One of the Few
…………….* 06.11.1913. Holín, Jičín.
…………….† 12.04.66. New York, USA.
Svatopluk Janouch was born on 6 November 1913 in the village of Holín, near Jičín, about 50 miles North-East of Prague. He undertook his elementary education at Jičín Grammar School between 1925 and 1933 when he matriculated. In 1933, for his compulsory military service, Svatopluk enlisted as a cadet at the Military Aviation Academy at Prostějov. In 1934, having trained as an aerial observer, he was posted to the 3rd Air Regiment ‘M.R. Stefanik’, deployed at Piešťany, in the Slovak region of Czechoslovakia. Deciding to remain in the military when his service was completed, he was initially posted to the Military Aviation Academy at Hranice, for pilot training, and then returned to Prostějov where he completed his pilot training, achieving the rank of poručík (Pilot Officer). On 1 August 1936 he was posted to the 1st Observation Sqn, of the 1st ‘T.G. Masaryk’ Air Regiment deployed at Prague-Kbely airbase. On completion of his fighter-pilot training, he was posted to the 43rd Fighter Sqn of the 1st Air Regiment who were equipped with Avia B-534 biplane fighter aircraft. From 8 July 1938, he was appointed gunnery-officer and the squadron was then redeployed to the Slovak region of Czechoslovakia.
When the Germans occupied Czechoslovakia in March 1939, the Bohemia and Moravia regions became a German Protectorate and Slovakia became a German ‘puppet’ state. The Czechoslovak Air Force was disbanded and all personnel demobilized; as a Czech, Svatopluk was returned to the German Protectorate. During his service in the Czechoslovak Air Force, he had achieved 430 flying hours.
The Czechoslovak Air Force was quickly disbanded by the Germans and all personnel dismissed; the same fate befell most of those serving in the Czechoslovak Army. Germanisation of Bohemia and Moravia began immediately. For the military personnel and many patriotic Czech citizens, this was a degrading period. Many sought to redress this shame and humiliation and wanted to fight for the liberation of their homeland. By 19 March 1939, former senior officers of the now-disbanded Czechoslovak military had started to form an underground army, known as Obrana Národa [Defence of the Nation]. One of their objectives was to assist as many airmen and soldiers as possible to get to neighbouring Poland where Ludvík Svoboda, a former distinguished Czechoslovak Legionnaire from WW1, was planning the formation of Czechoslovak military units to fight for the liberation of their homeland. Within Czechoslovakia, former military personnel and civilian patriots covertly started to arrange for former Air Force and Army personnel to be smuggled over the border into Poland to join these newly-formed Czechoslovak units.
Obrana Národa also worked in co-operation with Svaz Letců, the Airman Association of the Czechoslovak Republic. These two organisations provided money, courier and other assistance to enable airmen to escape to Poland. Usually, this was by crossing the border from the Ostrava region into neighbouring Poland. News soon began to be covertly spread amongst the former Czechoslovak airmen and soldiers and many made their personal decision to go to Poland. Svatopluk was one of those who decided to escape and enlist in one of those units. He successfully managed to cross the border into Poland on 24 May 1939 and reported for duty at the Czechoslovak Consulate at Kraków.
Once in Poland, the Czechoslovak escapers were to find that Poland was not permitting the formation of foreign military units on its territory. However Czechoslovak officials in Poland had been in negotiations with France, a country with which Czechoslovakia had an Alliance Treaty. Under French law, foreign military units could not be formed on its soil during peacetime. The Czechoslovak escapees, however, could be accepted into the French Foreign Legion, but with the agreement that should war be declared, they would be transferred to French military units. The Czechoslovaks would, however, have to enlist with the French Foreign Legion for a five-year term. The alternative was to be returned to occupied Czechoslovakia and face German retribution for escaping – usually imprisonment or execution with further retribution to their families.
The Czechoslovak escapees were initially billeted at Małe Bronowice, a former Polish army camp outside Krakow, whilst arrangements were made for them to travel to France. After a short stay in Poland, Svatopluk, along with 138 other Czechoslovak military escapees, 42 of whom were airmen, travelled by train to the Polish Baltic port of Gdynia, where on 17 June they boarded the ‘Sobieski’, a Polish passenger ship and sailed to Boulogne, France, arriving on 19 June.
On arrival in France, Svatopluk and his fellow escapees were taken to the French Foreign Legion’s recruitment barracks at Place Balard, in the South West of Paris, for medical examination and recruitment documentation to be completed for their acceptance into the Foreign Legion. This time was to serve as a familiarisation period to learn the ways of the Legion and to study French crash-courses, and they took every opportunity to practise their new language skills with French girls. He was accepted into the 1st Regiment of the French Foreign Legion, with the rank of Sergeant, and the Czechoslovak escapees were transferred to the Foreign Legion’s training camp at Sidi-bel-Abbès, Algeria. With the German invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939, he was released from his Foreign Legion service and transferred the following day to l’Armée de l’Air and posted to Escardrille Régionalle de Chasse 572, of their Colonial Air Force. On 18 September, he was transferred to their Centre d’instruction at Blida airbase, then on 20 October to their Escadre de Marche at Oran la Senia airbase, Algeria, for re-training on French fighter aircraft.
On 15 December, having completed his re-training he was posted to GC I/6, at Marignane airbase near Marseille, who were equipped with MS-406 fighter aircraft. GC I/6, and whose complement now included 15 Czechoslovak pilots. He was redeployed, on 8 March 1940, to Chissey airfield, about 60 km south-east of Dijon, , to be near the front line. When the Germans invaded France, the rapidity of their Blitzkreig caused GC I/6 to have to frequently change their airfields as they retreated westward and by the time of the French capitulation, on 20 June, they were at Bergerac in south-west France.
During the Battle of France he flew 55 operational hours and achieved combat success:
|25/05/40||18:30||near Arkeux-Denain||1 He 111 destroyed|
|03/06/40||11:00||near Le Bourget||1 Me 110 destroyed|
|05/06/40||17:15||near Foret de St. Gobain||1 Hs 123 destroyed|
But this was not without mishap; during his combat on 3 June, his Ms-406c was in collision with another aircraft causing him to make a forced-landing; and on 7 June, at about 18:00 his aircraft was damaged by anti-aircraft fire causing shrapnel wounds in the leg. He managed to reach Lognes-Emmerainville airfield and was taken to hospital in Paris.
With the rapidly advancing German forces who were now only an hour away, he discharged himself, on 13 June, from hospital to avoid being captured. Using bicycles and travelling in cattle-trucks he managed to reach Bordeaux, in South West France, where on 19 June sailed aboard the ‘Karanan’ to Falmouth.
On arrival to England he was accepted into the RAF Volunteer Reserve, at the rank of P/O, and posted to the newly formed 310 (Czechoslovak) Sqn who were stationed at Duxford and equipped with Hurricane Mk I aircraft.
Here Svatopluk was re-trained for Hurricane aircraft and made his first operational flight on 19 August 1940. He flew in the Battle of Britain and achieved combat success destroying:
|07/09/40||17:15||near Hornchurch||V6556 ‘E’||1 Me 110D|
|18/09/40||18:15||near Basildon||V6556 ‘E’||1 shared Ju 88|
During a dogfight on 31 August 1940, his Hurricane Mk I P3268 was damaged by enemy fire, but he managed to safely land at Duxford. That 28 October, Czechoslovak National Day, he was awarded his 1st and 2nd Válečný kříž 1939s, and on the following day he was promoted to the rank of Acting F/Lt. On 27 December 1940 he was promoted to the rank of F/O, and on 28 February 1941, he was appointed Flight Commander of ‘B’ Flight but on 5 May he went into hospital for a health issue that resulted in preventing him from flying operationally.
He was discharged from hospital, on 29 May 1941, returning to Duxford as a Flight Controller and was promotion to Acting F/Lt. He was awarded the Czechoslovak Za chrabrost medal on 8 August. On 17 October 1941 he was posted to Debden, again as a Flight Controller where he remained until 13 May 1942. He was promoted to the rank of F/Lt on 27 December 1941. Svatopluk’s next posting was to the Czechoslovak Inspectorate General, in London, where he was appointed Czechoslovak Liaison Officer at 10 Group Fighter Command HQ. In recognition of his service with l’Airme d’Air, the French, on 10 June, awarded him the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur, one of only eight awarded to the Czechoslovak airmen, as well as the Médaille Militaire and Croix de Guerre avec 2 Palme a silver star. He remained as Liaison Officer until 27 September 1943 and was then posted, at the rank of S/Ldr to the Czechoslovak Depot at RAF Cosford where he was in command of the Education Pool. On 7 March 1944, he was promoted to the rank of štábní kapitán in the Czechoslovak Air Force. He left the RAF on 3 October 1944. His final WW2 posting was to the now liberated Paris as Czechoslovak Air Attaché where he remained until 23 July 1945.
Svatopluk returned to Czechoslovakia on 1 September 1945; he remained in the Czechoslovak Air Force and was appointed as Professor to the Military Aviation Academy at Hradec Králové.
Following the Communist take-over in February 1948, the Czechoslovaks who fought for the Allies in WW2 were regarded as being tainted by capitalism and thus ‘undesirable’ in the new Czechoslovak regime. Many were dismissed from the military, demoted, stripped of their Czechoslovak decorations, arrested, imprisoned and subjected to other persecution and degradation.
On 29 February 1948, he was posted to the Military Aviation Academy at České Budějovice but shortly after he was placed on ‘waiting leave’ and was aware of the most likely outcome of that action – arrest by the StB (Státní Bezpečnost, the state secret police) – and imprisonment. He requested to leave the Czechoslovak Air Force, which was granted on 1 May 1948. Anticipating that he would be arrested like many of his former RAF colleagues, he began to prepare to go into exile again. This he achieved shortly after, when he escaped, via the wooded Šumava region of Czechoslovakia, across the border into the American Zone of Germany. He subsequently reached Paris where he worked for Air France for several years. In 1952 become Deputy Director of the New York office of Swissair. He died in New York, on 12 April 1966, aged 54.
1939 – 45 Star with Battle of Britain clasp
Air Crew Europe Star
Válečný kříž 1939 and bar
Za zásluhy I.stupně
Pamětní medaile se štítky F–VB
Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur
Croix de Guerre avec 2 Palme a silver star
He is commemorated, along with the other 2938 Battle of Britain aircrew, on the Christopher Foxley-Norris Memorial Wall at the National Battle of Britain Memorial, Capel-le-Ferne, Kent :
London Battle of Britain Memorial:
Winged Lion Monument, Klárov, Prague: