Danish WW2 Pilots

Fg Off. Niels Erik Westergaard

(1922 - 1944)

Niels Erik Westergaard joins the Royal Air Force, but is killed in 1944 on a raid over Germany. He is awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Niels Erik Westergaard is born and raised in England. His parents Otto Ludvig Blædel and Inger Westergaard, of Earls Court, London, are Danish. At the German occupation, 9 April 1940, he is staying in Denmark, but as a British citizen he is given the opportunity to leave the country. I suppose he held a dual citizenship as he is awarded the King Christian X’s Medal for Participation in the War 1940-45 (post mortem), which was only awarded to Danish nationals.

He volunteers for the Royal Air Force and is trained as a navigator. On 1 December 1942 he is promoted from Corporal to Pilot Officer (on probation) and on 1 June 1943 he is further promoted to Flying Officer. In 1943, he is attached to 619 Squadron, Bomber Command.

He is posted to No. 630 Squadron as this squadron is established at East Kirby in November 1943.

The last mission

On the night of 1/2 January 1944, 421 Lancasters attack Berlin. In spite of 15 Mosquitos attacking Hamburg in a mock attack, the German fighter controller is not distracted. Fortunately the German fighters are not that effective on this night, only two fighters shot down over Berlin. Neither is the flak over Berlin really effective, only shooting down further two aircraft. Due to the target area covered by cloud the accuracy of the bombing is not good leading to scattered bombing. A large number of bombs actually fall in the Grünewald outside Berlin.

Lancaster Mk. III (JB532 'LE-X') of 630 Squadron with Niels Erik Westergaard as navigator is part of this force, taking off at 23:55 from East Kirkby, Lincolnshire. It is believed that the aircraft is homebound, when it is hit by flak, which shoots one of the engines from its frame. The aircraft dives steeply and crashes at Grossbeuthen about 50 km south of Berlin. The RAF investigation report of 20 March 1947 can be quoted:

On the night of 31st Dec 43/1st Jan 44 between midnight and 0100 hrs a four engined aircraft was shot down by FLAK on returning from BERLIN and flying in the vicinity of GROSS BEUTHEN. One engine was shot off and it fell away from the aircraft. The aircraft did not catch fire but crashed diving steeply about 300 yds North West of the village. According to the eye-witness no one baled out and the entire crew perished in the crash.

'LE-X' is one of a total of 28 Lancasters lost on this night. F/L D A Macdonald, DFC (RCAF), S/L K F Vare, AFC, Sgt R F Smale, MID, F/O N E Westergaard, DFC, F/S J M Turnbull, Sgt W R Tyrie, DFM, F/S W Jenkins, and F/S J Roche (RAAF) are killed.

They are all buried in Grossbeuthen on 4 January by the local police in a communal grave, which is kept by the inhabitants. Following the investigation in 1947, the bodies of the crew are identified, moved and reinterred at the British Military Cemetery, Heerstrasse, Berlin (Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery).

On 13 January 1944, Niels Erik Westergaard is decorated post mortem with the Distinguished Flying Cross with reference to his actions during a raid on Leipzig in October 1943.

(Ancker, 2001; Middlebrook and Everitt, 1985; Chorley, 1997; www.cwgc.org; London Gazette; National Australian Archives).