Danish WW2 Pilots

Sgt Esben Aakjær

(1911 - 1958)

Esben Aakjær, son of Danish author Jeppe Aakjær, is in United States when the Germans occupy Denmark 1940. He volunteers for the Royal Norwegian Forces during the Second World War flying Catalinas.

Esben Aakjær is born on 12 July 1911 in Jenle. He is the son of Danish author Jeppe Aakjær and Nanna Aakjær (nee Krogh).

In the late 1920’s Esben Aakjær earns his living as a farmer in Iceland, but when his father dies in 1930 he returns to Denmark. He refuses to serve in the armed forces and is therefore send to Kompedal with conscientious objectors. Among these is the later member of the Danish Freedom Council, editor Børge Outze. Esben Aakjær is educated as journalist at a local newspaper, Østsjællands Folkeblad, in Køge. He ends training in December 1937.

Around the World

The young Esben Aakjær longs to see the world. He leaves Denmark in the spring of 1938. Through Europe, Germany, Poland, Jugoslavia and Greece – to Egypt and further to Australia. He arrives in Perth on-board SS MALOJA on 31 may 1938. During the following months he tours Australia and New Zealand.

He continues to United States arriving in Los Angeles from Honolulu, Hawaii, on 26 November 1938 on-board SS LURLINE. He tours the United States and arrives in New York on 20 April 1939 a few days before the official opening of the Danish pavilion at the 1939 New York World's Fair. He is in New York, when the war breaks out in Europe.

The Royal Norwegian Air Force

In the fall of 1940 he is contacted by two Danes, Carl Urban Maaløe Jespersen and Alfred Henri Quistgaard, requesting him to join the Royal Norwegian Air Force in "Little Norway." He is accepted and joins the forces in Canada within a couple of months.

At first he is considered too old for flying duties, and following initial training he is placed in the uniforms depot. It is here that later pilot Kjeld Rønhof meets him, when he arrives at the camp in the spring of 1941.

During 1941 he is accepted for wireless operator training later that year. In the late Winter 1942 he ends training and he and four colleagues is posted to No. 4 Bombing and Gunnery Schools, Fingal, Ontario (according to Aakjær it is No. 5 B&GS, but Fingal is No.4 B&GS). Ending training in Canada he is send to England, leaving Halifax by ship. He is posted to a school that I presume is No. 1 Radio School or No. 1 Signals School at RAF Cranwell.

He is finally posted to RAF Woodhaven in January 1942. From 8 February 1942 the first Norwegian Catalinas fly as part of the Norwegian Detachment No. 210 Squadron, Coastal Command. On 1 February 1943, this unit becomes a separate unit within coastal command; No. 1477 (Norwegian) Flight.

I can trace Esben Aakjær to this unit as he is part of a Catalina crew refuelling from a fuel tender when it bursts into flames. This is on 20 February 1943. On 10 May 1943, when No. 333 (Norwegian) Squadron is officially formed, Esben Aakjær is among the initial crew. During 1943 he is part of Squadron Leader H. Anonsens Catalina crew in "A" flight. He is wireless operator and air gunner. Initially holding the rank of Quartermaster, he is later promoted to Sergeant.

Air Transport Command

In May 1944 Esben Aakjær is send on operational leave. He arrives in New York on 25 May 1944 on-board the French liner SS PASTEUR. He is attached to the Air Transport Command for ferry duties. During these months he is part of crews ferrying aircraft for Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

He returns to England in December 1944. He is posted to RAF Killadeas, Northern Ireland. From his own description, I suppose he was trained at No. 131 Operational Training Unit.

In April 1945 he returns to Woodhaven for flying duties; the first entry in the 333 Squadron Operations Record Book being on 1 May 1945. On 8 May 1945 he is part of Commander Jørgensens crew on special duty from Woodhaven to Oslo. From Olso they fly to Stavanger the next day before returning to Woodhaven on 10 May 1945.

After the War

Esben Aakjær was worn out when he returned from war. The next 10 years he travels Denmark lecturing about his own experiences and his father. He dies too early in 1958 at the age of 47.

(Aakjær, 1947; Brovst, 1982; Meyer, 1973; Rønhof, 1996; AIR 27/1731; AIR 27/1732; NAA, PP246/4)