Portrait by Erik Kennington
A few years back, we put together a story about the portraits of Royal Air Force fighter pilots by the outstanding Second World War artists Cuthbert Orde and Erik Kennington. One of those hundreds of portraits stood out from the rest in that it embodied what I am sure the Royal Air Force perceived to be the essence of the fighter pilot —youth, clarity of purpose, casual demeanour in the face of mortality, the epitome of good looks meant to inspire a nation and make young women swoon. Despite representing the RAF's archetype, it was not the portrait of a man from Great Britain, or even the Commonwealth. It was, rather, the portrait of a Norwegian teenager. Since then, I have searched the Internet for material about the young man from Oslo portrayed by Kennington in 1942. The young man, a boy by today's standards, turned out to be much, much more than a beautiful face and a striking pose.
Everything I managed to find about this man, I found on the Internet. Though there exists an official biography (Marius—Skiløper-Jageress-Krigsfange, Historien om Marius Eriksen by Cato Guhnfeldt) it is in Norwegian and while the book would have helped me put together some missing bits in the young man's life, there is easily enough scattered across the internet to tell a compelling story of a warrior and a sporting man who stood for both family honour and national pride. The story has a strong Canadian connection too, for the young man and his Norwegian comrades were trained in Canada, and many, like him, fought tenaciously in the skies over the small French coastal town of Dieppe on August 19, 1942. Below them, on the stony beaches of that now legendary place, Canadian raiders died by the many hundreds.
This is much more than the story of a dramatic painting of a handsome man. It is the story of a determined Norwegian youth and the future of his country that hinged around him and his camrades, and about his contributions to Norwegian culture that linger to this day. Dave O'Malley
“For King, Country and Honour of the Flag”
War, for any nation caught in its misfortunate grip, can be a fiery forge of national identity. Victory or humiliation in conflict can serve to shape the national consciousness and international persona of countries for generations beyond armistice. Canada traces its unique patriotic identity to the Battle of Vimy Ridge, a witheringly deadly day in the First World War when Canada snapped the last colonial cord that bound her to Great Britain. One just has to look at the emergence of Nazism in the wake of Germany’s humiliation in the First World War to know that victory is not the only sculptor. The fighting forces of nations understand that, in these cataclysmic times of war, they are not just caught up in history but are the navigators of its course. The Royal Air Force, not much more than 20 years old when the Second World War began, fully grasped that history was in the making and that, one day, these events and the people that populated them would fill new halls in old museums and redefine the image of the nation.
To a nation at war, symbols and heroes are the antidote to fear and privation. Stories of duty, courage and victory, even posthumous ones, give hope to a population with little, inject stiffness into the backbone of the common man and create idols before which a nation kneels. In the forging of these great heroic avatars, the Royal Air Force employed everything at their disposal—The London Gazette, news reels, Flying and Victoria Crosses, medal-pinning events at Buckingham Palace, public relations teams and even a number of prominent war artists and portraitists.
The RAF engaged the talents of a number of these artists early in the war to capture the spirit of the aerial fighting man and to build a painterly pantheon of heroes that would inspire the populace and elevate the personas of selected airmen—artists like William Rothenstein, Charles Cundell, Allen Gwynne-Jones, John Mansbridge, Henry Lamb, and the two most prolific and important of them all—Cuthbert Orde and Erik Kennington.
Kennington and Orde were offered full-time and salaried positions with the Air Ministry and travelled the country visiting air bases to sketch and paint aircrew or had them come to their London studios. In most cases, the RAF selected the pilots and aircrew, mostly recent recipients of decorations for courage or combat successes. The RAF made sure that this included the contributions of foreign nationals in the air force—Free French, Poles, Czechs, Canadians, Belgians, Australians, South Africans, New Zealanders and Norwegians. The prolific Orde preferred to sketch in charcoal and white chalks and his large oeuvre of fighter pilot portraits is synonymous with the Battle of Britain and pre-Normandy fighter operations. For my taste though, I prefer the more dramatic chiaroscuro of Erik Kennington's pastel drawings—hints of battle dress blue, flashes of ribbons, oily Mae Wests, and the curiously contradictory auras of strain and serenity, all emerging from the depths of a dramatic atmosphere.
Of Kennington's many fine portraits of this time, one stands out for me more than any other for its portrayal of the archetypal warrior—the iconic portrait of Royal Norwegian Air Force Spitfire fighter ace Sergeant Marius Eriksen Jr. of 332 Squadron, Royal Air Force. Illuminated from the right by some future and better world, Eriksen sits in calm repose, his bright and clear eyes contemplating some distant mortal task. A lock of his hair falls casually yet somehow deliberately across his beatific brow. A stylish red scarf flares at his throat. There is a bare hint of distaste in his countenance, perhaps for the tasks he is asked to carry out, perhaps for the vanity of the sitting. There is also no denying his extreme good looks—some would say that of a Nordic deity, a matinee idol, a fashion model or perhaps a sports hero. In truth, Marius Eriksen was all of this, and much more.
Eric Kennington's dramatic pastel-chalk portrait of 19-year old Spitfire pilot Marius Eriksen is perhaps his most striking in a stunning oeuvre of wartime portraits. The Imperial War Museum, on their Collections website states: “This portrait of Norwegian pilot Marius Eriksen perhaps typifies both Kennington's approach and the Air Ministry's preferred imagery of its personnel. ... Kennington depicts him as if ready to fly at any moment, wearing a life jacket and a polka-dotted cravat. Kennington emphasizes Eriksen's artfully arranged blonde hair, Hollywood-like looks and film star pose, creating the epitome of the wartime fighter pilot. Eriksen was a talented youth skier in peacetime, became a bold fighter pilot and after the war appeared in films, so his personality tallied with the imagery.” For more on Erik Kennignton's and Cuthbert Orde's superb portraits of airmen of the Second World War, click here. Portrait: Erik Kennington
Marius Eriksen was born to a Norwegian family of remarkable accomplishment. His father, Marius the senior, was an Olympic athlete, lifelong outdoorsman, inventor and businessman. He competed for Norway in team gymnastics at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, winning a bronze medal. He was also a top competitor in Nordic combined events in Scandinavia, skiing from the Telemark region of Norway, where modern high-speed downhill skiing was invented. Marius Sr. parlayed his Olympic fame into a position as the head of the sporting department at Oslo's famed Gunerius Pettersen department store (still functioning today). From this point forward, Eriksen became known as a ski equipment expert and inventor, soon opening his own shop—Eriksen Sport of Oslo. His fortunes grew with his patents. He was the inventor of the “Eriksen Toeplate”, a revolutionary ski binding that we, who are old enough, remember as the “bear trap” binding. The bear trap binding was standard equipment for soldiers of the US Army's 10th Mountain Division during the Second World War and remained in common use until the 1960s and the arrival of the heel and toe release binding. He and his wife Birgit, nicknamed “Bitten”, also an accomplished ski racer, had two sons —Marius Jr. and Stein. Both of these two sons of the Eriksens would, in time, become heroic and cultural figures for their nation—each in his own way icons of Norwegian courage and prowess. While the story of younger brother Stein is widely known in the Western United States and around the alpine skiing universe, the story of Marius Eriksen Jr., his older brother is more complex and, for a student of aviation history, more compelling.
Marius Eriksen Sr. clowns around with his wife Bitten. Bitten was a ski racer in the early twentieth century when not many women were involved in the sport. She co-founded the Norwegian Ladies Ski Club (Damenes Skiklubb) in 1931 but is best known for what she is doing in this photo—knitting. An avid knitter and pattern designer, she began creating a series of knitting patterns in the late 1920s for the famous Norwegian sweater manufacturer, Dale of Norway (back then it was called Dale Garn og Trikotasje). Later, she created a sweater design for her husband Marius and knit the another one in 1943 as a gift for his son Marius Jr. who was in a PoW camp in Germany and presented it to him upon his triumphant return. That design, as we will see, went on to become an Norwegian cultural icon and a controversial one at that. Photo: archive.li
The Eriksens enjoyed skiing throughout Europe and made many strong business connections in the process. Here at St. Anton, Austria in 1932, Marius Sr. and Bitten (second and third from left) hang out with other famed ski industry people — (Left to Right). Willy Bogner Sr. (German ski clothing designer), Marius, Bitten, Otto Lang (Bosnian ski-instructor and film-maker), Mary Bird (later a member of the first American women's ski team), Hannes Schneider (respected St. Anton ski instructor) and Lother Rübelt (world-famous Olympic and sport photographer). Both Schnieder and Lang subsequently moved to the United States and, during the war, helped train the Nordic soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division. It was precisely this connection with the German and Austrian skiing community that put the Eriksen family under suspicion following the 1940 invasion of Norway. Photo: Skiing Heritage Journal
Marius was born December 8 (actually as I am writing this, I realize that today is also December 8, 95 years to the day he was born!), 1922 in the city of Kristiania, Norway. (originally Oslo, the city's name was changed to Kristiania in 1877, but reverted to Oslo in 1925, three years after Marius Eriksen's birth). He grew up in a sporting environment, focused on the growing sport of downhill skiing and achieved considerable success in both slalom and ski-jumping, and competed at the FIS World Championships at Zakopane, Poland in February, 1938—the last word-class European ski meet for the next 8 years. Following the Second World War, he became the Norwegian slalom champion in 1947 and 1948.
Because of his family's strong ties with the German and Austrian skiing community (see above photo), the Eriksen family was under unfounded suspicion of collusion with the Nazis. Six months after Operation Weserübung (the 1940 German Invasion of Norway) young Marius Eriksen got permission from his parents to leave Norway and join the fight against the Nazis in order demonstrate his family's loyalty. He made his way to the small northern seaport of Ålesund, from where he travelled to Scotland. Åselund was known as “Little London” during the Nazi occupation, for the intense level of resistance activity in the area, some of it orchestrated by British agents. Among other activities, the city was central to clandestine flights between Norway and Scotland/England and as one of the launch points for the famed “Shetland Bus” runs. The Shetland Bus was a nickname for a program of clandestine voyages made by Norwegian fishermen and sailors on behalf of the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) and Special Operations Executive (SOE). During the war, the Shetland Bus service carried 192 agents and 383 tons of weapons, radios and explosives into Norway and extracted 73 agents and 373 refugees. It is likely that a blond, blue-eyed teenager by the name of Marius Eriksen was one of these refugees. He was just 17, courageous and bold, and he had a plan to become a fighter pilot, clear his family's name and fight for his country against Nazi oppression.
Following the Nazi invasion, the Norwegian government in exile decided that escaped airmen of the Norwegian Army Air Service and the Royal Norwegian Navy Air Service would be kept together to form a unit independent from the Royal Air Force. That is why we do not see their participation in the Battle of Britain as we do Poles, Free French or Belgians. For these already trained pilots and airmen as well as young Norwegian men (boys in the case of Eriksen) who wanted to join the air force at this time, it was necessary first to cross the icy and U-boat infested North Atlantic to Canada, where Norway had set up a independent training facility in Toronto, Ontario for the ab-initio training of pilots, navigators and ground crew. This facility operated from a municipal airport on Centre Island, just a few meters off the north shore of Lake Ontario. This Centre Island facility and its shore-based barracks, administration buildings and classrooms would soon be known as Little Norway—a moniker that would soon extend to a second facility in the Muskoka region north of Toronto. Little Norway, in Ontario, would become the birthplace of the modern Royal Norwegian Air Force when the Army and Navy air services were eventually combined in 1944.
Fourteen raw Norwegian student pilots “listen up good” to an instructor at Little Norway. Wearing freshly issued flight suits, gloves, helmets and turtleneck sweaters, and standing with their parachutes, these young men seem to be getting an orientation briefing. To the right, the tail of a Fairchild PT-19 Cornell peeks in. In the background, we see the hulking outfield wall and lights of Maple Leaf Stadium at left and Canadian Malting's grain elevators at right. It was here that Marius Eriksen would begin a flying career that would ultimately make him one of the greatest Norwegian aces of the war. Photo: digitalmuseum.no
Arriving in Toronto, Eriksen lived with fellow pilot trainees in barracks that had been hastily built along the Lake Ontario shore of Toronto's harbour. Here, in Little Norway's training buildings and, across a short channel known as the Western Passage, at Centre Island's recently completed municipal airport, the now 18-year old Eriksen began an “all-through” program that covered the whole gamut of training—drill, air force code, basic aeronautics, navigation, link trainers and elementary and service flying training. Marius and his fellow Norwegians who came directly from England in late 1940, were to take their advanced flying training and earn their wings at Little Norway. However, sometime in 1941, it was decided that those student pilots destined for fighter aircraft would complete their Service Flying Training at No.32 SFTS Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. It is not known whether Eriksen finished up his training in Saskatchewan.
Little can be found concerning Eriksen's months in Canada, but I did find a brief piece in a Montréal newspaper that indicated that it was not all flying and study during his stay. It showed young Marius and a larger group of Norwegian alpine athletes changing trains in Montréal on their way to ski in New Hampshire and take in the activities and co-eds of Dartmouth College's annual winter carnival. They all seemed to be wearing matching coats and were possibly representing some sort of national team.
While in Canada for flight training at Little Norway, 18-year old Marius Eriksen (second from left in front row) took time for a little downhill skiing pleasure. The above photograph appeared in the ski-page of the sports section of Montreal's La Presse French language daily newspaper on February 14 (St. Valentine's Day), 1941. It shows Eriksen and fellow skiers at Montreal's Bonaventure train station switching trains enroute to Hanover, New Hampshire and Ivy League's Dartmouth College winter carnival. All of the men were training at the Little Norway air base in Toronto. The men are: Front row (left to right): Tim Heiberg (Norwegian Downhill Champion), Marius Eriksen (Scandinavian Slalom Champion), Ulf Wormoal, Bjorn Bjornstad, Back row (Left to right): Finn Jespersen (Later killed in action), Hans Platou, Eirik Rolfssøn Malm (Killed in action over Belgium in 1942), Ottar Malm (Laurentian Slalom Champion). Photo: Canadian National Railway
Upon completion of his training and the award of his Norwegian pilot's wings, Marius Eriksen and a large number of newly-minted Norwegian pilots ran the U-boat gauntlet again and returned to England—the growing nucleus of Norway's emerging fighter pilot cadre.
Though they flew in squadrons within the Royal Air Force command structure, Norwegian pilots had Norwegian ranks and wore their own national insignia—shoulder flashes, hat badges and pilot's brevets. Norwegians wore their elegant wings (above) over the right breast as opposed to RAF aircrew who wore them over their left breast. Photo: emedals.com
Originally, the Norwegians had planned to have an entirely independent air force (command structure, aircraft and pilots) operating from England. By the time Eriksen and his cohort arrived back in England, the situation had changed somewhat. While the Norwegians would keep their rank structure and insignia, they were now to join Norwegian-staffed squadrons of the Royal Air Force. These were 330 Squadron (a coastal patrol and anti-submarine unit formed at Reykjavik, Iceland in April of 1941), 331 and 332 Squadrons (Spitfire fighter units formed at RAF Catterick in July of 1941 (331) and in January of 1942 (332)). Later, 333 Squadron would form at RAF Leuchars as a Coastal Command attack squadron. The intense feelings of national pride, the determination to extinguish the Nazi occupation of their homeland and their close national and cultural bond can be clearly felt in the choices for the squadrons' mottos—331's: “For Norway”; 333's: “For King, Country and the Honour of the Flag” and 332's: “Together into Battle”.
A photo of extraordinary loss, courage and sacrifice — Norwegian pilots in Great Britain in the summer of 1941, after they were trained at Toronto's Little Norway. It is not known where this image was taken, but perhaps after the group had arrived from Canada since there are both fighter and bomber pilots in the group, indicating this was not at a fighter OTU. Everyone but six were shot down, killed or captured. These men represent combat pilots in both fighter role and in bombers. Front Row (L-R): Bjørn Bjørnstad (Survived), Bjørn Raeder (Killed in combat Dec 29. 1944), Thorvald Johnsen (Killed by German flak in August, 1944), Jan Jørgensen (fate unknown), John Ryg (Survived), Erik Bertil Palm (Killed ferrying a B-25 Mitchell between Greenland and Iceland), Rolf Engelsen (shot down and captured in May, 1943), Eirik Malm (Killed in Action in Belgium in 1942). Second (L to R): Hans Petter Gramnæs (Shot down May, 1943 and captured), Svein Nygaard (Shot down and killed in July, 1942), Guy Owren (Killed in Action in 1943), Sigurd Jenssen (Killed on operations August, 1942), Marius Eriksen (shot down and captured in May 1943 (on the same day as Rolf Engelsen)), Per Bersgland (Shot down near Dieppe, August 1942 and captured—one of only three men who managed to get to freedom during the Great Escape), Erik Leif Westlye (Likely survived). Back Row: John Gilhuus (shot down and killed in December 1944), Yves de Castro Henrichsen (killed in a blackout car accident at North Weald on October, 1942), Erling Drangsholt (Survived), Finn Varde Jespersen (Shot down and killed on D-Day while flying a Lancaster), Jan Løfsgaard (Shot down and killed in 1943), Gunnar Fosse (Shot down and killed in October 1944), Helner Grundt Spang (Survived). Photo: Wikiwand.com
Following a brief time at an Operational Training Unit, Eriksen began his fighter pilot career with 331 Squadron at RAF Catterick in late 1941 on Spitfire Vbs, and then in January of 1942 when 331 moved off to RAF Castletown and Skaebrae in the extreme north of Scotland, he was sent to 332 Squadron which was just then forming up at Catterick. Once the squadron was fully operational, it was transferred to RAF North Weald, where, in March of 1942, it was joined by 331 Squadron to form part of 132 Wing, Royal Air Force.
19-year old Marius Eriksen (right) relaxes with other pilots of 332 Squadron at their mess at RAF Catterick in the spring of 1942. On the walls are photos of Norwegian landscapes and the Royal Family as well as the red and gold Norwegian Coat of Arms on the brick wall. The pilots are all wearing heavy flight boots (fairly new in the case of Eriksen), suggesting this was taken early in 1942 after the squadron was formed in January. Photo: Wikipedia
The youth of Marius Eriksen when he joined 332 Squadron is undeniable in this photograph of five Norwegian pilots at RAF Catterick. He looks to be 15 to 16-years old at the most, especially next to the pilot on his right. Despite his age (19), Eriksen would shoot down the first enemy aircraft of the squadron. The pilot second from the left is Egil Hagen, who survived the war and six forced landings and a broken back. Note the famous Someone Talked! poster behind them, one of the iconic propaganda images (Inset) of the entire Second World War. Photo: db.wingstovictory.nl
When Sergeant Marius Eriksen, fresh from Little Norway in Ontario, joined 332 Squadron at RAF Catterick where it was formed up in 1942, he was the youngest pilot on the squadron. Here he poses on the wing of Spitfire AH-P which carries a red, white and blue Norwegian Air Force pennant beneath the canopy rail. Photo: Pinterest
As Norwegian pilot Erik Haabjørn buckles on his parachute, a 332 Squadron mechanic warms up the Rolls Royce Merlin on his Spitfire at RAF Catterick on April 21, 1942. This particular Spitfire (L1031, AH-S) was a Mk Va, but was originally built as a Mk I and flew for the first time in June of 1939 a couple of months before the war started. It was re-engined and modified to Mk V standard a full year before this photo was taken. This old warhorse nearly lasted the entire war, being written off after a wheels-up landing at RAF Kidlington in January of 1945 where it belonged to the No. 1 Ferry Pilots Pool, likely as a training or currency ship. Erik Haabjørn was training to be a civilian pilot starting in 1939, and following the invasion by the Germans he was evacuated along with King Haakon 7 aboard HMS Devonshire. He completed his training at Little Norway in Ontario and returned to Great Britain where he joined 615 Squadron and then 332 Squadron. Photo: Norwegian Wikipedia
332 Squadron Spitfire Mk Va R7335 (AH-J) is buttoned up against the cold and wet at RAF Catterick in 1942. Photo: Pinterest
Marius Eriksen, with his signature pompadour, deals himself a round of solitaire while awaiting a call to scramble at RAF Catterick in North Yorkshire in the summer of 1942. Fellow Spitfire pilots Nils Ringdal (left) and Bjørn Ræder, looking bored, while away the hours in the same pursuit. All three men received their flying training in Canada at the Norwegian Air Force training facilities in Ontario known as Little Norway. Ringdal went on to command 331 (Norwegian) Squadron. After the war, he joined Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS) and then went on to the Norwegian airline, Braathens SAFE, where he was a Captain until his retirement in 1980. He died in 1986. Johan Kristoffer Bjørn Ræder, from Oslo, was shot down in May, 1943, but managed to evade capture and to return to his squadron after a harrowing eight-week journey through the Pyrenees and Gibraltar. He was back on squadron by end of summer, 1943. He was shot down and killed in combat in December, 1944. Photo: Pinterest
Beginning in the spring of 1942, Eriksen and the other pilots of 332 Squadron took to the skies from their base at RAF North Weald to the north east of the city of London. From the outset, the pace of operations was ceaseless, with pilots flying whenever the weather permitted, sometimes two and three sorties a day. There were both defensive scrambles to intercept interloping enemy aircraft as well as all types of offensive operations across the North Sea to the littoral regions of the Netherlands and France in squadron and wing strength. The squadron operations record books* (ORBs) record an endless litany of “Rodeos, Rhubarbs, Ramrods, Rangers and Circuses”. Circuses and Ramrods were short-range, daytime bomber operations that were covered or escorted by fighters like the Spitfires of the North Weald wing. Rhubarbs, Rangers and Rodeos were different types of freelance or independent fighter sweeps looking for enemy fighters or targets of opportunity on the ground. Marius Eriksen would grind his way through more than a year of these extremely dangerous sorties, taking the fight to the hated Germans. One-by-one, his friends and mentors would be shot from the sky. He would, over the next year and a bit, become the squadron's highest scoring ace, thought by many in his squadron to be their most talented—this in a wing of high-scoring and aggressive fighter pilots. Reading the ORBs of the next 14 months, we see in Eriksen a gifted pilot with excellent situational awareness and an ability to husband his ammunition to allow himself to stay in the fight longer.
It would be nearly four months after being declared operational before a 332 Squadron Spitfire pilot was able to claim a confirmed victory over an enemy aircraft. That man would be its youngest.
On July 30, 1942, a full complement of twelve 332 Squadron Spitfires, led by Major Mohr, took off from RAF North Weald at 1145 hours for a “Rodeo”—a fighter sweep in force over enemy territory. The weather was clear at North Weald, but visibility was poor over the North Sea with mist up to 5,000 feet. Ten miles from France however, the sky cleared somewhat with 5/10ths cumulus along the coast and inland. The squadron kept low level, crossing the coast at Pevensay Bay at “zero feet” and course to target area was made at sea level. Fifteen miles from the French Coast and over the North Sea, the wing made its operational altitude of 15,000 feet near the port and resort town of Le Touquet, near larger city of Calais. The Spitfires of 332 Squadron orbited briefly off Le Touquet then orbited several more times off the enemy coast a bit farther south near the town of Berck.
Green Section of 332 Squadron was made up of Sergeant Jan Løfsgaard (Green 1) and his 19-year old wingman and best friend Sergeant Marius Eriksen (Green 2) in a Spitfire V (BL314). The two friends had climbed to 18,000 feet during the orbit and were engaged by several “M.E. 109s” in line-abreast coming from directly behind and high (though officially designated Bf 109s, the single-engine Messerschmitt fighters were generally called Me-109s or M.E. 109s by pilots and intelligence officers. We use the official Bf designation (for Bayerische Flugseugwerke (Bavarian Aircraft Works)) from now on).
Løfsgaard and Eriksen made to engage the 109s, but were unable to catch them due to the steep climb of the enemy aircraft as they peeled away. Eriksen was then attacked by four more Bf 109s. He turned hard to port and called up Løfsgaard but got no answer. Turning hard three or four times, flicking from left to right, Eriksen attempted to escape his pursuer who still managed a wide deflection shot that scored hits on the young Norwegian’s tail. Eeriness managed to get in position behind an enemy aircraft, loosing a long burst of machine gun fire that found no hits.
He was soon pursued aggressively by several enemy fighters and dove through the clouds to escape, pulling out alone over the North Sea at about 3,000 feet. Unable to find Løfsgaard or any other aircraft from the squadron or even wing, he set course for North Weald and home. South of Le Tourquet he sighted a pair of Focke Wulf Fw 190s heading due south across the water at “zero feet”. He abandoned his plan to head home and turned to attack the last one, firing a three-second burst from 300-350 yards away. As the enemy aircraft approached the coast, Eriksen remained off shore to avoid coastal flak batteries. Despite not being able to chase them, he witnessed smoke issuing from the Fw 190 and shortly thereafter saw the pilot crash land at high-speed with the wheels up on the sand banks north of Berck. The aircraft bounced violently several times, then dove into the water off the beach.
In July of 1942, Marius Eriksen scored the first victory for 332 Squadron, shooting down a Luftwaffe Focke Wulf Fw 190 while flying Spitfire Vb LB314 (AH-M). The word LITAGO was painted on the side, a common name for a cow in Norway, in the way “Daisey” is in North America. Image via Jens-Ole at sim-outhouse.com
Eriksen, now low on fuel, made for home, low over the North Sea, and landed at RAF Tangmere where he refuelled and then flew home to North Weald, landing at 1440 hours, nearly three hours after taking off. Eriksen claimed the very first victory of the squadron over an enemy aircraft—verified by his gun camera footage. Løfsgaard was also able to claim one Fw 190 damaged. Eriksen was back in the air three hours later for a second rodeo of the day.
Three weeks later, on the bight sunny morning of August 19, 1942, as Canadian Army infantrymen and British commandos were fighting and dying on the stony beach of the small coastal town of Dieppe, 332 Squadron launched at 0630 from RAF Manston along with other elements of the North Weald wing to provide air cover for ships and the Canadians of Operation Jubilee. Eriksen, in Spitfire V BL634 was patrolling at 6-7000 feet along with the other pilots of 332 Squadron, when the Norwegians sighted enemy aircraft coming in from the north in sections of three and four aircraft. After chasing off the enemy, the squadron continued to circle the town of Dieppe all the while fending off continuous attacks by German Fw 190s. During the give-and-take fight the squadron lost two aircraft (Per Bergsland and Jan Staubo, both of whom were captured) but scored three victories including Fw 190s shot down by Eriksen and Løfsgaard.
Those who survived the Dieppe fight waited at Manston until their Spitfires were patched, fuelled and re-armed and were off again shortly after 1100 hrs and for the next two hours were heavily involved in aerial combat with Dornier Do 217s and other aircraft. At one point in the fight, Marius Eriksen was diving though cloud chasing enemy aircraft when he saw two Do 217s going in the opposite and southerly direction. He turned to attack them, firing long bursts in several attacks. He saw one of the crew bail out but his chute did not open. The Dornier then rolled onto its back and dived into the sea from 2,000 feet, trailing black oily smoke. He overflew the site of the crash and saw only oil and wrecked bits of the aircraft, but no survivors. Eriksen’s’ friend Løfsgaard was shot down but was picked up by RAF rescue launch. The men landed back at Manston at 1310 hrs and took lunch while their aircraft were refuelled and rearmed. An hour later, at 1415, Eriksen and his squadron mates took off for the third time and headed back to Dieppe.
For a Norwegian, perhaps Essex, England was almost the tropics. Here, Marius Eriksen (left) poses in almost tropical kit at RAF North Weald in the summer of 1942. With him is Jan Erik Løfsgaard, one of his best friends. Løfsgaard was shot down and killed in 1943. Photo: digitalmuseum.no
On the way, a sad event happened when pilot Løytnant (Lieutenant) Kristiansen shot down what he thought was an enemy aircraft that turned out to be a Hawker Typhoon. The wing shape of the Typhoon and the Fw 190 were very similar and it was such a problem that Typhoons often flew with D-Day-style wing stripes to help friendly pilots tell them apart. The Typhoon pilot did not survive. The squadron flew on to their position over Dieppe and again engaged in running gun battles, inflicting damage on the enemy and taking damage themselves. They landed again at Manston at 4 pm, exhausted and numb. Eriksen and some of the men were changed out for fresh pilots and, after tea and a rest, the squadron was back in the air for a fourth time at 18:50 hrs, bound for air cover duty over the retreating convoy from the failed Dieppe Raid. They arrived over the convoy at 19:10 and departed for home 35 minutes later without contacting the enemy. It was a terrible day for the Canadians on the beaches of Dieppe, but the squadron Operations Record Book summed up 332’s day on a more positive note: “At 2125 hrs, Sgt. Pilots had a Rendezvous with the Officers at Doon-House, and an attack was launched in the bar. It had been a hard day but everybody were [sic] happy. We had been able to hit back with success on those who brought our country into the war.” Eriksen's’ score now stood at three.
Members of the RAF's 332 (Norwegian) Squadron pose with a Spitfire at RAF North Weald during the winter of 1942-43. Marius Eriksen sits on the wing holding “Spit”, the squadron's Jack Russell terrier mascot. This photo was taken just a few months before Eriksen was shot down off the coast of the Netherlands and captured. A typical RAF squadron had either an English or Latin motto, but some squadrons, whose pilots for the most part came from one Commonwealth or European country, often had mottos in their own language. 332 Squadron's motto was Samhold i strid (Together in battle). Another example of this RAF practice was the motto for 75 (New Zealand) Squadron—Ake ake kia kaha (Maori for For ever and ever be strong). Photo: Pinterest
Eriksen continued on steady combat operations throughout the rest of 1942, but did not score another aerial victory or damaged enemy aircraft until mid-February of 1943. By this time, he was a 2nd Lieutenant (Fenrik—He had been commissioned in December of 1942) and had a Distinguished Flying Medal, US Silver Star and Norwegian War Cross with Swords. On the 3rd, he had a probable against a Focke Wulf Fw 190 over the Dieppe-Caveux area of the French coast. Finally, on the 15th, his luck changed for the better. During his second sortie of the day, Eriksen launched with other 332 Squadron Spitfires at 1505 hrs in Spitfire IX BS249, bound for the Dunkirk area to assist 20 B-24 Liberator bombers attacking an armed merchant ship. While escorting the bombers home, 332 Squadron pilots engaged the enemy and Eriksen shot down his fourth enemy aircraft—a Focke Wulk Fw 190.
This battle resulted in all aircraft being split up, including some of the bombers. Each made their own way home. Eriksen was following a damaged Liberator home, making sure it was safe, when he spotted an Fw 190 down on the deck and attacked it. He was unable to close the distance, but gave the enemy aircraft an eight-second burst of machine gun fire from dead astern. The result was that the enemy aircraft dived in the sea and disappeared without a trace. Turning his attention back to the Liberator, he saw it belly into the sea off the Kentish coast near Manston. He circled the spot covering the men in their life rafts until a high-speed launch arrived on scene. He landed alone at North Weald by 1640 hrs. His score now tallied five, making him a “jageress” or fighter ace, the squadron's first.
Marius Eriksen, in his monogrammed Mae West vest, strikes a typical fighter pilot pose against the 20mm cannon barrel on his 332 Squadron Spitfire at RAF North Weald. The heavy gloves, scarf and woolen turtleneck tell us this was sometime during the winter of 1942-43. On his collar, he wears the single white star of a “Fenrik”, a Royal Norwegian Air Force rank roughly equivalent to a Pilot Officer. Photo: NorwegianSpitfire.com
Another shot from the same photo session as the previous image shows a wider view with Eriksen and Marius' 332 Squadron mate John Bernhard Gilhuus who died near Raesfeld, Germany on December 17, 1944 while flying a Hawker Tempest with 80 Squadron. Gilhuus was the only Norwegian pilot to be killed while flying a Tempest. Photo: digitalmuseum.no
March 12, 1943 was warm and fair when twelve 332 Squadron Spitfires including Eriksen in Spitfire BS248 were scrambled at 0700 hrs from RAF North Weald to intercept raiders possibly making for the London area. Despite aggressively following the vectors they were given, they never saw the enemy aircraft and landed back home at 0840 hrs. Just before noon, they were in the air again, this time escorting B-17 Fortresses over France at 22,000 feet to a target near Rouen. The target was reached without incident, but as they left the area, they were attacked by enemy fighters — both Bf 109s and Fw 190s. A mile west of Rouen, Marius Eriksen (Blue 3) shot down one of the Fw 190s that was attacking his Blue Section leader. The squadron brought the Fortresses home to the English coast and landed safely at 1350 hrs. Before the day was over, they were in the air once again over Belgium and France.
The pace of operations was staggering with up to three sorties a day, but the morale of the squadron was high. The next day, Eriksen was up twice, but his day’s highlight was his award of the St. Olav’s Medal from the Royal Norwegian Air Force for “Bravery and personal skill in combat with the enemy on January 22, 1943 and also for long distinguished service against the enemy.” St. Olav's Medal with Oak Branch is a Norwegian military award, which was instituted by King Haakon VII of Norway on 6 February 1942. Of Norwegian war medals, it is ranked second only to the War Cross. The date of January 22, 1943, while, mentioned specifically in the medal citation quoted in the March ORB, is strange in that the January ORB clearly shows that Eriksen did not fly on operations between January 15 and the 29th. Though the fighting was continuous, Eriksen's score remained at six for nearly a month.
On April 4th, Eriksen increased his tally by one confirmed Messerschmitt Bf 109 shot down and another damaged in one of the squadron’s favourite hunting grounds—the skies around the coastal town of Dieppe. The squadron was returning from a Ramrod—supporting short-range bomber attacks on coastal targets. The weather was fine and clear. Eriksen was flying BS255, a Mk IX Spitfire. At ten minutes to 3 PM, the fight started and five minutes later it was all over.
Eriksen’s signed combat report states: “I was flying as Blue 3 and as we were about 15 miles outside the French Coast on the way back, the whole of Blue section turned round to attack about 8-10 Me-109’s behind us at about 5-6,000 feet below. We each picked out a single aircraft but were interrupted in the attack by four Me-109’s coming in from 4 o’clock and I gave the order to break to starboard. I met one of these e/a [enemy aircraft] head-on 20 degrees deflection and fired a 3-4 seconds burst. I saw strikes and a hole in front of the tail, but we missed each other. I was now at 18-20,000 feet and I dived down on two more Me-109’s about 10,000 feet below me. One appeared to see my attack and broke away but the other went straight on and I gave him a 2-3 seconds burst closing in from 300-100 yards. I saw some strikes but no smoke or flames. He went over on his back and down into the sea without the pilot baling out. The other e/a went home”
Two weeks later on a clear and sunny April 20 (Hitler’s 54th birthday), Fenrik Eriksen in Spitfire IX EN177 and other pilots of 332 Squadron were scrambled after 1100 hrs from RAF North Weald to intercept interloping Luftwaffe bombers coming in over the North Sea. They were ordered to proceed to a high perch at 30,000 feet over Clacton-on-Sea on the south coast of Essex on the Tendring Peninsula. Once there, they were vectored due east 10 miles to 34,000 feet over the North Sea to find the enemy. Eriksen’s own words tell us what happened next: “We did this and followed the smoke trails [vapour trails] of an aircraft. We went up into the sun as the aircraft turned to port and went S.E. and then I saw it was a Ju.88. My No.2 was then about 500 yards behind me. I was about 350 yards away when I got on his tail and closed in easily to 250 yards. I gave 1 burst (1 Sec.) and the port engine caught fire. After the second burst, bits flew off and I just managed to give a third burst but the e/a went over on his its back and exploded. At this time smoke and flames came out and one of the crew bailed out. I led my section back and landed at base”.
The Junkers, a Ju 88T prototype, was flown by 31-year old test-pilot Leutnant Hans-Joachim Bäumer of the special operation unit Versuchsversband Oberbefehlshaber der Luftwaffe (VOdL), on a photo recce operation originating in Orly, France with a refuelling stop at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport. Bäumer and his crew (observer/navigator Leutnant Paul Hunold and radio operator Oberfeldwebel Hermann Dietz) were to take photos of the Marconi Works in Chelmsford. They never got there, Bäumer aborting the mission when he spotted the attacking aircraft. The only member of the three-man crew who managed to bail out was Bäumer himself. He was picked up in his dinghy, unconscious and with facial burns, by Air-Sea Rescue Boat No.7 out of Brightlingsea. Parts of Bäumer's Ju 88 have been recovered from the bottom of the Thames estuary—unearthed by a dredging rig in 2011.
A digital rendering of 332 Squadron Spitfire Mk IX EN177, which Fenrik Marius Eriksen flew on April 20, 1943 when he shot down Bäumer's Junkers Ju 88 at 35,000 feet over England. It was a great gift to the Luftwaffe on Adolph Hitler's 54th birthday! Image via Jens-Ole at sim-outhouse.com
Leutnant Hans-Joachim Bäumer (inset) was the only surviving member of the three-man crew of Junkers Ju 88T Werk Nummer 0678 T9+FH shot down by Eriksen on Hitler's 54th birthday. Photo: airwar.ru
The combat records for 332 Squadron are extremely detailed—down to the number of rounds expended from each cannon or machine gun, broken down into port and starboard weapons, and including those of his wingman Sergeant Kare Herfjord. On this particular day, Eriksen's three short bursts used up 100 rounds from each of his two 20 mm cannons and 250 rounds from each of his four Browning .303 machine guns.
As detailed as these ORBs and Combat records are, the entire combat record for Eriksen's next victory on May 2, 1943 is missing from the aggregated 332 Squadron combat record. It was a memorable day for the squadron and Eriksen, but for very different reasons. It was during Eriksen’s and the squadron’s second op of the day. The first was an uneventful mission to Barrow Deep, one of the three main shipping channels through the shoals of the Thames Estuary, on a relatively fair day, with clouds increasing as the afternoon progressed. They were in the air just after 1500 hrs and had landed back 45 minutes later. At 1745 hrs, the squadron met in the briefing room again to go over plans for a 12 Group operation called Ramrod 51, the short-range bombing of targets in the Walcheren Island area of the Scheldt Estuary. The Spitfires of 332 Squadron were to carry out a covering sweep of the Flushing area at the southwest end of the island.
At 1830 hrs, 11 Spitfires from 332 Squadron, led by Major Finn Thorsager, took off from their home base at North Weald, in the company of a similar group from 331 Squadron, the other Norwegian Spitfire unit. The entire North Weald Wing, led by Wing Commander Patrick G. Jameson, DSO, DFC flew at wave-top level across the North Sea until shortly after 1900 hrs, when the group climbed rapidly for altitude, helped by a strong headwind. The entire Wing passed the northern tip of Walcheren, sweeping out to the east as far as Tholen Island in the Oosterschelde channel. Today would be a difficult day for the pilots of the North Weald Wing, shooting six enemy aircraft down, but for the unacceptable price of the loss of four of its own pilots (Nils Fuglesang, Rolf Engelsen, Frederik Eitzen and Eriksen, the top Norwegian ace at the time). Eriksen, who was flying in Spitfire BS225 (AH-T), managed to shoot down another Focke Wulf Fw 190—this one flown by experienced Luftwaffe fighter pilot Hauptmann Deitrich Wickop. Wickop executed a wheels-up landing with no injuries and little damage to his Fw 190. Though Wickop would soon return to combat operations, Eriksen counted his 9th victory but would end his combat career here.
The 332 Squadron ORB for May of 1943 states: “Just east of Walcheren Blue section of this squadron dived to attack two F.W. 190's some 1500 feet below to port. Blue 2, 2/Lt. Isachsen followed his No.1, 2/Lt. Eriksen, and reports that Blue 1 [Eriksen] destroyed one of the F.W. 190's—seeing it dive down and catch fire. At this point Blue 1 and Blue 2 were attacked by 5 F.W. 190's from starboard quarter and slightly above. Blue 2 had to take violent evasive action, and when he was able to look in the direction of his No.1, 2/Lt. Eriksen, he saw no Spitfire, but a pilot descending by parachute some 2000 feet below over Walcheren Island. Yellow 1, Lieut. Ulstein E. [Egil Ultsein, who went on to a stellar diplomatic career -Ed.], reports having seen Blue Section diving to attack and later saw a Spitfire explode—this was probably the aircraft of Blue 1, 2/Lt. Eriksen, D.F.M. who is missing from this operation.”
A model of Spitfire Mk IX BS255 (AH-T), the Spitfire Mk IX that Marius Eriksen flew when he shot down a Bf 109 in April and when he was himself shot down in on May 2, 1943. It is interesting to note that it wears the nickname Troll, a mythical Scandinavian cave-dwelling creature. After the war, Eriksen would star in a Norwegian film called Troll i ord. Model Built by Tormod Sørvang
At around 7:30 pm on May 2, 1943 Marius Eriksen was shot down of the coast of Noord-Beveland in the southwestern province of the Netherlands known as Zeeland. At the time, he was making a head-on attack on a Focke Wulf Fw 190 flown by Hauptmann Deitrich Wickop of Jagdgeschwader 1. According to Wickop's after-action report, he and his fellow pilots engaged 40 Spitfires at 23,000 feet. Wickop and Eriksen exchanged head-on machine gun fire simultaneously with Wickop getting hits on the Eriksen's left wing and cockpit area. Eriksen's aircraft rolled over and went into a spin—he bailed out and was soon captured. Map: db.wingstovictory.nl
Eriksen, Norway's highest scoring ace and 332 Squadron's most gifted pilot, was about to face two long years of deprivation in Stalag Luft III, the famed German camp for air force Prisoners of War in Poland. The camp is famous for a mass breakout of Allied airmen on the cold late winter night of March 24, 1944, known as the Great Escape. I could not find information about Eriksen's time at Stalag Luft III, but there is no doubt in my mind that he had some important part in day-to-day subterfuge and resistance and the planning of the Great Escape (which involved 600 inmates). Perhaps he was waiting in line to escape when the tunnel was discovered. The plan was to get 200 men out through the tunnel overnight in two groups of 100. The 77th man emerging from the tunnel was discovered and it is my opinion that Eriksen, a determined Norwegian if there ever was one, was one of those remaining 123 men who did not make it out. Only three men made good their escape—a Dutchman (Bram van der Stok) and two Norwegians, Per Bergsland of Eriksen's 332 Squadron and Jens Müller of 331 Squadron, both of whom were shot down a year before Eriksen. Two other Norwegians, Nils Jørgen Fuglesang (332 Squadron) and Halldor Espelid (331 Squadron) managed to escape but were soon captured and were among the 50 recaptured Allied escapees who were murdered by the Gestapo. Given four Norwegian Spitfire pilots were among the 77 who got out, it is likely Eriksen was scheduled to join them. Bergsland and Müller made it to Sweden via the port of Stettin, while van der Stok made his way south to Spain and was the only man from the Great Escape to make it back to his squadron and to eventually continue the fight against the Nazis.
Following recuperation from injuries sustained when he was shot down, Eriksen was transferred to Stalag Luft III in Poland. It was from this camp and during Eriksen's time there that 76 airmen managed to escape through a tunnel in what has since been popularized as The Great Escape. Photo: therealgreatescape.com
The Great Escape resulted in the murders of 50 of the 76 escapees by the Gestapo. Hollywood would have you believe they were all mowed down together in a forest by machine guns mounted in the back of trucks. In fact, after lengthy interrogation, they were taken out in ones and twos over a few days and simply shot in the back—an unspeakable crime that took the lives of 50 brave young men, four of which were North Weald-based Norwegian Spitfire pilots and close friends of Marius Eriksen. In the photo at left, Per Bergsland (left), Halldor Espelid and Jens Müller (right) are photographed at Stalag Luft III. Bergsland and Müller made good their escape, but Espelid and Nils Fuglesang (far right) were murdered. The two photos at right of Fuglesang and Espelid in their escape disguises were taken by the Gestapo shortly before they were taken outside and shot. Photos: Pinterest
In January of 1945, nearly a year after the glory and the tragedy of the Great Escape, with the Red Army only a few miles away from Stalag Luft III, Eriksen and 11,000 other Allied prisoners of war were forced by their German guards to march west, in brutal sub-zero temperatures, towards Spremberg on the Spree River. The prisoners had little food or warm clothing, and many died along the route. The remaining prisoners were then dispersed to other PoW camps. Eriksen was eventually liberated by British Army soldiers advancing westward through Germany.
So ended the Second World War experience of Marius Eriksen Jr..
A very informative photo of Marius Eriksen, at least if you know what to look for. The obvious thing is that Marius, at the time of the photo, was an ace, having shot down nine enemy aircraft. Strangely, there are ten swastika victory marks on his Spitfire. Perhaps it was the aircraft of someone else, or his accumulated shared victories accounted for the tenth kill. On his shoulder, he wears a Norway flash, while on his lapel, he sports the two stars of a Norwegian Air Force Løytnant (a promotion awarded for his successes in the air after he was shot down and captured), which makes this a post-war photo of Eriksen. Norwegian air force pilots in RAF Squadrons wore Norwegian insignia and had Norwegian ranks, whereas other nations with nationally-salted squadrons like the Poles and Czechs had standard RAF insignia and ranks. As well, Norwegian pilots wore their Norwegian-style pilot's wings over the right-side pocket of their tunics and battle dress jackets as seen here. Marius is also sporting a number of ribbons which were awarded him postwar including The Norwegian War Cross with Sword, St. Olav's Medal with Oak Branch, Distinguished Flying Medal and Distinguished Flying Cross. It's possible that this photograph was taken in Norway in September, 1945 after 332 Squadron had been stood down as an RAF Squadron in Norway and handed over to the Royal Norwegian Air Force. Photo: Pinterest
While searching the Internet for images, stories and facts that would inform the saga of Marius Eriksen, I came across this solid silver cup on eBay by the iconic Danish silversmith Georg Jensen. On one side is a set of Norwegian pilot's wings from the Second World War and the other is engraved with the names of five Norwegian Spitfire pilots: Rolf Engelsen, Thorvald Johnsen, Jan Löfsgaard, Björn Raeder and Marius Eriksen and the date 1942. It is not known what this cup represents—perhaps to be drunk from by the last living pilot or perhaps all five each had one made. What is clear is that these five men were close in some way. One of Eriksen's best friends on squadron was Jan Löfsgaard who was killed in combat in 1943. Björn Raeder was also killed a year later, as was Thorvald Johnsen. Both Engelsen and Eriksen were shot down on the same day in May, 1943, and spent the rest of the war in Stalag Luft III. Photos: Slake25, eBay
Business man and film actor
Marius Eriksen had left Norway a determined teenaged-boy and had come home a national icon and legend. All the Little Norway pilots and aircrews were the heroes of a nation that had endured five long years of Nazi occupation and general deprivation. Marius' fellow Norwegian pilots, their Spitfire aircraft, RAF Squadron numbers and their powerful and glorious history also returned to Norway to form the nucleus of the modern Royal Norwegian Air Force.
Marius, still a young man at this point, picked up where he had left his career as a competitive downhill ski racer. During the 1948 Winter Olympics at St. Moritz, Switzerland, Eriksen competed for Norway in the men's downhill, slalom and men's combined, but he had lost his edge somewhat with a 20th place showing in the downhill and even lower in slalom. His younger brother Stein also competed and ranked even lower, but he was a man in the rise. By the 1952 Winter Olympics in Oslo four years later, Stein Eriksen was Olympic Champion in Men's Giant Slalom, the first true superstar skier, known around the world.
While Marius was at Stalag Luft III, his mother, who designed knitting patterns for the famed Norwegian knitwear company Dale (named after the small town of Dale where the sweater manufacturer is based) after the war, had knit a sweater for her son based on one she had designed for her husband Marius Sr. years before. Upon his return, Bitten presented it to him as a token of her love and respect for what he had done for the family name. That sweater design, which later became known throughout Norway as the “Mariusgenser”, would forever be associated with the young fighter pilot and the country he fought to free, but it would not be without controversy. Both Bitten Eriksen and a friend, Unn Søyland, laid claim to the design, Eriksen claiming she had designed the iconic pattern in the 1920s for her husband and Søyland claiming that she had designed in the early 1950s, selling the rights to the pattern to a company her family still runs.
Eriksen relaxing in the Norwegian sun, wearing his signature Marius sweater. TheNorwegianAmerican.com
An image from a promotional brochure for Marius sweaters shows Marius Eriksen in his 40s shouldering a pair of Stein Eriksen signature downhill skis and wearing the sweater that was named after his father and him. The Marius sweater pattern includes a horizontal band of “X”s and diamonds crossing from shoulder to shoulder. The classic colours include the red white and blue of the Norwegian flag in any combination. TheNorwegianAmerican.com
Eline Oftedal in the book Knit Nordic, wrote about the acrimony that arose from a dispute over Bitten Eriksen's sweater design for her husband and son. She writes:
“The birth of the Marius pattern is alike a dram from the knitting world, with some handsome downhill skiers and an Olympic gold medal thrown in for good measure.
“Handknit sweaters were the height of fashion in the postwar era, and many designers shared their creativity in knitting magazines and booklets published by yarn producers. Bitten Eriksen was a knitwear designer who created designs for a wool mill. She was also the mother of the well-known skiers Stein and Marius Eriksen; Stein won the gold medal at the Oslo Winter Olympics in 1952. The Marius pattern is a variety of the Setesdal pattern [a traditional Norwegian pattern-Ed.] rendered in the Norwegian flag colours of red, white and blue, and Bitten's published designs, modelled by her famous sons, became very popular and sold well. Another knitwear designer, Unn Søyland Dale, happened to work for the Eriksen's sports store in Oslo; she sold a pattern very similar to the Marius design to a rival wool mill [Sandnes Garn], thus triggering a dispute over property rights for what remains the most popular knitting pattern in Norway to this day.”
The Wikipedia page for the Mariusgenser has a slightly different story:
“The origin of the sweater has been subject to dispute in media. Designer Unn Søiland Dale said she designed the pattern in 1953, influenced by traditional Norwegian knitting patterns found in the 1929 book Norske Strikkemønstre (Norwegian knitting patterns) by Annichen Sibbern. She sold the legal rights to distribute the hand-knit pattern the same year to Sandnes Uldvarefabrik for 100 Norwegian kroner. Designer Bitten Eriksen said she designed the pattern in the later 1920s, also inspired by the book by Sibbern, and that she in the beginning of 1950s had hired women who hand-knitted the sweater for sale in her shop. Eriksen's daughter-in-law Bente Eriksen has said she was present when Dale visited Bitten Eriksen to learn the pattern. Dale strongly disputed Bitten Eriksen's version, as does Dale's daughter, Vigdis Yran Dale, who currently holds the rights to the pattern for most commercial use.”
The Marius sweater design is far more than an iconic pattern, it is a Norwegian state-of-mind, as much a part of their cultural heritage as Viking ships, herring and Edvard Munch's The Scream. Marius Inspirasjon is a book dedicated to the many ways the Marius knitting design can be used—from banjo strap to G-string. Photos: mylittlenorway.com
Marius Eriksen was a popular cultural figure in the 1950s, gracing numerous covers such as the Norwegian women's magazine Alle Kvinners Blad in 1955 with his wife Bente Ording Eriksen after the release of Troll i ord or, later, the cover (right) of Strikk-ess, a Norwegian knitting publication. Image: Pinterest
And of course, in any dispute you have the other view. The following is part of a 1,500 word pro-Dale essay on the history of the Marius sweater on the Marius.no website (the company that owns the rights to the design and is managed by Dale's daughter) that makes no mention of Bitten Eriksen whatsoever, but includes 8 photos of Eriksen's sons wearing the design:
“The designer Unn Søiland sold her handknit pattern to Sandnes Wool factory in 1953, but retained the production rights as currently administered by Marius of Norway AS. The picture of Marius Eriksen, the Norwegian actor, warhero and skiier, promoted the front of the pattern in 1954.”
The story of the Mariusgenser (Marius Sweater) is a major part of Eriksen's story, and vice versa. Eriksen would become an actor in the early 1950s, appearing in three Norwegian language feature films—Trol i ord, Kasserer Jensen and Slålom under Himmelen. In his first film, a farce called Trol i ord, Marius wore several versions of the sweater. It was his role in the film and his national popularity as a skiing hero and a Second World War fighter ace that kicked off massive popularity of the Mariusgenser, a National design icon that continues to fuel the Norwegian clothing industry and inspire knitting enthusiasts worldwide.
Top photo: On the set of Troll i ord, a Norwegian musical comedy released in September, 1954, Marius Eriksen (right) hams it up with great Norwegian actor Henki Kolstad (left) and Danish Jytte Ibsen. Truthfully, I have no idea what the film was about, except that Marius Eriksen plays a minor part as Ola Bervik, a charming ski instructor. Bottom photo: In a wider view, we see the full winter scene and the two male actors lifting Ibsen, possibly the victim of a skiing accident in the movie. Photo: Norwegian Wikipedia
Marius Eriksen, as ski instructor Ola Bervik, kicks back with Danish actress Jytte Ibsen in the film Troll i ord. He is wearing his signature Marius sweater—an early product placement if there ever was one. Ibsen wears another design called “Eskimo”. Photo: Cinemaneuf.no
A still from the movie Troll i ord. I have no idea what is going on here, but everyone is wearing a Marius Norwegian knit sweater including actor Henki Kolstad as Knute Bakke (center), and Marius Eriksen as Ola Bervik, seen sprawled on the couch in the background. Photo: IMDb.com
If there is one thing I have learned over the years of research on the internet, it is to never give up the search and where possible, search in the language of the subject—in this case Norwegian. After a month of Eriksen research, I came across this absolutely wonderful video clip from the Norwegian film Troll i ord that has Spitfire ace Marius Eriksen, as ski instructor Ola Bervik skiing like a stylish demon in his Marius sweater while, on the soundtrack, the “Monn Keys” sing a swinging song called Vinter i Eventyreland (Winter in Wonderland). Eriksen proves he is no ordinary actor, but a man with real skills and a real deep personal experience—the “real deal” as we would now say. To watch this really great period clip, click here. The “Monn Keys” were a peppy Norwegian vocal group popular in that country from 1948 to 1964. I had to stop myself from going down that rabbit hole. Photo: YouTube.com
Perhaps this photo has little to do with the story line of a young fighter pilot from Norway, but as with many of my stories, I like to make this a repository of all things related to Marius Eriksen so that future researchers will have an easier time than I did finding imagery related to this unique story. Here we see a 1954 promotional billboard for Troll i ord during a movie festival in Norway. The white text at left translates to “The Norwegian Pleasure Game”. Photo: digitalmuseum.no
Also in 1954, young Marius Eriksen played an unnamed reporter from the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet in the film Kasserer Jensen (The Cashier Jensen—released in October), a comedy about a simple bank employee named Jensen who is mistakenly confused with a notorious escaped convict. His appearance is very brief and his helium-inflected voice seems strange, but his good looks, big hair and Spitfire ace background got him higher on the billing than the role may have warranted. Photo via YouTube His 2 minute appearance starts at about 17:40 minutes
In 1957, Marius had his first starring role as Oberstløytnant (Lieutenant Colonel) Eriksen (second from left) in the motion picture Slalåm under Himmelen. In this still from the movie, Eriksen walks the requisite fighter pilot ramp walk (used in all good flying movies!) with his young and newly minted fighter pilots—Fenrik (1st Lt) Sigurd Bakke (left, played by Per Christensen), Fenrik Thor Granli (played by Jan Halvorsen) and Fenrik Arbe Riesing (played by Wilfred Werner). Eriksen played the part of the unit's Commanding Officer, a Spitfire veteran from the Second World War. Definitely not a stretch for Marius Eriksen. The film is available in DVD, but I have not seen it. Image via rushpoint.no
A lobby poster for the Norwegian feature film Slalåm under Himmelen (Slalom Beneath the Sky) features a pilot trying to escape from a burning Royal Norwegian Air Force F-84 Thunderjet, down in the Norwegian boreal forest. Marius' fame as a fighter pilot and actor is leveraged with a top billing. The film was the story of three young fledgling pilots about to begin their careers as jet fighter pilots with the Royal Norwegian Air Force. Unfortunately, the mother of one of the pilots saw only the demise of her son and pressures one of them to quit. By all accounts, the flying and pilot-related sequences were very well received by pilots who saw the film. It is also interesting to note that the flying in this film was done by 332 and 331 Squadrons of the Royal Norwegian Air Force—Marius Eriksen's old RAF squadrons, not with the RNAF. Image via rushpoint.no
Method actor. At left, a photo of 19-year old Eriksen, likely taken in 1942 at the time of his commissioning as a “fenrik”, a 2nd Lieutenant in the Norwgian Air Forces. The photo at right is likely from ten years later when he starred Slålam under Himmelen (The canopy arc behind him does not look like a Spitfire but rather an F-84 Thunderjet).
A great photo of 38-year old Marius Eriksen from later in his career in the early 1960s, no longer the baby-faced fighter pilot but appearing as charming and mischievous as ever. Photo: DigitalMuseum.no
Though Eriksen's downhill ski career peaked in 1948 at the Olympics, he made his life around the business of skiing and sports. He also followed in his father's footsteps; first working at the senior Marius' sporting goods store while he pursued his skiing career, then later, opening his own sporting goods store in Oslo. His involvement in downhill skiing moved from competitive racer to instructor and coach.
Marius married Bente Ording Eriksen and they had five children, one of whom, Beate, followed in her father's acting footsteps and became a film actress and director of some note.
Marius' older brother Stein gained worldwide fame in 1952 following his gold medal win at the Olympics in Oslo. It was shortly after this that he moved to the United States, where he lived until his death in 2015 at the age of 88.
Marius' younger and helmetless brother Stein Eriksen in perfect Giant Slalom form at FIS World Cup at Aspen, Colorado in 1950. Stein, the skiing world's first superstar, was also the first Olympic gold medalist in Alpine skiing from outside the Alps, winning at the 1952 Winter Olympics in Oslo. In addition, he won three gold medals at the 1954 World Championships. Stein moved to the United States not long after his Olympic win and took a job as a ski instructor at Sun Valley, Idaho, Boyne Mountain, Michigan, Sugarbush, Vermont, Park City, Utah and my personal favourite ski haunt, Heavenly Valley, California. Though he lived in the US, he skied for Norway and was knighted by the King of Norway. He lived in the US until his death in 2015 at Park City at the age of 88. Photo: nbl.snl.no
Stein Eriksen tearing up the slopes at Park City in the 1960s with bamboo poles, leather boots and stretchy pants, still wearing the signature Marius sweater. If you skied like this today, you'd be branded a throwback, or perhaps a “Yeti”, a skier who has no idea what he is doing. Back in the day though, this was the height of style and grace—knees and heels locked as one leg, hops swing all over the place. Photo: Pinterest
Marius' and Stein's father, Marius Eriksen Sr. built skis for his racing sons and sold them to other racers. Here we see a pair of pre-war Marius Eriksen slalom skis, stamped with his marque. Photo via Portland Press Herald
Post Second World War Streamlines skis. The names Marius and Eriksen became the equivalent of brands in Norway and Scandinavia before and after the war. Marius' Spitfire ace status and pre-war ski championships (not to mention his movie star reputation) made him a household name in Norway. His younger brother Stein's World Championships and Olympic Gold Medal made him an international star. Their father, Marius Sr. built their skis for them and in Skiing Heritage Journal (June 2004), writer Nicholas Howe wrote: “Eriksen Streamlines were the ski of choice for many top racers before WWII consumed the hardwood forests of Europe.” Photo via Portland Press Herald
Marius Eriksen remained in Norway, where his business interests, acting career and family kept him busy. He died in 2009 in Oslo (Kristiania), the same city he was born in, at the age of 86. His life and his legacy are those of an icon—of Norwegian youth, courage, determination, nationalism, culture and sport.
Marius Eriksen — jagerpilot (fighter pilot), ace, PoW, ski champion, fashion model, and motion picture actor in his 80s and still looking handsome and still with the perfect hair and the Marius sweater. This is the only photograph in all the ones I found where Eriksen is smoking. Photo: vg.no
The Story of “Little Norway”
Prior to the Nazi invasion of France, the Netherlands and Belgium, the Nazis secured by invasion in early April of 1940 what they hoped would be the sympathetic Nordic countries of Denmark and Norway. Once ensconced in Norway, the Nazis put in place a puppet regime headed by the pro-fascist former Norwegian foreign minister Vidkun Quisling, a man whose very name would enter the English language as a synonym for traitor and insidious collaborator.
While they may have controlled the government, they failed to win the support of the Norwegian military or the proud and independent Norwegian populace. Norway had never surrendered to the Germans and the Royal family had not been captured, which rendered the Quisling government illegal and turned Norway into an Ally in the war rather than a conquered state.
At the time of the invasion, the two Norwegian military air services, the Norwegian Army Air Services and the Royal Norwegian Navy Air Service, in the throes of expansion and upgrading aircraft, could not mount a sustained defense. Two months after the invasion, the Royal Family, along with members of the legitimate government and high-ranking military leaders, left Norway for England aboard the Royal Navy heavy cruiser HMS Devonshire, there to begin offensive operations against the hated Nazis.
While the Norwegians were in the process of acquisition of new Curtiss Hawk fighters for the Norwegian Army Air Services at the time of the German invasion, their main front line fighters were the nine Gloster Gladiators based at Fornebu (top photo), biplane fighters that were no match for the Luftwaffe's Messerschmitts. However, the seven serviceable Gladiators available on April 9, 1940, the first day of the invasion managed to shoot down four Luftwaffe aircraft including two Messerschmitt Bf 110s. The bottom photo shows one of the Fornebu Gladiators lost in the first week of the invasion. It was flown by Sergeant Kristian Schye who had just shot down a Bf 110 when he was attacked by another. Damage caused him to crash land at Kolsås on April 14.
To truly contribute to the war effort with a 100% Norwegian response, the two Norwegian air services made two key decisions. First, they kept all existing Norwegian pilots and airmen as an independent group and dissuaded them from joining the Royal Air Force. That is why, that summer, when Free French, Czech, Polish and Belgian fighter pilots took to English skies to fight the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain, there were no Norwegians present. Secondly, expecting the possibility of Nazi aggression as early as 1939, they had made overtures in Canada to set up a training base where existing Norwegian airmen and new recruits could be sent to safely train for future and independent Norwegian offensive operations.
An arrangement had been made to make use of the new airport facilities** built on Centre Island, the largest of the Toronto Islands just a hundred meters off Toronto’s Lake Ontario waterfront. Facilities were quickly constructed on shore and on the island to house, feed, supply and train young pilots, navigators, gunners and ground crews and the base was officially called Flyvåpnenes Treningsleir (Air Force Training Camp). Canadians, as previously mentioned, soon dubbed it Little Norway — a name that was immediately and fully embraced by the Norwegians. Fittingly, the base was officially opened for training the day before Remembrance Day 1940. At the opening ceremonies, Norwegian Army Major General William Steffens, fresh from fighting the Nazis in the home country, said: “We Norwegians who are present have no more homes—our dear ones whom we left behind in Norway live under tyrants. But we stand here today resolved to play our part in liberating Norway”.
The City of Toronto, for those who do not know, sits along the north shore of Lake Ontario. Centre Island, the largest of the Toronto Islands and home to the Little Norway airfield, lies only a few meters south of this north shoreline. The islands held the airfield and hangars while administration, barracks, and classrooms were on the north shore side of the gap. Airmen, staff and automobiles had to take a 90-second, 121-meter ferry ride to the island. This ferry continues to operate to this day bringing passengers to Billy Bishop Airport, but is supplemented by a pedestrian tunnel that opened in 2015. In this aerial photo from, we see the north shore side of the Little Norway base and at top Maple Leaf Stadium, at the foot of Toronto's Bathurst Street. Photo: Wikipedia
A Norwegian guard, bayonet affixed, patrols the main gate at the Royal Norwegian Air Force training camp known as Little Norway (Lille Norge in Norwegian) in the first winter of its time on Toronto's Lake Ontario shore. The high tower in the distance just below the barbed wire is one of the light towers at Maple Leaf Stadium. Photo: Wikipedia
A photo of the airport at Centre Island in 1939 (prior to it being taken over by the Norwegian Air Force) taken from the roof of the Canada Malting grain elevators on the mainland to the north. The silos remain to this day, a designated heritage structure. The airport, in a much busier form, still operates from these runways and the large maintenance hangar still exists today, home to Trans Capital Air, a charter airline business that supplies air transport services to the United Nations for peace keeping and relief missions using a fleet of de Havilland Dash-7s. Photo: Pinterest
A wonderful shot looking west along the Toronto waterfront from a roost atop the Canadian Malting silos on Queens Quay towards the parade square and administration and classroom buildings. To the right stands the outfield of Maple Leaf Stadium (note the old-school football goal posts), while beyond, the anchorage of the Royal Canadian Yacht Club. Photo: europeana.eu
This terrific aerial photograph of Little Norway during one of the winters of its operation gives us an excellent view of the entire facility and its relationship to Toronto's waterfront. The Royal Canadian Yacht Club's basin is frozen solid, but the rest of Lake Ontario's waters are open. Photo: europeana.eu
An early shot of Little Norway at Toronto's Centre Island from the roof of the Canadian Malting silos. The parking lot for the ferry is filling up as it leaves its berth for the 90-second crossing bringing Norwegian Air Force Students and hangar staff to work. Photo: Pinterest
Another photo, taken at the same time and place as the previous image, shows additional facilities at Little Norway—including maintenance and storage sheds and the old airport terminal building. Photo: Pinterest
The same airfield today. Only the main hangar and Canadian Malting silos remain. The Toronto City Airport is now named the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport (after the WWI Canadian ace and Victoria Cross recipient) and is the headquarters for Porter Airlines, one of Canada's largest, fastest growing and respected airlines. Photo: Wikipedia
Norwegian air force recruits march into Little Norway's parade ground, against the backdrop of the Canadian Malting silos on the Toronto waterfront. The sign on the guardhouse building reads R.N.A.F. Training Camp Little Norway, Lille Norge. Photo: europeana.eu
Looking more like a summer camp than a Norwegian Air Training Centre, a former children's home on Centre Island doubles as a school where recruits are trained in the care and operation of service rifles, something that most pilots would never be required to use. Little Norway trained more than just pilots, offering instruction and certification for mechanics and navigators to both air force and navy recruits. A close look at the young men in this image shows that half are wearing air force wedge caps and half are wearing navy caps. Photo: Norwegian Wikipedia
Young Norwegian student pilots sit shoulder to shoulder in a classroom at Little Norway in Toronto. This photo was first published in 1943 in the great book about the Norwegians in Canada called Little Norway in Pictures. At left sits Norwegian Alf Richard Bjercke, who, until just a few months previously was studying chemical technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Bjercke went on to become a wealthy businessman, investor and politician after the war and a short period serving with the new Royal Norwegian Air Force. Photo: Pinterest
From the outset, the plan had been to feed new pilots and airmen into a separate Norwegian air force operating from Great Britain on operations against the Germans, but as 1940 came to a close and the base was opened, the plan changed to manning all-Norwegian squadrons of the Royal Air Force and under British overall command. In the years to come, these all-Norwegian squadrons would suffer terrible losses while covering themselves in glory and achievement. Two Spitfire squadrons, 331 and 332, were stood up at RAF Catterick and another, 330 Squadron, a coastal patrol and anti-submarine squadron was stood up and operated from RAF Reykjavik, Iceland. 331 Squadron would become the highest scoring RAF unit employed in the defense of London during the Second World War. At the outset, 330 Squadron operated the only Northrop N-3PB float planes in the RAF, but by 1942, had transitioned to the much larger and more effective Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina. Another, 333 Squadron was stood up from a 210 Squadron detachment in early 1942, flying both de Havilland Mosquitos (Shipping recce) and Catalinas (anti-shipping) in the cold waters between Scotland and Norway. The Mosquitos operated from RAF Leuchars while the Catalinas flew out of the flying boat station at Woodhaven. Eventually, the Mosquito detachment joined the famed Banff Strike Wing and became 334 Squadron, while 333 Squadron operated only the Catalina. Such was the Norwegian emotional attachment to these squadrons that the five squadron numbers (330, 331, 332, 333, and 334) were transferred to the new Royal Norwegian Air Force in November of 1944.
Today, all five squadrons continue to operate from bases in Norway—330 in the maritime role on Sea King Helicopters; 331 and 332 Squadron still fighter squadrons flying the F-16; 333 Squadron on Lockheed P3-C Orions and 334 on NH90 Helicopters.
Following the Second World War, the Royal Norwegian Air Force took their Spitfires, their RAF Squadron numbers and even their RAF “AH” (332) and “FN” (331) squadron codes and returned to Norway. Both 331 and 332 Squadron remain as fighter squadrons today, not with the Royal Air Force, but rather the Luftforsvaret, Royal Norwegian Air Force. Here a pair of 332 Squadron F-16A/B Fighting Falcons fly off the wing of an American tanker in Exercise Northern Viking in 2011, exemplifying the squadron's motto: Samhold i strid—Together in battle. Photo: wikimedia commons
A number of different and unique aircraft were acquired by the Norwegian air services to train fighter pilots as well as navigators and other operational pilots—these included PT-19 and PT-26 Cornells for elementary flying training, Douglas Model 8A-5s for advanced and other flying, Curtiss Hawk 75-A8s for operational fighter pilot training and Northrop N-3PBs for advanced operational floatplane training. A year or so of continuous training operations at Toronto's Little Norway served to highlight the drawbacks of high-intensity flight training in a dense urban environment. At the end of 1941, it was decided to seek out a new, more remote, location from which to conduct continuing training.
Several locations were scouted north of Toronto and the Norwegians settled on a very Norwegian-like environment—the airfield at Gravenhurst, Ontario at the southern end of the lake-country known as Muskoka. The surrounding lakes, hills and forests must have felt like home to the young men coming from Norway. Starting in May, construction began on improved facilities—better runways, a new hangar and a collection of Norwegian-like log structures to house, feed and train airmen. The money to build this new facility was supported in part by donations from the Norwgeian Merchant Marine service, which was then participating in the delivery of war materiel across the Atlantic.
Incoming Norwegian trainee airmen were first brought to another facility about 70 km farther north near the town of Huntsville. This camp-like facility, originally known as Interlaken, was purchased by the Norwegians as a sort of induction centre, where basic military training was conducted and men were physically toughened with hiking and physical training. The nature of the place, known to the Norwgeians as Vesla Skaugum (the name of King Haakon VII's retreat in Norway—literally Home in the Woods), was such that the young men would come to think of it as a place of respite, a home away from home. The forested country surrounding was ideal for hiking, survival training and cross-country skiing in winter. Part of the Norwegian training program in wingter included a thirty-seven kilometre cross-country ski race with airmen loaded down with military packsacks.
The mess and barracks at Vesla Skaugum in Muskoka, with their log-cabin structures, were more summer camp than military camp. Photo: europeana.eu
Vesla Skaugum was both a military and physical training centre to ready young men for service in the Royal Norwegian Air Force and a recreation center where the outdoor-loving Norwegians could enjoy a respite from the stresses of flying. Photo: scramble.no
As the war wound down, it was decided to move the entire operation closer to the action. Goodbyes to their Canadian hosts were made at a hangar ceremony in Muskoka and the aircraft and equipment were crated and shipped to RAF Winkleigh in Devon, England along with Norwegian training staff. In England, AirSpeed Oxfords and Harvards were acquired to supplement the Cornell aircraft from Canada and training started again. At the end of the war, the Cornells and staff moved one more time—this time home.
The following set of images and captions tell only a bit of the story of the training operations at Little Norway (first at Centre Island, then at Gravenhurst), but the imagery is compelling indeed. These images, including many rare-for-the time colour photographs, depict the intense pace of training, two unique locales and the pride of the Norwegian people. Enjoy the flight.
Dave o'Malley, Vintage Wings of Canada
High Flying in Hogtown
A large flock of Fairchild PT-19s flies down the north shore of Lake Ontario near Toronto. In the early months of flight training at Toronto Island, the Norwegians were using open cockpit PT-19 Cornells, built in the United States—probably a blast to fly, but terribly unsuited for pilot training in a miserable and frigid Canadian winter. The first 10 PT-19s arrived at Toronto Island in November of 1940, ferried in by American pilots. Another batch of 26 Cornells, this time Ranger-powered PT-19As, arrived shortly thereafter. These 36 aircraft were used through the winter but in 1941, a conversion program began to modify them to PT-26 standard with the addition of much-needed canopies. This narrow time frame for open-cockpit PT-19 operations puts this photo likely in the late winter or early spring of 1941, as there is no snow on the ground. Judging by the warm clothing however, it looks cold up there! Photo: axis-and-allies-paintworks.com
An instructor goes over lessons standing in the front cockpit in what appears to be a brand-new Fairchild PT-19 Cornell. Given the perfection of the paint scheme, this may have been a promotional photograph taken at the time of the arrival of the first batch of PT-19s in November of 1940. Photo: Pinterest
Little Norway training base at Toronto Island at the height of its operation during the Second World War. A Fairchild PT-26 Cornell flies low over the ramp outside the maintenance hangar. In the foreground is parked one of 36 Wright Cyclone-powered Curtiss Hawk 75-A8s acquired by the Norwegians for advanced service flying training. The Hawk 75 was an export variant of the P-36. Norway had ordered 24 Hawk 75-A6 Twin-Wasp-powered aircraft prior to the Second World War, but by the time the Germans had invaded only 19 had been delivered and only 7 of those had been assembled. (13 were sold off to the Finns). Just prior to the German occupation, Norwegian air force brass ordered 36 Hawk 75-A8s—six were delivered as advanced trainers for their Canadian bases while the remaining 30 were requisitioned by the USAAF and called P-36Gs. The aircraft with the more reliable Cyclone engine was a pretty good performer with excellent turning and climbing abilities. However, the lack of a supercharger limited performance at higher altitudes. By the height of the Second World War, it was not a combat contender, but was certainly an excellent advanced transition-to-fighter aircraft. In the background is parked another of the three types employed by the Norwegians—a Douglas Model 8A-5. In the far distance stands the silos of Maple Leaf Mills, demolished in the 1980s. Photo: axis-and-allies-paintworks.com
At Toronto's Centre Island, pilots in a Fairchild Cornell practice grass field take-offs and landings at Little Norway. The airfield had paved runways, but we can see a fabric “T” pinned to the close-cropped grass. This symbol seen from the air communicated two things to the pilots in the circuit. The shaft of the “T” denoted the direction of landing, while the cross bar represented the beginning of the “runway”. The pilot standing on the grass carries signal flags with which to communicate with the crews of approaching aircraft. Photo: digitalmuseum.no
A Norwegian Douglas Model 8A-5 warms up in the sun on a snowy Toronto Island ramp in the winter of 1940-41. In the background are the grain elevators of Canada Malting, which still stand today to the north of the field across the Western Passage, the channel that separates the island from the shore. When Norway was invaded by German forces in April of 1940 as part of Operation Weserübung, the 35 Douglas A8s on order had not yet been delivered. Instead, they were delivered to Little Norway starting in the autumn of 1940 and ending in early 1941. Originally designated the A-17 and designed by Northrop Gamma as a ground attack fighter, the Model 8A-5 variant was built in El Segundo, California by the Douglas Aircraft Company. These aircraft served at Toronto Island for a short time with the loss of two airframes. The remaining 35 were soon sold off to Peru, but when the US entered the war following Pearl Harbor, 31 of the Peru-destined airframes were commandeered by the United States Army as target-towing aircraft. Photo: axis-and-allies-paintworks.com
At Little Norway in the winter of 1940-41, a pilot looks on as a Norwegian mechanic fusses with the Wright Cyclone engine of his Douglas Model 8A-5 fighter-bomber trainer. Photo: digitalmuseum.no
A gorgeous colour photograph from 1941 shows a Norwegian pilot running up his Douglas Model 8A-5 at Little Norway in Toronto. Behind, another Model 8A-5 rests shrouded in black canvas. There is no mistaking Norwegian aircraft of this period, with their distinctive red white and blue wrap-around wing stripes. Photo: digitalmuseum.no
At Toronto's Centre Island in 1941, it looks like a mass formation of Douglas Model 8A-5s and Curtiss Hawk 75-8As gathering for take-off, perhaps for a public relations event. Photo: digitalmuseum.no
Black-shrouded Douglas Model 8A-5s flank a squad of Norwegian mechanics turned out for inspection at Little Norway on Centre Island. Photo: digitalmuseum.no
On a cloudy day in 1941, the flight line at Little Norway is a busy place indeed with a long line of Curtiss Hawk 75-8As (right), bare metal Douglas Model 8A-5s and in the far distance, Cornells. The heavy training schedule and constant aircraft in the air over Toronto's waterfront led to safety concerns and the eventual move to a more isolated facility north of Toronto. Photo: digitalmuseum.no
Four Curtiss Hawk 75-8As warm up on the Little Norway flight line at Centre Island, Toronto (possibly the same scene as the previous one). Most of the Hawk 75s used at Little Norway were painted an overall “apple green”, a paint colour similar to the corrosion-preventing zinc chromate used on the interiors of most Second World War aircraft. I believe the two bare metal aircraft at the end of this line are Douglas Model 8A-5s. Photo: europeana.eu
A busy scene with a Hawk 75-A at Little Norway on Centre Island in the winter of 1941-42. Photo: axis-and-allies-paintworks.com
The Norwegian Air Force used the single-seat Curtiss Hawk 75-8A as an advanced transition-to-fighter training aircraft for pilots selected to move on to fighters. Around 35 Hawk aircraft operated from both Toronto and Muskoka Little Norway airfields. Here we see Hawk 453 warming up in the cold at the edge of a snowy ramp at Little Norway on Toronto's Centre Island, while the pilot of a second Hawk 75-8A snaps a photo on a sunny Toronto day in winter. Photo: axis-and-allies-paintworks.com
As two Norwegian pilots walk the flight line at Little Norway on Centre island to their Curtiss Hawk 75-8As, ground crew fire up the Cyclone engines of other Hawks on the line. Photo: axis-and-allies-paintworks.com
The concrete hard stand and open-cockpit Fairchild PT-19 Cornell tell us immediately that this is Little Norway at Toronto's Centre Island airport. This gives is a great look at the distinctive and very attractive wing and tail stripes that sufficed for national markings over a roundel. Photo: europeana.eu
Norwegian student pilots, in the advanced stages of their training, line up in front of a Curtiss Hawk 75-8A. It is not known whether this was at Centre Island, Toronto or Muskoka. Photo: Wikipedia
Another type used by the Norwegian Air Force for training purposes at Little Norway was the Northrop N-3PB float plane — two of which are seen here at the float plane ramp at Centre Island. It had a crew of three including a pilot, navigator/bomb aimer and radio operator/gunner. The N-3PB was used exclusively by the Norwegians and no other operator—for training and ultimately for coastal patrol and anti-submarine work from Iceland. In all, 24 N-3PBs were built by Northrop, all of which flew for the Norwegians. The six aircraft that were retained for training purposes at Little Norway flew from Centre Island, Toronto in the summer of 1941 but from bases along the West Coast of British Columbia during winter months when the harbour at Toronto froze over. Of the six training aircraft, three were lost in accidents—two on the West Coast and one at Toronto. In June of 1941, an N-3PB, taking off from the channel, struck the Sam McBride, one of a small fleet of ferries that serviced the other side of the island, killing both pilots. The remaining three N-3PBs were shipped to Iceland in early 1942 and the advanced training carried out by the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. Photo: airsoc.com
A Norwegian Northrop N-3PB of 330 Squadron taxies along the water at Akureyri, Iceland. A mechanic rides the float to check the engine. Of the 21 N-3PBs that eventually made it to Iceland (all aboard ship), 11 were lost to accidents and on operations. Photo: Imperial War Museum
Muskoka — A Home Away from Home
Opening ceremonies in May of 1942 at the Muskoka Airport. After operating for a couple of years from the Little Norway airfield on Toronto Island, the Norwegians opened a second larger training base in the lake district north of Toronto known as Muskoka. With its 1,600 lakes and forest hills, it must have felt like home to the Norwegians. A year later, the Norwegians handed over the Toronto Island facility to the RCAF. The three-pointed pennant flying at left is the official flag of the Norwegian Air Force, not the Norwegian national flag.
Little Norway in Muskoka was a decidedly less urban and quieter spot to carry out pilot training. These aerial shots show us the isolation of the airfield and its lack of paved runways. Photo: europeana.eu
A large number of Fairchild PT-26 Cornells in Norwegian colours form a powerful flight line at Little Norway in Muskoka on a cloudless summer day in 1944. This was either for the photographer or perhaps a wings parade as the aircraft are carefully lined up and their propellers are in perfect alignment. Photo: europeana.eu
Halcyon Days far from the war. Blue skies, warm summers, boundless lakes, peace and Canadian hospitality... it's no wonder that Little Norway in Muskoka is such a warm and happy part of Norwegian Air Force history. Here a flight of Cornells rumbles across the lake district. Photo: Pinterest
While this too is a cloudless day like the previous photograph, it is an entirely altogether different weather environment, typical of the Muskoka region in winter. This no doubt was a weather situation that Norwegians, like their Canadian brothers, were at home in. Photo: europeana.eu
This beautiful little Interstate S-1A Cadet “505” looks right at home in Norwegian colours and on grass. The two-seat aircraft was used for liaison flights between the Little Norway airfields at Muskoka and Toronto (a distance of about 150 km). Photo: europeana.eu
In the winter, when the windsock was limp and the sky cloudless, the flying at Little Norway was as fine as it gets. Imagine taking the airfield's little Interstate Cadet on a cross-country flight over the beautiful lake district of Muskoka, en route to the sprawl of Toronto—the sun shining warm in the cockpit as you head south, the thick cold air with barely a burble, the little 65-horsepower Continental chattering away happily. It might even be hard to imagine that there was a war on and that your homeland was under the heel of the Nazis. Photo: europeana.eu
Today, Interstate Cadet 505 lives on at the Norwegian Armed Forces Aircraft Collection in Gardermoen, Norway, north of Oslo. The Cadet was brought to Norway in 1945 by ship, and utilized by the air force. The deteriorated airframe was donated to the Norwegian Aviation Historical Society in 1970 and restored by its members. Photo: Wikipedia
A fuel bowser visits a Fairchild PT-26 Cornell on the field at Little Norway in Muskoka on a cloudless summer day— perfect weather for flying instruction. Photo: europeana.eu
A Norwegian Curtiss Hawk 75 lies in a Muskoka hay field while a couple of small farm boys check out the rudder. It appears the pilot has made a perfect wheels-up landing, with the only damage to the propeller and cowling.
A flight of Fairchild PT-26 Cornell trainers from Little Norway bounces through hazy winter weather near their base in the beautiful Muskoka region north of Toronto. Many of the aircraft used at Little Norway were paid for by private funds under the Wings for Norway program including two PT-26s that were paid for by Danish Americans, hence the Denmark I nose art. Unlike the all-yellow Cornells of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, Little Norway Cornells were deep blue in the fuselage with yellow wings. The wings were wrapped in red, white and blue stripes while the fin flash occupied the entire rudder. Yellow numerals and titles emblazoned the sides. As well, the logo aft of the canopy is a depiction of a map of North America with a banner across the top that says Wings for Norway. A Cornell now hanging from the ceiling of Denmark's Flyvemuseum (a former Norwegian Cornell) is painted to represent this particular Cornell 179 Denmark I. Denmark I was originally RAF serial FH714 before it was supplied to the Norwegians and became Cornell 179 (L-BI). It was acquired in August, 1942 and continued in the service in Norway until 1949. Photo: axis-and-allies-paintworks.com
Bottom: A Norwegian strikes a determined Viking pose with his Canadian-built Fairchild PT-26 Cornell, Spirit of Little Norway II, a second Cornell to carry the moniker. Above a nice period colour photograph of a Norwegian mechanic checking out Spirit of Little Norway as she runs up in Muskoka, Ontario. Photos: top: Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum; bottom: Photo: axis-and-allies-paintworks.com
A mechanic winds the inertial starter on another presentation Cornell funded under the Wings for Norway program by the Norwegians of the State of Minnesota, which had a large Norwegian and Scandinavian population. Photo: europeana.eu
Happy Birthday Your Majesty! A great colour photograph from Little Norway, Muskoka that allows us to see the exact blue and yellow of their distinctive Fairchild Cornells. As with many other “presentation” Cornells used at Little Norway and funded by the wings for Norway program, this one is painted with a presentation plaque—from the Norwegian citizens of Argentina and Uruguay, stating that this aircraft was a gift to the beloved Norwegian King Haakon 7. Haakon 7, the elected monarch of Norway from 1905 to 1957, led resistance against the Quisling-led pro-Nazi government in Norway from exile in Great Britain. Photo: europeana.eu
Another angle on the same aircraft depicted in the previous photo shows us that it carried the moniker El Goucho IV, indicating that there were at least four Cornells funded by the wealthy cattle ranchers of Argentina and Uruguay. Photo: europeana.eu
I love this shot of two chisel-jawed Norwegian student pilots at Little Norway wearing Royal Norwegian Air Force at Little Norway sweatshirts. Photo: europeana.eu
Probably my favourite shot of a Norwegian Cornell and a colour one to boot!. An instructor in heavy winter gear and parachute walks toward an awaiting Cornell 145 as the student settles into the front seat. In the distance, the swirl of snow from a taxiing aircraft obscures the forest around the Little Norway airport at Muskoka. Note the ski where the tail wheel should be. To Norwegian pilots, this weather and landscape must have made them feel right at home in Canada. Photo: Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum
A gorgeous colour photograph of a Little Norway Cornell in all its colourful glory at the Muskoka airfield facility. This paint scheme had long been a favourite of Cornell restorers in North America. Photos: europeana.eu
Two great photos of Cornell operations at Little Norway in Muskoka depict perfectly the weather extremes that faced student pilots. Photos: europeana.eu
Unlike Little Norway at Centre Island with its concrete aprons and paved runways, Muskoka was a true old-school landing field with dusty flight lines and dry grass landing areas. Photo: europeana.eu
* Whenever squadron ORBs (Operational Record Books) are quoted in this story, grammar, spelling and aircraft designations are not corrected. We have left the document as it was written by the squadron at the time)
** (In 1939, the newly-built airport was called Port George VI Island Airport in honour of the upcoming visit to Toronto by the King of England, but until 2009, it was known to Ontarians as simply the Toronto Island Airport. In 2009 it was renamed Billy Bishop Airport after William Avery Bishop, VC, a Canadian ace of the First World War.)