“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 They encountered them west of Nesoddlandet, and threw themselves bravely into the fight in their outdated British Gloster Gladiators.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 shooting.
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 dropped.
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 yourself.
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 mentioned.”
“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 […].
(Translated from German by Maik Lutterklas)
4th of 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 left.
5th of 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.
64 squadron, ironically Arnes former squadron, flew with 126 on the mission and wrote the following of Austeens tragic death;
The squadron 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.
He was only 17 years old when Germany invaded Norway. He became an officer in the Royal Norwegian Air Force at only 19. Before even reaching 20 years old, he had shot down a total of nine enemy aircraft. Marius Eriksen was perhaps one the most talented Spitfire pilots the RAF had in their ranks. According to Wilhelm Mohr, Eriksen was “almost too good” for a Spitfire pilot.
Eriksen was born on the 11th of December 1923 in Oslo. His parents were Birgit “Bitten” Heien from Eikern and Marius Emil Eriksen from Skien. For most of his childhood, Marius lived in the outskirts of Oslo, very close to Holmenkollen and its splendid nature. Both his parents were people of the outdoors, and his father became heavily involved in alpine skiing. Marius took up their interest in the sport, and started ski jumping. By the age of 13, he was allowed to be a trial jumper during competitions in the famous Holmenkollen ski jumping hill. The young Eriksen continued to compete on skis and was called up for the Norwegian team for their participation in the world championship in alpine skiing in Zakopane, Poland, in 1936. Eriksen was then invited by the Italian team to follow them to Sestriere in Italy, and he happily accepted the invitation. In Sestriere he met a British girl who gave him her club scarf. He later used this scarf when he flew Spitfires with 332 squadron from North Weald.
Invasion and escape
Marius was at home in Oslo when the Germans invaded Norway. Still just a young boy, he was was more focused on the joy of skipping a few days of school than the invasion. Because of the familys close ties to the German and Austrian alpine skiing community, they let a friend from Germany stay at their house after Germany had taken control of the country. This would cause concern in the local community about his familiys motives. Eriksen was one day given information by a friend that Norway needed new pilots in Canada. This information started a process which led to his escape from Norway. By joining the air force and fight, he would clear his familys name and show everyone once and for all where their loyalties were. His escape from Norway started in October of 1940. Togheter with him in his escape were Jan Eigil Løfsgaard and Bjørn Bjørnstad.
The three friends made it to the town of Ålesund where they had plans of escaping by boat to the UK. They walked around in the harbour asking for anyone to take them further than what was normal for fishing boats, but to no prevail. The locals knew what they were up to, and did not want anything to do with them. Luckily they managed to get information about a little boat which possibly could take them to Great Britain. Without their knowledge, the boat was under supervision of Abwehr and part of their way of infiltrating the escape-route between Norway and Scotland. Eriksen and his group of friends made if safely to Lerwick within 30 hours time, on Abwehrs bill! In Scotland, Eriksen lied about his age and education to be accepted into the air force for pilot training. He was afterall only 17 years old.
Great Britain and 332 squadron
After a short spell in England, Eriksen boarded a ship bound for Canada and Norways training camp, “Little Norway”. He was lucky, and got Finn Thorsager as his instructor. Thorsager was a calm man who never yelled orders at Marius, but politely told him what he did right, and what he did wrong. With Thorsager teaching, the young lad flew solo after only six hours. After flying solo, Eriksen went up to Moose Jaw to get training on the Harvard. In November/December 1941 he boarded a ship for his journey back to Great Britain together with his friends Jan Løfsgaard and Rolf Engelsen.
Marius Eriksen then arrived at No. 61 Operational Unit at Heston, flying tired and old Spitfires from the Battle of Britain era. His instructor became Flight Ltn. Patrick Peter Colum “Paddy” Barthropp DFC, previously of 602 squadron. On Eriksens first flight in the Spitfire, Barthropp was rather quick in teaching him the instruments and forgot to tell him where the radio button was located. Eriksen landed safely again at Heston after his first nervous flight in the Spitfire.
Shortly after his spell at the OTU, Marius was sent to the newly formed 332 Norwegian Squadron at Catterick in Yorkshire. His first flight in a “Norwegian Spitfire” took place on the 3rd of April 1942. Together with Jan Løfsgaard, Marius took every opertunity to practise his skills in the air. Together with another friend, Eric Westly, Marius also got a dog which they named “Spit”.
On the 8th of May 1942, Marius got into his first fight with the enemy. Flying with Kjell Hanssen, he spotted a Junkers Ju88 over the North Sea. Both sides in the fight used up all their ammo, and so the battle ended with a draw. Eriksen was disappointed with the result, but excited over his first engagement. After running out of ammo, he had gotten very close to the German bomber, snapping pictures of the foreign bomber with his gun-cam. Back at the base, the pictures were simply deemed “too good” and Marius’ B-flight was grounded for two weeks as punishment. Reason? Putting war material in unecessary danger…
As 332’s sister squadron, 331, already was stationed at North Weald by May 1942, the 332 boys were hungry to follow their friends to the south. In the middle of June 1942, they finally followed suit. It didn’t take too long before Marius and 332 got into “trouble”. During one of these early missions from North Weald, Eriksen developed engine trouble and had to turn back to base. He got Ltn. Arve Aas as support going home. Just after turning, Aas’ Spitfire exploded. Without knowing, they had been attacked by Focke Wulf 190’s. It was a major blow to the squadron, loosing one of their flight leaders in such way.
Later that summer, he shot down his first Focke Wulf 190 over the coast of Northern France;
The Dieppe raid was a major event for Marius and all of his comrades. The Norwegians flew several missions that day, with Squadron leader Wilhelm Mohr leading the first mission, and Finn Thorsager leading 332 for the last three.
Marius could be a bit of a daredevil, and Wilhelm Mohr later told the author that Marius was almost “too good” in what he did. Marius, still very young, also needed a little bit of looking after according to his old squadron leader. He was also widely seen as perhaps the best pilot in the squadron in 1942 and 1943.
One of these rather daring moments happened during take off from North Weald. Eriksen was flying with his squadron leader and wanted to impress his boss during take off. He kept as close as he could to Mohr going down the runway, and instantly pulled up his wheels when he had reached flying speed. He heard a clackering sound, but didn’t think much of it, and finished off the patrol with no problems. Back at North Weald he quickly saw what the sound had been. He had retracted the wheels too early, and the propellors had touched the ground, bending the tips forward. Joking it away to his mechanics, they quickly put the jokes aside, telling him how lucky he had been.
Marius and Jan had developed a very tight relationship ever since they escaped Norway together. They were best friends, and stuck together through everything. Jan had become somewhat of a big brother to Marius. One day, their friendship would end. Together on a spot of leave in London, Jan left for North Weald a bit earlier than Marius. Quickly after he came back to base, he went out on his last mission. He was shot down by FW190’s on a sweep over France. He had been seen bailing out, and everyone had a glimmer of hope that Jan had survived. However, in January 1943 (Jan was shot down in October), the Norwegians got news from the French underground that Jan had been found shot dead on the ground. Marius always thought Jan had been shot in his parachute, but most likely he was shot trying to escape.
After the loss of his good friend, Marius started to drink more, and revenge filled his young mind. He also by his own account got more scared when flying, and didn’t trust himself as much as he used to. Marius was turning “yellow”. However, he kept going and his fellow pilots and friends tried their best to make him snap out of his condition. As Alf R. Bjercke later told the author, Marius was a superbly well liked person amongst the personell at the base.
Going into February of 1943, Marius got into battle once again. Alongside 332 squadron, Marius did several sorties escoring Americans bombers.
Once in London, met an American pilot in a club, and they got talking. Marius told him what type of flying he did in those days, escorting American bombers into France. The American proceeded to tell Marius the story of how him and his crew had been out on a mission to Dunkirk where they were badly shot up and lost four men before they ditched in the sea. A Spitfire had followed the bomber all the way which, according to the American, saved their lives. Eriksen stopped him in his tracks, and told the American the rest of the story. Marius had been flying the Spitfire. By an amazing coincidence, the two pilots had met in the air. The American started crying in surprise and gratitude.
Scramble wearing nothing but shortpants and a shirt
Perhaps the most interesting of all of Marius’ “kills” happened in April 1943. Already ordered on a rest period, Marius was at North Weald only wearing a thin shirt and shortpants. He did not want to go on rest, so he biked over to have a chat with fellow Spitfire pilot Werner Christie and asked if Christie could talk with the CO on his behalf. They agreed that while Christie would do so, Marius would take his place on readiness. Just as Christie left Eriksen, the alarm went off. Marius took Christies Spitfire, and climbed after a Junkers 88 reported in the area. He pushed the Spitfires engine so hard it needed a complete overhaul once he got back. Marius caught up with the enemy aircraft, managed to open fire at it.
A few days later, confirmation came in that the Junkers 88 had indeed been shot down. The plans were then drawn up to have Marius meet the German pilot, and bring a few items to the emprisoned German as a sign of friendliness. Most likely to see if the Allies could get information out of him. The British were especially interested in getting information about the engines and their performance in high altitude.
The meeting would not take place. Marius’ luck was coming to an end.
2nd of May 1943 would be Marius’ last day with 332 squadron. Leading Blue section, 332 squadron was attacked head-on by hords of Luftwaffe fighters. Marius ordered his section to break, but ended on a head-on course against a 190. None of the two backed out, and they both fired their guns going straight towards each other. Eriksens Spitfire caught fire, and he had to bail out. Unluckily, he pulled too hard on the hood releaser. He was now caught inside the burning Spit. Then everything around him exploded. Marius regained consioscness from the explosion while still in the air, and managed to pull the ripcord on his parachute. A German FW190 showed up, and went in for an attack on Marius, still in his parachute. The bullets went too high, and Eriksen got away with it. The 190 went in for another attack, but this time a lone 332 Spitfire came to Marius’ rescue, and he was safe. This could be the reason why Marius always suspected that Jan was shot in his parachute.
Prisoner of war
Marius was unlucky, and landed in the middle of several young German soldiers, barely 16 years old. He was taken to a hospital where a German doctor managed to cover up most of his wounds from the explosion and parachute landing. At the hospital, a few German pilots showed up, and Marius spoke to them not only about the dogfight he had just been in, but also of his contacts in Germany and Austria. The pilots were more than impressed, and even offered him a place in a squadron at the Eastern Front. Eriksen said a politely “no thanks”. Marius was then taken to Stallag Luft III, where he would spend the last two years of the war.
On the 12th of January 1945, the Russian started a major offensive, and all prisoners were ordered to march out of the camp, away from the Russian lines, only 20 km away. It was a long and very tough march, where Eriksen and his fellow prisoners lived on very little food, and slept outdoors in the rain. In retrospect, Marius understood that their march was far from bad compared to other death marches from concentration camps.
On the 2nd of May, Eriksen and his fellow prisoners were liberated by the British army in the area of Lubeck. In Brussel, Marius Eriksen and Rolf Engelsen, another friend from 332 squadron, ran into previous 332 pilot Olai Grønmark, now flying B-25 Bombers due to his much bigger body than what the narrow Spitfire could fit in. In the B-25, they flew back to London. Eriksen then went straight to North Weald, hoping to find his former friends from 331 and 332 still at the airfield. Little did he know both squadrons had left for the continent shortly after D-Day.
From Leuchars in Scotland, Marius got onboard a Lockheed Lodestar to Gardermoen outside Oslo (now Norways main airport). From there he found his way to Hotel Bristol in Oslo before he headed home to his parents after five years abroad. They greeted him in the street with flags and banners.
Marius Eriksen continued as a pilot with the Royal Norwegian Air Force from October 1945 to 1950, ending his time in the air force flying the first jet fighter Norway got, the de Havilland Vampire. He then joined the family business, a sporting good store in Oslo until the 1960’s. Marius took part in many national ski competitions after the war, and also joined the Norwegian olympic team in St. Moritz. In 1954 Marius also starred in a movie about fighter pilots.
Marius Eriksen sadly died on the 6th of July 2010.
When I arrived in Toronto in 1941, it had a population of 700.000. Outside Toronto, there’s several islands where people from the city have their summer houses. On the westside of one of these islands, Center Island, Norway had situated it’s air force recruiting school in some old barracks during the summer months of 41. The airfield was also situated at Center Island, and called Island Airport. The Norwegian Air Force also took over the airfield. From the airport you could take a small ferry over the small channel to Toronto. This is where Little Norway was located.
When I arrived there in the summer of 1941, most the barracks in Little Norway were already finished and put up. They lay nicely around a big lawn where we had drill commands twice a day. Eight o’ clock in the morning, and one o’ clock in the afternoon. In the fall of 1941, while I was still there, the two nicest buildings of them all were constructed. One of the was Radio City, as it was called. It consisted of two floors, and was mostly used a sleeping quarters. It was also used for lectures in the first floor. The other and most popular building of the two was the gymnastics hall with a sauna included. It also had study rooms in the second floor. The barracks were well constructed, they were perhaps much to nice to even call them barracks. They had central heating, and several layers of panel in the walls. They were also well equipped with showers and washbins. Our beds were stacked in two, on top of each other. Little Norway also had three kitchens, one for the privates, one for the sergeants, and one for the officers. The food from all three kitchens was always in good portions and well in taste. One of the barracks were designed as a hospital with doctors and dentists where skilled people were working. They had first class equipment for their work. In the cafeteria we could buy everything we wanted, even ice cream and sweets.
The camp was surrounded by a large and solid barb wire fence, and the camps own police force kept a close eye so no one could come inside or leave the camp. If we were caught sneaking out, we had to pay ten, fifteen or twenty dollars all depending on how long our ‘register of sins’ were. We always thought twice before trying, because there was so much we could use our money on but this. The north side of the camp bordered to the Maple Leaf stadium, and this place was a weak spot. It had a wooden fence which was very high. It was impossible to get over it, so no guards stayed much in the area. Some of the chaps had discovered this little fact, and one evening they went over there to saw a hole in the fence. They put a door in as well. For a long, long time they used this little door when they wanted to get in and out of the camp. The military police discovered the door in the end. One evening, when they knew their catch would be significantly high in numbers, they showed up in force and waited for their first catch. When the boys showed up, one after another was caught, and sent straight to a detention cell. Ironically, the camp police also had authority to do their work outside the camp as much as they did on the inside. They had razzias weekly in Toronto, and drove to restaurants frequently visited by Norwegians. If they found anyone intoxicated or making trouble in the city (usually both), they were caught without further fuss and brought back to the camp to sleep it off.
The Norwegians, at first, were very popular in Toronto. However, wherever Norwegians tend to go there’s plenty of alcohol and trouble to go along. After a while, the Canadians became more skeptic towards us. From what I know though, nothing ever got as far as newspaper headlines, Canadian girls being advised to stay away from dances we arranged, or banned to show themselves publicly with Norwegians in uniform. Quite the contrary, we were more than welcome in Canadian homes, and spent many evenings with Canadian families. Naturally, it was the daughter in the household that was of most interest to us. Most of the Canadian girls were sweet and charming. They were nice to talk to and easy to get along with. When we started to speak of skiing or sailing they didn’t quite follow us though. It was not difficult to keep the conversation going even we sometimes used very long and clumsy sentences to make ourselves understood. They helped us find the right words, and I am sure that many of us can thank the Canadian girls for improving our English.
The Norwegian Air Force in Canada was administered from Churchstreet 341, about 15 minutes from Little Norway. Commander of the camp, Ltn Colonel Ole Reistad, had his office here. This was the place where I would be meeting him when I arrived in Toronto. I showed up early in the morning. I discovered quickly I was not the only morning bird. Five or six others had already taken their place outside the building, all of them around my own, young age. It didn’t take long until we were chatting away. We had all arrived in Toronto the day before. One of them had come the same route as myself, from Montreal. Three others had worked in New York and arrived to volunteer. Another had travelled all the way around the world, and had just arrived from San Fransisco. Another had partly walked and driven from Portland, USA. He spoke a little sloppy, so I guessed he was a Norwegian-American. He told me he was born in Trondheim by Norwegian parents, but they had left for America when he was very young.
Our talk was interrupted when the door was opened, and we were showed into Ole Reistads office. He wanted to greet us. He wished us a warm welcome to Little Norway and Canada. He asked for our names, and showed keen interest in how we had managed to get ourselves to Toronto.
«We need all the people we can get,» he said, «because these days a whole lot of men are needed to keep the Air Force in good condition. I’m sure you all want to be pilots, but remember that not all can be up there. Each of you have to do as good as you can at the place which is right for you. Every man is equally important.»
This were words we would hear more than once from Reistad, and my own hopes of becoming a pilot sank a bit each time he said it. I already knew that each airplane needed about ten men on the ground. I had problems seeing why I would be the chosen one to fly these machines. However, I was firm in my decision to work hard towards the ultimate goal of learning to fly.
After this first interview with Reistad, things moved quickly. First we were rolled into the military ranks and each of us got his own military number. After that first day I was just another number, like everybody else. Then we would be vaccinated. I am far from happy about needles stuck in my arm, and when I already had been vaccinated in Stockholm four months ago, I brought evidence to prove it. I explained this to the doctor at Little Norway, and told him that I was more than fine in regards to vaccinations. It was simply a waste of time for him to vaccinate me. In return he told me that he had plenty of time, and it didn’t matter what I had done or had not done. So, the needle went in. My comfort was that I would most likely not get a fever and a couple of days in bed this time, as I had gotten in Stockholm the first time around. My arm was very sore and tender afterwards, and it didn’t make all those drills with a weapon any more comfortable later on.Next up was delivery of uniforms at the depo. We walked in our civilian clothes, and an hour later we returned outside in full military outfits. From war-paint to a steel helmet and a weapon – it was all there. I was finally in uniform. I was very proud walking out of the depo in my new battledress with a steel helmet on my head, a rifle on my arm and a big blue backpack filled up to its absolute limits. We were now going out to the training area at Center Island to learn the basics of military behaviour and discipline. It turned out that my class had already been at it for a week already, so yours truly and Harold Odman, the name of the Norwegian-American I had met at Reistads, had a bit of catching up to do. That first evening we found ourselves a spare room and available bunks. Harold took the lower bunk, I took upper one.
The next morning we were awakened by some horrible choice of music. It turned out to be the reveille. I do not like to get out of bed at the moment I wake up, so I decided not do it this time either. I did find it a bit odd that everyone else jumped out of bed at once and stood by their bedsides. Me on the other hand, turned the other way, and tried to go back to sleep. I never got much more sleep. A sergeant came roaring into the room, pulled the blanket off me and asked me if I had ever been taught normal behavior for a human being. I listened to him for a few minutes, and when his flow of words finally died out I tried to explain to him that this was my first day at basic training. I continued to tell him that from now I would be a good boy, and stand by my bedside when he showed up in the morning. We had one hour to wash up, eat breakfast, polish our shoes, do our beds and mop the floor. Time was short by the time we came to the breakfast part, but after a while, once we got into this system, we had a good amount of time to eat.
At eight o’ clock, it was time for the drill command. Harold and I were placed at the back. We would join the others for military parade. We had big trouble following the corporal in charge, so he gave up on us and promised to show us how it was done later that afternoon. We were seated on the lawn, looking at the others marching and turning. They did this until noon. We had an hour’s rest after that. Then it was back to these drill commands, and again more parading. After that we were given lessons about weapons, and at the end of the day we had an hour of gymnastics. It felt extremely good with a bath after such days, and we could take baths as much as we wanted too. After all, we only had about forty meters to go down to the lake. During those first days, both myself and Harold were feeling much too stiff in our bodies to even think of going out of camp. When we had finished with the parades and training, we simply dove into our bunks. We didn’t even have time to think about these wonderful days we experienced before we fell asleep.
As the days came and went, I got used to the life of being a recruit. I vividly themember all those inspections were some sergeant walked around and looked into the barrel of our rifles. If he found just the slightest bit of dust, another hour of cleaning was ordered. There were about a hundred men at the school while I was there, and practically all of them had sent in an application to join the Air Force. Everyone with the right qualifications, which meant being qualified for university or college education, was checked closely by a doctor before being accepted as combatants. Many of us were very nervous for this ‘test’ by the doctor. We had heard rumours it was important not to have high blood pressure. The result of this was that everyone ate a considerable amount of oranges for weeks before the test took place. If that helped or not, I have no idea, but I guess the main issue was that we thought that it could help us. The test was not as hard as it was rumoured to be, not for a person with normal functionality. Our lungs were tested by blowing up a column of mercury, and keeping the mercury up for 60 seconds or so. Our eyesight was tested to see if we were colour-blind, and if it was sharp enough. After that was over we were put up against a wall and X-rayed. We were by all means closely examined.
There was also an intelligence test involved. We had to answer a lot of basic questions in very little time. I was really nervous about this test after I had taken it. My impression was that I did not perform very well. I got even more nervous when I was called back in to do the test again. I sat down at the table once again, and started to answer the same questions. This time I did much better. It was very nice of the Air Force to give me a second chance, even if I didn’t really understand the point of serving someone the same intelligence test twice. I enquired further on the subject, told them I had taken the test twice, and asked if I had been completely hopeless the first time around. However, after further investigation it turned out that the entire affair was a misunderstanding and that I had not done so poorly on my first test either.
This first introduction to army life would be finishing off with a gathering with Ole Reistad present amongst us. We were all nervous about this too. Reistad though, seemed to be pleased with our results, and held a little speech in our honor. Once again he touched upon the subject about not all of us could become pilots and how this was the position that was most sought for. It was the pilot that brought results to the table and got the credit, but we had to remember – he told us, that each man had to do his duty wherever that may be. Not one of us could be spared, and we were all necessary for the Air Force to run smoothly.
After the gathering, we would be told which one of us that would be accepted for flying school. Only forty of us would be accepted, so tensions were running high. We tried to calculate which of us would be accepted. Discussions ran wild, and it was interesting why we tried to comfort and support each other. Finally the list was published, and both Harold and I were amongst the lucky few. We had reached one of our major goals.
We then moved to the heart Little Norway. A busy time was ahead of us, we realised that at once. We got a ton of books to read; navigation, radio, meteorology, engines, weapons, and geography. At the same time we got a schedule that started at eight in the morning and finished four in the afternoon with an hour rest in the middle of the day.
We spent most of the coming five months studying, but we still had drill commands and gymnastics. This was in the middle of August, so the weather was nice and warm. It was therefore hard to study in the afternoon for obvious reasons. Another rumour told us that the five lowest graduates would not be accepted to start flying, so that kept us on our toes.
It was during these days that I bought car. When I arrived in Canada, I had sent in an application, asking to be paid back my expenses for travelling all the way to Toronto. This application was accepted. I put all the money in the bank, and originally decided to let them stay there until the end of the war. However, one afternoon I was in the city with a friend, and he was looking to buy a car. We tried one car after another, and after a while it ended with me also having to purchase one. When I got back to camp that afternoon, the bank account was empty, but the car was mine. I had much pleasure from this car for as long as it lasted. When I had been driving it around for about six months, I ran into a big lorry and that was the end of it.
Harald and I drove all around Ontario on our time off. One weekend we went up to the Niagara Falls to look at this wonder that we had heard so much about. It was indeed an impressive sight, and it was an incredible amount of water falling off that gigantic cliff. But for some reason I was a bit disappointed. I don’t know why, but I guess I had too high expectations. Other weekends we visited villages close by. There was nothing to do in Toronto on Sundays or holidays. Theatres and cinemas all closed. No places to go.
Exams were closing in on me, and the speed of things increased. There was less and less time to do other things than studying. I stayed up, studying far into the evenings. I specifically had some problems learning about weapons. My problems were due to the fact that we had to learn all names of all the parts in English. With only two days to go until the exam, I felt I knew as little about weapons as when I started. I had no choice but to get hold of the different parts and weapons and lock myself into a classroom. I stayed there for 24 hours straight, learning the names of all these parts and mechanisms.
Some of the pupils started to doubt their own abilities to become pilots, and thought they wouldn’t make it. They were comforted by the teachers telling them there was nothing magical about the heavens above. The air was just like water, they told them. It also acted like water. He was sure that this was something most of us could relate to. Harold was one of those who walked around camp doubting his own abilities. It was later proven that he was a very skilful pilot. Harold was not yet up to par in Norwegian language, and he had problems understanding how to address different people the proper way. Every time he made a mistake, laughter broke out. He approached the teachers the wrong way, and had other issues with speaking in general. Later on, when we were sent to an English school, it was his time to laugh when it was our time to explain matters in his language.
All of us passed the exam, and we would now start flying for real. The next day, each of us got a parachute, packed our bags and left for Emsdale.