Hledani ztraceneho casu – v Britanii za vlast – 3

Part 3 of a Czech language documentary about the Czechoslovak Wing – 310, 312 and 313 Sqns when deployed at RAF Exeter in 1942.

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Vikend S Perinou – 09.04 – 10.04.2022.

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Prestice – 01.04 – 15.05.2022.

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Sidi bel Abbes to RAF Cosford 1940

The recollections of an unknown Czechoslovak airman.

The Czechoslovak airmen signed on with the French Foreign Legion at Marseilles. At their training camp things were very hard for them. Each legionaire signed on for five years. Learning the French language was one of many things that they had to be dealt with, rifle drill and other army activities.

Entrance to the French Foreign Legion barracks at Sidi-bel-Abbes.

After a short time they were sent to Algeria to the Legion’s training fort at Sidi-bel-Abbes. There they were assembled in the Companie d’Instruction Cadre (C.I.C.) They were there for a period of time while the Czechoslovak government in exile were negotiating a transfer for their airmen to join Armée de l’Air, the French Air Force. As senior airman in one group, Karel Trojáček was repeatedly asked to write to the Czechoslovak Embassy in Paris and put their case to them.

When the reply came, it informed them yet again that it was being looked into. So they had to carry on with the hard training in the Legion.

Czechoslovak airmen at Sidi-bel-Abbes, 3 August 1939.

On parade one morning, at the beginning of September 1939, the Czechoslovak airmen were called out of a line and informed that they were to be transferred to Armée de l’Air.

Released from their French Foreign Legion service, Czechoslovak airmen at Sidi-bel-Abbes railway station on their way to join Armée de l’Air, September 1939.

They were split into groups, bomber pilots to Istres, about 60 km from Marseille. The Commanding Officer at Istres Flying School was Cdr Dechaux. Here they were taught to fly twin-engined Bloch 200’s (Flying Coffin) bomber aircraft. Fighter pilots to Chartres, about 75km South West of Paris. Navigators, bomb aimers and air-gunners were sent to Tours, about 600 km away in North West France.

Czechoslovak airmen, Chartres, 3 March 1940.

Czechoslovak airmen, Tours, 2 December 1939.

At a later stage they were posted to various Armée de l’Air units for operations. After a time. all flying operations were stopped, it became quite obvious to them that the end was coming for the French. It was at this time Vesely was chosen from one of the groups as spokesman, he was to ask permission to be allowed to join the Czech Air Force, which was reforming at Bordeaux. The Armée de l’Air Commander told them that they had received orders to stay and stay they will. It became quite clear that they were all to be handed over the advancing German army on their arrival.

The Czechoslovaks had meetings and decided to leave and escape from the Germans. Their plans were hurried along when one day a German Dornier 217 crashed nearby and again Vesely was chosen to talk to the pilot, he was to act as interpreter for the French. When he reported back to the Czechoslovak airmen it was clear that they would have to move fast and that the Germans were on their doorstep. So they left for Bordeaux and re-grouped with other Czechs at Mérignac, in South West France.

On their arrival through various clashes with French officials they were united with fellow Czechoslovaks who had served in Armée de l’Air bomber and fighter units. They all had one aim – to reach England.

The Commander of the fighter unit was Major Alexander Hess who had arrived from Chartres. “Sasha” Hess was a famous pilot in Czechoslovakia before the war. He was 45 years old.

The harbour at Bordeaux is at the head of the estuary of the Gironde. There were two small boats provided for them, one was a Dutch vessel the ‘Ary Schaffer’.

Before they went on board they were told to get as much food as they could buy. When onboard, Major Hess and a Polish Colonel sorted out the accommodation as there were a few wives of Polish airmen with them. Early that afternoon the two vessels moved slowly up the estuary towards the sea. They moved slowly because it had been reported that the Germans had mined the estuary. On arrival at the mouth, both vessels anchored for a long time, knowing full well that they could be attacked at any moment. That night Bordeaux was attacked and this started things happening and they set sail and went West, into the Atlantic, to keep away from shipping routes and avoid German aircraft. Then they turned East for an uneventful voyage to England.

Aboard the ‘Ary Schaffer’, outside Falmouth harbour.

On the 24 June 1940, they arrived in British waters off Falmouth after a five-day journey. After a time they were given permission to enter Falmouth harbour, where they were met by Czechoslovak and Polish officials. After a good clean-up, change of underwear, and a good meal, they felt like new men. They were given 5 shillings back pay. The following day lorries arrived and they were taken to Falmouth railway station, from there by train to Wolverhampton, put on lorries and taken to RAF Cosford, just outside Albrighton, Staffordshire.

Arrival in England, Czechoslovak airmen, 1 July 1940.

They were greeted by other Czechoslovaks who had arrived before them from Canada and by various other means.

Czechoslovak airmen, some still in Armée de l’Air uniform, with President Eduard Beneš, Cosford, 5 August 1940.

The interpreters at Cosford informed them that negotiations were going on with the RAF and the Czechoslovak authorities in exile about them serving in the RAF VR. Finally, they were told that they had been accepted into the RAF. Officers above the rank of Czech rank of Kapitán would become Pilot Officers and below Kapitán would become Sergeants. The Czechs were allocated two squadrons.

Alexander Hess, Duxford, August 1940.

310 Sqn fighters C/O S/L Alexander ‘Sasha” Hess posted to RAF Duxford near Cambridge.

311 Sqn bombers C/O W/Cmdr Mareš posted to RAF Honington, near Bury St Edmund. Josef Schejbal and Josef Ocelka were appointed the squadrons Flight Commanders.

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Haverhill Remembrance 10.03.22.



Many thanks to the Family History (Haverhill) Group for remembering Czechoslovak airmen –

Sgt Ladislav FORNŮSEK, F/O Václav JELÍNEK and Sgt Jan JANEK.

at CWGC Haverhill.

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Kunovice 24.-25.03.22.

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Frantisek Knotek – Brno 27.03.22.

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Remembered at Pinner

The five Czechoslovak airmen interred at CWGC Pinner were this week when one of our volunteers visited to place our bouquets at their graves.

These airmen were the crew of 311 Sqn Wellington N2771 KX-H, which had taken-off from RAF Honnington for a bombing raid on the German Naval facility at Bremen. On the return flight the aircraft iced-up causing it to being flying lower, resulting in it hitting a barrage ballon near RAF Bentley Priory causing it to crash and catch fire on impact. Only the front gunner, 22 year old P/O František Truhlář, survived the crash but was badly burnt and thus becoming one of Dr McIndoe’s ‘Guinea Pigs’ requiring extensive medical attention and surgery for his recovery.

The crew was Captained by Sqn/Ldr Jan Veselý; Sgt František Zapletal, second pilot; P/O Jaroslav Slabý, navigator; P/O Jaroslav Matoušek, wireless Operator; P/O František Truhlář, front gunner; and Sgt Josef Albrecht, reargunner.

František Truhlář, pre-war.


The night of 16/17 October was to be a fateful night for 311 Sqn who were stationed at RAF Honington. Four of the Squadron’s Wellington bombers were sent out on missions to bomb the North German Naval shipping yards at Keil and Bremen – but only one was to return to base.

In the afternoon of 16 October an order was received from 3 Group for an attack to be made that night on the North German shipping yards at Keil and Bremen in Germany and four Wellington bombers were despatched that night.

The first Wellington, 1021 ‘X’ took -off at 18:35 to attack a German battleship reported to be moored in Keil harbour. Due to poor weather conditions the results of that raid were not observed and the aircraft landed back at Honnington at 23:40.

The second Wellington, KX-K N2773 under the captaincy of Flt/Lt Josef Šnajdr, took-off from RAF Honington at 18:30, for a raid on Bremen Naval base and dockyard. They reached their target but due to low cloud, they were unable to observe results of their bombing. On the return flight to base from the raid, when it became iced up. The radio failed and due to the ground being totally obscured by, cloud the crew were unable to get a positional fix. Hoping for a break in the cloud, Šnajdr decided to stay airborne to the limit of his fuel. He took the aircraft down to below five hundred feet and the crew had a brief glimpse of a strange piece of coastline, but were still uncertain as to where they were. Sometime later with the fuel rapidly running out and no break in the overcast, Šnajdr reluctantly ordered the crew to prepare to jump. After a quick round of handshakes and good luck wishes, the crew one by one leapt out into the blackness. It was raining heavily, thus the crew got a soaking to add to their misfortune. One crew member, after a safe landing, knocked at a cottage door and requested help. He was promptly held up at gun point by the irate cottager. For him this was the last straw and he fainted! He came-to some time later comfortably ensconced in an arm chair and had his spirits revived with a mixture of tea and whisky. He was then collected by the village policeman and spent the remainder of the night at his home. A second crew member arrived at the village doctor’s home, having spent an hour trying to get down from a tree in which his parachute had become entangled. Unfortunately things did not go well for P/O Miloslav Vejražka, the wireless operator, officially it was reported that his parachute had failed to open properly and that he fell to his death (although other accounts suggest that he was shot and killed by members of the local Home Guard, who mistook him for a German paratrooper!). The aircraft came down near Blidworth in Nottinghamshire.

The third Wellington N2771 KX-H, took-off at 18:45 for its mission to also attack the Bremen Naval base and dockyard. The aircraft suffered radio and compass failures and the crew were unable to obtain an accurate positional fix also became iced up on the return to base. Way off course in the darkness they collided with a barrage balloon cable. This mangled one of the bomber’s wings and it crashed close to the RAF Fighter Command’s headquarters at Bentley Priory. The only crew member to escape from the stricken aircraft was the front gunner P/O František Truhlář, who was none the less badly burnt (He later returned to operational flying, having retrained as a fighter pilot and served with 312 (Czechoslovak) Squadron). The others who died in the crash were the pilot, Sqn/Ldr Jan Veselý; the second pilot Sgt František Zapletal; the navigator P/O Jaroslav Slabý; the wireless Operator, P/O Jaroslav Matoušek and gunner Sgt Josef Albrecht.

The fourth Wellington, KX-T L7844, became the first aircraft from the squadron to fall victim to an enemy night fighter. The aircraft was shot down by Lt Ludwig Becker of 4/NJG1 over western Holland. It was his first victory. Becker was flying a Dornier Do 17 Z-10 equipped with a gun-camera and attacked the bomber from behind setting the starboard engine on fire. The stricken Wellington began to lose height before spinning into the ground and bursting into flames. Only two of the crew; Sgt Emanuel Novotny and Sgt Augustin Šesták managed to bale out in time and were later captured by the Germans, the rest of the crew (the pilot P/O Bohumil Landa, the navigator P/O Hubert Jarošek, Sgt Ottoák and Sgt Karel Klimt) all perished. They are now interred at the CWGC cemetery at Oosterwolde General Cemetery, Holland.

This was also the first ground radar-controlled “Dunkle Nachtjagd” (DuNaJa—dark night fighting, without search lights) victory of the war. Lt Becker and his radio operator Josef Staub were vectored to the target by Leutnant Hermann Diehl, a Luftwaffe communication officer who had begun experimenting with a Freya radar on Wangerooge in 1939.

These sever losses suffered by the squadron were a contributing factor in it being was temporarily withdrawn from operations during the last week of October.


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Hledani ztraceneho casu – v Britanii za vlast – 2

A Czech language documentary about the Czechoslovak Wing – 310, 312 and 313 Sqns when deployed at RAF Exeter in 1942.

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Hledani ztraceneho casu – v Britanii za vlast – I

A Czech language documentary of WW2 recollections by Czechoslovak RAF veterans Ladislav Sitenský, 312 Sqn, Marcel Ludikar, 311 Sqn, František Fajtl, 313 Sqn, František Peřina, 312 Sqn and aviation historian Zdeněk Hurt.

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