Norwegian Pilots Fighter Sweep December 29 1944
Spitfire in Norwegian livery
On Wednesday, December 29, 1944, around ten o'clock in the morning, twelve Spitfires from 331 Sqd (Norwegian) took off from the recently liberated airfield B79 (Woensdrecht) in southern Holland tasked with conducting an armed reconnaissance over German territory in the vicinity of Rheine. Three of these crashed in the municipality of Tubbergen. This is their story.
That happened around 30 minutes after take-off. Of these Spitfires which the pilots managed to escape from by parachute or via an emergency landing, one hit the ground on the Hardenbergerweg, not far from the farm of Flims on the Langemaatsweg. The second Spitfire crashed on the Pöttersweg, near the farm of Harmsen and the third came down on the Agelerweg, about 500 meters south of lock 5 of the Almelo - Nordhorn Canal.
One of those Spitfires, PL258 coded FN-K was flown by 2nd Lt Carl J. Stousland (left). Thanks to correspondence with him and a report he made in 1945 on his abruptly interrupted mission of December 29, 1944, it has been possible to largely reconstruct the events. The story of Stousland is as follows.
"We took off in the morning of December 29, 1944 from an air base at Bergen op Zoom, for an armed reconnaissance in the vicinity of Rheine. On the way back, near Rheine, our group was reduced from twelve to five Spitfires: Seven aircraft had to cancel the operation owing to technical defects, the remaining Spitfire pilots who flew with me were Maj. Martin Gran, Capt. 1st KB Johan Raeder, 2nd Lt Ole Tilset and F.Sgt Karl Haanes.
At Rheine, we managed to destroy three locomotives. After leaving the airspace above this city, we discovered on our return trip three FW 190s (possibly from IVe JG54 because they lost many planes this day). We immediately attacked the enemy fighters. One of the three appeared in my sights and I shot him down.
During this air battle, which took place between Rheine and the Dutch border, the Spitfire of Capt. Raeder collided with a damaged Focke -Wulf whose tail had been ripped from our attack, and rotating around its axis, the tail dived with the Fw 190 towards the ground. That all went so fast that Raeder had no chance of jumping and he went down with his Spitfire.
After the third Focke-Wulf was shot down, we regrouped and began the return trip without Raeder. A few minutes later we discovered a fourth Focke-Wulf near the Dutch border and decided to attack this plane as well. Maj. Gran and F.Sgt Haanes were in a good position for attack. Gran would eventually get this Focke-Wulf as well, the German crashing into German territory, near Getelo.
Collision between Spitfires.
My Wingman 2nd Lt Tilset and I were not yet in the right position for an attack. While trying to aim for the enemy, Tilset touched the top of my plane with the bottom of his Spitfire, bending my propeller blades. My fighter could no longer be held in the air, but I did not see a chance to save myself with my parachute. The cockpit hood had become jammed during the collision so that I could not open it anymore. Tilset's Spitfire was also so damaged that his plane also crashed, but he was able to get to safety into his parachute.
Fortunately, the instruments in my cockpit did not fail because of the collision, so I was able to make an emergency landing. I told the others via radio that I was going down and while my plane was floating down, there was still just a little time to find a suitable place for the emergency landing, which I wanted to do with my landing gear retracted.
I found an open space that seemed large enough to get the Spitfire on the ground. However, the closer I got to the ground, the smaller the landing site seemed. In addition, I saw an embankment with a row of birch trees and shrubs looming, and a hundred yards behind it a wide ditch and more trees. I decided not to try to jump over those obstacles and just continue the landing I had prepared. Luckily, I managed to push down on the tail of the plane at the last minute so that my Spitfire did not drill into the ground, which prevented me from being seriously injured. My plane came to a standstill just in front of the ditch.
Immediately I tried to open the cockpit hood and since there was no more air resistance, I succeeded after a few attempts. I immediately walked away from the device, which did not appear to be seriously damaged.
On a nearby road, (the Hardenbergerweg) about 50 meters from me, I saw four men standing (including someone later discovered to be Bernard Krone from Geesteren). I asked them in German if I was in German territory. They made it clear to me that I had landed in the Netherlands and so I asked in which direction I had to walk to escape the Germans.
They understood me and one of them advised me to follow the road in a westerly direction. However, I decided to cross the fields, but parallel to the road. A few minutes later, there were about 30 to 40 people watching me on both sides of the field I was in at the time. I no longer felt safe and therefore dived into a dry ditch to get out of sight. I hid for a few minutes and then decided to remove myself unnoticed, covered by the banks of the ditch.
So I soon came to a farm, where a man was working outside. He had also discovered me and gestured in my direction, whereupon I went to him through a close hedge. In German I asked the man if he was friendly to me, which he confirmed. Luckily he understood my German and my mix of Dutch and German. He advised me to take off my flying clothes and hand over the Luger pistol I was still carrying.
I did so and also gave him my portfolio, with some personal letters, with the request to destroy it. And my leg caps I had already loosened in the dry ditch. He handed me a civilian coat and after I put it on, the man took me to a nearby barn and showed me a hiding place in the hay. I was left there with the message that he would put me in touch with the Resistance.
The Spitfire of Stousland had meanwhile been discovered by the Germans and they kept the spectators at bay. A member of the land guard, a certain Rooschendaal, also appeared, who was given permission to take a closer look at the plane. He climbed into the cockpit and pressed a button on the control column.
The man did not know that this would fire the plane's machine guns. They immediately started rattling and the bullets hit splinters from the trees along the Hardenbergerweg. It may be a miracle that no one was injured. The guard left the cockpit very quickly.
With the Resistance.
The farm where Stousland ended up, after escaping the curious villagers via the ditch, belonged to the Schothuis family. They lived on the Hardenbergerweg in Geesteren. The man who picked him up was Bernhard Haghuis from Enschede who was hiding with the neighbor Grootelaar. Haghuis took the pilot to the kitchen, where the Norwegian gave him his wallet, pistol, flying jacket and leg caps, in exchange for a civilian coat. Bernhard Haghuis then took Stousland to his hiding place, at the farm of the Grootelaar family, a little further on, also on the Hardenbergerweg. He was hidden there in a barn, where a hiding place had been made under the hay. The Grootelaar family contacted the Resistance. That same Wednesday night, December 29, Stousland was to be taken to another safe hiding place, a short distance from where the Spitfire had crashed.
Bernard Krone from Geesteren, who was not a member of the organized Resistance, transported Stousland by bicycle that evening. Halfway through Harbrinkhoek, he handed the Norwegian over to Herman Kroezen and some other members of the Underground. Kroezen brought Stousland to the farm of the Geerdink family in Harbrinkhoek. There he was hidden in a concrete silo, with straw on the bottom as a bed. At dawn the next day, Herman Kroezen visited him again and brought something to eat. When it began to get dark, Kroezen took him to his house so that he could escape the loneliness and coldness of his hiding place. Here he met the Almelo resident Gerard Hoebink, better known at the time under the pseudonym 'Chris'. A former priest student, who left the seminary a year before his dedication and soon found himself in opposition to the German occupation. At bedtime, the Norwegian was brought back to the silo.
On Tuesday, January 4, 1945, Stousland was visited in its primitive hiding place by a certain Capt. Gaston Heylen, a Belgian who belonged to the Special Air Service Brigade (SAS), a Belgian parachute commando unit.
The SAS group, which was heavily armed, was dropped at Hoogeveen in September, during the Battle of Arnhem. The group was instructed to provide information on troop movements behind the front line. When it became clear that the Battle of Arnhem had resulted in a debacle for the Allies, five men from the commando tried to return to their own lines. After many wanderings, they ended up in Vroomshoop and hid in a boardroom of the van der Groot form. The Germans, who suspected something was wrong, however, surrounded the hideout, but the SAS commandos fought their way out. They all managed to escape because the Germans had not counted on the presence of such a heavily-armed group. The Belgian SAS ended up with the farmer Jan Ormel in Bruinehaar, who was also in the Resistance.
The group stayed here for about six weeks. The morgue in the small cemetery of Bruinehaar was used to send messages from there to England using a radio. However, the five commandos wanted to continue and Jan Ormel therefore went to Pastor Bouhuis van Langeveen. Pastor Bouhuis had contact with other Resistance groups and informed Herman Kroezen and Jan Lescher. Jan Lescher took over the group and brought three men with him downstairs and two in the area.
The SAS group which Stousland joined. The man with glasses, standing in the middle, was not with
the group that had been hiding in the municipality of Tubbergen for some time. Standing from left to right: Unknown, Unknown, Gaston Heylen. Seated from left to right: Sergeant Siffert, Capt. Debeve, Levraux.
The SAS group was also informed by the Resistance leaders of the presence of the Norwegian Spitfire pilot. On December 30, they contacted England via their radio, passed on the information about Stousland for verification, to make sure he was not German and also asked for more weapons, ammunition and supplies. This dropping could not take place in the short term and they were therefore forced to stay in Harbrinkhoek for a while longer.
To New Shelter.
Capt. Gaston Heylen therefore met Stousland on Tuesday, January 4, 1945. After talking to him, the first returned to his own hiding place. Stousland then found it difficult in his primitive accommodation, because after Heylen's departure, it began to snow heavily. However, the temperature was above zero and thus the snow melted away quickly. However, the meltwater ended up in the concrete silo, which thus became a very unpleasant residence. 'Chris' (Gerard Hoebink) therefore picked up the pilot and took him to Kroezen's house, intending to stay there, until another hiding address was found for him.
The next day, the Norwegian was brought by Jan Lescher and Jan Borgerink from Harbrinkhoek to the house of the Leus family, on the Bovenbroeksweg in Geesteren, half a kilometer north of the place where he had landed with his Spitfire. Jan Lescher was from the party because he was related to Leus and they wanted to pretend this was a family visit. Stousland was safe here, because the Germans had searched the area a few days ago, hoping to find the Spitfire pilot. During the day, Stousland was simply to be found among the family members, while he slept in a cellar under the part at night.
In the Leus family, which consisted of father Gerard, mother Hanna and the three sons Jan, Gerard and Harry, aged 10, 7 and 4, respectively, no one spoke English or German. As a result, Stousland did not have the opportunity to speak. However, the three boys often played in the kitchen with their 'Karel'.
'Chris' visited Stousland regularly and took some books with him and talked a lot with him to kill time. For 22 days the Norwegian went into hiding with this brave family and became impatient. When 'Chris' visited him again, Stousland asked if he could not be taken to liberated territory. The Resistance fighter took Stousland back to Herman Kroezen's house the same day. On February 3, 1945, Stousland heard that the opportunity existed to reach liberated territory. The Resistance had arranged an escape route for the five SAS commandos and the Norwegian was able to join the Belgians.
On February 5, around seven o'clock that morning, the SAS group and Stousland set off in a horse-drawn carriage loaded with straw. Under the straw were hand grenades, sten guns and ammunition. They had been dropped by the English in the Weitemansland four days earlier. Two inconspicuous guides on bicycles were nearby. The trip went towards Heeten, which they reached after five and a half hours. Only on 15 February did the group continue by bicycle, in the direction of Vorden, where they were transferred to a car, which took the company to Hummelo Castle. The six could not go on for the time being and were accommodated in a secret room, in a garden house.
Left: The castle Hummelo in the Achterhoek where Stousland and the SAS group hid in a garden house for some time.
According to Stousland, the castle was used as a hospital. He saw red crosses on the roof and walls.
On February 22, the group continued by bicycle to IJssel, which was crossed by boat. Without problems, the six finally reached liberated territory, where Stousland rejoined his squadron.
The Second Spitfire.
The Spitfire of 2./Lt O. Tilset (right), which had crashed into Stousland's plane, was, as described above, also damaged and could not remain in the air. As the fighter lost altitude, Tilset was able to jump out. Hanging on his parachute, he landed in a tree near the Harmsen farm on the Pöttersweg in Manderveen. The Norwegian broke his leg. Fortunately, he did not hang in the top of the tree and was able to free himself from his parachute on his own.
Tilset then stumbled, handicapped by his broken leg, to nearby heathland and hid there. His plane also came down in the vicinity of said farm and burned out completely.
Where's the Paratrooper?
From the border, some German farmers ran towards the crash site and shouted, 'Where has the paratrooper gone?' They looked with satisfaction at the burning wreck and a certain Hein Kienhuis who was also standing by the crashed Spitfire went into discussion with the Germans. This conversation became so agitated that they pushed him into a stream and then back to the Fatherland.
Some time later, the German Wehrmacht arrived on the scene in a truck. The soldiers immediately set off in the area in the hope of still being able to find the pilot. A number of Germans had dogs with them, with which they hoped to locate the enemy pilot. The soldiers took a couple of people standing by the wreckage to the Hannsen family's farm. There, they were placed in a row in front of the farm with the farming family, as if they wanted to shoot them. The Germans wanted to know where the pilot had stayed, but no one knew anything because Tilset had stumbled to a hiding place on his own. After a few scary moments, the dogs were successful. They tracked down Tilset and the group of people in front of Hannsen's farm was released.
The wounded Tilset, accompanied by the Germans, on the back of the bike at the Mandervener Kosters, was taken to Tubbergen. Tilset was taken care of by the Germans and eventually ended up in a Prisoner of War camp where he remained until liberation, a few months later. After the war, Tilset remained with the Norwegian Air Force (RNAF) until his death in 1957.
The Third Spitfire.
The third Spitfire that came down was that of Sgt. Vilhelm Nicolaysen (left below). He flew one of the seven Spitfires that had to return early due to technical problems. On the way back he could no longer hold his plane in the air owing to the damage.
Gerard Maathuis from Reutum, cycled that morning between eleven and half past eleven on the Agelerweg and suddenly saw three fighter planes, one of which quickly lost altitude. This plane mowed the peaks from a few pines at Kleissen's mill and then flew straight at Maathuis, who quickly jumped into a ditch. The fighter flew past him and hit the earthen bank on the other side of the road. Against the slope of that embankment, the plane was, as it were, relaunched.
The plane finally came to a stop a short distance away in a plot of heather from farmer Weiden. Gerard Maathuis climbed out of the ditch again and saw that the cockpit hood was opened and a pilot jumped out. Maathuis tried to make it clear to him that he had to go to the pine forest, a little further on, by the canal because Germans were stationed at the Kleissen mill. Nicolaysen understood Maathuis and immediately walked towards the forest.
When Maathuis cycled over the Agelerweg a few minutes later, he already saw a German truck approaching from the direction of Reutum. However, they did not discover the Spitfire, which lay a short distance from the road in the heathland and drove at full speed. Soon, however, the truck returned and stopped next to Gerard Maathuis. They had found the crashed fighter and asked him where the pilot had stayed. Maathuis replied that he had seen the pilot jump over Ootmarsum.
And there the truck went again, like greased lightning. This gave Nicolaysen more time to get away. Gerard Maathuis also quickly got off his feet. Some time later, the Germans returned and searched the area but found nothing.
After a few days of guarding the Spitfire, dismantling the heavy engine, weapons and instruments, the Germans left the scene of the crash. Farmer Weiden, who lived nearby and was the owner of the heathland, decided to save the fighter with the help of a horse-drawn carriage. Weiden took the Spitfire to his farm and parked the British fighter in the yard as a sight to behold.
However, the Germans soon reappeared at the heathland and saw that the fighter had disappeared. Immediately they searched the area and found the plane on the yard of farmer Weiden. The latter got into great difficulty as a result, but after much shouting it still went well for the farmer.
On the Run.
Walking towards the pine forest, Nicolaysen discovered a farm. The Borgreve family lived here. Hendrik Borgreve, who was outside, saw the pilot approaching and encouraged him to come in with gestures. However, Nicolaysen refused and Borgreve understood that the pilot wanted to continue, because the plane had crashed in the immediate vicinity and it would not be long before the Germans were on the scene. Nicolaysen made it clear to Borgreve that he wanted a cap. The farmer provided him with the requested headgear and also gave the pilot a few sandwiches and a bowl of milk. The Norwegian pilot then set off again, across the meadows.
Some time later Gerard Oude Oosterik from Weerselo saw him. Gerard, who had acquaintances in the Resistance and had housed some fugitives in his house, picked up Nicolaysen and took him to his farm. There he hid the Norwegian in the attic. Gerard brought the new fugitive something to eat, whereupon one of the others asked where he was going with the food. Gerard replied that the dog and cat also needed something. Four days later, Nicolaysen received a map from one of the Resistance fighters who regularly visited at Oude Oosterik. A route to Almelo was indicated on that map. NIcolaysen was provided with civilian clothes and went with the card on his way to an address in Almelo, where he had to report, namely to the Kluppels family on the Biezenstraat.
Our pilot arrived in Almelo without any problems and stayed with the said family for two weeks. During that time, the Norwegian became friends with his daughter, Dini Kluppels. 'Nico', as the family called him, was then brought to Henk Hofstede in Rijssen by Dini, dressed as a woman. He stayed there for two days and then went to 'Tante Kee' Jansen in Nijverdal, where he was in hiding until the liberation. During their stay in Nijverdal, Nicolaysen and Dini Kluppels saw each other regularly.
After the liberation, 'Nico' had to report back to his unit and the contact was broken. Later, however, they began to correspond with each other and even the Almelo family paid another visit to Norway in 1946 and met him. But fate struck in 1951, when Nicolaysen crashed a plane he was flying on a flight from Schiphol to Oslofjord in Norway. In addition to the former fighter pilot, 10 other occupants were killed in the disaster.
We salute the heroines and heroes of the Dutch Resistance!