|Born||13 December 1917|
Kristiania (today Oslo), Norway
|Died||30 December 1988 (aged 71)|
|Years of service||1940 – 1945|
|Awards||Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE)|
St Olav's Medal with Oak Branch
|Other work||Chairman of the Norwegian Disabled Veterans Union (1957 — 1964)|
Early life edit
Jan Baalsrud was born in Kristiania (now Oslo), Norway and moved with his family to Kolbotn in the early 1930s. He lived there until the 1950s. He graduated as a cartographical instrument-maker in 1939.
World War II edit
In 1941, Baalsrud reached Great Britain after having travelled through the Soviet Union, Africa and the US. He joined the Norwegian Company Linge. In early 1943, he, three other commandos, and a boat crew of eight, all Norwegians, embarked on a mission to destroy a German airfield control tower at Bardufoss, and recruit for the Norwegian resistance movement.
This mission, Operation Martin, was compromised when Baalsrud and his fellow soldiers, seeking a Resistance contact, accidentally made contact with a civilian shopkeeper who had taken over the store run by their intended contact and had the same name. Fearing for his life and suspecting it was a test by the Germans, he reported them to the local police office, which notified the Germans.
The morning after their blunder, on 29 March, their fishing boat Brattholm – containing around 100 kilograms of explosives intended to destroy the air control tower – was attacked by a German vessel. The Norwegians scuttled their boat by detonating the explosive using a time-delay fuse and fled in small boats, but they were promptly sunk by the Germans.
Baalsrud and others swam ashore in ice-cold Arctic waters. Baalsrud was the only commando to evade capture and, soaking wet and missing one sea boot, he escaped into a snow gully, where he shot and killed a German Gestapo officer with his pistol.
Kolker summarises what happened next as follows:
What happened over those nine weeks remains one of the wildest, most unfathomable survival stories of World War II. Baalsrud's feet froze solid. An avalanche buried him up to his neck. He wandered in a snowstorm for three days. He was entombed alive in snow for another four days and abandoned under open skies for five more. Alone for two more weeks in a cave, he used a knife to amputate several of his own frostbitten toes to stop the spread of gangrene. He spent the last several weeks tied on a stretcher, near death, as teams of Norwegian villagers dragged him up and down hills and snowy mountains.
It was during this time, that he hid in a wooden hut at Revdal, which he called Hotel Savoy. Baalsrud operated on his feet with a pocket knife, as he suspected he had gangrene in two toes, resulting from the frostbite. Fearing it would spread, he cut off his big toe and the infected bit of the index toe.
Not long after that, Baalsrud was left on a high plateau, on a stretcher in the snow, where he was supposed to be collected by the Norwegian resistance. Due to weather and German patrols in the town of Manndalen, Kåfjord, he was there for 27 days and was close to death for lack of food. It was during this time, while he lay behind a snow wall built around a rock to shelter him, that Baalsrud amputated nine of his toes to stop the spread of gangrene. This action saved the rest of his feet.
Fellow Norwegians transported Baalsrud by stretcher toward the border with Finland. He was put in the care of some Sami (the native people of northern Fenno-Scandinavia). While driving their reindeer on spring passage, they pulled him on a sled across Finland and into neutral Sweden. From Kilpisjärvi, in northern Finland, Baalsrud was collected by a Red Cross seaplane and flown to Boden.
Baalsrud spent seven months in a Swedish hospital in Boden before he was flown back to Britain in an RAF de Havilland Mosquito aircraft. He soon went to Scotland to help train other Norwegian patriots, who were going to enter Norway to continue the fight against the Germans.
After a long struggle to learn to walk without his toes, Baalsrud eventually was sent to Norway as an agent at his request. He was still in active service at the time of the war's end, in 1945. That ended German occupation, and Baalsrud traveled to Oslo to reunite with his family, whom he had left five years before.
Later years and death edit
After the war, Baalsrud contributed to the local scout and football associations. In addition, he was chairman of the Norwegian Disabled Veterans Union from 1957 to 1964. In 1962, he moved to Tenerife, Canary Islands, where he lived for most of the remainder of his life. He returned to Norway during his final years.
He lived there until his death on 30 December 1988, aged 71. His ashes are buried in Manndalen, in a grave shared with Aslak Aslaksen Fossvoll (1900–1943), one of the local men who helped him escape to Sweden.
In media edit
- Baalsrud, Jan (1943). Operation Martin; List of Norwegian Refugees; Lt Jan Siguard Baalsrud's Report. London: UK National Archives. HS 2/161.
- Howarth, D. (1955). We Die Alone: A WWII Epic of Escape and Endurance. Guilford, Connecticut: Lyons Press. ISBN 1-55821-973-0.
- Scott, Astrid Karlsen; Haug, Tore (2001). Defiant Courage - Norway's Longest WW2 Escape. Olympia, Washington: Nordic Adventures. ISBN 0-9634339-8-9.
- Kolker, Robert (16 March 2016). "The Fugitive". New York Times Magazine. Retrieved 29 November 2020.
- Horwath, David (1955). We Die Alone. ISBN 978-1-84767-845-4.
- "Recommendations for Honours and Awards (Army)—Image details—Baalsrud, J S" (fee usually required to view pdf of full original recommendation). DocumentsOnline. The National Archives. Retrieved 15 January 2010. The date given for publication in the London Gazette is misleading, other honours listed in this recommendation were gazetted on that date, but honorary appointments to the Order of the British Empire are not gazetted.
- "Baalsrud". karlsoy.com. Archived from the original on 2006-05-15. About the remembrance march
- "Jan Baalsruds plass". maps.google.com.
- Rian, Vivi (2020-11-08). "(+) Hemmelig avduking av Jan Baalsrud-bysten". Østlandets Blad (in Norwegian). Retrieved 2022-04-19.
- "Ni Liv". nvg.ntnu.no.
- A school paper on Baalsrud (in Norwegian) https://web.archive.org/web/20120205182131/http://www.godoy.no/weber/2verdskrigweb/Sara03/index.htm
- A 30 minutes audio programme by Jim Mayer retracing Jan's route, including interviews with some of those who helped him escape.
- Piece details HS 2/161—Special Operations Executive: Group C, Scandinavia: Registered Files—Norway—Operation MARTIN; list of Norwegian refugees; Lt Jan Siguard Baalsrud's report, The Catalogue, The National Archives
- Brooks, David (2 March 2010). "Opinion". The New York Times.
- Kolker, Robert (16 March 2016). "The Fugitive". The New York Times Magazine.