……………………………* 6 March 1918
……………………………† 4 June 1942
Josef Dygrýn was born on 6 March 1918, in Prague, the 6th son of a unmarried mother and following a unhappy childhood he was raised by his aunt Krejčové who was a dressmaker living in Hněvkovice, Humpolec, a village about 100km South of Prague. He attended the local school and on leaving started a apprenticeship as a mechanic. Later he went to stay with his uncle who lived at Lhotice, Humpolec, the name of this village was to have significant influence later in his life.
During this time he developed an interest in aviation which led him to volunteer for the Czechoslovak Air Force which led to him attending the Czechoslovak Air Force VLU training base, at Prostějov, between 1937 to 1938 where he took a course in instrument flying.
Following the Munich agreement, Hitler’s military forces annexed Czechoslovakia on 15 March 1939 some of the pupils at the VLU base wanted to take the old Avia B-33 fighters and fly to neighbouring Poland, but their commanding officer, Colonel Bedřich Starý, forbade them to do this.
Josef had now reached the rank of Svobodník [RAF equivalent of LAC]. On 14 June 1939 Josef, armed with a gun and accompanied by another pupil Antonín Vendl, escaped, on foot, from Czechoslovakia into Poland. There he spent a short time at Krakow before moving onto a transit camp, at Malý Bronowice, a former military barracks from the Austro-Hungarian army. However the Polish Authorities were very reluctant to have Czechoslovak military units on Polish soil as they did not want to antagonise neighbouring Nazi Germany. Instead the Czechoslovak Consul in Paris had negotiated with the French Government that the steady flow of Czechoslovak military escaping to Poland could be brought to France. However as French law did not not permit foreign military units to be on its soil during peacetime they would be required to enlist in the French Foreign Legion, based in North Africa, with guarantee that in the event of war being declared they would be transferred to French military units in mainland France. For the Czechoslovaks who did not agree to these conditions the only alternative was to be sent back to German occupied Czechoslovakia and the certainty of imprisonment and eventual execution.
Here he stayed, until mid July 1939, when they were taken to Gydinia to await transportation to France. On 26 July a total of 188 Czechoslovak airmen, including Josef, boarded the Swedish steamship SS ‘Kastelholm’ and sailed to France. Part of the voyage down the Baltic Sea was very rough, even to airmen who were used to flying in turbulent conditions, and so the ‘Kastelholm’ stop at the Danish port of Frederikshaven to re-supply was a welcome relief for the Czechoslovaks onboard.
The ‘Kastleholm’ arriving at Calais on 31 July. On arrival they boarded a train which took them to Paris from were they were taken to the Foreign Legions recruitment center – a former cigarette factory – where followed medical examinations, completion of their enlistment documentation and French classes. Any free time was usually spent in Paris exploring the sights and practising their newly learnt French with the girls they met. Fortunately for Josef before he was sent to the Foreign Legions training camp at Siddi-bel-Abbes in Algeria, war was declared and instead he was transferred to l’Arme d’Air.
Initially he was posted to Avord airbase, near Bourges south of Paris, for retraining on French aircraft. After the German invasion of France on 10 May 1940 he was subsequently posted to CIC Chartres, where he saw action. Following the French capitulation he escaped, via the bases of Avord and Chartres to Bordeaux where he, and other Czechoslovak airmen, boarded the ship ‘Ary Schaeffer’ on 19 June 1940 and they managed to escape to England. The ship reached Falmouth, Cornwall, on 23 June 1940.In England he joined the RAF, with the rank of Sergeant, and was sent on a Hurricane conversion course at 6 OTU based at Sutton Bridge. On 14 October 1940 he was posted initially to 85 Squadron, based at Church Fenton, and 14 days later to 1 Sqn. at Wittering.
However it became apparent that he needed further training to bring his flying skills up to the required standard. During the period between 29 October 1940 when he wrote off Hurricane Mk 1 N2433 when trying to land as a result of setting the aircraft flaps in the wrong position and a few days later, on 13 November, he wrote off another Hurricane Mk 1 [P5187] again whilst attempting to land. Following these accidents he was sent for further training to Central Flying School at RAF Upavon on 27 November and he returned.
He stayed with 1 Sqn. until September 1941 during which time he showed himself to be a very effective night fighter.
On the night of 10/11 May 1941, he undertook three sorties, with Hurricane IIa [Z2687] from RAF Redhill, when the Luftwaffe were bombing London during the Blitz. He first took off at 00:15 and was patrolling over London at 5500m when he saw a He 111 which he shot down at 00:35. He returned to Redhill at 00:58 and after being refuelled and re-armed he was back in the air at 01:35 and he shot down a 2nd lone He 111 near Gatwick at 01:50 which crashed at Gore Farm, Gillingham, Kent.
Later that night he encountered a Ju 88 North East of Biggin Hill as it was flying towards the coast. He attacked, at 03:25, and firing from a range of 25m, the Ju 88 was hit and a engine caught fire and began to rapidly loose height. Josef continued the attack and the Ju 88 finally crashed into the sea South of Hastings. Josef returned to base for more fuel and ammunition but was refused permission for a 4th sortie that night. For a pilot whose flying skills some had doubted only a few weeks before, this was a remarkable achievement.
In the following weeks during daylight patrols over the English Channel and Northern France he increased his number of kills. On 16 May, whilst patrolling above Dungeness he shot down one Me109. On 21 May, again at Dungeness he attacked and damaged another Me 109. On 18 June he shared in the shooting down of a He 59 floatplane. The following day, while escorting 23 Blenheim bombers on a raid to Béthune, he shot down another Me 109 which crashed into the sea near Boulogne.
During this time Josef developed a reputation of being a brave and aggressive pilot when in contact with the Luftwaffe. These qualities became an inspiration to all of his fellow pilots. On 5 September 1941 he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal. By the end of the year he had achieved the most number of enemy ‘kills’ for Czechoslovak pilots for that year.
|11/05/41||00:35||Z2687||1 He 111 over London|
|11/05/41||01:50||Z2687||1 He 111 near Gatwick, crashed at
Gore Farm, nr Gillingham, Kent
|11/05/41||03:25||Z2687||1 Ju 88, NE of Biggin Hill, crashed in the
English Channel South of Hastings.
|16/05/41||14:00||Z2628||1 Me 109, at Dungeness.|
|21/05/41||17:45||Z2628||1 Me 109, damaged at Dungeness.|
|16/06/41||17:50||Z3263||1 He 59, 1/6th shared kill.|
|16/05/41||20:35||Z3263||1 Me 109, crashed in sea
He continued to serve in 1 Sqd, along with some other Czechoslovak pilots until 23 September 1941 when he was posted to 310 Czechoslovak Sqd. RAF who where currently based at Dyce, Scotland whilst undergoing conversion from Hurricanes to Spitfires, at that time. The reason for this posting was that the three Czechoslovak Fighter Squadrons had suffered pilot losses through death, wounding or missing and had been unable to replace these pilots through there normal channels and so some Czechoslovak pilots, serving in British RAF Squadrons, were sent as replacements.
He remained with 310 Sqd. until 20 May 1942 when he was requested to return to No 1 Sqd by Karel Kuttlewascher DFC, a fellow Czechoslovak, who had been his senior officer during his previous posting to that Squadron. The squadron was now based at Tangmere, engaged in night offensive operations over Northern France and flying Hurricane IIc’s.
From here, on the night of 3-4 June 1942, seven aircraft were sent of at different intervals to attack the German airfields at St. André d’Eure, Evreux and Chartres-Fauville. Amongst those pilots were 3 Czechoslovak pilots – Karel Kuttlewascher, Otto Pavlů and Josef Dygryn. Josef was flying Hurricane IIc [Z3183] and his orders were to patrol in the vicinity of Chartres-Fauville. He did not return from this patrol and the exact reason is unknown. Kuttlewascher reported on his return flight that there had been fierce flak activity seen around the port of Le Havre. It is presumed that Josef’s plane crashed into the English Channel as a result of being damaged by this flak.
On 8 September 1942, the body of a unknown RAF pilot was washed ashore on a mined beach near Worthing, Sussex. The body was badly decomposed, had no id tags on it and the only visible marks on the tunic was the RAF pilots badge and 3 medal ribbons. The body carried a Astra type 1915 revolver, which had the names of ‘Doris’, ‘Noel’, ‘Paddy’ and and the RAF badge engraved on the grip.
This revolver and the medal ribbons enabled a positive identification on the body to be made. On 7 September 1941, Josef married Doris Gwen Emily Reeves at Caterham, Surrey. She was a 20 year old ACW2 WAAF, stationed at RAF Kenley. Shortly after they married, Doris contracted tuberculosis and was taken, for treatment, to the TB Sanitorium, at Lenham, Kent. In late January 1942, Doris died suddenly from TB and was buried, in an unmarked grave, at a small graveyard at Westwell, Kent.
Her untimely death caused Josef to become very morose and introvert. A year before he has bought a revolver from someone in a pub who had served in the International Brigade during the Spanish Civil War, he always carried it with him and vowed that if he were shot down over enemy territory, he would not be taken prisoner but would try to get back to England.
This acquisition became his new passion and he now spent most of his free time engraving its grip. Josef he etched out a silhouette of a dog sitting under a tree, the RAF badge and various other pictures on the side of the grip which he then filled with copper and silver. He also engraved the names ‘Doris’, ‘Paddy’ – a nickname that his wife was known by – and ‘Noel’ – the name of the family dog. The revolver was well known and admired by Josef’s RAF comrades. Without this positive id it is most likely that he would have been buried with a headstone marked as being that of a unknown pilot.
On 14 August 1942 his remains were interred at Westwell, Kent in close proximities to his wife’s unmarked grave.
Josef was buried will full military honours near to his wife at Westwell cemetery on 14 September 1942.
Many Czechoslovak RAF personnel adopted a ‘nom de guerre’ to protect their families who were under German occupation in Czechoslovakia. In Joseph’s case he used the name Ligoticky which was derived from his Uncle’s village of Lhotice, which is why he is sometimes identified as Dygryn-Ligoticky.
For his bravery he had ben awarded the following medals:
3 Československý válečný kříž 1939 [Czechoslovak War Cross]
Za chrabrost [Gallantry facing the enemy medal]
Za zásluhy [Merits medal]
Pamětní medaile československé armadý v zahraničí F a VB [Memorial Medal of Czechoslovak Foreign Army with France and Great Britain Bars]
Distinguished Flying Medal [5 September 1941]
The 1939-1945 Star with Battle of Britain Clasp
Air Crew Europe Star
At the RAF Rehabilitation Ceremony, held in Prague on 13 September 1991, he was promoted, in memoriam to the rank of Colonel in the Czechoslovak Air Force.
A memorial plaque to commemorated him is at the Town Hall at Humpolec:
In the Černý Most District of Prague 9, a street is named in his honour:
In England, he is commemorated, along with the other 2936 Battle of Britain pilots, on the Christopher Foxley-Norris Memorial Wall at the National Battle of Britain Memorial at Capel-le-Ferne, Kent:
He is also commemorated on the London Battle of Britain Memorial.
Article last updated 6 March 2016