North by Northeast

Gebirgsjäger (mountain ranger) posing together with a couple of young Sami women (in traditional clothing), Finnish Lapland, probably the winter of 1941-42. The truck to the left and the trailer carry the Edelweiss flower emblem of the 6. Gebirgs-Division. The other truck has the tactical sign of a mountain ranger motorized signals company vehicle. The firewood on the trailer and in the sack will be welcome in the sub-Arctic cold.

It might appear strange that at least four mountain ranger divisions were sent to the Finnish Lapland front, as the tallest mountain in that part of Finland is Korvatunturi (486 meters/1594 feet over the sea), which to people raised in the Alps is nothing more than a speed bump. The reason was that they were considered experts in winter warfare, but as their Finnish brothers-in-arms were under diplomatic pressure to not launch any major offensive on the port city of Murmansk or the railroad carrying supplies to the south, the front was relatively quiet for long periods of time.

A little-known fact is that Sweden allowed the Germans to use a couple of large warehouses outside the port of Luleå for storing supplies (mostly foodstuff) for the troops in Norway and Finland. They were destroyed in a fire in 2016.


Her name was Gudrun Halenzik. On the back of the photo postcard, she wrote “Thanks for being a good schoolmate”, dating it 19 March, 1941. I doubt someone would don her friend’s Feldwebel (Master Sergeant) uniform and just write him a card, though, without having fond feelings for him. Maintaining a long distance relationship is hard enough in peacetime, and more than doubly so during war. Home leave was infrequent, and any hope for getting back home for a longer period of time would be to complete an academic degree, NCO and officer training courses, or convalesence. Break-ups were not uncommon; getting that “Dear John” (or rather “Dear Johann”) letter could make a soldier turn fatalistic.