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My fathers war

Discussion in 'WWII' started by Spitfire, Oct 9, 2007.

  1. I have threatened/promised to do this many times, so I have better do it now. Write about the occupation of Denmark and the resistance, as seen through the eyes of my father.
    The reason I can do this, is that he already has written down his memoirs to my two sons – and off course from the tales he has told med through the years.

    He was no hero - he did not do any historical, heroic things - he was just an ordinary young man. Dressed in the latest fashion among resitancemembers: The trenchcoat made out of bedsheets (because of clothshortage),the stengun hanging under the coat and the beret or fedora on his head, he went to war.
    Because he did not like the thought of Germans - or anybody else for that matter - should rule over his country.

    Here is the story of my fathers war.

    The 9th of april 1940 – in the early hours of morning – Nazi Germany invaded Denmark and Norway. My father was 20 years old and working in a men’s fashion shop at that time.
    Strangely enough, the Germans let Denmark keep it’s army, navy and air force (or what was left of it, after the air strikes of the morning) for the time being. And my father was about to be called up to do service in the Royal Guard.
    After the 16 months of service he came out again, and more or less slid in to the resistance. In the beginning it was mostly printing and distribution of illegal newspapers, radio transmitting to London and collecting and hiding the very scares weapons they had.

    According to my father it was very much like playing cowboys and Indians in the beginning. They did some absolutely stupid things and got away with them, because – as he later said – “the Germans were so highly trained soldiers, that they could not believe anybody would do something as stupid, as we did.”

    One insistence that illustrates this perfectly, was the plan to blow up a factory, that produced radio spare parts with a bottle of nitro-glycerine.
    They had no explosives at that moment – it was not until later in the war, the allied began dropping weapons and explosives in large numbers.
    So the brilliant plan was this:
    One in the group had access to some nitro-glycerine. And in order to make it exploded – and be on the safe side themselves, they constructed a device consisting of a metal three-legged foot, where the bottle with nitro-glycerine should be placed under.
    On top of the foot a piece of cardboard were placed over a whole and on top of the cardboard they would place a electrical iron.
    The plan was simple: After they were inside the factory, they would place the bottle under the device . Plug in the iron and run. At some moment the iron would burn through the cardboard and drop down on the bottle and BUUUUUMMMM!!!
    Luckily they never did it – otherwise I would probably not have been born.

    Because of the shortage of weapons, they also stole a lot of weapons from the Germans. Either by simply holding them up on the streets and pinch their pistols – or more organized, by raiding dancehalls and restaurants where German officers had left their caps and pistolbelts in the cloakrooms.
    They also experimented with making "hangrenades" out of TNT and tin soapboxes. Not the most reliable and highly dangerous - also to themselves.

    In the beginning of the war, the resistance was looked upon as troublemakers or communists – and a lot of Danes worked closely together with the Germans.
    I have only heard of one insistence where my father was involved in killing a collaborator.
    The group he was in needed explosives very badly, and suddenly a man contacted one of them, telling them, that “he could get some”.
    Non of them really knew this guy, and they got suspicious. He constantly asked them for a meeting, where they should all come, in order to carry as much explosives and weapons away as possible. They smelled a trap and decided to do something about it.
    So they agreed on a meeting in a huge park with a rather large lake. When the evening arrived only my father and another man from the group met this man, he was very nervous and asked where the others were. Suddenly they heard some cars arriving outside the park – which could only be Germans or the police, since nobody else had any petrol. So they shot the man, dumped him in the lake and ran away.

    In 1943 the cover for the group my father was in was blown. One of them had left a briefcase in a house, where they had held up the family in order to get some cars. The man in the family worked together with the Germans, so the only felt it was OK to steal his cars. But unfortunately this guy forgot a briefcase in the rush.
    In the briefcase were a list of names of everybody connected to the group, cover addresses, safe houses etc. etc.
    It was not long before the first one got arrested, and when the Gestapo tortured him, nobody knew what or how much he would say. So they decided to “go underground” hide in different places outside Copenhagen or flee to neutral Sweden.

    For 3 months my father lived with some relatives, until he decided the coast was clear and he could return home. At that time he had been married to my mother for a year, and they lived in a house in the suburbs of Copenhagen.
    They had agreed on a sign, if the coast was not clear. A window should be left open.
    Many times the Gestapo simply waited inside the flats or houses, for the resistance members to return, so this was their sign.

    When my father arrived late in night, the window was wide open.
    He ran away and hid in some garden shack in the neighbourhood.
    Next morning he tried to make a telephone call to my mother, and then he found out about the open window. There were no Gestapo – but instead my mothers sister and her husband had been visiting the night before. My mother thought she would let out all the tobacco smoke (back then everybody smoked) but she forgot to close the window.

    For half a year my father could stay home, tend to his work in the daytime and fight the Germans at night. They got more and more weapons, and at some time, they had so many, that they needed to move some of them – among them 25 German Mauserrifles, stolen from the Wehrmacht.
    Again they did something extremely naïve and stupid – but again, nobody believed they would do such a thing, so they got away with it. As mentioned, petrol and cars was very scares. So they had to move the weapons, explosives and rifles by hand and foot. And in the daytime because of curfew.
    Handgrenades, explosives and ammunition went into some wheelbarrows with dirt on top.
    And the rifles were camouflaged as rosetrees with a sack with dirt in the bottom, some brown paper around and a few branches and flower from a rosebush in the barrel.

    With that they walked in broad daylight and passed two German patrols under way.

    My father was involved with some more sabotages on different factories producing warmaterial for the Germans, until it went wrong one more time.
    After a narrow escape, where they had to shoot their way out, one of the members of the group got wounded and were left. He got picked up by the HIPOs – Danes in German service – and they all knew he would be tortured and later shot.
    Once again my father had to “go under ground” and this time for a very long time.

    In the winter of 1944 he came back and went into a group connected to the former Danish army.
    In august 1943 the Germans arrested the Danish police, the army was interned and later sent home and the navy managed to sink many of its ships. Many officers went into the resistance. The group was highly organised, had many weapons and was a socalled “Standby Group” which should be thrown into combat as soon as either the allied arrived or the Germans surrendered.
    As everybody knows, the Germans surrendered the 5th of may. But already in the evening the 4th of may it was transmitted by radio from BBC.
    That evening the whole family was together at my grandmothers – my fathers mother – who had birthday that day. When half of the party sprinted out the door, my father to meet up with his group and maybe fight the Germans or the HIPOs – my grandmother said the later so famous words:
    “Montgomery could very well have waited – after all it is my birthday!”

    The occupation was over.

    My father said later on, that he could not hate the German soldier, but he hated what they represented. He had very little concern with shooting at - and maybe killing Danes in German service.
    On the other hand he also knew, that there was a very thin line between joining the resistance or – as two of his school buddies did - fight communism in the Waffen SS.
    He comes from a very conservative home, where Finland’s fight against Russia was looked upon as something great and heroic.
    And it was some of the same danis soldiers who volunteered to fight for Finland, who later on volunteered to fight on against the Soviet Union in Waffen SS.

    Luckily he decided to fight for liberty in his own country. And I am even happier that he survived and live to this day.

    Sorry if this got a bit long – on the other hand, I hope some of you, might find it worth your while.

    Here is my father in the gala uniform of the Royal Guard. The only time he ever had it on, was the 10 minutes at the photographer. The rest of the time they wore fielduniforms.

    He he is - almost hidden in the background - with his group may 5 1945.

    And here to the left - horsing around with one from his group - dressed in danish army uniforms, may 5 1945
  2. PADDY

    PADDY I'll Lock Up Bartender

    Thanks so much for sharing this part of your family history.

    I very much enjoyed reading about your father. Thank you for making the effort to write and post this, as it's another small chapter of the war that many of us may not be familiar about. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.
  3. Twitch

    Twitch My Mail is Forwarded Here

    Thankyou Spitfire. This is an example of one of the many stories lost between the lines to the ages. There are so many that will never be told. Thanks for the insight.
  4. Smithy

    Smithy I'll Lock Up

    Wonderful stuff S??ren. As the others I found it fascinating. Thanks mate :eusa_clap
  5. Big Man

    Big Man My Mail is Forwarded Here

    I would respectfully disagree. Your father, and those like him, were indeed heroes. Thank you for relating his story here. The contributions of those like your father need to be told time and time again so they will never be forgotten.
  6. Thanks for posting.
  7. Thank you all for you kind words.
    I printed both my post and you replies out for my father to read, and he still claims that he was not a hero in any way - and that he most certainly doesn't feel like one.
    In order to give a true picture of the occupation and the resistance he told me a couple of things, I would like to bring on:
    They were not many - actually there were more danes fighting in the SS on the russian front at some time, than in the resistance fighting the nazis.
    Most of the time, they just did daily routines, like their job, shopping etc. and then they waited. Waited for weapons, explosives, orders etc.
    To give an exampel of the time and the missions he was involved in, he said that it was extremely different. From something extremely dangerous and blody - to something almost Stan and Laurel.

    When they had to shoot their way out of an ambush, after a mission blowing up a factory, he killed 3 german soldiers with a handgrenade and a stengun. Simply by throwing the grenade at a position where 3 german soldies were hiding, and before the last one could reach for his weapon, my father ran up and shot him with his stengun.
    That is something he never forgets.

    And in the other end:
    While hiding "underground" he stayed with some family in Jutland.
    The uncle was a stationmaster at a large trainstation, where all trains going through Jutland from Germany and Europe to Norway came through and sometimes were stacked up for days.
    Every evening the uncle put on his uniform cap, lit his pipe and went for a walk with the dog. In his pocket he had a wet cloth and a piece of chalk. And with that he did more damage to the Wehrmacht than many bombings of trains. Because of his job and the official cap, he could walk everywhere and the German guards even saluted him.
    When he came upon a train with tanks or amunition for Oslo or Narvik, he simply whiped out the destination on the blackboard and wrote something else - like Boulogne, Berlin or what ever. The next day the trains were sent to everywhere in Europe but their destination.
    Food for German troops in Italy or France went back to Oslo.
    Tanks for the eastern front went to Italy.
    My father often joined him on these nightly "sabotage missions"
    And as he says: I often wonder which had the biggest impact on the war. The bloody battles, ambushes, killings or the wet cloth and pice af chalk.
    Anyway - I just did my little bit. Never got a medal and never turned up in the reunions afterwards. When it was all over - I just wanted to get on with my life.
    Some of my friends got killed - and I honour them in my way. I don't have to be in any historybooks."
  8. carter

    carter I'll Lock Up

    Thank you for sharing this.


    Thank you for sharing your father's story with us. Oftentimes we only get the big picture where war is concerned. Who won, who lost and so forth. The personal stories are much harder to find.

    This is particularly interesting to me as I am currently reading Soldies of the Night by David Schoenbrun. This is a story, much like your father's, of ordinary men and women throughout France who actively resisted the German occupation as well as the Vichy government. In the beginning, it was very much as your father described, printing leaflets, gathering intelligence, building cells and networks of the resistance. Most of this was done in isolation, before resistance groups learned of one another. Some were right wing and many were communist party members. All were patriots first, no matter their political persuasion. At first the communists were actually better organized as they had been dealing with repression before the war. In the beginning they had very, very little support from Great Britain or the U.S. They were on their own. THese people probably didn't think about the incredible courage it took to resist.

    And this occurred in every occupied nation in Europe. Imagine how many untold stories there are. Although there are fewer every year.

    It's so easy to say, "Ordinary people did extraordinary things", and not really consider what that meant. These people were in imminent danger every moment of the day. They often had to "go underground" or relocate, sometimes just moments ahead of the police or the Gestapo. They were indeed heroic figures although they probably never considered it. Those that survived remember many lost comrades that we will never know of. Some stories are just too hard to tell.

    We need to read more stories like this. Thank you for sharing this with us. Please thank your father as well. This is a wonderful gift as was the immeasurably greater gift they all gave. We should never forget.

  9. Spitfire: Thanks so much for this fascinating stuff.
    I was with my girlfriend's family last weekend, and her brother, who was in France during the war (born in 1939), was describing one night when about 300 American B-17's flew over at about 3 AM. He said the entire village came out to look. They stood there staring at the sky. They could see nothing, but there was a huge rumble that permeated the air. "We thought it was the end of the world", he said. SO many amazing stories, even the tiniest detail can be loaded with meaning, like the stopry of the chalk.
    Come to think of it, those bombers were probably Lancasters, being that they were flying at night. Whatever.
    He also said the first airplane he ever saw was a Me 109, zooming over his house at about 50 feet above the deck. No idea where he was going or why he was flying so low. Rather startling.
  10. Steven180

    Steven180 One of the Regulars


    I just stumbled upon this while exploring some old threads; an amazing tale Sir.

    I was just in Copenhagen October 2010 for the first time and visiting the Resistance museum was at the top of my list. What a great place and I thought it profiled well those few that did so much in the Danish resistance. I also picked up an exceptional book there that I thought was one of the most honest, insightful, and personal accounts that I’ve read of any Resistance so far. I’m sure that you’ve probably seen or read it - “Resistance Fighter,“ by Jorgen Kieler. I suspect it may possibly provide some basis for the documentary (Danish movie on the Resistance) you profile in your other thread. The book gives a great presentation of the evolution of the Resistance, the story of the capture of one of its sabotage cells, their imprisonment and captivity, and post war reunification with family, and later criminal searches and legal battles.

    Again, thanks for sharing such a poignant and personal family story. Our best to you and all there.
  11. Thanks for your kind words - I will most certainly pass them on to my father.
  12. cco23i

    cco23i A-List Customer

    Yes DEFINITLY Spitfire THANKS for posting this your father WAS a hero for what he did. An OUTSTANDING story!!

  13. Chasseur

    Chasseur Call Me a Cab


    Thank you for sharing, a wonderful familly story/history!
  14. Dear Spitfire,

    Your father's experiences are fascinating and amazing to read. You must and should be extremely proud of him. Not to sound clichique or anything, but that would, as they say, "make a great movie".
  15. I'm sorry to reply so lately, I've just found the thread today;

    and I want to thank you, Spitfire, for sharing your great familiar memories, and I wish to express my sincere admiration to your father.
  16. Thank you all for your all too kind words.
    I just want you all to know, that I did not write this in order to glorify my father, myself or my family in any way.
    Instead it was a way to tell the not-so-often-told part of WWII as it probably happened in many occupied countries, where the war was fought in quite another way than at the well known fronts.
  17. Of course you didn't, Spitfire. The Second World War, as with all parts of history, has its own hidden, secret, unknown, untold stories that never see the light of day. Your father's saga is just one of millions of these little stories that everyone should hear but which we so often, never get the chance to.
  18. Steven180

    Steven180 One of the Regulars

    Agreed. No one here thinks you did Sir. I often point out the resistants and partisans operated with a level of courage and devotion that can not be matched in any other Soldier role. The consequences of their actions not only guaranteed their own immediate death, but the impact of their actions on their family or civilian populace as well. Although recognized, I wish that we could measure these experiences more thoroughly. Definitely a huge contrast in the human, personal and familial effects of resistance work from all other roles on the battlefield.

    Wonder how many other in the Lounge can account for, or speak to resistance backgrounds.

    Thanks again, due respect to your father and your family.
  19. And so ends the story.
    On this morning, the 9th of April - which is also the day of the Nazi attack on Norway and Denmark - my father finally found peace after a couple of months of struggling with bad health.
    He turned 92 in January, and had - apart from the last few months - lived a happy and full life.
    When I told him about all your comments some time ago, his answer was very typical:
    "Tell them it was nothing, compared to what other people went through - but give them all my very best wishes".
    Last edited: Apr 9, 2012
  20. B-24J

    B-24J One of the Regulars

    Please accept my condolences Soren. I shall remember him and your family in my prayers tonight.


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