Erik Schmidt-Hansen is among the first Danes to volunteer for the Royal Norwegian Air Force. He is trained in Canada, but volunteers for convoy duty, and ends in the Nazi concentration camp Sachsenhausen.
Poul Erik Schmidt-Hansen is born on 12 May 1918 in Skagen. He is the son of editor Poul Hansen and Karen Louise Hansen (née Schmidt).
Bound for Canada, Ordered to Greenock, Scotland
He is working as an office clerk before the war, but an adventurous spirit brings him to sign on the SS LEISE MÆRSK leaving Aalborg bound for Canada on 7 April 1940. On 8 August 1940 the ship anchors in Bergen, Norway, but it leaves again within a couple of hours.
On 9 April 1940 the German troops invade Denmark and Norway. Positioned south of the Faroe Islands the ship is ordered to the nearest British port. Eventually the ship arrives at Greenock, Scotland. Among the ships here is also SS KINA II of the East Asiatic Company with later Royal Norwegian Air Force pilot Kjeld Rønhof on-board.
Royal Norwegian Air Force
Erik Schmidt-Hansen reports to a Royal Air Force recruiting office in Glasgow. As his application is accepted he signs off SS LEISE MÆRSK. Still waiting for the final response he reports to the recruiting office of the Royal Norwegian Air Force at Grand Hotel in London.
He is accepted for the Royal Norwegian Air Force and boards the SS NOVA bound for Canada on 12 August 1940. They arrive in Toronto on 25 August 1940. As far as my information go he is the first Dane to be accepted for the Royal Norwegian Air Force.
After a few months of waiting in Toronto he is accepted for and commences flying training at the Toronto Flying Club. Unfortunately Erik Schmidt-Hansen has to give up flying training due to a health problem, and he is transferred to parachute training outside Vancouver. He is appointed quartermaster.
Following some months of training he is transferred to Reykjavik, Iceland, via Halifax preparing an airfield on the island. He returns to "Little Norway" to continue as parachute training instructor.
Gunnery Officer in the Norwegian Merchant Fleet
Erik Schmidt-Hansen volunteers for the Norwegian merchant fleet at some point in late 1941. He signs on the Norwegian ship NORSEMAN in Vancouver according to his memoires. The ship travels from Vancouver down the West coast, via Panama to Cape Town, Karachi, Bombay and Basra. The ship returns to New York after 8 month at sea in July 1942 and he signs off.
I am a bit puzzled by this information as the information does not correspond exactly with information from the New York Passenger Lists. According to these an Erik Smith Hansen having signed on in Vancouver on 16 December 1941 returns from Karachi, India, to New York arriving on 22 August 1942 on-board the MS GRANVILLE. He signs off in New York. The information given on ship corresponds with the information given by Erik Schmidt-Hansen's memoires.
I the following months Erik Schmidt-Hansen is enjoying himself in New York.
Convoy bound for the Mediterranean
In the late summer of 1943 Erik Schmidt-Hansen signs on the Liberty ship SS Charles Gordon Curtis. On 23 August 1943 the ship leaves New York and arrives in Oran, Algeria, without incidents.
In late September 1943 the ship leaves Oran in a convoy bound for Napoli, which had then just been liberated by the Allied forces. Erik Schmidt-Hansen memoires tells the story of life on-board a convoy ship during aircraft attacks from the German Luftwaffe. The SS Charles Gordon Curtis arrives safely in Napoli. The ship is also attacked in the Napoli harbour.
The ship makes several deliveries from Oran to Napoli before – according to Erik Schmidt-Hansen's memoires departing for New York on 2. January 1944. He returns to New York on 23 January 1944.
New York Passenger Records suggest that the ship arrives on 25 January 1944 and that Erik Schmidt-Hansen had signed on 2 September 1943.
Recreation and an Invasion Handbook
According to his memoirs Erik Schmidt-Hansen is then on recreation at Lake Placid for two weeks. He is then in contact with Hans Bendix, who was then the leader of the Danish section of Office of War Information. He is engaged by Gunnar Leistikow in Special Services to help producing a Danish version of an "Invasion Handbook" intended for the U.S. Army in case of an invasion in Denmark.
At Sea Again
On 27 April 1944 Erik Schmidt-Hansen signs on the Swedish MS GRIPSHOLM which were used as repatriation ship for prisoners of war, diplomats etc. between the belligerents during the Second World War.
The ship leaves New York bound for Gothenburg, Sweden, but is redirected to Barcelona, Spain, while crossing the Atlantic. According to his memoirs Erik Schmidt-Hansen returns to New York on 5 May 1944, while New York Passenger Lists suggest the date was in fact 6 June 1944 and that the vessel left Barcelona on 19 May 1944.
The ship leaves New York – again according to the memoirs – on 23 August 1944 bound for Gothenburg, Sweden. In the beginning of September 1944 the ship arrives in Gothenburg.
In Gothenburg Erik Schmidt-Hansen attempts to collect Danish underground newspapers to bring back to the United States, but he is arrested by the Germans in Kristiansand, Norway, on the way back. As the ship leaves Gothenburg on 10 September 1944, it is likely that he is arrested on 11 September 1944. From Kristiansand, via Oslo and Aarhus, Denmark, he is transferred to Berlin.
On 15 December 1944 he arrives in the concentration camp Sachsenhausen. He is evacuated – presumably in March 1945 – when Count Bernadotte manages to evacuate Danish and Norwegian prisoners in the camp. On 5 May 1945, the day of the liberation of Denmark, he is in Sweden, but manages to get to Denmark the same night with a unit of the Danish Brigade DANFORCE.
(Ancher, 2001, Schmidt-Hansen, 1945, NY Passenger Lists)