Captain (Flight Lieutenant) Jens Skjelderup Hertzberg
By the time the Germans invaded Norway on 9 April, 1940, Jens Hertzberg was already a long standing member of the Norwegian armed forces.
Having joined the Norwegian army in 1927, where he was part of the War School, he began flight training with the Army Air Force in 1930 and received his wings in 1931. Following his graduation he spent two years at the Norwegian Military College.
At the time of the German invasion, Hertzberg was on the staff of Captain Bjarne Øen, who was Acting Inspector General and Commander-in-Chief of the Army Air Force. With the fighting in southern Norway over by the end of April, Hertzberg together with Captain Øen, and others, escaped from Norway aboard the MK “Sjøgutten” which departed from Herøy on 6 May, 1940. An earlier attempt had had to be abandoned after their vessel had been attacked by German bombers as it left harbour. The MK “Sjøgutten” safely reached Lerwick on 9 May.
From the Shetlands, Hertzberg made his way to London and set about finding other Norwegians for the Army Air Service. His efforts garnered sixty suitable candidates. On 21 July, 1940, Jens Hertzberg, again in the company of Bjarne Øen, left Glasgow aboard the “Iris” bound for Montreal. Once disembarked in Canada, the promoted Major Bjarne Øen was appointed head of the Norwegian Army Force in Canada.
Hertzberg remained with Øen as his Chief of Staff and was instrumental in the establishment of a dedicated Norwegian flying training school in Canada. In early August Hertzberg made approaches to the President of the Toronto Flying Club requesting use of the club’s aircraft to train Norwegian pilots. These discussions resulted in an agreement with the Canadian Government, signed on 7 September 1940, under which the flying club made its airport and aircraft available to the Norwegians. The facility was officially opened on 10 November as Flygevåpnenes Treningsleir (F.T.L.) and was more commonly known as “Little Norway”. The site, next to the Toronto Maple Leaf’s baseball stadium, was used for all Norwegian military pilot training and included Northrop N-3PB floatplanes in its inventory. Even before the official opening however, Jens Hertzberg’s log book shows he was flying training aircraft from the airfield using the Fairchild PT-19 trainer by the end of August 1940.
In November 1940 he commenced advanced flight training in the Douglas 8A-5, these aircraft had originally been ordered before the German invasion of Norway but were diverted to Canada once “Little Norway” was established. Hertzberg’s last log book entry at “Little Norway” is an hour in the Curtiss H75A-8 used as another advanced trainer. Hertzberg was a prominent and much respected figure at “Little Norway” and a colleague later wrote:
All of us younger ones felt that just he possessed the dynamic power and fighting spirit we needed under these extraordinary circumstances in what for us was a strange country.
On 12 February, 1941, Jens Hertzberg entered the United States in an official capacity on his way to Washington D.C. Shortly thereafter, he returned to Britain where he took up the position as a Staff Officer at the embassy in Norway House on Cockspur Street in London. After a while at his desk job Hertzberg expressed a desire to return to active flying and as a result he was sent to 52 Operational Training Unit (OTU) at RAF Aston Down where he began his conversion to the Spitfire. On completion of his course, Hertzberg returned to London and HQ 11 Group Fighter Command, here he was nominated as the commanding officer of 332 (Norwegian) Squadron, which was due to be formed at the beginning of 1942.
To prepare for his new role Hertzberg was posted to 602 Squadron, led by Squadron Leader Al Deere, at RAF Kenley, on 25 November 1941. His role with 602 was to learn the mechanics of an operational front line Spitfire squadron as preparation for his new command. Two days after his arrival the squadron attended the funerals of Sergeant R. A. Mackay and Flight Sergeant L. J. Burke, both of the RCAF, at St Luke’s in Whyteleafe. Both pilots had died in a cloud flying accident on Titsey Hill on 23 November.
December 1941 was generally a quiet month for 602 Squadron at Kenley with comparatively few operational sorties, the weather having a part to play in the reduced level of activity. On 8 December, two squadron strength patrols were launched to cover an Air Sea Rescue launch searching for a reported downed pilot. 17 December saw AOC 11 Group, Air Vice-Marshal Leigh-Mallory visit Kenley whereupon 602 Squadron put on a demonstration of operations under gas attack conditions; the pilots flew wearing respirators and “gas clothing” which presumably the ground-crews did as they decontaminated, refuelled and rearmed the Spitfires. The squadron was congratulated on their “magnificent work”.
Jens Hertzberg joined the squadron on possibly his first operational sortie, on 28 December, when they took off on a Channel sweep. It proved to be uneventful and they returned via Manston. The next day twelve of the squadron’s Spitfires left for an operation from Martlesham Heath. Not being fully operational, Hertzberg remained at Kenley. However he joined three colleagues on a convoy patrol that afternoon. Bad weather forced the main part of the squadron to remain at Martlesham Heath until 1 January 1942.
602 Squadron’s first operational mission of the New Year took place on 2 January when Hertzberg was part of a four-ship Rhubarb to St. Valerie-sur-Mer where they were to attack barges in locks. Having completed the task, on the return journey they encountered two low-flying German seaplanes which they attacked, claiming both as destroyed, shared equally between the four pilots. As the four Spitfires headed back across the Channel, Hertzberg reported trouble with his engine but then failed to respond to further radio calls and failed to return to Kenley. The squadron diary noted:
A very good Norwegian pilot and Officer lost.
His loss was deeply felt within the Norwegian community in the air force. One pilot wrote:
This is the worst that has happened to us out here (i.e. in Britain). I was completely dumfounded, losing him was the last I expected. A most severe loss for our air force.
These sentiments were echoed by an ordinary airman:
When we heard the sad news, hardly a soul managed to say anything. We had known him only a short while, but everybody agreed he had been the best boss we could possibly have had.
On 13 November 1942, his 33rd birthday, Hertzberg was posthumously awarded Norway’s highest decoration, the War Cross with sword, for his service. The citation read:
For devotion to duty and brilliant organizing at F.T.L. in Canada and with the Air Forces Unified command in England and for bravery in combat.
Jens Skjerlderup Hertzberg had an interesting upbringing. He was born on 13 November 1909 in Taohualun, China, where his father was the headmaster of a college run by a Norwegian missionary organization. His grandfather was Minister of State, Nils Christian Egede Hertzberg. Hertzberg had an uncle who was also named Jens Skjelderup Hertzberg. He was a colonel and Inspector General of Weapons Engineering. He died of injuries he received during the bombing of Elverum on April 11, 1940, at the time temporary capital of Norway.
Jens Hertzberg had married Maren Louise Vivi Lyche in early January 1935 and may have died on his seventh wedding anniversary. They had two young sons.
Jens Skjerlderup Hertzberg is commemorated on the Roll of Honour at the Norwegian Armed Forces Aircraft Collection in Gardermoen.
Rest in peace Sir and thank you for your service.