Apuldram and Tangmere
The Czechoslovak Fighter Squadrons; 310 Sqn, 312 Sqn and 313 Sqn, came to West Sussex in the spring of 1944 and carried out sorties in preparation for D-Day, during D-Day and after D-Day. They were stationed at Apuldram near Chichester and then for a shorter period at Tangmere before leaving for Kent.
D-Day: RAF Tangmere and satellites
Preparation for D-Day began in early May 1944 with the requisitioning of farmland and the upgrading of existing emergency landing zones.
There were 22 airfields for fighters and bombers in Southern England identified to provide protection for the troops during and after the invasion.
On the 15 February 1944, the RAF Tangmere Sector Operations Room transferred to College Hall at Bishop Otter College, now Chichester University.
126 Wing (Squadrons 401, 411 and 412) and 127 Wing (403, 416 and 421 Squadrons), all Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), were stationed at Tangmere providing cover during the invasion. On 7 June, eight of the twelve Ju 88s which were attacking the beaches were shot down by the Canadians. The squadrons moved to sites in Normandy on 18 June.
Three Free French Squadrons, 329, 340 and 341, were located at Merston ALG (Advanced Landing Ground) and provided Spitfire low-level cover for the troop-carrying ships and the Normandy bridgehead.
129 Wing (184 US Squadron) arrived at Westhampnett in May 1944 under the command of W/Cmdr Jack Rose. The Typhoons were credited as being the first to arrive over the assault area on D-Day. The Squadron moved to Normandy on 27 June.
Bognor ALG was located at Lagness and was the site for 132 Wing which comprised two Norwegian Squadrons and one British Squadron, during the D-Day operations. One ‘Ranger’ operation destroyed six enemy aircraft on the ground at the major Luftwaffe airfield at Juvincourt near Paris.
Selsey ALG near Church Norton was occupied by 135 Wing with three Squadrons. Norwegians, South African and Belgian pilots with Spitfires escorted bombers during D-Day and also conducted low-level patrols. The Wing was credited with the first D-Day kill by F/O Johnnie Houlton of 485 Squadron.
Three Mustang Squadrons of 122 Wing arrived at Funtington ALG mid-May. They were involved in ‘Ranger’ operations before D-Day and on D-Day escorted coastal command Beaufighters on anti-U-boat patrols.
The Czech Squadrons of 134 Wing, as part of the 2nd Tactical Air Force, were stationed at Apuldram ALG (alternative spelling: Appledram) and arrived 1 April 1944. The Wing comprised 310 (aircraft insignia code letters ‘NN’), 312 (‘DU’) and 313 (‘RY’) Squadrons under the leadership of W/Cmdr Tomáš Vybíral. The Squadrons continued to operate together almost all the time until the end of the war. 134 Wing was equipped with clipped wing Spitfire LF (low flying) Mk 1XB aircraft with the 4-blade propeller. 2804 Squadron RAF Regiment were located near Apuldram Church and provided Bofors guns defensive positions near Crouchers Farm, the Black Horse pub and the houses at Dell Quay.
The local farmer was obliged to provide land for an airfield. The quick and easy tracked runways of the bar and rod type were laid out as a lopsided cruciform. Construction had begun in February 1943, completed early spring and first used 2 June 1943. The metal mesh allowed the grass to grow through and sheep kept the grass short. Around Christmas 1943 work was carried out to deal with the drainage problems experienced in this very low-lying land close to water. Four more blister hangers were added now, along with hardstanding. When the Czechs arrived, the accommodation was initially under canvas. Field amenities were spartan with night temperatures initially below zero though showers, a gymnasium and a library were a short drive away at Tangmere. Later, the accommodation was provided in local requisitioned farm cottages. One of the farmer’s buildings functioned as a mess.
By the beginning of April 1944 Apuldram ALG was fully operational. Spitfires fitted with bomb racks attached under the fuselage had been delivered. Previously the Czech pilots had been temporarily located at Southend to receive training with low-level nose-diving offensive attacks on terrestrial targets. W/Cmdr Blackwood was in charge. The airfield staff totaled about 1800 including all ranks.
As part of the build-up to D-Day the Wing carried out a range of tasks including ‘Noball’ attacks on V bomb sites with 500lb bombs (though not necessarily known as such to the pilots at the time), strafing, bomber escort and offensive patrols. It took 40 minutes for a Spitfire to fly to Normandy. On one occasion one of these 500lb bombs was marked with the name of the Czech town Lidice. The Lidice massacre involved the complete destruction of the village with that name as a reprisal by the Nazis for the assassination of Heydrich. Some other independent offensive activities involved strafing and bombing rail and road targets.
Before D-Day F/O František Mlejnecký managed to drop a 500lb bomb into a railway tunnel at Rouen which meant that the line was closed for the rest of the war. F/O Miroslav Liškutín had a lucky escape when, after attacking a truck near Caen during a low-level sweep (Rhubarb) he failed to pull out of his dive properly and passed through the tops of the poplar trees lining the road. His Spitfire had experienced a high-speed stall. Liškutín was escorted back to base by F/O Karel Pernica where the damaged Spitfire engine finally failed and the pilot managed to glide down safely. On another occasion, Liškutín’s Spitfire was knocked about by anti-aircraft fire. He was fortunate enough to find one of the landing strips constructed by the Royal Engineers only three miles from the front line in Normandy. The aircraft was checked and he could take off.
Preparation for D-Day
|April:||10th||night flying practice.||11th||The Wing escorted Thunderbolts back from a ground attack mission.||13th||Seven defensive patrols took place to cover a large convoy.||18th||The Wing was moved to Manston to provide cover for Bostons and Hudsons. When the bombers did not arrive, the Squadrons returned to Apuldram.||19th||313 Sqn escorting Marauders bombing railway targets at Malines where W/O Mrtvy was shot down.. When the bombers did not arrive, the Squadrons returned to Apuldram.||20th||Cover operations for heavy bombers over Normandy. W/O Wemyss broke formation over France and was not seen again. He was later reported as a POW.||21st||W/Cmdr Tomáš Vybíral lead dive bombing attacks SE of Abbeville. At 14.00 hours General Eisenhower landed at Apuldram as he was due to attend a meeting at Bishop Otter College. He visited all the units and spoke with the pilots.||26th||P/O Vojtěch Liysický crashed and died on return from bombing training. Aircraft probably damaged by its bomb exploding or hit by friendly fire from ships. Operations continued until the end of the month.|
|May:||2nd||Funerals took place for three pilots; P/O Vojtěch Lysický and for F/Lt Jan Laška and F/Sgt František Fanta who were both killed when they collided over the airfield.||4th||Patrols over convoys.||5th||Patrols over convoys.||6th||Poor weather.||7th||Successful dive bombing near Neufchâtel-Hardelot.||8th||Cover for Marauders bombing.||9th||Escorting B26 bombers.||10th||To Manston to escort Marauders attacking Mons. Then returned to Apuldram and dive-bombing in the Pas-de-Calais area.||11th||Low-level ground attacks after bombing by Bostons at Douai.||12th||Low-level ground attacks after bombing by Bostons at Douai.||13th||Dive bombing at Bethune.||15th||Moved to Manston. W/O Antonín Provonič was killed in a collision on the runway. A range of problems at Manston meant that there was only a limited need for the expected escorting of Bostons. The Squadrons returned to Apuldram.||18th||Successful sorties.||19th||‘Noball’ targets in Normandy. W/O František Červený hit by flak but unhurt after a forced belly flop landing at Friston.||20th||The wing attacked trains, boats and army convoys in the Le Havre area. During the raid P/O Ossendorf (Osenský) made an emergency landing in enemy territory. He successfully escaped and before too long returned to his squadron.||26th||Diversionary attacks near Dieppe followed by an attack on a German convoy spotted when returning. Four aircraft lost whilst attacking in the St Malo area. S/Ldr Hugo Hrbáček (310), F/Sgt Augustin Meier (310), W/O Karel Valášek (313), and P/O Robert Ossendorf (312). F/Sgt Karel Stojan (313) was injured but managed to return to Apuldram.|
Flying hours for May 1944 were as follows: 310 Squadron 476 hours, 312 Squadron 519 hours and 313 Squadron 526 hours. During May the Wing repeatedly escorted American bombers attacking northern France during which a total of 121,000 lbs of bombs were dropped. Liškutín has observed that it was wise to be wary of the American gunners as they were somewhat ‘trigger-happy’.
|June:||2nd||Reconnaissance sorties over Normandy.||3rd||Continued reconnaissance sorties and dive bombing.||4th||The aircraft were given black and white striped markings (AEAF) for identification aiding visibility and thereby deterring the possibility of suffering friendly fire.||5th||Patrols over the South Coast including the Isle of Wight and the Solent. The preparations for the invasion on land and sea were clearly visible to the pilots. The briefing for the invasion took place at 20.30 hours. Now no-one was permitted to leave the base.||6th||The Czech Wings reverted to their fighter role which included duties over the armada and over the beaches in the Caen area preventing Lufwaffe penetration, code name ‘Neptune’. The pilots needed to take special care to watch out for the aircraft towing gliders. During the first sortie, 07:20-09:15, no enemy aircraft were seen but some slight anti-aircraft flak from Le Havre was encountered on the return journey. The pilots observed the troops landing and the ships firing. During the second sortie, 12:15-14:25, the Wing acted as low-level cover for the ships and troops. British and Canadian troops were seen on the shore and roads with lorries and tanks moving in all directions. During the third sortie, 16:30-18:20, the Wing provided low-level cover over the beaches and patrolling extended to the Seine estuary. Smoke was seen in some beach areas. No flak and no enemy aircraft were encountered. During the fourth sortie, 20:35-22:35, low-level cover was provided, gliders were observed landing between the beachhead and Caen but no enemy aircraft and no flak.||7th||The second day of the invasion. F/Sgt Miroslav Moravec crashed into Birdham Pool after take-off and died. Eight FW190 appeared, two were damaged, one was shot down in flames by F/O Vladimír Kopeček of 312 Squadron, the others retreated.||8th||310 and 312 Squadrons were providing low-level patrols in loose fours North-East of Caen when a warning came through of enemy aircraft. Up to twelve FW190 fighter-bombers were seen attacking Sword Beach. The Spitfires dived from 3,000-4,000ft and intercepted at 2,000ft. W/Cdr Jan Čermák destroyed one FW190 and damaged another. F/Lt Otto Smik and F/Sgt Vít Angetter both destroyed one each. F/O Vladimír Kopeček damaged two FW190. P/O Antonín Škach and F/O František Mlejnecký both damaged one each. All aircraft returned safely to base. W/Cdr Jan Čermák landed with only two gallons of fuel remaining. The only damage was to F/O Vladimír Kopeček’s airplane probably as the result of striking empty shell cases.||9th||No flying.||10th||Thick cloud but one enemy aircraft seen and chased into the clouds by 312 Squadron. Sgt Jindřich Konvička pursued a Me109 and collided with the plane in the cloud mass. He landed in the sea, managed to get into his rubber dinghy and was rescued by a British ship. He was transported to Normandy and two days later was back in England.||11th||At the end of the third sortie a haze and heavy sea mist was encountered at Apuldram when the pilots returned. Five aircraft landed at Selsey. F/Lt František Truhlář landed when out of fuel at Airspeeds, Portsmouth but crashed and was severely burnt. He survived and received plastic surgery. F/Sgt Vilém Nosek flew into a hillside north of Chichester and died. F/Lt Vojtěch Smolík survived a forced landing when out of fuel and was unhurt.||17th||F/O Otto Smik shot down one FW190 and F/O František Vindiš also shot down one FW190 though the claim was recorded as 1½ to Smik and ½ to Vindiš.||18th||W/O Jindřich Konvička returns to Apuldram. He had collided with a ME109 in cloud after a chase. The ME109 crashed and Konvička crashed into the sea. He was only slightly hurt and was rescued by the RAF Air Sea Rescue.||19th||Bombing raids at 20:00 hours: 310 to Dieppe, 312 to the south of Abbeville and 313 to Hesdin. All aircraft returned safely.||20th||Two beach head patrols.||21st||Escorted 100 Halifax bombers to south-east of Boulogne. Encountered heavy flak but no losses. Ordered to move to Tangmere.||30th||302, 308 and 317 Polish Squadrons arrived at Apuldram.|
During June the Squadrons were notified of a move to Normandy but due to the slow progress of the Allied troops on land the move was deferred then canceled.
On leaving Apuldram the Czechs first moved to Tangmere and then on to Lympne and then Manston in Kent. The Squadrons were based at Tangmere from 22 June to 4 July. 28 June, 313 Squadron were moved to the B10 Advanced Landing Ground at Plumetot in Normandy but returned the following day. On 3 July, the squadrons transferred from the 2nd Tactical Air Force to Air Defence of Great Britain (ADGB). Otto Smik took over as Commander of ‘B’ Flight. The Czech pilots continued with defensive fighter duties and ‘Noball’ missions at Tangmere. During June 312 Squadron had completed 1,140 operational hours in the air.
On 14 August, the Czech Squadrons attacked the Ruhr district, their first action over Germany.
© Paul Kopecek