Karel Kuttelwascher – The Night Reaper

Flying with the Royal Air Force’s famed No 1 Squadron, in just three months of 1942, the Czech pilot Flight Lieutenant Karel Kuttelwascher destroyed 15 bombers and damaged a further five. On one memorable occasion, he knocked out three Heinkel bombers in just four minutes. These exploits brought him the Distinguished Flying Cross twice in a mere 42 days.

He was the RAF’s greatest night intruder ace and, with his total score of 18, the top-scoring Czechoslovak pilot of the Second World War. The wartime media dubbed him ”the Czech night hawk”.

Some four decades later, I researched and wrote the biography of Karel Kuttelwascher – or Kut as he was known to his RAF comrades – and this was published as “Night Hawk”, first in English in 1985 and then in Czech in 1993.

Early in 2005, the Royal Air Force’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF), based at Coningsby in Lincolnshire, England, painted its Hawker Hurricane IIC PZ865 in the colour scheme of BE581 ‘Night Reaper’, the aircraft flown by Kut at the time of his night intruder exploits.

The scheme included 11 swastika kill markings under the cockpit sill on the port side (as seen in a contemporary newspaper photograph) as BE581 might have appeared the morning after ‘Kut’s’ triple kill on 5 May 1942. The BBMF aircraft wore this scheme for several years as it performed at air displays around the country.

Kut was the father of my wife Vee Darlington and sister-in-law Mari Rowe and the twin sisters and their husbands were invited by the BBMF to visit Coningsby to see the aircraft. The visit took place on 19 August 2005 when we were shown around the hanger by the Commanding Officer Squadron Leader Clive Rowley.

At the time of our visit, the ‘Night Reaper’ was being fixed for that weekend’s display. However, the BBMF has a second Hurricane and Vee and Mari were able to sit in the cockpit of the other aircraft – as I did afterwards. The other aircraft in the hanger were an Avro Lancaster, a Douglas Dakota, and several Supermarine Spitfires.

Throughout this exciting visit, we were filmed for a Meridian programme being made by producer and director Peter Williams. Later in the day and away from the airfield, Williams interviewed Vee and Mari about their recollections of their father and me about my writing of Kut’s biography.

The programme, featuring the BBMF visit and the interviews, was first broadcast on 3 March 2006, but it has since been shown several times on British television.

© Roger Darlington 2015

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