Operation Carthage – The Shell House Raid – 21st March 1945

By the end of 1944 the Danish resistance movement in Copenhagen was in danger of being wiped out by the Geheime Staatspolizei (Gestapo). Many of their leaders were arrested and a lot of material was filed in the Gestapo archives in the Shell House (Shellhus in Danish) which was located in Copenhagen. To address this situation leading members of the resistance movement requested an attack by air on the Shell House via SOE (Special Operations Executive) in London.

Shell House before

The Shell House prior to the attack – the camouflage is clearly visible

On 21st March 1945, after several months planning, 20 Mosquitoes from RAF 2nd TAF (Tactical Air Force) escorted by 28 Mustang Mk. IIIs from the 11th Group took off from RAF Fersfield in Norfolk. 18 of the Mosquito bombers were F.B. Mk. VIs, from 21 Sqn RAF, 464 Sqn RAAF and 487 Sqn RNZAF, from No. 140 Wing, and 2 were Mosquito B. Mk. IVs from the Photo Reconaissance Unit/Film Production Unit (PRU/FPU).

The Mustang Mk. IIIs, from F/Lt. David Drew’s No. 64 and Maj. Austen’s No 126 Squadron (Austen from Norway, KIA May 1945), had 3 Mustangs abort the mission shortly after takeoff: F/Lt. Sharpe and F/Lt. Holmes both from No. 126 Sqn and Sgt. Wyting from No. 64 Sqn who was hit by seagulls.

The Mosquito force attacked in 3 waves: the 1st wave with 7 Mosquitoes (one PRU/FPU), the 2nd with 6 Mosquitoes and finally the 3rd wave with 7 Mosquitoes (one PRU/FPU). The primary objective for the Mustangs was to attack flak positions in central Copenhagen.

Roof-top mossies

Mosquitoes fly at roof top level over Copenhagen, heading for the Shellhus

When the 1st wave passed the Enghave Station, Mosquito SZ977, ”T for Tommy”, with Pilot W/Cdr. Peter A Kleboe and Navigator F/O Reginald J.W. Hall, hit a 30 metre lamp post and then the wingtip of their Mosquito hit the roof of No. 106 Sønder Boulevard. The two 500lb bombs ripped off and exploded killing 12 people. The aircraft crashed seconds later in a garage near the French Jeanne d`Arc Catholic school at Frederiksberg Alle. The forward section, including the cockpit with the two crew members, was thrown down on Dr. Priemes Vej and they were badly burnt. Pilot W/Cdr. Peter A. Kleboe and Navigator F/O Reginald J.W. Hall were laid to rest in København Bispebjerg Cemetery on 28th March 1945.

The rest of the wave with Bateson, Carlisle, Air Vice-Marshal Basil Embry, Henderson, Hetherington and Moore found and bombed the Gestapo Headquarters successfully. Six bombs exploded in the Western wing and of the nine prisoners in this part of the building, six were killed instantly and one more died when jumping from the 5th floor to the ground.

The 2nd wave got confused by the smoke and flames from Kleboe’s crashed Mosquito and attempted to bomb the crash site but W/Cdr. Iredale realized the mistake before he bombed and turned towards the Shell House but two of the Mosquitoes in the 2nd wave dropped their bombs on the Jeanne d`Arc school and only F/Lt. Smith was able to bomb the Shell House.

W/Cdr. Denton’s 3rd wave approached Copenhagen from the West. All but one of the Mosquitoes dropped their bombs by mistake on the Jeanne d`Arc School killing 86 children and 16 adults out of 482 children and adults, while 67 children and 35 adults were wounded. Mounted on the wall of the Shell House today is a bronze-cast of a propeller from one of the crashed Mosquitoes. A plaque is placed below the propeller with the names of the nine crews members who were killed in the attack.

F/O Bob “Kirk” Kirkpatrick (an American serving in the RCAF), flying one of the FPU aircraft, recounts some of the action described above as it unfolds:

“On March 20th I flew a Mk. IV Film Production Unit Mossie to (RAF) Fersfield where I picked up a Sergeant camera man preparatory to our following Operation Carthage, the raid on the Shell House building in Copenhagen. We followed 21, 487 and 464 squadrons and filmed as much of the raid as we could.

As I was about 2 minutes from target I saw four Mossies coming from my left and turning east towards a big pile of smoke, I thought “Am I lost?” They have navigators and they were so close I either had to turn right 360 or get close to them because of the delayed action bombs. 30 seconds for first 3, 11 for 2nd three. I slipped right next to #4 and we went thru the smoke and they unloaded their bombs, unfortunately as we later learned on the French School.  I was carrying incendiaries and told to drop them a few blocks from the target to create a diversion in case some of the prisoners were able to escape. Turns out I burnt up a few houses east of the school and west of Shellhaus. Our windscreens were fouled with salt spray and difficult to see through, this precluded my right 360 and prompted me to join the four from 487 [Squadron]. As it turned out 464 Squadron, the second wave, also were diverted by the school crash and missed their run-in, they orbited and the leader bombed Shellhaus, 2 were shot down and one took his bombs home. Good news, bad news; had 464 been successful in their orbit and 487 on target, 487 would probably (have) been blown up, had everybody been on target, no prisoners would probably have survived.”

Mossies Shellhus PRU

Mosquitoes flying low over Copenhagen during the raid – PRU/FPU following on the right

Most of the Mosquito Mk. VIs taking part in the attack returned safely but F/Lt. Pattison and F/Sgt. Pygram’s Mosquito NT123 was hit by flak over Copenhagen harbour and announced over the radio that they would try to reach Sweden. However, with the left engine on fire they had to ditch East South-East of Hven, about two kilometres off Hakens lighthouse, not far from Sweden. The crew was seen to crawl on top of the floating aircraft by locals at Hven but because they did not have any boats that could go out in the stormy weather they contacted the Island Police who called Landskrona in Sweden for help. Sadly the two airmen had drowned by the time help arrived and were both listed as KIA. The wreckage was located after the war, but there was no trace of either of the crew.

F/O ”Shorty” Dawson and F/O Murray’s Mosquito SZ999 was hit by flak on the return trip at low altitude and crashed into the Nyrup Bay, about thirteen kilometres north of the town of Nykøbing Sjælland. Both of the crew were KIA. The wreckage was found later, washed ashore in Nyrup Bay, but there was no trace of Dawson or Murray.

The formation then turned to the West and precisely at that moment F/O ”Spike” Palmer’s Mosquito RS609 was hit and he and Fenrik Becker (from Norway) crashed into the sea. Both were KIA. A body was recovered to the east of the island of Samsø and was laid to rest in Tranebjerg cemetery on Samsø on 26th March 1945 as an unknown airman. In the year 2000 it was proved by Danish researchers that the body that had been buried was that of Fenrik Becker.

F/Lt. David Drew, in Mustang Mk. III, HK460 from No. 64 Squadron, was hit by flak from the German light cruiser Nürnberg during the raid and crashed in flames at Falledsparken. He was buried in København Bispebjerg cemetery on 28th March 1945.

During the return flight Mustang KH446 was also hit by flak, and P/O Robert ”Bob” C. Hamilton had to belly-land near Lomborg. Hamilton was unhurt and started walking towards the farm of Anne Jacobsen on the Bølvej road. He was quickly captured by the crew of the German observation post at Sortehøj Hill, located less than a kilometre from the landing site. The guards had been able to see the Mustang for miles and tracked him down before he reached Bølbæk stream and he had therefore no chance of escaping and he became a POW.

A total of four Mosquito Mk.VIs and two Mustang Mk. IIIs were lost with 9 crewmen KIA and 1 POW.

All fourteen prisoners in the Southern wing of the Shell House survived as this part of the building was not bombed. The three remaining prisoners were under interrogation on the 5th floor, one of whom died. 18 out of 26 prisoners survived the bomb raid. A total of 133 Danes died during and after the raid. Telegrams from Copenhagen modstandsbevægelse (Resistance Movement) thanked the RAF for the successful raid, and with the destruction of the Gestapo archives the threat against its members was neutralised.

Shell House 2 mths on

The Shell House seen two months after the attack

Lead Navigator on the raid was Acting Sqn Ldr (later Air Commodore) Ted Sismore, sadly no longer with us, who shared his story shortly before his death in Ed Balkan’s fascinating short film “The Shell House Raid” (Journeyman Pictures 2012) narrated by actor Martin Sheen. This superbly produced and moving tribute to the raid features interviews and archive footage of the raid itself. A trailer is available to watch here.

sismore

Sqn Ldr E.B. (Ted) Sismore DSO DFC – Lead Navigator, Operation Carthage

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Some of the prisoners in the Gestapo Headquarters:

Poul Bruun

Lt. Carl Wedell Wedellsborg, died later from the wounds sustained when jumping from the 4th floor.

Lt. Ole Stang – killed

Admiral Carl Hammerich was killed, his body never recovered.

Poul Sorensen (Secretary-General-Conservative Party), was saved by a doctor. Police Commissioner Jorgen Odmar, who had worked with Sorensen in the past, sent him to a hospital were the doctors fought for his life for several months. He survived.

Morgens Prior  – badly beaten by Gestapo, he died later from wounds sustained when jumping from the 4th floor.

Capt. Peter Ahnfeldt Mollerup (Copenhagen Resistance Headquarter)

Mogens Fog

Professor Poul Brandt Rehberg

Aage Schoch – two days after his escape from the Shell House, he rejoined the Danish Freedom Council (Frihedsrådet).

Ove Gesso Pedersen

Police Inspector Lyst Hansen

SOE agent Poul Borking

Carl Hocke – killed

Helmuth Jensen – killed

Jorgen Palm Petersen – killed

50 German personnel and 47 Danish collaborators were killed.

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Find out more: http://bit.ly/1aLJBEU and http://bit.ly/WMGQhM

Also more here on the Danish Resistance Movement and the Freedom Museum.

With thanks to:

TPM Affiliate Robert Peel

Vintage Wings of Canada

Dansk Militaerhistorie

Ed Balkan/Journeyman Pictures

The Imperial War Museum

This post is based on a number of articles and web posts combined with our own research.

The People’s Mosquito is not responsible for external sites or their content.

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27 thoughts on “Operation Carthage – The Shell House Raid – 21st March 1945

  1. When I was about 15 in the 1960s I learned of this raid. I asked my father about it and he said never to mention it if I went to Denmark as we had bombed a school by mistake. About 15 years ago I visited Copenhagen and the Resistance Museum but could not see any reference to the raid. I felt embarrassed as I asked the attendant for any information whereat his eyes lit up. He said I was the first to ask and would I like to see some video! This made for a memorable visit, my fears were allayed and all was well. Apparently the story that we had bombed a school was propaganda put out by the Germans at the time to deflect the success of the raid, and the attendant explained it was the price they had to pay for freedom.

    • That’s interesting and I can understand your hesitancy in bringing the subject up. Sadly the school was hit and, as the article says, 86 children and 16 adults were killed. It was a dark day for the RAF, but as the attendant you met said, it was the price of freedom. A terrible price, but the alternative was tyranny in the form of fascism. These low-level ‘hit ’em fast, hit ’em hard’ attacks, on the whole were very successful, but, one would imagine, for the people there was often no warning and no time find shelter. Very sad. But it’s good to hear you had a positive experience when you visited the site.

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  3. Hello, I am a volunteer at the Bentwaters Cold War Museum and have been researching the Shell Haus raid over the past few years to add information to our archive. The Mustang squadrons, 64 & 126, flew from Bentwaters and we are therefore very intereted in the posts on this subject. I would like to know more of any event that is planned both in Copenhagen or the UK to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the raid. I am planning to make the trip to Copenhagen and would love to meet up with anyone who is also attending .. I see David Drew is planning to go and I am of course very keen to make contact with him. If anyone can put me in touch with official or otherwise organisers of anything in Copenhagen I’d be most grateful

  4. Having made the visit last May it is unlikely that I will go to Copenhagen this year but would certainly attend any commemorative occasion in this country – perhaps Runnymede….have discovered an interest Page on Face Book on the Shell House Raid. Just joined.

  5. I’d also be interested in attending any ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of the raid. David Drew was my uncle and I spent nearly 37 years as a pilot in the RAF. I was fortunate enough to attend the unveiling of the Shell House memorial on the 50th anniversary of the raid and Derek Carter masterminded an excellent visit programme. Several other members of the Drew family are also interested so we may make a visit anyway.

    • Don’t currently know of any ceremony planned to take place, and it would be surprising if there was none. Either way, the trip sounds a wonderful idea. Please let us know how it goes and maybe share some photos. If you wanted to do some kind of “report” we’d be more than happy to publish it on here. Thanks.

    • Interested in your response to Carthage article as I am archivist for 64sqn association. Would be interested in additional information concerning your uncle if any is available. Regards Clive Morris

      • Clive
        I will be going to Copenhagen for the weekend 21-23 March and will hopefully learn more about the raid and will obtain my uncle’s log book. Thereafter I’m happy to correspond via e-mail. My address is: david.drew@aol.co.uk.

    • Hi Russ – presumably you mean the BBMF? You’d have to ask them. It would be great if there were plans for a flyover or something. With any luck (and plenty of donations!) we will have a UK-based Mosquito to participate in the 75th or 80th anniversary commemorations.

    • Would be interested to hear of any occasion that will commemorate the Shell House Raid carried out 70 years in March

  6. I happened to know a very nice guy from England, now living in Copenhagen. His name is Derek Carter. Peter Kleboe was his uncle. Derek researched the raid bomb by bomb. He also found a lady who owned the dog tags of F/Lt David Drew which Drew managed to handle over while mortally wounded still in the crashed Mustang. Derek obtained those and managed to return the tags to the family, as he told me. He also found a piece of the elevator hinge (!) of Kleboes Mosquito near the lamp post it hit. This piece is still in his posession as far as I know. But my informations are about 10 years old. I bought an artist print of the raid which Derek ordered to be made and signed, with the signatures of all the aircrew still living at the time the print was made.

    • Hi Pieter, Thanks for getting in touch. We know Derek – he made contact with us earlier in the year. He did mention the print you talk about and we look forward to seeing it at some stage.

      Thanks again,
      Nick

    • Hi Pieter, im so interested in the picture [ print] of the raid on copenhagen. Is there any way i would be able to find this print to purchase it.?? Im in canada and have searched for a very long time on this raid.. It would make an exceptional movie to pay tribute to those that gave their lives for so many others.my email follows if you can contact me soon. Thankyou so very much!

  7. My brother suggested I would possibly like this website.
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  8. Recently returned from Copenhagen visiting the memorials to the RAF, Resistance, and St Joanne d’Arc school. Met three danes who were able to tell their association of the time. Heroic story. My uncle F/O Fergus T Murray navigator and his pilot R Dawson flew their mosquito with 464 squadron. KIA on their return over Nyrup Bay RIP

    • Dear Monica, please contact me regarding your Uncle, F/O Fergus Thomas Murray, I have more details regarding his loss and service with 464 Sqn. My email is; derek29dk@yahoo.dk.
      Regards, Derek Carter

      • Many thanks for your response to my posting. I certainly would be most interested to hear of any further information you may have so will be in contact with you.
        Regards Monica Catherine

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