Touching tribute to Norwegian Spitfire pilot who gave town its wings

They were "Vikings with wings" who had escaped their enemy-occupied homeland and were determined to continue the fight against Hitler's Germany.

A painting by artist Charles O'Neill depicting the Star of Stone, a Spitfire fighter which was bought by the people of Stone.
A painting by artist Charles O'Neill depicting the Star of Stone, a Spitfire fighter which was bought by the people of Stone.

One of them was Flight Lieutenant Karl "Kai" Theodore Jacobsen who, just over 80 years ago, was one of the founding pilots of a Norwegian squadron in the RAF, flying a Spitfire with a special place in the hearts of the people of a town in Staffordshire.

The ultimately tragic story of the Stone Spitfire has been highlighted by research by local historians Richard Pursehouse of Cannock and Ben Cunliffe of Stafford, together with Geoff Berriman of Stone.

And the sacrifice of Jacobsen has been marked this summer by a symbolic commemorative re-enactment of his final, fatal flight.

Norwegian pilot Flight Lieutenant Karl "Kai" Theodore Jacobsen.

The tale begins in 1940 when towns were encouraged to raise money to buy their "own" Spitfire. Stone was just one such town to rise to the challenge with residents organising events which soon raised the £5,000 needed for a brand new Spitfire Vb straight from the factory at Castle Bromwich.

"The name ‘Star of Stone’ was selected at the final meeting of Stone Rural Spitfire Committee. The local story goes that the Spitfire was so named because the fundraising discussions were held at semi-official headquarters – The Star Inn," says Richard.

Meanwhile Flight Lieutenant Jacobsen had escaped with the Norwegian king on a British destroyer in 1940 as their homeland fell to the invading Germans, and he became one of the Norwegian pilots formed into 331 Squadron in July 1941.

The Star of Stone Spitfire was allocated to the squadron.

A painting by artist Charles O'Neill depicting the Star of Stone, a Spitfire fighter which was bought by the people of Stone.

Jacobsen was flying the aircraft on a fighter sweep near the Nazi-occupied coast of Europe on June 19, 1942, when he and his colleagues became embroiled in a protracted dogfight with the Luftwaffe. As he went to help another Norwegian Spitfire flown by Second Lieutenant Jens Einar Muller, his plane was jumped.

The operations log simply said: "Missing, down in flames."

Jacobsen left a widow, Sonja, whom he had married a year previously.

The idea to stage a commemorative flight came from Geoff Berriman, project leader of the Star of Stone Spitfire Group, working with Aero Legends at North Weald.

Karl's wedding to Sonja Irgens in June 1941.
Geoff Berriman, right, chats to Keith Jones, who flew with the Harvard escort.

Geoff, who has taken up flying in his 80s, had begun the project with a flypast over the Star Inn in Stone in 2018 watched by members of Karl's family, who had travelled from Norway.

Plans by the group for a memorial flight as a "grand finale" were delayed by the coronavirus crisis, but the event has now taken place at North Weald where two dual-seater Spitfires took off and flew in formation, replicating the final flight of Karl and Jens from the same airfield all those years ago.

The first Spitfire, representing the Star of Stone, was flown by Flight Lieutenant Tony Parkinson with Geoff in the co-pilot's seat.

The Spitfires were escorted by two Harvard trainers and guest of honour was Julian Mitchell, the nephew of Spitfire designer R J Mitchell.

The two Spitfires on the commemoration flight prepare to take off.
The Spitfires re-enact Karl's fatal last mission.
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