Danish WW2 Pilots

Jørgen Edsberg

(1913 - 1946)

Jørgen Edsberg became one of the Danish voices in BBC at the beginning of the war. He wished to take a more active part in the war and volunteered for the Royal Air Force. He survived the war, but was killed in a tragic flying accident in April 1946.

Jørgen Palle Christian Edsberg was born on 13 November 1913 in Holbæk. He was the son of engineer Kristian Holst Edsberg and Camilla Frederikke Edsberg (née Svarre).[1] Edsberg attended Stenhus Kostskole (Stenhus boarding school) and graduated from the gymnasium in 1931.[2]

He became a journalist and joined the newspaper B.T. in the early 1930s and later he joined the radio news at the Danish Broadcasting Company. He met his wife, Olivia, in Italy and, in 1937, they were married in Denmark.

Edsberg was trained as a pilot by Svend Aage Dalsbro and obtained his certificate in 1938.[3]

9 April 1940

Only days before the German occupation of Denmark, on 27 March 1940, Edsberg left Denmark for London with his wife and son. On the day, the German troops crossed the Danish borders—9 April 1940—the first of many broadcasts from London to Denmark aires. This was read by Politiken correspondent Sven Tillige-Rasmussen, who had co-authored it with Charles Peake of the Ministry of information. It was approved by Lord Halifax, the Foreign Secretary before broadcast. The next day followed a message to shipping calling all Danish ships to seek allied ports. The message was read by Edsberg and broadcast in a number of BBC services.[4] It read:

Here is a message to all masters of Danish and Norwegian ships telling them that the order to proceed to Italy, Spain and other neutral ports was made under German dictation and should be disregarded.
   In view of the forcible occupation of Denmark and parts of Norway, the masters and crews of Danish and Norwegian vessels which proceed to Allied ports will be treated as friends, not enemies. Every protection will be afforded by the British Admiralty to such vessels and they will receive welcome and compensation for their service.
[5]

Thus, Edsberg became on of the the first speakers in BBC’s broadcasts to Denmark during the war, and one of the initial members of BBC’s Danish section.[6]

Jørgen Edsberg entering the cockpit of his trainer. Source: Asbjørn Fjordside/Stig Sumborg via Museum of Danish Resistance
Jørgen Edsberg entering the cockpit of his trainer. Source: Asbjørn Fjordside/Stig Sumborg via Museum of Danish Resistance.

Royal Air Force service

However, Edsberg wanted to take an active part in the fight against nazism. In July 1941, he volunteered for the Royal Air Force (1393251). Following initial training at 2 Initial Training Wing, on 10 December 1941, he and another Danish volunteer, Knud Gether-Caspersen (1393250), were posted to 8 Elementary Flying Training School at Woodley Aerodrome outside Reading. They were send on two weeks of embarkation leave before transferring overseas for further training. The transfer was postponed, however, and on 4 May 1942, they were posted to 29 EFTS at Clyffe Pypard.

They reported to 32 Service Flying Training Unit at Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan in Canada. He was promoted to Pilot Officer on 25 September 1942, which was probably the same time he got his flying wings. At this point in time there was a excessive flow of pilots the Fighter Command. In stead of an operational role Edsberg accepted to become a flying instructor.

He was posted to 1 Flying Instructors School on 24 October 1942 to be trained as an instructor and, according to his service papers, to 31 Service Flying Training School on 25 November 1942. He might have been flying as an instructor at this unit. On 28 April 1943—by then promoted to Flying Officer—he was posted to 1 Air Navigation School in Trenton, Ontario. It is possible that this was in order to train him for a future role as transport pilot. Edberg returned to the United Kingdom in October 1943 and was posted to 18 (Pilot) Advanced Flying Unit on 16 November 1943. At this unit the training took place on the twin-engined Airspeed Oxford. Edsberg was posted to 105 Operational Training Unit on 23 May 1944, where he was trained as a transport pilot.

Edsberg was posted to 45 Grp, RAF Transport Command, on 29 August 1944. He flew as a ferry pilot ferrying aircraft—Dakotas, Mitchells, Hudsons, and Liberators—from Canada cross the Atlantic until the end of the war. He was promoted to Flight Lieutenant on 25 September 1944.[5]

Edsberg returned to Copenhagen shortly after the liberation of Denmark. He was posted to 123 Staging Post (Copenhagen) on 5 July 1945 and remained at this unit until 1 March 1946, when he was posted to 100 PDC for release from RAF.[6]

Killed in a flying accident

On 21 April 1946—Easter Day—Edsberg took off at approximately 16.30 hours from Kastrup airport to perform a series of aerobatic maneuvers. He was flying a Miles M14A Hawk Trainer 3 ‘G-AGVW’ (c/n 1748), which he had recently bought with the intention of opening a flying school. Following the Miles Hawk in air was former Royal Norwegian Air Force pilot Erik Infeld, who was flying Auster J/1 Autocrat ‘OY-DGA’ (c/n 1846). Infeld had two passengeres in the Auster. Photographer Ole Kjelstrup who was to photograph Edsberg’s aerobatics and countess Moltke.

At about 17.00 hours, as Edsberg had finalized the aerobatics, Infeld signaled to Edsberg that he would return to Kastrup airport. Edsberg affirmed that he too would return. The aircraft were flying at some distance and at a height of 8-900 meters. Suddenly, the Miles Hawk aircraft collides with the Auster from the right side and below of the Auster. The wing of the Auster was damaged, and the rudder of Edsberg’s aircraft was caught in the Auster’s wing. Edsberg dived to the ground out of control, and the Auster went into a spin. Infeld managed to regain control of the aircraft at a height of about 300 meters. As he was unable to reach the airport, he tried to land at the nearby common; however, he had to crash landing the aircraft. The passengers suffered minor injuries, while Infeld was unscathed. Edsberg’s aircraft went into the shallow waters of Kalveboderne south of Copenhagen. The aircraft was split into pieces at impact. Edsberg died instantly.[7]

At his funeral, on 26 April 1945, Supreme Court barrister C. B. Henriques spoke on behalf of the family. He told the congregation that he had risen towards the sky but fallen as a shooting star. He continued to stress that this would be how Edsberg would be remembered; whenever we look at the eternal stars in the sky and see one of them fall, we shall remember him.[8]

Endnotes

[1] DNA: Parish register, Holbæk, Sankt Nikolaj Sogn.

[2] Bang (1983). Stenhus i 75 år.

[3] Jørgen Edsberg er død, B.T., 22 April 1946.

[4] Bennett, J. (2010). British broadcasting and the Danish resistance movement, 1940-1945: a study of the wartime broadcasts of the B.B.C. Danish Service. (Paperback Edition ed.), p.2-3.

[5] Bennett, J., op.cit., p. 3.

[6] Bennett, J., op.cit., p. 12.

[7] Service record (the Edsberg family archive).

[8] NA: AIR 29/469.

[9] Westphall, Sammenstødet i Luften - der kostede Jørgen Edsberg Livet, Berlingske Tidende, 23 April 1946.

[10] Jørg. Edsberg vil vi mindes som et Skjerneskud, Berlingske Tidende, 27 April 1946.