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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
Some of the prisoners in the Gestapo Headquarters:
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)
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.
With thanks to:
TPM Affiliate Robert Peel
Ed Balkan/Journeyman Pictures
This post is based on a number of articles and web posts combined with our own research.
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