Oslo tragedy as RAF Mosquitos attack Gestapo HQ

Mosquito bombers during the successful attack on the Gestapo HQ in Aarhus on 31st October.

Mosquito bombers during the successful attack on Gestapo HQ in Aarhus on 31st October.

The attack on the building occupied by the Gestapo at Aarhus University was an example of notably accurate bombing.

The attack on the building occupied by the Gestapo at Aarhus University, was an example of notably accurate bombing.

The R.A.F.’s ‘Wooden Wonder’ had often been used for specialist missions requiring pin point accuracy. In 1942 a raid had been mounted to disrupt a Nazi rally in Oslo by bombing the Gestapo headquarters. There has been subsequent successful attacks on other Gestapo buildings, perhaps the best known is the attack on Amiens prison in February 1944, Operation Jericho.

On the 31st October 1944 there had been a very successful attack on the Gestapo HQ in Aarhus. On that occasion the low flying aircraft had put bombs right in the centre of the Aarhus University building used by the Nazis, killing an estimated 200 members of the Gestapo. Around 30 imprisoned Danish resistance fighters also died. The raid had been urgently arranged because resistance leader Pastor Sandbaek had been captured and was being tortured there – by good fortune he was one of the few who was dug out of the ruins alive.

The reasons for the return to Oslo on the 31st December 1944 were very probably similar, the silencing of imprisoned resistance members who might betray others under torture. The precise reason was not given to those participating in the raid. Canadian Bob Boyden was one of those flying with 627 Squadron who later remembered the raid:

Our first information about the trip to Oslo was that we were to fly to Peterhead in the northern part of Scotland which would be our advance base. Peterhead was an American base for B17s and would cut off at least two hours flight time and give us a good start. The trip would be a long one – four to four and a half hours – and that can be very tiring if weather conditions require continuous instrument flying or if there are a few unfriendly happenings along the way. Briefing told us that Oslo was the target – not target for tonight – as this would be a daylight raid, which we did not do very often. In fact, I believe I flew only three trips in daylight. It’s quite different as you feel like you stand out like a sore thumb.

At this time of our action against the enemy, we flew to our destination at 28,000 feet and around the target area we would descend to 3,000 feet to look over the area for a pre-determined aiming point. We would then dive to 1,000 or 500 foot levels. After we had done our marking, we would climb back to 28,000 feet and return to base. This time, the target had flak positions and the German Navy was in the Oslo Fjord. W/C Curry was our new squadron commander and would lead the group which was made up of two flights of six Mosquitoes each. F/L Mallender would lead the second wave.

The North Sea is a long trip and we had been told that the water was so cold, we’d last only two minutes. I don’t remember worrying too much about it – it was such a beautiful day. We realised and enjoyed the scene below us – snow covered mountains and bright sunshine. F/O Willis and I did not talk much, if at all. Each of us absorbed in his own thoughts, thinking of what could happen and Willis no doubt wondering what this bastard was going to do next. We cleared the Norwegian coast, with the Oslo Fjord to our right. The target was ahead of us but not in sight, lost in the haze. Suddenly bursts of flak came up, seemingly one for each aircraft and right on altitude. This was the first time that I had seen, heard and smelled it all at the same time as we flew through the cloud.

Mosquito on a test flight with De Havilland in September 1942. Mosquito B Mark IV Series 2, DK338, in flight after completion. DK338 served with No. 105 Squadron RAF as 'GB-O'.

Mosquito on a test flight with De Havilland in September 1942. Mosquito B Mark IV Series 2, DK338, in flight after completion. DK338 served with No. 105 Squadron RAF as ‘GB-O’.

W/C Curry called out to descend to target, probably with his usual “Tally-Ho”: he started the dive with us following his movement. No 2 disappeared from my view and left a gap between the leader and myself. He told No 2 to close in and after a couple of instructions like that I realised I was the one he called No 2. I had already pushed up my throttles at the start of the dive to close the gap. I broke radio silence to tell him I was No 3 and closing fast.

Everything happened so quickly. We had, of course, fooled the flak defences by our diving attack and at last – the target. Bomb doors open, wait for the right moment, push the button, hold 1,000 feet. I felt concussions that closely followed one another. There was no smoke, no dust. I then pushed lower over the city and I remember seeing an open-air skating rink with people skating around, unaware of the chaos and explosions behind them.

Suddenly, No 4 was descending down on top of us. Once again I had to break silence. A mountain loomed up right in front of us and as we changed our straight and level to a steep climb, flak came off the mountain, then we were up and over. Curry ordered us to break up, every man for himself.

I was doing a left-hand turn to head back when I saw a valley to our right. I slid down into the valley and kept at a low level. We passed over the coast and I began the climb back to our operational altitude of 28,000 feet. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and no enemy aircraft were in the vicinity. I didn’t know until years later that the second phase did not drop their bombs. All they saw was smoke and dust at the target site.

The trip back to Peterhead was uneventful. Those Mosquitoes were really smooth and reliable and much credit must go to the manufacturer and of course our aircraft mechanics who worked hard to keep them flying.

All aircraft returned to base and all had some flak marks. Mine also had a cracked landing light cover, which they said had been caused by the concussion. Only one crew member was injured by shrapnel.

Bob Boyden was awarded the DFC for his part in this raid. See 627 Squadron in Retirement for the full story from the RAF perspective

Only the first six of the twelve aircraft on the raid dropped their bombs, the smoke obscuring the target for the second wave [But see comments below]. The RAF at first believed the raid had been successful but it later transpired that the Victoria Terrasse building that housed the Gestapo was undamaged. Instead other civilian buildings had been hit and one bomb had bounced off the ground and hit a crowded tram, killing 44 civilians. In total 78 Norwegians were killed and 27 Germans. It was the worst single incident in Oslo during the war.

Damage in the centre of Oslo after the raid on 31 December 1944 in which 78  Norwegians died

Damage in the centre of Oslo after the raid on 31 December 1944 in which 78 Norwegians died

Tram 115 in Oslo after the New Years Eve raid, which took place at midday. 44 people were killed on the tram when a bombed bounced off the ground and hit it.

Tram 115 in Oslo after the New Years Eve raid, which took place at midday. 44 people were killed on the tram when a bombed bounced off the ground and hit it.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Alan Arthur July 24, 2017 at 12:01 pm

G’day

My Dad, Eric Arthur is the last man alive from combat operations with 627 squadron and he was in the second wave of six Mosquitos that attacked the Oslo Gestapo HQ on Dec 31st 1944.

Dad is currently (2017) 94 years old and still living in his family home in Mt Gambier in South Australia.

In 1944 he was 21, in the RAAF, and flew 44 operations as a Pathfinder navigator with 627 squadron.

I wrote a blog about his life in the RAAF and 627 Squadron when I went with Dad to England in 2012 to be present in Green Park when the Queen unveiled the memorial to Bomber Command.
http://alanandric.blogspot.com.au/?view=sidebar

There is a chapter dedicated to the Oslo raid as it was a raid out of the ordinary for 627. Dad and his pilot John Herriman were lucky to survive the flack damage that knocked out one engine and forced them to climb out of Oslo and fly home on one engine.

Much the same as Ned ‘s father Bob Boyden, Eric was appalled by the horrendous waste of lives and resources in WW2 and has spent the rest of his life promoting peace and harmony between peoples of different countries and cultures in a effort to spread understanding and tolerance and help avoid another conflict like the two World Wars.
In 2016 he was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia by the Australian government in recognition of his decades of community work and was also awarded the Legion Of Honour by the French government for his role in fighting to liberate France.

In 2012 , the Norwegian TV program Brennpunkt (Focal Point) made a documentary about the raid. A film crew came from Norway to Australian to film an interview with Dad. The program’s website can be found here https://www.nrk.no/dokumentar/hjemmefronten-bestilte-angrepet-1.8037580

The program can be streamed if you have the right settings. It is in Norwegian with the only segments in English being the interviews with Dad and an English Mosquito enthusiast. Use the link to translate the web pages.

In the 1970’s, Eric obtained a private pilots licence and joined the local flying club. At one social gathering there, he was speaking with a Norwegian visitor and he discovered this man had been skating on that frozen lake in Oslo on that New Years Eve when Dad and his comrades roared over the top of him at very low level and high speed. It was quite a moment for the two men, finally putting a face and a voice to the other side of the raid.

Denis Clough July 5, 2017 at 5:55 am

Flt lt John Buckley who was “tailend charlie” during this Oslo raid was a close friend of mine before his death in 2012.He said he his navigator was a specialist RAF cameraman who was assigned to movie record the raid from the bomb aimer position but did not secure himself during the dive through the flak barges and panicked from the flak firing..of which Johns mossie was slightly hit..the camera man did manage to record a small amount of footage after pilot John Buckley released his four bombs and actually recorded people ice skating near the raid.This RAF Ops Material footage is available from the Imperial War Museum of which have a copy which i showed John before his death aged 91years.John also stated he had RAF business to carry out in Oslo ( he remained in the RAF until 1960) and spoke to a dentist who witnessed the entire raid who actually saw the last Mosquito being Johns and saw his bombs release which was a direct hit on the base of the target building.

Owen Carlstrand December 3, 2016 at 2:33 pm

My father lived at 60 Ruselokkveien during the war, in fact until he married my mother in 1952. He used to tell us about the night of the Gestapo Raid as he was there that night. Ruselokkveien was, and still is, just round the corner from Victoria Terrasse and one of the bombs went through their flat and out the other side, exploding the other side of the courtyard. He also told us that the daughter of the founder of Broderene Dahl was a casualty on the tram which was hit. Dad was the UK managing director in the 80s.
His favourite story though was at a New Years Eve party in Epsom (where they lived) in the 80s he was talking to a bloke who, when he found out that Dad was Norwegian told him that he had been hanging about over Oslo on New Years Eve 1944. Dad’s response was thanks a lot you bombed us out that night. The pilot (or maybe navigator) responded with “happy new year I am very glad you could make it here tonight”. UNfortunately I do not remember his name, if indeed Dad ever mentioned it.
I remember that flat well from visits in the 60s as my grandparents lived there until their deaths.

Ned Boyden November 24, 2015 at 9:52 pm

Hello,
My father was the late Bob Boyden. I have never seen any photos of this raid and had always heard the RAF version of events. It saddens me to know this happened to the people of this city. Bob visited Oslo sometime in the 1980’s, and made many friends. If he influenced me in any way, it was by his belief that war will never solve the worlds problems, and it is truly the innocent that are made to suffer when it occurs. Whether he created enough value in this life to make up for this tragedy is not something I can judge. I can only say that his children and grandchildren are all people who work for peace and the vision of a global civilization based on respect for the dignity of life. I know it made him very happy that we became those kind of people.

Best Regards, Ned Boyden

Eystein Halle March 10, 2015 at 9:26 pm

As I am currently writing a book (in Norwegian) about this raid, I feel entitled to point out some errors (or moot points) in your article.

You claim that only six of the twelve planes actually bombed. It seems that this version originated with the BBC, or possibly some other Allied news source, and was widely quoted in Norwegian illegal newspapers in January 1945. The only book which has so far been published in Norwegian (or any other language, as far as I know) about the air raid also claims that all the planes of the second wave brought their bombs back (or jettisoned them over the mountains.) However, according to the Operatons Record Book of the squadron, two planes from the second wave actually bombed. One of the pilots was KIA just a month later, and has never commented on his part in the Oslo Gestapo raid. The other pilot, John Buckley, was still alive a few years ago, and is/was adamant that he actually dropped 4 500-pounders on the building. His account is reproduced in the book “Kiwis Do Fly”, about New Zealanders in the RAF during the war. The relevant parts of the ORB are reproduced (albeit in an abbreviated or condensed form) in the book “At First Sight” which can be read online via the 627 Squadron website.

Furthermore, the number of dead Norwegians is definitely 79. Cato Guhnfeldt, who wrote the one book that has so far been published about the raid, compiled a list of 78 Norwegians who died in the raids, but this list was based on the press coverage, and one person was mentioned only once in the papers – probably because, for some reason, it took several weeks before his body was properly identified – and Guhnfeldt probably overlooked the man in question. Interestingly, the police also compiled a list of dead Norwegians, They, too, ended up with only 78 dead people, but they had left out someone else. By comparing the two lists, and using information from the official death records and the Probate Court, I have been able to establish beyond any doubt that the actual number of victims was 79. (As for the German dead, I am now piecing together a list of the names of German nationals who died on New Year’s Eve 1944 and were buried at the German War Cemetary at Oslo. I will forward the list to one of my German contacts, who will hopefully be able to have a look in the Wehrmacht and other records in the Federal Archives in Freiburg, so as to ascertain how many of these people were actually killed in the air raid.)

The number of Norwegians killed on the tram may well have been 44, but I have not been able to find out exactly how many people were on that tram. About four or five people who were later found dead in the vicinity may or may not have been on the tram. These were people who lived near the Gestapo HQ, and who may possibly have been walking the streets nearby, though they may also have been on the tram.

Brgds
Eystein Halle

Editor January 2, 2015 at 2:12 pm

@Torsten. Many thanks for clearing that up, I was relying on a Google translation of a Danish site for my original information.Captions have now been amended.

Torsten January 1, 2015 at 6:54 pm

Some confusion in the photo captions. The Danish raid you refer to was in the city of Aarhus (not Copenhagen). There was a similar subsequent raid in Copenhagen on the 21st of March 1945 also by Mosquito fighters – love your site by the way.

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