The village of Grotli stands amid an area of outstanding natural Norwegian beauty. All but a ghost town barring the Grotli Hotel and several cabins, the village boasts the somewhat out-of-place wreck of a German World War Two-era Heinkel bomber. The ‘crashed aircraft’ is actually a full scale replica built for the 2012 film “Into the White”, which tells the strange and heartwarming story of a group of British and German airmen who were forced to take shelter together in a log cabin after effectively shooting each other down.
Directed by Petter Næss, the film tells the story of Luftwaffe pilot Horst Schopis and his crew, whose Heinkel He 111 is shot down near Grotli by a Blackburn Skua (L2940) fighter of the Fleet Air Arm, which then crash-lands. After engaging in a brief gun fight, the British and German crews shelter from the harsh Norwegian winter in the same cabin, and so begins an unlikely, lifelong friendship between the wartime foes.
Into the White (alternatively titled Cross of Honour) is based on real events that took place on April 27, 1940. On that day, the Blackburn Skua of Captain Richard Partridge and R.S. Bostok crippled the left engine of the German Heinkel before both planes crash-landed in a remote mountain area about 1000 meters above sea level. German tail gunner Hans Hauck died in the attack, but the fact that both pilots managed to get their damaged aircraft down relatively intact amid difficult terrain is a testament to their skill.
Abandoning their wrecked Skua, the British found an empty deerhunters’ cabin. When the three German survivors, despite being armed, found the same hut later that night, they were invited in to share what little food was available.
According to Horst Schopis’ memoirs, it was agreed that Captain Partridge and German co-pilot Karl-Heinz Strunk would stike out in search of help. But Strunk was accidentally shot after the men met a Norwegian ski patrol. He was buried in Skjåk cemetery and his body was later moved to Trondheim.
Captain Schopis and mechanic Joseph Auchtor were sent to a prison camp in Canada before being released at the end of World War Two. Partridge and Bostok, meanwhile, returned to England and were later shot down near Stallvik. Bostok was killed while Partridge became a German prisoner of war.
In 1977, Partridge telephoned Schopis at his home in Munich, inviting the former German pilot to visit him in London. They met on several occasions before Schopis died in 2011 at the age of 99.
The real Heinkel bomber wreck reportedly survives to this day in the mountains above Grotli. Meanwhile, Blackburn Skua L2940 was recovered from nearby Lake Breidalsvatnet in 1974. It is now on display at the Fleet Air Arm Museum in Yeovilton, Somerset (above).