Danish WW2 Pilots

B.160 Copenhagen/Kastrup - The Summer of 1945

Group Captain John Edgar "Johnnie" Johnson, top-scoring fighter ace in the European theatre, begins and ends his best-selling memories, "Wing Leader", in Copenhagen. This is due to the fact that he is the commanding officer of B.160 Copenhagen/Kastrup in May-June 1945. But it is not only the presence of this well-known pilot that makes the airport an interesting place.

On 5 May 1945, the day of the German surrender in Denmark, is a busy day in Copenhagen / Kastrup. At 1545 12 Douglas C-3 Dakotas arrive transporting general Dewing and his men to Copenhagen. The Danish pilot Jens Fisker “Morian” Hansen pilots one of the aircraft and is, thus, the first of the Danish pilots in Royal Air Force who returns to Denmark (Danish newspapers, 6 May 1945; FLYV).

125 Wing Arrives

On 9 May 1945, No. 125 Wing lands in Kastrup.

A 41 Squadron Spitfire XIV in Kastrup in  1945
A 41 Squadron Spitfire XIV in Kastrup in 1945, Source: The Royal Danish Library

At this point in time, the wing is formed by No. 41 (Spitfire XIV), No. 137 (Typhoon Ib), No. 486 RNZAF (Tempest V), and the No. 414 RCAF Squadrons. The wing takes control of the airport and, thus, “Johnnie” Johnson command.

The personnel of No. 125 Wing is very satisfied to be stationed in Copenhagen. At first to their disappointment the order is cancelled on the 7th, but the next day they are on their way to Denmark again.

No. 125 Wing Operational Record Book (ORB) tells the story:

9/5/45 - “A” Party left by air-lift for B.160. Dakotas were coming in most of the morning and by lunch time all the personnel had gone, leaving the jeeps to follow later. The Squadrons flew off in the afternoon and “B” party are now on their own.

10/5/45 - “A” Party settling down. The Airport of KASTRUP is in first class condition and we are occupying part of the airport building together with 123 S.P. Already the people of COPENHAGEN are falling over themselves to invite us to their homes and it is obvious considerable stamina will be required to keep pace with them.

No. 125 Wing is re-organised at the end of hostilities as it turns out that a land offensive in Denmark is not necessary. On 7 May No. 137 Squadron is added from No. 124 Wing and on 6 May No. 486 (RNZAF) Squadron is added from the 122 Wing. At the same time the No. 350 (Belgian) Squadron leaves the wing. The Wing arrives from B.118 Celle, where it has been stationed since mid-April.

About the first time in the newly liberated country the 125 Wing ORB tells:

11/5/45 to 21/5/45 - Apart from local flying we have nothing very much to do operationally. “B” party arrived by road on the 17th leaving a small “C” Party to look after the rest of the vehicles at LUBECK. Many V.I.P’s arrive and depart and the RAF Regiment guard of honour is kept busy.

V.I.P's Arrive

Field Marshal Montgomery visits Copenhagen in triumph on 12 May 1945
Field Marshal Montgomery visits Copenhagen in triumph on 12 May 1945, Source: The Royal Danish Library

The last part is no understatement. Among many others Field Marshall Montgomery arrives on 12 May 1945 and is driven in triumph though the streets of Copenhagen to visit King Christian X. But other personalities arrive.

On 22 May 1945 a demonstration is arranged in honour of the Danish Commander in Chief, General Gørtz. Nos. 41 and 486 Squadrons attacks German vehicles on the beach next to the airport, while No. 137 Squadron demonstrates a rocket attack in the sea. Furthermore, three Mosquito fighter-bombers led by AVM Basil Embry give a demonstration of their aerobatics capabilities.

Embry visits Copenhagen, Aarhus and Odense during these days to pay tribute to the victims of the low level attacks on the Gestapo Headquarters in these cities. Accompanying him is among others W/C Bateson. On 21 May 1945, a ceremony is held at the ruins of The French School, which is tragically hit at the Copenhagen bombing in Copenhagen (Danish newspapers, 20-21 May 1945; Hermansen, 1979).

On 1 June 1945, a Russian delegation arrives. Major General Koratov, Colonel Strebkov and six other officers are welcomed by the part of communist Danish Resistance. On 6 June 1945, Marshall of the RAF, Lord Trenchard and Lady Trenchard visit Kastrup and dines in the mess.

But also a Danish hero arrives. W/C Kaj Birksted flies in on 10 May 1945 in his Mustang III (KH514 or KH588) carrying his personal identification “KB”. The then W/C of Bentwaters Wing is in Denmark a few days to visit his family leaving again on 14 May 1945 (Stein Meum).

The Copenhagen Air Show

According to his memoirs, “Johnnie” Johnson visits the ruins of the bombed French School with a group of Danish businessmen. When told the story

I made a mental note to let Basil Embry know of this misfortune, for I knew he would find the time to fly to Copenhagen and console the relatives and nuns, which he did soon afterwards.

The mental note develops into the idea of arranging an Air Show as a charity to the victims of the bombing of the school. This Air Show is mentioned on the 125 Wing in the entry of 23-31 May 1945. At this point the planning date is 17 June 1945. A Danish planning committee is set up including newspaper editor Leif B. Hendil, William Carstensen, barrister Børge Moltke Leth and Captain John Foltmann (FLYV).

The many spectators creates chaos in the Copenhagen traffic
The many spectators creates chaos in the Copenhagen traffic, Source: The Royal Danish Library

At the end of the day the Air Show takes place on 1 July 1945, it attracts 250,000 spectators, and as a result creates chaos in the streets of Copenhagen. Furthermore, to the surprise for the W/C the Royal family announces their participation.

On 2 June 1945, the 125 Wing ORB announces that the final details are in place concerning the Air Show and that all Wings of the 83 Group, 2TAF, are to participate. On 7 and 9 June 1945 practice for the show is carried out. But a few days later the show is about to be cancelled, as the 125 Wing is ordered to B.170 Westerland on 15 June. In the 125 Wing ORB is recorded:

13/6/45 - Devastating news that the air pageant will not take place and the Wing will move to WESTERLAND (B.170) on the 15th. Thousands of tickets have been sold and the Wing is feeling very sick about it. A dance has also been arranged for the 17th.

The next day it is clear that the show will take place, though, postponed to 1 July. The practice continues in the following weeks, as No. 125 Wing flies from Germany to Copenhagen to prepare.

The Air Show takes place on 1 July 1945. The number of aircraft is lower than planned because of bad weather over Germany, but the day is a great success, and more than 250,000 spectators participate. In the 125 Wing ORB

1/7/45 - 41 and 137 squadrons took part in the pageant at COPENHAGEN. Owing to unfavourable weather a number of Squadrons from other Wings were unable to participate but so far as it went the pageant was a success.

The main attraction at the show is the No. 616 Squadron showing off their Gloster Meteors F.3. S/L Dennis Berry is leading the squadron on this day, while “Johnnie” Johnson tells how S/L Tony Gaze impress the audience performing a low level fly past at high speed. The Danish air enthusiast magazine “Flyv” describes the episode like this (my translation):

At first these fantastic machines showed their impressive speed in a perfect formation fly past. Then, one of the nameless “Meteor” pilots performed a spectacular aerobatic show. He rose to the sky at 1000 kilometres per hour and then dived to the ground at a speed faster than that of the sound.

AVM Basil Embry, G/C Bateson and other veterans of the low level attacks are in town again. They simulate a low level attack at high speed over the crowd. In all 18 Mosquitos participate in the show (FLYV).

The Rocket Attack on two Blohm und Voss 138 C

The rocket attack is a great show." />

The Rocket Attack on two Blohm und Voss 138 C" src="images/A019_02.jpg" />

The rocket attack is a great show, Source: The Royal Danish Library

I must have been a spectacular show. Apart from the action mentioned above, No. 122 Wing carried out Wing formation fly past; rocket attacks were carried out by 16 Typhoons of No. 124 Wing; and Typhoons of No. 143 Wing carried out a bombing attack.

Furthermore, 12 Spitfire XIVs of No. 41 Squadron fighters carried out a rocket attack on two Blohm & Voss 138 C aircraft in the sea outside the airport. One of these aircraft (or rather what is left of it) is shown at the Danish Aircraft Museum in Elsinore. Finally three of these Spitfires give an aerobatic show as well and finishes with (again in the words of the air magazine correspondent – my translation)

…the pompous and very difficult ”Prince of Wales Feather”, in which two aircrafts perform a loop to both sides and the third rise vertically in the middle ending in a loop

According to ”Johnnie” Johnson the day went well:

All was well. The sun shone. The little Waafs played valiantly. The bouquet was charmingly presented and the guard of honour inspected. No. 41 Squadron’s three Spitfires looped and rolled in tight formation. The Typhoons sank the seaplanes and Tony Gaze belted a Meteor above the runway as only he could. Dark clouds gathered on the horizon when Bob Bateson’s Mosquitoes climaxed the afternoon with a low-level run across the airfield, which brought home to the quarter of a million spectators the object of the display.

The money was audited and a sizeable cheque was ready for the children. Yet another ceremony was to be enacted, but this time I kept well clear of the planning. The commander-in-chief [Air Marshall Sir Arthur Conningham] flew up personally from Germany, and handed the cheque to the King of Denmark. In this fashion the future care of the children was secured, and that, perhaps, is a fitting note upon to end my story.

Another famous pilot participating in the Copenhagen Air Show is F/L Pierre Closterman of No. 3 squadron in his Tempest V. In “The Big Show” he describes an accident in which he nearly crashes his Tempest in Kastrup. I have not yet been able to find further information on this incident.

Recreational Activities in Copenhagen

While in Copenhagen, the British forces have time to more social activities too. According to the 125 Wing OBR:

11/6/45 - Sports now in full swing so far as the attractions of COPENHAGEN permit, several football matches against Danish teams have taken place amidst great enthusiasm.

But the ORB as well as the Danish newspapers record tragedies as well. On 23 June 1945 F/S Mutter of No. 137 Squadron crashes in the sea off the island Langeland en-route from Kastrup to Husum in north Germany. On 18 July 1945 a pilot is killed following the collision of the aircraft in the sky over the northern part of Sealand. And two servicemen – L.A.C. Phillips and A.C. Letting – drown on 14 June 1945 while on the see in a canvas canoe. A search party is arranged but without luck. The two servicemen are buried in Bispebjerg cemetery, a Copenhagen cemetery.

125 Wing is Relieved

On 19 June 1945, the 125 Wing is relieved by the 122 Wing. At this point in time, 122 Wing consists of Nos. 3, 56, 80 and 486. The latter is already stationed in Copenhagen.

A farewell dance at the Bellevue Hotel is arranged on 17 June at which general Dewing attends. About 500 people participate in the successful weekend. It begins at 9.30 p.m. and ends with and breakfast of eggs, bacon and coffee at 4 a.m. the following morning. Until the very last moment it is not clear where the Wing is to be posted, but on 18 June Husum (B.172) is decided upon. ”A” Party leaves Kastrup at 8 a.m. on 19 June and arrives in the evening.

Since the 125 Wing C.O. is the organizer of the above mentioned air show, a number of 125 Wing officers remain in Copenhagen. On 14 July 1945, the 125 Wing is disbanded in Lubeck, Germany.

On the stay in Kastrup the 122 Wing official history records the following:

On 19th June the Wing had the good fortune to move into Denmark, remaining for ten pleasant weeks at Copenhagen. 3, 56. 80 squadrons made the move, rejoining 486 who had gone there in May with 125 Wing. After a time the policy of switching the squadrons around was adopted, to give as much of the Group as possible a change of air from the unpleasant atmosphere of stricken in Germany. In turn 175, 181, 182, 184 and 400 squadrons came in, and 3, 56 and 486 moved away. Inevitably the Wing deteriorated into a not very efficient boarding-house, although practice flying was still energetically carried on. On the ground the chief public activities were undertaken by the numerous Wing and squadrons association football sides, which travelled all over Sealand to play Danish teams, and also crossed over to Sweden. These excursions inevitably involved dinners and dances and speeches, and frequently parades as well, and the British airman once again proved a magnificent ambassador.

At the beginning of September the Wing returned to Flensburg, leaving behind many new friends and taking with them memories of Danish kindness and hospitality which will newer be forgotten.

122 Wing leaves Copenhagen in the beginning of September 1945. During the stay in Copenhagen a number of squadrons are part of the wing. Nos. 175, 181, 182, 184 and 400 Squadrons are all stationed in Copenhagen for shorter periods of time during the summer of 1945.

It is not clear to me who takes command of Kastrup after September 1945, but information suggests that British forces are stationed here as late as 1946.

Acknowledgements

A large part of the information on the 122 and 125 Wings including the transcription of the 125 Wing ORB are provided by Allan Hillmann. I also rely on information provided by Chris Thomas and Stein Meum. Thomas Olsen has kindly provided further information and remarked errors in the first version of this article. I am though still to be blaimed for any remaining errors.