Two Gloster Gladiators of B Flight, 263 Squadron RAF had been ordered to patrol the Narvik area and to follow the railway line to the Swedish border.
Around 14h30 the British fighters reached the border and encountered two Luftwaffe aircraft which they identified as Ju 88s.
In the words of the lead pilot, P/O Jacobsen
‘I attacked No1 from above and beam, and fired one four sec.burst with ‘deflection, from approx. 300 yds. Attempted to close range, but enemy a/c drew slowly away while diving. Chased ea/c into Sweden and fired another 2 sec. burst at approx. 400 yds. Enemy a/c disappeared into cloud. On returning to patrol above cloud, I noticed No2 a/c (his wingman) was not following and did not see him again’
P/O Jim Wilkie was missing, it is assumed shot down during his first attack on the enemy aircraft.
The Luftwaffe’s I/ZG76 fighter unit was posted to Stavanger on 14 April. Helmut Lent had been ordered to operate with a Sonderstaffel, (patrol unit) from Trondheim to provide air cover for the German troops fighting around Narvik.
263 Squadron first encountered Lent on 27 May when he shot down a Squadron Gladiator flown by Flight Lieutenant Caesar Hull. Hull crash-landed at his airfield, wounded in the head and knee which forced his evacuation, via Sunderland flying boat, to the UK.
P/O Jacobsen attacked another JU.88 whilst still over Sweden and appeared to have driven the aircraft into the low clouds. He then saw a number of Luftwaffe aircraft circling low over BjornFjell. He attacked an HE.111 from about 250 yards which stalled into the ground.
He was then almost immediately attacked by another three aircraft. Managing to get in a burst of fire against an He.111, before he was attacked again but through further evasive manoeuvring he fired a three seconds burst into this aircraft from 50 yards.
He was then surrounded by up to 8 enemy aircraft. During the ensuing attack the oil tank was holed and his windscreen covered.
He reported that he was forced to dive in order to avoid a head on collision and as he did so he fired at another HE 111 which was seen to dive with both engines feathered.
He was out of fuel and ammunition and faced overwhelming odds. Flying low and using all the tricks he knew he managed to escape back to base.
On 2 June 1940 Lent and his wingman Thönes claimed a Gladiator each. Their patrol lasted 5 hours and 46 minutes and they recorded victories over Pilot Officer J.L.Wilkie flying N5914, and Pilot Officer L.R. Jacobsen piloting N5681.
263 Squadron first become involved in Norway in April 1940 when it was posted to the theatre to help counter the German invasion.
Within 2 days all their aircraft had been destroyed or were unserviceable. Returning to the UK the Squadron was re-equipped with another 12 Gladiators.
A 20 year old New Zealander from 266 Sqaudron , Pilot Officer James Leon Wilkie, joined the Squadron at Turnhouse on 3 May 1940.
At 22h30 on 7 May 1940 P/O Wilkie embarked on the MS Chrobry as one of an advanced party sent to prepare for the Sqaudron’s return to the Norwegian campaign.
He was accompanied by F/Lt Rowlands in command, F/O D.H.Fowler, P/Os I.F.McDermott, A.W.Britton and 217 other ranks boarded the Polish steamer.
Once they had arrived at Harstadt on 11 May, they had to be transported with all their supplies to Sjoveien on fiord boats, known as skøyter, but which the British nicknamed ‘puffers’.
Bardufoss, the airfield where the Sqaudron was to be based, was not ready as the runway was 50 yards too short. Over 500 Norwegian soldiers and 1000 workers were required to complete the runway and prepare the airfield facilities.
The advanced party of 263 Squadron personnel spent their time moving their kit up to the airfield. This they had to accomplish through constant heavy air raids, the first of which they experienced on 15 May.
Construction work at the airfield was hampered by the lack of trucks and all the work was carried out using shovels, picks and axes. Explosives were used to clear the ice in order that a proper foundation for the roads could be laid.
Trees that had been cut down to make way for the runway extension were used to make walls around aircraft disbursement areas and buildings that were to be used by Squadron personnel.
A second group of 64 men arrived to assist and prepare for the Squadron’s arrival,while the main squadron departed during the third week of May 1940 aboard the Aircraft Carrier HMS Furious. They had to await aboard ship for two days due to poor weather.
Early on the third day they flew off in terrible weather conditions. The first section lead by a Fleet Air Arm Swordfish, encountered thick mist near Senja Island and the Swordfish crashed into the side of a mountain followed by two Gladiators.
The other Gladiators returned to HMS Furious and flew off later in the morning arriving at Bardufoss at 09h00 on 21 May.
Within a day the Squadron had undertaken 44 sorties and then the following day 54, with air battles and continuous standing patrols over the Narvik area. The fighting was continuous and relentless until the order to withdraw was issued.
Oberst Helmut Lent
In August 1940, Lent was transferred to the Nachtjagd. He struggled to adjust to the night fighter role and it was only on the night of 11-12 May 1941, on his 35th mission, shot down two RAF Wellingtons
By the end of 1943, Lent had 75 night victories to his credit and 83 in total to be the Nachtjagd’s leading scorer.
Oberstleutnant Lent reached his 100th night victory on the night of 15-16 June when he downed three Lancasters in seven minutes using just 57 rounds of ammunition.
On 5 October 1944, Lent was on final approach at Paderborn in a Ju 88 G-6 when an engine failed and he hit power cables. Although his crew were killed he survived, but within two days had succumbed to his injuries.
He had achieved 110 victories of which 59 were four-engine bombers and received a posthumous promotion to the rank of Oberst.
Click below to watch a video of Helmut Lent at work.
Gladiator in a rough wooden shelter
Operation ALPHABET, the evacuation of all British and Allied forces from Norway, was carried out from the 5th to the 8th of June 1940.
During the night of 7/8 June, aircraft of 263 and 46 Squadron flew on to the carrier HMS Glorious which it was planned would be part of a convoy returning to the UK.
In the early hours of 8 June permission was given for the carrier to make for home, with only two destroyers HMS Acasta and HMS Ardent as escort.
Running at a low level of readiness the small British fleet was found, attacked and in a little over two hours, sunk by the powerful German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. There were no survivors from 263 Squadron
The remains of the wreckage of Wilkie’s Gladiator remained on Lille Haugefjellet until the end of 1998. It was then that the remains were recovered and taken to the Jet Age Museum, Gloucestershire Airport for restoration.
P/O James Leon Wilkie grave can be found at Narvik New Cemetery.
Twin Screw, 11,442 tons gross, built 1939 Nakskov Skibs A/S Nakskov for Gdynia-America Shipping Lines, length 478ft, breadth 66.7 feet, depth 32.8ft. 2x 16cyl B&W oil engines 1,716nhp. Home port Gydnia
Built for the Poland - South America Line, and named in honour of the first Polish king, Bolesław I Chrobry.
While on its maiden voyage war was declared and it was taken over by the British the ship was used as a troop transport.
On April 11th 1940 she sailed from Scapa Flow and joined convoy NP1 bound for Narvik. In company with the Empress of Australia, MS Chrobry detached from the convoy, and made for Namsos, but both ships were diverted to Lillesjona. Although 100 miles further north the harbour there was more capable of handling the troopships.
MS Chrobry left to return to England on 17 April having completed her first mission.
At 22h30 on 7 May Chrobry sailed from Leith Docks , with amongst others the advance party of 263 Squadron. Arriving at Harstadt 4 days later the RAF personnel were transferred to the Sjoveien via local fishing boats called skøyter, known by the Allies as 'puffers'.
While at anchor Chrobry had been attacked by the Luftwaffe but had not suffered any damage. On 14 May Chrobry sailed from Tjeldsundet heading for Bodo. Not long after sailing, at around midnight in the middle of Vestfjord, she came under attack three times by JU87 dive bombers from 1/StG1.The bombers set the ship on fire, which resulted in exploding ammunition, and the killing of several army officers and men.
One of the escorts, the destroyer HMS Wolverine, came along side and took off 700 men of the 24th Brigade Headquarters, the Irish Guards, and the 3rd Hussars, The other escort, HMS Stork, acted in the defensive roll and drove off further aerial attacks, then took off the remaining 300 survivors. Both escorts sailed for Harstad
In spite of the damage and fires caused by the bombing MS Chrobry did not sink. It was left for aircraft from the Ark Royal to sink her on 16 May at position 67.40N, 13.50E
Helmut Lent was born on 13 June 1918 and joined the Luftwaffe on 1 April 1936
During his training he did not have much luck and was involved in two car accidents, which put him out of action for a number of weeks. Shortly after recovering from the second one he was posted in July 1938 to III./JG 132 based at Jüterbog-Damm.
Through reassignment and squadron redesignation, on 1 May 1939, Lent found himself in I./ZG 76, which had re-equipped with the Bf 110 Zerstörer twin-engine fighters.
Lent took part in the invasion of Poland and managed to destroy a number of aircraft on the ground, his first aerial victory and that for I./ZG76 was a PZL P.24 fighter shot down on 3 September.
He achieved ace status during the Norwegian campaign, shooting down a Norwegian Gloster Gladiator biplane fighter for his fifth victory on 9 April 1940. rcording a total of four victories during his time in Norway and was promoted to the rank of Oberleutnant on 1 July
The aircraft illustrated was lost on 9 April 1940 near Narvik, when after escort duty and running low on fuel Lent came under fire from the ground as he attempted to land at Fornebu. With the starboard engine out of action on his Bf 110 C ‘M8 + DH’, Lent overshot on landing and crashed.
Gladiators in Gloucestershire
This update is from Tim Kershaw of the Jet Age Museum
Jet Age Museum and Retro Track and Air have now collaborated on four Gladiator rebuild projects. They are largely based on wreckage of aircraft of 263 Squadron RAF lost during the second Norwegian expedition in 1940, recovered by Jet Age members over the last few years and gifted to the museum by the Norwegian government.
Jet Age member Don Tombs, a former Gloster Aircraft Company draughtsman, has produced a large number of new drawings based on damaged original components and Jet Age and Retro have also had access to surviving original Gloster drawings.
Three more Jet Age members, Brian Walker, Bill Jeffrey and Will Moore, (picture right with the Retro Gladiator) make up the restoration team at Retro’s premises at Cam, near Dursley, Gloucestershire.
Their first reconstruction was a basic fuselage for the Norwegian Air Force Museum. It is based on original parts from more than one crash site, has no identity and will be united with the original wings and tail unit of a Norwegian Air Force Gladiator to make a representative aircraft. The Norwegian wings and tail unit are currently on loan to Retro as patterns for N5719/G-CBHO. The completed fuselage frame is stored at Kemble and will go to Norway with the wings and tail when they are returned.
The same team has rebuilt another basic fuselage for the Fleet Air Arm Museum at Yeovilton, as seen in the reply above. Again, it was built from an assortment of original parts and has no identity, although it is expected to be completed as the sole Fleet Air Arm Gladiator to serve in Norway.
Jet Age Museum’s own Gladiator rebuild is N5914, in which P/O J.I. Wilkie of 263 Squadron RAF died on 2 June 1940 when he was shot down over Lille Haugefjell by the German ace Helmut Lent. It will consist largely of original parts as Jet Age was able to recover most of the wreckage from the mountain.
The complex tail bay of the fuselage has been restored and the main frame from the pilot’s seat forward is nearly complete in its jig, including a cross-tube with original bullet hole. The engine is reasonably complete, although corroded.
The front fuselage structure has been dismantled from the build jig for treatment/painting prior to final assembly. Jet Age Gladiator team leader Brian Walker says that this structure has demanded a greater number of hours of labour than that of the previous frames, i.e. those of Yeovilton and Norway respectively.
Several components had to be substantially refurbished, fabricated, or newly manufactured, most needing some careful thought as to alternative ways of production. Significant challenges yet to be addressed are the restoration of a pair of undercarriage legs, as is the provisioning of the full complement of fuselage bracing wires.
A fourth A fourth Gladiator, N5719, is being rebuilt to fly by Retro’s own team as a flying aircraft. The main fuselage frame is complete and work is well advanced on the port lower wing and on the restoration of an original Mercury engine. N5719 was flown by P/O M.A. Craig-Adams of 263 Squadron RAF, who was killed in action on 22 May 1940 over Hogfjellet. He flew into the side of a mountain and his body was eventually recovered by French troops in 1945.
The civil registration G-CBHO has already been allocated and Retro is looking for an investment partner to complete the project. See Retro's own website at http://www.retrotrackandair.com/specialprojects.htm, which includes photographs by Richard Winslade showing progress to date.
Jet Age was able to acquire other Gladiator parts when the RAF Museum’s reserve collection was moved from Cardington to Stafford. The RAF Museum parts were mostly from 263 Squadron’s first Norwegian expedition and were recovered from Lake Lesjaskog. The Gladiator wings and tail from Cardington went to Malta. Jet Age proposed that most of the other parts should go to Yeovilton in exchange for their support for our application to the Norwegian government to recover wreckage from the second Norwegian expedition. Jet Age received engine parts, a burnt wooden propeller and a number of other small components, including some parts from N5628, the forward fuselage of which is an exhibit at the RAF Museum.
By March 4 2012 the front fuselage primary structure was complete and in a jig awaiting the attachment of the rear assemblies. Both sides of the rear sections are complete as is the tail bay unit. Sufficient floor space needs to be available to join the three parts together. Labour intensive work is being centred around the creation of the various bracing wires and their fittings. Great progress has been made, however there is still the challenge of rebuilding the main undercarriage.
References and acknowledgments
My thanks to Tim Kershaw for all his help and copies of documents and photographs