World Air Photography Blogs

The Attack on Gestapo Headquarters, Copenhagen, 21 March 1945

On the morning of 21 March 1945, a special force of Mosquitos from No 140 Wing took off Four Mosquito FB Mk.VIs of 487 Squadron from 140 Wing from an aerodrome in England to attack the Gestapo Headquarters in Copenhagen.

Shellhuset

Shell House the Gestapo Headquarters in Copenhagen before the raid.

Before the attack could be carried out, several weeks of careful planning were necessary. Two large scale models, one representing the city, and the other the Gestapo building, were used to brief the pilots in every detail – trees, lake and houses – were pointed out on these models which took 340 man hours to construct.

The target was a large building, U-shaped, and six storeys in height. From information received it was known that the entire Gestapo staff for the whole of Denmark as well as a large number of criminal police were housed in this headquarters.

The Mosquitos took off in three waves of six, together with two Mosquitos of the RAF Film Unit at exactly nine o’clock in the morning – the time that the Gestapo workers would be arriving at the Headquarters. After flying across the North Sea for over two hours, they made landfall exactly as planned on the coast of Jutland and soon the city of Copenhagen came into view.

Shell-Huset-mosquito

A Mosquito at rooftop level during the bombing of the Gestapo Headquarters

It had been an exceedingly bumpy trip. The first wave attacked the Headquarters from roof top level – so low, in fact, that the aircraft flown by Wg Cdr Kleboe hit a lamp post at the marshalling rail yards near the Copenhagen Central Station, damaging its wing, and the plane crashed into the Jeanne d’Arc School, about 1.5 km (0.93 mi) from the target. Several bombers in the second and third wave attacked the burning school, mistaking it for their target. The fatalities at the Jeanne d’Arc School were 86 schoolchildren and 18 adults, many of which were nuns.

Memorial French School

Memorial at the site of the Jeanne d’Arc School with flowers and wreaths
Photo: Lklundin

A reconnaissance aircraft of No 34 Wing took off the following day and photographed the area. Interception reports of these photographs showed that the target had received severe damage. The top storey and roof of the south front were destroyed and the remainder was partially gutted and destroyed. The west wing was destroyed nearly to ground level and the east wing, the top storey and roof were destroyed and the floor below damaged. Rescue work was in progress when the photographs were taken. A photograph received later from Underground sources shows the building ablaze from end to end – concrete evidence the mission was most successful.

Shellhuset Burning

Part of Shellhuset burning after the raid.

Mustangs of Fighter Command played a dual role. They escorted the fighter-bombers on both outward and return journeys and during the actual attack they were detailed to silence flak positions in the vicinity. But the attack was such a complete surprise that anti-aircraft defences did not go into action until the Mosquitos were on their way home. The only real opposition was from ships in the harbour.

The leading navigator did his job so thoroughly that all the aircraft landed back at base only two minutes after the original schedule.

The Germans put out a rumour that the officials were out at a funeral at the time of the attack but official information from Denmark states that 151 Gestapo men were killed and 30 Danish patriots imprisoned in the building got away.

The cruiser Leipzig was in the harbour at the time of the raid and it got underway as the Mosquitos attacked as the Germans apparently were under the impression that we were after the remnants of the German Navy.

Aircraft involved in the attack (all Mosquito Mk.VI)

No 487 Squadron

RS570 ‘X’ Gp Capt R N Bateson / Sqn Ldr E B Sismore (Raid Leader)
PZ402 ‘A’ Wg Cdr F M Denton / Fg Off A J Coe (damaged, belly landed at base)
PZ462 ‘J’ Flt Lt R J Dempsey / Flt Sgt E J Paige (hit by flak, 1 engine u/s, returned safely)
PZ339 ‘T’ Sqn Ldr W P Kemp / Flt Lt R Peel
SZ985 ‘M’ Fg Off G L Peet / Fg Off L A Graham
NT123 ‘Z’ Flt Lt D V Pattison / Flt Sgt F Pygram (missing)

No 464 Squadron

PZ353 Flt Lt W K Shrimpton RAAF (Pilot) / Fg Off P R Lake RAAF
PZ463 Flt Lt C B Thompson / Sgt H D Carter
PZ309 Flt Lt A J Smith RAAF / Flt Sgt H L Green RAAF
SZ999 Fg Off H G Dawson RAAF / Fg Off P T Murray (missing)
RS609 Fg Off J H Palmer RAAF / 2nd Lt H H Becker RNorAF (missing)
SZ968 Wg Cdr Iredale RAAF / Fg Off Johnson
All aircraft took off at 0840; last back landed 1405.

No 21 Squadron

SZ977 Wg Cdr P A Kleboe / Fg Off K Hall (missing)
PZ306 Sqn Ldr A F Carlisle / Flt Lt N J Ingram
LR388 Sqn Ldr A C Henderson / Flt Lt W A Moore
HR162 Flt Lt M Hetherington / Fg Off J K Bell
No 21 Squadron records list only these four aircraft and crews above as taking part in this operation.
All aircraft took off at 0835; the three which returned did so at 1355.

Source: RAF: Bomber Command Famous Raids, Wikipedia

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