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Reconnaissance Over Icelandicon for Recommended story

by SVC_Cambridge

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Magnús Magnússon, Halldór Magnússon
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07 June 2005

The graves of the German airmen at Brautarholt, Iceland

This story was submitted to the People's War site by a volunteer from Swavesey Village College on behalf of Magus and Halldor and has been added to the site with his and her permission. They fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

This story is written by Magnús R. Magnússon about his grandfather and great uncle.

Prior to the beginning of the war Germany did a lot of reconnaissance in Iceland (meteorological observations, possible aircraft landing sites etc.). Both the allies and the axis powers had realized the strategic military importance of Iceland for all transport across the North Atlantic

- All convoys to Murmansk in Russia have to pass near Iceland
- The air route between North America and Europe is through Iceland

As Iceland declares itself independent, not having a military force, at the beginning of the war, all German activity ceases, at least for the time being. But plans were being drawn to invade.

Britain, knowing the strategic importance of Iceland invades on 10th of May 1940.

When Churchill visited Iceland during the war he told the Icelandic government that Iceland was lucky that Britain had arrived first since the allies would have taken it back at whatever cost had the Germans beaten them to it. Apparently the reason Britain moved so quickly to occupy Iceland was that some information had come out of Germany that the Germans had mobilised an army ready to invade Iceland in order to further isolate Europe from North America.

However the Germans scrapped the plans for the invasion because of more pressing matters i.e. the invasion of the Soviet Union. The British never got that news and continued to put armed forces in Iceland and, at its peak, 20,000 British soldiers were garrisoned in Iceland ready to fend of the invasion that never came.
Germany continued to send reconnaissance aircraft to Iceland throughout the war, usually from air bases in Norway.

My grandfather and his older brother were quite interested in aeroplanes like most boys and they remember quite a few instances were German planes came flying over Reykjavik.

In August 1941 my grandfather was on his way to work when he saw a Heinkel 111 come down through the clouds and fly low over the airfield. He thought it was going to drop some bombs but it didn't. No doubt it was taking photographs. Shortly afterwards 2 Hurricane fighters took of and chased after the Heinkel but he thinks it got away.

Not only did he see a Heinkel 111 but in August 1942 he also saw a Focke-Wulf 200 Condor. He saw it flying over Reykjavík from a roof window. The next time he heard about the plane it had been shot down in Faxaflói. It was the first plane that was shot down by the Americans in the war. It was taking pictures of Hvalfjörður.

Hvalfjörður was the final stopping place for convoys before they set out on the last leg of their journey to Murmansk. Hvalfjörður was also the last place that H.M.S. Hood dropped anchor before heading out on its ill fated journey to intercept the German battleship Bismarck. My great grandfather told my father stories about being invited on board H.M.S. Hood as it moored in Hvalfjörður but that is another story.

The Focke-Wulf 200 was chased out to Faxaflói by two P-38 Lighting fighters from the Kelfavík airport. One of the P-38 was shot down and the pilot had to bail out. Then came Joseph D.R. Shaffer in an Aircobra from the Reykjavík airport and shot the Focke-Wulf down. It fell towards the earth ablaze and exploded as it hit the ocean with six men aboard.

In October 1942 Joseph Shaffer shot at a Junkers 88 over Þingvellir, the site of the old Icelandic Parliament, Alþingi, and chased it towards Hvalfjörður. It is said that the propeller of the Aircobra had hit the tail rudder of the Junkers 88 and it crashed in-between the mountains Esja and Skálafell. With the plane three German pilots died and were buried in the cemetery in Brautarholti.

My grand dad personally did not see the Junkers 88 but his brother, Halldór, has an interesting story about it.

On 18th of October 1942 my great uncle Halldór and his cousin called Halldór the Older, went by car to the farm Kárastaðir were Halldór was from. On their way back in the latter part of the day Halldór wanted to go by an old road and look for ptarmigans. He stopped on the heath Mosfellsheiði and they walked from the car, Halldór the Older with a shotgun and Halldór with a rifle. They went behind a hill out of sight of the car but didn't find any ptarmigans and turned back. When they approached the car again, they were very shocked to see soldiers aiming a tripod mounted machine gun at them. Their commander, who had a pistol in his holster, walked to them and asked them if they had seen a German pilot land nearby with a parachute. They had not seen the German and then the commander asked if they could search the car. Halldór and Halldór the Older gave the soldiers permission. They found nothing and told them that they could continue on their journey.

The Junkers 88 had crashed in-between two mountains Esja and Móskarðshnjúkar. The reason the soldiers were looking was that they had only found 3 bodies at the crash site and the Junkers usually has a crew of four. After the war it was discovered that in order to be able to take on more fuel to extend the range of the plane, one crew member had been left behind.

A few days later, my great uncle and some friends of his went up to the crash site to have a look. My great uncle collected a fuel pump form the Junkers 88.

But the story does not end there. Before I moved to England I lived on a farm just outside Reykjavík. Another farm Brautarholt, located nearby had a church and a cemetery. One stormy evening, late October 1942 there was a knock on the door at Brautarholt. The boy, who now is the farmer, was 10 years old at the time, went to the door. Outside there were some American soldiers and they asked to talk to his father.

The boy went inside to fetch his father and later told my grandfather that he remembered that the soldiers followed him into the house, which he remembered thinking of as being rather rude. They told his father that they had the corpses of three German airmen that needed to be buried. But the British military command had refused permission to have them buried in a cemetery in Reykjavík since it was not considered proper to bury enemy soldiers near your own soldiers. They asked permission to bury them in the cemetery in Brautarholt.

The old farmer took it upon himself to give permission to bury the three German airmen in the Brautarholt cemetery. They brought the corpses on stretchers, covered with sheets, dug the graves and put the corpses in. They had brought their own priest and he said a few words over the graves and the soldiers fired a volley of shots over the graves. The enemy soldiers had been buried with full military honours.

In all 13 German airmen were buried at Brautarholt. On each grave there was a stone with the letters E.D. for Enemy Dead and a number, presumably the numbers on the dogtags.
After the war the old farmer, whose name was Ólafur Bjarnarason, was visited by the German Ambassador. He presented Ólafur with a plaque expressing the gratitude of German mothers and fathers for giving their sons a resting place during times of great turmoil, and adding the phrase "A good mans deed will never be forgotten".

In 1957 the remains of all German airmen that died in Iceland were moved to the cemetery in Fossvogur. Now there are 17 German WW2 airmen there.

And in that burial plot one can see the names of the three German airmen who died when their Junkers 88 was shot down on 18 October 1942. They are:

Franz Kirchmann, 22 years old
Josef Ulsamer, 25 years old
Harald Osthus, 30 years old

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