Mission to Sjaelland with HAL BB378 In Danish Updated: 01 MAR 2015
The following account was written by F/O C.W. Fry describing an important mission to the Danish island of Sjaelland in December 1943. Fry served as the navigator on a Halifax bomber which was to carry an army intelligence agent back to Denmark and drop him by parachute into a prearranged location. In addition to the agent, the Halifax was also assigned to drop a supply of ammunition and guns for the Danish underground. Other members of the crew included Pilot — Fl/Lt A. C. Bartter, Co-Pilot — WO F. Turvic, Navigator — F/O C. W. Fry, Bomb Aimer — F/S B.A. Atkins, Wireless Operator —F/O E. Howell, Flight Engineer — Sgt. N. Anderson, Mid-Upper Gunner — Sgt. S. C. Smith and Rear Gunner — Sgt. L. W. Riggs. This story was submitted to CONTACT by J.Laird Nicholson with permission from Joe Fry. We call this story:
MISSION TO SJAELLAND Friday, December 10/43
We are off tonight on our most important assignment to date, a job we have been standing by for, for about ten days already. Three times in the last week we have been briefed and made all preparations to go but each time the flight has been scrubbed because of fog. Originally we were routed by way of Norway and Sweden and then across to our target in Sjaelland, the large island east of the mainland of Denmark. We were to fly up to Kinloss in Scotland and set course from there. Our return route was to be the same as the outgoing route. Tonight however, we are to set course from our home base at Tempsford, near Cambridge and fly to a DR position 90 miles west of Denmark, crossing the Danish coast at Nissum Fjord, across Jutland and over to Sjaelland and over target. The fog is beginning to lift and it is beginning to look as if we are finally going to get this trip over with. Take off time is 20:10, rather early because it will be an 11 or 12 hour trip.
We are all set to go now with our general briefing and meteorological briefing over. The weather promises to be very good once we get away from the remaining lot of fog which is still hanging around. It will be a full moon tonight so we shouldn't have much difficulty in pinpointing and picking up our target — a small field north of a heart shaped lake in the center of Sjaelland (here, overview here). We had a rather long crew briefing with army intelligence as it is an important job. We are to take an army intelligence agent back to Denmark and drop him by parachute in the field where a reception party will be waiting. They will be flashing a white light with the identity letter "G." Besides the 'Major,' we are to carry a load of ammunition and guns for the underground. These are also to be dropped by small parachutes. Everything is packed in large containers, packed so they won't be damaged or explode when they strike the ground.
Now, off to the mess for our flying supper. Bill Howell, Wireless Air Gunner, Pete Bartter, Pilot and myself, Navigator, rode up to the Officers' Mess on our trusty bicycles. The rest of the crew; three sergeants, one flight sergeant and a WO1 (going on his first trip with us for experience) eat in the Sergeants' mess. The bacon and eggs sure taste good at a time like this, especially when you can look forward to 10 or 12 hours in the air sitting in a none too comfortable seat.
At seven we went down to the flights, drew our parachutes and dinghies. Nick Anderson, our engineer, drew our flying rations — double rations tonight; oranges, two cans of tomato juice, chocolate bars, gum, glucose tablets and some Benzedrine tablets (pep tablets). Besides, each of us carried an escape kit — enough for a day or two in an emergency. I must have had some premonition of trouble ahead as I left a letter with the duty officer giving instructions where to send my clothes in case I went missing; or perhaps it was because it was our toughest job to date. We got our '23:30' from the duty officer ( a meteorological forecast giving the winds and weather on the trip going out and coming back). Then we met the 'Major' and were all set to go. So out to the aircraft, a Mark II Halifax — a brand new aircraft. After the usual runup and equipment check, we were all set to get cracking.
But from the beginning, things seemed to go wrong. Riggs, the tail gunner, reported that the perspex in his gun turret was covered with ice and frost. So we had to wait while the ground crew could get it cleared. They also sprayed the wings to prevent icing. Finally we were ready to go again and started to taxi around the perimeter track. The moon was just coming up and with a bit of ground fog around, it was difficult to see. All of a sudden when we were going around a corner — Bingo!.. one of the wheels went off the strip. When this happens to a 27 ton Halifax, the aircraft is bogged down. It looks as if we had had our trip for the night. Out we climbed, into the transport and back to the flights to stand by in the crew room. Everybody was in a rotten mood. We would have to do the trip sooner or later anyway and every time it was scrambled, it made us think more of the trip. Everybody's nerves are getting jumpy. Nick was cursing a blue streak.
The ground crew got cracking however and brought out a tractor and some sort of hoist equipment and finally got 'H for Harry' back on the perimeter track. Orders then came through. We were to go back to the aircraft and have another stab at getting away.
This time we got around OK and took off at 22:10 — two hours late — so we'll be coming home in daylight, a thing which doesn't please us very much. We set course at 2000 feet above base for our DR position off the coast of Denmark. After crossing the English coast at Cromer, we came down to about 400 feet above the water to cross the North Sea so that the enemy could not pick us up so easily with his RDF equipment. What a wizard night! Not a cloud and the moon was very bright, in fact, a little too bright for our liking. Our special equipment was working well and we were keeping pretty well on track, so I had a couple of drinks from my thermos of coffee and ate an orange.
On ETA at our DR position, I was able to get a fix and altered our course for Nissum Fjord. The skipper began to climb gently so that we could cross the Danish coast and be able to pin-point accurately. We crossed the coast and Tommy Atkins, the Bomb Aimer, identified it as Nissum Fjord and we altered course immediately and came down quickly until we were flying at what seemed to me to be just above the tree tops. Everything was going swell. There was very little wind making it rather easy to stay on track. Visibility was perfect in the moonlight and we could easily pick out roads, rivers and villages. Denmark is very flat and ideal for our type of work with low flying. After crossing the strip of water (Store Baelt), we hit Sjaelland right on track and set course for our reception point with an ETA of 01:45 hours. We identified the heart shaped lake and found the reception party flashing 'G.' Just then Tommy shouted, "I saw the shadow of another aircraft cross beneath us." We all thought he was seeing things and Bartter continued to circle with flaps down preparing to make the drop. The 'Major' was all set to jump. Then Nick in the astrodome reported seeing the aircraft, a JU 88. Now we knew Tommy wasn't talking through his hat. We were at 800 feet then, and Bartter immediately got his flaps up and dived to get away from the attack. However, the JU 88 pilot was hot stuff. He attacked first from the port side and his cannon shells ripped through the forward positions in the aircraft. Shells screamed over our heads and Tommy and I dove for the floor. If my face was as white as Tommy's, we must have looked pretty scared. Pieces of fuselage came right inside with the force of the shells. One of them hit the intercom system just above and in front of Bill Howel's (Wireless Operator) face and so, we lost the only means of talking to the different members of the crew. The gunners were unable to give Bart directions as to which way to turn.
In his next attack, the fighter had us at his mercy but Riggs was peppering him with his tail guns and the smell of cordite was choking us. Nick reported that one of the starboard engines or a petrol tank was hit and on fire — I never did find out which. The flames soon spread and the whole starboard wing was on fire. We were too low to bail out so Bart gave the order "crash positions." He had to yell due to the unserviceable intercom system and all I heard was "crash" but it was enough. We got back to the rest position in about zero seconds flat and the seven of us sat huddled together waiting. The few seconds we had to wait were about the longest I've experienced. We could easily hear the flame burning on the wing and Gerry followed us almost to the ground firing all the way. Finally the crash and the second bump and we started clamoring out of the upper escape hatch. Every second counted for we knew the petrol tanks over the ammunition would blow at any time. Everybody got out and away from the aircraft in time. It sure was a mess - the nose of old Harry was smashed to bits and I don't know yet how Bart got out. We got rid of our flying suits and then started to run for a nearby hedge about 200 yards away. The 'Major' headed in the opposite direction at once. It would be rather bad if we were ever caught with him. We no sooner got in the shadows behind the hedge when the aircraft blew up. We stood for a minute watching her burn and then started making our plans.
We decided on Tommy's suggestion that the officers go together and the sergeants split up. If we were taken prisoner, officers would go to one prison and NCO's to another. So we shook hands all around and Bart, Bill and I headed north. The others split up into two's and three's and headed east. That's the last I ever saw of them. I found out I had a deep scratch on my wrist and it was bleeding, so Bart lent me his handkerchief and tied it up for me. Then we started walking to put as much distance as possible between us and what was left of our "H for Harry." We stuck to the shadows along the hedges and kept away from any farm houses and finally came to a little creek where we had a drink There we sat under a big tree and with a knife, cut our flying boots down to walking boots. Bill then suggested we toss the tops into the creek. We started off again walking always north by Polaris. We had formed a rather faint plan amongst us to try and get to the coast at the north of the island and then try somehow to get some sort of a boat over to Sweden.
Taking advantage of every bit of woods and hedge we finally arrived at the top of a hill after 4.00 a.m. When we looked back we could still see our aircraft burning and giving off clouds of smoke. We knew Jerry would certainly have discovered it and would be searching the neighborhood for us. Dawn started to break about 7.00 a.m. to find us still walking. By now I was just staggering along. Bart was getting slower and slower, bothered by a bad knee which he had wrenched in the crash, so Bill and I had to stop and wait for him from time to time. Cover seemed to be getting harder to find and we frequently had to pass very close to farmhouses. Although it was now becoming quite light, we had no alternative but to keep on going until we found a woods big enough to hide in during the day. Passing one farmhouse we decided to climb up in a big haystack and hide for the day but found it very wet and decided against it. Then we thought we'd take a chance and went into the barn.
Here we had our first attempt at trying to make ourselves understood to a farmer who had just come out to do the milking. We tried everything to try and make him understand, even flapping our arms like a bird to show him we were fliers and were very hungry. I think he understood but was too frightened of being caught by the Germans to help fliers. But his wife came out with five little apples and we were on our way again. I wouldn't have believed there could have been so much energy in a little apple. About 8.30 a.m. we finally came along the shore of a huge inlet near the woods we were looking for. We found a thick bunch of balsam trees and crawled under the lower branches, out of sight, and lay down on a makeshift bed of dead branches.
Bart then opened his escape kit and we had a piece of chocolate bar between us. Some breakfast! But as we had no idea how long we would have to live like this, we knew that what little we had might have to last a long time. What a day — the longest day I've ever spent and I think the coldest! We were in our battle dress and none of us had hats or gloves. The weather was below zero and although the sun was shining, we got none of it in the shade of our balsam trees. Finally our feet got so cold we took our shoes and socks off and rubbed the circulation back into one another's feet. To add to our worries, we discovered we had chosen a place in the woods where a bunch of wood cutters were at work cutting down trees and splitting them up into firewood. We had to be quiet. One wood cutter passed within 30 feet of us with his horse and cart and a load of wood, but fortunately, he didn't discover us. At the time we didn't know whether the language he was using to encourage the horse was Danish or German.
We found that we had only about five cigarettes between us and these were soon gone. Bart had his pipe and a bit of tobacco and this didn't last long either.
During the day we studied our map of Denmark, went over and over the distances we had walked before and tried to make some plan of action. We had walked about 20 miles but it seemed like a hundred to me. We found the woods we were in on the map and found we were on the north west side of an inlet jutting in off the north coast. We decided then to head south again and then east and work our way nearer Sweden. We discovered it would be impossible to cross to Sweden under our own steam in a small boat.
About 4.30 p.m. it was beginning to get dusk and we started walking again, this time south. Again the moon came up and we had to be very careful. About 6.30 we had our closest call. Walking about 100 yards from the shore, we came over the brow of a little knoll and ran smack into a German sentry. The only thing we could do was to walk on as nonchalantly as possible and hope we weren't challenged. We walked on with our hands in our pockets whistling through pretty dry lips. How the sentry didn't recognize three British airmen in battle dress and in bright moonlight I'll never know. Every moment we expected him to shout 'halt' (or the German equivalent) but he didn't, although he did see us. We were lucky to get away with that. We crossed a railroad and then came to a main highway. It took us some time to get across. Several times German cars went by and we had to fall flat on our faces on the ploughed ground to avoid being seen. Finally we got across and started out again across the fields. When we decided we were far enough south, we headed east. All the time we were getting hungrier and hungrier and made up our minds that sooner or later we'd have to take a chance and go to a farmhouse for food.
Crossing one field near a farmhouse, an old man yelled at us and ran after us. I think he thought we were trespassers at first, but then he seemed to understand we were Allied airmen. He jabbered away in Danish. We made foolish looking signs to show we were hungry and pointed to our mouths and rubbed our stomachs. His face beamed and we thought he had caught on. But he reached in his pocket and pulled out a piece of black tobacco of some kind. We finally gave it up as a bad job and continued on our way.
At the next farmhouse we came to, we decided we'd go and try our luck. As we came up, we met two farm hands pushing bicycles and they stopped. They couldn't speak much English, but Bill with his Spanish, and Bart with his Italian made them understand we were hungry and they took us up to the stable with about 25 Jersey cows. Boy, that place was warm! We sat around on milk stools while one of the farmhands went up to the house and came back with some sandwiches with real Danish homemade cheese. But just as we were leaving, he ran after us and somehow made us understand that someone who spoke English was coming over to see us. We went back to the stable to wait while one of them went to fetch him. About a half hour later, he returned with the chap. What a break! He was a farmer who had spent 15 years in Canada, near Winnipeg.
When he saw 'Canada' on my battle dress, we were all set. He took us to his farmhouse about one half mile away and from then on things were okay with us.
His wife couldn't speak a word of English but she knew all about English airmen and set out to make us feel at home and brought us more to eat along with some tea. It sure was great to get eating again! Meanwhile, one of the farmhands peddled 20 miles on his bicycle to bring a man from the underground chain to us. We made arrangements to have someone come and pick us up in the next day or two. So we went to bed, the three of us sleeping together.
Sunday morning (Dec.12/43) we stayed inside the house and played cards to put in the time and listened to the radio. We went out one at a time to use the toilet in the barn (early in the morning). At noon we had the best meal I think I've ever had. For just the three of us, she set out two whole chickens with mashed potatoes, gravy and vegetables. Besides that, we had homemade bread and real Danish butter as white as snow. For dessert we had some kind of fruit cake covered with about an inch of whipped cream. Wow, what a cake! The coffee wasn't so hot, but Danish coffee was about 3/4 chicory to begin with.
Just as we were finishing our meal, a Danish squire came with clothes for us to wear. Bart got a real good fit, a dark suit with a bowler hat — made in London too. Bill got a brown suit and blue hat and I got a grey one, but no hat, and an old brown coat The squire told us an ambulance would call for us sometime in the afternoon. The squire gave us 300 kroner in Danish money, so with what we already had, we would be all set for awhile as far as money was concerned. We said goodbye and the -squire left. We didn't ask anyone their names in case we were caught.
About 13:30 the ambulance came, and the driver, who was dressed in uniform, and a lumber dealer, who was to look after us, came in. We sat and talked for a while and then, changed our clothes. Bart shaved off his moustache, gave our wings away as souvenirs and told the farmer to destroy our clothes. Finally, we said goodbye, thanked the farmer and his wife and went to the ambulance one at a time. They drew all the curtains and we set out for Copenhagen. The first town we came to was Roskilde where we stopped for a while. They drove the ambulance inside some sort of a garage (or ambulance centre) and here we met the squire's brother. He gave us several packs of cigarettes — pretty awful tobacco — and I got a hat — an old sailors hat. Most of the men could talk fairly good English so we sat and talked for a while before setting out again. While driving through the streets we saw several German soldiers hanging around the streets watching the girls go by.
Finally, about 4:30 in the afternoon, we got to Copenhagen, stopped the ambulance, and were whisked, one at a time, down the street about a block into some kind of a club where a party was going on. We were introduced all around and given a drink of schnapps. What a drink! It burned all the way down to my toes. After about half an hour they told us we were going to go by taxi to an apartment. We were to speak not a word in the taxi. They took us to a small apartment and made us feel right at home. We were to stay there until arrangements could be made to get us across to Sweden.
They left us alone, locked the door and told us not to answer the door if anyone came. About eight o'clock they returned, three couples of them. They had a birthday party arranged and weren't going to postpone it just because we were there. They brought food for us and a whole cardboard box filled with gin, rye, scotch and Pilsner beer. One of the girls (married) was the prettiest redhead I've ever seen, with a swell figure and a voice like... She spoke broken English and I think our three pairs of eyes hardly left her for the whole evening. We ended up singing 'God Save the King' and 'Rule Britannia.' They kept asking us when the Allies were going to invade Denmark. We promised to come back and see them after the war. When the party broke up, they made beds for us on the floor. I slept on the chesterfield. At noon they sent a man up with more sandwiches (smorgasbord) and made tea for us — also a couple of Pilsner. We spent our time looking at some of their snapshots and Bart and I played "patience" at a penny a card turned up. The bum never did pay the 34 cents I won.
Somehow they got word to the "Major" and during the afternoon he came to see us. He had gotten away quite easily. The Major brought us more cigarettes and then went to see someone about taking us across the water to Sweden. They came back around seven o'clock that night.
We were taken again by ambulance through the German sentries on a bridge and over to a small island where we were to wait until our next part of the journey. After getting out of the ambulance, we met a sailor who was to look after us from then on. We then shook hands all around. I felt very much alone after they left as they seemed so sure of themselves.
The sailor took us to a cottage down by the water — a really swell little cottage which belonged, evidently, to a sailing man for he had pictures and model sailing boats everywhere about the room. After half an hour, two young Danish chaps, about 16 years old, came to take us to another house. Evidently they had an idea the Germans might be coming to take over the house as living quarters. Several houses had been confiscated in that area in the last couple of days. So we set out again.
They warned us not to do any talking, although once one of the boys asked if we were armed and seemed quite surprised when we told him we weren't. Although they were so young, they had revolvers and seemed quite hardened to this sort of thing. We went into the dark house and right upstairs to one of the rooms, a bedroom. They lit a candle and told us their plans. The sailor was to pick us up at 7:00 a.m. the next morning and take us to the boat. Then the three of them left and we started on the longest night I've ever spent. We sat up for a while and talked and ate a few more of our sandwiches. It was plenty cold in the room so the three of us tried to get some sleep on the chesterfield. When we got tired and cramped in one position, everyone would shift and we would lie the other way for a while. Once we heard an aircraft circling around the bay and it gave us a couple of bad moments thinking of German aircraft again. We did a lot of talking, for each time one of us would awaken, it would awaken the others too. We kept wondering how the rest of the crew was doing and whether or not they had been taken prisoner.
Finally, the night passed and the sailor came back to take us down to the boat. We went through the backyard to a walk along the water. The thought kept running through my mind how awful it would be to be caught now when we were so near to getting away. We came to the dock and the fishing boat, a small motor boat. We were told to go down into the hold right away. It was very cramped, wet and smelled of fish and oil. After ten minutes, someone opened the trap door above us to, evidently, conduct an inspection of some kind. Our hearts were really in our mouths. But luckily, whoever it was, didn't discover us. If he had tilted his flashlight a few degrees he would have seen us! Its mighty hard to stay absolutely still and quiet when something really depends on it. We finally got under way. The boat wasn't very fast, but each time the old motor chugged, it brought us that much nearer Sweden and safety. About 9:00 a.m., one of the deck hands told us we could come up on deck because we were inside the three mile zone around Sweden and therefore, safe from any German interference. It was swell to get up on deck even though the wind was bitterly cold. To take a big breath of fresh air while leaning against the mast, and saying to yourself, ' I got away from those bloody Germans'... boy, what a feeling!
Soon we were entering the harbour of Malmo on the south shore of Sweden we docked, and the skipper — a Swedish fisherman — handed us over to the dock authorities.
Our story to the Swedish police was that we were political refugees. They bought the story with tongue in cheek. We were then turned over to the British legation in Malmo which took us to Stockholm. Our only duty was to report each day to the ambassador. We were given money to buy civilian clothes and I still have a dressing gown I purchased.
We were somewhat of a rarity around town — most downed Allied airmen headed south through Europe to Spain through the Pyrenees. There were of course some German servicemen interned in Sweden as well. When some of our people were released, an equal number of Germans were also released. When our turn came up, we flew back to Kinloss, Scotland on the only commercial airline still operating.
After Kinloss, I travelled by train to London for de-briefing by Canadian Intelligence and the Canadian Air Ministry. After very lengthy questioning, I was offered a 30 day leave to return to Canada for a visit, if I cared to do so. I 'cared to' very quickly and the Air Ministry arranged for me and several other Canadians to board an American Troop Carrier, the 'Andes', a ship built before the war for use on the Amazon River. It was flat bottomed, slow, and very tippy in bad weather. In convoy, it took us nine days to make the Atlantic crossing we landed in New York and I started on my 30 days of leave.
After the war, on a visit to Denmark, I learned that the Intelligence Agent, (the Major), was Flemming Muus, the chief parachutist of the Danish Resistance Forces. He had been in London for meetings with SOE personnel, and we were returning him to Denmark to continue his dangerous work. Flemming became a well known author of several books about the Resistance and Denmark's fight against the Germans.
The other members of our crew were not as fortunate as we were. They were befriended by a Danish farmer who allowed them to sleep in his barn overnight. He turned out to be a collaborator. When they awakened the next morning, the barn was surrounded by German soldiers, and the five of them spent the rest of the war as POW's.