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Norways “few”

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 They encountered them west of Nesoddlandet, and threw themselves bravely into the fight in their outdated British Gloster Gladiators.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.

Gladiators at Fornebu, pre 9 April 1940

Rolf Torbjørn Tradin

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.

Per Waaler

Per Waaler

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 Thorsager

Finn Thorsager

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

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.

Dag Krohn

Dag Krohn

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.

Arve Braathen

Arve Braathen

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.

Finn Thorsagers Gladiator

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.

Finn Thorsagers Gladiator, still at Mjærvann, spring 1940

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.

Schyes Gladiator

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.