Danish WW2 Pilots

Flt Lt Poul Henrichsen

(1915 - 1945)

Poul Henrichsen worked for the East Asiatic Company in Malaya when the war bloke out. He enlisted in the Malayan Volunteer Air Force to train at the Elementary Flying Training School in Singapore. He left Singapore in February 1942 and continued training in Rhodesia. He finalised training in the UK and was sent to Italy. He returned to the UK, trained as a fighter pilot and was posted to the 332 (Norwegian) Squadron. He was killed in action on 1 March 1945.

Poul Henrichsen was born on 3 July 1915 in Hellerup, the son of managing director Magnus Henrichsen and Marie Sofie Henrichsen (née Møller).[1]

Henrichsen was educated at Ordrup Gymnasium. Having finished his A-levels in 1933, he spent a year or so in Scotland before joining the East Asiatic Company (EAC). In 1936-37, he did his military service in the Guard Hussar Regiment. Henrichsen served in the 1st bicycle esquadron (1. Cyklisteskadron). He was selected for cornet training (Kornetskolen), and finished the training course as the best in his class. He was released from duty in the fall of 1937, and returned to the EAC.[2]

Poul Henrichsen (Museum of Danish Resistance)
Poul Henrichsen (Museum of Danish Resistance)

The Far East

In the spring of 1938, Henrichsen was sent to the Far East and he remained there when the war broke out. According to the information available he volunteered for ‘Voluntary Service’—presumably the Singapore Volunteer Corps—immediately after the German occupation of Denmark in April 1940, but the company did not allow the employees to volunteer for active military service.

In Malaya, Henrichsen was a colleague of Henner Friser Frederiksen, who later served in the Malaya Volunteer Air Force. He was part of the Danish community in Singapore. For instance, he participated in the funeral of the young count Oluf Erling Christoffer Viggo greve Danneskiold-Samsøe in April 1941 who had been an assistant at the Mount Austin (Johore) Rubber Estate. Most of the Danish colony participated in the funeral.[3]

In his spare time he seems to have been an eager athlete. There are several references to a P. Henrichsen competing for the Singapore Swimming Club’s Water Polo team during 1941. It seems likely, that this was Poul Henrichsen, but the Swimming Club has not been able to confirm this.[4]

Henrichsen joined the Malaya Volunteer Air Force on 25 October 1941 for training at the newly established flying training school in Singapore.[5]

An Elementary Flying Training School was established at Kallang, Singapore, in 1940 as part of the Empire Air Training Scheme. This school was run by the Malayan Volunteer Air Force supported by personnel from the Royal Air Force, and was financed by the Malayan Government. Hence, it is referred to as the Government Flying Training School.[6] Initially the cadets had to be British Subjects, but in November 1940 foreign nationals became eligible to join the Malayan Volunteer Air Force and the Government Flying Training School.[7]

Henrichsen trained in the last course of Singapore Cadets trained by the Malaya Volunteer Air Force. In general, Singapore Cadets were transferred to the Royal Air Force for further training overseas. Henrichsen’s squad left Singapore in early February 1942, before the formal transfer. They enlisted in Royal Air Force in India, before traveling to Rhodesia for further training.[8]

Another two East Asia Company employees—William Theodor Malling and Anthon Sørensen—enlisted in India at the same time and may have been evacuated in the same group as Henrichsen. In addition, Jørgen Kjeldbæk, who later served in the Royal Air Force as a fighter pilot, had enlisted in Singapore prior to the evacuation.[9]

Henrichsen was posted to 20 SFTS at RAF Cranborne near Salisbury, South Rhodesia (Harare, Zimbabwe) for further flying training.[10] He trained in Rhodesia from March to September 1942, and was commissioned as Pilot Officer on 12 September 1942.[11]

In May 1942, he made contact with the Recruiting Office for Danish Nationals in London, expressing a wish to transfer to England and join other Free Danes in Royal Air Force.[12] He may have been inspired by the media coverage of the presentation of the Danish Spitfires at RAF Ibsley only a month earlier.[13] Captain Iversen who was in charge of the Recruiting Office forwarded Henrichsen’s wish to the Air Ministry in order for Henrichsen to be able to join other Danish pilots who had by then been posted to 234 Squadron to fly the Spitfires donated by the Free Danes. The Air Ministry replied that they had forwarded, Iversen’s letter to the training authorities.[14]

As it turned out, Henrichsen was posted to the United Kingdom for further training on medium-bombers.


Henrichsen had a short leave before being transferred to the United Kingdom. He met with his former colleague from the East Asiatic Company, Henner Friser Frederiksen, in Durban South Africa. Frederiksen had been mobilised as a pilot in the Malayan Volunteer Air Force before the Japanese attack. He had been part of the retreat to Sumatra and Java and he had, finally, reached Durban in June 1942.[15] Frederiksen later told that Henrichsen was in excellent form and was proud to wear his RAF uniform and his wings. He had had a good time in Rhodesia and was as happy as ever.

Henrichsen’s ship was torpedoed during his passage to the United Kingdom. The available records are not clear as to the identity of the ship, but it is presumed that the ship in question was the SS Duchess of Atholl (1928). Duchess of Atholl was torpedoed and sunk by the German U-boat U-178 captained by Kapitän zur See Hans Ibbeken about 200 miles east-northeast of Ascension Island. There were four casualties and 821 survivors. The survivors were picked up on 11 October 1942 by HMS Corinthian (F 103) and landed in Freetown on 15 October 1942. They were taken on-board the SS Carnavon Castle which left Freetown for Glasgow on 18 October 1942.[16]

SS <i>Duchess of Atholl</i> (1928) was converted into a troop ship in 1939. It was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat on 10 October 1942. It is believed that Henrichsen was on-board this ship when he was torpedoed on his way from training in Rhodesia to the United Kingdom in October 1942.
SS Duchess of Atholl (1928) was converted into a troop ship in 1939. It was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat on 10 October 1942. It is believed that Henrichsen was on-board this ship when he was torpedoed on his way from training in Rhodesia to the United Kingdom in October 1942.

Henrichsen was posted to 12 (P)AFU at RAF Grantham until 12 March 1943. He was promoted to Flying Officer.[17] Then followed operational training at 13 OTU and ferry training at 307 FTU, before he was posted to 1 OADU at RAF Portreath on 5 November 1943.[18]

Tactical Air Support over Italy

Henrichsen arrived at 114 Squadron at Foggia I in Italy on 18 November 1943. During the following months, he carried out thirty-seven operations in Italy on the Boston medium bomber. The majority of these operations were tactical support operations to the US Fifth Army front, but other targets were also included.

Henrichsen carried out his first operation, an armed reconnaissance mission, on 2 January 1944. Four days later, the squadron was stood down in order to carry out an extensive training programme; this was necessary as crew sent from the UK were found to have neither training in day formation flying, nor experience in the type of night operations which the squadron was carrying out. Operational flying was resumed in 12 January. The next day, Henrichsen was in the air again as part of a detachment at the Pomigliano airfield south of Naples. However, he returned early due to intercom trouble.[19]

A few days later, on the 17th, the British X Corps opened an advance on the Gustav Line by crossing the Garigliano River near the coast. The object of the attack was to break through the hills between Minturno and Castelforte, up the valley of the Ausente river, and into the Liri Valley at San Giorgio.[20] The night before the attack, at 1907 hrs, Henrichsen took off on an operation from Pomigliano. Four aircraft dropped flares to illuminate the road from Piedimonte to San Giorgio and on to Pontecorvo, in order for artillery spotters, who were airborne at the time, to spot targets. All the flares were accurately placed and the target area was illuminated. Two days later, on the 18th, six crews were briefed for an attack on the railroad between Chieti and Popoli near Pescara, where German reinforcement troops were reported to be entraining. The initial ground attack by X Corps was followed by an attack by US II Corps on 20 January across the Rapido, north of Cassino. Six aircraft took off at 1935 hrs from Celone on an armed reconnaissance of coast and inland roads on the Fifth Army front on 21 January. A very large fire was seen and bombed at 2230 hrs at Nettuno, south-west of Rome, where—only hours later—the VI Corps had commenced the landing at Anzio/Nettuno. Henrichsen continued operations in support of the advancing Allied troops in the area following the landings. He carried out armed reconnaissance operations from Pomigliano on 24, 27, and 29 January of roads on the front. The aircraft observed considerable movement.

On 3 February, the Germans launched a counter-attack in the Anzio area. Fighting on the ground was heavy as both sides had brought in more troops. In spite of heavy attacks the bridgehead was held.[21] Henrichsen only carried out three operations during the month. On the night of 9–10 February, the detachment at Pomigliano was called upon to carry out armed reconnaissance of road and rail movement from Rome to the bridgehead bomb-line. Five of the seven crews taking part in the operation, including Henrichsen’s, made two sorties, first taking off at 2200 hrs and later at 0245 hrs The aircraft did not observe much movement on the ground, although groups of vehicles were attacked at different positions, and so the alternative targets, the towns of Albano and Genzano, were bombed; the latter with excellent results. The squadron rarely reported enemy aircraft during these months, but on this occasion, one of the other aircraft (AL475) reported to have been approached by a Ju 88. No fire was exchanged, as the Boston had taken evasive action. Albano and Genzano were attacked again in Henrichsen’s third and final operation during this month on 12 February. The armed reconnaissance operations in the area continued throughout March. Henrichsen carried out five operations: on 1 and 7 March, Henrichsen operated close to the bridgehead, and on 18, 20, and 28 March he flew armed reconnaissance of roads north of Rome. In-between, on 24 March, twelve aircraft from 114 Squadron were briefed to bomb the villages of Castelraimondo and Matelica to assist partisan activity in this area.

In April 1944, the squadron targeted shipping. Henrichsen primarily operated over the Aegean coast between Pescaro and Ancona, carrying out an armed reconnaissance of shipping on six occasions. During these operations, targets on the coastal and inland roads were attacked as well if they were observed.

Towards the end of April, Henrichsen returned to the Fifth Army front, carrying out fourteen operations before the end of May. On 8 May, eight aircraft, including Henrichsen in Boston IIIA BZ228, took off between 2053–2123 hrs to cause a road block at a crossroads north of Terni, near Stazione. Two of the aircraft illuminated the exact target area with incendiaries and the remaining aircraft bombed in close succession; many direct hits were reported on the roads, as well as on the railway in the vicinity. The next night, Henrichsen carried out two similar sorties.

Since the beginning of April, the Allies had planned an offensive aiming at connecting the troops at Anzio with the troops advancing from the south. At 2300 hrs on 11 May, about 2,000 artillery guns opened fire on German positions in the Liri valley. Heavy fighting followed but, on the 23rd, the Hitler Line of defence, to which the Germans had withdrawn, was breached, and the VI Corps at Anzio launched the breakout the same day. The Allied armies advanced quickly and, on 4 June 1944, Rome itself was captured.[22] Henrichsen operated in support of the advance. He carried out seven armed reconnaissance operations in the area around Rome from the beginning of the advance until the end of May. An armed reconnaissance of roads south-east of Rome on 31 May turned out to be his last in Italy. The four crew detailed for the operation observed a continuous stream of movements from Orvieto to Rome. Frascati was bombed according to briefing and the roads were strafed. At various points 40-lb bombs (of which each aircraft carried thirty-two) were dropped on enemy transports. May 1944 was a record month for the squadron. No less than 255 sorties had been carried out, even though at no point all aircraft were serviceable. Twelve of Henrichsen’s thirty-seven operations at the squadron had been carried out in only a month.

This was Henrichsen’s last sortie in Italy. Having trouble with his ears, he was admitted to hospital and had to leave the squadron. At the squadron, it was feared that he would have to be taken off flying altogether. This did not turn out to be the case.[23]

Fighter pilot

Henrichsen returned to England in August 1944, and a month later was posted to 13 OTU, where he took up flying again. In October, he was transferred to 53 OTU, converting to single-engined aircraft. He flew his first solo in a Spitfire on 10 October 1944, and soon returned to operational flying at 332 (N) Sqn.

Henrichsen arrived at 332 (N) Sqn on 9 February 1945, three days after another Danish pilot, Erik Infeldt. This brought the number of Danish pilots at the squadron to four, as Jørgen Herner Petersen and Palle Thomsen were already there.

The Allied armies were advancing on the Rhine at this point in Operation Veritable and Operation Grenade. Aerial support was heavy and all Danish pilots in the area participated. Henrichsen flew his first fighter operation on 13 February. The 14th was a very active day for the four Danish pilots at 331 and 332 Squadrons, who flew eight armed reconnaissance sorties in total. Spitfires were taking off in sections of two at ten–fifteen minute intervals to attack targets of opportunity in the area. Herner Petersen was first to take off at 0815 hrs, followed by Thomsen at 0845, with Infeld and Henrichsen following about an hour later. They all flew a second sortie in the afternoon.

Armed reconnaissance operations continued throughout the month. At this point, the British Second Army was in a position near the Rhine. The Norwegian Wing moved from B.79 Woensdrecht to B.85 Schijndel on 21 February.

A week later, on the 28th, the four pilots in the wing flew no less than fourteen sorties between them. Henrichsen was airborne at 0745 hrs, flying with Capt. Aanjesen. He flew another three sorties that day. Infeld took off on the first of three sorties fifteen minutes later. Thomsen and Herner Petersen had taken off in the morning as well, and Herner Petersen returned to base from his fourth sortie in the late afternoon. Results from the strafing was very good, but the price had been high: two pilots from 332 Sqn had been lost. The high risk taken on these low-level operations was evident the following day as well.

During a similar low-level operation, on 1 March 1945, Henrichsen failed to return. After a rainy morning and early afternoon, the weather had cleared, and the squadron had made sixteen individual sorties. Henrichsen had taken off at 0715 hrs in Spitfire IX MK720/AH-D from B.85 Schijndel.

He was last seen surrounded by flak bursts, as he pulled up from the target, and was heard to report on the R/T that he was hit. However, being at 4,000 feet and judging from his calm voice when reporting his mishap, there is good reason to believe that he may have succeeded in bailing out.[24]

He did not. Henrichsen was killed on his fourteenth operation at the squadron.


[1] DNA: Parish register, Hellerup Sogn.

[2] ‘Kornet Poul Henrichsen – in Memoriam’ in Ordonnansen (1946), p. 50.

[3] Funeral of Danish Count in Singapore in The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 5 April 1941, p. 7.

[4] S.S.C. Water-Polo Teams Win in The Straits Times, 17 January 1941, p. 15; and RAAF Hold SSC in Morning Tribune, 29 September 1941, p. 14.

[5] FHM: 15B-11984.

[6] AVM Maltby (1948). No. 38216 Report on the air operations during the campaigns in Malaya and Netherland East Indies from 8th December, 1941 to 12th March 1942, p. 1357.

[7] Aliens May Now Join Volunteer Air Force in The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 18 November 1940, p. 7, http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/singfreepressb19401118-1.2.67 (accessed on 28 July 2021).

[8] Singapore Cadets in British Malaya, august 1942, p. 188.

[9] NA: AIR 78. Based on service number.

[10] In his logbook Henrichsen recorded that he was at “25 SFTS, RAF Cranborne, South Rhodesia” during the period. However, flying school number 25 was the EFTS at RAF Belvedere, whole the SFTS at Cranborne was 20 SFTS. I have interpreted the school as 20 SFTS as Henrichsen was posted to Rhodesia having been at the EFTS in Singapore, and since he went straight to an AFU in the UK afterwards.

[11] London Gazette, issue 35804, p. 5220, 27 November 1942, https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/35804/supplement/5220.

[12] DNA: 10194-0180.

[13] Det danske Råd (1980). Frit Danmark.

[14] DNA: 10194-0180.

[15] NA: AIR 23/4635.

[16] Duchess of Atholl, https://uboat.net/allies/merchants/ship/2257.html (accessed on 7 August 2021).

[17] London Gazette, issue 35989, p. 1860, 20 April 1943, https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/35989/supplement/1860.

[18] FHM: 15B-11984.

[19] NA: AIR 27/883. If nothing else is stated, the information on 114 Sqn operations is based on this source.

[20] Alexander, Italy: Despatch on Operations of the Allied Armies 3 September 1943–12 December 1944 (1950), pp. 2910–12.

[21] ibid., p. 2913.

[22] ibid., pp. 2920–30.

[23] NA: AIR 27/883.

[24] NA: AIR 27/1729.