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Lieutenant General Wilhelm Mohr

27 February 1917 - 26 September 2016

Lieutenant General Wilhelm Mohr, who has died aged 100, escaped from his native Norway following the German occupation to fly fighters with the RAF, rising to become the chief of the Royal Norwegian Air Force (RNoAF) and to hold senior Nato appointments.

When the Germans invaded Norway on April 9 1940, Mohr was the deputy commander of a reconnaissance squadron based near Trondheim. It was soon apparent that the airfield would become untenable. Skis were fitted to the aircraft and Mohr and his men headed to an army unit further south, where he took command of the squadron.

Mohr and his pilots flew reconnaissance sorties to identify German advances, but by the end of the month it was clear that south Norway would have to be surrendered. He headed for the west coast and his aircraft was attacked and damaged en-route, but he reached the HQ for the remnants of the Norwegian Army Air Arm on a frozen lake. He met the commanding general of the Norwegian forces, who gave him permission to escape to Britain.

Mohr left the small port of Molde on May 2 with other Air Arm personnel, but their fishing boat was attacked and sunk. Undaunted, they commandeered another and headed for the Shetlands.

Portrait by Eric Kennington

After reaching Britain, Mohr soon left for Canada. Following the escape to Britain of the Norwegian royal family and government, it was decided to set up a training base for Norwegian military personnel and a site near Toronto was chosen. Mohr was one of the first flying instructors and played a key role in establishing what became known as “Little Norway”.

He returned to Britain in May 1941 and joined No 615 Squadron to gain combat experience on the Hurricane. He was soon made a flight commander and took part in attacks over northern France. He provided fighter escort to a force of heavy bombers on a daylight attack against German capital ships in Brest.

In January 1942 Mohr became a founder member of No 332 Squadron, the second Norwegian fighter squadron equipped with the Spitfire. After a brief spell as the deputy commander, he assumed command in April. Operating from RAF North Weald, just north of London, Mohr led his squadron in attacks over France. During one operation he was in combat with a Focke Wulf 190 when he was wounded in the face, but he continued to fly on operations.

On August 19, the two Norwegian Spitfire squadrons provided fighter support for the ill-fated raid on Dieppe. Mohr was involved in dogfights with Luftwaffe fighters and was wounded in the leg, but continued his patrol for a further 30 minutes; his squadron accounted for seven of the enemy. On landing he refused treatment until he had organised a further operation by his squadron. Shortly afterwards he was awarded the DFC for his actions over Dieppe.

In September, King Haakon VII of Norway and his family visited North Weald and Mohr, his foot in plaster, was presented with the Norwegian War Cross with Swords. A few weeks later he married his fiancée Jonna, who had served as a courier with the Norwegian Resistance but had been forced to flee to Sweden in late 1941. She worked there for a year as a secretary for the Norwegian Defence Attaché before leaving for Britain.

Mohr continued to fly on operations before being rested in April 1943. Six months later he joined No 132 (Norwegian) Wing. On the morning of D-Day he flew a patrol over the beachhead in his Spitfire. Within weeks Mohr and his wing moved to a makeshift airstrip in Normandy to provide close support for the Allied ground forces. Over the next few months the Norwegians moved eastwards to Belgium and the Netherlands, attacking lines of communication, trains and enemy formations. Two weeks after the German surrender he landed back in Norway.

In 1960 he was appointed chief of staff of the RNoAF and three years later became its commander-in-chief, a post he held for six years. In 1969 he was appointed deputy commander-in-chief of Nato’s Allied Forces Northern Europe.

From The Daily Telegraph 25 October 2016

    Additional Material Not Included in Daily Telegraph Obituary

Prime Minister Erna Solberg called Mohr 'one of Norway’s greatest war heroes,' and claimed that few did as much as he did for his country. 'We are grateful for what he did for Norway,' Solberg stated. 'He fought for our values, for freedom and democracy.'

Mohr, born on June 27, 1917, was a fighter pilot during World War II and later played a central role in building up Norway’s air force. It was his wartime performance that won him the most accolades.

He was stationed at the Værnes air station outside Trondheim when Nazi Germany attacked Norway on April 9, 1940. After taking part in remarkable battles against the invading forces, he made his way to Canada along with several other fighter jet pilots, where he served as both a pilot and instructor and helped build up the air base known as 'Little Norway.' It was there that many Norwegian pilots became fighter pilots during the war, with Mohr as their instructor.

He then served in both Norwegian and British air squadrons from 1941 to 1945, mostly over the English Channel, Belgium and France. He also served for a year at Norway’s main military command in exile in London. General Major Per-Egil Rygg wrote in Tuesday’s Aftenposten that Mohr led 'some of our most important contributions' to the fight against Hitler’s forces from his base in Great Britain.

Mohr was awarded Norway’s highest military honours and his career continued after the war, when he became chief of the Royal Norwegian Air Force. 'Most air force personnel had the pleasure of meeting Wilhelm, and among us he had the status of being a living legend,' Rygg wrote.

Mohr’s death, according to Rygg, marks 'the end of an era.' The Air Force’s 'greatest war hero, our highest decorated soldier and our greatest mentor has landed for good,' wrote Rygg. He will be laid to rest at the state’s expense at 1pm Friday at Uranienborg Church in Oslo. His family suggested donations to the Bæreia Veterans’ Center near Kongsvinger, in lieu of flowers to their homes.

'I’m glad that Mohr’s family accepted that his funeral expenses will be covered by the state,' state Prime Minister Solberg. 'His contribution to Norway will stand for generations to come.'

Reprinted with the kind permission of the Daily Telegraph obituaries column.
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Article prepared by Barry Howard.

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