Photo Evokes Memories of WWII Mystery Skip to content

Photo Evokes Memories of WWII Mystery

A photo published in Morgunblaðið September 20, has reopened speculation on an old story about a plane crash in WWII in Eyjafjallajökull glacier. On the photo, we see eight men with horses and sleds. The photo was taken on September 30, 1944. Of the three Icelandic men in the photo, one, Guðjón Ólafsson, is still alive at the age of 93.

The reason for the expedition was that an American B-17G bomber had crashed on the glacier on September 16, 1944. The crew, made up of 10 men, all survived, but did not leave the wreck until two days later, not knowing where to head. Then they saw lights in Fljótshlíð and walked all the way there, probably close to 30 kilometers (20 miles), even crossing Markarfljót, a glacial river, on the way.

Almost as soon as the photo was published, some people recognized Guðjón Ólafsson and gave his name to the paper, which contacted him. Guðjón was 22 in 1944. He remembers the mission well. He understood no English, but says he thought they were going to find the wreck, which should not have been difficult, since some men had spotted it a few days earlier. “But we did not really know, the military forces were always so secretive.”

When the group took off, they did not head for the wreck, but rather the top of the glacier. Then the three Icelanders became suspicious that the real purpose was to collect some bodies. “There was a rumor that a small two-man aircraft had crashed when searching for the missing plane. This was never confirmed.”

The group left the horses at the edge of the glacier and after that the Icelanders pulled the sleds themselves. “We aimed for the top of the glacier,” Guðjón recalls: “Suddenly, fog covered the glacier and the soldiers told us to stop and return. So we never reached the wreck.”

On the way down, the group found the remains of some parachutes, tied together into a line, used by the survivors to climb down the rocky side of the glacier. Guðjón thinks the expedition went well: “All were in one piece when we returned, and it went well, except that we never reached our goal. Some farmers later went up there and took some objects from the B-17G. The wreck emerged from the glaciers many years later. I never knew whether the small plane had been found. But then again, there were so many secrets during the war.”

The first expedition to search for the wreck was undertaken three days earlier. There was a blizzard, but three men gave up before they reached the target. The three men were: G.F. Behrend, the leader, Jón Kjartansson, an Icelander who also was on the search team with Guðjón, and an American soldier. Then the plane was already buried in snow, except for the rear end. The team managed to get into the plane and take out some minor objects, mostly personal property of the crew.

An Icelandic man who has studied documents from the military, Árni Alfreðsson from Stóra-Mörk, a farm by Eyjafjöll, thinks the purpose was to destroy the Norden-bombsight [a device to aid the crew of bomber aircraft in dropping bombs accurately], which was a top military secret at the time. “It was vital that the Germans would not get one of those intact. The crew probably did not get a chance to destroy it, they had to think about their own survival.”

An American photographer of Icelandic origin, George Valdimar Tiedemann, sent Morgunblaðið, a daily newspaper, the photo and asked whether anyone recognized the men in the picture. On the back of the photo, the names Behrend, Botcher and Harris are written. The photo later came into the possession of Vincent Hermanson who had left for the US at that point.

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