Danish Presentation Spitfires

Spitfire Site

The story of aircraft donation by Free Danes around the World in support of their fighting airmen

[US Library of Congress]

During the Second World War many Danes who escaped from German occupation of their country joined the Royal Air Force or the hereto attached Norwegian units. Among them were several Danish fighter pilots.

Considerably less known is the story of aircraft donation by Free Danes around the World in support of their fighting airmen. In 1941-1942, worldwide collection of funds among the Danish community in exile resulted in bringing up a sum of over £40,113 for a number of Spitfires to be flown by Danish pilots in the Royal Air Force squadrons.

In 1940, while the air war was raging in the skies over Southern England, a large number of Spitfire Funds were set up all over the world by corporations, counties, organisations and the like, with the aim of raising money for aircraft production. The tradition of donating money for weapons for the armed forces was not new; for centuries armament had been supplied by private initiative. In dark times, as the German forces were planning to cross the Channel, the idea caught on again.

In the summer of 1941, a delegation of the Danish Freedom Council in London travelled North and South America to visit free Danish on this continent. Inspired by an initiative among Danes in Eastern U.S. it was decided to start a worldwide collection of funds; a Fighter fund was set up.

On 9 April 1942, two years after the German occupation of Denmark, the result of the collection was presented to Prime Minister Winston Churchill in his office on 10 Downing Street. The delegation consisted of representatives of the Danish Council in London, the leader of the Danish recruitment office in London, Captain Iverson, P/O Jørgen Thalbitzer, machinist P. H. Skov, and seaman Helge Christensen. The £ 38,000 that were donated on this day were eventually increased to a total of £ 40,113. The aim was to donate 8 Spitfires for the Royal Air Force.

On the following day the first three aircraft were presented to the representatives of No. 234 (Madras Presidency) Squadron during an official ceremony at RAF Coltishall. In service with this unit were three Danish fighter pilots, P/O Jørgen Thalbitzer, P/O Aksel A. Svendsen and P/O Jens Ipsen, who also demonstrated the aircraft in the air. Present were also C.E. Aagaard, Danish ambassador to Sweden, Krøyer-Kielgaard, president of the Danish Council, Anker-Petersen, J. Wullf, H.T. Karsten, and E. Hertel.

The three Spitfires were given the names SKAGEN IND, NIELS EBBESEN, and VALDEMAR ATTERDAG.

Facsimile of the Air Ministry press release covering the Danish Spitfire donation
[Mikkel Plannthin]

Skagen Ind

SKAGEN IND means ‘Inbound the Skaw’ (the Skaw or Skagen in Danish is the northernmost tip of Denmark). It relates to a phrase used by Danish seamen approaching Denmark from the North Sea.

Photo of Spitfire Vb BL924 as SKAGEN IND, 10 April 1942
[Royal Danish Library]

In most Danish sources ‘Skagen Ind.’ is attributed to BL831. Therefore it was a surprise to me that Boot and Sturtivant in their pivotal book on presentation Spitfires indicated that the three Spitfires from the Danish donation carried the serial numbers BL830, BL831, and BL924. I am not convinced that they are right, though, even if documents suggest this. As for the first two aircraft their AM Form 78 confirms it. The last serial number, BL924, is documented in a photo of the aircraft taken on the day of the donation.

It is not likely, though, that all three aircraft quoted by Boot and Sturtivant carried the same name. First of all, Spitfire Vb, BL830 was taken on charge at No. 6 MU Brize Norton on 14 February 1942 and allocated to 129 (Myson) Squadron on 8 March 1942. In other words, a full month before the Danish donation. Hence this aircraft would be the only of the four not taken on charge by the RAF at No. 24 Motorization Unit on 16 February 1942. Furthermore it is the only aircraft that did not arrive at No. 234 Squadron on 5 April 1942. The AM Form 78 seems to have been filled in at a later point, and I find it likely that the aircraft’s association with the name occurred through an error.

Secondly, a photo which is most likely taken on 10 April 1942 documents BL924 as ‘Skagen Ind.’ I find it unlikely (although not impossible) that the aircraft switched name during the course of the following two weeks. From 18 April 1942 through to 24 April 1942 it is in the air at least once a day, except for the 21 April 1942. Nevertheless this aircraft is normally associated with the presentation name VALDEMAR ATTERDAG, see below.

Supermarine Spitfire Mk. VB
No. 234 Squadron, Coltishall, April 1942
Click on the image to enlarge

The aircraft most often associated with the name SKAGEN IND is, however, BL831. It was taken on charge at No. 24 MU Ternhill 16 February 1942 and went to 234 (Madras Presedency) Squadron on 5 April 1942. On 10 April 1942, it was one of the three Spitfires presented at RAF Station Coltishall. It was given the identification code ‘AZ-K’ and was used for sweeps from RAF Station Ibsley over France in April 1942 and, according to the ORB, often piloted by one of the Danish pilots of the squadron.

This aircraft was shot down by a Focke Wulf 190A-2 from 4./JG26 on 24 April 1942 over Berck-sur-Mer killing the American Flight Lieutenant Vivian Eugene Watkins. Curiously, BL924 was also lost during the same operation.

Supermarine Spitfire Mk. VB
No. 234 Squadron, Coltishall, April 1942
Click on the image to enlarge

Niels Ebbesen

The second presentation name of the three presentation Spitfires was BL855 NIELS EBBESEN. Niels Ebbesen was a Danish 14th century national hero. In 1340, he killed the German count Gerhard 3 of Holstein. The murder eventually leads to the end of the counts of Holstein ruling Denmark and King Valdemar 4 Atterdag seizing power.

Supermarine Spitfire Mk. VB
No. 234 Squadron, Coltishall, April 1942
Click on the image to enlarge

BL855 was taken on charge at No. 24 MU Ternhill on 16 February 1942. It was allocated to No. 234 (Madras Presidency) Squadron on 5 April 1942 and given the identification code AZ-U. Like ‘Skagen Ind.’ it was used for sweeps from Ibsley over Northern France in April and often flown by P/O Jens Ipsen.

On 25 April 1942, Sergeant W.J. Marshall forgot to close the side door of the aircraft while tanking off, crashed, and was repaired by Westland Aircraft. The aircraft’s last flight in No. 234 Squadron was on 7 November 1942 at the hands of P/O Jens Ipsen.

The aircraft was eventually converted to Seafire Ib and re-serialled NX920, arriving at Lee-on-Solent on 20 May 1943. NX920 was allocated to No. 761 Squadron FAA.

Valdemar Atterdag

The third name born by the first Danish presentation Spitfires was VALDEMAR ATTERDAG. King Valdemar 4 Atterdag was a medieval Danish king who reigned from 1340 to 1375.

Supermarine Spitfire Mk. VB
No. 234 Squadron, Coltishall, April 1942
Click on the image to enlarge

Spitfire Vb, BL924 ‘Valdemar Atterdag’ was taken on charge at No. 24 MU Ternhill on 16 February 1942. The aircraft was allocated to No. 234 Squadron on 5 April 1942 and given the identification code AZ-G. The aircraft was engaged in operations from Ibsley over France during following weeks.

The aircraft was shot down 24 April 1942 by Focke Wulf 190A-2 from 4./JG26 over Berck-sur-Mer. Its Danish pilot, P/O Aksel A. Svendsen was reported missing in the crash.

Later, Svendsen’s brother has donated a replica of the aircraft to the Tangmere Military Aviation Museum.

As mentioned above, this aircraft did carry the name ‘Skagen Ind.’ at least once. AM Form 78 of BL924 associates the name ‘Valdemar Atterdag’ or rather ‘Atterdeg’ to the aircraft.

Yet another Spitfire and a Hampden

The Free Danes’ Spitfire Fund originally planned a donation of 8 Spitfires in all. At the end of the day, according to Boot and Sturtivant (2005) four Spitfires and a Handley Page Hampden were donated.

The fourth Spiftire (mark and serial number unknown) was given the name HOLGER DANSKE, after another Danish national figure. According to the legend, Holger Danske is asleep beneath Kronborg Castle in Elsinore, but he will awake and come to rescue if Denmark is in real danger.

Finally a Handley Page Hampden, serial number AT524 (or possibly AT254) was given the name KING KRISTIAN d. X. If indeed it was AT254, the aircraft was allocated to 489 (RNZAF) Squadron. Danish pilot Henning Petersen flew the aircraft.

Boot and Sturtivant, Gifts of War – ‘Presentation Aircraft’ in Two World Wars 2005
Palmér, 1945
Ancker, 2001
Air Ministry, Form 78, BL830,BL831, BL830
AIR 27/1439 AIR 27/1439

This Article has One Comment. Add Another!

By Bente (nee Ipsen) Larsen  |  2012-08-15 at 04:46  |  permalink

My brother was one of the three pilots, Jens Ipsen. He died very recently in Denmark. He was one of the first volunteers from Denmark.

Bente Larsen,(nee Ipsen)

Reply to Bente (nee Ipsen) Larsen