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History - Czechoslovaks in the RAF 

With the Munich agreement Czechoslovakia lost over a quarter of its entire territory and about a third of its population. Though in strategic terms, the most serious loss was the German acquisition of the mountains, which provided the Czechoslovaks with a natural protective barrier, together with a line of special fortifications. In effect, this annexation guaranteed that Czechoslovakia could not effectively defend itself against Germany. Six months later, on 15 March 1939 - the fateful Ides of March – German troops marched into Czechoslovakia and the Czechoslovak armed forces were ordered to offer no resistance, since any such opposition would have been futile. In the weeks that followed the occupation, thousands of Czech soldiers and airmen managed to leave Czechoslovakia, most of them escaping to neighbouring Poland before sailing to France. Until war was formally declared, the French assigned them to the Foreign Legion in north Africa but, on the commencement of hostilities, the Czech airmen were drafted into the Armée de l’Air and, in May 1940, took part in the short-lived Battle of France. The rapid fall of France then led to some 4,000 Czechoslovak soldiers and airmen leaving France to sail to Britain – the last line of defence between democracy and fascism.

The first 30 Czech pilots to reach Britain landed in an RAF aircraft at Hendon on 17 June 1940. Next day, the Czech President-in-exile Dr Eduard Benes wrote on behalf of the Czechoslovak National Committee to the British Secretary of State for Air, Sir Archibald Sinclair, pleading that a special effort be made to bring the remaining Czech airmen out of France and over to Britain in order that they could continue the fight.

Then, on 2 July, he submitted to the British Government a memorandum urging that the Czech airmen be allowed to participate at once in the defence of Britain and that a formal agreement covering the status of Czech military personnel in Britain be concluded as soon as possible. The British Government acted quickly: within a month of the Benes memorandum, a Czech fighter squadron and a Czech bomber squadron had been formed.

The Czechs were desperately eager to fight and they brought invaluable flying experience and an unquenchable hatred of the Germans who were occupying their country. For its part, the Royal Air Force needed as many trained aircrew as it could muster as what was to become known as the Battle of Britain was about to commence.

However, there was no time to conclude a formal agreement on the status of the Czechoslovak airmen prior to their deployment in the RAF. Therefore all Czechoslovak officers and airmen were immediately commissioned or enlisted in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (RAFVR). Originally all officers, irrespective of their Czechoslovak rank, were commissioned in the rank of pilot officer, the lowest commissioned rank in the RAF. The only exceptions made were in the case of flight and squadron commanders who were necessarily granted the appropriate acting ranks. All airmen were enlisted with the lowest possible classification of aircraftsman 2nd class and awarded a higher acting rank to fill establishment posts as applicable, so that most were soon granted the temporary rank of sergeant. In the beginning, the Czech airmen were concentrated at the Czech air Force depot at Cosford, near Wolverhampton, through which they all passed before they joined a squadron.

The incorporation of the Czechs in the RAFVR and the formation of the Czech squadrons was all part of a process formally recognised in an official agreement between the British Government and the provisional Czechoslovak Government concluded on 25 October 1940. It was signed by the respective Foreign Ministers, Lord Halifax and Jan Masaryk. The agreement confirmed the employment of the Czech airmen with the Royal Air Force, the personnel being members of both the RAFVR and the Czechoslovak Armed Forces, subject to the laws of both forces. Any cost of maintaining the Czechoslovak military effort was to be refunded by the Czechoslovak Government from credits granted by the British Government.

Interesting facts:

Altogether three Czech fighter squadrons ( 310, 312, 313 ) :
-28,335 operational flights totalling 46,905 hours,

The Czech bomber squadron ( 311 ) :
-1,011 operational sorties totalling 5,192 hours,
-approximately 1,218,375 kg of high explosive bombs and 92,925 kg of incendiary bombs were dropped on enemy territory,
-after its transferral to Coastal Command in 1942 - 2,102 operational flights totalling 21,527 hours and was credited with four enemy aircraft destroyed and three probables plus 35 attacks on U-boats and four on surface vessels,
-heaviest casualties: out of the 480 killed, 273 came from this one squadron,

On 27 May 1942, members of the Czech resistance, who had been parachuted into Czechoslovakia by the RAF, killed Reichsfuhrer Reinhard Heydrich as he drove through the streets of Prague

Total number of Czechoslovak airmen who lost their lives while serving in the RAF came to 480,

The deaths of all these Czech airmen is commemorated on the Sunday nearest 28 October – the Czech day of national independence – in a simple ceremony at the Czech cemetery in the village of Brookwood in Surrey,

At the end of the war, there were some 1,500 Czechoslovaks still serving in the RAF, so that the total number of Czechoslovak airmen who served in Britain was probably around 2,000

Jakub Dianiska
CS Lewis Bilingual High School

Dr Alan Brown -"The Czechoslovak Air Force In Britain 1940-1945"

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Bratislava History Project
British International School of Bratislava
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Contact : Richard Jones-Nerzic