Danish WW2 Pilots

Fg Off. Otto Hjalmar Antoft

(1919 - 1944)

Otto Hjalmar Antoft is one of two brothers joining the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War. He is killed in action during the Operation Market Garden on 21 September 1944.

Otto Hjalmar Antoft is born on 21 February 1919 in Denmark. He is the son of Hugo Antoft (1889-1954) and Asta Antoft (1896-1988). He is the brother of Kell Antoft. [1]

Emigrates from Denmark to Canada

In 1927 his father in employed by the Canadian Pacific Railway’s Colonization Office in Copenhagen. He is involved with the recruitment of Danish families and individuals for immigration to Canada. In 1929 the father accepts an offer to transfer to CPR's Winnipeg office and the father travels to Canada on the SS DUTCHESS OF ATHOL. The family joins the father a few months later arriving in Montreal, Quebec, on 25 April 1930. Initially the family settles down in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where he attends grade 6 to 8 in Luxton Public School. In 1933 the family moves to Lakeville, Kings County, Nova Scotia. [2]

In 1937 he graduates with honours from the King’s County Academy winning a scholarship to attend King’s College. In 1941 he graduates from university with an honours BA in Public Administration. According to the Antoft Family Accession, after graduation he works as secretary and research assistant to the caucus of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation in the Nova Scotia House of Assembly. He serves in this position until he joins the Royal Canadian Air Force. [3]

According to the enlistment papers he works for his father as poultry farmer prior to enlisting. [4]

Enlisting and Training

On 5 March 1942, Otto Hjalmar Antoft enlists in the Royal Canadian Air Force at the recruitment centre in Halifax. He is ordered to report to the No. 5 Manning Depot, Lachine, Quebec, on 20 April 1942. He is posted here until early June at which point in time he is posted to No. 31 Operational Training Unit, Debert, Nova Scotia. I am not certain about his actual duties during this time as he had not passed initial training. [5]

On 1 August 1942 he is posted to No. 3 Initial Training School, Victoriaville, Quebec (Course 59). The course ends on 26 September 1942 and Otto Hjalmer Antoft is promoted to Leading Aircraftman on the same day. On 27 September 1942 he is posted to No. 1 Bombing and Gunnery School, Jarvis, Ontario (Course 64) and on 23 November 1942 he is posted to No. 10 Air Observers School, Chatham, New Brunswick. He ends training here at 19 March 1942 and is promoted from Sergeant to Pilot Officer. The next day, 20 March 1942, he is posted to No. 34 Operational Training Unit, Penfield Ridge, New Brunswick (Course 10). [6]

Overseas

On 13 June 1943 he is transferred to No. 1 "Y" Depot, Halifax, for overseas duty, and on 22 June 1943 he becomes part of the RAF Training Pool. He embarks for United Kingdom on 23 June 1943 arriving on 1 July 1943. On 2 July 1943 he is taken on strength at No. 3 Personnel Reception Centre, Bournemouth. [7]

On 17 August 1943 he is posted to No. 13 Operational Training Unit (Course 4). He ends training on 21 October 1943 and is transferred to RAF Stoney Cross. [8]

On 4 November 1943 he is posted to No. 299 Squadron formed on this day as a squadron intended for special operations squadron. Initially the squadron is equipped with Lockheed Venturas, but conversion to Short Stirlings commences in January 1944. Otto Hjalmar Antoft is posted to No. 1665 (Heavy) Conversion Unit, Woolfax Lodge. At this unit he becomes part of the crew he later follows in operational service. [9]

Operational Service

On 8 February 1944 Otto Hjalmar Antoft is posted to No. 190 Squadron as Flying Officer. As Danish citizen he has the right to carry the “Denmark” shoulder patch. [10]

This squadron had been reformed at Leicester East as an airborne forces squadron equipped with Short Stirlings. Training flying begins in March 1944 and supply-dropping missions over France in April. The squadron is involved in the dropping of paratroops behind enemy lines in Normandy in D-Day. From 17-23 September 1944, No. 190 Squadron plays an important part in the support mission of Operation Market Garden. At the same time they suffered from heavy losses. On the first day of the operation, the unit carried the pathfinders of the 21st Independent Parachute Company that marked the landing zones for the first lift. In the following days the unit was deeply engaged in the re-supply missions. [11]

The days were eventful and the mere number of aircraft in the air led to dangerous situations. On 18 September 1944 at 1210 hours Stirling IV (LJ943) with Antoft and crew takes off from RAF Station Fairford. The Stirling is towing a Horsa glider carrying supplies strongly needed in Arnhem; a jeep, a 6-punder anti-tank gun, and 3 troops of the 1st Airlanding Anti-Tank Battery Royal Artillery. The aircraft is drawn into the slipstream of a Dakota and F/S Herger, the pilot, takes evasive action and the towrope snaps. The Horsa piloted by S/Sgt. Newton and Sgt. Douglas of No. 10 Flight, G Squadron, glider lands safely near the village of Oude-Tonge on the island of Goeree-Overflakkee many miles from Arnhem. [12]

The last Mission

On 21 September 1944 at 1343 hours Stirling IV (LJ943) takes off from RAF Station Fairford as part of Market V bound for Arnhem. On-board is a crew of nine:

  • F/S R B Herger, R.151666, RCAF, (Pilot)
  • F/O O H Antoft, J.25114, RCAF (Navigator)
  • F/O J K Macdonnell, J.28491, RCAF (Air Bomber)
  • F/S L I Whitlock, R.155222, RCAF (Wireless Operator)
  • Sgt L G Hillyard, 1818509 (Flight Engineer)
  • W/O J C Thomas, R.173863, RCAF (Air Gunner)
  • F/O H A Thornington, 143115 (Air Gunner)
  • Driver C Parker, T/175876
  • Driver E Noble, T/157697

The latter two were air despatchers from 253 (Airborne) Composite Company, RASC. F/O Thornington was not part of the original crew, but according to a statement from W/O Thomas later on he "just came along for the trip and acted as co-pilot" (Archives Canada R112/30612). [13]

The operation is to drop supplies to the British troops who is trapped near Arnhem at this point. Given the critical situation on the ground, no definite dropping point is fixed beforehand. In stead the crew is to drop the load at 1,000 feet on a signal from the ground troops in that area, north-west of Arnhem. The crew carried out the operation successfully, according to W/O Thomas later statement, despite heavy and light flak very concentrated throughout the run-in. The aircraft is hit several times. [14]

At some point the aircraft caught fire. W/O Thomas fails to extinguish the fire and, cut off from the rest of the crew, he bails out at between 300 to 400 feet. The Flight Engineer, Sgt Hillyard, also manages to bail out, while the aircraft crashes north of "De Slop" Farm of Mr De Hartog at Zetten. Sgt Hillyard has seen F/O MacDonell as well as Otto Hjalmar Antoft putting on their parachutes in order to follow him out of the aircraft, but for unknown reasons they never left the aircraft. W/O Thomas and Sgt Hillyard is captured by the Germans within minutes of their landing. [15]

Otto Hjalmar Antoft is reported "missing in Air Operations" on 21 September 1944. The crew of Stirling IV (LJ943) is initially buried in the Refuge-Hill Church Cemetery in Zetten with the casualties of another Stirling loss, LJ982. The Dutch taking care of the casualties initially account for 15 bodies of 18 missing. Following the liberation of the area the bodies are re-interred at the Oosterbeek Airborne Cemetery, Arnhem, Holland. On 21 September 1945 Otto Hjalmar Antoft is "presumed dead for official purposes." [16]

The day turns out to be very costly to the squadron. Intense flak and German aircraft led to the loss of seven Stirlings, in all 24 aircrew, and six despatchers. [17]

I had not been able to write this profile without the assistance of Bill Green, Bruno Lecaplain, Errol Martyn, Henk Welting, Kees Stoutjesdijk, Ken McLean, and Philip Reinders via RAF Commands Forum.

Sources

  1. Antoft Family Accession, Archives Canada R112/30612, www.cwgc.org
  2. Antoft Family Accession, Archives Canada R112/30612, Canadian Passenger Lists, 1865-1935
  3. Antoft Family Accession, Archives Canada R112/30612
  4. Archives Canada R112/30612
  5. Archives Canada R112/30612
  6. Archives Canada R112/30612, Canada Gazette, 26 June 1943
  7. Archives Canada R112/30612
  8. Archives Canada R112/30612
  9. Archives Canada R112/30612, www.raf.mod.uk
  10. Antoft Family Accession, Archives Canada R112/30612
  11. www.raf.mod.uk, www.pegasusarchive.org
  12. Bowyer, 2002:284, van Hees, 2000, RAF Commands Forum
  13. Archives Canada R112/30612, Bowyer, 2002:284, van Hees, 2000, RAF Commands Forum
  14. Archives Canada R112/30612
  15. Archives Canada R112/30612
  16. Archives Canada R112/30612
  17. www.pegasusarchive.org