311 Sqn Never Regard Their Numbers – Coastal Command



PART II Coastal Command

1942

The Advance Party of ground personnel left East Wretham for Aldergrove on the 28th of April 1942. The main Air Party of some 90 plus airmen and 15 Wellingtons followed on the 30th. Training for the squadron in its new role began in May. Lectures and briefings on a broad range of maritime subjects took place covering such things as ship recognition, convoy escort duties, the detection and attacking of enemy submarines, over water navigation and the dropping of bombs and depth charges at low level. The theory was soon put into practice and the bombing exercises were normally carried out using a specific area of Lough Neagh. The activities included mock attacks on dummy periscopes fixed in the Lough. Less than two weeks into the training Sqn/Ldr Josef Šejbl nearly came to grief in Wellington DV716 KX-Z, when he flew too low and struck one of the dummy periscopes with his bomb doors! Fortunately for all concerned he was able to get the aircraft back to base. On the 16th of May the squadron, now firmly established at Aldergrove, was visited by Wg/Cdr Karel Náprstek of the Czech Inspectorate General’s office. Unfortunately a second incident occurred on the 20th of May, when Wellington Z1105 KX-R with Sgt Hugo Dostál at the controls, suffered an engine failure whilst on a training exercise and crashed into Lough Neagh near Rams Island. The aircraft was lost, but all the crew members managed to get into the dinghy having suffered only shock and minor injuries. Only two days later the squadron was deemed to be ready for action and five aircraft from the unit carried out the first operational ‘sweep’. A second ‘sweep’ was carried out by four aircraft on the 26th. The stay at Aldergrove was to be a brief one as the squadron was to be under the control of 19 Group Coastal Command and it was earmarked to go to a newly opened airfield at Talbenny in Pembrokeshire. Between the 2nd and the 12th of June the unit moved to its new home. Some crews did remain at Aldergrove however, to complete the conversion course. The squadron was still equipped with its Mk.Ic Wellingtons which didn’t have the latest Air to Surface radar (ASV) thus for the initial part of their maritime activity they would be using the Mk.I ‘eyeball’, however plans were afoot to bring into use the Mk.VIII Wellington which was equipped with ASV.

Before becoming operational from the new base, the squadron was to make a brief foray on behalf of Bomber Command. The target was Bremen and Sir Arthur Harris, Bomber Command’s Chief, was determined to make an all-out effort. On the night of the 25th/26th of June a mixed force of 1,006 aircraft (Wellingtons, Halifaxes, Lancasters, Stirlings, Blenheims, Hampdens, Whitleys, Bostons, Manchesters and a handful of Mosquitoes) took to the air from across Britain. They were supported by a further 102 aircraft (Hudsons and Wellingtons) from Coastal Command. This was to be the third of the ‘1,000 Bomber raids’. Fourteen aircraft from 311 Squadron were moved to a forward base at Bircham Newton to take part, however only eleven actually carried out the attack. Two aircraft experienced malfunctions. The third, Wellington Z1090 KX-Q, under the command of Sgt Vratislav Žežulka, struck the roof of a building at Bircham during take off and after initially staggering into the air it crashed in Brancaster Bay on the Norfolk coast. Although the aircraft came down in relatively shallow water, the crew (Sgt Vratislav Žežulka, second pilot Sgt Miroslav Červinka, navigator Sgt Stanislav Jelínek, wireless operator Sgt Alois Holna and gunners Sgt Zdeněk Janda and Sgt Ladislav Křížz) took to their dinghy and managed to get ashore. The first wave of aircraft over the target found it obscured by cloud and were forced to bomb blind. The use of Gee and the glow from the fires below enabled later aircraft to bomb more accurately and a strengthening wind at the time of the raid, fanned the fires , and exacerbated the damage. One of the main targets in the city was the Focke-Wulf aircraft works, which was severely damaged. In addition damage was suffered by other industrial concerns such as the Vulkan shipyard, the Norddeutsche Hutte and the Korff refinery. Many homes were destroyed or damaged but the civilian casualties were relatively light, with some 85 people killed and 497 injured. It was to be 311 Squadron’s last outing on behalf of Bomber Command and apart from the loss of Z1090 all went well.

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

The squadron’s first operational anti-submarine sweep was carried out by six Wellingtons on the 30th of June 1942. It was during a second sweep on the 11th of July that Sgt Hugo Dostal and his crew in Wellington Z1155 KX-F became embroiled in combat with a single Ju.88. at 48.50N 05.548W. This was probably an aircraft of the Luftwaffe’s Wekusta 51 on a weather reconnaissance sortie. The enemy machine was driven off and was thought to have been shot down. However, it apparently managed to return to its base, with the gunner Ogefr Rudolf Piz having been wounded during the combat. Fate is a fickle thing, only four days later on the 15th Sgt Dostál and his crew again in Z1155, went missing over the Bay of Biscay. It is probable that their aircraft was shot down by an enemy fighter. Fw Henny Pasier of KG.40 claimed to have shot down a Wellington over the Bay on this date. The crew; Sgt Hugo Dostál, Sgt Josef Holub, Sgt František Novák, Sgt Vilém Orlík, Sgt Rudolf Pancíř and Flt/Lt Miroslav Cígler, were all listed as missing. Four bodies were later washed up on the Devon coast. These four are buried in the St Augustine Cemetery at Heanton Punchardon the bodies of Hugo Dostál and Josef Holub have never been recovered and are commemorated on panels 81 and 86 respectively at the Runnymede Memorial. There was some good news though, that same day whilst operating from Talbenny, F/O Jaroslav Bala and his crew in Wellington T2564 KX-T attacked an unidentified U-Boat at position 44.41.N 12.00W. The enemy submarine was sighted on the surface at 1500 hours and Bala put made an attacking run as the sub’ made a crash dive. Unable to make a full attack Bala left the area and returned some seven minutes later to find amazingly that the submarine was back on the surface. He dived into the attack again, this time managing to drop six depth charges. Explosions were observed and bubbles were seen to be rising to the surface followed by oil. Bala remained in the area for some twenty minutes hoping that the apparently stricken enemy vessel would show itself. Unfortunately the sea remained calm the only indication of the action was a growing patch of oil. Disappointed, Bala turned for home and eventually put the Wellington down at Dale, just along the coast from Talbenny.

On the 27th of July Sqn/Ldr Josef Stránský and his crew in Wellington DV664 KX-A, attacked a surfaced submarine with depth charges and strafed it at 1530 hours. The U-Boat at first made no attempt to submerge and opened fire from its conning tower. Stránský released four depth charges from 40 to 50 feet in his first attacking run. When he banked the Wellington and turned in to make a second attack, the submarine was seen to be listing and had almost stopped. Two more depth charges were released from a height of between 10 and 20 feet and were seen to explode alongside the submarine. The conning tower hatch was seen to be still open as the submarine began to submerge. After the submarine disappeared beneath the surface only a grey/green oil patch some six feet in diameter could be seen. The U-Boat was the U-106 under the command of Kpt.Lt Hermann Rasch. It had only left Lorient two days earlier and was forced to return to base because of the damage. Oblt Z See Gunther Wissman was killed in the attack and the submarine commander was wounded. The new depth charges, introduced in June were proving their worth. They were filled with ‘Torpex’ which was thirty percent more powerful than the previously used ‘Amatol’. They also used a new detonating pistol which was more reliable than its predecessor. The U-106 survived the attack and returned to Lorient, arriving on the 28th of July. She was to be sunk just over a year later again by air attack.

Jan Říha with his crew and ground crew, Talbenny.

The very next day Sgt Vladimír Šponar and his crew in Wellington DV507 KX-W, became embroiled in combat with two Arado 196 floatplanes (probably from 5/BFGr196) at position 47.20N 06.30W. One of the attackers was reported as shot down and the other, decided that discretion was the better part of valour and turned for home. A stranger than fiction event occurred on the last day of the month, when whilst on patrol, Sgt Jan Irving in Wellington X9827 KX-F was fired on by a Whitley bomber, which was never properly identified. Fortunately there were no casualties. A number of Whitleys from 77 Squadron were airborne at the time but none reported being involved in an incident.

Throughout August 1942 the squadron was extremely active, between the 6th and the 16th no less than five attacks were made on U-Boats. On the 6th Flt/Lt Oldřich Hořejši in Wellington X3178 KX-P attacked an unidentified submarine, which was believed to be sunk or damaged. On the 10th F/O Josef Nývlt attacked at least one U-boat in the Bay of Biscay, north of Cape Ortegal with depth charges. A submarine was certainly lost with all hands (49 crew|) at position 45.49N 07.44W. The sunken U-Boat was the U578 under the command of Kpt Zur See Rehwinkel. In addition Nývlt and his crew apparently inflicted damage on a second submarine, the U-135, which was straffed from 300 yards and the submarine replied with 20mm anti-aircraft fire. Three of the crew were apparently operating the gun from the conning tower. Nývlt responded with a second attack, dropping three depth charges as the submarine was in the act of crash diving. Although this U-Boat only suffered minor damage, two members of the crew were killed by gunfire from the aircraft; one (Matrosenobergefreiter Emil Hafner) died instantly, whilst the other (Matrosenobergefreiter Erhard Pomper) died an hour later. Whilst it is hard to properly evaluate the events, it is possible that some of the depth charges dropped on the U-135 overshot and caused the demise of the U-578, which was close by. The Wellington remained overhead for some 35 minutes and noted a large patch of oil, which grew to a diameter of 750 yards. (Nývlt was to fail to return from a patrol over the Bay, on the 15th of September 1942, almost certainly shot down by Ju.88s of KG.40). On August the 12th Sgt Vladimír Šponar and his crew in Wellington DV507 KX-W, were again in action, attacking an unidentified submarine which they believed was certainly damaged and possibly sunk. Finally on the 16th both Sgt Karel Mazurek in Wellington X3178 and W/O František Buliš in Wellington W5711 KX-G, both reported attacking and probably damaging unidentified submarines. Enemy fighter aircraft probably from KG.40 caused problems on the 18th of the month, when Wellington DV665 KX-B (under the command of Sgt Jan Lenc and his crew of Sgt Jaromír Drmelka, pilot, F/O Karel Bečvář, navigator, Sgt Pavel Tofel, air-gunner/wireless-operator, Sgt František Šipula, air-gunner/wireless-operator and Sgt Vladimír Sobotka, air-gunner) failed to return from patrol. It was believed that the aircraft had been shot down. The final message from the aircraft, received at 1234 hours said that the aircraft was under attack by an enemy fighter. In addition on the same day Wellington T2564 KX-T was also attacked by a single Ju.88 (probably from KG.40) at position 44.30N 08.20W. On the 22nd and 23rd of the month, the unit had a two day holiday and received a visit from General Sergej Ingr, the Czech Minister of Defence and Jan Masaryk, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and other important personalities. On the 25th five aircraft carried out a raid on enemy shipping at La Pallice. The weather was poor and no positive results were observed. The month came to a close on a good note when the C.O., Wg/Cdr Josef Šnajdr, attacked an unidentified U-Boat on the 28th. Altogether throughout the month the squadron had accomplished 104 sorties and clocked up 892 operational hours. This total does not of course include a number of less official, but equally nerve wracking sorties to the County Hotel in Haverford West and the ‘Royal’ in nearby Broadhaven!

Wellington maintenance, Talbenny.

The early part of September again saw the squadron in action with enemy submarines. Sgt Miroslav Červinka in Wellington W1147 KX-Q, attacked an unidentified submarine on the 7th but unfortunately no results were observed. On the 9th W/O Frantisek Buliš in Wellington DV738 ‘C’, took off from Talbenny at 1356 hours. Whilst on patrol an unidentified U-Boat was sighted and attacked. The submarine was fully surfaced and six depth charges were dropped from a height of 50 feet. The submarine submerged and appeared to escape. However, after about 2 minutes large oil patches of 90 to 100 feet in diameter were seen. W/O Buliš resumed the patrol and returned to base at 2357 hours. It was during the month that the colour scheme of the Wellingtons began to change. The Coastal Command scheme was white undersurfaces, sides and tailfin, with slate grey and sea green uppers. Hitherto the aircraft had been operating in their night bomber finish, less than ideal.

Sgt Karel Mazurek in Wellington HD988 ‘U’ had a fight on his hands on the 11th. The aircraft was attacked by four Ju.88s in position 47.20N 07.10W, commencing at around 1335 hours. The first attack disabled the hydraulic system affecting the rear turret, which had to be operated by hand. One of the enemy aircraft attacked from head-on, opening fire from 300 yards. When it pulled up exposing its belly the front gunner of the Wellington opened fire and the fighter broke away with smoke coming from both engines. After briefly levelling out it crashed into the sea. The other three fighters continued their attacks from various directions. Mazurek began alternately climbing to 300 feet and then dropping to sea level and turning from port to starboard to discourage the enemy fighters. A second Junkers was hit and trailing smoke made off towards the French coast. After some less aggressive attacks (breaking off at 600 yards) the remaining two fighters briefly formatted above and to starboard and shadowed the Wellington for three minutes until they lost her in a patch of sea fog; they then turned for home. The Wellington made good its escape and although the aircraft had been hit many times, the crew hadn’t suffered any casualties. Amongst the Luftwaffe pilots attacking the Wellington were Lt.W Deuper, Fw H Passier and Oblt K Necesany all from KG40, who on returning to base claimed a Wellington damaged. Not for the first time the enemy was made aware that 311 Squadron was not to be trifled with. It could perhaps be thought that KG40 were out for vengeance, when on the 15th, no less than four of the squadron’s aircraft were attacked. Wellington T2564 KX-T became involved in a combat with two Ju.88s in position 47.40N 07.40W at around 1630 hours; Wellington HD898 KX-V also became entangled in combat with two Ju.88s some time later in a similar location and Wellington DV779 KX-L was involved with a single Ju.88 in position 47.08N 07.24W. The enemy aircraft was later claimed as damaged. Unfortunately, things did not go so well for Wellington HD982 KX-Y captained by F/O Josef Nývlt, and crewed by Sgt Jan Neradil, pilot, F/Lt Alois Gabriel, Navigator, F/O Rudolf Matějíček air-gunner/wireless-operator, Sgt Ján ŠIimko, air-gunner/wireless-operator and Sgt Otto Jebáček, air-gunner/wireless-operator. The aircraft failed to return from patrol and was believed to have been shot down by an enemy fighter. Luftwaffe records show that Lt W Deuper of KG40 claimed to have shot down a Wellington at 1732 hours. On the 17th six aircraft were detailed to carry out a night attack on shipping in Bordeaux harbour. Before reaching the target two of the Wellingtons were attacked by Arado 196 floatplane fighters in position 48.00N 06.00W. Wellington DV664 KX-A was damaged and the rear gunner slightly wounded. As a result the pilot, Sqn/Ldr Josef Stránský decided to abort the mission and return to base.

Two of the three Sapák brothers who were in 311 Sqn at Talbenny

On the 27th of September, the remarkable fighting spirit of the Czechs was well to the fore. F/O Václav Študent and his crew in Wellington Z1147 ‘Q’ took off at 1413 hours and were on patrol over the Bay, when they spotted a fully surfaced U-Boat west of Lorient, at a distance of some two miles. The enemy submarine was the U-165, under the command of Frg.Kpt Eberhard Hoffman. The Wellington dived on the submarine from 1,200 feet and dropped six depth charges from 70 feet, straddling the conning tower. The submarine crew opened fire with their onboard armament, the Wellington being twice damaged by shrapnel, with nearly all of the crew being wounded. The rear gunner fired 400 rounds in retaliation and hit the conning tower many times. The explosions of the depth charges appeared to lift the U-165 bodily, but it still managed to dive slowly, only submerging completely one minute after the depth charge attack. Owing to the catalogue of injuries the crew decided to leave the scene of the attack immediately, climbing to 500 feet, before setting course for St Eval in Cornwall. Due to the damage from the anti-aircraft fire the hydraulic system was out of action and the aircraft made a forced landing at St Eval at 1958 hours. The list of crew injuries was extensive; the second pilot F/Sgt Josef Švec had splinter wounds to his right leg; the navigator F/O Václav Kadaně had splinter wounds in both legs; the wireless operator P/O Antonín Bunzl had splinter wounds in his right arm; the rear gunner Sgt Vladimír Rájecký (a Serbian National) had splinter wounds to his arms and the front gunner Sgt Zoltán Karas had the small finger of his left hand shot away. Both Kadaně and Karas were hospitalised when the aircraft got back to the mainland. The U-Boat sank at position 47.00N 05.30W and there were no survivors from the 51 man crew.

‘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

On the 29th of September the squadron again tangled with the Ju.88s of KG40. Wellington DV886 ‘X’ with F/O Vladimír Nedvěd MBE at the controls, was attacked whilst on patrol at position 47.30N 06.30W. The crew first sighted enemy fighters when around 100 miles west of the French coast at a height of 3,000 feet. Having identified the aircraft as Ju.88s, Nedvěd decided to jettison the bomb-load and seek cover in the nearest cloud bank. He was unable to avoid the attention of the fighters and the first attacked the Wellington from the two o’clock position. The rear gunner opened fire and succeeded in hitting the Junkers and it fell away and appeared to crash into the sea. A second aircraft attacked from the ten o’clock position and was again fired on by the Wellington’s gunners. They managed to avoid the third fighter by finally reaching the cloud. Some minutes later Nedvěd brought the aircraft out of the cloud and returned to base at sea level. Fortunately, the Wellington had not suffered any damage and none of the crew was injured. On the same day, Wellington HF921 ‘M’ and the crew of Sqn/Ldr Josef Šejbl were not to be so fortunate. The aircraft was attacked by three Ju.88s, following an earlier combat with a lone Dornier 217 near the Spanish coast. This earlier attack had caused damage to the aircraft’s hydraulic system. The marauding Ju.88s were eventually driven off, with two being claimed as damaged. Šejbl, despite being wounded in the back and head, managed to keep the badly damaged Wellington on course for home, but eventually had to ditch ten miles south of Lands End. The front gunner Sgt Pavel Friedländer had been wounded during the combat with the Ju.88s and failed to get out of the aircraft before it went down. The rest of the crew spent the night in the dinghy and were picked up suffering from exposure. In addition to Josef Šejbl’s wounds, Sgt Josef Štern had had a finger shot off. This aircraft was probably the one claimed as shot down at 1740 hours by Lt Walter Berger and Uffz Kaltenbrunner of KG40. Early in October Sqn Ldr Šejbl was awarded the DFC for the courage and airmanship he displayed during the incident.

Wellington’s of 311 Sqn at Talbenny

During the month Talbenny had become more populous with the arrival of personnel from 248 Squadron. Back in July the unit had taken its sixteen Beaufighters out to Malta and once there, in addition to convoy escort duties (in support of Operation Pedestal), they had attacked airfields in Sicily. In September the squadron aircrews returned home to Talbenny, leaving their Beaufighters in Malta. Once re-equipped they would operate over the Bay of Biscay, in support of 19 Group’s anti-submarine patrols, providing protection against the Ju.88s of KG40. They would operate in this role in conjunction with 235 Squadron, until the end of the year. The squadron made its first claim on the 27th of September, when two of its Beaufighters claimed to have damaged a Ju.88 shortly after 1720 hours. At the end of the month 311 Squadron had covered 90,000 miles in 885 hours and had carried out 101 sorties.

On the 5th of October Sgt Jan Irving and his crew in Wellington R1497 ‘D’ attacked and possibly sank an unidentified U-Boat. They sighted the enemy vessel on the surface at a distance of some 7 miles. Using cloud cover they stalked the submarine, hoping to catch it before it could dive to safety. Unfortunately, their approach was detected and the submarine began to submerge. They closed quickly and released six depth charges all of which exploded in the spot where the submarine had disappeared. A considerable number of air bubbles were noted but nothing else. Irving decided to drop a marker and to leave the area temporarily. He brought the aircraft back to the marker twenty five minutes later. In the area of the marker the crew were able to see what appeared to be patches of yellow and black oil on the surface. They circled for another half an hour but did not see any further signs of damage caused to the enemy submarine and reluctantly decided to return to base.

Talbenny, 1942.

A tragic set of events unfolded on the 8th when LAC Thomas Hollington entered the fuselage of Wellington DV779 KX-Z to carry out the daily inspection at 1000 hours and after hearing a shot, discovered the body of Sgt Vladislav Břečka lying on the floor. He had been shot in the right temple with a single round from one of the aircraft’s .303 machine guns, which had been removed from the rear turret. The inquest found that the 28 year old air gunner had died from a wound caused by the discharge of the gun by his own hand.

Wellington DV716 ‘Z’ suffered engine failure and crashed in a field at Whetstone Hill near Pembroke on the 13th of October. All four of the crew survived but suffered a variety of injuries; F/O Zdeněk Kozelka had cuts to his head and left hand; P/O Zdeněk Knapp had cuts and lacerations on the left side of his body and head; Sgt Bohuslav Héža had a compound fracture and facial lacerations, P/O Josef Stříbrný, the navigator, was seriously hurt with internal injuries and facial lacerations. With the exception of Kozelka, who had to give up flying duties because of his injuries, all were to later return to operational duties.

Tragedy struck the squadron on the 18th of October, when Wellington T2564 KX-T crashed on approach to Northolt. The aircraft was carrying a number of aircrew and ground staff from the squadron (the crews of P/O František Buliš and Flt/Lt Študent were travelling to attend a series of interviews and presentations at Coastal Command, regarding their recent anti-submarine operations). The bomber crashed half a mile east of Northolt whilst on the approach to land. At just over 500 feet with the undercarriage lowered, the aircraft was seen to go into a steep left hand turn and crash on some waste ground adjacent to a timber yard. The aircraft’s wing struck the surface of the road and it flipped over onto its back, bursting into flames. The crew and passengers all perished in the ensuing inferno. A number of civilians were also killed; two sisters (Lilly and Phyllis Street) and their four daughters perished. They were both wives of British servicemen and had been out for a walk with their children on the waste ground area at the time of the crash. The airmen killed were; Flt/Lt Václav Haňka; Flt/Lt Václav Študent; P/O František Buliš; P/O Antonín Bunzl, P/O Bedřich Gissübel; P/O Jaroslav Jebáček; P/O Lehmans (a Belgian national – the Motor Transport Officer at Talbenny); F/Sgt Jan Bláha; F/Sgt František Doležal; F/Sgt František Stoklásek; F/Sgt Josef Švec; Sgt Josef Čech; Sgt Vilém Götzlinger; Sgt Vladimír Rájecký and Cpl František Paclík. It was an awful tragedy and struck at the heart of the squadron. Václav Študent was one of the squadron’s outstanding personalities.

No submarines were sighted during November but the squadron still had its share of action and showed its mettle in no uncertain fashion. The early part of the month was marred by the loss of Wellington DV779 ‘L’ which crashed after take off and was burnt out. The aircraft lost height and struck rising ground in line with the runway. The subsequent enquiry suggested that the flap lever had been accidentally touched whilst the undercarriage was being retracted and this had led to the crash. Thankfully, Flt/Lt Bohumil Liška and his crew only suffered minor burns and injuries. Newcomers were to be seen on the airfield, when the Wellingtons of 304 (Polish) Squadron arrived from Dale. The runways at Dale were being extended and strengthened, so it had been decided to temporarily home the Polish Wellingtons at Talbenny until the work had been completed. Even the most adventurous bookmaker would have thought twice before giving odds in favour of F/Sgt Štěpán Petrášek and his crew on the 22nd of the November. Wellington X9745 ‘S’ was attacked by no less than seven Ju.88s and strangely, an additional aircraft identified as a Fiat BR.20 (presumably of Italian origin!) The first three Ju.88s, were sighted to starboard and below the Wellington, shortly before 1300 hours in position 48.32N 08.28W. The enemy fighters quickly spotted the bomber and began to climb to get the advantage of height. After getting slightly above their target, the fighters then banked around and attacked the Wellington from the port side. Having jettisoned his bomb load, Petrášek began to throw the aircraft around the sky taking evasive action. Whilst they were trying to evade this initial attack two more Ju.88s were spotted approaching the Wellington from the rear. The outcome of this seemingly one sided conflict was not the expected one. Despite being attacked from all quarters, the gunners of ‘S’ managed to damage one of the attackers, which was seen to be streaming smoke from its starboard engine. Three of the Ju.88s continued to attack as Petrášek headed for the safety of a cloud bank. Just as the aircraft reached the cloud cover, both gunners scored hits on a second Ju.88, which banked away leaving a trail of smoke. It was last seen beating a hasty retreat and enveloped in smoke at 5,000 feet. The whole combat had lasted nearly half an hour and the aircraft had been subjected to at least 25 attacks. Fortunately although bullet and cannon strikes were noted when the aircraft got back to base, none of the crew had been injured. The very next day (23rd of November) Wellington DV799 ‘Z’ with P/O František Radina at the controls, was bounced by four Ju.88s, whilst on patrol over the Bay of Biscay. The first enemy aircraft was sighted at 1240 hours and shortly afterwards a further three fighters were seen. Radina jettisoned his bomb load and turned head-on to the first attacker with his front gunner opening fire. Their attacker passed below the Wellington and was lost to sight. Meanwhile the other three Ju.88’s had ‘surrounded’ the bomber and began to carry out a series of attacks from the front and rear. One of the Ju.88’s was shot down into the sea and a second aircraft was hit and decided to head for home leaving a trail of smoke from both of its engines. By the end of the month 311 Squadron had completed 29 operations and 95 sorties, clocking up 837 hours and covering 90,000 miles.

‘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

At this stage of the war Czechoslovakian airmen were serving in sixty five different units within the RAF, fifteen of which were operational. They now had their own organisation on a semi-independent basis within the RAFVR. Their reputation both as airmen and fighters was well established and they were respected by all. Gone were the confused days of 1940, when one of the squadron’s aircraft had force landed and the crew had immediately found themselves arrested by the Home Guard. The foreign accents having been enough to convince those worthy gentlemen, that an armed guard was necessary. It was around this time that certain members of the squadron ‘liberated’ a pig from a local farm. The intention was that fresh pork should appear on the menus in the various messes. The animal was duly butchered and hung up in one of the unit’s ambulances. Unfortunately the culprits were apprehended and taken to the local magistrate’s court. F/Sgt ‘Jack’ Rennison was asked to plead for the airmen concerned. He agreed and he was so eloquent in making the supporting case that these young airmen were far from home, fighting for freedom and facing death on a daily basis; that the farmer involved decided to withdraw his accusations and said that if the squadron required another pig he was happy to supply it !

left to right Bohuslav Hubený, John ‘Jack’ Rennison, Václav Janda.

The last month of the year opened with more unequal struggles between the squadron’s Wellingtons and the long range fighters of the Luftwaffe. On the 4th of December 1942 Wellington R1497 ‘D’ (captain F/Sgt Ondřej Špaček) came under attack from three Ju.88s at 1420 hours in position 45.28N 07.32W. The combat lasted seven minutes and one of the enemy fighters was claimed as damaged. On the 5th it was Sgt Václav Soukup’s turn, when he and his crew in Wellington X9745 ‘S’ were attacked by six Ju.88s at 1500 hours over the Bay of Biscay. As soon as the enemy aircraft were sighted, Soukup banked the aircraft and headed for the nearest cloud cover to avoid what would be an uneven fight. Before he could reach the cover however, one of the Ju.88s closed to 800 yards and opened fire. The rear gunner immediately returned fire. Shortly after a second Ju.88 began to close with the Wellington, which managed to enter the cloud before the fighter could attack. No hits were claimed on the enemy aircraft and neither did the Wellington suffer any damage. Both aircraft managed to evade their attackers and returned to base safely. Three aircraft of ‘B’ Flight were detached to RAF Chivenor in Devon on the 16th for special training in anti-ship bombing. Sgt Miroslav Červinka’s experience on the 29th of December had a distinct ‘Marie Celeste’ flavour to it. Whilst on patrol in Wellington HE113 ‘B’ south of Ireland he sighted a lone tanker. The vessel failed to respond to any signal and appeared to be abandoned. The position was signalled off and the Admiralty were able to recover the vessel. It turned out to be the ‘Regent Lion’, which had been torpedoed and abandoned by the U-610 whilst part of a transatlantic convoy, some four months previously and had been considered lost. The squadron’s totals for the last month of 1942 were 17 operations, 49 sorties in 412 hours and a distance of 49,000 miles had been flown. In retrospect the year had seen some important developments; the full entry of the USA into the war had lent a new momentum to the war effort. The enemy had been busy however, the tonnage of shipping sunk by enemy submarines had reached record levels.

Regent Lion.

1943

The New Year of 1943 began badly, when Wellington DV799 ‘Z’ failed to return from an anti- submarine patrol on the 12th of January. Its last noted position was some 30 miles from Brest. It is thought probable that the aircraft was shot down. Probably connected is the fact that Uffz Groiss of 8/JG2 claimed to have shot down a ‘Boston’ aircraft which was in combat with his Fw.190 in the area and it may be that he misidentified the Wellington. Whatever the truth of the matter, the crew of ‘Z’; F/Sgt Miroslav Červinka’s, P/O Alois Holna, P/O Jaroslav Jelínek, Sgt Zdeněk Janda, Sgt Ladislav Kříž and Sgt Jan Stiess were all posted as missing.

The interceptions by enemy fighters were to continue; next in line was F/Sgt Josef Šotola and his crew in Wellington DV474 ‘Y’, which was attacked by three Ju.88s at 1225 hours on the 24th of January in position 46.31N 09.23W. One of the enemy aircraft was hit and was seen to be trailing smoke from its starboard engine as it turned away. On return to base unscathed the crew claimed the Ju.88 as damaged. On the 26th aircraft from the squadron carried out an attack on enemy shipping in Bordeaux. Despite a full moon the raid was not a great success. F/Sgt Josef Šotola in Wellington DV738 KX-C reported dropping his bombs on target, but F/Sgt Václav Soukup in Wellington X9827 KX-F was unable to locate the target and jettisoned his bombs; F/O Václav Korda in Wellington Z1147 KX-Q reported bombing some ships in the harbour and a warehouse; Wg/Cdr Josef Šnajdr in Wellington HE113 KX-B wasn’t so fortunate, he was attacked by two enemy aircraft over the target and was unable to jettison his bomb load when the bomb gear failed. He was forced to bring his bombs back to base. One Wellington R1600 KX-T with F/Sgt Ferdinand Kepka at the controls had to divert and landed at Predannack in Cornwall. He returned to base the following day. Towards the end of the month seven crews from 311 Squadron were detached to Tain in Scotland for special training and 248 Squadron’s Beaufighters moved away to pastures new. A strangely portentous incident occurred on the 29th when a Liberator transport aircraft (AM913) crashed on approach to the airfield. It was on a return flight from Casablanca via Gibraltar and was carrying Brigadier Vivian Dykes, who had been Director of Plans at the War Officer between 1939 and 1941 and was at the time the Chief Secretary to the British Joint Staff Mission to Washington. Those on board were returning from the Casablanca conference, which had been held between the 14th and the 24th of January at the Anfa hotel in Casablanca. Winston Churchill and Franklyn D Roosevelt had met to thrash out a joint strategy for dealing with the Axis forces. It was at this conference that the policy of ‘Unconditional Surrender’ was agreed upon. Brigadier Dykes and the other passengers perished in the crash. Having lost one engine over the sea the aircraft was struggling to get down at Talbenny, when it lost a second engine. It overshot the runway and struck the ground slithering up hill and finally coming to rest across a ditch. The last day of the month improved things somewhat and was something of a ‘Red Letter Day’, the squadron was visited by Dr. Prokop Maxa, the President of the Czechoslovak State Council and AVM Karel Janoušek KCB, Inspector General of the Czechoslovak Air Force. On the last day of the month Wg/Cdr Josef Šnadr handed over command of the squadron to Wg/Cdr Jindřich Breitcetl, who was to have a quiet first month in charge. The unit total figures for the month of January 1943 were 13 operations, 60 sorties and over 66,000 miles in 548 hours.

‘A’ and ‘B’ Flights were detached for training and no operations were carried out until the 11th of February. The ‘A’ Flight personnel were detached to No.4 Armament Practice Camp (at Talbenny) for training. The last of the ‘B’ Flight aircraft did not return from Tain until the 18th. On that day six of squadron’s Wellingtons carried out a night sweep in the Bay of Biscay under the command of Sqn/Ldr Bohumil Liška in Wellington DV738 KX-C taking off just after 2000 hours. No contact with the enemy was reported and all the aircraft had returned to base by 0620 hours. Two ‘Freshmen’ crews arrived from the Training Flight at the end of the month and by March the squadron was back at the forefront of the action against U-Boats, carrying out two attacks on submarines during the month. Both attacks took place on the same day, the 21st of March, Flt/Lt Václav Korda and his crew in Wellington DV886 ‘X’ attacked an unidentified U-Boat, which they considered to have been damaged. Following the attack the crew saw explosions and a large circular patch of thick black oil which formed near the scene of the attack. The U-621, under the command of Kpt Max Kruschka, had left Brest earlier in the day to commence a 7 week patrol. The submarine reported coming under attack in the Bay of Biscay by a Wellington at 0915 hours but suffering no damage. Later W/O Miroslav Styblík and his crew in Wellington Z1147 ‘Q’ also attacked an unidentified U-Boat, which was believed to have been severely damaged. In the immediate aftermath of the attack the rear gunner observed a number of ‘dark objects’ being tossed up by the depth charge explosions, followed by a large spreading patch of oil. Perhaps more than a coincidence is the fact that the U-621 reported coming under air attack again at 1902 hours, but once more did not suffer any damage! It is also of note that the U-154 reported coming under air attack during the evening in the Bay of Biscay. The submarine dived having picked up a radar warning on their ‘Metox’ equipment whilst on the surface at 2037 hours. A second aircraft was detected at 2248 hours and although the U-Boat dived a number of bombs or depth charges detonated in the water astern. During the month a ‘Wings For Victory’ parade was held in London and one officer and twenty four airmen travelled down to take part. At the close of the month the squadron had taken part in 17 operations comprising 86 sorties and 780 hours of operational flying covering approximately 90,000 nautical miles.

311 Sqn Coastal Command livery.

311 Sqn Coastal Command livery.

April brought a great deal of excitement, when earlier rumours were confirmed, the squadron was to be re-equipped with the four-engined long range Liberator GR.V. Eighteen wireless operators were detached for further training and special duties to No.1 Radio School and two complete crews joined 224 Squadron for conversion training, this unit having received its Liberators the previous July. The ‘Wimpey’ was still doing sterling work however, aircraft of the squadron attacking the Italian freighter and blockade runner ‘Himalya’ on the 10th of April. Three of the aircraft were Wellingtons HE577 ‘H’ (under the command of Sgt Stanislav Huňáček); HE477 ‘G’ (under the command of F/O František Fencl) and HZ268 ‘Z’ (under the command of F/O Metoděj Šebela), also involved in the action as were Wellingtons HD988 KX-U, HE576 KX-R, DV474 KX-Y, Z1147 KX-Q R1600 KX-T and a Hampden bomber from 415 Squadron. Sqn/Ldr Bohumil Liška (Z1147) and F/Sgt Václav Jílek (R1600) were hindered by low cloud and both lost the target before they could deliver an attack. Three of the Wellingtons all attacked the enemy ‘Blockade Runner’ at very low level and flying through a hail of flak. At least one of the bombs dropped by the Wellingtons was reported to have struck the stern of the enemy vessel, starting a fire. The port engine of Šebela’s aircraft was damaged and after an epic struggle he managed to get the aircraft back to Talbenny, a flight of over 300 miles. He was later to be awarded the DFC for his outstanding airmanship and courage.

On the 28th of April, Wellington R1497 ’D’ (with F/Sgt Jan Říha at the controls) was involved in a combat with at Ju.88 at 0940 hours in position 46.10N 09.58W. The enemy aircraft opened fire at 500 metres and the Wellington’s front and rear gunners both returned fire and claimed to have scored hits on the fighter. No members of the crew were injured and aircraft returned to base safely although it had sustained two hits in the tail area. The next day (on the 29th) F/Sgt Karel Kopal and his crew in Wellington HD988 ‘U’ sighted a fully surfaced U-Boat at a distance of two miles and dived to the attack. The submarine carried out a ‘crash dive’ and was fully submerged when the ‘Wimpey’ arrived overhead. Disappointment was the order of the day and it was not thought worth dropping any depth charges. During the month two crews were attached to 224 Squadron for special training and 18 Wireless operator air-gunners had been detached to No.1 Radio School for a special course. By the month’s end the squadron had carried out 19 operations with 61 sorties and had put in approximately 480 hours of operational flying and had clocked up approximately 65,000 nautical miles.

On the 11th of May F/Sgt Luděk Moudrý in Wellington DV886 ‘X’ found himself with similar frustrations to F/Sgt Kopal a couple of weeks earlier. Whilst on patrol a fully surfaced submarine was sighted about a mile away. Moudry turned the aircraft towards the enemy vessel, but it was obscured by cloud. Before they could begin an attack the U-Boat had submerged and disappeared, making any attack pointless.

On patrol.

Sgt Stanislav Huňáček was again in action when, on the 16th of May, he attacked and severely damaged a surfaced submarine. The aircraft was Wellington HE577 ‘H’ and the attack was notable because this aircraft was equipped with the new Mk.XIV bombsight. Huňáček attacked from 4,000 feet releasing three anti-submarine bombs. The submarine was hit and severely damaged it appeared to be sinking and its stern rose out of the water at an angle of 30 degrees before it disappeared below the surface. A circular patch of oil some 600 feet in diameter formed and large air bubbles came to the surface. Grey smoke or steam issued from the bubbles. The aircraft stayed in the vicinity for almost half an hour, but nothing further was observed. On board the Wellington on this sortie was Ladislav Kadlec, who had lost his leg as a result of an attack by an enemy fighter in July 1941. Fully recovered, Kadlec was back in action with an artificial leg to remind him of his narrow escape. A Halifax aircraft of 58 Squadron also attacked the enemy vessel. The submarine was later identified as the Enrico Tazzoli of the Italian Navy, en-route from Bordeaux to North Africa. This is thought to have been the first attack carried out using the Mk/XIV bombsight. Latterly, Italian records would seemed to indicate that the submarine wasn’t sunk between the 18th and the 24th of the month. Certainly if Huňáček’s bombs didn’t sink the Enrico Tazzoli, they caused some serious damage to it. The squadron’s last anti submarine sweep with the Wellington was carried out by three aircraft on the 17th of May.

Towards the end of the month squadron personnel began to move to Beaulieu in Hampshire, where the unit would begin its work-up on Liberators. Coastal Command had set up a training unit at Beaulieu (No.1 Operational Training Unit) under the command of Sqn/Ldr Everest, to convert 311 Squadron onto the new aircraft. Both June and July were wholly taken up with conversion to the Liberator, thus no operational sorties were carried out. The Operational Training Unit had a number of Liberator Mk.III/IIIAs at its disposal; FK219 ‘9’, FK220 ‘3’, LV339 ‘4’, LV343 ‘12’, LV344 ‘8’ and LV342 ‘5’and they were later joined by two more Lib’ Mk.IIIs, FK215 and FK224 together with a Liberator Mk.V FL971 ‘7’ (Once the initial training of 311 Squadron had been completed the training unit moved to Aldergrove in September and eventually merged with 1674 Heavy Conversion Unit. Aircrew from the squadron were still undertaking training into at least October at Aldergrove using Liberators such as LV344 ‘8’. During the conversion period at Beaulieu, AVM Janoušek paid a visit to observe the unit’s progress and the unit on parade he presented the CBE to Gp/Cpt Kubita. Life for the aircrews became a succession of training and operational exercises with rockets and bombs. Initially there were problems with the availability of aircraft, but by the end of July Liberators BZ773 ‘A’, BZ774 ‘D’, BZ775 ‘G’, BZ779 ’J’, BZ782 ‘K’ and BZ785 ‘L’ were all in use. The additional aircraft allowed the training to be intensified, with special exercises being undertaken covering, familiarisation flying, navigation, bombing practice, air-to-air and air-to-sea firing, and with lectures and demonstrations being delivered if the weather was unfit for flying.

Beaulieu 1943.

The locals in Hampshire got on well with the Czechs. The relationship was helped by the fact that the squadron had its own dance band, put together by an officer who had been a musician in pre-war years. They regularly played at village fetes and dances, never asking for payment. It was simply a requirement that they were ‘fed and watered’. On occasion F/Sgt ‘Jack’ Rennison, possessing a good tenor voice, would sing with the band. This was an activity that earned him a somewhat unfortunate nickname amongst the group of Czechs musicians, where he was known as the ‘Zpívající kráva or the ‘Singing Cow’.

The month of August was to prove hugely significant for the squadron and it began on a proud and confident note. The unit hosted a visit from a number of high ranking individuals, who attended the celebrations on the 4th of the month, commemorating the third anniversary of the squadron’s foundation. The President Dr Beneš; the Minister of National Defence General Sergej Ingr; The Minister for Foreign Affairs Jan Masaryk; The Czechoslovak Liaison Officer at Coastal Command Gp/Cpt Kubita all attended together with the AOC Coastal Command AM Slessor and the AOC 19 Gp Coastal Command, AVM Bromet. The squadron paraded and a memorable time was had by all. By the middle of the month the squadron was deemed ready to resume operational status and the first anti-submarine sweep was organised. This took place on the 21st and involved the two crews of the Commanding Officer, Wg/Cdr Jindřich Breitcetl and Sqn/Ldr Václav Korda. Unfortunately the start of the new phase was to be marred, Breitcetl’s Liberator failed to return from the sweep. At the time the reason for the disappearance of Liberator BZ780 ‘O’ was not known, but it was thought to have been lost in combat with enemy long range fighters over the Bay of Biscay. German records appear to indicate that the Liberator was shot down by a group of Me.IIO fighters from 4ZG1 about 120 miles north west of Brest at approximately 1820 hours. Fw. Lothar Uhlig carried out two attacks on the Lib’ and was apparently credited with the victory. A second Me.IIO (No.6406 SG+GN) from the unit failed to return to base and it is thought that it may have been shot down by the Liberator’s gunners. The German airmen Uffz Georg Planer and Uffz Horst Hofman are listed as missing on this date. Amongst the crew of BZ780 was Air Gunner W/O Vilém Jakš , a pre-war boxer of international repute. The others listed as missing were second pilot Flt/Lt František Fencl, navigator P/O Eduard Pavelka, gunners P/O Emilián Mrázek, F/Sgt Josef Halada, Sgt Josef Felkl and wireless operator Sgt Michal Pizur.

This tragic event was not allowed to affect the unit’s routine and Sqn/Ldr Vladimír Nedvěd (who would shortly be appointed as the squadron’s next commanding officer) took off with F/O Karel Schoř and his crew in Liberator BZ779 ‘J’ at ten minutes after six the next morning, to carry out a morale boosting patrol. It was the aircraft’s first operational patrol. During the sweep a submerging U-Boat was sighted, but the Liberator was not in a position to attack before the submarine disappeared. The aircraft returned to Beaulieu later in the day having carried out a patrol of eleven hours and twenty minutes duration. Further tragedies were in store before the end of the month, almost certainly due in no small measure to lack of familiarity with the new aircraft. On the 29th F/O Adolf Musálek perished with his crew when Liberator BZ775 ‘G’ failed to gain height, struck trees and crashed on take-off for an operational patrol. The subsequent investigation came to the conclusion that insufficient runway had been used before the pilot attempted to get airborne with the fully loaded aircraft. The Liberator burst into flames on impacting with the ground and all eight crew members died in the inferno (pilot F/O Adolf Musálek, second pilot Sgt Stanislav Jelínek, navigator Flt/Lt Bruno Babš and wireless operator/gunners Sgt Eduard Blaháček, Sgt Hanuš Polak and Sgt Jiří Rubín together with gunners F/O Miroslav Čtvrtlík and Sgt Václav Blahna). On the 29th of August F/O Metoděj Šebela and his crew, had to divert to Gibraltar following engine trouble while on patrol in Liberator BZ779 ‘J’. They were forced to throw surplus equipment overboard to rid themselves of unnecessary weight, managing to reach Gibraltar with only 70 gallons of fuel remaining. The Lutwaffe were again making their presence felt on the 30th of August, when P/O Josef Stach and his crew in Liberator FL948 ‘M’ were attacked at 1100 hours by a Ju.88 in position 45.28N 08.32W . The Ju.88 opened fire from 500 yards and closed on the Liberator. In all the Liberator was hit some twenty times and the gunners became involved in a protracted duel with the fighter. Their gunnery was of the highest standard and the engines of the Ju.88 were set on fire and it crashed into the sea at 45.48N 09.32W. During the fight the mid-upper gunner (Sgt František Benedikt) had fired 750 rounds and the rear gunner (Sgt František Skalík) 600 rounds. During the fifteen minute combat one of the beam gunners Sgt Andrej Šimek (it was his first operational flight) was killed, although the rest of the crew were unharmed. The Ju.88 was probably Ju.88C-6 No.750399 (F8+FX) of 13/KG40 crewed by Uffz E Itzegehl, Uffz U Lentz and Gefr H Hobusch, all of whom are recorded as missing. Later on the same day, Flt/Lt Emil Palichleb’s Liberator BZ785 ‘L’ crashed and burst into flames, causing the death of all on board (Flt/Lt Emil Palichleb, Sgt Josef Bittner, Sgt Zdeněk Řezáč, Sgt Theodor Schwarz and Sgt Emil Szeliga). The aircraft stalled off a steep turn close to the base during a practice evasion flight and crashed at 1542 hours. It spun into the ground from a height of around 1,000 feet and came to earth at Dilton Copse, near Brockenhurst. It was thought that the aircraft had exceeded the normal all up weight laid down by flight limitations and that this together with poor handling had contributed to the crash. By the end of the month the squadron had carried out ten operations, 21 sorties and covered 31,000 nautical miles in some 200 hours of operational flying.

Ludvík Košek with his crew and ground crew.

Life throughout September was fairly quiet, although a number of fighter affiliation exercises were conducted with 310 (Czech) Squadron Spitfires, which was based at nearby Ibsley. A parade was held on the 15th at which the CO Wg/Cdr Nedvěd was decorated with the DFC by the AOC 19 Group. Wg/Cdr Nedvěd had some additional excitement the next day (the 16th). He and his crew were on patrol from early morning having taken off at 0653 hours in Liberator BZ779 ‘J’, when they sighted a U-Boat. Unfortunately they were unable to get into an attacking position before the submarine dived to safety. The aircraft returned to base after a patrol lasting ten hours and forty three minutes. Things got a good deal ‘hotter’ on the 27th September when P/O Jan Irving in newly delivered Liberator BZ786 ‘G’, attacked an unidentified U-Boat shortly before 1115 hours. The submarine appeared to have escaped and no indications of damage were seen. Irving made sure that a sea marker was dropped at the scene. Some time later at 1520 hours, a periscope was sighted at position 49.30N 09.45W and again Irving went into the attack. On this occasion rocket projectiles were fired (believed to be the first time they had been used by an aircraft of the squadron on a submarine. BZ786 had external rocket rails fitted to the forward fuselage, carrying eight 60lb rockets with armour piercing warheads). Three to four minutes after the attack oil began to rise to the surface, spreading rapidly along the submarine’s track. After ten minutes of circling the Liberator had reached its ‘prudent limit of endurance’ (PLE) and the captain decided to head for home. At that time the oil patch had ceased to move forward, but was still spreading. All the indications were that the U-Boat was either sunk or severely damaged. At the end of the month the squadron had accomplished 26 operations with 54 sorties and had covered approximately 87,000 nautical miles in 560 hours of operational flying.

The Liberator’s ability to defend itself was severely tested on at least two occasions in October 1943. F/Sgt Josef Kuhn was at the controls of Liberator BZ779 ‘J’, when the aircraft was attacked by four Ju.88s in position 47.28N 10.17W. The enemy fighters were first sighted at a distance of three miles and they changed formation into ‘line astern’ in readiness to carry out a series of attacks on the Liberator. The first of the Junkers opened fire from a distance of 1,000 yards and together with the others closed in on the Lib’. Kuhn continually corkscrewed the aircraft to present as small and as difficult a target as possible to his attackers. The gunners wreathed in cordite fumes returned fire at every possible opportunity. The aircraft suffered considerable damage; the radar was put out of action and fuel and hydraulic tanks were holed and leaking. Several of the crew were wounded; Sgt Alois Matýsek, the radar operator, had splinter wounds in his leg and shoulder; F/Sgt František Veverka, one of the gunners, had splinter wounds in his leg and face (he had been wounded firstly when manning the rear turret and had moved to the starboard beam gun where he was wounded for the second time). Regardless of his injuries he continued to engage the enemy fighters throughout. One of the enemy fighters was claimed as damaged, probably shot down. The aircraft in question was probably JU.88C-6 No.750434 of KG40, which was listed as missing. The missing crew members were Oblt G Christner, Few E Leubner and Uffz A Knefel. After the attack Kuhn managed to nurse the Liberator back to the airfield at St. Eval for a ‘no flaps’ landing on the nose wheel and one main wheel. Both Kuhn and Veverka were to later receive the DFM in recognition of the courage and skill that they displayed during the incident. On the 23rd it was the turn of P/O Josef Stach to come under attack this time from seven enemy fighters! Liberator BZ774 ‘D’ was bounced at 1315 hours in position 45.00N 10.08W. The gunners put up a spirited defence and the German airmen soon realised that they had picked on a rather tough adversary. During the 45 minute combat that followed, one of the enemy fighters was claimed as shot down and two damaged. Stach manoeuvred the Liberator masterfully and despite the efforts of the enemy fighters the aircraft was not damaged and none of the crew were injured. An exhausted and thankful crew reached base after a flight lasting over 12 hours. This was another classic instance that served to emphasise the squadron’s motto ‘Never Regard their Numbers’ . No matter what the odds the airmen of 311 were always ready to give battle. Stach was later to receive the DFC in recognition of his piloting skills. Despite the outside interference, the squadron carried out 23 operations and 54 sorties in 550 hours and covered 86,000 nautical miles during the month.

Re-arming a Liberator with depth-charges.

The last two months of 1943 were to be tremendous ones for the squadron and the tally was to rise considerably. At 0800 hours on the 10th of November, a Liberator of an American unit VB105 homed onto a surfaced submarine in the Bay of Biscay close to Cape Ortegal, Spain. The vessel was the U-966 of the 9th U-Boat Flotilla, under the command of Oblt Zur See Ekkehard Wolf. The Liberator under the command of Lt L E Harman, was subjected to a good deal of flak and suffered damage to the fuselage and bomb doors, but none the less Harman managed to keep tabs on the enemy vessel. At 0945 hours unable to open his bomb doors, he carried out a strafing attack. At 1000 hours he was forced to break off contact because of fuel shortage. Fortunately, some forty minutes late a second Liberator from another American unit VB103, made contact with the submarine at position 44.39N 09.08W. This aircraft under the command of Lt K L Wright made an immediate attack with five depth charges and followed up with a further attack using what was described as a single depth charge. In fact the second attack involved the release of an ‘acoustic torpedo’ which was still a secret weapon and shouldn’t in any case have been used against a surfaced submarine. Wright was convinced that his attacks had killed at least one of the crew and he reported that the submarine was down at the stern. Outwardly seeming unperturbed, the U-966 continued on course still on the surface. Fifteen minutes later Wright reluctantly turned for home, short of fuel. A third American Liberator, this time from VB110, arrived on the scene and attacked the U-Boat with six depth charges, which unfortunately fell short. As Lt W Parish circled over the enemy vessel, F/Sgt Otto Žanta and his crew in Liberator BZ774 ‘O’ arrived (this was the same aircraft that had ‘gained its spurs’ in combat with seven enemy fighters on the 23rd of October) just before quarter to two in the afternoon. The aircraft had been involved in investigating two small motor vessels at position 43.45N 08.00W, flying at a height of 3,000 feet, when they had picked up a radar contact at a range of ten miles and had turned towards it. Shortly afterwards they sighted a surfaced submarine leaving a wake and heading south east on a course of 160 degrees at a speed of 9-10 knots. Lt Parish called the 311 Squadron aircraft on the radio to confirm that they were going to attack the enemy vessel. Žanta confirmed that he was going to carry out a rocket attack, but that it was difficult because the submarine was manoeuvring and was close to the coast line. The Lib’ fired the first pair of armour piercing rockets from heights of 1,000 feet (one failed) and the others were launched from 600 feet despite a curtain of flak being thrown up by the submarine. The U-Boats crew had opened up on the Liberator using a multi-barrelled cannon from the conning tower and a larger gun on the deck. Damage caused by the attack was not immediately visible, but the submarine slowed down to 6-8 knots and when 200 yards from the shore slowed to 2 knots. After getting dangerously close to the shore the doomed vessel ran aground on the Spanish coast in De Santafata Bay. The crew apparently scuttled the submarine and took to their dinghies. Eight crew members died in the attacks or while trying to reach the shore and 42 survived. The U-966 had been built by Blohm and Voss in Hamburg and had been launched on the 14th of January that same year. Her loss was officially credited to the US Liberators and the 311 Squadron aircraft on a 50/50 basis.

A little over a week later, on the 18th of November, Liberator BZ872 ‘E’ with Flt/Lt Metoděj Šebela DFC at the controls and crewed by F/Sgt Miroslav Procházka, pilot, F/O Alois Vávra, navigator, air gunners/wireless operators F/Sgt Ladislav Černohorský, Sgt Felix Heller and Sgt Josef Novák, air gunners F/O Emerich Urban and F/Sgt Albert Fuksa, Sgt Linhart Fajt, Flight Engineer, failed to return from patrol over the Bay. A rather cryptic distress signal was received from the aircraft at 1310 hours, which suggested that there were engine problems and that it might have to ditch. No trace was ever found of the Liberator, although the body of one of the crew members the Flight Engineer, Sgt Linhard Fajt, was later washed up on the French coast (he is buried in the War Cemetery at Bayeux). An oil patch was later spotted by a USN Liberator from Dunkeswell, that had been tasked with searching for survivors. The Liberator’s disappearance remains a mystery to this day.

Christmas Eve was to be one to remember for Sgt Stanislav Huňáček and his crew in Liberator BZ786 ‘G’ who whilst on patrol, made contact with an enemy convoy of nine ships a merchantman with a destroyer escort, in the Bay of Biscay, heading eastwards at 0105 hours at 44.57N 07.55W (The convoy of blockade runner and escorts had originally been sighted on the 23rd of December at 47.42N 18.53W by aircraft from the USS Card). At 0115 hours on the 25th Huňáček’s crew made radar contact with at least two vessels heading eastwards at position 44.57N 07.55W. Five minutes later they were able with the use of flares to see that the formation consisted of two destroyers and a larger ship. Despite heavy flak the Liberator attacked the merchant vessel with bombs and scored a direct hit amidships. An explosion and fire followed, but the ship managed to maintain its course. It is probable that the enemy vessel was the 7,000 ton blockade runner, Osorno. As a result of the damage she was later beached at Le Verdon at the mouth of the River Gironde. The ‘convoy’ was also attacked earlier at 0101 hours on the 25th by P/O Jan Vella in Liberator BZ763 ‘O’. His bombs (three 500lb and on 250lb) overshot the merchant ship, but his attack succeeded in splitting up the convoy. The Osorno’s skipper, Captain Hellman was ultimately awarded the Knight’s Cross for succeeding in getting his ship through to France with it valuable cargo

311 Sqn Christmas lunch, Beaulieu, 1943.

Squadron personnel barely had time to recover from their post Christmas hangovers before they were in action with a vengeance on the 27th of December. An air search was being conducted to try and locate an enemy’ blockade runner’ the Alsterufer, with the aim of preventing her from reaching a French port. She was returning from Japan and was carrying vital war materials (rubber, tungsten etc). Her skipper Captain Piatek, had hoped to make Bordeaux in time for Christmas, but bad weather conditions in the South Atlantic had held him up. Just before 1000 hours on the morning of the 27th she was spotted by Sunderland EJ137 ‘T’ of 201 Squadron, with Flt/Lt Les Baveystock at the controls (He already held the DFM and by the end of the war Baveystock would have received the DSO and the DFC and bar. In June 1944 he would locate and sink the U-995 and just over two months later he and his crew would be responsible for sinking the U-107. He would end the war as one of the most successful and highly decorated Coastal Command pilots).

SS Alsterufer.

As soon as he realised that he had been spotted Piatek broke radio silence and called for assistance. The vessel had failed to respond with the correct recognition signals and Baveystock made a low run over her and was fired upon. Stung into action he turned and strafed the decks of the enemy vessel. He had been airborne since 0130 hours (having previously carried out a 14 hour patrol on Christmas Day) and the aircraft was low on fuel, so reluctantly he turned for home. His place was taken by Sunderland EK579 ‘U’ of 201 Squadron under the command of Flt/Lt Neville Stack (later to be ACM Sir Neville Stack). Throughout the remainder of the morning the Alsterufer came under attack from Sunderlands of 201 Squadron and 422 Squadron RCAF, but she defended herself ably and no hits were scored. Six Liberators of 311 Squadron had been involved in searching for the blockade runner since the early morning. Typical was the patrol conducted by Liberator BZ875 ‘R’ with Flt/Lt Karel Schoř at the controls. The aircraft took off at 0800 hours and landed back at Beaulieu just after 1600 hours, having been recalled and not having made contact with the blockade runner. Finally a little after 1530 hours, P/O Oldřich Doležal arrived overhead in Liberator BZ796 ‘H’. By this time there was a lot of rain cloud in evidence and things were becoming difficult.

Liberator GR V, BZ796 'H': Wing span: 110 feet 0 inches, Length: 66 feet, 4 inches, weights: Unladen: 32,605 lbs, Max laden: 55,000 lbs, Max. take-off weight: 64,000 lbs, Maximum speed: 303 mph at 25,000 feet, Ceiling height: 32,000 feet, Range: 1,900 miles at 4,000 feet with full main and auxillary wing tanks.

Suddenly, through a break in the cloud one of the crew spotted the enemy ship. It was estimated that the Alsterufer was travelling at about 15 knots when she was sighted. Doležal wasted no time and went straight into the attack from 600 feet. The Alsterufer began to take evasive action and a hail of anti-aircraft fire rose to meet the incoming Liberator. Four pairs of rockets were fired and two bombs were released. Five rockets piercing the ships hull, the first bomb, a 250 lbs, fell short by about 50 yards from the ships stern, but the second, a 500lb, was fell Both bombs were right on target, smashing through the decks of the doomed vessel. Almost immediately there was an explosion in the stern and debris was hurled skyward and a fire broke out. The flames flared up to almost 200 feet and the shock of the blast was felt in the Liberator.

Bomb exploding as in 1st photo taken as ‘H’ climbs away after the attack.

Climbing away, 2nd photo taken.

Climbing away after the attack – 3rd photo taken.

Doležal circled for another five minutes and the crew watched as the fire spread along the entire length of the ship. The Liberator’s starboard outer engine had been damaged by flak and had begun to run raggedly, in addition the weather was closing in and Doležal decided that it would be best if he set course for base. Before leaving the wireless operator F/Sgt Marcel Ludikar directed a nearby Halifax to the scene. P/O Stevenson the navigator of the Halifax, said “The vessel was blazing from the stern right up to the amidships superstructure. In fact, great spouts of flame were coming invent from the funnel. Ammunition was exploding from the gun aft and signal cartridges were (being) tossed into the sea and bursting into green, red and yellow stars. Standing off about half a mile away, were four life boats and we flew very low in an attempt to count survivors. They took no notice, but sat there impassively.”

Alsterufer abandoned.

The burning vessel stayed afloat for several hours and the final blow was administered by Liberators of 86 Squadron. A Kreigsmarine rescue force of destroyers (5 Narvik and 6 Elbing class was attacked and broken up by the Royal Navy cruisers Glasgow and Enterprise and three enemy vessels were sunk ; one of which was the T-25, whose captain and 33 crew members were rescued by the U-505 (later the USS Nemo). The Irish ship Kerlogue and the Spanish destroyers Jorge Juan and Sanchez Barcaiztegui picked up other survivors and took them to neutral ports). The Naval attack was supported by Coastal Command Beaufighters and other aircraft. The rescue force retreated, abandoning the Alsterufer to its fate. Shortly after 1800 hours in the evening she slipped beneath the waves, her last position being 46.30N 18.50W. German Naval High Command apparently remained in ignorance of her loss until 28th when she failed to respond to requests for a latest position. Doležal and his crew arrived back at base at 2150 hours on the evening of the 27th having taken off at 1016 hours. Even the German survivors gave grudging praise to Doležal and his crew for the tenacious way in which they had pressed home their attack despite the heavy flak. Coming as it did one day after the sinking of the battleship Scharnhorst, the loss of the Alsterufer must have caused some consternation at the German Naval High Command in Berlin. Conversely it was tremendous boost for all members of 311 Squadron, a fitting, if belated Christmas present.

By the end of December the squadron had completed 17 Operations comprising 49 sorties, covering 87,000 nautical miles in 560 flying hours. The year of 1943 had seen the breaking of the U-Boat offensive in the Atlantic, never again would the submarine achieve a position of ascendance. From May onwards U-Boat losses had begun to rise dramatically. To a large extent this was due to the introduction of short wave radar, although other factors also played their part. It was not until the autumn that the Kriegsmarine had the answer, the ‘Naxos’ short wave detector. The early sets had a very limited range and the U-Boats had only a few seconds warning before the attacking aircraft was overhead. Other innovations also came into being, one of these codenamed ‘Thetis’ was a radar decoy. Constructed mainly of wood and strung with wires to reflect radar signals this ‘foxer’ was left to float on the surface and proved quite effective. The German Naval command began to realise that their fleet of submarines was rapidly becoming obsolete. A completely new vessel was needed able to stay below for much longer periods and capable of much higher submerged speeds. The result of these conclusions was to be the Type XXI U-Boat, but this was not to come fully into use until July 1944. In the last six months of 1943 submarine losses had amounted to one hundred and forty four; the dangerous days of the ‘Sea Wolves’ were in the past.

1944

At 0630 hours on New Year’s Day 1944, F/O Jan Irving and his crew in Liberator BZ798 ‘L’ sighted a fully surfaced U-Boat at 44.34N 07.35W and dived to attack. Unfortunately the aircraft’s bomb doors failed to open hydraulically and contact with the submarine was lost before the bomb doors could be opened manually.

The emphasis of the unit’s activities shifted from submarines to surface ships towards the end of the month. Shortly after 0200 hours on the morning of the 28th of January Liberator BZ882 ‘Q’ homed onto a suspected U-Boat contact and dropped flares. As the flares turned night into day, P/O Jan Vella the pilot, was able to make out a motor vessel of about 2,000 tons and next to it a smaller vessel, half hidden in shadow, which could well have been a U-Boat. He immediately took the Lib’ into attack, dropping seven depth charges and strafing the decks of the larger vessel. Strangely there was no return fire from the enemy vessels! The target was lost and no visible damage could be reported. The following day, W/O Jaroslav Hala in Liberator BZ798 ‘L’ took on two enemy trawlers, presenting them with three depth charges. Unfortunately, the attack was inconclusive and contact was lost. By the end of the month the squadron had carried out 16 operations, encompassing 39 sorties in 490 operational hours and had flown a total of 76,000 nautical miles.

During February the unit began to prepare for its move to Predannack in Cornwall. This was part of the reshuffle towards a more aggressive posture, leading- up to ‘Overlord’ and it was from this base that the squadron would do its bit towards ‘D’ Day. The advance party left Beaulieu on the 21st of February, a motor transport party on the 22nd and the main rail and air parties on the 23rd. Command of the squadron changed hands on the 7th of the month, Wg/Cdr Josef Šejbl DFC taking over from Wg/Cdr Nedvěd MBE DFC. Despite the restriction caused by the move of base, the squadron still managed to complete 14 operations involving 21 sorties taking 270 operational hours and covering 34,000 nautical miles during the month.

Operating from Predannack on the 2nd of March 1944, P/O Jan Vella and his crew in Liberator BZ995 ‘J’ attacked a diving U-Boat at 47.39N 08.42W at 2210 hours, with seven depth charges from a height of 450 feet. The conning tower was still visible as ‘J’ went into the attack and the depth charge explosions straddled the swirl as the U-Boat scrabbled below the surface. Alas! No further evidence of damage or destruction was observed so no sinking could be claimed. At 1655 hours on the same day W/O Jan Lazar took off for a night time anti-submarine sweep with Sgt Miroslav Šigut as his co-pilot in Liberator BZ979 ‘U’. They were airborne for 12 hours and 50 minutes. At one stage they released seven depth charges on a suspected U-Boat at 46.52N 08.48W, but were unable to observe any results. On the 10th of the month the Liberators were once again in action against surface units of the German Navy. Flt/Lt Alois Šedivý in Liberator BZ975 ‘R’ and P/O Václav Jílek in Liberator BZ961 ‘C’ were despatched on an anti- shipping strike. They sighted an enemy convoy at 44.08N 05.50W, consisting of three destroyers, one flak ship and a submarine. Both aircraft attacked the convoy; Vella dropped three depth charges and four bombs from 1500 feet. The group of enemy ships had an umbrella of eight Ju.88 fighters and four of them immediately set about Šedivý’s aircraft. They attacked from port, starboard and astern of the Liberator. There was a shout of elation from the rear gunner as one of the Junkers dropped away trailing smoke from the tail. Unfortunately, the damage had been done, shells from the fighters guns had smashed into the navigation compartment, wounding the navigator (F/O Jaromír Franců) in the head. Number three engine was out of action and the starboard wing and fuselage had been damaged. Šedivý made good his escape by seeking cover in the clouds and set course for Cornwall. Jílek took his aircraft into the attack against the destroyers, dropping four bombs on the leading ship from 3,800 feet, but was unable to observe any positive results. The convoy had in fact been a German escort for the Japanese submarine I-29 (a submarine blockade runner) which had entered the Bay of Biscay en-route to Lorient, it had earlier been attacked by Mosquitoes of 248 Squadron. The 13th was unlucky for P/O Otto Žanta and his crew (second pilot Sgt Oskar Lojka, navigator F/O Pavel Kubín-Kohn, flight engineer F/Sgt František Hecl, wireless operator/gunners Flt/Lt Alois Uvízl, P/O Jan Timko, W/O Ladislav Kadlec and Sgt Herbert Beck), in Liberator BZ995 ‘J’. They failed to return from patrol over the ‘Bay’ , nothing being heard after take off at 1755 hours. Whilst it is possible that the aircraft suffered an engine failure or something similar, it is of interest that an inconclusive combat with an unidentified Liberator was recorded on that date by Lt Ulrich Hanshen of KG 40 flying a Ju.88 long range fighter. At the month’s end the squadron had carried out 26 operations comprising 54 sorties in 640 hours of operational flying and had covered 96,000 nautical miles.

A 311 Sqn Liberator on patrol off the Spanish coast, April 1944.

Early April 1944 was characterised by exceptionally poor weather and flying activity was restricted. Fortunately this provided a breathing space allowing training and instruction to be provided in the use of 60lb rocket projectiles. The training was particularly aimed at the theory and practice of using retractable rocket racks, with which the squadron was to be equipped in the following weeks. April the 19th brought a trip to the sun for W/O Jaroslav Friedl and his crew in Liberator BZ987 ‘A’. They were diverted to Gibraltar after unsuccessfully trying to get to grips with a U-Boat. They had sighted the enemy submarine at a distance of 6 miles in the act of diving at 37.14N 09.10W. Unfortunately the sub’ had fully submerged before Friedl could get close enough to put in an attack. They were to be joined at Gibraltar by Liberator BZ986 ‘G’ captained by F/O Rudolf Haering, which was also diverted following an inconclusive attack on a U-Boat. They had first obtained a radar contact at 0142 hours and dropped three depth charges at 46.00N 05.22W, dropping a further four depth charges at 0153 hours. Unfortunately not results were observed and the aircraft was diverted to Gibraltar. The following morning both aircraft set off for Predannack. Suddenly! They became the subject of some rather unwelcome attention, a good deal of intense flak was being thrown at them. The source of the annoyance was a group of four enemy destroyers. Without waiting Friedl attacked one of the destroyers with six depth charges from 800 feet. Explosions were seen on the starboard side and the destroyer was enveloped in spray, but there was no visible damage. Leaving well alone the Liberators continued on their way back to Cornwall. Back at base nearly 50 holes were noted in Friedl’s aircraft. On the night of the 26th/27th of April W/O Jaroslav Hala in Liberator BZ987 ‘A’ took on a group of enemy destroyers with four depth charges. They homed onto a radar contact and the aircraft was caught in a searchlight, which was soon ‘shot out’ by the rear gunner. It proved impossible to ascertain the outcome of the attack, because of haze over the sea. Whilst the crew were uninjured, the aircraft had been hit several times, over fifty holes were later counted in the fuselage and one of the elevators was damaged. The last few days of the month were taken up with a good deal of rocket firing practice as the unit was being re-equipped with Liberator Mk.V with retractable rocket racks. It was anticipated that the new racks would have less effect on the aircraft’s performance in a dive and were also safer than the previously used external racks.

Liberator maintenance and refueling, Predannack 1944.

Operations still continued on a restricted scale; typically on the 1st of May W/O Jan Lazar took off at 1935 hours for a twelve hour fifty minute anti-submarine sweep in Liberator BZ986 ‘G’. From the 4th of May the unit was officially stood down for ten days to re-equip with the new equipped Liberators. Despite the ‘distractions’ the squadron still managed to complete some 20 operations with 37 sorties taking up approximately 435 hours of operational flying and covering 61,000 miles.

The momentous month of June 1944 arrived and on the 1st the AOC 19 Group Coastal Command, AVM Baker visited the station and made sure that all personnel were aware that they were approaching a crucial time and that a maximum effort would be required from everyone. From the morning of the 5th of June personnel were confined to the station. On the 6th the Allies launched their historic offensive. It was to be a ‘red letter month’ for 311 Squadron, all previous records were to be broken. In support of the D-Day Landings the squadron was required to cover the Western Approaches of the English Channel with five aircraft each day, covering the area West of the Scilly Islands towards Brest. Their patrols were intended to intercept enemy submarines should they attempt to interfere with the invasion fleet. A scheme had been devised by 19 Group, which provided for 12 interlocking areas (in the shape of a large cork) which would cover some 20,000 square miles of ocean and ensure that the Western Approaches were constantly monitored for enemy activity. A force of thirty aircraft would need to be continuously on patrol to ensure maximum radar coverage of the area and the patrols would be known as ‘Cork Patrols’. A considerable number of U-Boats had now been fitted with Schnorkel Tubes which allowed them to stay beneath the surface whilst recharging their batteries. The German navy had been forced to develop the Schnorkel because of the unremitting attention of Allied aircraft. It made submarines extremely difficult to detect unless the Schnorkel was emitting steam or vapour. The equipment was not liked by the submarine crews because of the fumes it generated and the effect it had on pressure levels inside the U-Boat. Only twelve hours after the first ‘D’ Day landings some fifteen U-Boats set out from the port of Brest and during the ensuing hours many sightings were made by Allied aircraft and a number of attacks developed. On the night of the 7th/8th June a further 36 U-Boats tried to make their way out of the harbour at Brest. Several were caught by the ‘Cork Patrols’. The U-629 and the U-373 were both sunk by 224 Squadron. In all six submarines were reported as sunk and six more were damaged. The first attack recorded by 311 Squadron occurred on the 16th of June, when Flt/Lt Alois Šedivý DFM, in Liberator BZ745 ‘E’ twice dropped three depth charges on a moving ‘V’ shaped oil slick at 48.38N 05.54W. No results were observed but the oils streak was seen to move through the explosions caused by the depth charges and it was assumed to be a submarine. Two days later, on the 18th, W/O Jaroslav Hala in Liberator BZ720 ‘G’ similarly attacked a moving oil slick at 48.26N 06.00W. Unfortunately once again no results were observed.

Jan Lazar and his crew June 1944, Talbenny

Greater success was experienced on the 24th June when with F/O Jan Irving at the controls, Liberator BZ745 ‘E’ attacked a surfaced U-Boat at position 48.25N 05.30W, with rockets and depth charges. Two hits were made below the conning tower and although the submarine appeared to dive to safety, an oil patch began to develop. Over a period of 40 minutes the patch expanded to between 300 and 400 yards. Two more submarines were sighted in the same area; one at 48.20N 05.30W and the second at 48.07N 05.24W. Irving and his crew were unable to attack as they had exhausted their depth charges on the first target. During the afternoon F/O Jan Vella and his crew in Liberator FL961 ‘O’ sighted a submarine close to two destroyers off Ushant, France, at position 49.10N 05.34W and attacked it with rocket projectiles from a height of 350 feet and depth charges at 1545 hours. This attack was noted by the lookouts on HMCS Haida and she immediately changed course towards the site of the attack, which was marked by a smoke float. She was accompanied by HMS Eskimo and at 1625 hours Eskimo made a sonar contact followed by Haida at 1634 hours. In the next two hours they made nine deliberate attacks on the enemy vessel. Some time later at 1921 hours the submarine surfaced and was engaged by the destroyers guns. Shells penetrated the conning tower and a fire started. The crew began to abandon ship and boats were lowered by the destroyers to pick up survivors. Vella had been recalled to base but he had seen the probable submarine being attacked by two destroyers (Haida and Eskimo). The vessel which late sank was identified as the U-971. The credit for the sinking was officially shared between the aircraft and the destroyers. (The U-971 had been attacked from the air earlier on thee occasion (the 15th,20th and the 21st of June) by Sunderlands and Wellingtons of Coastal Command. After it was forced to the surface at 48.59N 05.42W its commanding officer, Oberleutenant Zur See Walter Zeplin, four officers and forty seven seamen, abandoned ship and were picked up from the water. One of the seamen was wounded in the calf and was given a blood transfusion (one pint from a German volunteer and three of plasma). One other rating had an injured hand, the result of being hit by a machine gun bullet in one of the earlier air attacks. The prisoners were landed at Falmouth at 0300 hours on the 25th.

Five days later fate intervened and adjusted the scales downwards again. Shortly after take-off Liberator BZ754 ‘J’ with F/O František Naxera at the controls, struck trees and crashed, exploding on impact at Roskilly Farm near St Keverne. Eye witnesses later said that they had seen smoke trailing from No.3 engine although subsequent examination of the wreckage did not reveal any fault. Some sources indicate that the aircraft had suffered a loss of elevator control, but the reason for the crash was never officially ascertained. Only one airman survived, Sgt František Bebenek, who was thrown out of the wreckage, but who was none the less seriously injured with a broken arm and head injuries. The crew members who perished were; the pilot F/O František Naxera, co-pilot Sgt Josef Jiroutek, navigator F/O Václav Ždímal, flight engineer Sgt Emil Kuklínek and wireless operators and gunners Sgt Josef Kubát, Sgt Walter Stano, F/Sgt Miroslav Štepánek and Sgt Ladislav Žilák. Despite the loss the squadron had set a record for operational activity during the month, carrying out 28 operations comprising 131 sorties in 435 operational hours and covering 170,000 nautical miles.

Between the 6th and the 8th of July the squadron was withdrawn from operational flying so that the aircrews could rest and to allow aircraft servicing and inspections to be completed. The 13th was certainly unlucky for W/O Ludvík Košek (a former air-gunner) and his crew in Liberator BZ717 ‘L’. The aircraft was recalled from patrol and diverted to Exeter because of bad weather. Thick cloud was obscuring the ground and Košek flew too close to the ground whilst trying to orientate himself and struck a hill near Marlborough village, close to Bolt Head on the coast of Devon at 1346 hours. He and the rest of his crew ; co-pilot F/O Karel Novotný, navigator F/Sgt Jan Hornung, flight engineer Sgt Miroslav Maňásek and wireless operators and gunners, Sgt Pavel Dřevěný, Sgt Ján Filip, F/Sgt Rudolf Němeček and W/O Václav Tarantík; were all killed. Patrols still continued, typical was the nine hour fifty five minute uneventful patrol undertaken by W/O Jan Lazar in Liberator FL960 ‘V’ on the 30th of July, following at take off at 0426 hours. News of the Slovak uprising began to filter through during the month. Everybody in the squadron wanted to help, but unfortunately politics intervened and the unit was not allowed to take any action. The uprising centred around Banska Bystrica and embraced a large part of Slovakia. The insurgents, under the command of General Ján Golian were to battle on into October, before being finally defeated. At the end of the month the unit had managed to carry out 25 operations with 102 sorties in approximately 995 operational hours and covering 130,000 nautical miles.

Jiří Osolsobě and his crew.

August brought a move northwards for the squadron to Tain on the east coast of Scotland. On the 2nd of August 19 Group informed the squadron that no further operations were to be undertaken from Predannack and that personnel should prepare for the move north. Once in position at the new base, they would come under the command of 18 Group and their new ‘patch’ would be the North Sea as far as the Norwegian coast. On the 4th the advance party under Flt/Lt Hanuš Federman, left Predannack to begin setting things up for the unit. On the 7th Sqn/Ldr Jan Kostohryz left for Scotland with five aircraft, the first element of the air party, to be followed the next day by Wg/Cdr Josef Šejbl with the second element of ten aircraft. The main rail party under the command of Sqn/Ldr Adolf Zelený left for Tain on the 9th. Patrols from the new base began quite quickly; Liberator FL955 ‘N’ took off at 0035 hours carried out a day/night nine hour twenty minute daytime anti-submarine sweep on the 14th and Liberator FL948 ‘D’ took off at 1323 hours and carried out a nine hour forty minute sweep on the 18th. On the 30th Wg/Cdr Josef Šejbl handed over command of the squadron to the newly promoted Wg/Cdr Jan Kostohryz. Regardless of the move the squadron still managed to complete 20 operations with 73 sorties in 886 operational hours and covered 120,000 nautical miles. Much effort was expended during September in operational training to ensure that crews became familiar with the area. W/O Arnošt Jedounek and his crew in Liberator FL948 ‘D’ had a brief encounter with a Ju.88 on the 3rd of the month at position 59.28N 06.50W. They spotted the enemy fighter approaching an Allied convoy from the north and Jedounek immediately dived towards the Junkers. The Liberator’s front gunner opened up on the fighter from about 700 yards away. As the Junkers passed under the Liberator, the beam and rear guns also fired at it. Somewhat strangely, the enemy aircraft turned away to port and did not return the fire. The Junkers remained close to the convoy and Jedounek decided to warn the ships that they were being shadowed. Unfortunately, the Aldis lamp failed and he was forced to break radio silence to inform the convoy escorts that there was a Ju.88 loitering in the area. The enemy aircraft continued to circle the convoy at a distance of five miles or and maintained a separation from the Liberator. The new station proved to have excellent weather and although the number of sorties was down on the busy month of June the duration of sorties was longer. The good weather meant that at times when other stations were weather-bound, Tain was able to continue operating and was able to take on tasking from other squadrons. By the month’s end they had carried out 28 operations with 106 sorties and some 1370 operational hours had been flown and approximately 190,000 nautical miles had been covered.

W/O Jan Matějka and crew (in Liberator FL960 ‘V’) were in the news on the 2nd of October. Things got more than a little ‘hot’, when their aircraft got in too close to the Norwegian coast and was engaged by the shore batteries north of Herdla. The Lib’ was hit in the tail, starboard rudder and at least one of the engines. The crew were unhurt and Matějka managed to get back to base in the damaged aircraft. The following day on the 3rd, tragedy struck when Liberator FL937 ‘K’ failed to return from patrol. The 311 Squadron Liberator was seen by another Liberator of 547 Squadron, to be attacked by and enemy fighter and to plunge into the sea in flames with pieces falling off at 59.25N 04.15E north west of Stavanger. The 547 Squadron aircraft circled the scene of the incident and saw two inflated dinghies, but no bodies. A distress signal was later found to have been picked up by a wireless station at Hofn in Iceland, stating that the Liberator was under attack. It is probable that the enemy fighter was a Me.110 of the Luftwaffe’s 10/ZG26 being flown by Lt P Bathge. The crew; pilot P/O Jaroslav Hala, co-pilot F/Sgt Alois Stoček, navigator F/O František Koranda, flight engineer Sgt Bedřich Sklář , wireless operator and gunners F/Sgt Karol Katz, F/Sgt Michal Kubina, F/Sgt Jozef Remenár and F/Sgt František Veitl, were all listed as missing in action.

A classic struggle unfolded on the 12th of October, involving P/O Jan Vella and his crew in Liberator BZ720 ‘G’. Everything was going well on patrol, until one of the engines began to falter. Vella feathered the failing engine and turned for home over 300 miles away, telling the crew that he was breaking off the patrol. ‘G’ was flying well on three engines, when suddenly the problem became a compound one as a second engine failed. An SOS message was sent out as the aircraft continued to lose height and the grey green surge of the North Sea began to figure prominently in the thoughts of most of the crew members. P/O Vella was left with no choice, the four depth charges and the rockets would have to go to lighten the load. Even with this loss of weight the aircraft still lost height. The guns were next to go, hastily the heavy 0.5s were thrown overboard and a few silent prayers were said in the hope that no marauding Ju88s would find them in their defenceless state. The guns were followed by radio equipment and parachutes. Struggling manfully Vella managed to level out a scant one hundred feet above the water. The flight engineer placed the two remaining engines on full power settings and the Liberator headed for home. Their return flight took them over the Royal Naval base at Scapa Flow, with the aircraft leaving a trail of flame and smoke from the two functioning engines. Fortunately the Navy had been warned the defences did not open up on the struggling Liberator. Three hours later ‘G’ squealed its way onto the runway at Tain having flown the whole time on two engines. It had been an epic piece of flying and a testimonial to the quality of the engines and the Liberator’s flying qualities. Both Jan Vella and the wireless operator Flt/Lt Miroslav Vild were later awarded the DFC for the courage and airmanship displayed on this and several earlier flights.

Seventeen days later (on the 29th of October) BZ720 was to figure in the squadron’s annals once again, but in more tragic fashion. On the 27th of the month Firefly aircraft of No.1771 Squadron and Barracudas of 828 and 841 Squadrons of the Fleet Air Arm, from HMS Implacable, had attacked the U-1060 with rockets and bombs and badly damaged her. The unfortunate skipper of the U-1060, Lt Brammer, already had enough problems on his plate. He had on board the crew of the U-957, which had been sunk in a collision off the Lofoten Islands. In her damaged and overcrowded condition the U-1060 managed to struggle into Vega Fjord, south of Bodo, Norway and was eventually beached on Fleina Island. The stricken submarine was attacked by Halifaxes of 502 Squadron and on the 29th Liberators crews of 311 Squadron were briefed to attack the U-Boat. It was early morning as the three aircraft designated for the attack got airborne, one of which was BZ720 ‘G’, this time with P/O Karel Pospíchal at the controls. Ten minutes after take off the aircraft crashed north of Helmsdale after encountering turbulent air and losing lift. Five of the crew were killed and the other four were injured. The four aircrew who died were; Sgt Rudolf Barvíř, Sgt Václav Černy, Sgt Josef Koštál , F/O František Politzer and Sgt Štěpán Štětka. Those that survived were; the pilot P/O Karel Pospíchal, co-pilot P/O Rudolf Körper and two wireless operator/gunners Sgt Stanislav Šácha and Sgt Václav Svec, all of whom were badly injured. The other two aircraft, Liberator BZ723 ‘H’ (captain Sqn/Ldr Alois Šedivý ) and Liberator FL949 ‘Y’ (captain F/O Josef Pavelka) took off safely.

311 Sqn attack on U-957.

Shortly after 0900 hours they located the target and got into position to make their attacking runs. Pavelka carried out seven attacks, between 0903 and 0940 hours, releasing 16 rockets in four salvoes and four depth charges. Two of the depth charges straddled the doomed submarine and seven direct hits were made with the rockets. Following the last attack a spreading oil patch of between 15 and 20 yards was observed and pieces of wreckage, some of which were bright red, were seen. Šedivý made six attacking runs between 0921 and 0941 hours. Four salvoes of rocket projectiles were fired and four depth charges dropped in a single stick from 50 feet. Two of the depth charges straddled the submarine but only three were seen to explode. The first salvo of rockets appeared to overshoot the submarine. However, all four rockets in the second salvo struck the submarine below the conning tower. The third salvo was released at a distance of 200 yards and struck the submarine in the stern. Both aircraft were heavily engaged by flak from other vessels and from the shore. The fourth salvo overshot the target. Twelve of the submarine’s fifty five man crew were killed in the attacks and she was to be finally finished off by Halifax aircraft of 502 Squadron.

Operations continued through November, but a large part of the month was taken up with continuation training. Homing exercises were the order of the day, using one of our own submarines fitted with Schnorkel. By now enemy submarines had begun to use the Schnorkel extensively. It was becoming increasingly difficult for Coastal Command crews to seek out the enemy, but they were also feeling the strain. Shipping losses had dropped noticeably since the ‘Black Year’ of 1942. The ‘duty crew’ nominated for the first patrol of the day, was usually woken in the early hours by an orderly with a torch. The orderlies were under the command of the NCO i/c Discipline F/Sgt ‘Jack Rennison. One morning early in November ‘Jack’ decided to rouse the duty crew himself. He entered what he thought was the appropriate hut intent on waking the crew therein. Unfortunately he had picked the wrong billet! It was the crew of F/Sgt Venca Bozděch and the squadron’s well remembered canine mascot, Antis was slumbering by his master and was alarmed by ‘Jack’s’ appearance. The airmen were rudely awakened by a loud crash and were startled to see their feared F/Sgt Discip’ on the floor with Antis sat on top of him (apparently with a ‘doggy smile’ on his lips!). The story would improve with the telling, but needless to say ‘Jack’ never attempted to do the job of the orderlies again. Disaster was narrowly averted on the 12th of November when Liberator FL953 ‘M’, with W/O Luděk Moudrý at the controls, was returning from patrol when he began to experience engine problems, resulting in his losing two engines. He then gave an exhibition of the kind of airmanship that was becoming almost the norm with 311 Squadron pilots. Following the double engine failure he flew over 60 miles across the North Sea on the two remaining engines at heights as low as 300 feet. Because of damage to the hydraulics he found that he was unable to lower the undercarriage and as a result he made a forced landing in a field near Stornoway, on the Isle of Lewis. Subsequent investigation indicated that there had been a failure to manage the aircraft’s fuel system properly. At close of the month the squadron had carried out 27 operations with 65 sorties, taking up 802 hours of operational flying and covering 108,000 nautical miles.

Although something of a quiet month, intensive training for all of the squadron’s crews continued during December 1944, with special attention being given to radar homing practice. Shortly after 2100 hours on the 4th of December the squadron was once again involved in a tragedy. Liberator FL981 ‘O’ had been airborne for only a few minutes and was about to undertake a night homing exercise when she crashed off a climbing turn to starboard. W/O Štěpán Petrášek and his crew ( co-pilot F/Sgt Josef Šebestík, navigator F/O Eduard Zbroj, wireless operator F/Sgt František Havránek, flight engineer Sgt Jaroslav Kulhavý and gunner Sgt Waltr Hnilička) all perished in the crash. The unit had carried out 28 operations with 48 sorties by the end of the month, taking up 515 hours and covering a mileage of approximately 72,000 nautical miles.

1945

On New Year’s Day 1945, with the end of the war now at last in sight, W/O Oldřich Bureš and his crew would have been forgiven for being a little disgruntled to find that they were down for a sweep that morning. Liberator FL949 PP-Y took-off at 2202 hours and crashed at 2240 hours at Cuilags, three miles north east of Rora Head on the island of Hoy. It apparently flew into high ground whilst in cloud. The subsequent enquiry found that both the navigator and the radar operator had failed to take notice of warnings regarding high ground close to the aircraft’s track and did not fully utilise the radar aids available. It was also noted that the wind in the area had changed just before the incident. The wreckage lay in a prominent but inaccessible position and the recovery unit, 56 Maintenance Unit from Inverness, was ordered to bury it on site. Despite their efforts the wreckage was still visible from the air and 56 MU had to send out a second party to ensure that the wreckage was properly buried. The terrain was problematic and after some weeks the wreckage was manhandled down the hillside and buried in a bog in the valley. Much of the wreckage was recovered by local people and sold for scrap. The crew, who were all killed, consisted of; pilot W/O Oldřich Bureš, co-pilot F/Sgt Miloš Bodlák, navigator F/Sgt Otto Mandler, flight engineer F/Sgt Jaroslav Zapletal and wireless operators and gunners F/Sgt Antonín Bednář, Sgt Martin Dorniak, F/Sgt Ivo Engländer and F/Sgt Zdeněk Launer.

St Duthus, funeral of W/O Oldřich Bureš and his crew.

Less than two weeks later (on the 10th of January) and despite an adverse weather forecast the squadron’s Airspeed Oxford PH404, took off from Tain at 1045 hours on a non-operational flight (apparently carrying airmen going on leave to London) and disappeared. On board were the pilot Sqn/Ldr Karel Kvapil (a former navigator), F/O Valter Kauders and W/O Rudolf Jelen, F/O Leo Linhart and F/O Jan Vella (a former fighter pilot with 312 Squadron). Nothing was heard after take off and it was assumed that the aircraft had gone into the sea off the coast. Over seven months later on August the 19th. 1945 the wreck of the aircraft was discovered by two hill walkers, Dr James Bain, the then head teacher of the Science Department of Elgin Academy and Flt/Lt James Pennie from Elgin, who was home on leave. They came upon the wreckage whilst climbing at the northern end of the Beinn a’Bhuird ridge. They found the bodies of the two pilots still trapped in the cockpit of the Oxford with the bodies of the three passengers lying towards the rear of the fuselage. The two walkers carried on walking to Braemar from where they phoned the police. An RAF Mountain Rescue Team was despatched and on the 25th of August after much hard work and despite appalling weather, the bodies were removed to Inchrory using mules and thence to a mortuary in Aberdeen. Some of the wreckage could still be found on site over thirty years later.

Things could have been made even worse on the 17th of January but for some good flying and perhaps a little luck. Liberator FL975 PP-X had only been airborne for a few minutes on a training flight when a fire broke out in the fuselage. Flt/Lt Oldřich Hořejší wasted no time in turning back to Tain and landing. By the time the aircraft had touched down the crew had managed to extinguish the fire but a large burnt hole was visible in the rear fuselage. The flight engineer Sgt František Bečica, Sgt Tomáš Löwenstein and Sgt Antonín Padevít, all suffered minor burns as a result of their efforts to put the fire out. On the 24th of January the squadron was visited by AVM Karel Janoušek KCB the Inspector General of the Czech Air Force and a number of personnel were presented with Czech War Medals. On the 31st two new Liberator GR.VIs (EW291 and EW953) were received Although the weather had been bad during the month the squadron still managed to carry out 15 operations with 27 sorties lasting 224 hours and covering approximately 32,000 nautical miles.

Although the squadron was involved in intensive training in bombing and radar homing exercises, the number of sorties rose in February. During the month the Unit received more Liberator GR.VIs, which had the under-wing Leigh Light. The Leigh Light was in effect a large searchlight, which was fitted into a streamlined nacelle and was mounted under the starboard wing of the Liberator. It made little or no difference to the handling of the aircraft and could be jettisoned in an emergency by means of a ‘T’ handle in the top right hand corner of the flight deck bulkhead.

311 Sqn Liberator with Leigh Light fitted.

W/O Jaroslav Kudláček and his crew in Liberator BZ749 PP-F picked up a radar contact during the early hours of the 11th of February and closed in for an attack. The original contact had been made at ten miles but it disappeared as the aircraft got to within a mile. None the less Kudláček attacked at 0222 hours in position 60.22N 04.22W. No results were observed due to snow showers. A Naval escort group was later homed to the area, but no wreckage or other evidence of damage was seen. During the month the squadron carried out 23 operations with 54 sorties in approximately 634 hours and covered approximately 90,000 nautical miles. During the early part of March 1945 repairs were being carried out to the runways at Tain and it was not possible to take off or to land aircraft. Much emphasis was placed on training, particularly with regard to the use of the Leigh Light.

Josef Simet and his crew, February 1945.

By March the airfield was back up to scratch and the unit was once again operational going over to the offensive with a vengeance. Two extended sweeps were made over the Danish coast and into the Baltic Sea. The first of these, code named ‘Chilli II’, took place on the night of the 23rd/24th of March, between 1830 hours on the 23rd and 0630 hours on the 24th. The following aircraft took part; EV872 ‘Y’, EV943 ‘F’, EV953 ‘K’, EV955 ‘D’,EV985 ‘Z’, EV994 ‘G’, KG856 ‘R’,KG859 ‘U’,KG862 ‘T’,KG870 ‘H’, EV953 ‘K’; whilst EW313 ‘B’ was forced to turn back with an unserviceable compass. At 0034 hours Wg/Cdr Jan Kostohryz in Liberator ‘K’, homed onto a radar contact and attacked with six depth charges, which fell in a line across the target. Two violent explosions followed and a broad sheet of flame was seen. After the attack no further radar contact could be made. It is possible that the vessel attacked was the 141 ton auxiliary VS276 Odin, which was reported sunk that night off Bornholm Island; Sqn/Ldr Alois Šedivý in Liberator ‘D’, attacked an unidentified surfaced U-Boat at position 54.42N 15.48E with six depth charges that straddled the bow of the submarine. No positive results were observed; Flt/Lt Jan Hrnčíř and his crew in Liberator ‘Y’, spotted a submarine leaving a wake at position 55.12N 15.18E and attacked with six depth charges. Once again unfortunately, no positive results were observed. P/O Jan Říha in Liberator ‘U’, attacked an unidentified surfaced U-Boat that put up a barrage of flak at 54.57N 14.35E. Six depth charges were dropped and they straddled the submarine and silenced its guns; W/O Miroslav Šigut and his crew in Liberator ‘R’, spotted several illuminated vessels half hidden by haze, but they weren’t able to carry out an attack; F/O Jaroslav Polívka and his crew in Liberator ‘H’, sighted a group of probable fishing vessels close to a larger ship. Polívka attacked the large ship with 6 depth charges, which fell on the port side of the vessel. Once again no actual results were observed.

Two days later on the night of the 26th/27th of March the squadron once again made an extended sweep into the Baltic Sea. This sweep was given the code name of ‘Chilli III’. The following aircraft took part EV883 ‘C’, EV948 ‘D’, EV953 ‘K’, EV985 ‘Z’, EV994 ‘G’, KG856 ‘R’, KG861 ‘L’ and KG870 ‘H’. EV883 ‘C’, captained by W/O Miroslav Šigut, was forced to return to base because of engine trouble. W/O Gustav Netrefa and his crew in Liberator ‘Z’, obtained a radar contact and homed onto the target. At a distance of three quarters of a mile they switched on the Leigh Light and illuminated a fully surfaced U-Boat. Netrefa circled and went into the attack dropping 6 depth charges, which straddled the submarine. Alas! once again, no positive results were observed; Flt/Lt Rudolf Protiva in Liberator ‘L’ attacked a stationary yacht, unfortunately the depth charges overshot the target.. This aircraft later attacked a disappearing radar contact with depth charges. Following the attack tow explosions were observed; Wg/Cdr Jan Kostohryz in Liberator ‘K’, attacked two unidentified U-Boats at position 55.36N 15.49E. One was on the surface and the other was in the act of diving. Both submarines were enveloped in spray form the exploding depth charges; Flt/Lt Jiří Osolsobě (a former air gunner) in Liberator ‘D’, attacked a probable fishing vessel, but not results were observed; Flt/Lt Jan Hrnčíř and his crew In Liberator ‘G’, obtained a radar contact on two fast moving motor boats and attacked one of them. Unfortunately the depth charges overshot and no further results were observed. On both occasions the squadron operated in concert with the Liberators of 547 Squadron together with Halifaxes and Beaufighters of other squadrons. Despite the bad visibility a total of fourteen submarines and twenty surface vessels were attacked. In recognition of both nights activities the unit received a congratulatory telegram from the AOC coastal Command. By the month’s end the squadron had accomplished 41 sorties.

On the 10th of April the squadron was to suffer another (and as it turned out its final wartime) loss, when Liberator EV955 PP-D crashed shortly after taking off at 0406 hours. The aircraft crashed 1,500 yards from the end of the runway. Five of the crew died in the crash and air gunner F/Sgt Otta Kennedy, died later of his injuries. Three of the crew were injured but survived they were; the navigator P/O Zdeněk Munzar and two of the gunners, Sgt Josef Chovanec and F/Sgt Vladimír Vrba. Those that died were; the pilot Flt/Lt Josef Simet, his co-pilot F/Sgt Zdeněk Palme, flight engineer Sgt Rudolf Scholz, wireless operator F/Sgt Arnošt Hayek and air-gunner Sgt Josef Vaniš. The subsequent investigation suggested that the cause of the accident was an instrument error, which might have been due to a fault with the artificial horizon or the pilot’s lack of instrument flying experience. He had a total of 244 hours, 133 of which were on the Liberator only 32 of which were at night.

The remains of Liberator EV955 PP-D.

On the 16th, Flt/Lt Rudolf Protiva and his crew in Liberator EV994 PP-G, obtained a contact on a submerging U-Boat at position 58.03N 03.23W. At 2022 hours he dropped 6 depth charges from 300 feet. They fell on the swirl left by the diving submarine. Some four minutes after the attack a number of large black objects came to the surface, but quickly sank out of sight, leaving no time for photographs to be taken. No further evidence of damage was seen. (It is possible that the enemy submarine was the U-398, which was listed as missing in this area, with effect from the 17th of April. She was under the command of Korv.Kpt Johann Reckoff and she apparently went down with her crew of 43). Rudolf Protiva was to be in action again barely a week later when at the controls of Liberator EV883 PP-C he carried out an attack on a 5,000 ton motor vessel 12 miles north of Anholt, Denmark. Eight anti-submarine bombs were dropped and the crew observed several explosions and fires on board the ship. The Lib’ was heavily engaged by flak and suffered considerable damage. Number three engine was set on fire and damage was done to the fuselage and the hydraulic system. Fortunately, none of the crew was injured and Protiva elected to fly the damaged aircraft back to Scotland. Leaving a telltale trail of black smoke the Liberator limped away to the west and safety. It is testimony to his airmanship that he managed to nurse the Liberator back to a forced landing at Leuchars. It is probable that the vessel attacked was the 4,969 ton Norwegian MV Ingerseks. By the end of April the squadron had carried out 26 operations with 92 sorties in approximately 945 operational hours and had covered approximately 123,000 nautical miles.

With the onset of May it was obvious that the ‘Third Reich’ was crumbling to ruin, yet 311 Squadron’s part was by no means over and on the 5th of May the unit was to claim its last victory. W/O Jindřich Beneš (a former air gunner) was bringing Liberator KG861 PP-I back to base from a patrol during the evening, when he was informed by the radar operator that he had a contact. Shortly after they sighted a submerging submarine at position 57.27N 10.38E and attacked with depth charges, which overshot. Moments later they saw the submarine’s conning tower come above the surface and attacked the vessel again, dropping five depth charges, one of which appeared to score a direct hit. A black canopy of oil was seen to spread over the surface of the water. A run over the area was enough to show that this was one U-Boat that would not cause anymore trouble, the capsized hull was visible below the surface of the sea and large air bubbles were seen escaping from the area of the conning tower. The enemy submarine has been variously identified in post war years, but its identity has never been fully established. There can be little doubt that at the least the U-Boat was severely damaged. Beneš was to later receive the DFC for this action.

Replacing a Liberator engine, Tain 1945.

Two days later, at 0141 hours, the agreement for the unconditional surrender was signed at General Eisenhower’s HQ outside of Rheims. The fighting was over, but the clearing up still had to be done. The following day the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill announced the surrender in the House of Commons. None the less anti-submarine patrols were continued by Coastal Command until the 2nd/3rd of June. The squadron’s last anti-submarine patrol was carried out on the 3rd of June by W/O Josef Tichý and his crew in Liberator KG862 PP-T. They took off at 0932 hours and returned to base at 1353 hours having covered approximately 600 nautical miles. They were recalled to base due to adverse weather and had nothing to report. Specific instructions had been issued for the surrender of U-Boats which were still at sea. They were to travel on the surface to specific Allied ports and they were to fly a black flag. The colour of the flag gave rise to much anger amongst U-Boat crews, who considered that they were being branded as pirates. As late as the 15th of May, W/O Jaroslav Kudláček and his crew in Liberator EV943 PP-F escorted a surrendered U-Boat into Stavanger, Norway. On the 16th the squadron was paraded and the CO Wg/Cdr Kostohryz was decorated with the DSO by the AOC 18 Group AVM Simpson, Sqn/Ldr Šedivý and Sqn/Ldr Hrnčíř both received the DFC at the same time. The squadron’s summary shows that during the last month of hostilities the unit carried out 26 operations with 82 sorties in approximately 846 hours and covered approximately 110,000 nautical miles.

Jaroslav Kudláček and his crew

Towards the end of June the squadron was transferred to 301 Wing, Transport Command and the Liberators were stripped for their new role. Throughout the rest of June and July the unit was the victim of political indecision; one minute it was to be moved to Prague, the next it wasn’t! Finally it was confirmed that the Russians would be occupying Czechoslovakia, for the time being. Thus all personnel returning home were given a crash course in the Russian language. On the 14th of August the majority of the airmen left Tain by train for Manston in Kent. It was here that the Spitfire equipped Czech fighter units (310,312 and 313 Squadrons) had been concentrated to form a Czech Wing. The Spitfires of these units had already left for Czechoslovakia earlier in the month.

Manston, August 1945, 311 Sqn Liberators, now in Czechoslovak Air Force markings, waiting to go home.

The first flights transporting personnel from Manston to Prague were undertaken by five Liberators on July 30th. The Liberators were stripped of a good deal of their equipment and their armament and had false floors fitted in their bomb bays to allow them to be used in a transport role.

On the 15th of August after a good lunch and many farewells, a group of 12 heavily loaded Liberators set of for Prague, the long road of war was to at last, lead them home. As they approached the Czech border they were met by a formation of Spitfires in Czech markings. After a ‘low level look’ at Prague, the aircraft landed at Ruzyně airport, where they were greeted by AVM Karel Janoušek.

311 Sqn returning home over Prague.

311 Sqn finally home, Ruzyně 13 August 1945.

The squadron ceased to be an RAF unit during August and became 311 Squadron Czechoslovakian Air Force. The Liberators were to continue to be operated in their transport role until the end of the year, carrying Czechoslovak personnel and equipment back to the homeland. Many 311 veterans were able to renew war-time friendships during trips to Blackbushe and Pershore. Returning from a trip to England on the 20th of August, Flt/Lt Vladimír Slánský was landing in Liberator EV953 PP-K, when he realised that he had no braking action on the slippery runway. The heavily loaded aircraft over-ran the threshold and ended up in a water tank. None of the crew was injured, but the aircraft had damage to the undercarriage and the port wing and tail. She was never repaired and was later scrapped in situ.

In October 1945 the members of 311 Squadron were to suffer belated loss when on the 5th of the month Liberator KG867 crashed on take off from Blackbushe airport following an engine fire. Five crew and eighteen passengers (including children and one unauthorised female) died in the crash. The crew consisted of the pilot P/O Jaroslav Kudláček, second pilot W/O Antonín Brož, navigator P/O Karel Rybníček, flight engineer F/Sgt Zdeněk Sedlák and wireless operator F/O Bohumil Vaverka. According to the coroner’s records the passengers who perished were; Růžena Lichtensteinová, Marta Obhrazová, Marina Paulivová, Michael Richter, Anna Rosenblumová, Jiři, Rosemblum (child aged 2), Antonie Šafranek, Eva Šafronková (child aged 3), Otto Schwarz, Edita Sedláková, Margite Soběslavská, Ladíslav Soběslavsky (child aged 1), Marene Soběslavská (child aged 1), Irma Trinksová, Otto Trinks, Helena Vodaková, Greta Žaldová and Helena Žaldova (child aged 2). Marina Pauliyová was the Vice Chairperson of the Czech Red Cross in London. The two Soběslavsky, Marene and Ladíslav were twins born early in 1944 in Herefordshire. One of the female passengers, Edita Sedláková was not listed on the manifest. She was 214843 LACW Sedláková the wife of F/Sgt Zdenek Sedlák. She was either a stowaway or had been ‘smuggled’ on board the aircraft for a clandestine trip to Prague. Subsequent investigation revealed that the origin of the fire in No.2 engine was the ignition of a stream of fuel escaping from a ruptured pipe aeroplane to go out of control. The mystery of Edita Sedláková’s presence on board the Liberator became the subject of much discussion and was never satisfactorily resolved, she was to be the only Czechoslovak WAAF to be killed in RAF service. On the 30th of October another tragic incident was diffused by good airmanship when Flt/Lt Karel Lanczik (a former navigator), made a forced landing (with a collapsed nosewheel) at Redhill in Liberator EV994 PP-G. During February 1946 the squadron was officially disbanded by the RAF, although to all intents and purposes it had ceased to exist the previous August. Thus five years of hectic and dangerous living became history.

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

By the end of hostilities the squadron had carried out a combined total of 3,140 sorties (with Bomber and Coastal Commands) covering almost 27,000 operational flying hours. Two hundred and forty seven aircrew had been killed or were listed as missing. Over thirty men were released from Prisoner of War camps in Germany (one had been murdered in captivity by the Gestapo). The achievements of 311 Squadron had given it an enviable reputation and earned it a place in the top rank of Coastal Command’s units in World War Two.

© March 2015 John Rennison. Flt.Lt. Ret’d

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4 Responses to 311 Sqn Never Regard Their Numbers – Coastal Command

  1. Jan M. Gasparec says:

    I am greatfull to have been able to find this article and learn the circumstances of the death of my Uncle Sgt. Walter (Vladimir) Stano. My thanks to the many people who devoted hours to research and assembling these articles on the Free Czechoslovak Air Force.

  2. Dagmar Johnson - Šišková says:

    Very interesting and informative and, personally, nice follow-up of my summer visit to Tain. Will share with others who are interested in this particular subject. Thank you.

  3. Milena Kolarikova-Lock / Chris Lock says:

    Thank you for posting this unit report. It is a great tribute on behalf of an amazing group of men. So much so we will ensure that this information is forwarded onto whoever whenever in order their sacrifice, hardship and collective gallantry is never forgotten. Lest we forget.

    Děkuji, že jste uveřejnili zprávu o této jednotce. Je to skvělá poklona úžasné skupině mužů. Vynasnažíme se předávat tyto informace komukoli a kdekoli, aby jejich oběti, utrpení a kolektivní hrdinství nebyly nikdy zapomenuty. Čest jejich památce!

  4. Michael Robert Hermann says:

    A very informative and well written article.

    Michael Hermann (nephew of Edita Sedláková and Zdeněk Sedlák.)

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