The loss of Hurricane P3960 by P/O Václav Bergman.
After the occupation of Czechoslovakia by Nazi Germany in March 1939, a large number of Czech airmen escaped, mainly through Poland, to France. Many took part in the early air actions of the war in the units of the French Air Force. In the concluding phases of the campaign, June 1940, the Czechoslovak Government in exile arranged the transportation of these airmen, and the ground forces, to the U.K. The first Czechoslovak fighter unit, No 310 Sgn, was formed at RAF Duxford on 10th July 1940.
Due to language difficulties, the Command posts were double-banked by British officers. The pilots were quickly instructed in the handling o£ British aircraft and procedures. This task was entrusted mainly to F/O John Bolton, a qualified flying instructor, who was greatly respected and liked by all, and whose efforts were greatly appreciated. His nephew, Mr Ben Chamberlain, thoroughly researched his life and work with the Czech airmen. The squadron. was equipped with Hurricanes and, in mid-August was declared ‘operational’. I was a member of this unit holding the rank of a Pilot Officer.
It took place on 26 Aug 1940 at about 15:40 hrs. The Sqn was ordered to take-off at 15:00 hrs to patrol North Weald at 15,000ft. I was No 3 in Yellow section, led by F/Lt Gordon Sinclair. We entered clouds at about 3,000ft and broke into clear sky at 7,000ft. We were still climbing when a close formation of some 18 enemy bombers (Do 215’s) was sighted, proceeding on South-East course. By visual signals, the squadron was ordered to reform into line-astern by flights, and we began attacking the enemy formation from astern against concentrated fire from enemy gunners. The low clouds had disappeared. The action took place in the vicinity of the NE suburbs of London.
Quite suddenly, the Sqn was set upon by a number of enemy fighters – Me 109. With hindsight – these must have been lurking well above the bombers, and, our top cover, which should have been provided by a squadron of Spitfires, did not materialise. Immediately. a number of individual ‘dog fights’ developed. 1 found myself hounded by two Me 109, equipped with cannons – and I was no match for these.
I was soon peppered by a burst of fire, the engine started to smoke and to run intermittently. I also had a bullet or a splinter of a cannon shell in my left calf. To get off the mess, I entered a steep dive in an easterly direction towards open countryside. To my horror, I noticed the barrage balloons, tethered by steel cables, well above my head. I distinctly recall the shining steel cables, capable of sawing off a wing, and to this day I have no idea how I managed to avoid these. I as well below 2,000ft, had reached open country; the engine was pouring heavy oily smoke – just spattering and I had to get out. I pulled the Hurricane into a shallow climb, opened the cockpit and, fighting the slipstream, climbed onto the seat. The slipstream did the rest. It pulled me out of the cockpit, and clear of the tail surfaces. To pull the ‘D’ ring of my chute was an automatic action.
I landed in a hayfield, some 30yds from the wreck. It was embedded in a hay-stack – all furiously burning. In no time at all, I was surrounded ’by a number of men wielding hay forks ana other farm appliances, obviously under the control of a farmer with a shotgun pointed at me. It was obvious I was assumed to be a German airman. I was quite shaken and my English as limited to my name, rank, unit and ‘RAF Duxford’. I was escorted to the nearby farmhouse at gunpoint. The gentlemen with the gun did a lot of phoning which confirmed my identity while the lady of the house washed and dressed my wound and we all had a cup of tea. Both, the lady and gentleman were very kind, but the conversation as very stilted due to my inadequate English.
At about 18:00 hrs, my Sqn Commander, Wg/Cdr D. Blackwood, drove in to claim me. He also had to bail out, having received an incendiary bullet in his fuel-tank but escaped unscathed. By 20:00hrs we ere standing at the bar at the Mess at Duxford none the worse for the experience. My wound was only a flesh wound and did not trouble me unduly. Next day I was taken to Cambridge Hospital for proper attention and three days later went back to full flying duties.
© Václav Bergman