Operation Carthage, on 21 March 1945, was a British World War II air raid on Copenhagen, Denmark, which incurred significant collateral damage. The target of the raid was the Shellhus, used as Gestapo headquarters in the city center. It was used for the storage of dossiers and the torture of Danish citizens during interrogations. The Danish Resistance had long asked the British to conduct a raid against this site. As a result, the building was destroyed, 18 prisoners were freed, and anti-resistance Nazi activities were disrupted. But, part of the raid was mistakenly directed against a nearby boarding school; it resulted in a total of 125 civilian deaths (including 86 schoolchildren and 18 adults at the school). A similar raid against the Gestapo headquarters in Aarhus, on 31 October 1944, had been successful.
⇒ The raid was requested by members of the Danish resistance movement in the hope of freeing imprisoned members, and destroying the records of the Gestapo to disrupt their operations. The RAF initially turned down the request as too risky, due to the location in a crowded city center and the need for low-level bombing, but they approved the raid in early 1945 after repeated requests.
⇒ The raid
The attacking force consisted of Royal Air Force de Havilland Mosquito F.B.VI fighter-bombers of No. 21 Squadron RAF, No. 464 Squadron RAAF, and No. 487 Squadron RNZAF, from the No. 140 Wing RAF. These were organised in three waves of six aircraft, with two reconnaissance Mosquito B.IVs from the Royal Air Force Film Production Unit to record the results of the attack. Thirty RAF North American Mustang fighters gave air cover from German aircraft and these also attacked anti-aircraft guns during the raid.
The force left RAF Fersfield in the morning and it reached Copenhagen after 11:00. The raid was carried out at rooftop level. In the course of the initial attack, a Mosquito hit a lamp post, damaging its wing, and the plane crashed into the Jeanne d’Arc School, about 1.5 km (0.93 mi) from the target. Several bombers in the second and third wave attacked the burning school, mistaking it for their target.
⇒ Results from Operation Carthage
On the following day, a reconnaissance plane surveyed the target to assess the results. The damage was heavy, with the west wing of the six-story building reduced nearly to ground level. The Danish underground supplied a photograph showing the building burning from end to end.
The raid had succeeded in destroying Gestapo headquarters and records, severely disrupting Gestapo operations in Denmark, as well as allowing the escape of 18 prisoners of the Gestapo. Fifty-five German soldiers, 47 Danish employees of the Gestapo, and eight prisoners died in the headquarters building. Four Mosquito bombers and two Mustang fighters were lost, and nine airmen died on the Allied side. The fatalities at the Jeanne d’Arc School were 86 schoolchildren and 18 adults, many of them nuns.
A fantastic documentary about the raid: