Jaroslav Sterbacek – One of the Few


Battle of Britain pilot
and first Czechoslovak airman to be killed in RAF service during WW2.



Jaroslav Štěbáček



…………..* 2 February 1913, Dolní Lhota.

…………..† 31 August 1940, Thames Estuary, England






The Early Years :
Začátky :

Jaroslav Štěrbáček was born on 12 February 1913 at Dolní Lhota, near Blansko, about 30 km north of Brno in the Moravia region of Czechoslovakia. Jaroslav had three brothers and two sisters and their father František was a master locksmith. For his elementary education, Jaroslav attended the primary school in Dolní Lhota and then completed his secondary schooling at Blansko in 1929. Jaroslav then continued his education at the Technical College of Engineering in Brno where he studied mechanical engineering, graduating on 15 June 1932.

Jaroslav Štěrbáček se narodil 12. února 1913 na Moravě v Československu v obci Dolní Lhota u Blanska, asi 30 km severně Brna. Jaroslav měl tři bratry a dvě sestry. Jejich otec byl mistr zámečník. Základní školu navštěvoval v Dolní Lhotě a středoškolské vzdělání ukončil v roce 1929 v Blansku. Po ukončení střední školy studoval strojní inženýrství na Vysoké škole technického inženýrství v Brně, kterou ukončil 15. června 1932.

Czechoslovak Air Force
Československém letectvu :

On graduating from Technical College he commenced his compulsory military service; on 16 July 1932; he attended the Military Aviation Academy at Prostějov where he trained as an aerial-observer at the rank of svobodník (LAC). Jaroslav graduated from the course and was assigned for further training to the Military Academy at Hranice. On 29 August 1937, he was promoted to the rank of poručík (P/O). He was selected for pilot training and returned to Prostějov for his course, graduating on 1 August 1938 with the rank of poručík (P/O). As an operational pilot, he was posted to the 48th Fighter Squadron of the 4th Air Regiment who were stationed at Prague-Kbely airbase and equipped with Avia B-534 biplane fighter aircraft. His last flight in the Czechoslovak Air Force was a training flight on 8 March 1939, by which time he had achieved 380 flying hours.

Po absolvování průmyslové školy nastoupil povinnou vojenskou službu Dne 16. července 1932 nastoupil do vojenské letecké akademie v Prostějově, kde se školil na leteckého pozorovatele Po ukončení kurzu byl povýšen do hodnosti svobodník a nastoupil k dalšímu vzdělání do Vojenské akademie v Hranicích. Dne 29. srpna 1937 byl povýšen do hodnosti poručík a byl vybrán do kurzu pro výcvik pilotů v Prostějově. 1. srpna 1938 promoval v hodnosti poručík. Jako operační pilot byl zařazen na leteckou základnu Kbely, k 4 pluku a 48 stíhací peruti,vybavené stíhacími vouplošníky Avia -534. Poslední cvičný let v československém letectvu vykonal 8. března 1939, Do té doby dosáhl 380 letových hodin.

On 15 March 1939, Germany occupied Czechoslovakia and the Czechoslovak Air Force was disbanded with all personnel dismissed. Jaroslav, like many of his fellow Air Force colleagues saw it as their duty to escape to Poland, where Czechoslovak military units were now being formed to help liberate their homeland. Despite now being engaged to be married, he left home on 30 June 1939 and went by train to Brno, from there he caught the train to Ostrava, near the Polish border, where he stayed with a friend. Two days later he hid aboard a freight train and successfully managed to cross over the border into neighbouring Poland. He reached Katowice from where he sent a postcard to his fiancee and two friends to advise of his safe arrival in Poland. Two days later he reached Krakow where he reported to the Czechoslovak Consulate. Here he was to find that the information about Czechoslovak military units being assembled in Poland was a myth; the Polish authorities would not permit it as they were concerned about antagonising Nazi Germany and provoking it to attack Poland.

Dne 15. března 1939 Německo okupovalo zbytkové území Československa, Čechy a Moravu. Československé letectvo bylo rozpuštěno a příslušníci letectva propuštěni. Jaroslav, stejně jako mnoho jiných kolegů od letectva, považoval za svou povinnost odejít do Polska, kde se z uprchlíků z Československa tvořily vojenské jednotky pro osvobození své vlasti. Přestože byl zasnoubený odešel 30. června 1939 a odjel vlakem do Brna, kde přestoupil na vlak do Ostravy a v blízkosti hranic s Polskem se zdržoval s kamarádem dva dny a poté se ukryl v nákladním vlaku, s nímž úspěšně přejel přes hranice a vystoupil z něho v Katovicích. Z Katovic poslal pohlednici své snoubence a dvěma kamarádům se zprávou o úspěšném přechodu do Polska a kamarády informoval o možném způsobu přechodu hranic do Polska. Za dva dny poté se hlásil na československém konzulátě v Krakově. Zde zjistil, že informace o československých jednotkách tvořených v Polsku není pravdivá, neboť Polské orgány, aby si neznepřátelily Německo a nedaly mu záminku k napadnutí Polska, nedovolily vyváření československých jednotek na svém území.

However, the Consulate, with the aid of the Czechoslovak Diplomatic Mission in Paris, successfully negotiated for the escaped Czechoslovak military to taken to the port of Gydnia, Poland, where they would board ships which would take them to France. However their travel to France was conditional; French law did not permit foreign military units on its soil in peacetime. This meant that the escaping Czechoslovak airmen were required join the French Foreign Legion, for a five-year period, with the agreement that should war be declared they would be transferred to French military units. On 15 July he was transferred to Maly Bronowice, a former Polish army barracks near Krakow while preparations for his departure to France were being made. With other Air Force colleagues, Jaroslav left Maly Bronowice by train for for the Polish port of Gydnia where they boarded the Kastelholm and arrived, after a rough voyage, in Calais, France on 31 July.

Československý konzulát v Krakově za pomoci diplomatické mise v Paříži úspěšně sjednal pro československé vojenské uprchlíky jejich přepravu do Polského přístavu Gdynia, odkud by se na palubě lodí přepravili do Francie. Jejich cesta do Francie však byla podmíněna: Francouzské právo nedovolilo v době míru žádné cizí vojenské jednotky na svém území. To znamenalo, že českoslovenští letci museli vstoupit do francouzské Cizinecké legie, po dobu pěti let, s tím, že v případě vyhlášení války budou převedeni do francouzských vojenských jednotek. Dne 15. července 1939 byl odeslán do bývalých polských kasáren nedaleko Krakova, Maly Bronovice a po vybavení všech potřebných dokumentů pro jeho odchod do Francie, byl s ostatními československými letci přepraven vlakem do Polského přístavu Gdynia, kde nastoupili na loď Kostelholm a po neklidné plavbě připluli 31. července 1939 do Calais ve Francii.

France
Francie :

On their arrival in France the Czechoslovak airmen were initially taken to the French Foreign Legion’s barracks at Nanterre, near Paris for medical checks and necessary formalities to be prepared for their transfer to the Legion’s training base at Sidi-bel-Abbès, Algeria. During this waiting period the Czechoslovaks were given basic French lessons. Before Jaroslav could be transferred to Sidi-bel-Abbès, war was declared and instead he was sent to l’Armée de l’Air at its airbase at Dugny near Paris. On 9 October 1939, with the rank of Sergeant he was assigned to Centre d’Instruction de Chasse at Chatres airbase, west of Paris, for re-training on French aircraft.

Po příjezdu do Francie byli českoslovenští letci původně přijati do kasáren francouzské cizinecké legie v Nanterre, poblíž Paříže. Zde absolvovali lékařské kontroly a nezbytné formality, aby byly připraveny k jejich převedení na výcvikovou základnou legie v Sidi-bel-Abbes v Alžírsku. Během této čekací doby byli Čechoslováci seznámeni se základními lekcemi francouzštiny. Ještě před odchodem Jaroslava do Sidi-bel-Abbes, byla vyhlášena válka a byl odeslán do l’Armée de l’Air na leteckou základnu v Dugny, nedaleko Paříže. Dne 9. října 1939 v hodnosti seržanta byl přidělen k Centre d’Instrukce de Chasse v Chatres letecké základně, západně od Paříže, kde prováděl přeškolení na stíhací letadlo francouzské výroby.

Onboard the Ary Scheffer, outside Falmouth harbour, 23 June 1940.
Na palubě Ary Scheffer mimo přístav Falmouth 23. června 1940.

The Germans invaded France on 10 May; their speed and aerial superiority of their blitzkrieg soon overwhelmed the fighter protection of the l’Armée de l’Air and RAF aircraft of their now rapidly withdrawing front line. This alarmed the French as they realised that they had no aerial protection for strategic French cities and factories and so quickly formed Patrouille Défense Aérienne du Territoire (DAT) – Air Defence Patrols to protect them. Pilots and aircraft from various training units were used to equip these DAT units, one of whom was Jaroslav, whose re-training was hastily completed by 16 May 1940. He was then transferred to the patrouille DAT at Chartres airbase which was equipped with MS-406 c-1 and MB-151 c-1 fighters and manned by 16 Czechoslovak pilots.

Němci napadli Francii dne 10. května; a způsobem bleskové války, po překonání francouzských předních linii, rychle postupovali na západ.. Jejich rychlost a nadřazenost bleskové války v krátké době donutily francouzské letectvo a RAF k ústupu z předních linii. V této situaci si francouzské velení uvědomilo, že Francie nemá dostatečnou ochranu strategických francouzských měst a továren a rychle vytvářelo Patrouille Défense du Teritoire Aerienne (DAT), PVO protivzdušnou ochranu leteckými hlídkami. Pro vytvářené jednotky DAT byli z různých tréningových jednotek vyčleněni piloti a letadla. Jedním z těchto pilotů byl Jaroslav, jehož přeškolovací výcvik byl 16. května 1940 urychleně dokončen a převelen k Patrouille Dat na letecké základně Chartres, v níž bylo zařazeno 16 československých letců a která byla vybavena stíhacími letadly Morane Saulnier MS 406 C-1 a MB 151 C-1.

With France on the verge of capitulation, l’Arme d’Air released their Czechoslovak airmen from their service; for Jaroslav and other Czechoslovak airmen at Chartres airbase this was on 13 June. They were evacuated to Bordeaux where, on 19 June 1940, a total of 93 Czechoslovak airmen, boarded the ‘Ary Scheffer’, a small Dutch cargo ship, and in cramped conditions for all onboard sailed at 13:30 to England, arriving in Falmouth on 23 June 1940.

Když byla Francie na pokraji kapitulace, francouzské letectvo I’Arme d’Air československé letce 13. června 1940 propustilo z činné služby a byli evakuováni do Bordeaux, kde 19. června Jaroslav ve skupině 93 československých letců nastoupil na malou nákladní holandskou loď a pro všechny ve stísněných podmínkách na palubě vypluli ve 13.30 do Anglie. Do Falmouth v Anglii připluli 23. června 1940.

RAF :

After British security vetting had been completed, the Czechoslovak airmen were quickly sent to Cosford, the location of the Czechoslovak Airmen’s Depot, for enlistment into the RAF. With the Battle of Britain having already started on 10 July, the RAF had a critical need for fighter pilots. In July, Jaroslav was accepted into the RAF Volunteer Reserve, at the rank of P/O, and posted to the newly formed 310 (Czechoslovak) Sqn which was based at Duxford and equipped with Hurricane Mk 1’s.

Po ukončení bezpečnostních prověrek byly českoslovenští letci ihned odesláni do Depot pro zařazení v RAF v Cosfordu. Bitva o Anglii byla zahájena již 10. července 1940 a RAF měla kritický nedostatek stíhacích pilotů. V červenci byl Jaroslav přijat do dobrovolnické reservy RAF v hodnosti P/O a odeslán do nově vytvořené 310. (československé) perutě založené v Duxfordu, vybavené stíhacími letadly Hurricane MK.1’s.

With British flying instructors, and F/O Ladislav Češek, a Briton of Czech origin, as interpreter to assist in overcoming the language barrier and Mr Louis de Glehn brought in to give English lessons, three times a week, the Czechoslovak pilots, still in their l’Armée de l’Air uniforms, were given rapid re-training on Hurricanes and well as rudimentary English lessons. The squadron was declared operational on 17 August and was immediately participating in the Battle of Britain.

S britskými leteckými instruktory a F/O Ladislavem Češkem, Bitem českého původu, jako tlumočníkem, který pomáhal při překonávání jazykové bariery, měli třikrát týdně s Luisem de Glehnem lekce angličtiny.. V té době měli stále ještě uniformy francouzského letectva. Současně se v rámci školení seznamovali s materiální částí a pilotáží letadla Současně se seznamovali s rádiovou korespondenci v angličtině. 310.(československá) peruť byla prohlášena za bojeschopnou dne 17 srpna 1940 a okamžitě se účastnila bojů s Luftwaffe o Británii.

Jaroslav made his first operation patrol in the early evening of 19th August flying Hurricane Mk I P3887. He was to complete only five more operational patrols during the Battle of Britain; two on 20th, one on 23rd, 30th and a morning patrol on 31st.

Last flight :
Poslední let :

At 13:00, 31 August, twelve 12 Hurricanes from 310 Sqn took-off for an operational patrol. Jaroslav was flying Hurricane MkI P3159 in red section as wingman to P/O Alexander Hess with Sgt Josef Kopřiva. At 13:25, flying at an altitude of 12,000 feet over the Thames Estuary, they saw a Luftwaffe formation of about 20 Do 215’s from KG 3 along with numerous Me 109 for fighter support. The Hurricanes intercepted and in the resultant dog-fight, Štěrbáček’s Hurricane was last seen attacking a Do 17 before being shot down by a Me 109 at about 13:30. His Hurricane was seen to go into a steep dive with Jaroslav managing to bail-out. The Hurricane crashed at Wennington, near Romford, Essex, but Jaroslav landed into the Thames Estuary and believed to have drowned; his body was never found. Sgt Kopřiva was also shot down during that combat, but had more luck; he bailed out and landed near Hornchurch.

31. srpna 1940 v 1300 hod., 12 stíhacích letadel typu Hurrican od 310. (československé) perutě RAF, provádělo operační hlídku. Jaroslav letěl s Hurricane MK I, P3159 v červené části, v tříčlenné skupině, kterou tvořili P/O Alexander Hess, P/O Jaroslav Štěrbáček a Sgt. Josef Kopřiva. V 13.24 hod. letěli ve výšce 12000 stop nad ústím řeky Temže a uviděli asi dvacetičlennou formaci bombardovacích letadel Luftwaffe Do 215 od KG 3, které doprovázela početná ochranná skupina stíhacích letadel Me 109. Hurricany německé letouny napadly a střetly se s nimi v psím boji. Jaroslav Štěrbáček byl viděn jak ve 13.30 sestřelil jeden letoun Me 109. Potom převedl Hurricane do strmého stoupání a zřítil se. Huriccan havaroval na Wennington poblíž Romsford, Esex. Jaroslav opustil letoun padákem na němž přistál do ústí řeky Temže a pravděpodobně se utopil. Jeho tělo nebylo nikdy nalezeno. Sgt. Kopřiva byl v průběhu tohoto boje také sestřelen, ale měl více štěstí po opuštění letounu s padákem, přistál poblíž Hornchurch.

P/O Jaroslav Štěrbáček is commemorated on panel 10 of the Runnymede Memorial. He has the distinction of being the first Czechoslovak airmen to be killed in RAF service during WW2. He was 27 years old.

P/O Jaroslav Štěrbáček, je uveden na panelu 10, Památníku Runnymede. Bylo mu uděleno vyznamenání za obranu republiky a byl prvním československým letcem, který zahynul ve druhé světové válce v RAF. Zemřel ve věku 27 let.

Post WW2 :
Po druhé světové válce :

After the end of WW2, Jaroslav Štěrbáček received posthumous awards from his homeland for his contribution to the Czechoslovak war effort. On 31 December 1946, he was promoted to the rank of štábní kapitán (Staff Captain) in the Czechoslovak Air Force and on 17 February 1947, President Eduard Beneš awarded him, in memorium, the Válečný kříž 1939.

Po ukončení druhé světové války, dostal ve své vlasti posmrtné ocenění za jeho přínos k válečnému úsilí Československé republiky. Dne 31. prosince 1946 byl povýšen do hodnosti štábní kapitán československého letectva a dne 17. února 1947 mu prezident republiky Edvard Beneš udělil in memoriam Válečný kříž 1939.

A commemorative plaque was unveiled on his family home at 79 Dolní Lhota.

Na jeho rodném domě v Dolní Lhotě č. 79, mu byla odhalena pamětní deska.

Following the Velvet Revolution of 1989 he was promoted to the rank of plukovník (Colonel) in the Czechoslovak Air Force. On 1 May 1995 he was made an honorary citizen of Blansko.

Po sametové revoluci v roce 1989 byl povýšen do hodnosti Plukovník plukovníka československého letectva. Dne 1. května 1995 byl jmenován čestným občanem města Blansko.

Medals :

British / Britanie :

1939 – 1945 Star with Battle of Britain clasp

Czechoslovak / Československo:

Válečný kříž 1939 (Czechoslovak War Cross 1939)
Pamětní medaile se štítky F–VB

He is commemorated, along with the other 2937 Battle of Britain pilots, on the Christopher Foxley-Norris Memorial Wall at the National Battle of Britain Memorial at Capel-le-Ferne, Kent.

Jaroslav Štěrbáček je uveden spolu s dalšími 2.937 piloty, kteří se účastnili bitvy o Británii na Foxley Christopher Norris na pamětní zdi Národního památníku bitvy o Britanii v Capel-le-Ferme, Kent.

He is commemorated on the London Battle of Britain Memorial.

Jaroslav Štěrbáček je připomínán na památníku Bitvy o Británii v Londýně.

He is, along with the seven other Czechoslovak pilots killed in the Battle of Britain, commemorated at the RAF Chapel at Westminster Abbey. Jaroslav is also commemorated in the Remembrance book at St Clement Danes, the RAF church in the Strand, London.

Jaroslav spolu se sedmi dalšími československými piloty přišel o život v bitvě o Británii. Jejich jména jsou uvedena v kapli Westminsterského opatství RAF. Jméno Jaroslava je také připomenuté v knize Vzpomínka v kostele RAF, St. Clement Danes v The Strand Londýn.

He is also commemorated on a memorial plaque by a tree planted near hangar 4 at Duxford to commemorate the Czechoslovak airmen who were killed in 1940/41 while stationed at the airfield.

Je připomínán také na pamětní desce umístěné na stromě u hangáru 4 který byl na letišti Duxford zasazen k připomenutí památky československých letců, kteří přišli v boji o život v letech 1940/41.

In 1984 an aviation archaeological, believed that their research had identified the crash site of Sterbacek’s Hurricane near Wennington Church, near Romford, Essex. After some preliminary excavation , the remains of a Hurricane were found along with the body of its pilot. After research, contact with Sterbacek’s family in Czechoslovakia was made and the news given to them The family was delighted at this news and that Jaroslav would at last be buried, his brother Oldřich and wife Dagmar came to England. However the news that they had been given was premature and their delight was to be shattered when further excavation at the crash site in April, and examination of the aircraft remains, revealed that it was in fact Hurricane R4215, flown by F/O Michael Duke Doulton, who had been shot down at about the same time as Jaroslav. This unfortunate situation instigated a symbolic headstone being placed for him in the post WW2 Czechoslovak section of Brookwood Cemetery, Surrey.

V roce 1984 letečtí archeologové věřili, že při jejich výzkumu našli místo havárie Hurricane Štěrbáčka, blízko Wennigtonského kostela, nedaleko Ramfordu v Essexu. Při předběžném výkopu byly nalezeny zbytky Hurricanu spolu s tělem pilota. Po průzkumu byl navázán kontakt s Štěrbáčkovou rodinou v Československu a byla jim předána zpráva o nálezu. Rodina byla potěšena, že konečně byl Jaroslav pohřben a jeho bratr Oldřich a manželka Dagmar přijeli do Anglie. Tato zpráva k jejich zármutku však byla předčasná, neboť při další vykopávce na místě havárie v měsíci dubnu a idnetifikaci letadla zjistilo, že ve skutečnosti s Hurricane, R4215 letěl F/O Michael Duke Dalton, který byl sestřelem přibližně ve stejnou dobu jako Jaroslav. Tato nešťastná událost způsobila, že byl na československé části hřbitova Brookwood, Surrey byl po druhé světové válce, symbolicky umístěn náhrobní kámen s jménem Jaroslav Štěrbáček.

Brookwood




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Jindrich Hradec 22 August 2015

Setkání československých válečných a poválečných letců
v Jindřichově Hradci.

Meeting WW2 and post-war Czechoslovak airmen
at Jindřichův Hradec.

V sobotu 22. srpna proběhlo v Jindřichově Hradci již XXII. Setkání československých válečných a poválečných letců a jejich rodinných příslušníků. Konalo se při příležitosti 71. výročí letecké bitvy nad Jindřichohradeckem. Ta se odehrála 24. srpna 1944.

The XXII meeting of Czechoslovak WW2 and post-WW2 airmen and their family members was held on Saturday, 22 August, at Jindřichův Hradec. The occasion also commemorated the 71st anniversary of the air battle over Jindřichohradecké which took place on 24 August, 1944.

Slavnost začala v nedalekém leteckém muzeu v Deštné, kde všechny přítomné přivítal předseda Klubu historie letectví Vladislav Burian. Velkou ctí byla přítomnost válečných veteránů pilotů RAF generála Emila Bočka, plukovníka Aloise Dubce a vdov válečných letců paní Fajtlové, Úlehlové, Malé a dcery plukovníka Oty Hrubého. Plzeňský Svaz letců a Letecký historický klub Plzeň zastupovali Václav Toman a podplukovník Ján Petruška.

The days events started at the Aviation Museum at nearby Deštná, where all present were welcomed by Vladislav Burian , Chairman of the Aviation History Club. The event was honoured with the presence of RAF veterans General Emil Boček and Colonel Alois Dubeč as well as Mrs. Fajtlová, Mrs Úlehlová and Mrs Malá, the widows of wartime airmen. Also attending were the daughters of Colonel Ota Hrubý. Representatives from the Plzeň branch of Svaz letců with Václav Toman and Colonel Ján Petruška representing the Aerospace Historical Club of Plzeň.

Pýchou muzea je exponát letadla Nebeská Blecha, kterou se povedlo získat do sbírky tento rok. V dokumentu byla představena cesta tohoto podomácku vyráběného letadélka od rodiny původního majitele, až do muzea v Deštné.

The centre piece of the museum’s exhibition is the Nebeská Blecha aircraft, which was added to the collection this year. Its information panel gave the history of the home-made aircraft from its contruction by its original owner through to its arrival at the museum in Deštná.

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Poté následoval přesun do kaple sv. Máří Magdalény v Jindřichově Hradci, kde všechny hosty přivítal starosta města Ing. Stanislav Mrvka. Vystoupení řečníku bylo prokládáno hudbou žesťového souboru Trumpet Tune. Jedním s hlavních bodů setkání v kapli byl slavnostní křest pamětní medaile, která byla vydána u příležitosti 70. výročí osvobození Jindřichova Hradce.

The attendee’s then went to the chapel of St Mary Magdalene in Jindřichův Hradec, where they were welcomed by the Mayor Ing. Stanislav Mrvka. The speeches were interspersed with music from Trumpet Tune, a brass ensemble. One of the highlights of the chapel gathering was the christening ceremony for the commemorative medal issued to mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Jindřichúv Hradec.

Poslední oficiální částí letošního slavnostního dne byl pietní akt u Památníku letců. Jejich památku uctili zástupci města, armády a zájmových složek. Po položení věnců a květin promluvil k přítomným předseda Klubu historie letectví Vladislav Burian, který následně předal slovo dalším řečníkům. Všichni se ve svých proslovech shodli na hrdinství mladých mužů, kteří se nebáli odejít od svých rodin bojovat za svobodu naší vlasti a mnozí z nich se již domů nikdy nevrátili. Položili své životy za mír a demokracii, v které dnes můžeme žít. Na závěr vzpomínky vojenský kaplan z místní posádky četl jména všech válečných a poválečných letců, kteří přijížděli na setkání do Jindřichova Hradce.

The final part of this year’s event was the remembrance ceremony at the Airmen’s Monument. In their honour of their memory, public officials, military representatives and public supporters laid wreaths and flowers. Afterwards, Vladislav Burian, Chairman of the Aviation History Club, made a speech and was followed by other speakers. Everyone in their speeches recounted of the heroic young men who were not afraid to leave their families to fight for the freedom of their country, many of whom were never to return home. They gave their lives for peace and democracy in which we live today. In conclusion, the military chaplain from the local garrison read the names of all the wartime and postwar airmen who used to come to the meetings at Jindřichúv Hradec.

Nakonec zazněla státní hymna České republiky a všichni zúčastnění uctili minutou ticha památku všech těch, kteří na nás koukají z leteckého nebe.

The ceremony was concluded with the playing of the National Anthem of the Czech Republic followed by all attending observing a minutes silence in memory of all those who are watching us from the heavens.




Posted in Ceremony, Exhibitions, Museum | 2 Comments

Memorial unveiled – Ruzyne 24 August


A memorial to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of the return of the Czechoslovak men and women who had served in the RAF during WW2 as held at 11:00, 24 August 2015 at Ruzyně airport.

The Memorial was unveiled near the original airport Terminal and today its Terminal 3.

It was a well executed one-hour-long event, quite well attended by public, despite scant prior publicity in the media.

The official invitations to the ceremony went out on behalf of Společnost patriotů Slanska (Association of the Patriots of Slany region near Prague), who conceived the idea of this Memorial, as well as Sdružení čs. zahraničních letců 1939-1945 (the Association of the Czechoslovak airmen abroad 1939-1945), the village of Toužetín, and in co-operation with the Army of the Czech Republic, Prague 6 District, Czechoslovak Aeroholding Ltd and the (Vaclav Havel) Airport Prague.

Patrons of the Memorial are Mr. Ing. Miloš Zeman, President of the Czech Republic; Mr. Milan Štěch, Chairman of the Senate; Mr. Ing. Andrej Babiš 1st Vice-chairman of the Government; Mgr. Martin Stropnický – Minister of Defence of the Czech Republic, Mgr Ondrěj Kolář – Mayor of Prague 6, District and Mgr Dagmar Havlová, Chairwoman of the VIZE 97 Foundation.

Besides members of the public, there were also representatives of the Czech Government, the Army of the Czech Republic. Members of several veterans’ and patriotic Associations like Československá obey legionářská (Czechoslovak Legionaries Association), Český svaz bojovníků za svobodu (Association of the Fighters for Freedom) and Junak (Scouting group) were present as well, even though they hadn’t received official invitations. Also several Czechoslovak RAF veterans arrived – Gen Emil Boček ex 310 Sqn, Col Pavel Vranský, ex 311 Sqn, and Col Alois Dubec who now lives in Luhacovice. He didn’t take part in any actual action, I was told, as he had barely finished his RAF training, when the war ended.

However, rather surprising was the complete absence of any representatives of the British Embassy, the RAF, or the British ex-pat community in Prague, especially with regard to the attending Czech Government officials.

Video credit : Jan Šinagl

The official Czech Army band played, most beautifully, the Last Post, and the National Anthems. During the placement of the wreaths they played the Pax Vobis composition by Julius Fucik; The Rebels Pipes and Drums Prague band provided the background music before and after the event.

The official Prague Castle Guard of Honour stood guard at the Memorial and carried the wreaths for the respective delegations.

The ceremony opened under the RAF blue skies and in a lovely breeze.

The Call to Attention was sounded, the Master of Ceremonies welcomed all the attending and exactly at 11 am two JAS 39 Gripen aircraft flew above our heads, made a circle above the Ruzyně airport and in their attempt to get a close look at the Memorial practically blew us off our feet, almost literally: everybody was well impressed!

After the introductory speech which gave an a history of the Czechoslovak airmen in WW II and in the RAF, as well as the subsequent misfortunes in Communist Czechoslovakia after 1948, the actual unveiling of the Memorial took place.

Its unveiling was by one of the Czechoslovak RAF veterans present – Gen Emil Boček; Lt Gen Ing Josef Becvar – Chief of Staff of the Army of the Czech Republic; Mrs Miluse Horská, Vice-Chair of the Senate of the Czech Republic, Mrs Dagmar Havlová – the wife of the late President Václav Havel and Chair person of the VIZE 97 Foundation and Mr. Martin Zajicek, architect of the memorial.

The memorial was veiled in a silk army parachute, which during its removal expanded gently like a big cumulus in the summer sky in the breeze – a lovely symbolic sight!

After the unveiling the wreaths were placed by the representatives of the Czech Government, the Army of the Czech Republic, Prague 6 District, the town of Mělník, the Region of Ústí nad Labem, the village of Toužetín, by Lest We Forget Battlefield Tours – Flanders and FCAFA accompanied by the Czech Fighters for Freedom Association reps – Col Pavel Vransky and Mr. Emil Cigánik. the Secretary of CSBS.

All the wreaths were carried by the Honour Guard of the Prague Castle, who placed them at the foot of the memorial and the various delegations then arranged the ribbons and labels.

It was a very touching moment standing there with bowed head thinking of all of those pilots and airmen, who did return only to be later persecuted for their patriotism, and remembering those, who never made it home, like Karel Pavlík buried in Ypres, Václav Jícha in Scotland, Stanislav Fejfar in France, Alois Vášátko in the English Channel and many many others… It was a very quiet moment of sad contemplation.

The official speeches followed, by Mme Horska, Lt Gen Becvar, Mr Kolar – Mayor of Prague 6 District, Col. Ján Goceliak, the Slovak Defence Attache in the Czech Republic, Mr Petera, hetman of District of Central Bohemia, and Mme Havlová.

Through all of the speeches without exception like a red note resounded the gratitude to our men and women in the RAF, the praise of their patriotism and valiant fight for their home country. The speakers reminded us that without men – and women – like them, our country would never be free, that we must be grateful for their sacrifice. We have to be always ready to fight again for our free country if need be, and teach our children the value of patriotism. Never forget!

Lt Gen Becvar also rightly praised the Czech Air Force since WW II and the courage and skills of our airmen demonstrated during various NATO missions.

Good speeches, no empty phrases, and every single one of them echoing gratitude, call for patriotism and resolution to defend our country’s freedom. I enjoyed them all.

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Mr. Martin Zajíček was then invited to explain the symbolism of his design of the Memorial. He mentioned that he didn’t wish to build a memorial to the fallen, but to the returning living, and he wished it to be bright, rather than somber. The material is (Czech) polished granite symbolising durability, reliability, teadfastness…It is also in the shape of a stylised triumphal arch – proud return home of the heroes.

There are two images of etched fighter planes on the central glass panel, one of them perhaps about to land. The glass symbolises the sky and clarity of the airmen’s task in the RAF. You can actually see the sky through it, if you bend a bit (no, they didn’t remove the shrubs behind the memorial). Glass is another typically Czechoslovak material.

On the front of the granite arch are four logos of the Czechoslovak Squadrons in the RAF – 310, 311, 312 and 313 and above them the Czechoslovak Air Force badge to represent the Czechoslovak airmen who served in other RAF squadrons during the war.

In my opinion simple, straightforward and strong symbolism, elegant and light-feeling shape with a touch of playfulness of the two aircraft in the air. If I can say it so – a “feel-good” memorial, at least in my opinion and I have heard many around me to say similar words.

Mr Zajíček told me later the original idea was to place the memorial, ‘Triumphal Arch’ near the runway, but he opposed it as nobody would see it there. He also wanted it across from the dark ugly entrance to the old terminal as contrast, but that wasn’t allowed. This isn’t really for the report, but it is interesting. Memorial was made by Daha stonemasons in Nehvizdy, a small village near Prague.

Then representatives of LOM Praha, suppliers of helicopters, amongst others, were thanked for their role of financial sponsorship of the Memorial.

Then Cardinal Duka, Archbishop of Prague, himself the son of a Czechoslovak RAF airman, had a brief patriotic speech about the Czechoslovak airmen, their love for our home country, their sacrifice for freedom of us all. He remembered them, blessed them end blessed us all and the Memorial in a simple but poignant way.

After one minute of silence followed the national anthems of Slovakia, UK and the Czech Republic, played by the Czech Army band. I sang along.

That was the end of the unveiling ceremony. Photo session took place with the illustrious official participants, Czechoslovak RAF veterans and some widows of RAF airmen, like Mme Fajtlova.

Many then left for the airport Terminal 3 buildings to attend a small, pleasant and informal reception, where people mingled, talked, refreshed themselves and signed or had their Unveiling Certificates signed.

Video credit : Slaný TV

Well done organisers – it was a memorable morning! And Prague is one long-overdue memorial richer.

© Milena Kolaříková

More information to follow.




Posted in 310 Sqd, 311 Sqd, 312 Sqd, 313 Sqd, 68 Sqd, Ceremony, Events | 3 Comments

Commemorative Ceremony – 2 September 2015


Koho dnes ještě skutečně zajímá 47.výročí okupace z roku 1968 a 70.výročí návratu pilotů RAF do vlasti?

Who today is really interested 47th anniversary of the 1968 occupation and the 70th Anniversary of the RAF airmen return to their homeland ?

_______________________________________________________________

Pamětní obřad

se bude konat

dne 2. září 2015 v 15.00 hod

u

Památníku československých letců

na

Olšanských hřbitovech v Praze.

_______________________________________________________________

A commemorative ceremony

will be held on

2 September 2015 at 15:00

at the

Czechoslovak Airmen’s

Memorial

at

Olšany Cemetery, Prague.

_______________________________________________________________

Video credit Jan Šinagl

Video je majetkem Jana Šinagla.




Posted in 310 Sqd, 311 Sqd, 312 Sqd, 313 Sqd, Ceremony, Events, Forthcoming Events | 2 Comments

Memorial unveiling – Ruzyne 24 August


Památník 70. výročí příletu (návratu) československých stíhacích perutí RAF (310., 312. a 313.) a 311. bombardovací perutě bude odhalen v pondělí 24. srpna 2015.

The unveiling ceremony of a memorial to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of the return of 310 Sqn, 311 Sqn, 312 Sqn and 313 Sqn will be held

on Monday 24 August 2015

by the car-park adjacent to Terminal 3 of the old Ruzyně airport.




Posted in 310 Sqd, 311 Sqd, 312 Sqd, 313 Sqd, 68 Sqd, Ceremony, Events, Forthcoming Events | 3 Comments

Homecoming Remembered – 14 August, Prague


Připomenutí návratu – 14. srpna v Praze.

The commemoration of the return of the Czechoslovak RAF men and women continued at 11:00 on 14 August at Hradčanské náměstí, outside the Arcibiskupský palác, by Prague Castle at Hradčany. Aptly, this is also the location of the statue to Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk; the founder and first President of the state of Czechoslovakia. The centre piece of the ceremony was the replica Spitfire Mk IX in 310 Sqn livery, of the Jihlava based Czech Spitfire Club, symbolic of the 54 Czechoslovak RAF Spitfires that returned to Prague’s Ruzyně airfield in 13 August 1945.

Připomenutí návratu mužů a žen z RAF do Československa, pokračovalo 14. srpna v 11.00 hodin na Hradčanském náměstí Pražského hradu, před Arcibiskupským palácem u sochy Tomáše Garriguea Masaryka, zakladatele a prvního prezidenta Československa. Hlavní částí slavnostního obřadu byla symbolická replika jednoho z 54 československých Spitfiru v RAF, Spitfire MK IX v barvách 310. perutě Spitfire Clubu v Jihlavě, které při návratu do vlasti 13. srpna 1945, přistály na letišti Praha Ruzyně.

The event was the initiative of Jiří Stanislav, leader of the Cyriacs movement – the International Order of the Knights of the Cross with the Red Heart, sponsored by Best Communications whose Chairman, Euan Edworthy, was the initiator of the Winged Lion Memorial at Klárov with the Patronage of Ing. Oldřich Lomecký, Mayor of Prague 1 and Cardinal Dominik Duka, himself is a descendant of a Czechoslovak RAF airman.

Akce se konala z iniciativy Jiřího Stanislava, vedoucího hnutí Cyriacs – Mezinárodního řádu křižovníků červeného srdce, podporované Best Communications, jehož předseda Euan Edworthy, byl iniciátorem stavby Památníku okřídleného lva na Klárově pod záštitou starosty města Praha 1, Oldřicha Lomeckého a kardinála Dominika Duky, jako potomka příslušníka 311. československé perutě RAF.

Prior to the ceremony a press conference was held, at 10:00, in the Arcibiskupský palác where Euan Edworthy, Founder and Chairman of the Best Communications PR Agency said: “Britain, with the free world, owe a huge tribute to the Czechoslovak airmen who fought with the RAF during the Second World war and it is a great honour to have been involved in their 70th coming home anniversary. On return, they were welcomed as heroes and then, for the majority of the veterans, to endure disdain, imprisonment and hardship throughout the communist period. We, and future generations to come, have a responsibility to preserve their acts of bravery in the annals of history and their role should never be forgotten. “

Před obřadem se v arcibiskupském paláci konala v 10.00 hod. tisková konference, na které Euan Edworthy, zakladatel a předseda představenstva Best Communications PR agentury řekl: “Británie a svobodný svět dluží československým letcům, kteří ve druhé světové válce bojovali s RAF, velký hold a je to pro mne velká čest, že jsem byl zapojen do akce připomenutí 70. výročí jejich návratu do své vlasti. Po návratu byli přivítáni jako hrdinové a potom v komunistickém období, byli vystaveni opovržení, věznění a strádání. My a budoucí generace máme odpovědnost za uchování jejich dějinné úlohy v análech dějin, jejich činy, statečné chování a úloha, nesmí být nikdy zapomenuty.”

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The ceremony was well attended and guests included RAF veterans Generál Emil Boček, Col. Pavel Vransky, Cardinal Dominik Duka, Generálmajor Bohuslav Dvořák representing the Ministerstva obrany (Ministry of Defence of the Czech Republic), Generálmajor Rostislav Pilc; Chief of the Military Office of the President of the Republic, Ing. Oldřich Lomecký, Emil Šneberg representing Československého svazu bojovníků za svobodu (Association of Czechoslovak Freedom Fighters), Hana Fajtlová; widow of General František Fajtl, other Freedom Fighter veterans and RAF re-enactors from the Czech Spitfire Club. A large group of well wishers attended and included several relatives of Czechoslovak RAF men and women and supporters of the Czechoslovak RAF. The event was well covered by the Czech media.

Ceremonie se účastnili přátele a hosté, hosty z RAF byli veterání, generálmajor Emil Boček, plk Pavel Vranský a kardinál Dominik Duka. Za Ministerstvo obrany České republiky (MO ČR) generálmajor Bohuslav Dvořák, generálmajor Rostislav PIlc; Náčelník vojenské kanceláře prezidenta republiky ing. Oldřich Lomecký. Za Československý svaz bojovníků za svobodu, Emil Šneberg,, vdova po gen. Františku Fajtlovi Hana Fajtlová , zástupci z Českého Spitfire klubu , veteráni bojovníci za svobodu a RAF. Ve velké skupině sympatizantů byli příbuzní mužů a žen RAF a příznivci československé RAF. Na akci byla zastoupena česká media.

Following a bugle fanfare from the balcony of the Arcibiskupský palác, Jiří Stanislav opened the ceremony, welcoming all and during his introduction read out a message from Martin Stropnický, Defense Minister of the Czech Republic: “to those brave soldiers will not be grateful enough. We will never forget their shameful persecution after 1948. We never have fully been able to repay the debt that we owe them. “

Po fanfárách polnice z balkonu Arcibiskupského paláce zahájil slavnostní obřad Jiří Stanislav a přivítal všechny přítomné. V úvodu přečetl zprávu od ministra obrany České republiky, Martina Stropnického: “těmto statečným vojákům nebudeme nikdy dost vděčni. Nikdy nezapomeneme na jejich ostudné pronásledování po roce 1948 a nikdy nebudeme schopni splatit dluh, který jim dlužíme.”

Speeches then followed by Ing. Oldřich Lomecký, Generál Emil Boček, Generálmajor Bohuslav Dvořák, Generálmajor Rostislav Pilc and Cardinal Dominik Duka who said : “They fought so that we here in our country could be free, they fought for this country to be free, so that people can talk openly about what they think, they fought to make our country independent. May God bless those who have given us an example of the love for the family, patriotism and man.”

Hlavní projevy přednesli Oldřich Lomecký, generál Emil Boček, generálmajor Bohuslav Dvořák, generálmajor Rostislav Pilc a kardinál Dominik Duka, který řekl: “oni bojovali za volnost a nezávislost této země, aby lidé mohli mluvit otevřeně o tom, co si myslí. Bůh žehnej těm, kteří nám jsou příkladem lásky k rodině, vlasti a k člověku. “

The bugler then played the ‘Last Post’ followed by a minutes silence.

Trubač pak zahrál večerku, po které následovala minuta ticha.

The entourage then went to the nearby St Vitus Cathederal, where wreaths were laid by the Book of Remembrance, where the names of all the Czechoslovak airmen who died while serving in the various Allied Air Forces in WW2 are remembered. The national anthems of the Czech and Slovak Republics were then sung followed by a minutes silence.

Přítomní ceemonie se v průvodu odebrali do nedaleké Svatovítské katedrály, kde byly položeny věnce k pamětní knize ve které jsou na paměť uvedena jména všech československých letců, kteří zemřeli při službě v letectvu spojenců ve druhé světové válce. Po národních hymnách České a Slovenské republiky, následovala minuta ticha.

Video credit Jan Šinagl
Video je majetkem Jana Šinagla.

_______________________________________________________________

For public interest, the replica Spitfire remained at Hradčanské náměstí until the following day.

Pro veřejný zájem replika Spitfire zůstala na Hradčanském náměstí až do následujícího dne.

Spitfire from the statue to Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk.

_______________________________________________________________




Posted in 310 Sqd, 311 Sqd, 312 Sqd, 313 Sqd, 68 Sqd, Ceremony, Events, Not Forgotton | 3 Comments

Homecoming Remembered – 13 August, Prague


Přípomenutí návratu – 13 srpen, Praha.

Seventy years ago, on 13 August 1945, the Czechoslovak men and women who had served in the RAF, were finally permitted, by their country’s ‘liberators’ to return to their homeland.

Před sedmdesáti lety, dne 13. srpna 1945 byl mužům a ženám z Československa, kteří sloužili v RAF, povolen návrat do své vlasti.

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To commemorate the 70th Anniversary of their homecoming, a two day event was held in Prague; the first, on 13 August, was a wreath laying ceremony was held at the Airmen’s Memorial for the fallen Czechoslovak airmen 1939 -1945 at Dejvice and continued at the Winged Lion memorial at Klárov, which remembers all Czechoslovaks who had served in the RAF during WW2.

Pro připomenutí 70. výročí návratu do vlasti se v Praze konala dvoudenní akce. Při první akci dne 13. srpna se konalo slavnostní shromáždění s položením věnce u památníku padlých československých zahraničních letců 1939 – 1945 v Dejvicích a pokračovalo u Památníku okřídleného lva, který připomíná všechny Čechoslováky, kteří ve druhé světové válce sloužili v RAF.

The event was the initiative of Jiri Stanislav, leader of the Cyriacs movement – the International Order of the Knights of the Cross with the Red Heart and sponsored by Best Communications.

Akce se konala z iniciativy Jiřího Stanislava, vůdce hnutí Cyriacs – Mezinárodního Řádu křižovníků s červeným srdcem, podporovaná Best Communications.

The ceremony commenced at 10:00. Leading the wreath laying at Dejvice was Generálmajor Bohuslav Dvořák representing the Ministerstva obrany (Ministry of Defence of the Czech Republic), with wreaths also being laid by Czechoslovak RAF veteran Pavel Vransky, Jiří Stanislav, Dr. Jana Vrzalová, from the Association of Czech Freedom Fighters, military veterans and well-wishers.

Obřad byl zahájen v 10.00 hod. položením k památníku v Dejvicích, věnce (MO ČR), další věnce položili v veterán RAF Pavel Vranský, Jiří Stanislav. Dr. Jana Vrzalová z Asociace bojovníků za svobodu, vojenských veteránů a dobrých-příznivců.

The ceremony was then continued, at 11:00 at the Winged Lion Memorial. Generálmajor Bohuslav Dvořák again led the wreath laying and followed by Ing. Oldřich Lomecký, Mayor of Prague 1, Jitka Houskovká representing Best Communications, Pavel Vransky, Dr. Jana Vrzalováa, Jiří Stanislav, military veterans, relatives of Czechoslovak RAF personal and well-wishers.

Slavnostní obřad pokračoval v 11.00 hod. u Památníku Okřídleného lva, kde k památníku Generálmajor Bohuslav Dvořák položil věnec a další věnce položili starosta městské části Praha 1, Ing. Oldřich Lomecký, Dr. Jana Vrzalová, Jiří Stanislav, vojenští veteráni, příbuzní československých zahraničních letců v RAF a gratulanti.




Posted in 310 Sqd, 311 Sqd, 312 Sqd, 68 Sqd, Ceremony, Events, Not Forgotton | 1 Comment

Meeting again after many years – Josef Scerba


Setkání po létech

Meeting again after many years.

Josef Ščerba, 1992

Jako bývalí příslušníci 311. československé bombardovací squadrony RAF, členové osádky Wellingtonu kódového označení KX-B, kterří přežili havárii v Sererním moři poté, co byl náš letoun dne 28. 12. 1941 zasažen nad Wilhelmshafenem, jsne se letos dočkali velmi příjemného setkání.

Being former members of RAF 311 (Czechoslovak) bomber squadron, the crew of Wellington KX-B who survived the crash landing in the North Sea after our aircraft had been hit above Wilhelmshafen on 28th December 1941, we were treated to a very pleasant meeting this year.

Josef Ščerba, RAF

Po opuštění letounu jsme Alois Šiška, Pavel Svoboda a já strávili šest strastiplých dní v záchranném člunu, který západní větry zahnaly k holandskému pobřeží do blízkosti obce Peten. Toho dne (3. 1. 1942) tehdy dvanáctiletý Thomas Zuyderland sbíral se svým bratrem mořem vyplavené dřívi, když zpozorovali na hladině plovoucí dinghy. Thomas Zuyderland ihned poslal bratra do vesnice pro pomoc. Odtud zakrátko přispěchali jak Holanďané tak i německá pobřežní hlídka. Na pokyn Němců vytáhli Holanďané člun na pláž a všemi dostupnými dopravními prostředky (napřiklad I bicykly a kolečky) nás přepravili do blízké vojenské strážnice.

After leaving the aircraft, Alois Šiška, Pavel Svoboda and myself spent six arduous days in a dinghy, which was driven back by the westerly winds to the Dutch shores in the vicinity of the village Peten. On that day – 3rd January 1942 – Thomas Zuyderland, then 12 years old, was collecting wood washed-up by the sea with his brother, when they noticed the dinghy floating on the surface. Thomas Zuyderland immediately sent his brother to get help from the village. From here shortly afterwards, in a hurry, arrived both the Dutch and the German coast guard. On the orders of the Germans, the Dutch pulled the dinghy out on the beach and they moved us by all available means (for example even on bicycles and wheel barrows) to the nearby military guard house.

Sám Thomas Zuyderland pomáhal seč mohl. Přitom se dozvěděl, že jsme českoslovenští příslušníci Royal Air Force. Navigátor Josef Mohr, který zemřel na člunu, byl později pochován na vojenském hřbitově v Bergenu. Thomas Zuyderland po celých padesát let pravidelně pečoval o jeho hrob. Událost zůstala natrvalo v jeho paměti. Po získání podrobných informací zveřejnil v holandském tisku článek o našem sestřelu při příležitosti jeho pětačtyřicátého výročí

Thomas Zuyderland himself helped the best he could. That’s how he found out, that we were Czechoslovak members of the RAF Josef Mohr, the navigator who died in the dinghy, was later buried in the military cemetery in Bergen. Thomas Zuyderland looked after his grave periodically the whole fifty years. The event was to rema in his memory for ever. After receiving detailed information, he published an article in the Dutch press at the 45th anniversary of our bomber being shot down.

Pan Zuyderland, dnes pracovník holandského ministerstva dopravy v důchodu, se snažil navázat osobní kontakt s dosud žijícími členy osádky. To se mu podařilo v září 1991 během pražského setkání československých válečných letců žijících v zahraničí. Po padesáti létech se tak opět setkal s bývalými trosečníky, tentokrát však v daleko příjemnějším prostředí pražského hotelu Jalta.

Mr. Zuyderland, today a retired employee of the Dutch Ministry of Transport, tried to get in touch with the members of the crew, who were still alive. He succeeded in September 1991 during the Prague meeting of the Czechoslovak war pilots living abroad. That is how he met again the castaways 50 years on, this time however in a much more pleasant environment of the Prague hotel Jalta.

Alois Šiška, Thomas Zuyderland, Vlasta Šišková, Josef Ščerba, Prague 1991.

Pavel Svoboda a Alois Šiška s manželkami a já. Bylo to velmi krásné setkání, doprovázené řadou vzpomínek. Zde jsme si zároven slíbili, že v jubilejním roce 1992 navštívíme Holandsko a společně vzdáme hold památce Josefa Mohra.

Pavel Svoboda and Alois Šiška with spouses and myself. It was a wonderful meeting accompanied by many memories. Here we also promised each other, that in the 1992 Jubilee Year, we will visit the Netherlands and together we will pay homage to the memory of Josef Mohr.

Alois Šiška s chotí využili od 22. dubna do 3. května tohoto roku pohostinství známé rodiny v Holandsku a já sám jsem byl ve dnech od 30. dubna do 2. května hostem Thomase Zuyderlanda. Pavel Svoboda se cesty nemohl zúčastnit ze zdravotních důvodů.

Alois Šiška and his wife made use of the hospitality of a befriended family in the Netherlands from 22nd April till 3rd May and I personally was a guest of Thomas Zuyderland from 30th April till 2nd May. Pavel Svoboda was unable to come because of health reasons.

V doprovodu Thomase Zuyderlanda a jeho paní jsem druhý den pobytu navštívil výstavu tulipánů světového významu v Keukenhofenu. Dne 2. května odpoledne jsem pak zajeli do Midwoudu, kde vlastní Jan de Groot malé museum se sbírkou součástí letadel RAF sestřelených v okolí Zuiderského jezera. Pan de Groot vede současně o každém případu stručnou kroniku. Kromě mašeho sestřelu je tu zachycena I havárie Wellingtonu sériového čísla T2990 (kódové označení KX-T) Viléma Bufky, který ji jako jediný přežil.

On the second day of stay, accompanied by Thomas Zuyderland and his wife, I visited the world renown tulip exhibition at Keukenhof . On the 2nd May in the afternoon, we then traveled to Midwoud, where Jan de Groot owns a small museum with a collection of parts of the RAF aircraft shot down in the area of the Zuiderzee (now known as Ijsselmeer). At the same time, Mr de Groot maintains a brief chronicle of each case. Besides our “shot-down”, he has also recorded the crash of the Wellington T2990 (code marked KX-T) of Vilém Bufka, who was the sole survivor.

Ješte téhož dne odpoledne jsme se všichni sešli v Petenu. Tajemník obce navíc pozval další přímé účastníky události. Bylo na co vzpomínat. Organizátorem a současně I tlumočníkem do angličtiny byl sám Thomas Zuyderland. Po krátké příemné besedě odjela většina přítomných na hřbitov do Bergenu. Zde jsme u hrobu Josefa Mohra položili stuhou v barvách trikolóry ozdobený věnec, dovezený z Československa, a rozsvítili svíčky všem padlým členům naší osádky. Přitom jsme se setkali s otcem a synem, kteří o vojenský hřbitov pečují již od skončení války. Mají zde symboly všech národů, jejichž letci byli ve službách RAF sestřeleni nad Holandskem a je třeba ocenit, jak si Holanďané váží všech letců, kteří položili své životy za jejich svobodu.

We all met in Peten on the same day in the afternoon. The Mayor of the village moreover invited further eye witnesses of the event. There was much to remember. The organiser as well as the translator into English was Thomas Zuyderland himself. After a brief pleasant discussion, the majority of the present guests left for the cemetery in Bergen. Here we placed a wreath brought from Czechoslovakia and embellished by a ribbon in the Czechoslovak tricolor on the grave of Josef Mohr, and lit up candles to all the fallen crew members. At this occasion, we met the father and son, who have taken care of the military cemetery since the end of the war. Here they have symbols of all the nations of all the pilots were shot down above the Netherlands whilst serving in the RAF, and one must appreciate how the Dutch esteem all the airmen, who laid their lives for their freedom.

Bergen, 1991.

Z Bergenu jsme se opět rozjeli do rodin svých hostitelů. Na cestě do Oegstgeest zastavil Thomas Zuyderland u nemocnice v Helio poblíž Alkmaaru, kde nám v roce 1942 byla poskytnuta řádná lékařská péče.

From Bergen, we returned again to the families of our hosts. On the way to Oegstgeest, Thomas Zuyderland made a stop at the hospital in Helio near Alkmaar, where they gave us proper medical care in 1942.

Během naší návštevy v Holandsku byl Alois Šiška hostem 311. squadrony holandského letectva, u níž se jako úřední řeč používa výhradně angličtina. Piloti svému hostu a příslušníku 311. československé bombardovací squadrony RAF předvedli ukázky pozemního i leteckého výcviku. Mimo jiné se dozvěděl, že zdejší piloti nalétají na svých letounech General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon ročně okolo 150 hodin. Velitel jednotky poté Aloise Šišku požádal, aby doma vyřídil srdečné pozdravy všem příslušníkům válečné “třistajedenáctky”.

During our visit in the Netherlands, Alois Šiška was a guest of 311 squadron of the Dutch Air Force, where English is exclusively used as the official language. The pilots demonstrated both the ground and air training to their guest from 311 (Czechoslovak) RAF Bomber squadron. He found out, amongst others, that the local pilots fly about 150 hours per annum in their General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon airplanes. The Commander of the unit then asked Alois Šiška to pass on cordial greetings to all the members of the wartime “three hundred eleven”.

Oba jsme si z překrásné země tulipánů odnesli ty nejlepší dojmy a vzpomínky na péči našich holandských přátel, jimž patří naše srdečné díky.

We both returned from the wonderful land of tulips with the best impressions and memories of the care of our Dutch friends, to whom belong our most sincere thanks.

© Josef Ščerba, 1992




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Prague Castle ceremony will commemorate 70th anniversary of Czechoslovak airmen’s return to their homeland


Slavnostní akce na Pražském hradě připomene 70. výročí návratu československých letců do vlasti

Prague, 6th August 2015: On Friday the 14th August a grand ceremony in Hradčanské náměstí will celebrate the 70th anniversary of the return home of the Czechoslovak airmen who escaped Nazi oppression, made their way to the United Kingdom to join the Royal Air Force, and fought with the RAF to secure the restoration of Europe’s freedom. Nearly 2,500 Czechoslovaks joined the RAF in World War II; more than 500 were killed in action.

Praha, 6. srpna 2015: V pátek 14. srpna proběhne na Hradčanském náměstí oslava 70. výročí návratu československých letců, kteří unikli nacistické tyranii a dokázali se dostat do Velké Británie. Zde se připojili k britskému Královskému letectvu (RAF – Royal Air Force), v jehož řadách bojovali za osvobození Evropy. Téměř dva a půl tisíce Čechoslováků se během druhé světové války připojily k RAF, více než 500 z nich přišlo v bojích o život.

The ceremony will begin at 11am, and showcase a life-sized replica Spitfire Mk. IX in front of Prague Castle. The ceremony is organised by the international non-governmental organisation CYRIACS – the Knights of the Cross with a Red Heart and sponsored by Best Communications. The event has received wide support from both civil and military Czech organisations such as European Military Educational and Recreational Centre Jemnice of the RAF Air Marshal Karel Janoušek; the Endowment Fund of the RAF Air Marshal Karel Janoušek; The Czech Union of Freedom Fighters; The Czech Spitfire Club; and the Air Club of General Janoušek. The ceremony is organised under the auspices of Ing. Oldřich Lomecký, Mayor of Prague 1. Also attending the event, we will be honoured to have three World War II RAF veterans: Brig. Gen. Emil Boček, Col. Pavel Vranský and Jiří Kafka. There will also be several RAF members’ widows present such as Vlasta Šišková and Hana Fajtlová. As a part of the ceremony, Cardinal Dominik Duka will lead a prayer.

Slavnostní akce, při jejíž příležitosti bude před Pražským hradem vystaven model stíhačky Spitfire Mk. IX ve skutečné velikosti, začne v 11 hodin. Ceremoniál pořádá mezinárodní nevládní organizace „Křížovníci s červeným srdcem-CYRIACI“, generálním sponzorem je Best Communications. Akce získala širokou podporu ze strany českých civilních i vojenských organizací, jako je Evropské vojenské vzdělávací a rekreační centrum Air Maršála RAF Karla Janouška Jemnice, Nadační fond Air Maršála RAF Karla Janouška, Český svaz bojovníků za svobodu, Czech Spitfire Club a Letecký klub generála Janouška o.s. Ceremoniál se uskuteční pod záštitou Ing. Oldřicha Lomeckého, starosty Prahy 1. Mezi váženými hosty budou tři veteráni vojenského letectva britských ozbrojených sil z druhé světové války brig. gen. Emil Boček, plk. Pavel Vranský a Jiří Kafka. Slavnostní akce se zúčastní také vdovy po letcích RAF, paní Vlasta Šišková a Hana Fajtlová. Součástí slavnostního ceremoniálu bude modlitba kardinála Dominika Duky.

Prior to the ceremony, wreaths will be placed at the Memorial of Fallen Czechoslovak Airmen between 1939-1945 in Dejvice on Thursday, 13th August at 10am, and at the Winged Lion Memorial in Klárov at 11am.

Pátečnímu ceremoniálu bude ve čtvrtek 13. srpna v 10 hodin předcházet položení věnců u dejvického Památníku padlých československých letců v letech 1939-1945 a v 11 hodin u památníku Okřídleného lva na Klárově.

Euan Edworthy, founder and chairman of Prague PR agency, Best Communications, the originator of the Winged Lion Memorial Appeal and a general sponsor of this event, says that the Czechoslovak contribution to allied victory in World War II has been overlooked: ‘We often forget that the Royal Air Force was a multi-national confederation and that Czechoslovaks formed one of its largest national contingents. In 1940, the RAF was all that stood between European freedom and Nazi tyranny. Nearly 2,500 Czechoslovaks made their perilous way out of occupied Europe to help sweep the Luftwaffe from Britain’s skies. Their heroic deeds must not be forgotten’.

Podle Euana Edworthyho, zakladatele a ředitele pražské PR agentury Best Communications, iniciátora projektu a sbírky na památník Okřídleného lva a generálního sponzora této události je přínos Čechoslováků k vítězství Spojenců ve druhé světové válce opomíjen: „Často zapomínáme na to, že britské Královské letectvo bylo nadnárodním spolkem, a že Čechoslováci tvořili jednu z jeho největších součástí. V roce 1940 byli členové RAF těmi, kdo bojovali za osvobození Evropy proti nacistické tyranii. Téměř dva a půl tisíce Čechoslováků se vydaly na nebezpečnou cestu z okupované Evropy, aby pomohli smést německou Luftwaffe z britského nebe. Jejich hrdinství nesmí být zapomenuto.“




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311 Sqn Never Regard Their Numbers – Bomber Command



PART I – Bomber Command

1940

The story of 311 Squadron is unique in many ways, not only was it the first and only Czechoslovakian bomber squadron in the RAF, it was also the first non-British bomber unit to attack Hitler’s Third Reich. In addition, it is also unique, in that although its flying personnel came from a landlocked nation, the unit was still able from 1942 onwards to make a major contribution to maritime air operations during World War Two.

The squadron’s story actually begins in 1940 in southern France, when some 200 Czechoslovak airmen gathered at the port of Vendre towards the end of June. The defence of France was crumbling and they knew that they had to make every effort to get to Britain and continue the fight against the Nazis. They had been serving with the French Air Force mainly in the Agde and Bordeaux areas. Together with a number of other ‘refugees’ including a group of Belgian airmen, they boarded a freighter, the SS Apapa and began the journey to Britain, arriving at Liverpool on July the 9th. Prior to this another group of some thirty Czechoslovaks had arrived at Falmouth, they had sailed from, Bordeaux with a group of Poles in two small Dutch coasters, the Ary Scheffer and the Nettie. The ships had escaped from Bordeaux days earlier in the company of the Berenice, the Orpheus and a tugboat, the Seine. They split up and unfortunately the Berenice was later torpedoed by the U-65. Nine survivors were picked up and later landed at Falmouth. The Czech personnel that had arrived at Liverpool were initially accommodated under canvas at Beeston Castle in Cheshire. Once the numbers grew the majority of soldiers and airmen were accommodated temporarily at Cholmondely Park in Cheshire, again under canvas. The camp was visited by President Beneš on the 27th of July 1940, a parade was held and Beneš spoke to the soldiers and airmen which greatly boosted morale.

President Eduard Beneš with escaped Czechoslovak military personnel, Cholmondely Park 1940.

Much thought was being given to organising the growing numbers of refugee airmen that were turning up in Britain and Air Ministry document No.2514/PDO made reference to forming new squadrons from allied personnel who had been evacuated from France and detailed the fact that three bomber squadrons were to be formed; 304 and 305 Squadrons with Polish personnel and 311 Squadron with Czechoslovak personnel. On the 12th of July a further group of Czech servicemen arrived at Liverpool aboard HMS Neuralia. They were followed the next day by another group aboard the Egyptian freighters Rod el Farag and Mohamed el Kebir.

Commanding Officers:
Officer: Rank: From: To:
GRIFFITHS John, DFC W/Cdr 27/07/40 15/11/40
TOMAN-MAREŠ Karel, DFC W/Cdr 29/07/40 19/03/41
SIMONDS W.S.P. S/Ldr 15/11/40 24/02/41
SCHEJBAL Josef W/Cdr 19/03/41 30/06/41
OCELKA Josef, DFC W/Cdr 30/06/41 20/04/42
ŠNAJDR Josef, DFC W/Cdr 20/04/42 31/01/43
BREITCETL Jindřich, DFC W/Cdr 31/01/43 21/08/43
NEDVĚD Vladimír, MBE, DFC W/Cdr 22/08/43 03/02/44
ŠEJBL Josef, DFC W/Cdr 03/02/44 01/09/44
KOSTOHRYZ an, DSO W/Cdr 02/09/44 13/08/45
ŠNAJDR Josef, DFC podpolkovnik 14/09/45 31/12/45

After a brief stay at the RAF station at Innsworth Lane in Gloucestershire, most of the airmen moved to RAF Cosford, which was to become the Czechoslovak Depot (it was to move to Wilmslow in December 1940 and to St Athan in February 1942). At Cosford they were billeted in Fulton Block, this huge edifice was at the time the largest barrack block in Europe. Here, the airmen were sworn in as members of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (RAFVR), the officers were formally commissioned and they began to attend classes in the English language. A number of personnel were detached for training as wireless operators to No.1 Signals School (previously No.1 Electrical & Wireless School) at RAF Cranwell and for bombing and gunnery training to No.4 Bombing and Gunnery School at RAF West Freugh.

Wg/Cdr Griffiths, Wg/Cdr Toman-Mareš and Czechoslovak airmen, some still in French l’Armée d’Air uniform, stood under wing of a Wellington at Honington in 1940

All but ‘formed’ the embryo squadron moved to the RAF station at Honington, near Thetford in Suffolk, where it was officially established as No. 311 (Czechoslovakian) Squadron, part of No.3 Group of Bomber Command on the 29th of July ( in contradiction of this ‘paper date’ the squadron always held that its actual date of formation was 2nd of August). The unit was initially under joint command, with Wing Commander Karel Mareš (who chose to change his surname to Toman to protect family and relatives who remained in the former Czechoslovakia), together with Wing Commander John Griffiths DFC, a Canadian serving in the RAF. (Griffiths had been a pilot in the first World War and had received his DFC following one of the earliest forays by the RAF against German warships in the Schillig Roads, north of Wilhelmshaven, Germany, in December 1939).

Vickers Wellington Mk Ic, R1378 as flown by Sgt Leo Anderle.

For initial training the unit employed four Anson aircraft (three new aircraft R9600, R9648 and R9649, plus K6296 an older aircraft delivered to the RAF pre-war), with the addition of ten early model Vickers Wellington IA and 1C twin-engined bombers. This was a comparatively modern airplane, having entered RAF service in the late 1930’s, it Bristol Pegasus radial engines giving it a maximum speed in the region of 230 miles per hour and its power operated gun turrets providing it with a good defensive capability in comparison with its contemporaries.

The training of Czech personnel continued with No.2 Signals School at Yatesbury and the School of Technical Training at Henlow being used, not least by army personnel volunteering for service in the newly established Czechoslovak squadrons. By early August the unit had a strength of some 269 airmen. Griffiths remained in joint command until November, he was to survive the war only to be killed in an unfortunate road accident in Belgium just after the cessation of hostilities in May 1945.

Aircraft: From: To:
Wellington Ic Aug 1940 June 1943
Wellington III Feb 1942 May 1943
Wellington X Feb 1943 May 1943
Liberator V June 1943 Feb 1945
Liberator VI Feb 1945 Aug 1945

By the early part of August the unit comprised 56 officers, 51 NCO’s and 162 airmen. The first training flights taking place on the 13th of August using Anson aircraft. Honington was an excellent base for 311 Squadron if only for the fact that 9 Squadron (a Wellington equipped bomber unit) which was also based there, was one of Bomber Command’s top squadrons and the Czechs were able to learn of the workings of an operational RAF squadron at first hand. The period of ‘work up’ with the Wellingtons occupied some weeks and included a good deal of night flying, for which purpose the unit utilised the satellite airfield at East Wretham. To begin with six operational aircrews were brought together to form ‘A’ Flight, to commence operations using the squadron’s Wellington aircraft. A number of RAF personnel were involved in bringing the unit up to operational standard. They included Sqn/Ldrs Geoffrey Amison, Henry Graham and ‘Percy’ Pickard DFC, Flt/Lt Norman Samuels DFC, Flt/Lt A Macnicol, P/O W. Morrison, P/O Albert Roman, F/Sgt Alexander Gordon, F/Sgt Patrick Hennigan DFM, Sgt George Powis and numerous other aircrew and ground staff. Pickard was already well known in RAF circles, not only for his operational feats, but also for his habit of wearing ‘cowboy style’ boots with his uniform and the fact that he was accompanied everywhere by his sheep dog ‘Ming’. He had been on 214 Squadron before the war and it was likely that he would have contacted some of his former colleagues with a view to their joining him.

Later in the year others such as Flt/Lt Thomas Kirby-Green, F/O James Robinson, F/Sgt ‘Jack’ Rennison (also with 214 Squadron before the war) and Sgt Ernest Robb arrived. Kirby-Green had already completed 27 Operational sorties and was to be with the squadron for just less than a year, before moving on to 40 Squadron. He was shot down on 16/17 October 1941 during a raid (his 37th operation) on Duisburg and became a Prisoner of War. He was later to die at the hands of the Gestapo in April 1944, following the ‘Great Escape’ from Stalag Luft III at Zagan. A second 311 Squadron member, navigator Flt/Lt Arnošt Valenta was also involved in the ‘Escape’ and died in similar circumstances. By the end of August nearly 900 Czechoslovaks had arrived in Britain and the figure was to rise to well over one thousand by the end of the year.

311 Sqn, 1940.

The squadron’s first operational sorties were carried out on the night of the 10th of September, when three crews took off from Honington to attack the railway marshalling yards near Brussels. The three aircraft were captained by Sqn/Ldr Josef Schejbal in Wellington L7778 KX-U, Sgt Václav Korda in Wellington P9235 KX-C and Sgt František Taiber in Wellington L7785 KX-R. Two of the aircraft (L7788 and P9235 both bombed the marshalling yards at Brussels, observing hits in the target area. The third aircraft L7785 KX-R was unable to attack the primary target because of cloud and bombed a canal to the north of Brussels instead. This latter aircraft had as its second pilot Flt/Lt Josef Ocelka who would later become the squadron’s commanding officer. One of the gunners in Korda’s aircraft (P9235) was Sgt Vilém (Vilda) Jakš, who in the nineteen thirties had been the Czech middle-weight national boxing champion. In 1935 he had fought Frenchman Marcel Thil for the world championship, but unfortunately was not successful.

Shortly after this on the 16th of September at fourteen hundred hours, the six crews of ‘A’ Flight said farewell to Honington and set off for the nearby grass airfield at East Wretham. Situated on heath-land to the north east of Thetford, the grass landing ground was already familiar to the Czechoslovak airmen, as they had used it in previous weeks as a satellite for training (night flying) purposes. Ground crew and other personnel were transported by lorry and just as the vehicles were being unloaded, a lone Dornier bomber appeared and circled the airfield. The alarm was raised and the enemy aircraft was greeted with a hail of machine gun fire. This had the required effect and the Luftwaffe’s representative decided to seek easier pickings. Unfortunately he was out of luck, as his next choice of target was Honington, where he was later damaged and brought down by anti-aircraft fire.

Conditions at East Wretham were somewhat primitive, with many personnel having to be housed under canvas. The airfield suffered from poor drainage often becoming waterlogged in winter. Various attempts were to be made to improve things, but without much success. The situation was eventually remedied in 1943 (long after 311 Squadron had left) by the use of a PSP (Perforated Steel Planking) surface. The accommodation problem was somewhat alleviated when a number of personnel moved to the nearby ‘Manor Farm’, just to the north of the airfield. The overnight rise in the population must have been a traumatic event for the villagers of East Wretham, but they soon took the Czechoslovaks to their hearts. Nearby Wretham Hall (which had been rebuilt following a fire in 1914), just a mile west of the village church, was taken over to provide additional accommodation . This old country house set in acres of park land, had previously been the home of Sir John Dewrance CBE. From 1939 it had been used by Barnardo’s as a Children’s Home. In October 1940 they handed it over to the RAF and the children were moved to Wangford Hall in Suffolk.

311 Sqn airmen at Wretham Hall

Excitement was high on the evening of the 23rd of September when the squadron discovered that it was detailed to take its bombs to the heart of the Third Reich, they were to attack Berlin. Three aircraft were listed for the raid, captained by Wg/Cdr Karel Toman, P/O Karel Trojáček and P/O Bohumil Landa. On the return flight, whilst over Holland P/O Trojáček’s Wellington (L7788 KX-E) began to have engine problems. Knowing that he would be unable to make it back to England, Trojáček decided to make a forced landing in a snow covered field not far from the Hague (near the village of Leidschendam).

Sgt Karel Kunka who shot himself with a flare gun rather than be taken prisoner.

Realising that they would be coming down in enemy occupied Holland, the crew set about destroying the radio and navigational equipment, which might be of benefit to the enemy. Trojáček managed to get the aircraft down in good shape and none of the crew were injured. The crew all survived the crash landing and having exited the stricken aircraft they tried without success, to set it on fire to prevent it from falling into enemy hands. They split into two groups and set off in the darkness heading for the coast, with visibility limited to a few yards, they plodded on with the mist swirling around them, leaving a tell-tale trail of footprints in the snow. Just before midday on the 25th Trojáček’s group was discovered by the German military using tracker dogs. Sgt Karel Kunka, the aircraft’s wireless operator, was unable to accept the idea of capture and tragically put the Verey pistol to his head and shot himself in a granary in Wassenaar. He was taken to hospital in the Hague where he died the following day (He was buried in The Hague [Westduin] General Cemetery).

The Germans were able to repair the Wellington at nearby Schipol and after having re-marked it with Luftwaffe crosses (although the aircraft strangely still retained it squadron codes of KX-E !), they carried out a series of test flights using the aircraft.

L7788 at Schipol airport.

The captured airmen were initially taken to be Polish and were sent to a PoW camp near Frankfurt. However, it was here that their true nationality was discovered, their RAF numbers (in the 78 series) letting the cat out of the bag. Czechoslovakia had been split following the Nazi invasion into the so called ‘protectorates’ of Bohemia and Moravia and the a separate Nazi governed state set up in Slovakia and this created a problem for any of the squadron’s personnel that fell into the hands of the Nazis. The Czechs in particular were considered by the Germans to have committed an act of treason by flying with the enemies of the ‘Third Reich’ and for that reason the Germans didn’t want to treat shot down airmen as PoWs.

Some of those who initially found themselves in captivity ended up in ‘Concentration Camps’. Trojáček and his colleagues were taken in early 1941 under armed guard to Gestapo Headquarters in Berlin. They were kept in solitary confinement for many months and subjected to all manner of indignity and degradation. In April 1942 they discovered that they were to be sent to Prague and tried with treason. Early in May they arrived at the infamous ‘Petschkův palác, the notorious Gestapo HQ, where they were interrogated by a member of the Gestapo and a Czech ‘collaborator’ (this may have been Augustin Přeučil, who was a Nazi spy who had masqueraded as an escaping airman in 1940 and had been accepted into the RAFVR. In September 1941 whilst serving with 55 OTU at RAF Usworth, he faked his death supposedly having crashed into the sea in his Hurricane (W9147) during a practice dog-fight. However, he flew the aircraft to Belgium and handed it over to his Nazi masters. He went on to assist the Gestapo in interrogations and played the part of a captured flyer in order to get intelligence from captured airmen. His British wife of three months, Muriel, believed that he had died and didn’t discover that he had been a Nazi spy and had survived until many years later. Within three weeks all their relatives had been arrested.

They were told that they had been found guilty of treason under German Military Law and that they had been sentenced to death by hanging. The sentence was to be carried out at the notorious Pankrác prison in Prague, in the presence of their relatives. Many months were to pass before the intervention of the International Red Cross with the backing of Churchill himself, pushed the Germans into treating Czech airmen as PoWs. The sentence imposed upon Trojáček and his crew was postponed on a number of occasions. Fortunately because of the pressures the Germans relented before the sentence was carried out and the prisoners were moved to a PoW camp (Stalag Luft III) in February 1943. Přeučil l was sentenced to death for his wartime treachery and was perhaps ironically in Pankrác prison in April 1947.

On the afternoon of October the 1st 1940 the unit suffered its first casualties as a result of a non-operational accident. An Anson (R9649) trainer aircraft of the squadron crashed at Elton near Peterborough following an on-board fire, caused by the negligent discharge of a Verey-Light Pistol, which some sources state was the fault of the wireless instructor, RAF Sgt George Powis. He did not survive and three of the squadron trainees, Sgt František Koukol, P/O Jaroslav Skutil, P/O Josef Slovák and the second pilot, Sgt Oskar Valošek, also died in the subsequent crash. P/O Ludvik Němec, the pilot and P/O Jaroslav Kula managed to parachute to safety.

Avro Anson.

Just over two weeks later, on the morning of October the 17th, Wellington L7786 came to grief whilst on a training flight, when it struck power cables near Needham Market. Sgt Karel Lang and Sgt Oldřich Tosovšký both died in the crash. The aircraft came down at Pipps Farm, Coddenham. On the night of October the 16/17th the squadron had despatched several aircraft to bomb Bremen and Kiel. One of these, Wellington KX-T L7844, became the first aircraft from the squadron to fall victim to an enemy night fighter. The aircraft was shot down by Lt. Ludwig Becker of 4/NJG1 over western Holland. Becker attacked the bomber from behind setting the starboard engine on fire. The stricken Wellington began to lose height before spinning into the ground and bursting into flames. Only two of the crew; Sgt Emanuel Novotny and Sgt Augustin Šesták managed to bale out in time and were later captured by the Germans, the rest of the crew (the pilot P/O Bohumil Landa, the navigator P/O Hubert Jarošek, Sgt Ottoák and Sgt Karel Klimt) all perished. They are now interred at the CWGC cemetery at Oosterwolde General Cemetery, Holland.

A second aircraft (Wellington KX-K N2773) under the captaincy of Flt/Lt Josef Šnajdr, was returning to base from the raid, when it became iced up. The radio failed and due to the ground being totally obscured by, cloud the crew were unable to get a positional fix. Hoping for a break in the cloud, Šnajdr decided to stay airborne to the limit of his fuel. He took the aircraft down to below five hundred feet and the crew had a brief glimpse of a strange piece of coastline, but were still uncertain as to where they were. Sometime later with the fuel rapidly running out and no break in the overcast, Šnajdr reluctantly ordered the crew to prepare to jump. After a quick round of handshakes and good luck wishes, the crew one by one leapt out into the blackness. It was raining heavily, thus the crew got a soaking to add to their misfortune. One crew member, after a safe landing, knocked at a cottage door and requested help. He was promptly held up at gun point by the irate cottager. For him this was the last straw and he fainted! He came-to some time later comfortably ensconced in an arm chair and had his spirits revived with a mixture of tea and whisky. He was then collected by the village policeman and spent the remainder of the night at his home. A second crew member arrived at the village doctor’s home, having spent an hour trying to get down from a tree in which his parachute had become entangled. Unfortunately things did not go well for P/O Miloslav Vejražka, the wireless operator, officially it was reported that his parachute had failed to open properly and that he fell to his death (although other accounts suggest that he was shot and killed by members of the local Home Guard, who mistook him for a German paratrooper!). The aircraft came down near Blidworth in Nottinghamshire.

A third Wellington N2771 KX-H, having been hit by flak over Kiel, also became iced up on the return to base. The aircraft suffered radio and compass failures and the crew were unable to obtain an accurate positional fix. Way off course in the darkness they collided with a barrage balloon cable. This mangled one of the bomber’s wings and it crashed close to the RAF Fighter Command’s headquarters at Bentley Priory. The only crew member to escape from the stricken aircraft was the tail gunner P/O František Truhlář, who was none the less badly burnt (He later returned to operational flying, having retrained as a fighter pilot and served with 312 (Czechoslovak) Squadron). The others who died in the crash were the pilot, Sqn/Ldr Jan Veselý; the second pilot Sgt František Zapletal; the navigator P/O Jaroslav Slabý; the wireless Operator, P/O Jaroslav Matoušek and gunner Sgt Josef Albrecht.

Because of the losses suffered by the squadron it was temporarily withdrawn from operations during the last week of October and commenced some seven weeks of intensive training. Wg/Cdr Griffiths, the RAF Squadron Commander, was posted away at this time and replaced by Wg/Cdr William Simonds. On the 15th of November, the squadron was called upon to perform a task, which in the light of future events could be considered somewhat prophetic. A Wellington of 115 Squadron from Marham, had ditched in the North Sea and 311 Squadron was asked to assist in the search for the crew, who it was thought had taken to their dinghy. Three Wellingtons were supplied for the search and took off shortly after sunrise. The downed crew were eventually found by the Wellington captained by Sgt Jan Hrncir. The crew of the ditched aircraft were later picked up and brought ashore.

The loss of Karel Trojáček and his crew was at this stage having a marked effect on squadron morale. All the crews knew that if captured they were likely to be subjected to torture and that any family still in Czechoslovakia would suffer. It was quite seriously suggested by some members of the squadron that it would be better if they flew without parachutes! Certain death being preferable to torture and imprisonment by the Gestapo should they have to abandon their aircraft. Another suggestion was that the unit should be sent to the middle-east theatre. On the night of the 8th/9th of December Sqn/Ldr Pickard and his crew in Wellington R1021 KX-W accompanied by Wellington L7842 KX-T carried out a raid on Boulogne. This was intended as a morale booster, but more difficulties were to come. Refusals to fly led in one case (787564 Sgt Karel Novotný) to a court martial and in at least one other (787620 Sgt Karel Fák) to transfer to the army.

The squadron was eventually declared fully operational once more in December 1940, attacking half a dozen targets by the end of the month. The return to operational status was marred by the loss of Wellington KX-G T2577 on the 16th when it crashed just after taking off for a raid on Mannheim (This raid was code named ‘Operation Abigail’ and was intended to be in retaliation for the bombing by the Luftwaffe of Coventry and Southampton). Eye witnesses described how the aircraft, under the command of Sgt Jan Křivda, circled the airfield at a height of about a hundred feet. Suddenly, the Wellington appeared to collide with some tree tops, it heeled over and crashed on the road between East Wretham village and Wretham Hall, bursting into flames.

The tree clipped by Q-Queen. Wellington was flying from right to left.

The navigator, P/O Vladimír Nedvěd was shocked but uninjured, he realised that Sgt Křivda was dead and set about extricating himself from the burning wreck. He discovered that Sgt Josef Pavelka although badly injured was still alive and dragged him from the stricken aircraft. As he staggered away from the wreck he heard a scream and despite his exhaustion began to turn back towards the inferno. At that moment he stumbled and under the weight of Pavelka’s body, fell to the ground. It was a fortunate trip, as both men lay on the ground the bomb load of ‘Q’ Queen began to explode, the stumble had probably saved both their lives. Nedvěd got back to his feet and began to make his way back to the aircraft to free P/O Jaromí Toul , who was trapped in his gun turret. With its bomb load exploding, the aircraft was a sea of flame. The violence of the explosions threw Nedvěd to the ground several times, but he still tried to smash his way into the turret to extricate his badly injured comrade. Toul was eventually freed when help arrived from the airfield but was later to die of his injuries. Nedvěd was himself burnt as a result of his courageous actions and was to be awarded the MBE in recognition of his gallantry. He survived the war and finally settled in Australia.

Václav Bozděch and Antis

On the 22nd of the month the squadron operated against Ostend Docks and Flushing. The crews hardly had time to recover from their post Christmas headaches, before they were again in action on the 27th of December against the ‘U’ Boat pens at Lorient. The New Year having been duly consecrated, the squadron began to prepare for a raid on Bremen on the night of the 1st/2nd January 1941. It was Christmas-card weather, there had been a light fall of snow during the evening. As preparations were underway a new crew arrived in their aircraft from Honington. With them was an Alsatian dog named ‘Antis’, who was to become on of the squadron characters. From the purists point of view he could not be thought of as ‘human’, but he was most definitely ‘one of the boys’. As a detector of aircraft, whether friend or foe, he ranked supreme through using a combination of hearing and sixth sense. He was to become a familiar sight at the dispersal point, head on paws, awaiting the return of his master Sgt Václav Bozděch. Even when nothing was audible to the human ear, Antis would raise his head and prick up his ears and the ground crews would know that the aircraft would soon be back at base. Antis actually flew on operations and was even wounded over Germany by a flak splinter. After the war he was awarded the ‘Dickin Medal’, the Victoria Cross of the animal world.

1941

On 2 January the squadron raided Bremen where they met with a warm reception. On his return P/O Antonín Kubizňák counted eleven flak holes in his Wellington (R1022 KX-K). His front gunner, Sgt Rudolf Bolfík, had a lucky escape when a flak splinter tore through the leather of his flying boot (Bolfík had served in the infantry in the Spanish Civil War). Luck is at best a fickle thing ! some two weeks later Bolfík together with the rest of Kubizňák’s crew (Second pilot Sgt Bohuslav Baumruk; navigator F/O Josef Hudec; air-gunner P/O Jaromir Král and wireless operator P/O Jindřich Leskauer) went missing in Wellington T2519 KX-Y during a raid on Wilhelmshaven. The aircraft was thought to have experienced engine trouble and to have ditched in the North Sea (the last message was an SOS at 2218 hours, placing the aircraft over the North Sea and flying on one engine), there were no survivors and they are commemorated on the RAF Memorial at Runnymede.

It wasn’t only aircrew that were risking their lives, a young Czech airmen (AC.2 Jindřich Liebold who was only 19 years old) was killed by bomb splinters when Honington was raided by a lone Dornier on the 5th of January. On the 18th of January the weather closed in, a blanket of fog settling over the airfield. It was however a ‘Red Letter Day’ for East Wretham as the Squadron was visited by no lesser personages than King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. The weather remained poor until the 28th and operations were suspended.

On the 3rd of February a lone enemy bomber carried out a sneak raid on the airfield dropping some twenty bombs. Most of the hardware fell on the north side of the field. Only one aircraft was slightly damaged and no casualties were recorded. Three days later a series of events began to unfold when P/O František Cigoš, the captain of Wellington L7842 KX-T had to replace his normal navigator P/O Jaroslav Partyk, who had been taken sick shortly before the aircraft was due to take off for a raid on Boulogne. The last minute replacement was Flt/Lt Emil Bušina, it was to be his first operation with the squadron. The outward flight provided little trouble, the aircraft cruising well at an altitude of 18,000 feet. Cigoš made the run into the target and within a few minutes the wireless operator, P/O Arnošt Valenta was able to contact base with the news that the bombs had been dropped on target. Cigoš set course for home and handed over control of the aircraft to the second pilot, Sgt Petr Uruba. After half an hour or so, a correct course and bearing were requested from East Wretham by the radio operator. Bušina was apparently not feeling well and at this point there was some argument with regard to the aircraft’s position and heading. Unfortunately, the radio failed at this crucial moment and although Valenta attempted to get it working again he was unable to do so. Cigoš continued on what he considered was a correct course of 270 degrees and began to descend through the cloud. On breaking through the overcast he saw only a vast expanse of water. Some thirty minutes later a flashing beacon was dimly seen through the encroaching mist. With the weather deteriorating and the fuel getting lower and lower the situation was becoming desperate. The general opinion was that the aircraft was somewhere over Britain, possibly Norfolk or over the Wash. Just before midnight a small airfield was sighted. Cigoš circled once and switched on the navigation lights. A signal was flashed to the ground requesting that the runway lights be switched on. Two rows of yellow lights flickered on and the runway was bathed in light. The strip was short but Cigoš made a good landing and brought the aircraft to a stop just off the end of the runway.

The fuselage door was opened and the crew gathered in the entrance. A group of about twenty men was approaching from a nearby hangar. Gustav Kopal, the front gunner stared with disbelief; some of the group were wearing ‘coal scuttle’ helmets ! … they were Germans ! The crew scrambled hastily back to their positions. With a sudden jerk the aircraft began to pull away but in the darkness and confusion it left the runway and sank up to is axles in the soft turf. Arnošt Valenta grabbed his coded list of frequencies, which was printed on rice paper and was still chewing madly as the German soldiers surrounded the aircraft. Fate had played a cruel trick on them they had landed at Flers near Caen in occupied France. The future held only imprisonment and humiliation at the hands of the Nazis. It was only in post war years that an enquiry was held and the full details of their capture became known. Arnošt Valenta became one of the airmen who took part in the ‘Great Escape’ from Zagan. He was recaptured and shot by his captors in an act of revenge. The aircraft was salvaged by the Germans, re-marked with Luftwaffe crosses and swastikas, although strangely it retained its 311 Squadron codes. It was later flown to the Luftwaffe experimental base at Rechlin for testing and evaluation and was given somewhat garish yellow undersides.

Throughout the spring months the squadron operated at full strength carrying out a succession of raids (comprising a total of nearly two hundred sorties), taking in such targets as Bremen, Cologne, Calais and Lorient together with three trips to Berlin. The night of the 8th of April brought a narrow escape for Wellington P9230 KX-X, when it was attacked by a marauding Ju.88, whilst on a night training flight. The c aptain of the aircraft, P/O Jan Hrnčíř was wounded in the head and the trainee pilot Sgt Jaroslav Nýč took over and made a forced landing with the damaged aircraft near Mundford. It is possible that the enemy pilot was Hptm Karl Hulshoff of NJG2, who claimed a Wellington as shot down some 30 miles east of Bridlington.

Wellington R1599 KX-J took off at 2055 hours on the night of the 17th to carry out a raid on Berlin. Nothing was heard other than an SOS, sent shortly after the aircraft had come under attack by an enemy fighter. The aircraft had dropped its bombs on target and was returning to base when it was attacked. It was shot down by Hptm Werner Streib of St1/NJG1, five miles east of Weert in Holland at 2339 hours. The crew of Sgt František Kráčmer comprised second pilot F/O František Sixta, navigator F/O Vladimír Kubíček, wireless operator P/O Václav Košulič and gunners Sgt Rudolf Lifčic and Sgt Václav Štětka; all were listed as missing and are now interred at Jonkerbos War Cemetery, Nijmegen, Holland.

On the 11th of May the squadron’s target was Hamburg. When his aircraft was hit by flak over the target , Sgt Benedikt Blatný the pilot was wounded in the head. Despite his injury he insisted on piloting the aircraft away from the danger and once he felt that they were safely on their way back to base he handed over control to the second pilot, Sgt Adolf Musálek, who was on his first operational flight! Blatný was later awarded the DFM for his bravery. On Friday the 20th of June the squadron was visited by their President Dr. Beneš, Jan Masaryk (the Czechoslovak Defence Minister) and AVM Karel Janoušek, the Commander of the Czechoslovak Air Force Units plus various other senior military personnel. It was to be a month of VIP visits; on the 24th the whole squadron paraded before AVM Baldwin, who presented Sqn/Ldr Josef Ocelka with the DFC in recognition of his leadership and courage, and also presented the MBE to P/O Nedvěd in recognition of the bravery he displayed the previous December. The very next day the squadron was visited by HRH The Duke of Kent in the company of AVM Baldwin, whilst the squadron was preparing for a raid on Bremen that night.

On the night of the 1st/2nd of July the squadron sent eight aircraft against Brest. The ‘Prinz Eugen’ was in port. She had arrived after leaving the ill fated ‘Bismark’, which had been sunk on the 27th of May. The aircraft began to get airborne at 2145 hours and the attack was made in the company of Wellingtons of No.9 Squadron from Honington. In spite of heavy ground fire the attack was pressed home and at least one direct hit was scored. A bomb crashed through the deck of the ‘Prinz’ and destroyed the radio room. Fifty one members of the crew were killed and the damage was serious enough to prevent the ship from sailing the next day. There was some controversy as to whether 9 Squadron or 311 Squadron had scored the hit. However, it is of note that upon his return, P/O Václav Korda reported that the first bomb of his stick had fallen on the base area of Number Eight Dock. If this was in fact the case then it is probable that the last bomb of the stick would have struck the stern of the warship. All the aircraft had returned by twenty minutes to five in the morning with one exception; Wellington R1516 KX-U was shot down in error by a Beaufighter (T4638) of 604 Squadron at Lower Park Farm near Mere in Wiltshire. The Wellington had suffered the failure of both its radio and IFF installation and the night-fighter pilot took it to be an enemy intruder. Wellington R1516 was a presentation aircraft, known as ‘Broughton Wellington’ (the second aircraft to be so named) and had been paid for by the workers of the Vickers factory at Chester. The crew (pilot Sgt Oldřich Helma; second pilot Sgt Antonín Plocek, navigator P/O Richard Hapala, wireless operator Sgt Adolf Dolejš and air-gunners Sgt Jaroslav Petrucha and Sgt Jaroslav Lančík) all perished.

Two days later five aircraft were despatched against the Krupp armaments factory at Essen. All had safely returned by a few minutes after five in the morning. A further two aircraft operated against the Gilze-Rijen airfield, in Holland and they too had returned safely to base by four thirty. At quarter past eleven in the evening of the 5th of July 1941, the first of ten aircraft clambered into the air and set course for the German city of Munster. It was to be a night during which gunners would play their part to the utmost and enemy fighters would be much in evidence. F/Sgt Karel Schoř, in Wellington R1451 KX-P turned on course for home with ‘Bombs Gone’. Suddenly out of the blackness an enemy fighter appeared. The Wellington resounded to the clatter of gunfire as the gunners let fly. The Me.110 night-fighter broke off its attack only to reappear within minutes for a second try. Sgt Ladislav Kadlec, the rear gunner, rapidly swung his turret and opened fire. The stream of tracer from the fighter suddenly converted into pain and noise and Kadlec realised that he had been hit in the leg. Things were becoming increasingly difficult for F/Sgt Schoř as he fought to keep the aircraft on course for home. The aircraft had been damaged by flak; the starboard wing had a large hole in it and the flap was all but shot away. The final act of the drama came just when things appeared to be coming to a satisfactory conclusion. Schoř was worried about the starboard undercarriage, which had probably been damaged. On the landing approach with wheels down everything looked to be in order. At the moment of touch down the aircraft suddenly slewed across the runway, the tyre of the starboard wheel was flatter than an English pancake. Using every ounce of his strength, Schoř brought KX-P to a grinding halt. They had managed to get back in one piece. As a result of the night’s action Kadlec had to have his leg amputated. Nine months later however, he was back in action with the squadron, the first and only one legged Czech airman in RAF service.

That same night the ‘Reaper’ was to stretch out his hand again, but the courage of the young Czech airmen would once again frustrate his attempts to add them to his tally. Wellington R1532 KX-R was bound for home, cruising quite happily, when the blackness of the night was split by the bright splotch of tracer bullets. The shells smashed into the aircraft and immediately a fire started in the lower inboard and centre section of the port wing. Sgt Stanislav Linka was at the controls and speedily took evasive action. The wing fabric was blazing merrily and the fuselage and the cabin curtain behind Linka were also afire. Feverishly the first pilot F/Sgt Josef Bernát, the navigator P/O Jaroslav Kula and the wireless operator F/Sgt Rudolf Haering, set to work on this latest threat. Linka and Bernát changed places and finally the fire was extinguished. Unfortunately, more ill fortune was in store, the hydraulic system was not functioning and the rear turret had been hit and disabled. The enemy night-fighter was coming in for another attack. The rear gunner, Sgt Jindřich Beneš managed to manipulate the turret by hand and get the enemy fighter in his sights. He saw a splatter of sparks as his shells struck home and watched with satisfaction as the enemy aircraft dived away. With the hydraulic system out of action, the aircraft had no flaps and no undercarriage, thus there was no choice but to make a belly landing when they arrived back at East Wretham. Incredibly, when the aircraft came to a halt having gauged its way across the turf of the airfield, nobody was injured ! A special order of the day later commended the first pilot F/Sgt Bernát for his airmanship and both Bernát and Haering later received the DFM for their part in the incident.

Between the 6th and the 16th July 1941, the squadron carried out attacks on Cologne, Munster, Bremen and Hamburg. It was on this latter raid on the night of the 16th/17th, that Wellington R1718 KX-N was lost in somewhat strange circumstances. The aircraft took off at 2307 hours and nothing was heard thereafter. It would seem that the bomber was attacked by an Me.110 flown by Lt. Rudolf Schoenert of 4/NJG1, who claimed to have downed a Wellington at 0050 hours just west of Lemmer, south of Heerenveren in the Netherlands. However, the crew (pilot F/Sgt Jaroslav Nýč, second pilot Sgt Karel Šťastný , navigator P/O Jaroslav Zafouk, wireless operator P/O Otakar Černý plus gunners Sgt František Knap and Sgt Jiří Mareš) later reported that there had been an explosion in the nose of the aircraft, which they thought might be the result of ‘sabotage’. Karel Šťastný decided to change his name when he arrived in Liverpool to protect family members who remained in enemy hands. Originally a Zemánek, he chose to use the name Šťastný which was his mother’s maiden name and also translated as ‘happy’. Whatever the cause of the explosion, the crew baled out of the stricken aircraft. The pilot, Jaroslav Nýč, was briefly trapped by a jammed hatch cover, but was able to break free and deploy his parachute. He, together with all but one of the crew, became a POW. The rear gunner Sgt Jiří Mareš was later found to have drowned in the Zuider Zee after baling out (he was buried at the Lemmer General Cemetery on the 24th of December 1941).

Bases:
Group: Base: Map key: From: To:
12 Predannack, Cornwall. 1 23/02/44 09/08/44
11 Beaulieu, Hampshire. 2 26/05/43 23/02/44
11 Blackbushe, Hampshire. 3 Post WW2
repatriations
Post WW2
repatriations
11 Manston, Kent. 4 04/06/45 ??/08/45
13 Talbenny, Pembrokeshire. 5 10/06/42 26/05/43
13 Pershore, Worcestershire. 6 Post WW2
repatriations
Post WW2
repatriations
11 Honnington, Suffolk. 7 29/07/40 16/09/40
13 East Wretham, Suffolk. 8 16/09/40 28/04/42
13 Aldergrove, Antrim. 9 28/04/42 10/06/42
14 Tain, Highland. 10 09/08/44 04/06/45


In the small hours of the 17th of July the quiet of the airfield was shattered, when an enemy intruder decided to pay a visit. A number of bombs were dropped and the airfield was out of action for a short while. Two nights later on the night of the 19th/20th of July, eight Wellingtons took off to attack Hannover, one Wellington R1371 KX-F failed to return. It had taken off at 2252 hours and was later observed apparently in combat with an enemy aircraft. Both were seen to crash into the sea. The crew of the ill fated ‘F’ consisted of the pilot Sgt Václav Netík, second pilot Sgt Miroslav Jindra, navigator P/O Jaroslav Partyk; wireless operator Sgt Jan Čtvirtlík and air-gunners Sgt Pavel Babáček and Sgt Václav Valeš. The body of P/O Partyk was later washed up on the Dutch coast and he is buried at Grave. Once again, at 0020 hours the airfield was raided, on this occasion the bombs fell amongst the dispersal in the south east corner of the aerodrome. By the close of the month the squadron had operated against Hamburg and Mannheim completing twelve operations and 101 sorties. During the month the Czech Initial Training Flight was transferred to East Wretham from Honington and became known as 1429 Czech Operational Training Flight (COTF). The early part of August 1941 was taken up with raids on Hamburg, Mannheim and Hamm. The enemy returned the complement on the 7th, when a lone raider dropped ten bombs on the western side of the airfield. In the early hours of the 13th of August, a number of aircraft were circling the airfield, having returned from a raid on Hannover, Suddenly their thoughts of fried eggs, tea and bed were shattered. An enemy intruder, a Ju.88, had sneaked into the circuit. Three aircraft were attacked and one, Wellington R1777 KX-M was badly shot up but managed to make a safe landing. The following day the target was again Hannover and by the end of the month attacks had been mounted against Cologne, Duisburg, Kiel and Mannheim despite very poor weather.

On the 21st of August a team from the BBC visited the unit and interviewed a number of personnel. Some of this material was later broadcast on the Home Service. Shortly after this ‘British Movietone News’ arrived on the station with their cameras and filmed the unit at work and play. The following day (the 27th) personnel were treated to a film show in the NAAFI, which included a showing of ‘Target for Tonight’. This was an RAF training film in which Sqn/Ldr ‘Percy’ Pickard (formerly part of the squadron’s attached RAF staff) played a leading role. Other high points of the month were the award of the DFC to Wg/Cdr Backler, the Squadron Liaison Officer and the formal promotion to Wg/Cdr of Josef Ocelka, the commanding officer. Although the squadron was to operate on only nine occasions during September, seventy two sorties were accomplished. The flights were to be some of its longest. Within the first seven days, Cologne, Bremen, Berlin and Kiel had been hit.

‘A’ Flight Commanders:
Officer: Rank: From: To:
SCHEJBAL Josef S/Ldr 02/08/40 19/03/41
ŠNAJDR Josef, DFC S/Ldr 20/03/41 20/04/42
NÁPRSTEK Karel S/Ldr 21/10/41 15/02/42
SVÁTEK Lubomír S/Ldr 15/02/42 27/04/42
ŠEJBL Josef, DFC S/Ldr 27/04/42 14/01/43
NEDVĚD Vladimír, MBE, DFC S/Ldr 01/11/42 22/08/43
KOSTOHRYZ Jan S/Ldr 22/08/43 01/09/44
ŠEDIVÝ Alois, DFM S/Ldr 07/09/44 13/08/45

Then on the 10th came a trip to pastures new, Turin in northern Italy. A similar trip took place towards the end of the month, when the unit raided Genoa. A further lengthy operation was added to the list on the last day of the month, when Stettin on the Baltic coast was the target. On the night of 15th/16th September the squadron put up ten aircraft for a raid on Hamburg. The weather was clear, but searchlight glare over the target caused problems for the crews and enemy night-fighters were in action. Sgt Vilém Soukup and his crew (second pilot Sgt Jan Miklošek, navigator P/O Mojmír Sedláček, wireless operator P/O Antonín Zimmer and gunners Sgt Zdeněk Babíček and Sgt Alois Jarnot) took off at 1955 hours and nothing further was heard from them and they were all listed as missing in action and are commemorated on the RAF Memorial at Runnymede. It is possible that this aircraft is the Wellington claimed as shot down by Gefr Rudolf Frank of 1/NJG3 to the north west of Meppen at 2330 hours.

The elements were to play a major part during October 1941, with cloud obscuring the targets on a number of occasions and icing causing difficulties. The first day of the month saw ‘freshman’ crews being initiated with attacks on Channel ports. On the 20th Sgt Václav Proházka in Wellington R1046 KX-E and his crew failed to return from a raid on Bremen. Nothing was heard after take off until an SOS was received at 2201 hours. Following engine problems the aircraft came down on a sandbank 4 ½ miles south of Schiermonnikoog in the Frisian Islands. The crew (pilot Sgt Václav Proházka, second pilot Sgt František Petr, navigator P/O Erazim Veselý, and Sgts Josef Sůsa, Bedřich Valner and Jozef Zvolenský) were later picked up and became Prisoners of War.

On the 23rd tragedy struck the squadron when Wellington T2624 crashed into the Irish Sea of Cardigan with the loss of Sgt Karel Hurt and all of his crew (Sgt Otakar Janůj, Sgt Jaroslav Poledník, Sgt Jaroslav Rolenc and P/O František Dittrich) whilst on a cross country training flight (Base-Llangolen-Maughold Head-10 miles-Aberystwyth-Banbury-Base). As the end of the month approached the squadron personnel celebrated their national day (28th) with a parade, a sports meeting and a remembrance service (the Squadron Padre, Sqn/Ldr František Pouchlý officiated), the service being particularly poignant in the light of the loss of T2624 only days before. The event was attended by the Air Officer Commanding No.3 Group Bomber Command, AVM Baldwin and other senior officers. There was an unfortunate sequel to the loss of T2624 on the 23rd when the squadron was asked to send someone to Newquay in Cornwall, to identify the body of an airman. It turned to be that of P/O František Dittrich, the navigator in Karel Hurt’s crew. (Dittrich was originally buried in Cardigan, but after the War his remains were transferred to Czechoslovakia).

The month of November saw the squadron operate on eight occasions, making a total of 53 sorties. The targets included Berlin, Hamburg, Kiel and Dusseldorf. With the onset of December the weather deteriorated and the squadron was only able to operate on five nights putting in a total of 36 sorties. The month was brightened somewhat by the news that the USA had entered the war after the treacherous attack on Pearl Harbour by the Japanese. Christmas Eve 1941 was a day to remember, AVM Baldwin visited the unit to present the recently approved squadron crest to Wg/Cdr Ocelka. The station paraded for the presentation and a ‘Dining-In Night’ took place afterwards in the Officers’ Mess. During the year the squadron had attacked 192 targets and carried out 715 sorties. The unit had suffered 43 aircrew fatalities on operations and had seen 21 airmen become Prisoners of War.

311 Squadron Crest handover

On the night of the 28th/29th of December 1941, Bomber Command despatched 86 Wellingtons to bomb Wilhelmshaven. Only one aircraft was lost, T2553 KX-B. The aircraft took off from base at 1716 hours and nothing further was heard. It apparently came down in the North Sea some 12 miles south west of Den Helder and west of Petten in Holland. It is possible that this aircraft was the one claimed as shot down by Oblt Egmont Prinz zur Lippe-Weissenfeld of 5/NJG2, south west of Petten at 2146 hours. Wesseinfeld claimed to have downed a Whitley bomber, but that could simply be a case of poor target identification in the darkness and the excitement of the moment. Five of the crew the crew (the pilot Sgt Alois Šiška, second pilot Sgt Josef Tománek, navigator F/O Josef Mohr , the wireless operator P/O Josef Ščerba and gunner Sgt Pavel Svoboda) survived and managed to get into the dinghy. Unfortunately the rear gunner Sgt Rudolf Skalický was unable to get out of the aircraft and went down with it. The remaining crew were adrift in their dinghy until the 2nd of January, when they finally came ashore in Holland. Both Sgt Tománek and F/O Mohr had died of exhaustion and hypothermia whilst adrift in the dinghy. The remaining three crew members became PoWs. Mohr’s body was later recovered and he is buried in Bergen General Cemetery.

Vickers Wellington Mk Ic, T2553 as flown by Sgt Alois Šiška.

1942

The poor weather continued into the New Year, severely restricting the operations of Bomber Command. None the less in January 1942 the squadron was able to carry out 83 sorties against eight targets (including Brest on the 8th, Bremen on the 17th and Bremen again on the 21st). Wellington T2971 KX-J with Sgt Jindřich Svoboda at the controls, was lost on the 17th when it crashed north east of Tilburg at 2317 hours as a result of losing an engine to flak damage (Jindřich Svoboda perished together with P/O Jaromír Brož and Sgt Rudolf Mašek. The second pilot Sgt Zdeněk Sichrovský, Sgt Karel Batelka and Sgt Josef Šnajdr were captured). Wellington DV515 KX-D under the command of Sgt Miroslav Plecitý, was lost on the 21st. He and the rest of the crew; second pilot Sgt Karel Weiss, navigator F/O Zdeněk Skořepa, wireless operator Sgt Stanislav Rouš and gunners, Sgt Čeněk Král and Sgt Ladislav Němeček, were all listed as missing and are commemorated on the RAF Memorial at Runnymede. The Wellington had possibly been damaged as a result of an attack by Ofw Hans Rasper of 5/NJG2, who claimed to have downed a Wellington at 2230 hours three to four miles north east of Harlingen.

In February 1942 the squadron received some much needed replacement aircraft from 218 Squadron at Marham in Norfolk. The bad weather continued causing the airfield to be badly waterlogged and making continuation training all but impossible. During the early part of February the squadron operated from Stradishall, personnel travelling back and forth by road. Fortunately during the month there were no losses due to enemy action. Unfortunately though technical problems exacted a toll; Wellington L7841 KX-S was on a training flight with a student pilot and it crashed whilst overshooting at East Wretham. The aircraft had engine control problems and nearly stalled, the starboard wing caught the ground on the airfield boundary. As a result the aircraft bellied onto the grass, fortunately the crew were able to get clear. The rear gunner Sgt Gustav Michalec was thrown out of his turret and injured his back. The rest of the crew consisted of the instructor P/O Josef Čapka, the pupil pilot Sgt Josef Laichter and Sgt Jan Neradil.

Raid on Renault Works, Billancourt, France, 3-4. 3.1942.

Raid on Renault Works, Billancourt, France, 3-4. 3.1942.

The weather improved during March and the squadron’s sortie count began to rise. During the month attacks were carried out on Emden, Essen, Kiel and the Renault factory at Billancourt in France and the total of sorties at the end of the month was 62. Unfortunately the unit suffered losses; Wellington Z1167 KX-A and the crew of Sgt Karel Danihelka (second pilot Sgt Vladimír Hanzl, navigator F/O Ladislav Říha, wireless operator Sgt František Janča and gunners Sgt Adolf Podivínský and Sgt Dobromil Špinka) and are commemorated on the RAF Memorial at Runnymede, and Wellington Z1070 KX-Y and the crew of Sgt Bohuslav Hradil (second pilot Sgt Jan Kotrch, navigator Sgt Alois Tolar, wireless operator Sgt Josef Svoboda, plus gunners Sgt Imrich Kormanovič and Sgt Pribyslav Strachoň) were both lost on the night of the 3/4th 1942 and are buried at Creil Communal Cemetery, Oise, France.

Wellington R1802 KX-P and the crew of Sgt Jiří Fína (second pilot Sgt Oldřich Soukup, navigator F/O Jaroslav Kula, wireless operator Sgt Josef Cibulka, plus gunners Sgt Alois Mezník and Sgt František Raiskup) was lost on the night of the 12th. The aircraft was last heard sending an SOS at 2053 hours followed by a message saying that the aircraft was going to ditch in position 53.17N 03.07E. A search of the area was carried out, but nothing was found and they are commemorated on the RAF Memorial at Runnymede.

In addition to the losses, a number of crews were reaching the end of their tours (200 Operational hours at that point in time) and would be screened from operations. That coupled with the fact that replacement Czechoslovak aircrew were becoming harder to find made it clear that the squadron was going to struggle to remain viable as an operational unit within Bomber Command.

A further loss was experienced in April, when Wellington Z8838 KX-Z failed to return from a raid on Essen on the night of the 10th/11th. The aircraft had taken off at 2201 hours and a last message was received at 0001 hours indicating engine problems. Shortly afterwards the aircraft exploded in the air and crashed 2 ½ miles east of Kolhorn in the Northern Netherlands (at 0020 hours). It had apparently been attacked and shot down by a night-fighter. The enemy aircraft was probably being flown by Hptm Helmut Lent of 11/NJG2, who claimed a Wellington shot down at 0023 hours south east of Den Helder. F/Sgt Josef Kalenský and his crew; F/Sgt Josef Hrdina, F/O Karel Rychnovský, Sgt Karel Kodeš, Sgt Jan Peprníček and Sgt Josef Politzer all perished. They are interred at the Bergen-op-Zoom CWGC War Cemetery at Noord-Brabant, Holland.

A similar fate awaited Sgt Vladimír Pará and the crew of Wellington Z1098 KX-U, when it was brought down by a night-fighter on the night of 14/15th April during a raid on Dortmund. When ‘U’ arrived overhead the target was well alight. With the bombs released the Sgt Para turned for base. Unfortunately on the way back they were caught by searchlights and enemy anti-aircraft fire damaged one of the engines. Sgt Milan Zapletal was wounded by flak splinters and Sgt Josef Taláb did his best to staunch the bleeding, whilst Pará managed to break away from the searchlights. Once again cloaked in darkness they thought they were safe when suddenly out of nowhere an enemy night fighter attacked. The second pilot, Sgt Oldřich Havlík was killed in the attack and the second engine was hit and began to burn. Pará desperately tried to make a forced landing but struck trees as he got near to the ground. The aircraft crashed at Boshoven, Limburg, 2 miles west of Weert in the Netherlands. Sgt Pará and two of his crew (F/O Milan Zapletal and Sgt Jaroslav Klvaňa) managed to escape the stricken aircraft and became PoWs, whilst the other three crew members died (Sgt Oldřich Havlík as a result of the fighter attack and Sgt Josef Taláb and Sgt Pavel Varjan who perished in the crash). They are buried at the CWGC section at Woensel General Cemetery, Eindhoven, Holland. It is thought that the enemy pilot who attacked the Wellington was Oblt Wandham of 1/NJG1. This aircraft was to be the last loss whilst the unit was part of Bomber Command.

A few days later the unit’s popular commanding officer Wg/Cdr Josef Ocelka DFC was posted to the Office of the Czechoslovak Inspectorate General and his post was taken over by Wg/Cdr Josef Šnajdr DFC. Ocelka had been with the squadron since its birth and took part in its first operational sortie in 1940. He was held in high regard by all on the squadron and many were sorry to see him depart. He had completed 45 sorties which accounted for some 224 operational hours, the most flown by any airman in 311 Squadron. Unfortunately, he was to die in an aerial accident when the Beaufort (DD938) he was flying crashed on take off from Brize Norton on the 21st of July 1942, whilst he was serving with No.6 MU (Maintenance Unit).

‘B’ Flight Commanders:
Officer: Rank: From: To:
VESELYÝ Jan S/Ldr 02/08/40 17/10/40
OCELKA Josef, DFC S/Ldr 17/01/41 02/07/41
BREITCETL Jindřich F/Lt ?? 02/07/41 20/08/41
ŠEJBL Josef, DFC S/Ldr 20/08/41 03/01/42
STRÁNSKÝ Josef, DFC S/Ldr 27/03/42 01/02/43
LIŠKA Bohumil S/Ldr 01/02/43 27/05/43
KORDA Václav, DFC S/Ldr 01/06/43 30/01/44
TOBYŠKA Bohuslav, AFC S/Ldr 03/01/43 06/11/44
KVAPIL Karel S/Ldr 06/11/44 10/01/45
ONDRŮJ Vlastimil S/Ldr 11/01/44 13/08/45


By mid April the squadron only had four operational bomber crews, insufficient for the proper conduct of operations. The situation was somewhat resolved when five new ‘freshman’ crews arrived on the 18th. However, they would still need to gain experience ‘on the job’ under an experienced pilot. Towards the end of the month they carried out so called ‘freshman operations’ against the Channel ports of Le Havre and Dunkirk. These were to be the last operations undertaken by the squadron as part of Bomber Command. The decision had been taken to move the unit into Coastal Command. During its time as part of Bomber Command the unit had completed 1,029 sorties against 77 targets, dropping nearly two and a half million tons of high explosive bombs and over 95,000 incendiaries and operating on average every fourth day. The price had been high however, 94 aircrew had died on operations and a further 34 had been taken prisoner. On the 24th of April the new Squadron Commander, Sqn/Ldr Josef Šnajdr flew, together with other officers, to Aldergrove, Northern Ireland to make arrangements for the move of the squadron into Coastal Command. However, Bomber Command had not quite seen the last of 311 Squadron, they would be back for a ‘swan song’ in a few weeks time.


© 2015 John Rennison. Flt.Lt. Ret’d




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