13 December 1917|
Kristiania (today Oslo), Norway
|Died||30 December 1988
|Years of service||1940 – 1943|
|Awards||Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE)
St Olav's medal
|Other work||Chairman of the Norwegian Disabled Veterans Union (1957 — 1964)|
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 Soviet Union, Africa and the US, where he joined the Norwegian Company Linge. In early 1943, he, three other commandos and the boat crew of eight, all Norwegians, embarked on a dangerous mission to destroy a German air control tower at Bardufoss, and recruit for the Norwegian 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 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 Germans.
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, which he called Hotel Savoy, that Jan was forced to operate his legs with a pocket knife. He believed that he had blood poisoning and that drawing the blood out would help. Not long after that Jan was left on a high plateau on a stretcher in the snow for 27 days due to weather and German patrols in the town of Manndalen, Kåfjord, 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, an action which saved his feet. 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 Sami (the native people of northern Fenno-Scandinavia) 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 de Havilland 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. After a long struggle to learn to walk properly again without his toes, he eventually got his own way, and was sent to Norway as an agent, where he was still on active service at the time of the war's end in 1945. The end of the war signalled the end of German occupation - and he was able to immediately travel to Oslo and re-unite with his family, whom he had left 5 years before. (Source:- 'We Die Alone' by David Howarth, written in 1955 ISBN 978-1-84767-845-4).
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 in a grave shared with Aslak Aslaksen Fossvoll (1900–1943), one of the local men who helped him escape to Sweden.
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.
- We Die Alone: A WWII Epic of Escape and Endurance, by David Howarth – 1955 – ISBN 1-55821-973-0
- Defiant Courage - Norway's Longest WW2 Escape by Astrid Karlsen Scott and Tore Haug (authors), Nordic Adventures, 2001. ISBN 0-9634339-8-9; ISBN 978-0-9634339-8-5
- Official Report on Operation Martin and Jan's subsequent escape. by Jan Baalsrud – 1943 – UK National Achieves, document reference HS 2/161
- "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.
- A school paper on Baalsrud (Norwegian)
- About the remebrance march (Norwegian)
- About the 1957 film (Norwegian)
- A 30 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
- a New York Times commentary by David Brooks
- "The Fugitive", a piece in the New York Times Magazine by Robert Kolker, 16 March 2016