Danish WW2 Pilots

Plt Off. Harald Roy Andersen

(1921 - 1943)

Harald Roy Andersen was attached to the elite bomber crews of 156 Sqn, Pathfinder force, when his Lancaster is shot down by flak in the air over France in 1943, only 21 years old.

Harald Roy Andersen was born on 16 October 1921 in Wantage, Berkshire (now Oxfordshire) in England.[1] He was the son of farmer Jakob Harald Andersen and Ethel Louise Andersen (née Baldwin). His father was Danish born and naturalised in January 1940, while his mother was British born.[2] Therefore, Andersen was a Danish national at enlistment even if he had been born and raised in Britain.

The grave of Harald Roy Andersen at the cemetery in Brimont, Marne, France, Source: The collection of Mr. Olivier Housseaux.
The grave of Harald Roy Andersen at the cemetery in Brimont, Marne, France, Source: The collection of Mr. Olivier Housseaux.

Royal Air Force

Andersen seems to have volunteered for the Royal Air Force early in the war, in 1939.[3] He was trained as a pilot (918871, RAFVR), but the documents available at this point reveal little about his training. At the end of training, he was posted to 156 Sqn in the fall of 1942. He flew his first operation on 6 November 1942, a ‘gardening’ operation. The crew had to abort the mission as they were unable to pinpoint the the target, but two days later, they were able to complete the operation.

In late 1942, Bomber Command carried out a series of attacks on the industrial cities in Northern Italy. Andersen’s crew was detailed for operations on Turin three times during November, but only on the night of 20-21 November, they were able to complete the operation. On the 8th and 10th, Andersen had to abort due to mechanical trouble.

A number over operations over Germany followed. On 20 November the target was Stuttgart, and on 6-7 December the target was Mannheim. This raid was hampered by very poor visibility due to cloud, however.

Attacked by a night fighter

Two weeks later, on 20–21 December 1942, the target was Duisburg, and thirteen aircraft were briefed for the operation. Andersen’s crew flew in Wellington III DF668, bombed at 20.10 hrs., and saw the bombs burst in the marshalling yard in the centre of town. At 20.27 hrs., they observed another aircraft bursting into flames and crashing to the ground. On the lonely way home, Andersen passed 3 miles south of Gilze-Rigen, a German night fighter airfield. Shortly afterwards, at 20.42 hrs., the rear gunner reported a Ju 88 at the Wellington’s tail. The rear gunner, Sgt. E. B. Hadden, opened fire, and so did the German. They both missed. Andersen took violent evasive action, and the night fighter followed him to 2,500 feet. Neither side managed to strike successfully during the dive. Levelling out, the night fighter attacked a third time, and this time Sgt Hadden hit the night fighter, which broke off with smoke trailing from the port engine. Andersen and crew returned to base at 22.40 hrs.

The next night, the crew was briefed for an attack on Munich, but the attack was abandoned fifty minutes after take off due to the failure of the starboard engine.[4]

U-boat pens

Andersen did not operate again until 14 January 1943. On this day, he was briefed for the first of several operations against the German U-boat installations at Lorient in France.

At the beginning of 1943, Bomber Command was diverted from the campaign against Germany to another theatre of operations. Sailing from bases in occupied France, the German U-boats had been a threat to allied shipping since the beginning of the war. The main bases were placed along the French west coast at Lorient, Sainte-Nazaire, La Pallice, and Bordeaux. The Royal Navy had been pointing out that attacks on these bases were of great importance, but since these attacks could not be carried out without casualties among the French population, Bomber Command had refrained from bombing. Only days before Christmas 1942 did the War Cabinet decide to go ahead with the bombing. Harris received the order and the first operation on Lorient was carried out that very same night. Bomber Command was hereby ordered to area bomb French towns as a means to turn the tides in the battle against the U-boats.[5] Andersen and another Danish volunteer Preben Brandt Gustavsen in 428 Sqn participated in the operations on Lorient between 14–15 January and 16–17 February. Andersen participated in three attacks on Lorient within the first week—on 14–15, 15–16, and 23–24 January—reporting on all occasions to have bombed in the target area and observed fires on the ground.

Bomber Command returned to Lorient on 6 March, 16 April, and 17 May 1943 without any of the two Danes participating. A total of more than 1,850 sorties were carried out, and more than 4,500 tons of bombs dropped on the city. Andersen and Gustavsen had both witnessed the destruction caused by the bombing, but despite the city being practically destroyed, the main objective was not achieved. No bomb penetrated the concrete roofs of the U-boat pen, and the raids did not greatly disturb the Lorient U-boats.[6]

The Battle of the Ruhr

From March to June 1943, Bomber Command carried out the Battle of the Ruhr. Some 14,000 sorties were dispatched, including attacks on Düsseldorf and Cologne.[7] Andersen was one of five Danish airmen to take part in the battle, the others being Preben B. Gustavsen, Andrew C. Sondergaard, Arne H. Helvard, and Niels Erik Westergaard.

The raid on the Krupps Werke in Essen on 5-6 March 1943, was the opening attack of the battle. This attack and a second attack on the same target on 12-13 March were both very succesful.[8] Andersen participated in both attacks.

On 5-6 March, the target was perfectly marked and the more than 400 bombers dispatched for the operation left 160 acres of the city destroyed. Numerous buildings within the Krupps works were hit, more than 3,000 buildings destroyed, and a further 2,000 seriously damaged.[9] From above, Andersen—flying in Lancaster I W4854/GT-D—had observed a concentration of fires on the ground as he bombed, and, on the return journey, the burning city could be seen from as far as the Dutch coast. A week later, on 12-13 March, Andersen’s crew returned to Essen in the second attack. Fires were already concentrated as the crew arrived to the target area, preventing the crew from identifying their own bomb bursts. The industrial site was hit hard, leaving more damage than the previous raid, but very intense flak defences were experienced, just as in the previous attack.[10]

Krupps works in Essen

A week later, on 12–13 March, the crew returned to Essen for another major attack. Again, the Krupps works were hit hard, leaving even more damage to the industrial site than the previous raid. Fires were already concentrated as Andersen’s crew arrived to the target area, preventing the crew from identifying their own bomb bursts. Very intense flak defences were experienced, as in the previous attack. Other targets in this period were Wilhelmshaven (11–12 February), Bremen (21–22 February) and Nurnberg (8–9 March).[11]

On 7 March, Andersen was promoted to Pilot Officer.

On 27–28 and 29–30 March, Andersen became the first Dane to return to Berlin since Jens Henning Fisker ‘Morian’ Hansen in 1940. Bomber Command had not bombed Berlin during 1942, as Harris did not believe that he had enough heavy bombers to achieve the necessary concentration to overwhelm the Berlin defences. By early 1943, between 150–200 Lancaster bombers were available, and Bomber Command returned to Berlin again from mid-January to March, at which time the city became out of reach for night operations—because of the shorter length of the nights—until the end of August. None of these raids were very successful.[12]

Last operation

On 16–17 April 1943, a mixed force of Lancaster and Halifax aircraft were dispatched in an attack on the Skoda armaments factory in Pilsen, Czechoslovakia.[13] Andersen and crew took off from Warboys in Lancaster I W4854/GT-D, but nothing was heard from the aircraft after take off.[14] Over Brimont in the Marne department in France, the aircraft was hit by flak of 2/Lei. Flak Abt. 773 at a height of about 50 metres. The Lancaster crashed at Fort de Brimont at 0105 hrs.[15] Andersen and the rest of the crew were killed.

In general, the raid was not a succes, and the Skoda factory itself was not hit. A large asylum building seven miles from the target was mistaken for the factory, and only a few crews bombed within a radius of three miles from the real target. The raid was not a success Thirty-six aircraft were lost—11 per cent of the dispatched force.[16]


[1] GRO: Certified of an entry of birth.

[2] NA: HO 334/157/15554 (Certificate AZ15554 issued 20 January 1940).

[3] The time of enlistment is estimated on the basis of the service number, which is part of a batch of serial numbers allotted to the recruitment centre at Padgate in September 1939.

[4] NA: AIR 27/1041.

[5] Bradham, Hitler’s U-boat fortresses (2003).

[6] Ibid.

[7] Middlebrook and Everitt, The Bomber Command war diaries: An operational reference book, 1939-1945 (2011).

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] NA: AIR 27/1041.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Mace, Martin and Harris, Bomber Harris (2014).

[13] Mace, Martin and Harris, Op.cit..

[14] NA: AIR 27/1041.

[15] Boiten, Nachtjagd Combat Archive, 1943, Part 1 (2018), p. 74.

[16] Middlebrook and Everitt, Op.cit.