Danish WW2 Pilots

Thomas Christian Sneum

(1917 - 2007)

Thomas Christian Sneum escaped to England twice during the Second World War. In 1941 he made an epic flight to England with Kjeld Pedersen in a Hornet Moth. He later returns to Denmark as agent, but escaped again in the spring of 1942. Late in the war he joins the Royal Norwegian Air Force.

Thomas Christian Sneum is born on 21 May 1917 in Sønderho on the island of Fanø. He is the son of school teacher Kristian Sørensen Sneum og Karen Sneum (née Hansen).

He is interested in flying from an early age. In the early 1930’s he is training on gliders at the Polytechnic in Copenhagen together with other enthusiasts. Among these is another later pilot, namely Arne Hroar Helvard with whom he years later also escapes to England.

On 9 April 1940 the day of the German occupation of Denmark, Sneum is posted at Air Station Avnø as Flyverløjtnant af 1ste Grad Flying Officer. Following the occupation he is determined to escape to England to fight.

In the mean time Thomas Sneum was busy collection information on German installations on the Danish West coast, especially on the island of Fanø. In the end he was able to bring valuable information on the German Freya radar to England.

Determined to Escape

In the spring of 1941 Thomas Sneum discovers a disassembled D.H. Hornet Moth (OY-DOK) in a barn at the farm Elseminde on the island of Funen. He convinces the owner to sell the aircraft and with the help of fellow navy pilot Kjeld C.J. Pedersen and three mechanics the aircraft is assembled. On 21 July 1941 at about 2300 hours the aircraft takes off from a field near the farm.

We were so afraid of being discovered that we were able to give the engine only one test of four seconds. Almost as soon as it fires we switched it off again and when we were actually ready to start off for England we waited until a train passed so that it would drown the noise of our engine.

The two pilots cross parts of Denmark and the Danish cost near the island of Fanø. From here a 6 hours flight of approximately 800 kilometres over the North Sea awaits the pilots. And the crossing was not without difficulties.

At one time when we were well out over the North Sea, we thought the end had come. Our oil pressure indicator suddenly dropped to zero and thinking it would only be a matter of minutes before the engine seized up we wished each other goodbye and agreed that the effort had been well worth trying. But to our great delight the engine went on running and then we realised that it was only the oil pressure indicator which had failed.

As the aircraft crosses the cost at Coquet Island off Northumberland two Spitfires are ordered to intercept. Sneum and Pedersen way a white flag as a sign of friendly intentions. Two Hurricanes also appear before the aircraft lands in a field near Alnwick.

Sneum and Pedersen are arrested by a RAF patrol and taken to the nearest RAF Station. They are interned in a Camp in Battersea, but after a few days they are transferred to the Mayfair Hotel.

The escape of Thomas Sneum and Kjeld Petersen is the actual story behind British author Ken Follet's fictive story the Hornet Flight.

In British Service

They both volunteer for the Royal Air Force. Pedersen is almost immediately accepted and appointed Pilot Officer (R.87010), while Sneum is enrolled in the Special Intelligence Service (SIS).

On 10 September 1941 at 1946 hours a Whitley of No. 138 Squadron captained by F/Sgt A.W. Reimer (R.61467) takes off from Newmarket bound for Denmark. On board is Lieutenant Thomas Sneum and W/O S. Christophersen also known as Esmond and Columbus. The aircraft crosses the Danish coast near Esbjerg, not far from Sneum's birthplace, and flak is encountered. Target is reached at 2335 hours and the two agents are successfully dropped near Holbæk.

An attempt to drop the agents the night before had been aborted due to clouds and heavy rain.

Sneum acts a secret agent in Denmark for about 6 months before being pulled out in March 1942.

A Second Escape

On 28 March 1942, Thomas Sneum and Arne Hroar Helvard escape to Sweden by crossing the Sound then covered by ice. They walk from the seaside town Skodsborg, but have to land on the island Hven. They are arrested by the Swedish police and imprisoned for 67 days. They manage to avoid being turned over to the German authorities in Denmark.

They both manage to get to England. Arne Hroar Helvard is accepted in the Royal Air Force (128521, RAFVR). Initially he is stationed in North Africa flying Handley Page Hampden.

On 1 September 1944 he is accepted in the Royal Norwegian Air Force. I have very few information on his service. In an article on his wartime activities he tells that he is attached to a Britsh unit flying Mosquitos.

After the Liberation

Following the German surrender Thomas Sneum returns to Denmark. He did not feel accepted in the post war air service and retired from service. For instance the air service did not recognise that he had been promoted during the war.

Ancker, 2001; Troelsen og Sund, 2006; Søren Flensted; Podcast: Spionen fra Fanø [the spy from Fanø]