Danish WW2 Pilots

Sjt Jens Aage Nielsen

(1910 - 1963)

Jens Aage Nielsen’s path into allied service is fascinating. Unemployed he moved from Denmark to Germany to work in 1938. In March 1941, he worked onboard the factory ship, MS Hamburg when a British led commando force raided Lofoten. His ship was sunk, and Nielsen returned to Scapa Flow with the commandos. Following interrogation in London by MI5, he volunteered for the Norwegian air force.

Jens Aage Nielsen was born on 1 May 1910 in Gudbjerg near Svendborg, the son of Thora Elisabeth Kirstine Frederikke Johansen and Niels Peder Nielsen. The parents had separated by the time of his birth.[1]

Nielsen was trained as a fitter or mechanic and worked in several engineering firms in Slagelse, but lost his job following the economic downturn in the early 1930s. He moved to Copenhagen in search for employment, and worked with an electrical engineering form and later as a private chauffeur. During these years he took an interest in amateur aeronautics.

After being unemployed for a couple of years he considered migrating to Canada or the Danish colony in Venezuela, but he was unable to raise the money for the journey. Instead, in 1938, he travelled to Germany with a rucksack to look for employment and, for the following two years, he worked at various instrument factories in in Kiel and Hamburg. He was unable to return to Denmark, as he was unable to obtain an exit permit. Though a Danish friend he managed to get a job on a floating fish filleting factory, which he thought might provide an opportunity to get from Norway to Denmark.[2]

A floating fishing factory

Nielsen was employed on the first German fishing factory ship, the MS Hamburg. The ship, then the Ilmar, was acquired by the Hamburg-based company, Hochseefischerei Hamburg, Andersen & Co., in October 1939 and converted as a fishing mother ship intended for the flotilla fishery off Greenland. It was equipped with filleting systems for a processing capacity of 50 tons per day, an extensive refrigeration system for the deep-freeze preservation of fish fillets produced on board. The war prevented the ship to operate off Greenland and, instead, it was used off Norway from 1940. [3] In early March 1941, MS Hamburg was anchored at Svolvær on the Lofoten Islands in Norway.

MS Hamburg at Svolvær in January 1941.
MS Hamburg at Svolvær in January 1941 (photo courtesy of Lofoten Krigsminnemuseum, https://www.lofotenkrigmus.no/lofotraidet/)

On 21 February 1941, 250 members of all ranks of No. 4 Commando under the command of Lt. Col D. S. Lister, M C. (The Buffs) embarked on the HMS Queen Emma at Gourock leaving for Scapa Flow the same evening. With them were part of a section of No 55 Field Company, Royal Engineers, and approximately twenty-five members of what would later become the special operations unit Norwegian Independent Company 1. The troops remained at Scapa training for their coming mission, a landing at several points on the Lofoten archipelago.

On 1 March 1941, at 0001 hrs, a naval task force known by the codename of Rebel left Scapa Flow and headed towards the Faroe Islands, where they refueled. They left the Faroes at 0001 hrs on 2 March and headed north until 1100 hrs the following day, before turning eastwards towards Norway. By 0445 hrs on 4 March 1941 the outline of the coast of Lofoten Islands could be distinguished. At 0508 hrs landing crafts were lowered at a position off the coast and the landing force began the approach to Svolvær as one of four ports in the islands. The landing crafts were covered by the destroyer HMS Tartar. All commandos were ashore by 0650 hrs and was largely unopposed by the Germans.[4]

Nielsen had just gone to bed after the night shift, when the attack begun. The Germans on-board soon disappeared and Nielsen and the Dutch and Belgian prisoners of war working onboard were left to attend the wounded. They did what they could to get the wounded off the ship and then rowed to the British ship to give themselves up. Nielsen was one of 314 people who returned to Scotland to volunteer for the Norwegian forces. In addition to this, the British returned with 228 German prisoners and a number of Quisling regime collaborators.[5]

A few days later, on 11 March 1941, Nielsen was undergoing interviews by MI5 at at the Royal Victoria Patriotic School in London, and on 20 March 1941 he was released and checked in at the Rhodesia Court Hotel. Captain Iversen of the Recruiting Office, Danish Nationals was asked to pay his hotel bill and arrange for him to have a suit to wear. During the course of the next month, Nielsen had several discussions with the Norwegians in Norway House about joining the Norwegian Forces and, finally, he was accepted for service.[6]

MS Hamburg sinking following the attack from HMS Tartar at Svolvær on 4 March 1941
MS Hamburg sinking following the attack from HMS Tartar at Svolvær on 4 March 1941 (photo courtesy of Lofoten Krigsminnemuseum, https://www.lofotenkrigmus.no/lofotraidet/)

Little Norway

Nielsen enlisted in the Royal Norwegian Air Force on 15 June 1941 (N.1517). It is not clear, if was was in London or in Toronto, Canada, at this point. In any case, he was trained as an tool repairman in camp Little Norway in Toronto, Canada from 15 July to 25 October 1941 and worked as such from 27 October 1941.

He was promoted from Aircraftman (flysoldat) to Corporal (korporal) on 1 March 1942. His superior officer, fenrik Rörht, recommended that he was promoted to Sergeant (sersjant) right away and in his motivation he stated that since arriving he had shown skill and enterprise, as well as proven able to work independently. [7] He was promoted to Sergeant on 1 June 1942.

In May 1942, a new training camp was set up at Muskota north of Toronto. Nielsen was posted to the workshop here on 19 September 1942.[8]

A passenger (right), who has been carried in the bomb-bay of a 'civilianised' De Havilland Mosquito FB Mark VI of BOAC on the fast freight service from Stockholm, Sweden, congratulates Captain Wilkins and his navigator on their safe arrival at at Leuchars, Fife. © IWM (CH 20958)
A passenger (right), who has been carried in the bomb-bay of a 'civilianised' De Havilland Mosquito FB Mark VI of BOAC on the fast freight service from Stockholm, Sweden, congratulates Captain Wilkins and his navigator on their safe arrival at at Leuchars, Fife. © IWM (CH 20958)

The Norwegian Detachment, which had been established in February 1942 for Catalina operations along the Norwegian Coast, became 1477 (Norwegian) Flight, Coastal Command, at Woodhaven on 17 February 1943. Esben Aakjær was part of the original personnel of this unit, which was equipped with three Catalina aircraft.

Nielsen was transferred overseas, to England, on 9 March 1943. According to his service record, he was posted to 333 (Norwegian) Squadron on the 27th. [9] As the unit had not been established yet, this means that he was in fact posted to 1477 (Norwegian) Flight. On 1 April 1943, the Coastal Command inquired if the Flight was able to provide aircrew and maintenance personnell for six Mosquitoes based at RAF Leuchars. [10] It is likely that Nielsen was one of the men, who moved to Leuchars at that point. All personnel of 1477 Flight were transferred to the newly established 333 (Norwegian) Squadron on 10 May 1943.

However, on 9 May 1943, Nielsen was posted to BOAC Leuchars. The British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) was the civilian operator of the Stockholm Run—or Ball-bearing Run—between Stockholm and Leuchars. The route was operated by the Norwegian Air Force from 1942, and the Mosquito was used on the route from late 1942. [11] Nielsen remained at Leuchars until 21 June 1943, when he was posted to RAF Staverton.[12]

Nielsen returned to Canada on 30 July 1943 and worked in the workshop at Island Airport in Toronto from 1 August to 24 September 1943 at which point he was discharged from the Royal Norwegian Air Force, which permission to in a civilian position in Canada for the duration of the war.[13]

After the War

Nielsen remained in Toronto for the remainder of the war. He emigrated to the United States in October 1945, arriving in Detroit, Michigan on 16th. He filed his petition to become a citizen in January 1946, and became so in June 1951. He was occupied as a merchant seaman at this point. [14] He married in California in October 1951 [15] and died in 1963.[16]


[1] DNA: Parish register, Gudbjerg Sogn.

[2] DNA: Iversen, Johan Werner Michael og hustru Inger Vibeke Brønnum, født Scavenius (1939-1947), pk. 1.

[3] Hamburg (Schiff, 1911), Wikipedia, https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamburg_(Schiff,_1911) (accessed on 24 April 2021).

[4] Tovey, Admiral Jack C. (1948). No. 38331 Despatch on raid om military and economic objectives in the Lofoten Islands.

[5] Svolværraidet, Norsk krigsleksikon 1940–45, 1995. s. 410.

[6] DNA: Iversen, Johan Werner Michael og hustru Inger Vibeke Brønnum, født Scavenius (1939-1947), pk. 1.

[7] NNA: RAFA-3974/V/L0038, p. 120.

[8] DAHS: Service record (rulleblad).

[9] DAHS: Service record (rulleblad).

[10] NA: AIR 29/870.

[11] Mathisrud, N. (2016). Stockholm run.

[12] DAHS: Service record (rulleblad).

[13] DAHS: Service record (rulleblad).

[14] Ancestry: California, U.S., Federal Naturalization Records, 1843-1999.

[15] Ancestry: California, Marriage Index, 1949-1959.

[16] Ancestry: U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007.