Jan S. Baalsrud, MBE (December 13, 1917 in Kristiania, Norway – December 30, 1988 in Kongsvinger, Norway) was a commando in the Norwegian resistance trained by the British.
Jan Baalsrud was born in Kristiania (now Oslo), and moved to Kolbotn in the early 1930s, where he lived until the 1950s. He graduated as an instrument-maker in 1939.
World War II
During the German invasion of Norway in 1940, he fought in Vestfold. He later escaped to Sweden, but he was convicted of espionage and expelled from the country. He eventually arrived in Britain in 1941, after having travelled through the USSR, Africa and USA, where he joined the Norwegian Company Linge. In early 1943, he, three other commandos and the boat crew of eight, all Norweigans, embarked on a dangerous mission to destroy a German air control tower and recruit for the resistance movement. This mission was compromised when he and his fellow soldiers, seeking a trusted resistance contact, accidentally made contact with an unaligned civilian shopkeeper of the same name as their contact who betrayed them to the Germans.
The morning after their blunder, on March 29, their fishing boat The Brattholm – containing 8 tons of explosives intended to destroy the air control tower – was attacked by a German vessel. The Norwegians scuttled their boat by detonating the 8 tons of explosive using a time delay fuse, and fled in a small boat, however the small boat was promptly sunk by the Nazis.
Jan and others swam ashore in ice cold arctic waters. Jan was the only soldier to evade capture and, soaking wet and missing one sea boot, he escaped up into a snow gully, where he shot and killed the leading German Gestapo officer with his pistol. He evaded capture for roughly two months, suffering from frostbite and snow blindness. His deteriorating physical condition forced him to rely on the assistance of Norwegian patriots. It was during this time in a wooden hut at Revdal, he called Hotel Savoy, that Jan was forced to operate on his feet with a pocket knife believing that he had blood poisoning and that drawing the blood of would help. Not long after that Jan was left on a high plateau on a stretcher in the snow for eighteen days due to weather and Nazi patrols in the town of Mandal, his life hanging by a thread. It was during this time while he lay behind a snow wall built round a rock to shelter him that Jan amputated nine of his toes to stop the spread of gangrene to his feet, which saved them. After that it was thanks to the efforts of his fellow Norwegians that Jan was transported by stretcher towards the border with Finland. Then he was put in the care of some Lapps Sami (the native tribe of the Scandinavian arctic) who with reindeer pulled him on a sled across Finland and into neutral Sweden, where he was safe at last. From Saarikoski in northern Sweden he was collected by a seaplane of the Red Cross and flown to Boden.
He spent seven months in a Swedish hospital in Boden before he was flown back to Britain in a Mosquito aircraft of the RAF. He soon went to Scotland to help train other Norwegian patriots who were going back to Norway to continue the fight against the Germans. However, the damage suffered during his escape from Norway left him disabled, and he never returned to active duty.
He was awarded the MBE by the British (London Gazette: 27 April, 1944). From Norway, he received the St. Olav's medal with Oak Branch. He was a Second Lieutenant (Fenrik).
Later years and death
After the war Baalsrud made a substantial contribution to the local scout and football associations in addition to the Norwegian Disabled Veterans Union of which he was chairman from 1957 to 1964. In 1962 he moved to Tenerife, Spain where he lived for the most of the remainder of his life. He returned to Norway during his final years, and lived there until his death on 30 December 1988. He was 71 years old. His ashes are buried in Manndalen near the grave of Aslak Fossvoll and others whose efforts made his successful escape to Sweden possible.
An annual remembrance march in his honour takes place in Troms on July 25 where the participants follow his escape route for nine days. A meadow in Oppegård is named Baalsrud plass in his honour.
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