A True Story of WWII Enemies Who Came Together to Survive Turned Into a Movie

A True Story of WWII Enemies Who Came Together to Survive Turned Into a Movie

Khalid Elhassan - September 10, 2018

Into the White is a 2012 adventure drama set during World War II’s Norwegian Campaign. It depicts the travails of the crews of a German Heinkel He 111 and a British Blackburn Skua after they shot each other down, crashed not far from each other, and were then forced to come together to survive the harsh elements. It is a pretty good flick, with a captivating tale of endurance, grace under stress, and common decency and humanity bridging the chasm and hatreds of war.

It was inspired by and based on true events, and although it took dramatic license to tinker with historical events in order to jazz up and dramatize them for viewers, the movie’s core event actually did happen. On April 27th, 1940, captain Richard Thomas Partridge of the British Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm shot down a German Heinkel He 111 bomber in Norway but was then forced to crash land nearby soon thereafter. Once on the ground, Partridge and his crewmate made contact with the downed German bomber’s surviving crewmen, and the enemies agreed to cooperate. British and German airmen then hung out together, helping each other out, until they were rounded up by a Norwegian ski patrol.

A True Story of WWII Enemies Who Came Together to Survive Turned Into a Movie
‘Into the White’ poster. DVD Release Dates

The Clash of Enemies in the Norwegian Campaign

Richard Thomas Partridge joined the British Royal Navy in 1929, and after a stint in the China Station serving aboard HMS Hermes, the world’s first purpose-built aircraft carrier, he decided that naval aviation was the thing for him. So he applied for naval pilot training, made it through the aviation curriculum, and received his wings in 1934. Partridge then spent the next few years serving in naval aviation squadrons aboard aircraft carriers, interspersed with brief stints aboard a cruiser and with the Royal Marines. He returned to the Fleet Air Arm in the summer of 1939, a few months before WWII started.

On April 9th, 1940, months of relative inactivity following Germany’s conquest of Poland, derisively known as the “Phony War” or sitzkrieg, came to an end when the Germans invaded Norway. The Germans sought to protect their access to Swedish iron ore, upon which their war industry depended and huge quantities of which were shipped to Germany through the Norwegian port of Narvik. Britain and France sought to disrupt that access, so they sent ground and naval expeditions to contest the matter with the Germans.

Partridge joined the Norwegian Campaign on April 24th, when he was made commanding officer of No. 800 Squadron, aboard the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal. His unit flew Blackburn Skua naval airplanes – low wing carrier-based two seater and single-engine aircraft, that combined the functions of dive bombers and fighters. Within 24 hours of taking command of the squadron, Ark Royal was positioned 120 miles off the Norwegian shore, and Partridge was in the thick of the fighting, leading his Skuas against the Germans in Norway.

A True Story of WWII Enemies Who Came Together to Survive Turned Into a Movie
Blackburn Skuas aboard HMS Ark Royal. Wikimedia

On April 27th, Partridge, with a lieutenant R. S. Bostock in his plane as radio operator/ aerial gunner, led his men on a sweep north of the Norwegian capital, Oslo, and came upon a flight of German Heinkel He 111 bombers without fighter escort. Most of the bombers scattered upon sighting the British airplanes, but one of them, flown by a lieutenant Horst Schopis, doggedly flew on. Partridge led three Skuas in falling upon it, and they shot up the bomber’s port engine, forcing it down in a remote mountainous area miles away from anywhere.

Whatever glee Partridge and Bostock felt over their aerial victory, it did not last long. Shortly after downing the German bomber, Partridge discovered that his own airplane had sustained damage, probably the result of return fire from the Germans, and his engine started to act up. Before long, he lost all power as his engine quit on him altogether, and Partridge’s Skua was transformed into an overweight and unwieldy glider. With great difficulty and no small amount of skill, he managed to glide down to a bumpy landing on a frozen lake, not far from where the Heinkel had crashed. Partridge’s plane was totaled, but he and Bostock had survived the crash landing, and a few minor bumps and bruises aside, neither airman had sustained any serious injuries.

A True Story of WWII Enemies Who Came Together to Survive Turned Into a Movie
Blackburn Skuas. Captured Wings

An Unexpected Truce

Captain Partridge and lieutenant Bostock came through the crash landing relatively unscathed, without either of them being much the worse for wear. The same could not be said for the German bomber crew they had shot down: Lieutenant Horst Schopis, the pilot; sergeant Karl-Heinz Strunk, the crew chief; lance corporal Josef Auchtor, the plane’s mechanic; and private Hans Hauk, the tail gunner. Their return to earth had been far tougher, all of them were dinged up when their plane crash-landed in the mountains, and Hauk, the tail gunner, was killed.

During his forced descent, Partridge had spotted a dwelling near his intended landing site, which turned out to be a reindeer hunter’s hut. After crash landing, he and Bostock trudged through high snowdrifts to find shelter there. No sooner had the British airmen made it to the hut, shaken off the snow, and started to warm themselves than they were alerted by a piercing whistle that they were not the only people in the area. Through the swirling snow, they saw three figures approaching their hut: the three survivors of the downed Heinkel.

Understandably, the Luftwaffe men were not in the best of moods, alternating between scowls and shouts, and wildly gesticulating as they brandished pistols and knives while approaching the British airmen. It was clear that the Germans were in a dangerous frame of mind, and were unlikely to let bygones be bygones and be good sports about things if they came across the enemy airman who had shot them down. So Partridge and Bostock lied.

A True Story of WWII Enemies Who Came Together to Survive Turned Into a Movie
Richard Thomas Partridge. Traces of War

Figuring out that this was one of those times when discretion was clearly the better part of valor, the downed British aircrew refrained from volunteering the information that it was they who had shot down the Germans. Instead, Partridge and Bostock convinced lieutenant Schopis and his men that they were bomber crew just like the Germans and that they had been flying a Wellington bomber when it was shot down by a Luftwaffe fighter.

Having established some commonality that crossed nationality, based on a supposed mutual detestation of fighter pilots – a detestation that was quite genuine on the Germans’ part – the grounds for a temporary truce were set in place. It was cold outside and getting dark, so Partridge and Bostock invited the German airmen into the hut, while they decamped to find shelter elsewhere. They found it at the nearby Grotli Hotel – an empty summer vacation chalet that was shuttered for the winter.

A True Story of WWII Enemies Who Came Together to Survive Turned Into a Movie
Reunion of Horst Schopis and Richard Partridge in 1977. Pinterest

Cooperation and Tragedy

While the German crewmen spent the night of April 27 – 28 in the reindeer hunter’s hut, captain Partridge and lieutenant Bostock made do in the far more commodious Grotli Hotel. When the sun came up the following morning, the Germans spotted the hotel, and made their way there. Rooting through the establishment’s cupboards, the airmen found enough in the larder for a decent meal, and the enemy combatants sat down together around a dining table to share a hearty breakfast.

The two sides then tried to figure out the best course of action to get out of their mutual predicament. They were stuck in snow-covered mountainous terrain, in the middle of nowhere, with no means of communication with their respective chains of command or the outside world. They reasoned that it was unlikely that anybody would come looking for them, and that sooner or later, they would run out of food. That being so, they figured they needed to shift for themselves.

The two sides eventually decided upon a joint mission: British captain Partridge and the German sergeant Strunk would set out together to explore the surroundings, see if they could spot civilization nearby, and try and find other people. As it turned out, the duo did not go far on their joint mission. Within moments of exiting the Grotli Hotel, Partridge and Strunk came upon a Norwegian ski patrol. Strunk shouted “Ingleesh“, to which a Norwegian responded with a warning shot, and Partridge immediately dove to the ground for cover.

The commotion outside the hotel resulted in consternation inside, and Bostock came rushing out, fearing betrayal and suspecting that the German had shot Partridge. He arrived just in time to witness Strunk make the foolhardy decision of trying to pull out his pistol. It is unclear just what was going through the German’s mind, and his intentions will never be known: the ski patrol, seeing Strunk reaching for a weapon, shot him dead on the spot. Lieutenant Schopis and lance corporal Auchtor surrendered to the Norwegians, and were made prisoners of war. They were turned over to the British, and were eventually shipped to POW camps in Canada where they spent the rest of the war.

A True Story of WWII Enemies Who Came Together to Survive Turned Into a Movie
Horst Schopis during the filming of ‘Into the White’. Last Bass Outpost

As to Partridge and Bostock, the Norwegians took it for granted that they were Germans, and were highly skeptical of their protestations that they were British officers. They eventually convinced the Norwegians, and were set free to rejoin their countrymen. After hiking through the countryside, then commandeering a car, they made it to a British held port, just in time to get evacuated back to Britain. Their freedom did not last long, however: on June 13th, they took part in a failed raid that sought to sink the German battleship Scharnhorst, and both were shot down. Partridge was captured and spent the rest of the war in a German POW camp, and Bostock was killed. Richard Thomas Partridge died in 1990, while Horst Schopis lived to the ripe old age of 99, dying in 2011, one year before Into the White was released.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources & Further Reading

Time Magazine – NORWAY: Death in a Fjord

Plevy, Harry – Norway 1940: Chronicle of a Chaotic Campaign (2017)

War History Online – The Amazing True Story of a Norwegian Ghost Town’s Wrecked Heinkel Bomber

War History Online – Extraordinary Story: German & British Air Crew Shoot Each Other Down, Then Meet to Help Each Other Survive

World War II Today – Captain R. T. Partridge Encounters the Enemy Up Close

Wikipedia – Norwegian Campaign

Task & Purpose – A British Pilot And A German Pilot Shot Each Other Down In WWII. Then They Became Best Buds.