In Hitler’s Savage Canary, the non-fiction story, Thomas C. Sneum was a Royal Danish Fleet Arm fighter pilot who wanted to escape to England from occupied Denmark so that he could join the war against the Nazis.
Originally he wanted to fly to England so he could deliver information on a German radar base that was detecting English aircraft. Rather than wait to personally take the information Sneum found another means to send it to England.
In Hornet Flight, Follett’s work of fiction, young Harald Olufsen has film of the German installation that must urgently reach London. The only way he can get the information in time is by flying to England.
Looking through government records Sneum found there were 25 privately owned planes still in Denmark. Sneum approached Poul Andersen, a dairy farmer near Odense, about buying his Hornet Moth plane. Andersen, upon learning Sneum’s plans, agreed he could take the plane.
Olufsen finds his plane through his connections with the Duchwitzes, a wealthy Jewish banking family, who have their own Hornet Moth.
With his plane quite severely damaged Sneum, with the aid of a friend and a mechanic from Copenhagen and a shop in Odense, secretly repaired the plane over three weeks. The repairs were made next to an encampment of German soldiers.
Olufsen repairs the fictional plane, less damaged than the actual plane, with the aid of the lovely Karen Duchwitz.
Shortly after midnight on June 21, 1941 Sneum and Keld Petersen, a fellow Naval pilot who was accompanying Sneum, took the plane out of its hangar and rolled it by the sleeping Germans to get to a field from which they could take off.
In the major departure from real life it is Karen who will pilot the plane and Olufsen be the passenger. To add to the drama she has a sprained foot and he will have to help fly the plane though he has no pilot’s training.
Sneum sought to time the starting of the airplane engine and take off with an approaching train. As they lifted off they were too low to clear a power line so Sneum flew underneath the line.
Some German soldiers saw them but, probably thinking the Danish crosses painted on the plane, were Luftwaffe crosses they did not open fire.
Olufsen and Duchwitz take off in a far more exciting way with German soldiers and Danish police physically trying to stop them and guns being fired.
With but a page torn from an atlas, a compass and the North Star to guide them once they left Danish air space Sneum and Petersen headed for England.
Duchwitz and Olufsen rely solely on a compass reading they have worked out to take them to England.
Detected by radar a German fighter plane was sent up after Sneum and Petersen but it could not find them.
A German night fighter encounters the fictional plane but is unable to shoot down the little plane darting in and out of the clouds.
When the carburettors iced up and the engine was failing Sneum and Petersen dived to within a few hundred feet of the ocean before the engine started up again.
Olufsen and Duchwitz have the same terrifying experience. Follett does not need to do more than describe the incident to achieve dramatic effect. Had I not read of the icing up and unfreezing taking place in real life I would have thought the scene exaggerated.
Sneum re-fueled the plane by stepping out onto the lower wing of the biplane and running a siphon into the fuel tank. Using the extra fuel they had stored Petersen managed to get fuel into the tank.
Olufsen equally leaves the cockpit to add fuel. Follett adds a couple of twists to heighten the tension.
Six hours after take off both intrepid duos arrived in England.
I was surprised by how closely Follett followed the true life story in Flight of the Hornet. It is probably a sign of his skill as a writer in that he recognized there was enough drama in the flight that he need not embellish it a great deal.