Prologue

This is a story about 3 Danish Spitfires. In 1941 and 1942 a group of Danish businessmen living in England collected £38.000, to buy Spitfires. The cheque for £38.000 was handed over to Winston Churchill in No.10 Downing Street by a group of Danes, among them Jørgen Thalbitzer, Axel Svendsen and Jens Ibsen, All three were serving as fighter pilots in the RAF.

This amount of money was enough to pay for 3 Spitfires Mk. VB:

BL831 Baptised ``Skagen Ind"
BL855 Baptised ``Niels Ebbesen"
BL924 Baptised ``Valdemar Atterdag"

All 3 had a ``Dannebrog" (name of the Danish flag) painted on both sides of the fuselage in front of the cockpit and in front of the names.

The 3 planes were delivered 16th February 1942 to 24th Maintenance Unit and were transferred to 234th Squadron on the 5th of April 1942. Here the 3 Spits were to be flown by Danish pilots, serving at that Squadron.

2 of the 3 planes were not on duty for long, BL831 and BL924 being lost during an air battle on 24th of April 1942. On that occasion an American pilot Fl.Lt Watkins flew BL924. A Danish pilot Axel Svendsen flew BL924.

Danish Spitfires at war

.Quite a few Danes served in the Allied Air Forces during the war. One, who is probably the most well known, is Kaj Birksted, OBE, DFC, DSO. He finished as a highly respected Wing Commander and as an Ace with 10 confirmed and 10 possible kills.

The Danish Ace, Wing Commander Kaj Birksted
At his homecoming in 1945

He flew, amongst others, a Spitfire Mk. IX in 331st Squadron with his personal code ``KB" instead of the normal squadron code, a privilege, which only Aces could enjoy.

When he resigned as chief of the RAF Norwegian department, he was transferred to Combined Control Council, general staff of the Royal Air Force. Where he, from time to time, had command over all British air forces during the day operations at the invasion of Normandy in 1944.

Kaj Birksted wore 3 Spitfires out in his pilot's career in the RAF. He survived the war and came home to Denmark and continued his service in Royal Danish Air Force (RDAF) until 1960, when he commenced a position at NATO.

3 of the previously mentioned pilots, Jørgen Thalbitzer, Axel Svendsen and Jens Ibsen have also a story that should be told.

Axel Svendsen's family moved to England before the war, and when it broke out he joined the RAF. At Flight school he met Jørgen Thalbitzer, who had fled from Denmark after the occupation of  9th of April 1940, and Jens Ibsen, who had service in the French Foreign Legion.

After Flight school he came to 32nd Squadron at an airfield near Manston, where he flew Hawker Hurricanes. At a later time Jørgen Thalbitzer also joined 32nd Squadron.

From April 2nd 1942 Jørgen Thalbitzer and Axel Svendsen retrained to fly Spitfires and transferred to 234th Squadron at Tangmere. In the first half of April 1942 Axel Svendsen wrote to his family that he thought the Squadron was losing too many people over Northern France, because the Spitfire Mk. V was very inferior to the new German Focke-Wulf 190.

On April 24th 1942 234th Squadron went out on a flight to Northern France, and over Berck-Sur-Mer at the canal coast they were attacked by 20 FW190's. 2 Spitfires were shot down – BL831 and BL924. BL831 was, as mentioned, flown by the American pilot Fl. Lt. Watkins. Axel Svendsen flew BL924, but no one saw him go down. Both pilots were killed.

2 additional Spitfires were shot down, but these 2 pilots bailed out and were taken prisoner of war. This flight was to have been Axel Svendsen's last before a leave. When the Squadron returned to Tangmere, Jørgen Thalbitzer took off again to try to find his friend, but with no result.

On a flight in July 1942 Jørgen Thalbitzer was hit himself and ``Niels Ebbesen" was losing altitude. In the following emergency landing the plane hit a high-voltage line and made a somersault. One wing was torn off and the plane ended upside down and Thalbitzer had to cut himself loose. After 14 days on the run in France, he was taken prisoner by the Germans due to a French farmer who called the police that arrested him. This was how BL855 was lost.

Jørgen Thalbitzer later fled from the German prisoner of war camp during the famous great escape from a camp for airmen at Bromberg in Poland. He and another English pilot, James Brian Buckley got away via Danzig to Denmark, where Jørgen Thalbitzer for a short wile was reunited with his family. During the further escape from Denmark to Sweden they both drowned, when their folding boat presumably collapsed on the way over Oresund.

Today it is possible to see a replica of the Danish Spitfire; in which Axel Svendsen met his destiny, at a small interesting museum at the now closed airfield at Tangmere in Southern England.

Valdemar Atterdag at Tangmere's aeroplane museum in Southern England.

30 Danes died serving in allied air forces during World War 2:

For Royal Air Force
P/O H.R. Andersen, P/O Kell Antoft, F/Lt Ole Bechgaard, F/Sgt J. Ryhl Bineau, F/O N.J.R. Buchwald, P/O S.J. Christophersen, F/O J.H. Geilstrup, F/O A.J. Helvard, F/Lt P. Henrichsen, F/Sgt E.F. Jacobsen, F/Lt P.U.A. Køhl, Sgt K.F. van der Aa Kuehle, P/O S.E. van der Aa Kuehle, F/Sgt S. Lindhart, F/O B. Nielsen, F/O N.P.W. Pedersen, Pilot E.C. Randrup, P/O Axel A. Svendsen, P/O Jørgen B. Thalbitzer and F/O N.E. Westergaard (DFC).

For Royal Canadian Air Force
Sgt J. Nørgaard and F/O O.H. Antoft.

For Royal Norwegian Air Force
F/Sgt J.R. Binau, Q/M K.A. Green, LAC. G.W. Larsen, Lt A.H. Quistgaard and Corp. P.M. Rasmussen.

For Royal South African Air Force
2nd/Lt K. Høyer, Pilot S. Jørgensen and Pilot M. Martiny.

THANKS TO:

Author; Michael Sundsig-Hansen for giving us permission to host this story.
Please visit his link at
http://www.spitfire.dk/
Translated from Danish to English by: Jens Voigt aka RAF_Loke
Edited by: Malcolm Clark aka RAF_Echo7

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