Saturday, November 9 2013, the town of Saint-Méloir-des-Bois experienced a memory day because it paid tribute to Lieutenant Jan Gert von Tangen, Norwegian pilot of 168 Sqd RAF, who died in action and fell on the town on Sunday, October 31, 1943 in the Bois-de-Couavra field.
Jan Gert von Tangen was born in 1917, the youngest child of Georges and Petra von Tangen. He spent the beginning of his life in Oslo and finished his university studies in 1936.
Three years later, he enlisted in the army at the call of General Mannerheim, the the same year that Finland was invaded by Russia. In 1940, Germany invaded Norway and Jan Gert von Tangen took part in a few battles in order to slow down the Nazi soldiers.
On the very day he returned from Finland to Oslo, Germany invaded Norway and he re-joined his regiment, participating – as far as I am aware – in some skirmishes north of Oslo to slow down the advance of German troops thus allowing the escape of the Norwegian Royal family and government, and their eventual evacuation to UK, together with gold bullion from the central bank, in a British warship from northern Norway.
Jan Gert somehow managed to find room in a fishing boat and escaped across the North Sea to the UK together with a group of like-minded patriots , and he eventually found his way to Muskoka (near Toronto) in Canada which at the time was the focal point for hundreds young Norwegians wishing to learn to fly or to serve as technicians in an air force then being developed by a charismatic regular Norwegian officer named Ole Reistad.
Reistad knew something of Jan Gert’s experience in Finland and recognised his qualities as a public speaker (not unusual in Norwegians of his background), including his family’s extensive connections at government level.
Shortly after he qualified as a pilot in about 1942, Jan Gert was sent on trip to the Norwegian diaspora in the mid-West (Minnesota) where he delivered a punchy, pragmatic speech to raise awareness about the plight of Norway and to raise funds. In this, he would undoubtedly have been helped by his boss, Reistad; and on the fundraising side he would have been given guidance by Georg Vetlesen, a well connected Norwegian relative who at the time was the business executive in charge of fundraising in the US and Canada for the Norwegian war effort.
For his first mission he was sent on reconnaissance on the other side of the Channel, in order to take photos of important works. Alas, on October 31, 1943, he will find death in the town. The exact circumstances are not known.
He had been posted to the Squadron on 25 August 1943, from No. 41 OTU., and was completing his first sortie. FD554 was issued to the Squadron on 19 August 1943. He was flying wingman to F/O. D A Clifton-Mogg for low level pictures of bridges near Vivier-sur-Mer, in the Normandy part of France. The reason of his loss is unknown, as there was no enemy opposition of any kind. F/O Clifton-Mogg saw the Mustang bank steeply to the left and lose height before impacting the ground for no apparent reason. No flak or enemy action was seen by Clifton-Mogg. In the Combat & Casualties - RAF & US Fighter Commands 1943 by Tony Wood, however, the reason for the loss is mentioned to be flak at Dol-de-Bretagne.
Jan von Tangen's Mustang FD554
A painstaking job
When Michel Desbois, mayor, decided to pay tribute to this pilot, he was joined by enthusiasts from the Breton Air Souvenir Association (Absa) but also by many Melorians and volunteers from outside the town. Like Odette Buard, a resident of the town who remembers that day of the crash. And in particular the fact that three days later, the coffin of the pilot was deposited in the family home and then loaded into a German car. Many other testimonies have come to complete this historical research.
St. Meloir des Bois, France
The day of November 9 2013 was filled with emotion. It began with a commemoration at the crash site. A permanent stone will be installed to mark the location of the field. Members of the pilot's family, the Norwegian consul, the sub-prefect, many elected officials and personalities were present. Following this commemoration, a mass took place in the church followed by a meal in the village hall. It was possible, throughout the day, to visit an exhibition in the hall of associations, near the town hall.
Memorial at St. Méloir des Bois
La Patrouille de France pay hommage to their fallen comrade Jan von Tangen
In accordance with his family's wishes Jan von Tangen's body was repatriated and re-interred at Vestre Gravlund, Oslo, on 9th. September 1946.
Vestre Gravlund, Oslo
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning we will remember
them. - Laurence
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