Danish WW2 Pilots

SSgt Leo Anders Christian Kristiansen

(1919 - 1982)

S/Sgt Leo A. C. Kristiansen was a merchant seaman as the war in Europe broke out in 1939. He signed off in early 1940 and remained in the USA. He enlisted in the USAAF in mid-1941 and served in a Emergency Rescue Boat Squadron in Hawaii during the Second World War.

Leo Anders Christian Henriksen was born in Korsør on 27 February 1919, to Else Annie Alvilde Henriksen and porter Herman Madsen. [1] The couple was not married and the he was placed in foster care. [2] The foster parents, Hans Peder Kristiansen and Anne Marie Kristiansen (née Andersen), adopted him in 1923 at which point his family name became Kristiansen.[3]

Kristiansen’s mother married the American ship’s master Frederick Stanley Wilson on 12 November 1920 [4] and the couple and two boys moved to the United States in 1921-22.[5] She applied for a U.S. passport prior to leaving Denmark on 29 June 1921.[6]

Kristiansen remained in Denmark where he was raised in Korsør by his adoptive family.[7]

Cabin Boy and Seaman

In late 1935, Kristiansen became part of the merchant marine. He was as a cabin boy onboard the MS Europa on 29 December 1935. Europa arrived in Seattle, Washington on 28 February 1936.[8] It is not evident from the documents available when he signed off this vessel. In 1941, Europa was lost when it was hit by German bombs in an attack on the docks in Liverpool.[9]

About three years later, on 14 June 1939, as Kristiansen arrived in New York as an ordinary seaman onboard the SS Elie, he applied for a visa on the grounds that his mother lived in the United States. He had been engaged four months earlier.[10] Had he not signed off at this point, his life path may have been different as the Elie remained in Denmark during the war as part of the home fleet.[11]

Denmark remained a neutral country when the war in Europe broke out in September 1939 and, for a time, Danish ships continued to cross the Atlantic. Kristiansen was engaged onboard the MS Wistaria [12] in late 1939 and he signed off after arrival in Vancouver, BC, Canada on 9 January 1940. Seven weeks later, on 28 February 1940, he crossed the United States border at Blaine. The manifest states that he intended to reside permanently in the country. His destination was the home of his mother in West New York, New Jersey.[13]

In April 1940, as the German troops crossed the Danish border, he lived in home of his biological mother and half-siblings in West New York, New Jersey. He worked as a labourer. [14] In October 1940, at the time of his draft, he worked at the Vietmeyer Bros. Bakery in Jersey City.[15]

Enlisting in the USAAF

Kristiansen enlisted as private (32159414) in the U.S. Army on 14 July 1941 in Trenton, New Jersey. [16] He served with the Army Air Force. It is worth noticing that Kristiansen enlisted prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

He was assigned to the 13th Emergency Rescue Boat Squadron (ERBS) which was based on Honolulu in the Hawaiian Islands.

The ERBS’s were, as the name suggests, unit responsible for the rescue of airmen who had for some reasons touched down at sea. These units operated Air Rescue Boats (ARB). The establishment of a water rescue capability was inspired by the experiences of the Royal Air Force Marine Branch in using High Speed Launches (HSL). and rescue capabilities were set up at based near the sea, such as Hickam Field.[17]

It is not clear from the documents at hand when Kristiansen was assigned to 13th ERBS. However, it is certain that he was in Hawaii in late 1943, when he was married. [18] He was promoted to Staff Sergeant, and awarded the good conduct medal in December 1944.[19]

Kristiansen was was discharged on 2 October 1945.[20]

After the war

Kristiansen settled in Vallejo, California, after the war. He worked in different jobs including as a as salesman. He died in Sonoma on 11 March 1982.[21]


[1] DNA: Parish register, Sankt Povl sogn.

[2] DNA: 1921 Census of Denmark.

[3] DNA: Parish register, Sankt Povl sogn.

[4] DNA: Parish register, Taarnborg sogn.

[5] Ancestry. 1930 United States Federal Census. According to the census the mother’s emigration year was 1917. However, this is believed to be an error as she was still in Denmark in February 1919, they married in Korsør in 1920 and their first son was born in Korsør in 1921. Their second son was born in the USA in December 1922.

[6] Ancestry: U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925.

[7] DNA: 1925 and 1930 Census of Denmark.

[8] Ancestry: Washington, U.S., Arriving and Departing Passenger and Crew Lists, 1882-1965.

[9] MS Europa, Maritim og historisk information, http://www.jmarcussen.dk/maritim/skibsliste/side.php?id=3101 (accessed on 3 April 2024).

[10] Ancestry: New York, U.S., Arriving Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957.

[11] SS Elie, Maritim og historisk information, http://www.jmarcussen.dk/maritim/skibsliste/side.php?id=11183 (accessed on 3 April 2024).

[12] MS Westralia, Maritim og historisk information, http://www.jmarcussen.dk/maritim/skibsliste/side.php?id=11923 (accessed on 3 April 2024).

[13] Ancestry: U.S., Border Crossings from Canada to U.S., 1895-1960.

[14] Ancestry: 1940 United States Federal Census.

[15] Obituary for Leo Kristiansen, The Press Democrat, 18 March 1982.

[16] Ancestry: U.S., World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946.

[17] History & ERBS Numbers, U.S. Crach Boats, https://www.uscrashboats.org/cpage.php?pt=19 (accessed on 3 April 2024).

[18] Familysearch.org: Hawaii, Board of Health, Marriage Record Indexes, 1909-1989.

[19] History of Crash Boat Squadrons, File A0926, Maxwell Field, Montgomery, Alabama, https://aafcollection.info/index.html.

[20] Ancestry: U.S., Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death File, 1850-2010.

[21] Obituary for Leo Kristiansen, The Press Democrat, 18 March 1982, p. 13.