Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Operation Carthage's Collateral Damage

Today in 1945, Britain's RAF attacked Copenhagen in Denmark.
Shellhus, 1940
Operation Carthage targeted the HQ of the Shell Petroleum Company, taken over in 1944 by the Gestapo and which housed its entire staff for all of Denmark.
By the end of 1944 the Copenhagen Resistance was being wiped out - the Gestapo had arrested many of its leaders and a lot of material was filed in the Shellhus archives.
By mid-March 1945 the situation became intolerable. A desperate call to London begged for an attack: if the Resistance was at all important, the RAF must attack at all costs!
RAF Mosquito overflying
a smoking Shellhus
On 21 March 1945, the Shellhus' top floor housed imprisoned resistance fighters, some being interrogated as the first bombs fell. 8 were killed but 18 escaped during the bombing. The raid succeeded in destroying Gestapo HQ and severely disrupting Gestapo operations in Denmark. 55 German soldiers, 47 Danish Gestapo workers died in the headquarters itself. Four Mosquito bombers and two Mustangs were lost, and nine Allied airmen died. But...
Institut Jeanne d'Arc School
...although the raid was regarded as a success, an horrific accident occurred nearby. One of the lowflying Mosquitos on its bombing run struck a 30m light mast in the railway goods yard and crashed near the Institut Jeanne d'Arc Catholic School. The fire and smoke from the crash was mistakenly targeted by the next wave of Mosquitos, which dropped their bombs on and around the site. 86 children and 10 teachers lost their lives in this tragedy and 67 were injured. When rescuers reached the school cellars, they found the bodies of 42 children huddled together. They had all drowned in water from the firemen's hoses...
Today the Shellhus is the head office of the Shell Oil Company in Denmark. On the wall is a bronze-cast of a propeller from one of the crashed Mosquitos. Below it is a plaque with the names of the RAF crews killed in the attack.
A memorial stands in front of the Jeanne d'Arc School for the killed civilians, innocent "collateral damage"...

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