ottoman Empire.

The Chinese called the Portuguese Folangji 佛郎機 (“Franks”) in the 1520s at the Battle of Tunmen and Battle of Xicaowan. Some other varieties of Mandarin Chinese pronounced the characters as Fah-lan-ki.

The Mediterranean Lingua Franca (or “Frankish language”) was a pidgin first spoken by 11th century European Christians and Muslims in Mediterranean ports that remained in use until the 19th century.

Examples of derived words include:

  • Frangos (Φράγκος) in Greek
  • Frëng in Albanian
  • Frenk in Turkish
  • al-Faranj, Afranj and Firinjīyah in Arabic
  • Farang, Farangī in Persian, Faranji in Tajik.
  • Ferengi or Faranji in some Turkic languages
  • Feringhi or Firang in Hindi and Urdu (derived from Persian)
  • Phirangee in some other Indian languages
  • Parangiar in Tamil
  • Parangi in Malayalam; in Sinhala, the word refers specifically to Portuguese people
  • Barang in Khmer
  • Feringgi in Malay
  • Folangji or Fah-lan-ki (佛郎機) and Fulang in Chinese
  • Farang (ฝรั่ง) in Thai.
  • Pirang (“blonde”), Perangai (“temperament/al”) in Bahasa Indonesia

In the Thai usage, the word can refer to any European person. When the presence of US soldiers during the Vietnam War placed Thai people in contact with African Americans, they (and people of African ancestry in general) came to be called Farang dam (“Black Farang”, ฝรั่งดำ). Such words sometimes also connote things, plants or creatures introduced by Europeans/Franks. For example, in Khmer, môn barang, literally “French Chicken”, refers to a turkey and in Thai, Farang is the name both for Europeans and for the guava fruit, introduced by Portuguese traders over 400 years ago. In contemporary Israel, the Yiddish word פרענק (Frenk) has, by a curious etymological development, come to refer to Mizrahi Jews and carries a strong pejorative connotation.

Some linguists (among them Drs. Jan Tent and Paul Geraghty) have suggested that the Samoan and generic Polynesian term for Europeans, Palagi (pronounced Puh-LANG-ee) or Papalagi, might also be cognate, possibly a loan term gathered by early contact between Pacific islanders and Malays.

References

  • Fredegar
    • Fredegarius; John Michael Wallace-Hadrill (1981) [1960]. Fredegarii chronicorum liber quartus cum continuationibus (in Latin and English). Greenwood Press.
    • Unknown (1973). Liber Historiae Francorum. Translated by Bachrach, Bernard S. Coronado Press.
    • Woodruff, Jane Ellen; Fredegar (1987). The Historia Epitomata (third book) of the Chronicle of Fredegar: an annotated translation and historical analysis of interpolated material. Thesis (Ph.D.). University of Nebraska.

Sweden plans large joint military exercise with NATO

Swedish Sridsvagn 103 Amphibious Main Battle Tank.

The Swedish military has released a statement announcing plans to hold its largest joint military exercise in years with NATO members this September.

The exercise will be labeled Aurora 17 and will involve land, air, and sea elements of the Swedish military and participating NATO members.

It will count over 19,000 Swedish personnel and 40 government agencies, 1,435 troops from the U.S. and smaller contingents from France, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Lithuania and Estonia.

A Finnish army Leopard 2A4 Tank Platoon.

“Through frequent and extensive training and exercise, especially with other defense forces, Sweden is strengthening its deterrence effect and makes it more credible,” the statement said.

There has been internal debate in Sweden and Finland concerning the possibility of joining NATO, and both have played higher profile roles in NATO summits. Russia’s increasing military assertiveness since its annexation of Crimea and backing of separatist rebels in Ukraine has raised concerns in neighboring countries and NATO.

Swedish army Stridsvagn 122, based on the German Leopard 2 Main Battle Tank.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that Russia would see Sweden joining NATO as a serious encroachment and would demand a military response.

Aurora 17 will mark another in a string of increasingly large and elaborate military exercises taking place in the Baltics and eastern Europe.

Source: UPI.

 

Revell 1/72 Blohm & Voss “Wiking” Build – Part 1 – Stages 1 to 48

The Revell 1/72 scale Blohm & Voss “Wiking” has reached the point at which it will soon be ready for the paint shop. It has yet to be filled, sanded-down and primed. I anticipate that by the weekend the under-surface RLM 65 and top-side base colour of RLM 73 will be applied. Below is a selection of photographs from the various build stages. This aircraft is big but holds no vices, so far it has been a pleasure to build.

The BV 222 with the interior complete, prior to the fuselage halves being joined together.
The BV 222 with the interior complete, prior to the fuselage halves being joined together.
The BV 222 cockpit and rear crew compartment.
The BV 222 cockpit and rear crew compartment. The upper and lower cargo decks can be clearly seen from this shot.

The control panel has been dry-brushed to highlight the instruments, dials and switches. 3 4 The rear crew compartment features the Navigators/plotters station, the Radio Operators station and the Flight Engineers station. All dials and switches have been dry brushed over a base colour of RLM 02 Grau. 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 The fuselage halves were joined without any difficulties, taped and left to dry. 13 The rear crew compartment can be accessed provided that the dorsal gun position is not glued into place later in the build. 14 The wings and horizontal tail surfaces are aligned and glued into position in addition to the floats. The giant flying boat finally takes shape. 15 The 1/72 BV 222 is posed with a 1/72 scale Messerschmitt Bf 109G-6 fighter to give a sense of the “Wiking’s” enormous scale. 16 A full build review will follow this article.   Richard Reynolds.    

The importance of the Petsamo Nickel Mines to the Major Powers in World War II

History

Deposits of nickel were found in 1921, after Petsamo became a part of Finland, and in 1934 the deposits were estimated to contain over five million tonnes. Mining operations were started in 1935 by Canadian and French corporations.

Petsamo, situated on the northern coast of Finland (now Russia). Kirkenes can be seen along the coast to the east
Petsamo, situated on the northern coast of Finland (now Russia). Kirkenes can be seen along the coast to the west in Norway.

Construction of a road from Sodankylä through Ivalo to Liinakhamari started in 1916 and was completed in 1931. This made Petsamo a popular tourist attraction, as it was the only port by the Barents Sea that could be reached by automobile.

In the Winter War of 1939–1940, the Soviet Union occupied Petsamo. In the following peace agreement only the Finnish part of the Rybachy Peninsula, with the area of 321 square kilometers (124 sq mi), was ceded to the Soviet Union, although the Soviets had occupied all of Petsamo during the Winter War.

Coastal Batteries at Petsamo
Coastal Batteries at Petsamo

In 1941, during World War II, Petsamo was used by Nazi Germany as a staging area for the attack towards Murmansk. In 1944, the Red Army occupied Petsamo again, and Finland had to cede it to the Soviet Union as part of the Moscow Armistice signed on September 19, 1944; the total ceded area was 8,965 square kilometers (3,461 sq mi). On July 21, 1945, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union decreed to establish Pechengsky District with the administrative centre in nickel on the ceded territory and to include this district as a part of Murmansk Oblast.

The beginnings of Finnish co-operation with Germany

After Nazi Germany’s assault on Scandinavia on April 9, 1940, Operation Weserübung, Finland was physically isolated from her traditional trade markets in the west. Sea routes to and from Finland were now controlled by the Kriegsmarine. The outlet of the Baltic sea was blockaded, and in the far north Finland’s route to the world was an Arctic dirt road from Rovaniemi to the ice-free harbour of Petsamo, from where the ships had to pass a long stretch of German-occupied Norwegian coast by the Arctic Ocean. Finland, like Sweden, was spared occupation but encircled by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. With direct support by Marshal Mannerheim a volunteer unit was formed and sent to Norway to help the fight against the Nazi army. The ambulance unit participated in the war until the Germans conquered the area in which it was serving. The volunteers returned to Finland.

Petsamo Harbour
Petsamo Harbour

Especially damaging was the loss of fertilizer imports, that, together with the loss of arable land ceded in the Moscow Peace, the loss of cattle during the hasty evacuation after the Winter War, and the unfavorable weather in the summer of 1940, resulted in a drastic fall of food production to less than two thirds of what was Finland’s estimated need. Some of the deficit could be purchased from Sweden and some from the Soviet Union, although delayed deliveries were then a means to exert pressure on Finland. In this situation, Finland had no alternative but to turn to Germany for help.

Finland seeks German rapprochement

Germany has traditionally been a counterweight to Russia in Baltic region, and despite the fact that Hitler’s Third Reich had acquiesced with the invader, Finland perceived some value in also seeking warmer relations in that direction. After the German occupation of Norway, and particularly after the Allied evacuation from northern Norway, the relative importance of a German rapprochement increased.

From May 1940, Finland pursued a campaign to re-establish the good relations with Germany that had soured in the last year of the 1930s. Finland rested her hope in the fragility of the Nazi–Soviet bond, and in the many personal friendships between Finnish and German athletes, scientists, industrialists, and military officers. A part of that policy was accrediting the energetic former Prime Minister Toivo Mikael Kivimäki as ambassador in Berlin in June 1940. The Finnish mass media not only refrained from criticism of Nazi Germany, but also took active part in this campaign. Dissent was censored. Seen from Berlin, this looked like a refreshing contrast to the annoyingly anti-Nazi press in Sweden.

Toivo Mikael Kivimäki
Toivo Mikael Kivimäki

After the fall of France, in late June, the Finnish ambassador in Stockholm heard from the diplomatic sources that Britain could soon be forced to negotiate peace with Germany. The experience from World War I emphasized the importance of close and friendly relations with the victors, and accordingly the courting of Nazi Germany was stepped up still further.

The first crack in the German coldness towards Finland was registered in late July, when Ludwig Weissauer, a secret representative of the German Foreign Minister, visited Finland and queried Mannerheim and Ryti about Finland’s willingness to defend the country against the Soviet Union. Mannerheim estimated the Finnish army could last a few weeks without more arms. Weissauer left without any promises.

Continued Soviet pressure

The implementation of the Moscow Peace Treaty created problems due to the Soviet Vae Victis-mentality. Border arrangements in the Enso industrial area, which even Soviet members of the border commission considered to be on the Finnish side of the border, the forced return of evacuated machinery, locomotives, and rail cars; and inflexibility on questions which could have eased hardships created by the new border, such as fishing rights and the usage of Saimaa Canal merely served to heighten distrust about the objectives of the Soviet Union.

The Soviet attitude was personified in the new ambassador to Helsinki, Ivan Zotov. He behaved undiplomatically and had a stiff-necked drive to advance Soviet interests, real or imagined, in Finland. During the summer and autumn he recommended several times in his reports to the Soviet Foreign Office that Finland ought to be finished off and wholly annexed by the Soviet Union.

On June 14, Soviet bombers shot down the Finnish Junkers 52 passenger plane Kaleva. All nine passengers and crew perished.

On June 23, the Soviet Union proposed that Finland should revoke Petsamo mining rights from the British–Canadian company and transfer them to the Soviet Union, or to a joint venture owned by the Russians and the Finns. On June 27, Moscow demanded either demilitarization or a joint fortification effort in Åland. After Sweden had signed the troop transfer agreement with Germany on July 8, Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov demanded similar rights for a Soviet troop transit to Hanko on July 9. The transfer rights were given on September 6, and demilitarization of Åland was agreed on October 11, but negotiations on Petsamo continued to drag on, with Finnish negotiators stalling as much as possible.

The Åland Islands
The Åland Islands

The Communist Party was so discredited in the Winter War that it never managed to recuperate between the wars. Instead, on May 22, the Peace and Friendship Society of Finland and Soviet Union was created, and it actively propagated Soviet viewpoints. Ambassador Zotov had very close contacts with the Society by holding weekly meetings with the Society leadership in the Soviet embassy and having Soviet diplomats participating in Society board meetings. The Society started by criticizing the government and military, and gained around 35,000 members at its height. Emboldened by its success, it started organizing almost daily violent demonstrations during the first half of August which were supported politically by Zotov and a press campaign in Leningrad. The government reacted forcefully and arrested leading members of the society which ended the demonstrations in spite of Zotov’s and Molotov’s protests. The Society was finally outlawed in December 1940.

The Soviet Union demanded that Väinö Tanner be discharged from the cabinet because of his anti-Soviet stance and he had to resign August 15. Ambassador Zotov further demanded the resignation of both the Minister of Social Affairs Karl-August Fagerholm because he had called the Society a Fifth column in a public speech, and the Minister of Interior Affairs Ernst von Born, who was responsible for police and led the crackdown of the Society, but they retained their places in the cabinet after Ryti delivered a radio speech in which he stated the willingness of his government to improve relations between Finland and the Soviet Union.

Väinö Tanner
Väinö Tanner

President Kallio suffered a stroke on August 28, after which he was unable to work, but when he presented his resignation November 27, the Soviet Union reacted by announcing that if Mannerheim, Tanner, Kivimäki, Svinhufvud or someone of their ilk were chosen president, it would be considered a breach of the Moscow peace treaty.

President Kyösti Kallio
President Kyösti Kallio

All of this reminded the public heavily of how the Baltic Republics had been occupied and annexed only a few months earlier. It was no wonder that the average Finn feared that the Winter War had produced only a short delay of the same fate.

British disregard

Compared to the early spring, during the summer of 1940, Finland was not high on the agenda of British foreign policy. To gain support from the Soviet Union, Britain had appointed Sir Stafford Cripps, from the left wing of the Labour Party, ambassador to Moscow. He had openly supported the Terijoki Government during the Winter War and he wondered to Ambassador Paasikivi ‘didn’t the Finns really want to follow Baltic Republics and join the Soviet Union?’ He also dismissively called President Kallio “Kulak” and Nordic social democracy “reactionary“. The British Foreign Office had to apologize for his language to Ambassador Gripenberg.

Sir Stafford Cripps
Sir Stafford Cripps

Britain opposed Finnish-Swedish cooperation and provided support for the Soviet Union to scuttle the initiative, until it became apparent in late March 1941 that it had driven Finland in the direction of the Germans, but by then it was already too late. Finnish foreign trade was another critical issue as it was dependent on the British Navy and the Ministry of Economic Warfare was extremely strict when issuing those so that even Finnish trade (and relations) with the Soviet Union suffered from it.

During the nickel negotiations the Foreign Office pressured the license owning British-Canadian Company to “temporarily” release the license and offered diplomatic support to Soviet attempts to gain control of the mine with the precondition that no ore would be shipped to Germany.

Improved relations with Nazi Germany

Unbeknownst to Finland, Adolf Hitler had started to plan his forthcoming invasion of the Soviet Union (Operation Barbarossa) now that France had collapsed. He had not been interested in Finland before the Winter War, but now he saw the value of Finland as an operating base, and perhaps also the military value of the Finnish army. In the first weeks of August, German fears of a likely immediate Russian attack on Finland caused Hitler to free the arms embargo. The arms deliveries stopped under the Winter War were resumed.

The next visitor from Germany came on August 18, when a representative of Hermann Göring, arms dealer Joseph Veltjens, arrived. He negotiated with Ryti and Mannerheim about German troop transfer rights between Finnmark in Northern Norway and ports of Gulf of Bothnia in exchange for arms and other material. At first these arms shipments were transferred via Sweden, but later they came directly to Finland. For the Third Reich, this was a breach of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, as well as being for Finland a material breach of the Moscow Peace Treaty—that in fact had been chiefly targeted against cooperation between Germany and Finland. It has been disputed in retrospect whether the ailing President Kallio was informed. Possibly Kallio’s health collapsed before he could be confidentially briefed.

Josef Veltjens
Josef Veltjens

From the campaign to ease the Third Reich’s coldness towards Finland, it seemed a natural development to also promote closer relations and cooperation, especially since the much-disliked Moscow Peace Treaty had, in clear language, tried to persuade the Finns not to do exactly that. Propaganda in the censored press contributed to Finland’s international re-orientation—although with very measured means.

Soviet negotiators had insisted that the troop transfer agreement (to Hanko) should not be published for parliamentary discussion or voting. This precedent made it easy for the Finnish government to keep a troop transfer agreement with the Germans secret until the first German troops arrived at the port of Vaasa on September 21. The arrival of German troops produced much relief to the insecurity of average Finns, and was largely approved. Most contrary voices opposed more the way the agreement was negotiated than the transfer itself, although the Finnish people knew only the barest details of the agreements with the Third Reich. The presence of German troops was seen as a deterrent for further Soviet threats and a counterbalance to the Soviet troop transfer right. The German troop transfer agreement was augmented November 21 allowing the transfer of wounded, and soldiers on leave, via Turku. Germans arrived and established quarters, depots, and bases along the rail lines from Vaasa and Oulu to Ylitornio and Rovaniemi, and from there along the roads via Karesuvanto and Kilpisjärvi or Ivalo and Petsamo to Skibotn and Kirkenes in northern Norway. Also roadworks for improving winter road (between Karesuvanto and Skibotn) and totally new road (from Ivalo to Karasjok) were discussed, and later financed, by Germans.

Ryti, Mannerheim, Minister of Defence Walden and chief of staff Heinrichs decided October 23 that information concerning Finnish defence plans of Lappland could be given to the Wehrmacht to gain goodwill, even with the risk that they could be forwarded to the Soviet Union.

When Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov visited Berlin on November 12, he demanded that Germany stop supporting Finland, and the right to handle Finland in a similar way to Baltic States, but Hitler demanded that there should be no new military activities in Northern Europe before summer. Through unofficial channels, Finnish representatives were informed that “Finnish leaders can sleep peacefully; Hitler has opened his umbrella over Finland.”

Vyacheslav Molotov
Vyacheslav Molotov

Attempted defence union with Sweden

On August 19, a new initiative was launched for co-operation between Sweden and Finland. It called for a union of the two states in exchange for a Finnish declaration of satisfaction with the current borders. The plans were primarily championed by the Swedish Foreign Minister, Christian Günther, and Conservative party leader Gösta Bagge, Education Minister in Stockholm. They had to counter increasing anti-Swedish opinions in Finland; and in Sweden, Liberal and Socialist suspicions against what was seen as right-wing dominance in Finland. One of the chief objectives of the plan was to ensure greatest possible liberty for Sweden and Finland in a presumed post-war Europe totally dominated by Nazi Germany. In Sweden, political opponents criticized the necessary adaptations to the Nazis; in Finland, the resistance centred on the loss of sovereignty and influence—and the acceptance of the loss of Finnish Karelia. However, the general feeling of Finland’s dire and deteriorating position quieted many critics.

The official request for a union was made by Christian Günther on October 18, and Finland’s approval was received on October 25, but by November 5, the Soviet ambassador in Stockholm, Alexandra Kollontai, warned Sweden about the treaty. The Swedish government retreated from the issue but discussions for a more acceptable treaty continued until December when, on December 6, the Soviet Union and, on December 19, Germany announced their strong opposition to any kind of union between Sweden and Finland.

Road to war

During the autumn of 1940, Finnish generals visited Germany and occupied Europe several times to purchase additional guns and munitions. Mannerheim even wrote a personal letter January 7, 1941 to Göring where he tried to persuade him to release Finnish purchased artillery pieces Germany had captured in Norwegian harbours during Weserübung. During one of these visits, Maj. Gen. Paavo Talvela met with Chief of Staff of OKH, Col. Gen Franz Halder and Göring January 15–18, 1941, and was asked about Finnish plans to defend itself in case of new Soviet invasion. The Germans also inquired about the possibility of someone from Finland coming and giving a presentation about the experiences of the Winter War.

After the resignation of president Kallio, Risto Ryti was elected by parliament as the new president of Finland December 19. Johan Wilhelm Rangell formed a new government January 4, and this time the far-right IKL party was included in the cabinet as an act of goodwill toward Nazi Germany.

President Risto Ryti, 1940
President Risto Ryti, 1940

Petsamo Crisis

Finland had negotiated with the Germans since spring 1940 about the production of Kolosjoki nickel mines in Petsamo. On July 1940 Finland made a contract with the German company I.G. Farbenindustrie: 60% of the nickel produced was to be shipped to Germany. The negotiations alarmed the Soviet, which in June claimed for a 75% ownership to the mine and to a nearby power plant together with the right to handle security in the area.

According to German reports, the ore body of Kolosjoki mines had a value of over 1 Billion Reichsmark, and it could fulfil the demand of nickel in the Third Reich for 20 years. Later on, in the end of 1940, the Germans raised their estimate of the Kolosjoki nickel reserves four times larger.

Petsamo Nickel Mines

The Finnish nickel deposits were found in the Petsamo area near the Barents Sea. Until the Paris Peace Treaties, 1947, this was the northernmost part of Finland. In 1934 it was estimated that the deposits contained over five million tons of nickel. In 1935, Canadian and French corporations began mining operations there.

The nickel deposits were a lesser known reason for Allied and German interest in the area during World War II, as potentially of great importance for production of arms and munitions. Both the planned Franco-British support of Finland in the Winter War, and German occupation of Denmark and Norway (Operation Weserübung) were partly motivated by control of the nickel mines.

Nickel is a vital component in the production of Steel Alloy. Alloy steel is steel to which additional alloying elements have been intentionally added to modify the characteristics of steel. Common alloying elements include: manganese, nickel, chromium, molybdenum, boron, titanium, vanadium, and niobium. Additional elements may be present in steel: manganese, phosphorus, sulfur, silicon, and traces of oxygen, nitrogen, and aluminium.

Nickel was a vital component in the production of the Panther Tank
Nickel was a vital component in the production of the Panther Tank (Panzer V)

Other materials are often added to the iron/carbon mixture to produce steel with desired properties. Nickel and manganese in steel add to its tensile strength and make the austenite form of the iron-carbon solution more stable, chromium increases hardness and melting temperature and vanadium also increases hardness while making it less prone to metal fatigue.

Tiger I (Panzer VI)Production Line. The addition of nickel to steel alloy improved the tensile strength of armour
Tiger I (Panzer VI) Production Line. The addition of nickel to steel alloy improved the tensile strength of armour

During the period between the Winter War and the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, there were disputes between Finland and the Soviet Union over mining rights in Petsamo. Finland refused to allow the Soviet Union to mine nickel in Petsamo. This was one of the causes of hostility between the Soviet Union and Finland, which led to the Continuation War. As part of the German invasion, troops from Norway occupied the Petsamo region in 1941, securing the nickel supply.

The Continuation War ended in September 1944, with Finland’s capitulation. Finland ceded Petsamo to the Soviet Union. All subsequent nickel production there has since been under Soviet or Russian authority.

Negotiations with the Soviet had dragged on for six months when the Soviet Foreign Ministry announced January 14 that the negotiations had to be concluded quickly. On the same day, the Soviet Union interrupted grain deliveries to Finland. Soviet ambassador Zotov was recalled home January 18 and Soviet radio broadcasts started attacking Finland. January 21 Soviet Foreign Ministry issued an ultimatum demanding that nickel negotiations be concluded in two days.

When Finnish military intelligence spotted troop movements on the Soviet side of the border, Mannerheim proposed January 23 a partial mobilization, but Ryti and Rangell didn’t accept. Ambassador Kivimäki reported January 24, that Germany was conscripting new age classes, and it was unlikely that they were needed against Britain.

Baron Gustaf Emil Mannerheim
Baron Gustaf Emil Mannerheim

Finnish Chief of Staff Lt.Gen. Heinrichs visited Berlin January 30 – February 3, officially giving a lecture about Finnish experiences in the Winter War, but also including discussions with Halder. During the discussions Halder “speculated” about a possible German assault on the Soviet Union and Heinrichs informed him about Finnish mobilization limits and defence plans with and without German or Swedish participation.

Col. Buschenhagen had reported from northern Norway February 1 that the Soviet Union had collected 500 fishing ships in Murmansk, capable of transporting a division. Hitler ordered troops in Norway to occupy Petsamo (Operation Renntier) immediately if the Soviet Union started attacking Finland.

Mannerheim submitted his letter of resignation February 10 claiming that the continuing appeasement made it impossible to defend the country against an invader. He took his resignation back the next day after discussions with Ryti and after stricter instructions were sent to negotiators: 49% of mining rights to the Soviet Union, the power plant to a separate Finnish company, reservation of the highest management positions for Finns and no further Soviet agitation against Finland. Soviet Union rejected those terms on February 18, thus ending nickel negotiations.

Diplomatic activities

After Heinrichs’ visit and the end of the nickel negotiations, diplomatic activities were halted for a few months. The most significant activities of that time was the visit of Colonel Buschenhagen to Helsinki and Northern Finland February 18 – March 3 when he familiarized himself with the terrain and climate of Lappland. He also had discussions with Mannerheim, Heinrichs, Major General Airo and chief-of-operational-office Colonel Tapola. Both sides were careful to point out the speculative nature of these discussions, although later they became the basis of formal agreements.

Major-General Aksel Airo
Major-General Aksel Airo

Already in December 1940, leaders of Germany’s Waffen-SS had demanded that Finland should show its orientation towards Germany “with deeds”, by which it was clear that it meant enlistment of Finnish troops to the SS. The official contact was made on March 1, and in the following negotiations the Finns tried in vain to transform the troops from SS to Wehrmacht, in commemoration of the World War I-era Finnish Jäger Battalion. Ryti and Mannerheim considered the battalion necessary to reinforce German support of Finland; thence the nickname “Panttipataljoona” (“Pawn battalion”) and the negotiations were concluded on April 28 with the Finnish conditions that Government, Civil Guards or Armed Forces would not enlist and that all military personnel wishing to participate must first take their leave of the Finnish army. (These conditions were designed to limit Finnish commitment to Nazi Germany.) The enlistment was carried out in May, and in June the troops were transferred to Germany where a Finnish SS battalion was founded June 18. Foreign minister Witting informed Sweden, where similar activities were also conducted, already on March 23 about possible enlistment. The British ambassador to Helsinki, Gordon Vereker, notified the Finnish Foreign Ministry May 16 on the issue, demanding an end to the enlistment.

Relations between Sweden and Germany strained in March, and on March 15 Sweden mobilized 80,000 more men and moved military units to the southern coast and western border making it even more likely that Sweden couldn’t support Finland if war broke out. This also affected Swedish-Finnish co-operation as the Finnish interest for intelligence exchange diminished considerably during April.

Race issues were sources of particular concern: the Finns were not viewed favorably by the Nazi race theorists. By active participation on Germany’s side, Finnish leaders hoped for a more independent position in post-war Europe, through the removal of the Soviet threat and the incorporation of the related Finnish peoples of neighboring Soviet areas, especially Karelia. This view gained increasing popularity in the Finnish leadership, and also in the press, during the spring of 1941.

From February to April, Germany prepared Barbarossa in secret, and apart from the above contacts, no operational or political discussions were concluded during this time. Instead they published disinformation, such as claims that the German troop buildup in the East was merely a ruse ahead of a planned invasion of Britain (such a plan had been considered under the codename Operation Sea Lion) or safe training locations from British bombers, to hide their real intentions. When Germany invaded Yugoslavia and Greece beginning on April 6, suspicion of German intentions increased in Finland, though uncertainty still prevailed as to whether Hitler really intended to attack the Soviet Union before the Battle of Britain was concluded.

However, the Finns had, in the past, learned bitterly how a small country can be used as small change in the deals of great powers, and in such a case Finland could have been used as a token of reconciliation between Hitler and Stalin, something which the Finns had every reason to fear, which is why relations with Berlin were considered of the utmost priority for the future of Finland, especially so if the war between Germany and Soviet Union failed to materialize.

Once again the German Foreign Ministry sent Ludwig Weissauer to Finland May 5, this time to clarify that war between Germany and the Soviet Union would not be launched before spring 1942. Ryti and Witting believed that, at least officially, and forwarded the message to Swedish Foreign Minister Günther, who was visiting Finland May 6–9. Witting also sent the information to Finnish-ambassador-to-London Gripenberg. When the war broke out only a couple of weeks later, it was understandable that both Swedish and British governments felt that the Finns had lied to them.

Part of that disinformation campaign was a request to ambassador Kivimäki that Finland should offer proposals for a new border that the Germans could pressure the Soviets to accept in negotiations. On May 30, 1941 General Airo produced five alternative border drafts for delivery to the Germans, who should then propose the best they felt they could bargain from the Soviet Union. In reality, the Germans had no such intentions, but the exercise served to fuel the support among leading Finns for taking part in Operation Barbarossa.

Operations like Barbarossa don’t begin without some advance notice, and worsening of Soviet-German relations, which began with the meeting in Berlin November 12, was visible around the end of March 1941. Stalin tried to improve relations toward the Third Reich by taking the leadership of the Soviet government May 6, backed off from unimportant issues, and fulfilled all trade deals even as German deliveries were late. Part of this policy was also improving relations with Finland. A new ambassador, Pavel Orlov, was named to Helsinki April 23 and a gift of a trainload of wheat was presented to J. K. Paasikivi when he retired from Moscow. The Soviet Union also renounced opposition to a Swedish-Finnish defence alliance, but Swedish disinterest and German opposition to that kind of alliance rendered the proposal moot. Soviet radio propaganda against Finland also ceased. Orlov acted very conciliatory and soothed many feelings which had been raised by his predecessor, but as he failed to solve any critical issues (like the disagreement over Petsamo nickel) or to restart grain imports from Soviet Union, his line was seen only as a new façade on old policy.

British-ambassador-Vereker saw Finland moving towards Germany, and due to his reports, the British Foreign Office had requested easing Finnish trade regulations in Petsamo March 30. On April 28 Vereker reported that the British government should pressure the Soviet Union to return Hanko or Vyborg to Finland as he saw it as the only possible way to secure Finnish neutrality in the case of German-Soviet war.

The Petsamo crisis had disillusioned Finnish politicians, especially Ryti and Mannerheim, creating the impression that peaceful co-existence with the Soviet Union was impossible, and that Finland would survive in peace only if the Soviet Union was defeated, as Ryti presented it to US ambassador Arthur Schoenfeld on April 28. The effect of this general feeling was that voices advocating closer ties with Germany grew stronger and the voices advocating armed neutrality within Finland’s new borders (some among the Social Democrats, and some of the more left-leaning in the Swedish People’s Party) softened. Contacts with Sweden’s Conservative Foreign Minister Günther showed an enthusiasm unusual for the Swedes for the anticipated “Crusade against Bolshevism“.

After the successful occupation of Yugoslavia and Greece by the spring of 1941, the German army’s standing was at its zenith, and its victory in the war seemed more than likely. The envoy of the German Foreign Ministry, Karl Schnurre, visited Finland May 20–24, and invited one or more staff officers to negotiations in Salzburg.

Cooperation with Germany

A group of staff officers led by General Heinrichs left Finland on May 24 and participated in discussions with OKW in Salzburg on May 25 where the Germans informed them about the northern part of Operation Barbarossa. The Germans also presented their interest in using Finnish territory to attack from Petsamo to Murmansk and from Salla to Kandalaksha. Heinrichs presented Finnish interest in Eastern Karelia, but Germany recommended a passive stance. The negotiations continued the next day in Berlin with OKH, and contrary to the negotiations of the previous day, Germany wanted Finland to form a strong attack formation ready to strike on the eastern or western side of Lake Ladoga. The Finns promised to examine the proposal, but notified the Germans that they were only able to arrange supply to the OlonetsPetrozavodsk-line. The issue of mobilization was also discussed. It was decided that the Germans would send signal officers to enable confidential messaging to Mannerheim’s headquarters in Mikkeli. Naval issues were discussed, mainly for securing sea lines over the Baltic Sea, but also possible usage of the Finnish navy in the upcoming war. During these negotiations the Finns presented a number of material requests ranging from grain and fuel to airplanes and radio equipment.

Heinrichs’ group returned on May 28 and reported their discussions to Mannerheim, Walden and Ryti. And on May 30 Ryti, Witting, Walden, Kivimäki, Mannerheim, Heinrichs, Talvela and Aaro Pakaslahti from Foreign Ministry had a meeting where they accepted the results of those negotiations with a list of some prerequisites: a guarantee of Finnish independence, the pre-Winter War borders (or better), continuing grain deliveries, and that Finnish troops would not cross the border before a Soviet incursion.

The next round of negotiations occurred in Helsinki on June 3–6 regarding some practical details. During these negotiations it was decided that Germany would be responsible for the area north of Oulu. This area was easily given to them because it was sparsely inhabited and non-critical to the defence of the more important southern provinces. The Finns also agreed to give two divisions to the Germans in northern Finland (30 000 men) and to the usage of airfields in Helsinki and Kemijärvi (Because of the number of German aircraft, airfields at Kemi and Rovaniemi were added later). Finland also warned Germany that an attempt to establish a Quisling government would cut co-operation and that they considered it very important that Finland not be the aggressor and that no invasion should be launched from Finnish soil.

The negotiations for naval operations continued on June 6 in Kiel. It was agreed that the Kriegsmarine would close the Gulf of Finland with mines as soon as the war began.

The arrival of German troops participating in Operation Barbarossa began on June 7 in Petsamo, where SS Division Nord started southwards, and on June 8 in the ports of the Gulf of Bothnia where the German 169th Infantry Division was transported by rail to Rovaniemi, where both of these turned eastward on June 18. Britain cancelled all naval traffic to Petsamo June 14 in protest of these moves. Starting from June 14, a number of German minelayers and supporting MTBs arrived in Finland, some on an official naval visit, others hiding in the southern archipelago.

S-Boot German MTB
S-Boot German MTB

Finnish parliament was informed for the first time on June 9, when first mobilization orders were issued for troops needed to safeguard the following mobilization phases, like anti-air and border guard units. The Committee on Foreign Affairs complained that parliament was bypassed when deciding on these issues, and protesting that Parliament should be trusted with sensitive information, but no other actions were taken. Swedish ambassador Karl-Ivan Westman wrote that the Soviet-minded “Sextuples”, the far-left Social Democrats, were the reason that parliament couldn’t be trusted in foreign policy questions. When Soviet news agency TASS reported on June 13 that no negotiations were ongoing between Germany and the Soviet Union, Ryti and Mannerheim decided to delay mobilization as no guarantees had been received from Germany. General Waldemar Erfurt, who had been nominated as liaison officer to Finland on June 11, reported to OKW June 14 that Finland wouldn’t finalize mobilization unless the prerequisites were granted. Although the Finns continued on the same day (June 14) with the second phase of mobilization, this time the mobilizing forces were located in northern Finland and later operated under German command. Field Marshal Keitel sent a message on June 15 stating that the Finnish prerequisites were accepted, and the general mobilization restarted on June 17, two days later than scheduled. On June 16, two Finnish divisions were transferred to the German army in Lapland.

Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel
Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel

An airfield in Utti was evacuated by Finnish planes on June 18 and the Germans were allowed to use it for refuelling from June 19. German reconnaissance planes were stationed at Tikkakoski, near Jyväskylä, on June 20.

On June 20 Finland’s government ordered 45,000 people at the Soviet border to be evacuated. On June 21 Finland’s chief of the General Staff, Erik Heinrichs, was finally informed by his German counterpart that the attack was to begin.

To the opening of hostilities

Operation Barbarossa had already commenced in the northern Baltic by the late hours of June 21, when German minelayers, which had been hiding in the Finnish archipelago, laid two large minefields across the Gulf of Finland, one at the mouth of the Gulf and a second in the middle of the Gulf.

These minefields ultimately proved sufficient to confine the Soviets’ Baltic Fleet to the easternmost part of the Gulf of Finland until the end of the Continuation War. Three Finnish submarines participated in the mining operation by laying 9 small fields between Suursaari Island and the Estonian coast with first mines being laid at 0738 on 22 June 1941 by Finnish submarine Vetehinen.

Vetehinen-Class Submarine
Vetehinen-Class Submarine

Later the same night, German bombers, flying from East Prussian airfields, flew along the Gulf of Finland to Leningrad and mined the harbour and the river Neva. Finnish air defence noticed that one group of these bombers, most likely the ones responsible for mining the river Neva, flew over southern Finland. On the return trip, these bombers refueled in Utti airfield before returning to East Prussia.

Finland feared that the Soviet Union would occupy Åland as soon as possible and use it to close naval routes from Finland to Sweden and Germany (together with Hanko base), so Operation Kilpapurjehdus (Sail Race) was launched in the early hours of June 22 to deliver Finnish troops to Åland. Soviet bombers launched attacks against Finnish ships during the operation at 0605 on 22 June 1941 before the Finnish ships had delivered the troops to Åland but no damage was inflicted in the air attack.

Individual Soviet artillery batteries started to shoot at Finnish positions from Hanko early in the morning, so the Finnish commander sought permission to return fire, but before the permission was granted, Soviet artillery had stopped shooting.

On the morning of June 22, the German Gebirgskorps Norwegen started Operation Renntier and began its move from Northern Norway to Petsamo. The German ambassador initiated urgent negotiations with Sweden for transfer of the German 163rd Infantry Division from Norway to Finland using Swedish rail. Sweden agreed to this on June 24.

On the morning of June 22, both the Soviet Union and Finland declared that each would be neutral in respect of the other in the war that was now underway. This precipitated unease in the Nazi leadership, which tried to provoke a response from the Soviet Union by using both the Finnish archipelago as a base, and Finnish airfields for refuelling. Hitler‘s public statement worked in the same direction; Hitler declared that Germany would attack the Bolshevists “(…) in the North in alliance [“im Bunde”] with the Finnish freedom heroes”. This was in flat contradiction of the statement made to parliament by British Foreign Secretary Eden on June 24 affirming Finnish neutrality.

Finland did not allow direct German attacks from its soil to the Soviet Union, so German forces in Petsamo and Salla had to hold their fire. Air attacks were also prohibited, and very bad weather in northern Finland helped to keep the Germans from flying. Only one attack from Southern Finland against the White Sea Canal was approved, but even that had to be cancelled due to bad weather. There were occasional individual and group level small arms shooting between Soviet and Finnish border guards, but otherwise the front was quiet.

To keep a close eye on their opponents, both parties—and also the Germans—performed active air reconnaissance over the border, but no air fights ensued.

After three days, early on the morning of June 25, the Soviet Union made its move and unleashed a major air offensive against 18 cities with 460 planes, mainly striking airfields but seriously damaging civilian targets as well. The worst damage was done in Turku, where the airfield became inoperable for a week, but among civilian targets, the medieval Turku Castle was also destroyed. (After the war, the castle was repaired, but the work took until 1961.) Heavy damage to civilian targets was also sustained in Kotka and Heinola. However, civilian casualties of this attack were relatively limited.

The Soviet Union justified the attack as being directed against German targets in Finland, but even the British embassy had to admit that the heaviest hits had been taken by southern Finland, and airfields where there were no Germans. Only two targets had German forces present at the time of attack: Rovaniemi and Petsamo. Once again Foreign Minister Eden had to admit to parliament on June 26 that the Soviet Union had initiated the war.

A meeting of parliament was scheduled for June 25 1941 when Prime Minister Rangell had been due to present a notice about Finland’s neutrality in the Soviet-German war, but the Soviet bombings led him to instead observe that Finland was once again at war with the Soviet Union. The Continuation War had begun.

One year later, in May of 1942, Jagdgeschwader 5 (JG 5) ‘Eismeer’ was assigned to Petsamo Airfield to protect the nickel mines from Soviet attack, initially; they were equipped with the Messerschmitt Bf 109E-7 ‘Jabo’ (fighter-bomber). The unit remained in Petsamo until February 1944 until being forced to retreat to Kirkenes in Norway by Finnish Forces in the Lapland War. In addition to Petsamo, Luftwaffe units flew missions from Helsinki-Malmi, Turku, Utti, Immola, Kemijärvi, Kemi and Rovaniemi  airfields, from 1941 to 1944.

Petsamo Airfield 1944 courtesy of wolf-hound, Axis History Forum
Petsamo Airfield 1944 courtesy of wolf-hound, Axis History Forum

Coming Soon: Eduard’s 1/32 Messerschmitt Bf 109E-7 build review; flown by Hptm. Günther Scholz, Gruppenkommander of III./JG 5, Petsamo, August 1942.

Bf 109E-7 Hptm. Günther Scholz, Petsamo August 1942
Bf 109E-7 Hptm. Günther Scholz, Petsamo August 1942

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References