One of the Few
…………….* 27.08.1915, Domoušice.
…………….† 31.12.2002, Dumbarton, Scotland
Václav Bergman, the son of Josef and Božena, was born on 27 August 1915, at Domoušice, a village in the Louny district of Czechoslovakia, some 30 miles North-West of Prague. There he had four years of elementary schooling, followed by three years of secondary education prior to seven years at Rakovník Grammar school where he completed his education, graduating in 1935.
For his compulsory military service was selected for training as an aviator and was sent to the Military Aviation Academy at Prostějov for his elementary flying training. He graduated on 1 July 1936 and was posted to the 4 Observation squadron of the 1st Air Regiment ‘T.G. Masaryk’, of the Czechoslovak Air Force who were deployed at Chleb airbase, a fighter squadron equipped with B534 biplane fighter aircraft.
During this time he decided that he wanted the military as his career. In 1937 he was assigned to the Military Aviation Academy at Hranice from where he graduated in 1938 at the rank of poručíka (Lt). On 3 July 1938, having been assessed as a ‘moderate, but promising pilot’ he was assigned for fighter pilot training at 43 Fighter sqn of the 4th Air Regiment stationed at Prague-Kbely airfield. By the time the Germans occupied Czechoslovakia on 15 March 1939, he had achieved 203 flying hours.
After the German occupation of Czechoslovakia, 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. For the military personnel and many patriotic Czech citizens, this was a degrading period. Many wanted to redress this shame and humiliation and sought the liberation of their homeland.
Germanisation of Bohemia and Moravia had begun immediately. But by 19 March 1939, former senior officers of the now-disbanded Czechoslovak military had started to form an underground army, known as Obrana Národa [Defense of the Nation], working in co-operation with Svaz Letců, the Airman Association of the Czechoslovak Republic. 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.
Václav, now working for the Avia aircraft factory at Letňany airfield, Prague, like many of his fellow Air Force colleagues, saw it as their duty to escape to Poland, to join the Czechoslovak military units forming there. On 17 June, he and a small group of former Czechoslovak airmen escaped over the border to Poland. There they presented themselves at the Czechoslovak Consulate in Krakow on 23 June and reported for military duty. Unfortunately, here he was to find that the information about Czechoslovak military units being assembled in Poland had been incorrect; the Polish authorities would not permit it as they were concerned about antagonising Nazi Germany and provoking it to attack Poland
The Czechoslovak Consulate however 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 escapers, however, could be accepted into the French Foreign Legion 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.
In the interim, whilst arrangements were made for their journey to France, they were transferred to Bronowice Małe, a former Polish army barracks on the outskirts of Krakow. With other Air Force colleagues, Václav left Maly Bronowice by train for the Polish Baltic port of Gdynia where they boarded the Kastelholm and arrived, after a rough voyage, in Calais, France on 31 July.
Initially Václav and his fellow escapees were housed at Base Aérienne de St Cyr whilst the formalities of acceptance into the French Foreign Legion were undertaken prior to be sent to the Foreign Legion training camp at Sidi-bel-Abbès in Algeria. Before going to Siddi-bel-Ables, war was declared on 3 September 1939 resulting in Václav being released from his Legion service, on 10 October 1939, and transferred, at the rank of sergeant to l’Airme d’air training base at CIC Base Aér de Chartres for re-training on French equipment.
In 16 May 1940 Václav was assigned to the operational unit of Escadrille de Défense légère at the airbase with the rank of Lt. They were equipped with MS-406C fighter aircraft. On 13 June 1940, with the French capitulation imminent, he and other Czechoslovak airmen were released from their l’Airme d’Air service and travelled to Bordeaux. There the Czechoslovak airmen, under the command of Staff Capitan Josef Schejbal, together with Poles and other nationalities, boarded the ship ‘Karanan’, a small 395 tonne Dutch cargo ship, for the voyage to Britain. They sailed on 19 June and arrived two days later at Falmouth.
After arriving at Falmouth, the Czechoslovak airmen were transferred to RAF Innsworth, Gloucestershire for security vetting. Václav was accepted into the RAF Volunteer Reserve, at the rank of P/O and, at the beginning of July, transferred to the Czechoslovak airmen’s Depot at Cosford, near Wolverhampton. On 12 July, with other Czechoslovak pilots, he was posted to the newly formed 310 (Czechoslovak) Sqn which was based at Duxford, near Cambridge. They were equipped with Hurricane Mk I aircraft and commanded jointly by S/Ldr Alexander Hess, the first Czechoslovak to command an RAF squadron. and S/Ldr George D.M Blackwood.
After rapid conversion to Hurricanes and some basic English lessons, taught by Louis de Glehn, the squadron was declared operational on 17 August and participated in the Battle of Britain. Václav had completed his Hurricane conversion and was passed for duties as an operational pilot. He made his first operational flight in the Battle of Britain on 20 August. Flying Hurricane P3143 as no 2, in yellow section led by F/Lt Gordon Sinclair, with Sgt Rudolf Zima as yellow 3, he undertook a patrol from 15:30 to 16:00 with no interceptions. During the Battle of Britain, he was to make a further 20 operational flights totalling some 18 hrs 55 min. During this period he achieved combat success of:
Me110c confirmed, near Worcester
Ju88A confirmed, near Basildon
Ju88 damaged, 8 km south of Duxford
During this period Václav was also shot down. On 26 August 1940, during an attack on a Do17 from III/KG 2, over Clacton, Essex his Hurricane Mk I P3960 was shot down at 15:35 by a Me109 from II /JG3.He bailed-out, from his on-fire aircraft at 1,700 feet, near Southminster. He had received a slight flesh wound in his right leg during the attack and was taken to Rochford Hospital for treatment, and returned the following day to the squadron at Duxford.
Despite numerous other sorties, he was to unable to achieve further combat success during the Battle of Britain. He stayed with 310 Sqn until 1 January 1943, being appointed ‘A’ Flight Commander when he achieved further combat success:
Hurricane Mk IIA Z3440
Ju-88 probable, North Sea 13 km off Aberdeen
Spitfire Vb BL265 NN-L
FW109a damaged, off Isle of Batz, France
During this period he received further promotions: to F/O on 27 December 1940 and a year later to F/Lt.
Václav was promoted to Acting S/Ldr on 2 February 1942, finishing his first tour of operations on 1 October that year. After a short rest period, during which, on 16 November 1942 he married Miss Jean Cooper, he was posted, on 1 January 1943, to 313 (Czechoslovak) Sqn, based at Churchstanton, Somerset and equipped with Spitfire Mk Vbs where he was ‘B’ Flight Commander.
In September 1943, having completed his operational tour, he was posted for his rest period to the Czechoslovak Inspectorate General (CIG) until 31 January 1944 where he was a Staff Officer. He then returned to 313 Sqn, as their C/O until 22 May 1944. Now, with the rank of acting W/Cmdr he was posted to 19 Sector Headquarters as a Liaison Officer where he served as a Czechoslovak Sector Commander seconded to Group Captain A.G.Malan, DSO, DFC.
Václav was recommended for a DFC on June 1944, after completing 369 operational sorties and 522 hours flown on operations (with RAF). His citation for this award:
“Immediately after arrival in this country after fighting in France this Officer joined 310 Squadron on its formation in July 1940, and except for two short rests he has been employed on Operations ever since. He has always shown as excellent offensive spirit ”
The award was approved on 30 June, 1944 by T. Leigh-Mallory, AOC-in-C, Allied Expeditionary Air Force, and was awarded on 3 July.
He was then posted to the Czechoslovak Transfer Pool (CTP) on 1 February 1945 and on the 8 March transferred to the Czechoslovak Inspector Pool (CIP). In March 1945 he was sent to study at the Command and General Staff School at Leavenworth, Kansas, USA, for an Air Staff course from which he graduated on 26 May 1945. He then returned to the UK and attended the RAF Staff College at Gerrards Cross until 11 March 1946.
On his return to Czechoslovakia, Václav remained in the Czechoslovak Air Force and was appointed Staff Officer at their Headquarters at Dejvice, Prague. On 15 April 1946 he was appointed Commander of the Operational Section of the Ministry of Defence.
Following the Communist take-over in 15 February 1948, he was moved from that position and instead appointed as interim commander of the Aviation regiment at Milovice airbase. He was becoming increasingly concerned about the Communist’s attitude to those who had served in the West during WW2. The Communist persecutions had already started and so he arranged for his British wife and young daughter Stasa, to return to the UK. On 1 June, on the grounds of being politically unreliable, Václav was placed on ‘waiting leave’ from the Air Force, aware that this was the forerunner to being arrested and imprisoned for having served in the RAF. That September, with the help of people smugglers, he crossed the border illegally near Cheb, in North West Czechoslovakia into the American Zone of Germany.
He returned to England and re-joined the RAF, at the now lower rank of F/Lt on 11 March 1949. Václav was now retrained to fly multi-engine aircraft and on 10 August 1950 was posted to 209 Sqn stationed at RAF Seletar, Singapore, where he flew Sunderland flying boats against Communist insurgents in the Malaysian jungle. During the Korean War, he flew Sunderland Mk Vs on reconnaissance flights off the Korean coast. During this war he was mentioned in despatches on 21 March 1952 and on 24 April 1953 was awarded a bar to his DFC. The citation for this award:
“Flight Lieutenant Bergman has carried out sixty operational sorties in Korean waters during the last two years, often in most adverse conditions. He has set an outstanding example as a captain of aircraft and the skill and determination with which he has carried out his operational duties have followed naturally upon the exact attention to detail which he has employed on every occasion. He has commanded the Flying Boat Wing Detachment at Iwakuni for two periods during the past year and his work has been of the highest standard throughout. His high ability, leadership and bearing have encouraged and ensured the best results from all concerned”.
In January 1953 he returned to the UK and was re-trained to fly 4-engined Avro Shackletons in RAF Coastal Command and was stationed at St Eval, Cornwall. At the end of 1957, now 42 years old, he ceased operational flying. He then served as Senior Air Traffic Controller at RAF airbases in the UK as well as RAF Seletar, Singapore and RAF Gan, in the Maldives. Whilst serving as Senior Air Traffic Controller at RAF Hullavington, and now divorced, he met Mary Windsor, a pre-war WAAF Flight Officer, and they married in 1963. Between 1965 and 1970 he was stationed at the RAF V-Bomber bases at Leconfield, then at Finningley and then at Lindholme. He retired from the RAF, with the rank of S/Ldr, on 27 August 1970.
Following his retirement he lived near Scarborough on the Yorkshire coast where he had a very active life involving travel, pet dogs, fishing, home and garden renovation and in particular his famous wine making: his ‘wines’ were about 30% alcohol and more akin to spirits than wine!!
Václav was a private, quiet, caring man who was generous with his time. Following the Falklands war in 1982, he sold his medals and donated the proceeds to help British veterans of that conflict.
Mary died in 1984, and in 1993 he married Winifred Barber, a Scot from Dumbarton near Glasgow, where they lived until he died on 31 December 2002.
For his wartime service, in three Air Forces, he was awarded the following medals:
Valečný kříž + 3 bars
a chrabrost před nepřítelem and 3 bars.
Za zásluhy I. st.
vojenská pamětní medaile se štítky F a VB
Distinguished Flying Cross
1939–1945 Star with Battle of Britain Clasp
Air Crew Europe Star
Croix de Guerre avec Palmes
US Service Medal
Prague – Klárov:
In November 2017, his name, along with the names of 2512 other Czechoslovak men and women who had served in the RAF during WW2, was unveiled at the Winged Lion Monument at Klárov, Prague.
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 at Capel-le-Ferne, Kent:
He is also commemorated on the London Battle of Britain Memorial: