Category: History

Shot down over Dortumund – Per Waalers story

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.

Per Waaler (via Tor Idar Larsen)

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.

Norwegian Gloster Gladiators (via Tor Idar Larsen)

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.

The author and Per Waaler (Tor Idar Larsen via Gunnar Støltun)

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.

Handley Page Halifax, RAF Bomber Command

«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.

“Almost too good” – The story of Marius Eriksen

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.

Growing up

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”.

Marius Eriksen with Spit (via Tor Idar Larsen)

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.

332 Squadron pilots, Catterick 1942; Left to right: Thor Wærner, Peder Mollestad, Jan E Løfsgaard (?) and Marius Eriksen

The daredevil

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.

Jan E. Løfsgaard (Løffen). Marius’ best friend.

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.

Marius Eriksen seated on the wing of a Norwegian Spitfire V, most likely spring 1942 (via Tor Idar Larsen)

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.

Shot down

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.

A young Marius Eriksen, 1942-1943 at North Weald (Ole Friele Backer)


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.

Peace time

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.

333 sqd Mosquito-pilot Finn Eriksrud reflects back on his time at Little Norway in 1941

Excerpt taken from Mosquito Attack – A Norwegian RAF pilot at war

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.

Six Bostons to St. Omer

This is an excerpt from the book Viking Spitfire released in 2012. Finn Thorsagers own words are in italics. You can purchase the book here

332 Squadron were again sent down to Manston one day in November of 1942.

  “This is good stuff for a joke, but are we really suppose to do this?”

    The briefing room falls quiet at the words from the Norwegian pilot, Olav Ullestad. They’re all feeling rather poorly from last night’s party. Normally when “Zulu” Morris arranges parties in the officer’s mess, it’s when they have the next day off from flying. Not this time around. Finn and 332 have been sent down to Manston in the early morning, still with last night’s alcoholic beverages having an impact on their bodies. None of them knows what to say. It is the most dangerous mission the Squadron has ever been given.

    Mohr clears his throat after Ullestad’s comment, choosing not to reply to it, continuing with his briefing. Low cloud, bad weather – rain. Flying low, exposing themselves to massive amounts of ground fire. The Norwegians are shaking their heads in disbelief.

At a specific time, in a specific position, we would rendezvous with a squadron of Boston bombers. These bombers would bomb the airfield at St. Omer and then St. Ingelvert. We were to fly just ahead of them and shoot up flak batteries. It is pretty hard to meet up with other squadrons at low altitude, because we  can quickly disappear from each other’s view, due to our high speed. St. Omer was also one of the most heavily defended airfields in our area of operations.

“We’ve done some dangerous flying before, but this is just crazy you know….”

    Marius Eriksen, 332’s youngest pilot talks to Finn after the briefing. The tension is building. Both of them remember Mohr’s choice of words during the briefing: ”The survivors from St. Omer will proceed to St. Ingelvert to do a second low level attack.”

    Eriksen and Finn head for their Spitfires lined up on the field; Finn with his regular AH-J, and Eriksen in AH-P. With Eriksen strapped in his cockpit, waving a short and gloomy goodbye to Finn, he walks the last meters down to his own Spit.

    “Finn, wait a minute.”

    It’s Mohr, catching up with him on his way to AH-W.

    “Listen, I got hold of Wing-Co Duncan Smith on the telephone. He tried to cancel the entire affair, but it was simply impossible. He couldn’t talk them into dropping this doomsday show”

    “At least he gave it a try. Can’t ask for much more” Finn replies.

    Mohr seems tense and nervous when he walks down to his Spitfire and grabs the parachute from the wing. It’s a rare sight for Finn to see their boss like this.

   Waiting to take off, Finn lights a cigarette and smokes it quickly. Finishing it, he starts on another one. The nerves are running high, and he wants to calm them down with the old trick of a few puffs.

    To his left, Thor Wærner and the Dane, Kjeld Rønhof, get ready in their cockpits. Finn can hear Wærners nervous voice before he jumps up on the wing of his Spitfire:

    “Well, goodbye then Kjeld. We won’t be seeing each other again.”

    It sends shivers down Finn’s spine. The chaps are giving themselves little chance of survival, and with every right. It’s verging on a mission of suicide.

At 09:30, they’re all ready. 12 Spitfires ready for take off from Manston with Wilhelm Mohr leading. It’s a solo escort, without the rest of the Wing. Only 332 this time around, and just six Boston bombers to look after. The task will be difficult. Trying to keep track of the bombers in poor weather and low cloud is terribly hard work. In addition, they get the task of doing low level strafing on machine gun posts and flak postions around the airfields before the Bostons come in. Even if the Luftwaffe doesn’t show up, there will be plenty to do.

    Small particles of water hit Finn in the face when he straps into his Spitfire. Light drizzle is not the best Spitfire weather. He simply has to hope for the best, and that the weather does keep itself steady enough for the mission. They have to get those bombers over to France, and back home again. It feels like an impossible mission being in front of those bombers, beating up extremely well defended airfields.

“Friendlies in sight!.”

    Just five minutes after take off from Manston, Mohr spots the slow bombers in formation over North Foreland, just barely touching the extremly low cloudbase. Mohr gives his messages over the radio, and Finn spots the bombers just where their boss told them they would be. They’ve made contact.

    Just under the dark, grey clouds, 332 is flying ahead of the bombers heading for the French coast. Over Calais, the Germans fire their first rounds towards them. The bombers keeps on flying courageously towards St. Omer as if nothing has happened, never wandering off their course.

    Finn looks over to his left.  He has one of the Bostons relatively close, just a little behind. He can vaguely see the pilot and the men behind their machine guns. The pilot stares ahead, busy keeping in formation, while the flak is exploding around him.

    Suddenly, the Germans hit their target. The explosion rips through the doomed bomber. It steeply rises up in the air with half of the bomber already engulfed in a massive fire, before it flips over and crashes into a farm in a gigantic ball of fire.

No one saw any parachutes. The bomber was too low for any of them have a chance of getting out. Now, there are five left and they still have a good way to go before reaching their target.

We continued flying in a zone with plenty of flak, and we saw tracers fly everywhere around us. To avoid German flak as much as possible on these missions, we had to fly as ’wild men’, up and down, and turn as much as possible. It was also important to stay as low as possible. Sometimes, we came back with leafs and branches on our Spitfires.

332 crosses the coast just six miles east of Calais. A hailstorm of ground fire meets the Norwegians from the sand dunes. Finn spots one of the Norwegians open fire on one of the several Germans positions on the beach, and the German soldiers around it, falls dead to the ground. 

    Suddenly it goes quiet again. No hostile Germans, just friendly French civilians waving a warm welcome to their squadron of Spitfires.  Finn keeps his Spitfire as low as he possibly can, supporting the Bostons. They have no choice, over them there’s just a massive layer of cloud.

   Then the fire opens up again. They have no choice but to fly through it, and Finn desperately tries to make himself smaller where he sits. Then it happens; one of the Bostons gets it bad. The big bomber suddenly pulls sharply upwards before it stalls and goes straight down. Finn can clearly see a Spitfire by a hairs bredth avoiding a collision with the stricken bomber. With it’s bomb load still intact, the explosion is enormous. It crashed into a French farm, totally destroying the entire group of farming houses. No one had a chance, not those in the bombers, and not those on the ground.

    Finn has no time to think more about the incident, as the squadron race into another heavy rain shower with the Germans still firing everything they got at them. Taking his eyes off the horizon in front for a mere second, Finn can spot a church to his right. His eyes are wide and shocked when he realize he have to look up to see the chuch spire.

Closing in on St. Omer, the Bostons are already split up. 332 leaves the Bostons to do their job, and Mohr leads the squadron up. Finn breathes out in relief when they finally have a little height and go into «line abreast».

     “This is Red 2. My glycol system is hit!”

    Finn sees Red 2, Thor Wærners Spitfire, in the formation. White smoke pours out of the doomed engine.

    “I will try to climb for altitude and bail out!”

    Wærner pulls his Spitfire upwards. With not enough speed, and a bad engine, it will never hold. He will never manage to get enough height to take to his chute. Wærner realizes the same just seconds after Finn and aborts the climbing, tipping the nose of his Spit down again.

    “This is Red 2. Good luck, boys.”

    Wærners voice is cracking up, full of horror.

    “I think you need it more than us.”

    A Norwegian pilot responds to the galant message from Wærner.

    Finn can see the glycol is gushing over the Spitfire’s windscreen. He can see him aim for a small field just ahead. The last thing he sees is the wheels appearing underneath the ill-fated Spitfire. The field is big enough. With a little luck, he will make it there safely. However, poor chance of seeing Wærner again anytime soon.

“Bandits, ten o’ clock!”

    The warning is given. There are definitely Germans around. Finn sights the formation of 190s ahead, just where they were reported to be. They are a good distance away from the flak that 332 have to endure. They won’t attack as long as 332 is being fired at from the ground. Too risky. If none of the 332 Spits drop out of the formation, they will be relatively safe for the time being. It’s more than enough to handle the stuff they get from the ground.

   The Bostons finally give up their mission with the call of 190s in the area. They drop their bombs wherever they may be around the St. Omer area and heads up into the cloud to fly home.

    332 climbs to 6,000 feet, into the deep grey clouds, and heads for home. The Germans fire off their last rounds just when the clouds give them cover. They’re out of the worst part now, with one man less than they came with. Flying into the fog, Finns Spitfire is met with a wall of rain, hail, and wind. He doesn’t care as long as they get themselves out of France. A few minutes longer and he’s convinced more of them would have gone down.

    Halfways over the channel, Mohr gives a call for them to drop out of the clouds again. Finn can breathe more easily now, but his body is still shaking from the low flying and extensive ground fire they had to endure for so long. Mohr reports a sighting of oil on the water in the channel, and they circle the spot until another squadron of Spitfires takes over.

Finally approaching Manston, Mohr calls up on the radio, asking specifically to be given room to land first. Mohr says he can smell fuel in his cockpit and needs to land at once. Finn can see him go straight in for landing, and looks to be alright.

We finally got back to Manston where we had a de-briefing with the intelligence officer.

The fog slowly covers Manston like a grey carpet and engulfs 332’s Spitfires in wet drizzle. Most likely they have to stay at Manston for the night. Shaken, Mohr had got down in one piece, his engine stopping when he touched the ground. A couple of bullets had hit his fuel system. Jolly good luck he made it home in one piece. Johan Gilhuus had been the Spitfire who just avoided the Boston hitting the farm. With a gloomy face, he had told them all that he was so close he had seen the face of the tailgunner of the Boston before it hit ground.

    Finn can’t deny the fact that even with a bad result, 332 did pretty well in a very difficult situation. A near to perfect rendezvous with the Boston bombers in horrid weather conditions. They never lost their place in the formation either, even with plenty of flak and lots of poor luck. Even if the result was not the best, they showed superbly good work as a team. Something to be pleased with, indeed. And, they had all gotten away with it. All except one.