The sleek silhouettes of eight Messerschmitt Bf 110s of I./ZG 76 ploughed on through the murky, billowing fog high over the Skagerrak Strait. It was early-morning on 9th April 1940.
The German pilots were flying through a thick mist that obscured all obvious landmarks. The glow of the gauges reflected on their faces as they nervously scanned the yellow and green dials in their cockpits. An all-enveloping haze blocked their view of the white-capped waves of the North Sea below them.
The airmen piloting these Zerstörern were the vanguard of the force that had been selected to carry out the operation code-named “Weserübung” by the Wehrmacht High Command. As they flew over the rocky fjords, emerging here and there through breaks in the haze, an armada of German Kriegsmarine battleships and troop carriers approached the main Norwegian ports.
One of the Messerschmitt pilots was Lt. Helmut Lent, born on 13th June 1918 in Pyrehne, Landsberg/Warthe district (at present Gorzow Wielkopolski). Lent was an experienced pilot; he had scored his first victory over Poland on the second day of the war. His participation in combats over Heligoland had brought him the unofficial title of “King of the Hunt of Heligoland Bight”.
As he looked once more at the cockpit instruments, the words of the Geschwader commander still rang in his ears: …everything depends on precise timing. You’ll have just enough fuel to reach the target area and engage in a half-hour combat over Oslo-Fornebu airfield. Your primary task is to silence the ground defences. Once our paratrooper force has taken the airfield, you will help defend it until relieved…
The fog seemed to thicken all the time. Oslo-Fornebu… They had learned to recognise the airfield from photographs obtained by German air-reconnaissance units. Four intersecting strips surrounded by hills. Somewhere nearby, the tri-motored Junkers Ju 52/3m transports, carrying paratroopers of I./Fallschirmjägerregiment 1 were converging on the airfield. Those men were to capture the all-important landing ground. As soon as they had secured the area, reinforcements from II./Infanterieregiment 324 would land there.
The planners of “Weserübung” had taken everything into account… except for the fog!
Brilliant sunlight began to penetrate the grey, billowing fog ahead of the fast-moving Messerschmitts. Lt. Lent, momentarily blinded by the glare of the sun, squinted his eyes. As he looked again through the windshield, he caught sight of Oslo-Fornebu airfield.
Oblt. Hannsen, the leader of the formation, broke radio silence. A few moments later, the ‘destroyers’ swooped down upon the gun emplacements dispersed around the Norwegian airfield. Streams of tracer climbed up to greet them as they dived straight down at the enemy anti-aircraft positions, pulling up just a few meters above the gunners’ heads. Skimming over the airfield, they strafed the defences, criss-crossing the air with their cannon fire.
When the first attack was over, the German pilots climbed back up to gain altitude. They could no longer worry about the adverse weather conditions and the fog, or whether it would hamper the whole operation. Nor could they ponder the absence of the paratroop-laden Junkers 52s. The only thing that mattered was to suppress the persistent AA defences.
Lt. Lent was the third in line to veer around and commence the second attack. Again, the Messerschmitts had to pass through a formidable crossfire from the ground. Hunched down in his cockpit, Lent saw tracers flash past his machine. He looked through the illuminated circle of his gun sight and, at the right moment, he opened fire; a long burst from his onboard guns tore straight into one of the anti-aircraft gun emplacements. He released the trigger and hauled back on the stick, pulling his ship up into a steep climb. His earphones were filled with the voices of the other crews. None was missing, as yet.
Suddenly, some other aircraft appeared, approaching from out of the sun. They were Gloster Gladiator bi-planes. Before the leader could issue an order, the formation of eight Messerschmitts had scattered about the sky. Lent swerved his Bf 110 sharply to starboard. One of the Norwegian fighters flew past him. Then another. Down below, he could clearly see the airfield’s landing strips and aircraft buzzing over them. Above the nearby fjord, a solid, grey wall of fog dominated the landscape. The Messerschmitt’s engines screamed at full power. Unconsciously, he shoved the throttle knob to the firewall. Both Norwegians were now advancing head-on. Just as one of them became lined up in his gun sight, Lent instinctively thumbed down the trigger. Bursts of fire raked his adversary, sealing his fate in a matter of seconds.
Lent swung his Messerschmitt into a climbing turn and peered anxiously into the wall of fog. Where on earth were those transports? The paratroopers should be dropping now.
Unknown to Lent and his comrades, the Junkers Ju 52s complete with their cargoes of ‘paras’ had already given up and returned to base. The heavy overcast clouds had made it impossible for them to continue.