NSF have been granted four million NOK through the revised national state budget for the rebuild of Spitfire IX PL258. This is of monumental importance for our mission to convey the stories and honor the effort and sacrifice made by young Norwegian pilots and ground crew during World War 2.
NSF was given the amazing news at Kjeller yesterday by Margrete Reusch (Venstre). Also present was members of the Norwegian government committee of culture – Kristin Ørmen Johnsen (Høyre), Silje Hjemdal (FrP), Tage Pettersen (H) and Himanshu Gulati (FrP).
There will be more news about these amazing news to follow shortly
Werner Christie, 332 sqd, later Wing Commander of the Hunsdon Wing and known as "Cloudy Christie". After 244 operational missions he was shot down over Germany on 18 April 1945 and held as a prisoner-of-war until the war's end.
“Never was so much owed by so many to so few“. Those were the words of Winston Churchill in the fall of 1940. Inspired, proud and grateful for what a few hundred boys, with the average age of 20, did in the defence of Britain against the Luftwaffe and Nazi-Germany. Norway has it’s own “few” as well. The few that met the German airborne invasion over Norway on the 9th of April 1940.
During the early morning of 9th of April 1940, six Norwegian pilots met a far superior invasion fleet of modern German aircraft. They encountered them west of Nesoddlandet, and threw themselves bravely into the fight in their outdated British Gloster Gladiators.
Their names were Rolf Torbjørn Tradin, Per Waaler, Finn Thorsager, Kristian Fredrik Schye, Dag Krohn and Arve Braathen.
Rolf Torbjørn Tradin
Tradin was a lieutenant and second in command at Jagevingen (Fighter Wing) at Fornebu, Oslo in 1940. Tradin was born in Kragerø in 1913. After his fathers bank went bankrupt during the crack of 1929, 16-year old Rolf left Norway in favour of the wide and open seas. Back from his time with Norways big merchant fleet, he took a job as a police officer in Oslo – before getting his wings at Hærens Flyveskole (Army flying school) at Kjeller. He then graduated from Krigsskolen (war school) in 1939. Tradins hobbies mainly consisted of the boy scout organization, but he was also a keen sailer and skier. He was also a very talented diver, especially from big heights.
Waaler was born in 1917 in Oslo. During his childhood years he lived in Møre and Romsdal, but arrived in Stabekk (Oslo) with his family as a five year old. Shortly thereafter, they moved to Fredrikstad, and then finally to Østre Aker in Oslo. In 1936, Per took Examen Artium at Aker College. After his artium, Per started to study social economics at the University of Oslo. In 1937 he got into Hærens Flyveskole at Kjeller. In 1939 he joined the “neutrality guard” of keeping Norways stand as a neutral country in the war. Concerning hobbies, Waaler especially enjoyed orienteering.
Finn was born in 1916 in Bergen. As an eight year old, his family moved to Oslo. When he was just nine years old, he was lucky enough to sit on the floats of Roald Amundsens flying-boat N-25. In Oslo he studied at Bestum elementary school and Ullern middle school. He then took a job as an apprentice at a car mechanic shop. Thorsager never graduated with examen artium, but decided in 1936 to send in his mid-term grades to Hærens Flyveskole instead. He was accepted as the last reserve. After graduating, Finn wanted to join DNL (fore-runner to SAS airlines), but was told that he needed experience and education in telegraphy. He then took the course, and went with a whaling boat to the south-pole region to gain experience. In 1939 he joined the “neutrality guard” at Fornebu. Thorsager enjoyed the out-doors, skiing and building model airplanes on his spare time.
Kristian Fredrik Schye
Schye, born in 1917, was raised in Skøyen, Oslo. At four years of age, his family moved to Jar in Oslo. As a young lad, he started school at Stabekk College. He graduated with examen artium in 1937. After this, he decided to start study medicine, even if several summer holidays at Horgen farm in Slagen had given him a good taste of farming. While waiting to start studying medicine, Schye got his wings at Kjeller in 1939. Among hobbies, the boy scouts was of big interest. He was also a good skier, played lots of bandy and participated in the creation of Jar sporting club.
Krohn was born in 1912 in Oslo. He grew up at
Frogner and at Vinderen. After graduating, he took education in radio
telegraphy. After the exams, he got in at Hærens Flyveskole in 1933/34. Dag was
also a keen and experienced swimmer. He was also in the boy scout organization
and took all the marks. He was also interested in sailing, fishing and
Braathen was born in 1913 at Eidsvold. He grew up at Lysaker where he graduated from middle school. After Examen Artium, he was accepted for Hærens Flyveskole in 1934. From 1937 he was employed with a car import firm. In the begininng he was a handyman, but got bigger tasks as time went by. He too, was called in for neutrality guard at Fornebu. Arne was an active athlete and especially good in tennis where he was Norwegian champion for juniors. He also liked bandy and shooting. He also became a skilled brige-player.
The Big Fight
9th of April started with the sense of chaos for most of the pilots at Fornebu. Around one in the morning, they were awakened from their sleep on the floor at the restaurant. They were ready for anything, and heard unknown engine sounds somewhere over the airport. The message was then given to spread out all the Gladiators around the airport, in case of a bomb attack. There had already been messages coming in that Oslofjords outer positions were in battle with an unknown enemy. A misunderstanding took place when a lot of personell thought it had to do with a battle between British and German naval ships. They believed that some of the German ships had drifted into Norwegian territory and was therefore being fired upon. At two in the morning, a message was recieved that all was well, and that the pilots may return to their (uncomfortable) beds.
Just three ours later, Finn Thorsager was awakened by Tradin. At 04:21, Oscarsborg fortress fired their first shots against the German ship Blucher. The cannon-thunder could be heard all the way to Fornebu. Soldiers could spot several unknown aircraft passing overhead and inbetween the broken layers of cloud. Another alarm took place.
Thorsager was the first pilot up alongside with Arve Braathen, both in their Gladiators. Because of startup problems, and wrong frequency tuned in between Thorsagers Gladiator and Braathens, they flew southwards on their own and not togheter as planned. Braathen spotted a large, dark aeroplane quite a distance ahead, but wasn’t able to get close enough. Thorsager was more “lucky”. Over the layer of low fog, he spotted an unknown, two engined aircraft with twin rudders. He released the safety on his guns, and attacked the intruder. The unknown aircraft dived into the fog below, but appeared again seconds later. Thorsager did another attack, but the same thing happened. With a slight feeling of guilt of shooting at human beings, Thorsager goes in for a third attack once the stranger appeared over the fog for a third time. After several of these attacks, the unknown disappeared in the fog for good. Norways first air battle was over. Thorsager returned back back to Fornebu and reported that Norways neutrality had been broken. The ground personell found bullet holes in one of the Gladiators wings.
Half an hour after Thorsager and Braatens departure, Schye, Waaler and Krohn took off from Fornebu. They observed nothing of interest, and returned to re-fuel. When all the Gladiators were back, the discussion went on amongst them about the happenings that were now taking place. Things were indeed heating up.
Seven Gladiators Airborne
A message was then recieved that 15 aircraft had been spotted passing Malmø, off the cost of Sweden, going north. In the case of Oslo being their destination, it is decided to send all Gladiators up to meet these new intruders.
Captain Erling Munte-Dahl was quite convinced the aircraft were not going to Oslo, but decided to send the Gladiators up, just in case.
Later, five Gladiators took off with Tradin as the leader. The others form up in a V-formation behind him. Waaler took off as number two, followed by Thorsager, Schye and Krohn. Left behind at Fornebu is Arve Braathen, still waiting for his Gladiator to be ready for another sortie. A seventh pilot, Oscar Albert Lutken, was also waiting for his Gladiator to be ready. Braathen took off shortly after the five others had flown south, and remarked before he took off: “If anyone wants my car, it’s over there”. Braathen was clearly not sure wheteher or not he would get out of it alive. Just after 07:30, the last one, Lutken, took off.
20 minutes after take off, Tradin got his first order. An attack by air an force was expected against Oslo, and the Norwegians were told to patrol Nesoddlandet. 15 minutes goes by before the first German aircraft showed up. Underneath the Norwegians, several Messerschmitt 110 appeared. Then all of a sudden there were so many enemy aircraft about the Norwegians gave up counting them all. Tradin gave the order to attack. Each man for himself, and good luck.
Tradin attacked German bomber which dove off to the left and disappeared. He assumed the bomber had been shot down. He picked another target, not very difficult as the heavens were swarming with Heinkel 111’s, Me 110’s and Dornier Do17’s. Tradin went in for several attacks, but many of the German invaders headed for the clouds below. The Germans were firing with tracers, and Tradin felt he could turn away from the attacks easily. Sadly, his machine gun mal-funcioned, and Tradin aborted the fight and landed at Steinsfjord – not Fornebu.
Dag Krohn went into the fight at the same time as the others, and made several attacks. Unfortunately, the Gladiators speed was poor, and he had problems following the invaders in level flying. Krohn managed, however, to shoot down two Heinkel 111’s. He saw one of them going vertically down, just south of Fornebu. When he tried to follow the aircraft to see where it ended up, he’s attacked by two Me 110’s. He made the move the Germans had done before him, as he dove into the cover of clouds below. He went up again minutes later, and spotted another German aircraft. He made another attack and hit the gunner of the Heinkel. The machine gun suddenly went quiet, pointing upwards. The Heinkel 111 then disappeared into the fog after Krohn fired everything he got at the cockpit section and the wings. Krohn, too, landed at Steinsfjord.
Finn Thorsager also saw the massive formations of Germans coming from the south. In accordance with the orders given by Tradin, Thorsager put his Gladiator into a diving turn towards a Heinkel 111. Now with experience from his first combat that morning, he waited longer before he fired his machine guns. The result was instant. Thick, black smoke gushed out of the bombers engines, and it disappeared into the clouds. Suddenly, Thorsagers machine guns stopped working. The only sound left was that of the pressured air. Thorsager was overwhelmed with disappointment, but he continued on firing at several aircraft, but with the same result. His machine guns simply isn’t working. He decided to go back to Fornebu to fix the problem. Over Fornebu, there’s several fires on the ground after Luftwaffe attacks. Thorsager barely got away after two Me 110’s attacked him from the rear. After this escape, he set course for Kjeller. At Kjeller there’s more of the same. Fires and chaos on the ground. He tried to fly back to Fornebu again, but with no luck, the airport was too unsafe. He then decided to put his Gladiator down at Mjærvann lake in Enebakk.
Per Waaler was also in the thick of things in his Gladiator. He picked out his prey like the others. At 150 meters range he opened fire at a Heinkel 111. The gunner of the Heinkel returned fire, but Waaler kept going until he’s at 50 meters, still firing. One of the engines blasted into flames, and suddenly the Heinkel 111 went into a terrifying spin over the Steilene area. Waalers Gladiator had recieved several direct hits from the Heinkel, and he returned to Fornebu to re-arm. Waaler landed with no drama, and had plans to keep the engine running while the ground crew armed his plane. Sadly, the engine stopped, but several men arrived to get it started again. They had to abort their task when several Me 110’s came low over the airport. Waaler ran away from his Gladiator and from the scene. Just 20 meters behind him, he heard projectiles hitting the ground. The Gladiator was set on fire by the attackers.
Kristian Fredrik Schye was the only one who crashlanded his Gladiator. He went into the fight over Nesoddlandet with the rest of the Norwegian, and attacked several Luftwaffe aircraft while he kept an eye out behind. Because of poor visibility in his cockpit, he went lower and pumpep up fuel to the windscreen to clear his vision. After succeeding with creating a better sight, he spotted two Me 110’s just 400 meters behind him. Schye pulled the throttle back and put his Gladiator into a half-roll downwards towards the German. Schye opened fire and kept firing until about 50 meters behind the Me110. It proceeded to roll over and spiral down towards Earth. Schye pulled his stick back and tried to gain height when he saw tracers fly past him. Two more 110’s had joined the battle. While trying to avoid the attack, his wing was hit by one of the 110’s. The he is hit himself and felt a pain in his arm and on his bottom. His arm started feeling heavy and numb, and he could not control the throttle stick anymore. He contemplated jumping out, but decided to try to land his Gladiator at a frozen lake. Approaching the lake, he had trouble getting the flaps out and he overshot the lake, and subsequently crashed in a field close by. Still in the cockpit when the Gladiator came to halt, the engine started smoking. Schye managed to get out and away from the smoking plane.
Arve Braathen, delayed at take off, flew alone while he tried to catch up with the others. He spotted a German aircraft over Brønnøya. His Gladiator wasn’t working well, and the engine was misfiring. Despite the issues, Braathen decided to press on and attack the German. Braathen dove down towards the bomber while it was unloading it’s bombs over Fornebu airport. Luckily, they all landed in Koksas bay. While firing at the German, the anti-aircraft batteries were also firing, so Braathen pulled away not wanting to risk his plane to friendly fire. Over the Høvik-area he saw another enemy aircraft, and dove down towards it. Braathen hit the engine, and it caught fire. Another Heinkel 111 appeared, and started firing at Braathen from behind. He got away from the attacker and turned sharply to get behind the German. However, when he had completed the turn, the German was too far away. Braathen landed his aircraft at Bogstad lake, after seeing several burning aircraft at Fornebu.
The last of the Gladiators in the air, flown by Oscar Albert Lutken, had to turn back just after take off due to a bad engine. He got a flat tire on landing, and had to leave the Gladiator. The aircraft was then attacked by 110’s.
With all Gladiators now out of the fight, no more aircraft at their disposal, and poor ground coverage, the Germans could now easily land at the airport and take over control from the fleeding Norwegians.
Norway was at war.
What happened to the few?
Rolf Torbjørn Tradin, the leader of the Gladiator attack, escapeed occupied Norway and arrived in Sweden in November of 1940. He then continued on to Little Norway in Toronto. At Little Norway he served as an instructor. In 1942 he travelled to England for active duty in a fighter squadron. He joined the legendary 611 squadron at Biggin Hill. In November 1943, Tradin was involved in combat with several FW190s. Tradin shot down one of the Germans, but was then attacked by another 190. Both Tradin and the attacker crashed into the ocean. Neither survived.
Dag Krohn fleed Norway togheter with Finn Thorsager in the fall of 1940. Through Sweden, the Sovietunion, Japan and USA he arrived at Little Norway in January 1941. He acted as an instructor before he joined the RAF Ferry Command. He flew several top secret transport missions, and in 1945 flew Winston Churchill himself to Teheran. After the war he took a job in SAS as an airline captain.
Dag Krohn died in 1989.
Finn Thorsager arrived at Little Norway with Dag Krohn, and like Krohn and Tradin took up a role as an instructor. In the summer of 1941 he travelled to England for service with Norwegian 331 squadron. In February 1942 he became flight commander with Norwegian 332 squadron flying Spitfires. In February of 1943 he was appointed squadron leader. After his time with 332, he joined Transport Command and flew two-engined bombers from America to Great Britain. In the fall of 1944, he was transfered to the “Stockholms-run”. This job consisted of flying top secret passenger and cargo between Scotland and Sweden. After the war he finally got his wish to join DNL. He continued with DNL/SAS until 1976, until he retired at the age of 60.
Finn Thorsager died in the fall of 2000.
Per Waaler participated in the defense of Norway until the capitulation in June 1940, and then escaped to England. He proceeed to Toronto and Little Norway and acted as an instructor. Here, he was involved in a serious flying accident which put him to bed for a whole nine months. After a period with Ferry Command, he was transferred to Bomber Command in 1943. As co-pilot/observer on his first mission, the Halifax was shot down over Dortumund. Waaler spent the last years of the war as a prisoner. After the war he worked as an accountant in Oslo.
Per Waaler, as the last of “the few”, died in 2014.
Kristian Fredrik Schye returned to his studies of medicine after the battle. He got involved in work for the homefront in Bærum shortly after. In 1943 he barely escaped an arrest and escaped to Sweden. From Sweden he travelled to Canada and took on work as an instructor at Muskoka. After the war he worked as a doctor in Oslo. He retired in 1986, and died in the fall of 2003.
Arve Braathen first tried to escape to England in the summer of 1940, togheter with his family by sea. Due to strong winds, they had to abort. After the attempt, he took up a job with his father in law in the fishing industry, but contined working with illegal projects for the homefront. In 1941, he and his family managed to get onboard a British ship after their raid at Lofoten. Braathen entered the RAF and No. 8 Operational Training Unit, flying Mosqitos. Braathen was posted missing after a practice mission. The airplane disappeared without a trace, most likely shot down by a long range German fighter.
Edited excerpt from Into the Swarm – Stories of RAF Fighter Pilots in the Second World War by Chris Yeoman & Tor Idar Larsen
On the 4th of May 1945, only four days before the war would officially be over, CO of 126 Squadron, Norwegian Arne Austeen, flew a Mustang III, registration number KH578, on a mission to the northern part of Germany. On this mission, Austeen and his squadron would accompany Bristol Beaufighters in attacking German U-boats in the Flensburgerfjord. As the squadron leader, Austeen dived down first towards the U-boats. This would make the task easier for the rest of 126 Squadron, as most of the flak would be directed towards Austeen and not them. U-155 was under command of Oberleutnant Friedrich Altmeier, and his anti-aircraft guns blazed at Arne during his dived. U-155 hit Arne’s Mustang.
The Mustang went down towards the sea with Arne still inside. With little altitude left, there was not enough time for him to get out. No chute was reported and Arne crashed into the sea. The Mustang went down at coordinates 54’55N 10’07E. No trace has ever been found of either the plane or of Arne Austeen – a tragic fate after surviving a whole four years as a fighter pilot. German official records include a letter written in 1977 that describes the attack.
Dear Mr. Künzel,
“Thank you very much for your letter from July 5th, 1977. I read about the incidents you describe with great interest. Of course, it is unfortunate that your photographs did not develop very well, but this may help for us to meet again “on board”, as you suggested. Like you told me, you have sat at the same table as Großadmiral Dönitz. How did that happen? How is he getting along? Did you speak with him as well?”
“After our time in the dockyard, we were ordered to depart towards
Kiel…In Kiel, we took on supplies…After the leader of the flotilla bade
farewell, we cleared the port and headed for Flensburg. We stayed there for a
few days and then received an order to sail for Norway.”
“In the bay of Gelting, some other boats were lying in wait. As far as I
know, our group was assembled there, consisting of the boats Altmeier, Niemeier
and ourselves. We sailed in with Altmeier leading, followed by Niemeier and
then us. As far as i can remember, in the afternoon, we sighted aircraft. This
could have been in the Kleine Belt area (Lillebælt), or maybe between the
island of Alsen and the shore. It was a beautiful day and the sun was shining.
After the air raid alarms went off, all stations were manned quickly on
board all boats. When the first aircraft turned in towards us, we knew the
attack was coming. The aircraft targeted the boat in the middle and approached
our group at low level. In the meantime, at least two more aircraft went into a
low-level attack. The first aircraft strafed the boat Altmeier and all of us
returned fire. The bullets splashed into the water and over the hull of the
boat. To this day, I cannot understand how none of the crew were injured.
Aft of the Altmeier’s tower, the aircraft overflew the boat and crashed
into the water. All this happened within seconds and, after the plane’s crash,
the other aircraft turned away and climbed. They circled our position for a
while at altitude and then they disappeared. To my knowledge, no bombs were
After nightfall Altmeier, Niemeier and I met for a short briefing.
During our voyage, the order arrived: “Complete Stop. Take no further
action. Await orders.” At that time, we were offshore near Fredericia, and
we destroyed some secret documents and the torpedo deflection aiming computer,
and we destroyed the torpedoes by firing them at the shoreline where they
detonated (this period is a dark shadow in my memory as we were dealing with so
many things at the time. We had to take down the flag and we finally got the
order to enter port at Fredericia. Everything else you will certainly remember
Dönitz certainly had a plan to reassemble the remaining ’U-Bootwaffe‘ ,
(which surely sounds like a bit of a fantasy) to continue the U-Boat war from
there, or (which seems more likely to me, although not very likely in the
situation) to have a better diplomatic starting point for negotiations with the
Allies. To my knowledge, setting course for Argentina has never been
“Those fairytales about Nazis and treasure seem to me to be wishful
thinking, and the scuba divers to U-534 will be disappointed in this regard, as
well. After the surrender, they came asking questions about Nazi officers on
our boat, too. That was the belief of the Allies; but I myself never met such
people on any of the U-Boats […].
German by Maik Lutterklas)
May 1945. The Squadron operations record book tells a short and tragic story; The
squadron led by Major Austeen set out to escort Beaufighters attacking shipping
amongst the Danish Islands in which the Germans were desperately trying to
escape to Norway. Whilst the Squadron was still away from base, having landed
on the Continent after the show, the news came through that Germany has given
in in Denmark, Holland and the remainder of NW Germany, so that this will
propably be the last operation over the European continent by this Squadron.
Occupied Norway and Czechoslovakia are the only big outposts of German resistance
May 1945. The squadron returned to base today after landing at Luneburg where
they spent the night after the operation on the day of the 4th. They
brought back the melancholy news that our Squadron Commander, Major Austeen,
had been shot down into the sea by a sumbarine while he was strafing it off the
Flensburger fjord in the Little Belt. He had only been with the Squadron for a
couple of months, but had already proved himself to be a very efficient
commanding officer. Our aircraft damaged four submarines before losing the
commanding officer, and the Beaufighters sank one submarine, damaged one D/D,
three submarines and one M/V of approx 5,000 tons.
ironically Arnes former squadron, flew with 126 on the mission and wrote the
following of Austeens tragic death;
provided escort for Beaufighters attacking enemy shipping off the coast of
Denmark. These vessels were trying to escape from Kiel and other ports. Our
Mustangs, owing to lack of petrol decided to leave the Beaufighters, after the
latter had attacked succesfully submarines and shipping, and headed south of
Lübeck. On the way three submarines were seen on the surface which were
attacked with m.g, and strikes were seen on all three huns before they submerged.
The Wing reformed, headed south again. On reaching Kiel Bay we saw four more
subs, escorted by flak ship. 64 Squadron and 126 Squadron attacked again,
seeing strikes again. The C.O of 126 Squadron, Major Austeen was seen to suffer
a direct hit from a U-boat and he went straight into the sea, on fire. After
re-forming again, the Wing carried on to Lübeck where they rendezvoused with
Gold section led by F/Lt Kelly who had continued in company with the
Beaufighters. The weather detoriated so the Wing landed at Luneberg. Here it
was that we met «old boys» of the Squadron F/Lt Gaze (ex C.O in 1942), F.O
Bernard (Bob) and F/O. Boots. During the evening, in the bar, the good news
came through that the Huns had surrendered to «Monty». Free drinks on the house,
consisting of Hock, Whiskey and Gin. The boys got shockingly «blotto». The C.O
took a jeep on a «looting» expedition to Lungeberg, and returned with some
booty. The party went on well into the morning, most of the boys sleeping
perforce, in the hospital with many ex. POWs.
The South-African, A.R Hall D.F.C, former squadron leader with a Dutch Spitfire squadron, wrote a letter to Arne’s mother after the loss of her son. A.R Hall arrived on the 7th to take over command of the Squadron, and it fell to him to write to Austeen’s mother about her son’s passing. Hall had met Austeen for the first time in 1942. During the intervening years, Austeen and Hall became good friends. Hall, as with many others, only had good things to say about Austeen. According to Hall, no one that met Arne had anything bad to say about him. Hall was also of the opinion that the attack on the U-boats was likely to have been 126’s last mission of the War, which did indeed turn out to be the case.
Dear Mrs Austeen
I wish I was writing
this letter under more happy cirumstances. It’s my duty to write to you
concering tragic events that have taken place, something I truly wish I did not
have to do. It is with great pain that I have to inform you that your son,
Major Austeen, has not returned from operations of war. I know this will be a
devestating blow to you. Please allow me to give you my deepest condolances,
and from everyone in the Squadron your son commanded, . Your son was very well liked, and was highly
regarded in the Squadron, something I hope will give you some comfort. For me, the loss of Arne is very personal, as
he was a dear friend of mine. I met him in 1942, and our friendship grew strong
in the intervening years. I liked and admired him greatly. All those he met
liked him immediately. I have yet to meet anyone who had anything negative to
say about Arne.
Arne excelled during
the War, and was, because of his skills and courage, awarded Norwegian war
medals as well as the British Distinguished Flying Cross (D.F.C.) He also participated
in the war against Germany with great energy, and was always to be found in the
heat of the battle.
It was so tragic
that Arne was shot down during an attack against German submarines not far off
the Danish coast on the 4th of May 1945, in what was most likely the
Squadron’s last offensive operation during the War.
We all miss him
deeply, and remember him with pride and dignity. You may with pride say,
“He was a man.”
The loss of Arne Austeen took a great toll on his fiancee, Ruth. After the war, she was always very hesitant to ask about what happened to her dear fiance, but her daughter, Elisabeth, understood that she had been engaged to someone who died during the War.
In the town of
Gjøvik, Arne Austeen is commorated on a monument in a park close to the train
and bus station. He is listed as the last of locals to loose their life during
the war. He was also given his own street in Gjøvik, named «Austeens Veg»
(Austeens road). It can be located just north of the high school, and across
from Gjøvik Hospital. For most people, Arne Austeen is a forgotten hero.
Per Waaler, a Gladiator-pilot on the 9th of April 1940, found himself in combat with German aircraft, and fired his guns. Later he got confirmation that he had shot down one of them. He was later shot down over Dortmund flying as a “second dicky” on a Halifax bomber on the 23th of May 1943. He was captured and, and emprisoned in Stalag Luft III for the remainder of the war.
“Fornebu Tower, this is Alfa Lima Kilo on holding 19 and all set”. “Alfa Lima Kilo enter 19 and hold – Alfa Lima Kilo cleared for take off, left turn” “Tower – Lima Kilo request permission to make a quick climbing left turn”.
We are given permission, and with full throttle we’re airborne. Landing gear retracted, and the Cessna Cardinal builds up speed parallel to the runway. At intersection we’re closing in on 100 knots, and we pull up into a left turn and 500 feet over the tower.
“Wow, this is almost like a fighter”, says Per Waaler.
On our way to Sørkedalen, we go through the rest of the instruments, and he’s clearly impressed with the great difference of the modern times with GPS, DME, VOR/ILS, ADF and autopilot.
Per carefully takes the stick and does a few controlled test movements. We’re soon over very known areas.
“In front of us is Storflåtan, and back there is Ringkollen” he says.
We fly past them both, and do a 180 degree turn with a 500 feet decrease in height. The Cardinal is quickly reaching 160 knots when we slide in over Storflåtan, and pulls up for another 180 degree turn. Again we find ourselves over Ringkollen, and in front we see the beauty of Randsfjorden. Per tells me about all the training he did with the Gladiator over the area. We continue towards Tyrifjorden and Per is getting housewarm. He pulls a superbly executed steepturn and is back to the days of youth. We go into a shallow dive, and with 160 on the clock we pull up into a beatiful stallturn to the left and then another to the right.
As with so many of us, there’s always questions to ask a man of Per’s calibre.
“What did it feel like to see German war machines in front, underneath – what was it like?”
Per tells me that during those days before the 9th of April, all the pilots were keen on getting that first “black line” above the fireplace in the mess.
“When the day came we were all so furious, and when I saw that bomber I simply had an immense aggression inside of me. And, I hit it. I got it confirmed as shot down later”.
I’m sitting here, flying and listening to a man who was involved in the first aerial combat ever over Norwegian soil.
We’ve cleared Drammensmarka underneath, and sets course towards Sollihøgda. We call the tower, and gets clearance for further flying to Kolsåstoppen. At the same time we’re notified of air traffic at 1500 feet. That is, underneath us. The old fighter pilot waste no time and spots them first. We fly past Kolsåstoppen and observe climbers on the mountain, then we fly to Stabekk and get permission to land on runway 19. Wheels and flaps out, and a silky smooth landing results in praise from the Gladiator veteran. We taxi in, and I ask him what episode from the war he remembers most vividly. Personally I have a feeling it might be the 9th of April 1940, or maybe the time in Ferry Command when he had a whole squadron of aircrafts landing, and literally crossing his own landing strip. Maybe the more brutal one, when he was to be checked out on Halifax bombers;
“It was on the 23th of May. I was assigned to Bomber Command, and it was to be my first of two missions as second dickie (co-pilot) before I got my own crew. We were supposed to go to Dortmund with a thousand allied bombers. We got quite close to the city before we were attacked by a Junkers 88 nightfighter. He fired on us and set fire to the the outer starbord engine. We got that engine under control, and continued towards the target, but the fighter attacked a second time. The Halifax caught fire, we were doomed. The captain gave orders to bail out”.
“Four men died, and four survived. I walked for several days, and tried to get back home. I stole a bit of milk in the morning for example, but was eventuelly caught and imprisoned in Stallag Luft III where I spent the rest of the war”.
“I also have to admit Rolf Torbjørn Tradins words in the air on the 9th of April 1940 “We attack, every man for himself” has also left an ever lasting mark.
Per Waaler was one of the first. He passed away 4 June 2014 in Oslo.
This piece is translated to English from Norwegian and is based upon Gunnar Støltuns meeting/interview with Per Waaler in the 1990s. Translated and published as an agreement between Støltun and Tor Idar Larsen that these stories should have a broader international audience.
A meeting with a legend, Oslo March 2011.
In 2011, Gunnar Støltun arranged for the author, Tor Idar Larsen, to meet the only remaining veteran of 9 April 1940, Per Waaler. The meeting was memorable.
«Yes, here they are now» Kari Støltun says and puts her coffee down. Downstairs, in the hallways at Gunnar Støltuns house, Per Waaler enters with Støltun himself close behind. Gunnar has picked up Per and is bringing him home for one reason; so I can meet this legendary Gladiator-pilot.
Per is the only remaining veteran of 9th of April 1940 at 93 years of age. Despite his age, Per still has his driving license intact. He is the proof that it’s very possibly to keep mind and body sharp even if the age is creeping up on you. Per was nearly retired the year I was born. That says something (but I have a feeling it says more about how young I am, than how old Per is).
Downstairs, Per is quickly reaching out, shaking my hand. He tells me that both him and his wife Ruth (originally from Canada) have read «Gladiator» and thought it was terrific. It feels a bit surreal getting a message like that from one of those who actually lived through the war, but I put on a brave smile, and thanks him for his kind words. He knows who I am, and he remembers the letter I wrote him almost six years ago. He sent a picture and an autograph in return. I keep it framed.
Going upstairs, and to the living room, Per is instantly curious about me; why I am writing about historic aviation, and why I got the «mad idea» of writing a book about one of his good friends. I explain as best I can, how it all started and where it [the book] is heading now. 15 years of interest in historic aviation packed into mere four minutes explanation.
Per gladly tells me about his years at the air force academy before the war, and the message they got on the radio from Rolf Torbjørn Tradin on the 9th of April 1940. He remembers that message very well (every man for himself, good luck).
«We should have shot more of them down» Per states seriously. He means it. I thought the result they did in their primitive Gladiators was more than impressive.
«Did you have altitude on them?» I wonder.
«Oh yes, we had plenty of height on them, we were in a perfect position,» Per says.
We talk about the years of war, and eventually focus on the short time Per had with a Halifax squadron before he was shot down on his first mission as a second dickie. We jump back to 1941 again, and I mention the injuries he got as an instructor in Canada. I’m pleased I read the book Pers pupil wrote about that fatal day. Per tells us that the aeroplane stalled during landing, and went straight in. It took months before he was on his feet again. The pupil was in fact an experienced one, and Per never expected him to do such a brutal mistake. Both of them had to pay for it. Physically, and I expect also mentally.
The most surprising to me is his explanation as to why he ended up in Bomber Command, and not with Fighter Command. He was, after all, a fighter pilot.
« I wanted to make use of myself in the best way possible» he tells me. Per felt that by the time he got on his feet again after the accident in Canada, the defense of Britain was secure. He was sure that he could do a more important work for the war effort being a Halifax-pilot than a Spitfire-pilot.
«But were you aware of their losses?» I wonder. I was quite surprised to hear his reasons for choosing Bomber Command. I always thought it was something he was ordered to do.
Per nods as confirmation. He knew.
The fact he chose to go to Bomber Command says all about Pers integrity and personality. I hardly thought it was possible that anyone wanted to fly bombers over Germany in 1943. Per is proof of the contrary. The bombers went down in large numbers, but he took the risk.
Bomber Command suffered heavy losses, and Per got to experience it first-hand. On his first mission to Dortmund, half of the crew of the Halifax he was on, lost their lives. Per got out of the stricken bomber in one piece, and started to make his way towards the channel coast.
«However, I had not really figured out how to cross the Rhine» he laughs.
He was captured after five days walking. Together with Marius Eriksen, he walked through the gate at Stallag Luft III. In this camp, Per would spend the last years of world war two.
Per remembers «The great escape» well, and the devestating result of the escape with all those pilots executed on Hitlers command. They thought the most serious that would happen if they were caught was a lone cell for a couple of weeks.
«Isn’t it interesting that it was two Norwegians and a Pole that were the only ones to get out alive?» I ask him.
«Oh, he wasn’t a Pole, he was Dutch,» Per replies, and corrects my mistake. He knew several of those who did escape and got executed, amongst them Norwegians Nils Jørgen Fuglesang and Haldor Espelid.
We keep talking, and all those familiar names pop up; Rolf Arne Berg, Tarald Weisteen, Oscar Albert Lütken, Arve Braathen, Svein Heglund and Ole Reistad. Per knew them all. They were his friends and collegues. I drop him the name Arne Austeen, and Per can confirm that he knew him too. I talk about about the street in Gjøvik in his name, and about the unknown grave in Germany that could be Austeens. Per listens with interest, and tells me it was all new to him.
Time is running fast, and Per have to get back to his wife Ruth. On the way back we drive towards Oslo, and Per can inform us that his parents got married in a church we drive past on our right hand side for exactly hundred years ago. I imagine that the area must have been slightly different back then.
Going up a small hill before we reach our destination, a car suddenly pops up just infront of our own. Gunnar steps on the break immediately, and avoids a head-on collision. The speed wasn’t all that great, but the cars would have been quite banged up nonetheless. Gunnar starts laughing, and says he can confirm with great confidence that even if he’s not 20 years old any more, his reaction is just as good as before. Per couldn’t agree more.
I shake Pers hand one last time before he leaves us for his beloved Ruth, and thank him again for taking the time to meet me. A few days before our meeting, I had spoken to Gunnar about being born just a little too late to meet all these heroes from world war two, and how one might get a bit jealous of those who actually did have the chance to do so. Per has gotten word about my feelings, and gives me one last comment before he goes;
«It’s me who should be jealous of you, you know, you will live a lot longer than me!» he laughs and waves goodbye.
So, if I am as lucky as Per and can celebrate my 93rd birthday, I will remember back to the day I met Per Waaler. I can proudly announce that I actually met one of the few who flew a Gloster Gladiator into battle on the 9th of April 1940.
This piece about Per Waaler is dedicated to Gunnar Støltun who passed away 12 September 2019.
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