Danish WW2 Pilots

To look for a needle in a haystack: Danes in air force service in the United States

This brief article presents the ‘needle in a haystack’-problem of tracking down Danes—especially Danish nationals—in air force service in the United States.

Shortly after the war, the Danish consul general in San Francisco, Axel Sporon-Fiedler, wrote a report on the activities of the Danish movement in the USA during the war. He estimated that at the end of 1944 more than 30,000 Danish-Americans were mobilised during the war. In addition some 3,000 young Danes were enlisted in the United States armed services.[1] It is neither clear on the basis of which sources he based the estimate, nor how he defined a’ Dane’.

How to define a Dane?

A clear definition is important, especially if one wants to determine the number of Danes in U.S. armed service with any degree of precision. In general, the focus of my work has been men and women, who were Danish nationals at enlistment.

Danish nationality is not based on where you are born (jus solis), but on the nationality of—then—your father (jus sanguinis). Therefore, a number of second-generation Danish-American immigrants would be considered Danish nationals, even if they were born in the USA. Even if they were naturalised as minors, they would not lose the Danish citizenship before their 22nd birthday, according to Danish law at the time.[2] This was of cause in contrast to the situation in the United States, where the children born in the United States automatically would become citizens. This only to say, that it is difficult to determine with certainty if a volunteer was a Danish national at enlistment. Even if naturalised in other countries, many of the emigrants could still technically be considered Danish. Furthermore, Danish immigrants might still consider themselves Danish or be considered as such by others.[3]

Draft Records

The United States reintroduced conscription during the Second World War. The Selective Training and Service Act was signed into law by President Roosevelt on 16 September 1940 and introduced the first peace time selective service draft in U.S. History. Conscription began in October 1940. After the United States officially entered the war in December 1940 an amendment to the act made all men between the ages of 20 and 44 liable for military service, and required all men between the ages of 18 and 64 to register.[4] The latter group was never drafted. Multiple registrations held between November 1940 and October 1946 signed up more than 50 million American men aged 18–45 for the draft. A searchable database of the registration cards filled out by men born between the years of 1898 and 1929 (young men) is available trough Ancestry.com. The database is not complete as registration cards from several states have been destroyed and no longer exist.[5]

A search for all men born in Denmark returns 11,611 records.[6] The individual record cards provide valuable information such as address, date and place of birth, and name and address of employer. However, the registration cards and database does not provide information on the draft classification, i.e. if the person was acceptable, deferred or unacceptable for service, and it does not reveal, if the person was in fact ever drafted.Therefore, the records are very useful for further research if the record is relatable to an enlistment record or service information.

Even if Danish nationality is not defined by the place of birth as mentioned above, it is used as the best way of filtering the records. For instance, I am always curious when a see a typical Danish name in a unit diary or the like. A search for all draftees of the name Jensen, returns 12,460 records, that is, more records than the number of men born in Denmark. There are 975 draftees born in Denmark by the name Jensen. In other words, there were more draftees by the most typical Danish name, who were not born in Denmark, than were.

Army Enlistment Records

The National Archives and Records Administration in Washington provides a searchable database for the World War II Army Enlistment Records, ca. 1938-1946.[7] The U.S. Army Air Corps and later Air Force constituted the largest part of the air strength, but there were aviation units in the Navy and the Marines as well. The enlistment records therefore provide a valuable source for tracking down Danish and Danish-American men and women in air force service

The records include 2,015 enlisted men and women, who were born in ‘Denmark’ (1,936) or in ‘Danish island possessions, the Faroe Islands, Greenland or Iceland’ (17). The records list ‘race and citizenship’ of the individual. In my work I have assumed the category ‘White, not yet a citizen’ to be a fair approximation for the number of Danish nationals enlisting in the US Army. A total of 676 men enlisted are in this category. It is a matter of definition, whether to include the 1,231 men and women categorized as ‘White, citizen’ (i.e. US citizen) as Danes in a broader sense or the word.[8]

1,936 persons born in Denmark enlisted in the U.S. Army, of which 676 were classified as 'White, not yet a citizen'.
1,936 persons born in Denmark enlisted in the U.S. Army, of which 676 were classified as 'White, not yet a citizen'.

Of the 1,936 men and women born in Denmark, who enlisted in the US Army mentioned above, 89 enlisted in the Air Corps according to the database. Only one of them, Karl Hansen (6067742), was not yet a citizen of the USA. However, this does not provide the full picture. It is evident, that the branch code ‘Air Corps’ is not a precise filter for those who served in the Army Air Force. For instance, Kaj Aage Strand (33344764), a Danish national who enlisted in November 1942 was given the branch code ‘Branch Immaterial - Warrant Officers, USA’. This was also the case of Danish born US citizen Ingvard A. Jensen (32454532), when he enlisted in July 1942; Jensen was killed in action over Germany in 1944.

The most obvious way forward using these records is to start at one end searching for more information on those who en listed in the U.S. Army who were not yet U.S. Citizen. I have started this work.

Navy and Marines Records

I have not yet been able to find a similar source for information on Danes and Danish-Americans in the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marines.

The U.S. Navy Muster Rolls[9] have been digitized and provides are a valuable source for information on naval personnel formerly attached to a ship, station or other activity. They were generated quarterly. The same is the case for the U.S. Marines’ Muster Rolls.[10] However, the Muster Rolls do not provide information on the date of birth or nativity, and it is not, therefore, possible to search for groups of personnel, e.g. personnel born in Denmark. Once a person is identified these records provide information abort the whereabouts of the person in question. This was useful in researching the Lauesen brothers—Christian (Marines), Frederick (Navy, 403125) and John (Army Air Force, O-204937)—who all died in service as pilots during the war.

In Conclusion

There are no easy ways in the search for Danish nationals in air force service in the United States. One an individual has been identified a number of databases and easy access to surviving personnel records make further research easy, it is similar to looking for the needle in a haystack. In many cases the research have been triggered by information from newspapers, a Danish name in a book or a document; in other words by sheer coincidence. In my book, Britain’s Victory, Denmark’s Freedom. Danish Volunteers in Allied Air Forces during the Second World War, I included seven Danes in the U.S. Army Air Corps/Force. Since then, I have discovered more Danish and especially Danish-Americans born in Denmark, who served.

As shown above, much information is provided in a more structured way, and it is certain that more information shall become available in the years to come. It is an immense task to go through these records, but as in the case of how to eat an elephant, the way is to take one bit at a time. And as the stories are revealed, they shall be available on the website.


[1] Sporon-Fiedler, A. C. F. (1946). Den danske Bevægelse i De Forenede Stater i Besættelsesaarene. Udenrigsministeriets tidsskrift, 27, 107-112, 136.

[2] Lov nr. 123 af 18. april 1925 om Erhvervelse og Fortabelse af Indfødsret.

[3] The numbers does not include 54 men and women in The Enlisted Reserve Corps.

[4] Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Selective_Training_and_Service_Act_of_1940 (accessed on 18 January 2020).

[5] Ancestry: U.S. WWII Draft Cards Young Men, 1940-1947.

[6] The records were queried on 18 January 2020 by setting ‘birthplace’ equals ‘Denmark’ (exact to country) and ‘relation to draftee’ to ‘Self’ in order to narrow the records to the draftee only and not the household.

[7] NARA: RG 64, World War II Army Enlistment Records, created, 6/1/2002 - 9/30/2002, documenting the period ca. 1938 - 1946. Available online via Ancestry.com.

[8] The equivalent number for Norway is 3,635 and for Sweden it is 4,259.

[9] NARA: RG 24, Muster Rolls of U.S. Navy Ships, Stations, and Other Naval Activities, 1/1/1939 - 1/1/1949. Available online via Ancestry.com.

[10] NARA: RG 127, Muster Rolls, 1/1798 - 12/1940. Available online via Ancestry.com.