Swedish Gem

Revolver Harry

A Real Life Law Enforcer from Sweden

Do you know who Dirty Harry is? Of course you do. But I bet that you have no idea who Revolver Harry was, even though he, in contrast to Dirty Harry, was a real living and highly remarkable person.

Here’s a sample of his achievements:

  • In the 1920’s: made a bike tour from Sweden to China, through the turbulent regions of Middle East, Persia, India, Burma, and the Baluchistan Desert.
  • In 1928: graduated as a Doctor of Forensics i Lyon, France, specializing in ballistics, invented a microscope for comparison of bullets.
  • In 1934: the head of New York City‘s forensic laboratory.
  • In 1937: reorganized the Irish police force.
  • In the 1940’s: in Sweden during WWII, secretly trained 17,000 Norwegian soldiers, preparing to free Norway from the Nazis.
  • On May 1, 1945, went to Oslo by train and persuaded the German commander to surrender. With a German motorcycle orderly, continued to open the gates of the infamous concentration camp Grini, releasing the inmates.
  • He founded, and for 14 years was head of the Swedish National Forensic Science Institute, SKA, later reorganized to become today’s SKL.


Here’s some more facts about this astounding man:

Picture via skl.polisen.se
Picture via skl.polisen.se

Harry Söderman, a.k.a. Revolver Harry was born 1902 as the son of a local county sheriff (länsman) in Delsbo, Hälsingland, a lawless place notorious for bootlegging, shooting and knife murders (still a legend). He was an ardent democrat and anti-fascist and he meant that the free society could only be sustained by legal security. He dreamt about becoming a police chief, but he hated the necessary law studies.

Instead, as a young boy, he persuaded a bicycle manufacturer to sponsor a bicycle ride to Istanbul. But he didn’t stop there, he went on all the way to China, writing travel reports for a couple of magazines; the trip lasted two years and offered adventures that could have been written for Indiana Jones.

Back in Europe, he went to Altenburg, Germany, where he graduated as a civil engineer in 1924. A couple of years later, he was accepted as an intern at University of Lyon, France, world reknown for it’s forensic scientists. He graduated as a Dr after studies in ballistics, developing methods and tools for comparing handgun bullets (hence his nickname, Revolver Harry).

As associate professor at Stockholm University, he went to the USA for further studies, and in 1934 he accepted a position as head for New York City’s forensic laboratory, where he stayed one year. In 1937, answering a request from the Irish government, he went to Dublin and spent the following year reorganizing the Irish police force. Back in Stockholm 1939 he was asked to create the SwedishNational Forensic Science Institute, SKA.

Now you are thinking “That’s an impressive career, but…”. Wait, you have yet not heard the most impressive achievement:

WWII started, Norway and Denmark were occupied by the Germans, while Sweden, having almost no Atlantic coastline and declaring itself neutral, was left alone. The Norwegian government, who sought refuge in England, sent a secret request to Sweden, asking Revolver Harry’s help to organize and train Norwegian refugees in Sweden to be soldiers. With the blessing and financing of the Swedish government, Harry started a series of “health homes for refugees” all over the country as a cover for the training of 17,000 Norwegian soldiers, and, on the fly, a few thousands of Danes as well. On Swedish behalf, this was of course a violation of international treaties for a neutral country, but the military training was masqueraded as police training.

The first of Harry’s Norwegian soldiers were deployed, transported by US American airplanes to northern Norway in January 1945, taking over from retreating Germans and intruding Russians. One of these soldiers later earned international fame: Thor Heyerdahl (the scientist who travelled across the Pacific on the rafts Kon-tiki and Ra).

On May 1, 1945, Harry took a train to Oslo and walked in, alone, to the German commander, told him that his days were numbered, and demanded him to surrender. After some thought, the Germans actually did surrender, and Harry ordered a German motorcycle orderly to take him to Grini, the infamous concentration camp, where he opened the gates and released the prisoners. He was of course celebrated as a national hero in Norway at the time.

Much more can be told about Revolver Harry, in several books and on the Internet. He emigrated to USA in the early 50’s and continued to work internationally, organizing police work in many countries. He died 1956 by a heart attack on a mission in Tangier.

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The Author



Thomas is a retired IT professional, who lives alone with his golden retriever Ziggy Stardust in a small townhouse in a small town in the southern half of Sweden. He has two grown-up kids and at least five grandkids – "as far as I know".

Thomas enjoys daily long walks with Ziggy in the forests around town, he loves cooking for his guests, and he likes to make things with his hands. He says he loves good food, good wine, people who smile and make him smile.

Having spent most of his life developing things, methods and organizations, he's passionately interested in all kinds of technology, natural science, politics,... anything that raises a problem, whether it can be solved or not. Consequently, he is consistently short of time.

While he was professionally active, he lived in San Francisco a few years, working as software engineer down in Silicon Valley. He claims that he did leave his heart in San Francisco, and is constantly planning to go back and pick it up. Quoting Hoagy Carmichael's Hong Kong Blues, he says "... every time I try to leave, sweet opium won't let me fly away... ...i.e. my opium is Sweden, my kids, my dog, my friends, my forest,... you know, I'm Swedish."