The Great Bombing of Vadsø

Grandfather Eilif Jankila has told us several times about his experience of 23 August 1944, the day when the great bombing of Vadsø took place. Today, 78 years later, we take a look back at what he has told us.

Grandfather tells...

In 1944, the year I turned 16, on 23 August I had been instructed by my father to go to the supply board to collect something called a schein. Schein was a note you got that said you could go out to sea to fish. It was probably so that the Germans would have some control over which boats were out on the fjord. The utility board was located in the area below Pleyms elektro (now Elon).

The first planes

I remember coming to Godtfred Johansen's bakery (where the town hall is today), where I met Johannes Moksnes. An older man. Back then it was like that, both old and young could strike up a conversation on the street. If you knew your father, mother or older siblings, you were also known. While Moksnes and I were standing there talking about everyday things, a plane came in over the city, after a short time the flight alarm went off. Moksnes wanted to go down to the basement of Johansen's bakery. The safest place to be, as it was a brick building. He thought I should follow, but I wanted to try to reach the supply board before a possible air attack.

I started running down the street, but hadn't got far before the sky was filled with planes, and flying clocks. Then it started banging. There were many, many planes in the air. In retrospect, I have been told that there were about 120 planes over our little town. No city in Europe in terms of size and population has had such a large concentration of bombers over it as we had then.

Bombs and broken glass

I grabbed my legs, turned and ran up the hill towards the Saxi crossing and where Hegg has his law office today. I continued inwards towards the telegraph (more people may know it as Havnegaten). Then the bombing was so intense that I got down on the ground. It was right next to the telegraph building. A tall building in the city at the time. As I lay there the pressure of the bombs began to blow the window panes out of the telegraph. The large panes of glass smashed against the ground around me. Then I realized that I couldn't lie here. The danger of being cut open by the glass was great. I remember as I lay there I could see the tail gunners carrying the machine gun around, scouting for German planes. A terrifying sight. I got to my feet and started to run further inside, but I hadn't got far before a German soldier grabbed me by the neck and lifted me into a bomb bay. That was where Asbjørn Berg's auditing firm was. (Today, "Sailing the good life" is based here.)

In the bomb room

In the bomb room it was almost worse than outside. People prayed to God and sang hymns, the alarm and bangs from outside were violent. I tried to get out, but was determinedly chased back down. I remember an old lady, Miss Vinjevold, coming in, led by two Germans. And believe it or not, she was carrying the frame of a suitcase. Only the frame, the rest was blown away. Presumably she had kept her valuables in the suitcase. Now everything was gone and she seemed to be in shock.

In the commotion that followed when they came in with her, I saw my cut to get out. No matter how scared I was, it was good to get out. There was smoke and flames everywhere, so I continued my walk down the road, over the Prestelva river and all the way to the crossing towards Kiwi and the Krysse kiosk (where the Haugen traffic school is now). Here I set off up the mountain. When I reached the height of Fossefjellet, I turned outwards again, continued towards Solbakken and down towards our home in the outer town. Where we lived when I was a child in the tall white house just east of the Tuomainen farm.

The memories

Eilif Jankila lived for 68 years after this dramatic experience on an August day in 1944. He was 84 years old, and remembered all his life the day when, so to speak, the entire center of Vadsø was razed to the ground. He was also reminded that J. Moksnes, who wanted to take him down into Godtfred Johansen's cellar, died that day along with eleven others, when the brick house took a direct hit and collapsed onto the cellar. That's how small the margins can be.

We want to share this story with you today 78 years later to remember what happened in Vadsø on 23 August 1944. A town that many of us today would describe as peaceful and calm also has its own history.

Written by - Jan-Eilif Jankila

Photo: Private photo by Eilif Jankila

Photo: Storbombinga of Vadsø is borrowed from Finnmark county's library .

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