My bitch Jessop , genetically diverse but every inch the petite Alsatian, and a wire-haired dachshund we now know to be Buster became sufficiently interested in each other that an attempt at polite conversation with his owner seemed in order. 'Attempt', because my Swedish is less than adequate. But Roy André Watvedt is Norwegian and speaks good English, which he learned as a fighter pilot during the second world war. Eighty two years old when we met, clear, incisive, lonely since his second wife, Mette, died five years previously, Roy has told his story during walks we've taken together and visits we've exchanged.
Happily, Roy believes in keeping records. His life is documented - except for occasions when Officialdom dictated otherwise (as, when leaving Odessa, his films were confiscated by the authorities) - by photographs, diaries, official documents and, above all, by pilot's log books - a suitcase full of these, tucked under his bed.
Roy was born in 1919 at Sandvika, a small town in the rural commune of Bærum, just west of Oslo. His father was a railway official who was rarely at home, his work taking him to locations all over Norway. A railway official's salary was not large - the family economy had to be managed carefully, if it was to have room for Roy and his two younger sisters. Roy left formal education after middle school, as funds were not available for him to continue to Artium (university entrance) level; he was to catch up later in spectacular style.
Roald Amundsen, one the great polar explorers, was in those days the hero of all Norwegian schoolboys. A significant event occurred early in 1926, when Roy's father took him by train into Oslo to see the airship Norge in which Amundsen, the American Lincoln Ellsworth and the Italian Umberto Nobile - the airship's designer - were, in the period May 11 - 14th, 1926, to make the first crossing of the North Pole in a 5456 km flight from Spitsbergen (Svalbard) to Alaska. A seed was planted in Roy's soul as he stood at the foot of the mooring mast, looking up at the great airship, hearing orders passed in a language he later learned was Italian.
The view out over Oslo Fjord from Roy's home encompassed nearby Fornebu, where Oslo's airport was to be. When he was ten, air force Lieutenant Gunnestad, owner of one of the few private aircraft then in Norway and future manager at Fornebu, and his companion Ness, flight mechanic and a parachute specialist in his own right, took a room in Roy's home. From his window, Roy watched the pair taking off and landing on the frozen fjord. He did all the small jobs for them he could find, such as getting up early on cold mornings to fill the radiator of their car with hot water for easy starting. Small wonder that the seed planted three years earlier should germinate; Roy decided to become a pilot. Ness was tragically killed shortly afterwards, giving a parachute demonstration at an airshow at Tønsberg, a town near Oslo; this did not deter Roy from taking up parachuting in due course.
To be a pilot, one needs a pilot's licence. Roy opened an account at the Wessel Company flying school and paid into it money he earned doing odd jobs. In 1939 at the age of 19, he qualified for Norwegian pilot's licence number 119. Wessel's offered a service air lifting richer skiers into the mountains in a four-seat Fairchild; Roy got a little post-graduate experience when, returning empty from such trips, he was on occasion allowed to get the feel of the controls.
An afternoon stroll
Germany invaded Norway on April 9th, 1940; the country capitulated on June 10th, after the King, the Crown Prince and the Norwegian Government had left for London, where a Government in Exile was to be established. After a year during which his activities included observing enemy aircraft movements from his home and from the mountains around and reporting the results to the Resistance movement, Roy decided, without consulting his family, that he had had quite enough of occupied Norway. He and a friend agreed that, on April 9th, 1941, they would take a stroll over the border to Sweden and make their way to London. It turned out not to be quite that simple.
Kitted out for skiing, they took a train to Rakkestad, the nearest station to their proposed crossing point. They had arranged to meet contacts there who would steer them forward to the border. When they arrived at the station, their contacts were nowhere to be seen. There was nothing for it but to start walking in the general direction of Sweden. They were soon overtaken on the road by a cyclist, who told them that a gentleman wished to speak with them back in the town. When they returned, the gentleman turned out to be the obviously well-to-do businessman with whom they had been in casual conversation on the train, but to whom they had not disclosed their intentions. Of course not. The businessman simply gave them directions to a farm near the border and a verbal message to convey to the farmer, then wished them good luck.
They reached the farm with ease, gave the message to the farmer and were invited in. Their hearts dropped into their boots as they entered the living room, where a considerable proportion of the available surface area was given over to a display of Nazi emblems and images. Gesturing casually at the display, the farmer said it was the handiwork of his son; he then set about giving them directions to a farm even nearer to the border. They pressed on as soon as they might, much relieved to be doing so.
The young people at the second farm greeted them enthusiastically and gave them careful directions as to how to reach the frozen lake they must cross in darkness. When the time came, they made their way with considerable difficulty along the edge of the precipitous terrain which formed a large headland out into the lake. They began a careful descent to the ice. At this point, Roy's friend took a heavy fall and sprained his ankle badly. They debated what to do. It was finally agreed that Roy would help his friend back to the farm and then continue to Sweden on his own.
Leaving the farm for the second time, Roy took the decision to climb over the mountain above the headland, rather than picking his way precariously round it on the ice. He would cross the border, which ran through the lake and bisected the headland, at the midpoint of either route. The mountain proved impassable for other than a properly equipped team of mountaineers.
Leaving the farm for the third time and by the original route, Roy reached the ice and pressed on. He rounded the headland at midnight and was in Sweden. Rather than striking out directly across the lake, he continued to follow the headland round to the point he would have reached had his climb succeeded. This was because the direct route went ashore close to a Swedish military base, its lights visible in the distance, the sounds of its activities echoing across the frozen lake. While public opinion in Sweden was largely sympathetic to the Norwegians, there was a perhaps precarious, perhaps equivocal neutrality to be considered. The Swedish military were held to be quite unequivocal; Norwegians straying over the border and caught in the vicinity of it would be shown the way home.
Reaching land on the Swedish side - he was in southwest Värmland province - Roy made his way through the woods until he reached a road that would elsewhere be described as a track. Pretty much exhausted at this point, he decided to wait for sun-up before proceeding. He made himself as comfortable as he could on a pile of felled timber by the side of the road; this at least kept him above the wetness at ground level. He was woken by the conversation of a couple walking past and got up to speak to them. Dressed overall in his white ski suit, he must have looked a bit ghostly in the early morning light; in any event, the couple were given quite a scare. When composure had been recovered all round, they took Roy to their nearby farm. In next to no time, he was stripped, dried, fed and put to bed.
After breakfast, the couple asked if he would mind their ringing the police. He was, of course, free to make his own way, if he so wished. Roy agreed, thinking it best to register his presence officially - in truth, he would otherwise have no idea what to do next. A policeman arrived eventually, driving an elderly Ford. He was in fact väktare (custodian, watchman; fångväktare jailer - here, it would seem, all three) at the police station at Årjäng, the nearby community, where he drove Roy. As it was the Easter holiday, no senior officer (there was only one) would be available for a week. While they were waiting, Roy helped his custodian to chop wood and clear the grounds around the police station, returning each night to his unlocked cell. Once each day, he was taken by the officer to the local konditori and stuffed with sandwiches, cakes and coffee. This happy and productive idyll came to an end when the police chief got back from holiday.
Dressed, no doubt correctly, in riding boots and flamboyantly-tailored trousers, this gentleman immediately went into the strip-search and rigorous questioning routine in vogue at that time - and since - with aspirant as well as with established bully boys. Roy was perplexed by this belated efficiency; as he points out, he could at any time during the preceding week have hidden the explosives, weapons and radio equipment, the forged papers and the counterfeit currency, for his accomplices to use when the time came to strike. The police chief rang his office in Stockholm for orders - Roy was put alone on a train for Hestra. Norwegians bound for the same destination joined the train at stops along the way; the party had grown to twelve individuals by the time they arrived.
Hestra, an area in Gislaved commune in western Småland province, was the location of an internment camp for aliens, essentially Norwegian, with none of the bad connotations of its title. The camp was run by the Norwegians themselves, under minimum Swedish supervision. Roy quickly obtained official permission to remain in Sweden.
From the Norwegian point of view, pilots were in great demand, so Roy was forwarded quickly to Stockholm, but he was to spend longer there than he would have wished. The authorities insisted, as authorities will, that he should have all necessary permissions and documentation for his onward journey and a complete set of the same papers in reverse, in case he was unable to proceed at any point along the way. We will come to understand as we follow this journey that Roy's paper chase involved no few embassies and legations. After a couple of months, all necessary documents were to hand and he resumed his trip to London.
Go East, young man
The second leg was to take him by air from Stockholm via Riga to Moscow, then on by train to Odessa in southwestern Ukraine. He left Stockholm Bromma airport on June 19th, 1941, aboard an Aeroflot DC3. The trip was uneventful, other than that the plane did not refuel at Riga, but at an unknown airstrip somewhere deep in the Latvian countryside. He was met at Moscow by Intourist officials and immediately put on a train to Odessa. The journey was a long one, the boredom relieved by conversations conducted for the most part in sign language. He shared his compartment on the train with three Russians - a Captain, a Lieutenant and the Lieutenant's wife.
On his arrival at the Black Sea port, he learned that Germany had attacked Russia (June 22nd, 1941). He was based at the prophetically-named Hotel Londonskaya, on Primorskiy Boulevard facing the sea. He remembers the city as being much like an English seaside resort, with grand houses facing fine sandy beaches along the coastline. He would have seen more of it, as Intourist had sight-seeing trips in mind for the band of Norwegians then assembling, but the first German air raids on the harbour area put a stop to that. An alternative to tourism adopted by many was to sell clothes and other items they no longer needed - a white ski suit being a case in point - to raise a few roubles with which to fund extracurricular activities.
Although he describes himself as shy, Roy managed on day one in Odessa to strike up a conversation with Jana Furnikova, the first love of his life. They met in the park every day, using a German-Russian text book as their lexicon. The warm summer days were beautiful, but at night the skies to the west were red from the fires marking the German advance.
Today's Thursday, it must be ...
By this stage, the plans so painstakingly finalised in Sweden were beginning to show cracks. Roy's stay in Odessa came to an abrupt end when passage out of the city was arranged for the party of Norwegians - some 45 in total, mostly seamen - that had by then coalesced. They were to leave on board a ship, the primary task of which was to evacuate women and children. The Norwegians were allotted space on the foredeck at the bow, under the sky, though the Russian crew encouraged them to use the crew's own sleeping quarters below decks when anything was available - an unusual case of hot bunking!
As the ship steadily followed the Russian Black Sea coast to the east, the Norwegians formed a choir each evening to sing their traditional songs for the other passengers. This was a great novelty and remained highly popular until the ship docked at Novorossiysk. There was just one intermediate port of call, Yalta, where swimming to escape the summer heat was forbidden. It became obvious that many of the Norwegians had yet to find their sea legs, when they fell overboard fully clothed.
Sad to relate, Roy's films, including his only photograph of Jana, were confiscated on board the vessel. He never met Jana again, though he explored many avenues, including the Red Cross, to find her.
Novorossiysk, the Black Sea terminal of the railway carrying oil from the fields at Baku in Azerbaijan on the Caspian, was certainly the ideal place to hitch one's wagon to the back of a train of empty tank cars going east. Which is exactly how the Norwegians continued their journey, three days after their arrival. Everything went well, if rather slowly, until Groznyy, where they found themselves uncoupled from the train and abandoned in a siding. The general level of anxiety grew for ten hours, after which time a train arrived, coupled up their carriage and took it to Baku.
Baku, which should have been exotic, was in fact three days confined to a hotel, being woken at 0600, boarding a small boat with an incomprehensible name and setting sail at 0730 for Iran.
Their arrival on July 27th at Bandar-e Pahlavi (now Bandar-e Anzali), one of the main ports on Iran's Caspian coast, was sweetened for the Norwegians, in that a German travel agency had been retained to organise a fleet of cars to carry them to Tehran. Surprisingly, there was at that time quite a large Norwegian community in Iran, due to similarities in the terrain of the two countries. This had prompted the Iranians to prefer Norwegian railway personnel, largely in a training role, to assist its railway expansion program. There were therefore plenty of potential hosts for the boys during their stay. Roy's host was a senior diplomat; better still, there was a swimming pool in the garden. This, with sightseeing and horseback riding in the countryside, ensured that time did not lie too heavily on him.
A group of eight, of whom Roy was one, left Tehran by train on August 7th, 1941, bound for Abadan and on over the border to Basra, the main seaport of Iraq, situated on the western bank of the Shatt Al-Arab waterway 70 miles above the Persian Gulf. To reach Basra, they crossed the waterway in what was little more than a rowing boat. From Basra, they set sail for Bombay (now Mumbai), India, in a troop ship returning virtually empty to that port, where they arrived on August 15th.
At this point, Roy delivered himself into the care of the British Army, if only for a short while.
He was stationed briefly at Coloba Reinforcement Camp, Bombay, and a photograph shows Roy and his comrades at the camp, grouped around the Norwegian consul. (There is a larger image, with names here). At Coloba, Roy was introduced to a little light machine gunning, for it was in the role of gunner he was to be forwarded swiftly on his way. The good ship Elisabeth Bakke had been equipped with machine guns to port and starboard at the bridge and a cannon at the stern, the latter manned by a British crew. When she set sail for Cape Town on the afternoon of September 9th, Roy and one C Mohr were there to man the guns on the bridge. The journey passed without incident. Opportunity was, however, taken to test fire certain rockets that had been provided. These were designed to tow a cable behind them to a useful height, the cable then being left to fall slowly back to the surface under the restraining influence of a small parachute. This apparatus would be used if the ship experienced low-level aircraft attack, the objective being to damage the wings or propeller of the marauder.
Fourteen days were to pass before the Elisabeth Bakke was ready to leave Cape Town. This would in any event have been a pleasant break for the travellers; it was made more pleasant because C Mohr in peace time worked for a Norwegian oil company and the company had an office in Cape Town. The local office welcomed them and put a car and driver at their disposal ...
The Elisabeth Bakke was a fast ship. There was no intention at any point along the way of waiting around for the dubious comfort of a convoy. Instead, she would make full speed across the South Atlantic, follow the South American coastline north and then strike out again across the North Atlantic for the UK. She departed Cape Town on October 3rd, 1941, and the smooth execution of the plan was interrupted at just one point, when a large warship appeared on the horizon. The Captain of the Elisabeth Bakke lost no time in putting his ship about and achieving full speed in a southerly direction. An exchange of signals using Aldis lamps finally convinced all concerned that they were playing on the same team and the journey resumed. The ship called at Belfast on October 28th and docked finally at Avonmouth on October 30th.
The Elisabeth Bakke deserves a special salute before she leaves the story. Built in 1937 for Knut Knutson, Haugesund, when Norway was invaded she was trapped in Gothenburg, Sweden, from where she - skippered by Captain Andrew Henry - and four other ships escaped to the UK in late January, 1941, under a plan named Operation Rubbles. This meant running the German blockade designed to intercept Allied shipping leaving Swedish ports. She went on to take part in Operation Torch (the invasion of North Africa) in November, 1942. She survived the war, finally going to the breakers in 1974.
From Bristol, Roy was taken under security escort by train to London, the newspaper in which his spare boots were wrapped having first been carefully censored. The train was met by Norwegian consular staff, there to take responsibility for Roy and into whose care he was passed.
The trip to London had taken nearly seven months .
The County Hotel was used by both the Norwegian Navy and Air Force. Roy stayed there for his first days in London, before he was moved to a private house rented by the Air Force 'somewhere in north London, at the end of one of the Underground lines'. Dances held in the basement of the hotel were well attended by young ladies, not least from the nearby Board of Trade, with relatively few young gentlemen in attendance to do the honours. Roy was volunteered to come dancing and felt rather out of place when he obeyed. Being both shy and unable to dance, he saw no option but to sit it out quietly (and soberly, as is his habit) at the bar. A girl soon came over to speak to him; Hilda Mary Ploughright thus became the first English girl to whom Roy spoke. It emerged that Mary was keen on ice skating and Roy, no mean skater, anticipated an opportunity to shine. Unfortunately, the long speed skates he always used and the vast unbroken expanses of ice in Norway on which he used them were rather different from the dainty skates on offer and the postage stamp rink available as a stage on which to demonstrate his prowess. He felt he only just survived the experience, but he must have impressed Mary; they were married four years later.
Still a civilian, Roy set about joining up. He went to Kingston House, the Norwegian HQ, from where he was sent to undergo RAF medical checks. He passed, and was accepted into the Royal Norwegian Air Force (RNoAF). This achievement is not 'the end of the beginning'.
After the move to north London, there followed a period of inactivity broken only by long tube journeys to Kingston House to find out if anything was happening. In the foyer there one morning, Roy was astonished to bump into a school friend, whom he had last seen doing rather well academically back in Norway. His friend had taken the shorter route to London by borrowing a thirty foot boat and sailing it down the Norwegian coast and across the North Sea to Scotland. Surprisingly many Norwegians chose this extremely hazardous approach and survived to tell the tale. Roy and his friend were to meet again quite soon, in less happy circumstances.
The call came and Roy was soon one of a group on a train heading north. A brief stop at an Army camp at Warrington brought a second round of medical checks, then off again. They eventually arrived at Greenock and immediately boarded a French ship - Pasteur - which had been pressed into service after conversion from its role as a pleasure cruiser. Being a rather retiring sort, Roy found himself berthed well below decks. The Pasteur set sail for Canada on November 23rd, 1941, under escort.
All at sea
On the first day at sea, they were caught in a storm which was to blow for the entire voyage. They were soon separated from their escort; indeed, the initial power of the storm was such that deck cargo carried by the Pasteur, including drums of paraffin, was damaged. The paraffin leaked and found its way inexorably to the bilges. The ban on smoking didn't trouble Roy, a life-long non-smoker. He was able to ignore the unremitting pounding of the ship, for he'd recently spent a long time at sea and was hardened to that sort of thing. But the fumes from the paraffin and the violent sea-sickness on all sides were unpleasant. He went in search of better quarters - and bumped into his school friend for the second time.
His friend had the answer. As part of the conversion of the Pasteur, the swimming pool had been decked over with a cover constructed in two layers, to accommodate the lights surrounding, and in happier days illuminating, the pool. The space between the layers would also accommodate Roy and his friend for the remainder of the voyage. Cold, one might fancy, in the teeth of a North Atlantic storm in November, even for young men accustomed to sleeping in the snow under the stars at temperatures of -20º C and worse. But the heat rising from the unfortunates berthed in temporary bunks below, in the swimming pool itself, kept them nice and snug.
Not many aboard the Pasteur had either the opportunity or the energy to bathe or change clothes during the ten days before the ship docked in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on December 2nd. Which is what transformed the luxurious facilities of the sleeper to Toronto into a social blessing.
The RNoAF was based at the end of Bathurst Street in Toronto's port area. The facility, known to one and all as 'Little Norway', was separated by a good stretch of water - Harbour Channel - from the airfield on Centre Island; anyone intending to do anything serious with an aeroplane had to take the ferry. Even as Roy arrived for the start of what was to become a two year stay in Canada, consideration was being given to relocating the entire facility to Muskoka Airport, near North Bay, Ontario, some 160 miles north of Toronto. Roy delights in insisting that this was because the port area of a large city is not the ideal location for healthy young men with time on their hands; minds of a more formal cut have adduced reasons of cost-saving and convenience. Be that as it may, the new location was not only well away from what might be termed 'the occasion of sin', it had a pre-war emergency landing strip used by Canadian Airlines, which could easily be developed into a purpose-built, fully-equipped pilot training centre. But that decision lay in the future; for the present, Roy spent the first night in Toronto´s George Hotel, followed by a few days at Little Norway. Here he was kitted out with his first uniform, underwent a battery of tests and, to his delight, met Sven Wessel, co-owner of the Wessel Company and Roy's former flying instructor, now a regular officer with the RNoAF. Roy was then shipped off to the wilderness.
The wilderness took the shape of "Vesle Skaugum" (named for an admired royal residence in Norway), a former farm which had become the RNoAF recreation area. Vesle Skaugum too was a safe distance from the occasion of sin, being located between lakes Muskoka and Simcoe, about 100 miles north of Toronto on the route to Muskoka. A timber recreation hut some distance from the main buildings on the estate became home for Roy and six colleagues for the duration of their stay. They were soon dubbed 'The Seven Dwarfs'; Roy, perhaps inevitably, was 'Bashful'. Recreation in part meant moving large logs from where they had been felled to where they were needed to extend the facility, but Christmas was a splendid time and a photograph shows the main house at Vesle Skaugum in festive mood. The moment soon came for the return to Toronto, to Little Norway - and disaster.
Being new, Roy obviously needed basic training - and got it, starting from the moment he returned to Little Norway, meanwhile ...
The Norwegian Shipping and Trade Mission (Nortraship) was the agency through which Norwegian merchant shipping was organised during the war, greatly to the benefit of the Allied cause and at great cost - many lives and half the merchant fleet were lost. Nortraship and the Royal Norwegian Navy both needed radio operators and navigators urgently. Whether as a result of this pressing need or, as Roy asserts, because his background did not meet the requirements of the RNoAF, on completion of basic training he was detailed to become a naval radio operator / navigator.
He attended radio and navigation courses for nearly a year. He did well, too, except in one respect. As an echo, as it were, of this period, he holds a radio licence with call sign LA8GC (he uses the call sign to this day in Sweden, with the permission of the Swedish authorities), as well as a serious skipper's ticket for light vessels. But Roy is one of those unhappy people who cannot learn to receive morse code by ear, though he can send the code well enough on a standard morse key and had plenty of opportunity to do so in later life. This inability - to be able to learn the elements of the code, but never to achieve the breakthrough by which the sounds transform themselves magically into letters and words in one's head - is not rare; perhaps it can be likened to tone deafness, or to dyslexia.
During the enforced twelve-month deferment of what he intended to do, Roy kept his hand in by acquiring a Canadian pilot's licence at his own expense. He went further, by learning parachute jumping and - the next logical step - to pack his own parachute. He even took what could have been the final logical step, that of jumping using parachutes he himself had packed!
Lieutenant Colonel (later Colonel) Ole Reistad was a prime mover in establishing the RNoAF flying school at Little Norway. He commanded the school from its opening in November,1940. An approachable Olympic Gold Medallist (he led Norway's military ski team to victory at St Moritz in 1928), Reistad accorded well with North American susceptibilities and was popular with the men in his charge. Roy finally decided, not without some trepidation, to put his case to Lt Col Reistad. They were, after all, fellow members of the Norwegian Flying Club! He asked Reistad's adjutant for an interview with the great man.
Going in the right direction
Roy took off on his first flight as a trainee fighter pilot on December 9th, 1942. Some six months and 250 flying hours later - mostly on Harvard trainers - he was to complete this next stage in his training. To do so, he had to qualify in twenty two areas of proficiency; the results are listed in his log book. Theoretical training was in Toronto and early practical flying at Muskoka, to where the RNoAF had now relocated; from April, 1943 for the remainder of this training, he moved to the RAF Service Flying Training School at Medicine Hat, southeastern Alberta. Bomber pilots went to the equally endearingly-named Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.
Roy's 'graduation ceremony', the Wings Parade, took place on August 6th, 1943. The completion of this stage of training can be seen as the end of the beginning, though it remained for him to undergo operational training and to make a successful transition to Spitfires. His immediate destination was Toronto for two weeks leave, soon extended to four weeks, while waiting for transportation to the UK.
The record fails at this point, for the next certain date is September 19th, 1943 - in Scotland and thence by train to London. Roy has no idea why his diary contains absolutely no mention of such a significant journey. A possible reason lies in the great secrecy that attached to the identities and itineraries of the ships carrying the large numbers of men leaving North America for England at that time. For example, the Queen Mary sailing under Captain Bisset from New York on July 23rd, 1943, carried 943 crew and 15,740 passengers to Gourock, establishing a record for the number of human beings carried on a single voyage that may well stand for all time. She was as fast as anything the competition could muster, completing the crossing in four days, twenty hours and forty two minutes at an average speed of 27.7 knots; she took elaborate precautions under escort approaching home waters. But she was a prize that must not be lost to the enemy, so be like Dad ...
An alternative explanation for the gap in the record may be sought in the fact that, during his leave, Roy was a passenger in a car that came into firm contact with another on a narrow, hump-backed bridge. He received a good bang on the noggin and bled spectacularly ...
Roy embarked - he believes at Montreal - on a large ship with thousands of others. The Queen Mary is ruled out, for not only did she not sail from Montreal as a troop ship, she was in dry dock at Bayonne, NJ, at the crucial time (Sept 13/14) and did not arrive again at Gourock until September 25th. We have yet to discover a likely candidate for the ship that carried him.
Rank and file
Fifteen newly trained and extremely eager Norwegian pilot officers found themselves in London with no particular job to do. Roy and his colleagues were attached, as of November 2nd and for the time being, with an equal number of equally unemployed pilots who had preceded them, to an Norwegian army unit based at St Andrews - yes, drill on the golf course! There followed a period of unhappiness, growing discontent and, finally, something near rebellion. The conditions of attachment were not arduous - the pilots were free to find hotel rooms in the town, able to find them at moderate prices (due, no doubt, to the absence of alternative clientele) and, ironically, able to afford those moderate prices because of the flying pay they received. But there were problems with rank, and with repetitive route marches at night, prescribed by senior officers as being just what was needed. All thirty changed into their air force blue uniforms and took a train south on the night of November 28th. They lined up at Kingston House next morning to put the case that their time was being wasted.
Demoted, the group found themselves back with the army, detailed to play, in their identifiable blue uniforms, 'the enemy' in future training exercises.
With his rank restored, Roy joined Number 5 Advanced Flying Unit on March 26th, 1944, where he was introduced to the Miles Master as a transitional aircraft, more powerful than the Harvard of early training, to the Spitfire. Some aerobatics and the useful art of extracting oneself from a spin were explored. He moved to Number 57 Operational Training Unit north of Newcastle in April. He flew a Spitfire Mk I (Papa Whisky - Papa) for the first time on April 28th for a 35 minute flight and was certified for Spitfires on June 4th. He moved to Number 84 Group Support Unit at RAF Thruxton on July 15th, where he flew a Spitfire Mk IX for one hour on July 17th.
Facts and figures
The Norwegian squadrons at that time were:
Roy joined 331 Squadron on July 18th, 1944 - home at last.
In so doing, he had joined a team of achievers. In 1943, 331 Squadron had been officially credited with the highest combat score of any squadron in that year, the tally being 68 destroyed, 15 probables and 42 damaged.
The following summaries of his own activities are those prepared by Roy when he found himself unexpectedly with time to do so:
|Ramrod||13||(focussed bomber escort - no distractions)|
|Bombing||31||(a 500 lb bomb was one of the Spitfire's optional extras)|
|Patrols at sea||3|
His whereabouts from D-day to VE-day (The Bnn entries, e.g. B33, are airfield identifiers):
|6/6 - 13/6||57 OTU||Eshott|
|13/6 - 4/7||57 OTU||Boulmer|
|4/7 - 14/7||1 TEU||Tealing|
|15/7 - 18/7||84 GSU||Thruxton|
|18/7 - 6/8||331 Squadron||Tangmere|
|6/8 - 12/8||Funtington|
|12/8 - 22/8||Ford|
|22/8 - 27/8||France B16|
|27/8 - 7/9||Leave|
|7/9 - 11/9||B33|
|11/9 - 19/9||B57|
|19/9 - 6/10||Fairwood Common|
|6/10 - 25/11||Belgium B60|
|25/11 - 4/12||Leave|
|4/12 - 22/12||B60|
|22/12 - 21/2||Holland B79|
|21/2 - 9/3||B85|
|9/3 - 17/3||Leave|
|17/3 - 20/3||Fairwood Common|
|20/3 - 8/5||RAF General Hospital Pontypridd|
Not much of the reality fits neatly into columns; there were days like these:
July 24th, 1944.
Two factors would determine Roy's immediate usefulness to his new squadron: familiarity with the Spitfire Mk IX and with the geography of an extensive region centred on the airfield. The first few days with the squadron were spent flying whenever he could, building his Mk IX experience and developing a good sense of just where in the countryside home was to be found. On this particular day, Roy was offered the use of the Mk IX usually flown by the boss, Lt Col Berg, by Berg himself.
There was cloud cover from three thousand to ten thousand feet. Roy felt that some gentle aerobatics above the clouds, not being seen by anyone, would be a source of grief to no-one. As he emerged into the sunshine at the peak of his climb, something went dramatically wrong at the left hand side of the engine, causing damage which in turn severed the fuel supply line. The gushing fuel sprayed onto the exhaust assembly and a comet tail of flame briefly described the aircraft's path in the sky.
Closing the throttle stemmed the flow of fuel, and the flame died. Roy thought his best chance lay in trying to punch the same hole in the cloud going down that he'd made on the way up. If this ridiculous notion bore fruit, he would perhaps be in the vicinity of the airfield and able to spot it when he emerged at the base of the cloud cover. If so, he might be able to ... Roy put the Mk IX into a dive on the vector he estimated to be the mirror image of his ascent.
Emerging from the cloud, he didn't immediately see the airfield, but he did see some fields that looked reasonably flat. On the point of committing to one of these, he suddenly recognised the airfield itself. With ample altitude still in hand, Roy was able to glide home and execute a neat landing in an aircraft little the worse for wear, except for a dead engine and a few scorch marks.
The consensus thereafter had it that Roy was sufficiently familiar with Mk IX's, therefore ...
July 25th, 1944.
His first operational sortie, Roy insists, was mundane. He took off from Tangmere at 1350 hours as a member of a patrol with the duty to look in on a flotilla of sixteen ships heading south in the Channel and to see them safely on their way. The patrol was back at base one hour and forty minutes later. No attempt was made by anyone to do anything sinister to anyone.
A little gentle probing reveals that Roy was deeply moved and fiercely proud to be there. Suddenly, after so long, after so much, it was real.
August 1st, 1944.
Roy remembers little of this day. They flew ramrod over Normandy, from somewhere to somewhere. A statistic is that they were in the air for two hours and fifteen minutes, but it didn't take that long to lose two friends. What happened? They were attacked, who knows by how many, and it took every ounce of concentration Roy could muster simply to hold his position in relation to the bombers under escort, while not getting picked off himself.
He had been under fire for the first time.
December 29th, 1944.
A day the squadron led by Major Martin Gran will not forget. Two engagements with enemy Messerschmitts took place that day.
The first engagement saw four planes lost on each side. One Norwegian officer, Captain Ræder, was killed. One survived a crash landing, one parachuted safely; both were interned. One man eventually made it back to the squadron. Roy was scheduled for this sweep, but had to drop out to taxi his plane to the maintenance hangar.
The squadron took off for the second sweep of the day with just ten aircraft, because of the morning's losses, and was led by Major Gran into the attack on a group of twenty five Messerschmitts. In the ensuing engagement, eleven enemy planes were shot down and a further two damaged, without loss to 331 Squadron. The tally reads:
|Captain Grundt Spang||3|
|Major Martin Gran||2|
|Lieutenant Ragnar Dogger||1|
|Lieutenant Trygve Woxen||1|
|Pilot Officer Ole Aanjesen||1|
|Pilot Officer John Ditlev-Simonsen||1|
|Pilot Officer Birger Tideman-Johannesen||1|
|Pilot Officer Roy Watvedt||1|
From Roy's perspective, things were not quite so clinical. Heavy air activity, as reported by radar, had continued into the afternoon. The depleted squadron took off to investigate. Roy, who normally flew at position Yellow Four (rear aircraft on the left flank. Blue is the right flank, Red the centre), was at Yellow Two, still with (hopefully) empty sky behind him. Ground control soon advised that radar had detected a large enemy formation in their immediate vicinity. They were below the Me 109's when they spotted them.
A drop tank, giving the Spitfire forty or more extra minutes flying time at a gallon a minute, was carried under the fuselage. This would be jettisoned in the event of an engagement, but the tank would sometimes fail to separate. A small pedal in the cockpit allowed the pilot to send it on its way.
Red Leader gave the order to jettison drop tanks and to climb towards the enemy. The Germans became aware of the Norwegians at about the same time and started to dive on them. Roy's drop tank failed to separate. He lost air speed while stamping on the separator pedal; when he looked up, he had dropped rather behind his proper positioning on Yellow Leader, who was under attack. Roy closed on the attacker. The Spitfire's guns were angled to converge at 250 yards; Roy was closer than that, for two shell patterns slashed the Messerschmitt, one severing a wing, the other riddling the cockpit. Roy was so close he was sure he could see the other man, and that the other man had been rather young. Only a few seconds had passed since he'd looked up; with a shout of "Good timing, good shooting" coming over the r/t from Yellow Leader, Roy turned out steeply and then climbed, but the sky was empty of other than Spitfires. There is a photograph taken at an airfield in Holland, just after the squadron had returned from this engagement. Roy is in the centre of the group.
Practice makes perfect
On March 20th, 1945, Roy was back in England for a couple of weeks break after three months on duty. Even so, constant practice was the recommended order of the day. Practice took two forms:
Drogue Shooting: sneak up on the plane towing the drogue, fire away (trying to hit the drogue, not the tug) and gain brownie points for any hits;
Dive Bombing: take her up to around 10,000 feet, go into a steep dive and try to place a dummy bomb onto a 10 ft by 10 ft target floating in, for example, Cardiff Bay. Then, climb out of there as fast as may be. Rather than brownie points, a chap got a bottle of booze for a hit. This bottle was the safest thing around, because it is quite difficult to hit a 10 ft by 10 ft target in this manner.
Roy couldn't know he was a hair's breadth away from the end of the war, but he did know he had just ten more operational sorties to go to complete his ration and retire. Even so, practice makes perfect; dive bombing, today.
He reached his target height at six thousand feet and started down, pulling back the throttle as he did so, because converting the potential energy of a Spitfire at that height to kinetic energy at close to zero feet gives a chap all the air speed he needs to continue his manoeuvre. At the bottom of his dive, Roy pushed the throttle forward - and nothing happened. He rolled off out to sea and tried three more times to persuade the engine back to full power, using every gentle caress in his repertoire to tickle the throttle. Nothing.
At this point, there were two options, one unattractive - few if any had survived an attempted marine belly-flop in a Spitfire; the weight of the Merlin engine simply took one straight down, whether or not one had survived the initial impact with the water. The other was to head for the beach and put her down there. Roy spoke to the range controller on the r/t.
"Forced landing, engine failure. I'm trying for the beach"
Range controller didn't copy and asked for a retransmission, which Roy supplied - no doubt in measured tones. This second enunciation of a real and present danger produced a response:
"Not, repeat not, the beach. It's mined!"
Of course it was! A squadron member had been blown up only months before, attempting to resolve exactly the same predicament in exactly the same way. Roy had about 100 feet of altitude and no options left. He must try to make the rough ground behind the beach. He did not know that the area was deeply trenched, in an arrangement designed to hinder hostile landings. The arrangement certainly hindered Roy's hostile landing.
He was unconscious for something like twenty hours. Offered a cigarette when he came round, no-one was quite sure how he managed to say:
"I've never smoked, and I don't intend to start now!"
He had sustained serious injuries to his lower face and jaw, his spine, pelvis and right foot; his condition was to generate the greatest concern for three months. Thereafter, however, he recovered quickly, so quickly, in fact, that he was taken by ambulance to a London hospital for a day, where he became - with others who'd recovered when nobody expected them to - an object of amazed inspection by visiting medical men from virtually every Allied country with wounded of their own to reassemble. Roy himself attributes his remarkable recovery to clean living and lots of fresh air and exercise. He spent just one year in hospital.
Roy acknowledges a deep debt of gratitude to one doctor in particular - probably then and certainly later Chief Medical Officer, RNoAF - who went to great lengths to get him back into the saddle after his fall to earth. Of all his injuries, only those to his foot remained to trouble him for some time, forcing him to transfer to sea planes on the resumption of his flying career back in Norway. Sea planes have no brake pedal to demand heavy pressure from the right foot, as Roy was quick to point out.
Roy did start flying again, on 14th March, 1946, serving under Colonel Reistad. The Colonel had been appointed Commander, Air Command North Norway, RNoAF. Roy's job for the next two and a half years was to provide flying ambulance cover along the northern coastline (landing on the water, of course) from Trondheim to Tromsø: for a fisherman rewarded with a bomb instead of the rich harvest of the sea; for a child who stepped on a land mine on the way to school. The difficulties of communication in the region were such that the flying ambulance could provide in an hour or so assistance that would otherwise take two or three days to arrive. In a more immediate sense of 'difficulties of communication', Roy was of course able to send morse on the radio transmitter in his cockpit, to report progress and the like, but was unable to receive any messages, for example, a change of orders! The problem was overcome in due course by adding a wireless operator.
Though an enthusiastic and determined volunteer, Roy's official service status was that of an enlisted man, who had stayed on past the call of duty. If he wished to qualify for an established position in the post-war air force, he was required to gain academic qualifications at university entrance level. He would be given every opportunity to do so. Roy sought and was granted leave to examine his options in the wider world of civil aviation.
Still with the air force, Roy joined SAS on 1st September, 1948, when the airline was just over two years old. Because of his experience on water, he was assigned to fly the Junkers Ju 52, his first reasonably heavy aircraft. After just one month with SAS, he finally received the offer of the job he really wanted to do - had, in fact, applied for - that of RNoAF chief test pilot.
Based at the Kjeller aircraft factory, where all repairs, modifications, etc, to RNoAF aircraft were done, the job would let Roy loose on every type and model of aircraft in use by the air force, all over Norway! It would not demand all of his time, in that crash, etc, rates for the aircraft in use left ample time for Kjeller to fix them. It was, however, all the carrot Roy needed to get down to the school books he'd given up years before. He was given an office at the factory where he could study between test flights. He passed the necessary examinations in short order, taking one winter season to complete what in essence was two years full-time education in the subjects at issue. He duly became an established pilot officer, RNoAF.
The parting of the ways
Roy was to continue with the air force for seven years, learning new aircraft, doing jobs he enjoyed and receiving recognition in full measure for his work; Captain Roy Watvedt was in 1956 described by Lt Col Bulukin, Chief of Maintenance Group, RNoAF, as "probably one of the best pilots in the airforce". Roy was pilot to Crown Prince Olaf (King Olaf V of Norway,1957 - 91) on five occasions. But one feels, even as he started his dream job at the Kjeller factory, that his longer term future with the air force was already uncertain. Perhaps it is that an air force needs to see an entire career progression to normal retiring date mapped out for each man; what Roy clearly needed was an outfit with lots of (preferably different) aeroplanes, which in turn needed Roy to fly them.
A full catalogue of the many jobs - always fascinating, sometimes dangerous - that Roy did during those years would unbalance this narrative, but a glimpse at his last few assignments is, perhaps, illustrative of the deeper point.
On November 1st, 1955, he went to Stavanger for two months, to complete familiarisation with the T33 jet trainer. This was to be followed immediately by a course in Germany for Instrument Flying Instructors based on this aircraft. When the list came to be posted of those who would attend the continuation course, Roy's name was not on it.
On February 1st, 1956, he was posted to the Air Commander's Office, tucked away deep inside Holmenkollen, the mountain that rises, its lower slopes encrusted with fine homes, immediately on the outskirts northwest of Oslo.
On March 10th, 1956, he joined 335 Transport Squadron to fly C47's, the military version of the DC3. This interesting job took him to civil airports in European NATO partner countries (which was soon to prove useful, in that he thus became familiar with airports used by SAS) and on a couple of unusual humanitarian missions, flying urgently-needed rubber boats to England and even more urgently-needed iron lungs to Denmark.
Roy finally took his leave of the air force on 30th April, 1956. He immediately joined Fred Olsen Flyselskap to fly DC3's (under contract to SAS) and later was trained on the Vickers Viscount (and again contracted to SAS). He went on to become arguably Sweden's most experienced Viscount pilot. We had hoped to write, as Part II of this story, a reasonably full account of Roy's time in civil aviation. This has proved too great a task and will not now be done. The (incomplete) time-line that was to have been used is shown here for interest.
Roy's flying days came to an end in 1979. He has some 20,000 hours logged, has attended 40 aircraft familiarisation courses, civil and military, and has flown 45 different aircraft types for 36 commercial companies in addition to RNoAF. In the course of a multifaceted career in civil aviation, he has flown commuters over Oresund, between Copenhagen, Denmark, and Malmö, Sweden, with a scheduled flight time of seven and a half minutes - the world's shortest international route? He has flown internal passengers throughout the Philippines, the result of a delay in the arrival of the replacement for a Viscount he was supposed to fly back to Sweden and was determined to keep in a firm grip...
He takes Buster for lots of walks. In the evening, he talks with friends on his two meter band radio transceiver. He has his car (fast), his boat (sleek), his aviation library (extensive), his memories of a life not without incident (clear), and his records of that life (comprehensive). In June, 2001, the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of RNoAF 331 Squadron was celebrated at Bodø. Roy was not there. It is too far away; too much has changed. Just two of his former comrades were there when he attended the fiftieth anniversary celebrations.
The origin and fate of the good ship Elisabeth Bakke were discovered through Siri Lawson's beautiful web site in tribute to her father, www.warsailors.com and "The Blockade Busters" by Ralph Barker, Chatto & Windus,1976.
The astonishing details relating to cruising on the Queen Mary, a serendipitous by-product of a search to confirm dates, were found at the official web site of The 225th AAA Searchlight Battery, www.skylighters.org
Roy's memories of Canada were given a context at the web site of the Royal Norwegian Embassy at Ottawa, www.emb-norway.ca and in "Ole Reistad, The Spirit of Little Norway" by Edvard Omholt-Jensen, Atheneum forlag a/s, 1986 ISBN 82-7334-142-9 (in Norwegian); the latter also provided some details of the wider achievements of 331 Squadron.
The vast majority of the photographs in Roy's extensive collection were taken by himself or by comrades long since dead. If any photograph used here lies outside this scope and is not in the public domain - impossible to ascertain after so long a time - we crave indulgence.
Under an agreement reached in London early in the war, the Royal Norwegian Air Force merged its operations with the RAF, but army titles of rank continued in use. The majority of these map directly to English titles and I have used these, but one caused some indigestion. The Norwegian rank 'Fenrik', literally 'Ensign', the lowest commissioned rank in many armies, I have mapped to 'Pilot Officer'. I trust I give no offence by this choice.
copyright © John J Mulroy, 2001.