100 years ago today

Exactly 100 years ago today, on December 20, 1919 my uncle Karl-Heinz Groeling was born in Subowitz, in what was then Germany. Today the town, located just south of Gdansk (Danzig in German), belongs to Poland and is called Sobowidz. His parents were Robert Groeling (1890-1984) and Elsa Groeling (nee Hecke, 1893-1978). Karl-Heinz had three younger sisters: my mom Marie-Luise (1926-1987), Anneliese (1928-1946) and finally Katja (born 1932).

Karl-Heinz, Marie-Luise, Anneliese and Katja in 1934
Karl-Heinz and Robert Groeling

Following Germany’s defeat in World War I, the Versailles Treat forbid Germany from having an Air Force. After Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, Germany started training pilots in secret. In addition, a program started to prepare young men for future pilot training, by using gliders and sail planes.
My uncle started flying in 1936 or 1937, probably through the German Air Sports Association (Deutscher Luftsportverband, or DLV e. V.), an organization set up by the Nazi Party in March 1933 to establish training of military pilots. I was told he once flew over the market in the center of Lauenburg, where the family now was living, with a sail plane, which caused some complaints from the city and an earful from his mother. He was probably lucky that his father was already in the Wehrmacht (Army) at this time, and not at home.

Elsa Groeling surrounded by (left to right) Marie-Luise, Katja and Anneliese

In addition to enjoying flying, Karl-Heinz was also a gifted musician. He played violin, piano, organ and trombone. He was, however, not allowed to practice the trombone at home, due to complaints from the neighbors. When I was a child my mother spoke about the time when he played as a member of a band on a cruise ship. The Nazi dignitaries on this cruise were served the best food, and the band was allowed to eat the same food. According to my mother, her brother hollowed out the breakfast rolls (“Brötchen” in German) and feed the innards to the seagulls. Then he filled the cavity in the bread with butter and enjoyed his self-made delicacy. To him the butter was the luxury and he took full advantage.

In September 1939 Karl-Heinz had just passed his entrance exams for the university (“abitur”) when WW2 broke out. He volunteered for the Luftwaffe (Air Force), however, he was rejected at first for being “too tall”. A month later the decision was reversed and he received order to join the Luftwaffe.

In front of a Ju-52

Karl-Heinz flew Fieseler Fi-156 “Storch”, a light forward observation and medical evacuation aircraft, as well as Junkers Ju-52 transporters. Using the Ju-52, he took part in the Battle of Stalingrad, attempting to supply the German 6th Army with food and other supplies after it was cut off and surrounded, as well as evacuation of wounded soldiers out of the city.

He served as Unteroffizier, an NCO (Non-commissioned Officer) rank that is most similar to Sergeant (OR-5). He was acting as a squadron leader (“Staffelkapitän“), a position which normally is held by a major. Incidentally his father, who was a lieutenant by the end of WW1, ended up with the rank of major during WW2.

Towards the end of the war, Germany was lacking both aircrafts and fuel for them. Karl-Heinz was assigned to an anti-aircraft artillery regiment, in German called Flak (from Flugabwehrkanone).  In Germany during WW2 both anti-aircraft artillery and airborne troops belonged to the Air Force, not the Army as in most other countries.

My uncle served in the 6th battery, Flak Regiment Hermann Göring (a.k.a Fallschirm-Flakregiment Hermann Göring) , which was part of Fallschirm-Panzerkorps Hermann Göring. I have been able to find a chart showing the organization of the unit at the beginning of 1945, and according to it my uncle would have been in the 1st battalion (the triangular flag with a 1 next to it).

Fallschirm-Panzerkorps Hermann Göring in January 1945

I am not an expert on German WW2 organizational charts. Normally the numbering is from right to left. I was once told that the 6th battery is most probably the symbol all the way to the right, which indicates a towed battery equipped with the German 8.8cm anti-aircraft gun. It was probably towed by a half-track, e.g. Sd.Kfz. 7, or possibly a truck. (video)

However, if you count the batteries from right to left, he would been in the left-most battery under 1st battalion, which is a Flakvierling, four 2cm auto-cannons combined into one unit. (video)

In the beginning of 1945 Karl-Heinz was in East Prussia fighting the advancing Red Army. The 88mm anti-aircraft gun was not only used against aircrafts, it had been found to be efficient against armored vehicles and tanks as well, so he was serving in an anti-tank role.

German units were encircled in the Heiligenbeil Pocket or Heiligenbeil Cauldron (German: Heiligenbeiler Kessel), after they were denied their requests to retreat. Zinten (now known as Kornewo, Kaliningrad Oblast) was the scene of bloody battles. Both sides paid a heavy price in terms of casualties. Karl-Heinz Groeling was one of those casualties. He was wounded on February 23, 1945, shot through the left lung. He was moved to a field hospital, then a hospital ship and finally to a hospital in German-occupied Denmark, where he arrived on March 10.

Medical Records from hospital

In the early hours of March 16, 1945, at 3.10am, Karl-Heinz Groeling passed away, just 25 years old. He is buried at the beautiful Vestre Kirkegård in Copenhagen.

Final resting place.

My parents named me after my uncle, something I consider an honor.



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Thirty Years – What A Ride!

Thirty years. It can feel like an eternity, or like just yesterday. That is how long I have been working in the IT industry, as of 2 weeks ago.

When I graduated the Swedish equivalent of High School in the spring of 1988, I did not know what lay ahead. If anyone would have told me where I would be 30 years later, I am not sure I would have believed them.

Computers, and especially programming, was my big interest. I had spent every available hour in the computer room in school. I went there during breaks between classes (if only 15-20 minutes) as well as during lunch break (usually 1 hour long. I learned to eat really fast, to maximize my time in front of the computer… Then after school I often spent 4-5 hours learning to program, either from books, magazines, or from other students.

After I graduated, I was not really motivated to go to college. But I found an intensive one-year college level education in systems programming and computer science. It would be classes 8am to 5pm, 5 days a week. Today you would probably call it boot-camp…

Unfortunately the class did not make, it needed a couple more students. So in the beginning OS September 1988,after about 2 weeks of classes, we were told to come back in January. We were encouraged to find a job or internship in the mean time. So I started to call around to different companies I found in the yellow pages.

After a few days I got a hit, a company was looking for a first line support technician. I sent in my application (I did not even have a formal resume) and a copy of my high school grades. A week later (on a Friday) I had an interview, and the following Monday I started working there. This company was Microsoft.

Needless to say, I learned a lot at Microsoft. I return to the class during the spring semester, worked at Microsoft during the summer break and then again after I graduated at Christmas.

After a year in the Air Force for the (then) mandatory military service, I intended to go back to Microsoft, but I was offered a job as a programmer at another company, and I jumped at that option. From there it just continued, via 5 years as an IT journalist and then over 20 years working mainly with Lotus (later IBM) Notes and Domino.

There are times when it feels it was just like yesterday I was writing Pascal code for a computer running CP/M-86 as operating system. Or when my coworker and I, who lived in the same apartment building (but on different floors and in different ends of the building) decided to run RG58 coax cable between out apartments, so we could network our computers. Or when I went scuba diving in Egypt and brought an IBM ThinkPad 701C (the model with the expanding keyboard) and a digital camera with me, so I could write a diary to publish on my personal website. Yes, it was pretty much a blog, way back in 1995…

But when I look at how technology has changed, it feel like the middle ages.

Our network at school (yes, we actually has one!) had a hard disk the size of a small shoebox, and with a capacity of 30 MB, to be shared between students and teachers. Yes, it’s not a typo. 30 Megabyte! Today most hard drives have at least twice that amount of memory just for cache…

Compare that with my mobile phone, on which I am writing this post while riding a bus from Dallas to Houston. It has 2185 times that memory (64 GB) built in. I have an additional 200 GB in the form of a micro SD card. This amount of storage would have been unfathomable 30 years ago.

Today we have internet access everywhere. I can sit in my car, in a restaurant or on a bus in the middle of nowhere and still have access to all the knowledge (not to mention cat videos) in the world. In fractions of a second I can perform a search that would have been virtually impossible 30 years ago.

I can turn on and off the lights at home, no matter where in the world I am. I can check the temperature in the different rooms and change the AC settings, if needed. I get an automatic alert if there is smoke I the house, or water where it is not supposed to be. And I can check the status of my laundry remotely.

I can talk to the computer, phone and other devices and have them turn lights on or off, tell me what the weather will be later that day or the next few days, or play any music I ask it to play. This is just like in Star Trek or 2001, except it is for real.

I can buy anything I need from the comfort of my home, or from anywhere in the world, and get it delivered within a day or two, sometimes even the same day.

At the same time I do miss the days back when I started with computers. It was like a new frontier, an unknown area where you had no idea what could happen next.

I still remember the excitement when I managed to create something new and cool, and I got it to work after spending countless hours working on it and troubleshooting the code. It is rare that I feel that excitement today, in the same way. But it still happens. .

I am very fortunate to be able to work with what I love, and have been able to do it for this long. I am looking forward to the next 30 years with great excitement.

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WWII – 75 years since Denmark and Norway were occupied

In the morning of April 9, 1940 Germany invaded Denmark and Norway in a surprise attack. Denmark had virtually no chance at all and was quickly overrun by the well-trained and experienced Wehrmacht. After six hours Denmark had no choice but to surrender. The quick surrender is thought to have resulted in a more lenient treatment of the country, and also delayed deportation of jews until late in the war, when most had already been able to escape.

Norway fought longer, and managed to sink the heavy cruiser Blücher just outside Oslo during the initial phase of the invasion. The southern part of the country fell fairly quickly, but it took 62 days before Germany had full control of the country, making Norway the nation that withstood a German invasion for the second longest period of time, after the Soviet Union.

Growing up in neighboring Sweden the events of April 9 were well-known to me, and since I have always been very interested in history (and especially conflict history like WWII) I did read a lot about this. I remember reading stories about Norwegian bus drivers who had their busses confiscated and loaded with German soldiers and then promptly driving themselves off the steep mountain roads, taking dozens of enemy soldiers with them in death. They were as brave as the soldiers fighting the invading forces on the different battle fields.

Sweden was never invaded or directly attacked during WWII, and that was probably very good. Despite starting to rebuild the (by then almost non-existing) military in the late 30’s when the threat from Hitler could no longer be ignored it would have taken until around 1950 until Sweden had a military force that could stop an invasion. It takes time to build up a military force, aquire equipment and teach the soldiers to use it, train officers in sufficient numbers and give them enough experience to lead troops.

Soviet Whiskey class submarine U137 on ground outside Karlskrona, Sweden.
Soviet Whiskey class submarine U137 on ground outside Karlskrona, Sweden.

The time when I grew up was at the tail end of the Cold War (even if we did not know it then). I remember the Soviet submarine U137 (actual designation S-363) running aground in southern Sweden in 1981, causing a tense stand-off between Swedish and Soviet military forces. Swedish fighter pilots had young eastern european men visiting them at home, posing as Polish students wanting to sell paintings or books in order to finance their studies. But strangely enough they only visited pilots, not their neighbors… They were most probably mapping out where the pilots were living, for Soviet special operations units to be able to assassinate them right before an attack on Sweden and thereby cripple the Swedish air defenses.

We also had the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, as well as numerous other conflicts all over the world. Not to mention the threat/fear of nuclear war. So in short, it was an interesting and somewhat scary period to grow up, especially living so close to the “Russian Bear”. Sweden have a long history of war with Russia.

This was of course reflected in some of the music at that time:

Me in 1990 during a training exercise in Sweden.
Me in 1990 during a training exercise in Sweden.


In 1984 I joined the Swedish Home Guard at age 15. At that age I needed my parents to sign a consent form, but they did. They realized that it would be good for me. The training took place about every third weekend during the school year, with a break during the summers. It was fun and I did learn a lot of things, everything from first aid, survival skills, shooting, using map and compass with great precision, operating radio systems and of course to get along with and work side by side with people/kids from other backgrounds than my own.

At one point I even considered a career in the military, but I quickly decided that computers and programming was more interesting and fun. But I continued as a member of the Home Guard for 13 years, until I moved to the United States. By that time the Cold War was over and the politicians had started to dismantle the military as they did not expect any threats or invasions anymore. That was of course the same way as most of Europe had dismantled their military after World War I, also known as “the war to end all wars”. We now in retrospect know what a bad idea that was.

Sweden is today in the same situation, with a almost non-existant military. The politicians finally realized late last year that perhaps Putin was not such a nice and peaceful guy and decided to increase the military spending, but with very small amounts and over many years. And just like in the 30’s and 40′ it still takes a long time to build up an efficient military force. You don’t hire a major or colonel from your local temp agency… Hopefully there will not be a large scale war in Europe but there is a war going on in Ukraine right now and Putin have been eying the Baltic states lately. If you haven’t read Command Authority, the last book Tom Clancy wrote before he passed away in 2013, I suggest that you do. It is scaringly accurate, and it was written before Russia invaded Ukraine.

So time after time history have shown that the old saying is true: “Every country has an army, either their own or somebody else’s”.


Happy 25th birthday, Lotus Notes!


Today is the 25th birthday of Lotus Notes. It is the program responsible for me moving to the US, as well as being my career for the last close to 18 years.
So, as you can see in the picture above, I am toasting this amazing software in IBM blue colors, courtesy of Curaçao Blue.


Happy birthday, Lotus Notes!

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#ThrowbackThursday – World War 1

OK, this is a pretty extreme #ThrowbackThursday, but I wanted to promote a blog I have been reading since the beginning of the year.

Arthur Linfoot, who took part in World War 1, wrote a diary every day from January 1 1914 to December 31 1918. It was written in Pitman’s shorthand, and his son Denis Linfoot translated the diary and is now publishing it as a blog, each entry posted to the day 100 years after it was written.

This is a fascinating way to follow World War 1, especially since my grandfather also served in it (but on the German side). So if you haven’t visited http://www.arthurlinfoot.org.uk yet, take a look at it and perhaps you get hooked just like me.

Sample entries from http://www.arthurlinfoot.org.uk/
Sample entries from http://www.arthurlinfoot.org.uk/

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