This week in the War, 19–25 March 1945: Copenhagen—triumph and tragedy

Memorial at the site of the Jeanne d’Arc School in Copenhagen with flowers and wreaths laid down by the RAF on 21 March 2015, seventy years after the school was accidentally bombed [Author: Lklundin, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International]

This week in the war, on 21 March 1945, RAF and USAAF bombers carried out a precision raid against the Gestapo headquarters in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The Gestapo had chosen to set up its headquarters in the former headquarters of the Shell Petroleum Company and kept the records on the Danish resistance movement on three floors in the centre of the building. The challenge facing the bomber crews was to destroy the records without harming the Danish prisoners who were locked up on the top floor or destroying the cells in the basement where more Danish resistance fighter were being kept and tortured.

Gestapo HQ at the Shellhus in Copenhagen, following the RAF raid, 21 March 1945 [Public domain]

The raid successfully destroyed the records along with almost a hundred Gestapo personnel with a very small number a casualties among the prisoners, many of whom escaped and were smuggled out of the country to neutral Sweden.

Tragically, one of the attacking aircraft crashed onto the Jeanne d’Arc School and some of the following aircraft interpreted the resulting blaze as their target and released their bombs.

Many nuns and over eighty schoolchildren were killed.

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