The Czechoslovak “Few” in WWII

The Czechoslovak “Few” in WWII

A Journey Into The Role of Czechoslovaks in World War II

The Czechoslovak “Few” in WWII

The Czechoslovak “Few” in WWII

A Journey Into The Role of Czechoslovaks in World War II

Published 09.02.2012
Last updated 09.02.2012

“Never was so much owed by so many to so few.” – Winston Churchill

The Munich Agreement, otherwise known as the Munich Pact, was signed on September 30, 1938 between Nazi Germany, France, Italy, and the United Kingdom. With Czechoslovakia having an earlier agreement with France and the United Kingdom to protect it in case of attack or invasion. The relative ease with which the German-speaking regions of Czechoslovakia were handed over to Germany stunned many at the time. It became clear that it was only a matter of time before a military conflict would arrive. The Munich agreement spelled an escalation of hostilities and paved the way for the eventual invasion of Poland in 1939 – i.e. the official beginning of the Second World War.

With an inevitable war at the doorsteps, many Czechoslovaks left the country to the United Kingdom, Russia, and other European destinations, determined to defeat the Nazi shadow over Europe. These included politicians, ordinary families, soldiers, pilots, and Jews, many of who were lucky to have foreseen the oppression that was to follow. It was then that Eduard Beneš (the former Prime Minister and then-president of Czechoslovakia since 1935) abdicated, leaving the country in October 1938 for the United Kingdom, followed by the US, where he established himself as the representative of the Exiled Czechoslovak Government. Others followed, but perhaps the most resonant of these groups were the soldiers and pilots that played their role in defeating the forces of the Axis.

Czechoslovak Pilots

Czechoslovak pilots left in large numbers following and prior to the formation of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (Protektorat Böhmen und Mähren) on March 15, 1939, not willing to settle for the unbearable developments around them. Many wanted to join the Polish forces, but were channeled into France due to an initial lack of interest from Poland. Following growing unease, however, those remaining were later welcome only to briefly participate in Poland’s efforts to revert an overwhelming attack only soon after. Others chose to leave Czechoslovakia through Romania, ending up in France or the USSR, which initially imprisoned them, only to free them later to France and the UK. Unknown by many, German Marshall Hermann Göring (ex-pilot ace of WWI) even offered to take in 1500 Czech pilots and personnel following the formation of the Protectorate. To any clear-minded pilot, this equaled treason and betrayal.

No. 313 Czechoslovak squadron of the RAF
No. 313 Czechoslovak squadron of the RAF

Among the most-known pilots were those who joined the forces of the RAF (Royal Air Force) of the United Kingdom and its allies following the Fall of France. With the UK realizing the grave and growing dangers posed by a well-armed and well-seasoned Luftwaffe (German Air force), the need for pilots and personnel was immense. While the German pilots had extensive experience from the Spanish Civil War and the Invasion of Poland, the British pilots did not. There was a dire need for trained pilots and the UK alone did not have the required amounts of personnel. Pilots from the occupied territories were therefore highly welcome. This is why, for example, the formations of Czechoslovak pilots were formed prior to any official agreement with the exile government. Within a very short time, the exiled government agreed with the UK to create the following squadrons, some of which would soon fight at the Battle of Britain (July 10 – October 31, 1940), which was a defensive battle as a response to Germany’s bombing raids:

№ 310 Fighter Squadron, formed June 12. 1940, based at Duxford
№ 311 Bombing Squadron, formed July 29. 1940, based at Honnington
№ 312 Fighter Squadron, formed September 5. 1940, based at Duxford
№ 313 Fighter Squadron, formed May 10. 1941, based at Catterick

There were about 100 further Czechoslovaks that were integrated as part of other Allied squadrons. Although not specifically Czechoslovak Squadrons, Squadron No 1 and No 68 had notable Czechoslovak presence. In fact, this was so apparent that Squadron 68 carried the motto ‘Vždy připraven’ (‘Always ready’). Squadron 1, on the other hand, was allocated a considerable boost of 31 Czechoslovak pilots.

The overall number of Czechoslovaks in the RAF amounted to a number some claim to have exceeded 2500. What should be stressed for an accurate understanding of the historical situation is that 1/5th of the entire RAF was composed of non-British personnel, pilots included. To mention the largest groups, these were members of the Commonwealth, Poland (147), Czechoslovaks (87), Belgians (29) and so on. Without these people, the results may have well been entirely different. With a production rate of 300 airplanes a week, it would be an effort in vain without the pilots to fly them. Czechoslovak pilots played a major role in this.

Below are some of the most famous Czechoslovak pilots to have served in the RAF and allied armies:

Czechoslovak Pilots of the RAF
Czechoslovak Pilots of the RAF

Karel Miloslav Kuttelwascher ("Kut") – One of the highest scoring RAF fighter aces: the best RAF night intruder, 6th best night fighter, 18 confirmed kills (many sources attribute 20). He is often referred to as the Night Hawk for his exemplary skills at night.
Sergeant Josef František DFM – The highest scoring Battle of Britain Ace, who survived it with 17 confirmed kills – KIA October 8, 1940. He is known for his lack of discipline while in air and for downing the 17 airplanes within a short period of only 4 weeks. For this, he is often referred to as the Lone Wolf.
Lieutenant General František Fajtl – Although not an ace, he is one of the best known pilots and one of few to be shot down above Nazi-controlled France, evade capture, and return to UK to fight again. He flew in the Battle of Britain under the RAF, led a group of Czechoslovaks under the patronage of the Soviet Air Force and participated in the fight during the Slovak National Uprising. 
Wing Commander František Peřina – considered one of the most successful Czech fighter pilots to serve in WWII, Peřina is credited with 15 confirmed downed enemy planes. He flew for France, then the RAF, heading the RAF Czech Squadron 312. He is sometimes dubbed the “General of the Skies”, primarily for his natural authority and respect.
Allied airmen had much less training and experience when compared to their German counterparts, many of whom were already battle-hardened from conflicts like the Spanish Civil War. Fighting them was therefore an extremely brave and heroic act on its own. James Edgar Johnson, the best British ace had 38 confirmed and 3 probable kills. For the sake of comparison, the best German ace, Erich Alfred "Bubi" Hartmann, is credited with 352 confirmed downed enemy planes – all in 1456 missions. He is often dubbed the “Ace of Aces” for his proficiency in aerial combat. Interestingly, while many of Germany’s aces fought throughout the entire war, a large portion of the Allied aces were instead tasked with training new pilots – disallowing them from further successes, but allowing for easier replenishment with new pilots.

Operation Athropoid  –  “The Assassination”

Many non-pilot military personnel also left the country for the same reasons as the pilots. Many wanted to fight the oppressors and free Czechoslovakia from the hands of the forces that occupied it. Following the formation of the Protectorate, Reinhard Heydrich was appointed the Deputy Reich-Protector, at that time considered to be the second highest ranking Nazi officer following Hitler. He is infamous for being one of the main architects of The Holocaust and his iron hold on the territory was passionately despised by the local population.

This lead to serious underground opposition and sowed the idea that he should be removed. As part of Operation Anthropoid, a Czechoslovak team was assembled by the exiled government in the UK. After training from the UK Special Operations Executive, its sole role was to be sent to the occupied territory, liaise with the underground and assassinate him. Two groups (Group A and Group B) were dispatched on December 28, 1941. Jozef Gabčík (Slovak) and Jan Kubiš (Czech) were the two soldiers to carry out the assassination in Prague on May 27, 1942. As Heydrich took his daily commute from Panenské Břežany to Prague, he was interrupted by Gabčík and Kubiš near the Bulovka Hospital. Gabčík’s machine gun jammed and Kubiš had to step in by stopping the vehicle with a grenade. The grenade disabled the car and severely injured the Protector including Kubiš. Heydrich died of his injuries on June 4, 1942.
The Czechoslovak team, including many of those that helped, were identified following the interrogation of Karel Čurda by the Gestapo, and later killed by the Germans in the Church of Saints Cyril and Methodius in Prague. Following the assassination and death, about 1300 people were murdered and the entire village of Lidice burned to the ground in retaliation. On June 9, the village was surrounded, and men, women, and children were seperated. All men older than 16 were killed, and only 153 women and 17 children survived to tell the story – following their return from concentration camps.

The Few That Changed History

Although countless pages could be written on the topic, all of the above people had one thing in common: the drive and determination to fight oppression and evil in the vision of a free society and a free Europe. Czechoslovaks, both ordinary and military, played a major role in the course of the War and together with the Allies, helped defeat the Germans. Their role should never be forgotten. As George Santayana once said, “A country without a memory is a country of madmen.”

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The Czech and other non British pilots were not forgotten. The best example is CBBC's Horrible Histories "RAF Pilot Song":

The finest British pilots
That the world could hope to have
Binky! Stinky! Squiffy! Franstisek! And Stansislav!

Hold fire, is that some foreign chaps
Risking their necks?
That's right! Some of the bravest men
Were Polish and Czech!

I'd toss in the Lovejoy Christmas special "The Prague Sun".

BTW, I am here since I am looking for a pic of the RAF nationality shoulder patch for Czechoslovakia.

20.25.39 24.01.2017

Tom Dolezal(Guest) Published: 01:34:10 31.01.2015
Some good information here but also some incorrect, namely : 1. 'Czechoslovak pilots left in large numbers' - it was not just Czech pilots who escaped to Poland in 1939 but other Czech airmen as well - for example mechanics, air gunners as any Air Force comprises of more than just pilots. Also some Czech women escaped who were to serve in the WAAF's in Britain, one of whom was to be killed in RAF service. 2. Karel Kuttelwascher was the most successful Czechoslovak fighter pilot of WW2. 3. Josef Frantisek was killed in a flying accident whilst returning from a patrol, not KIA which is killed during combat. 4. With reference to Poland (147), Czechoslovaks (87), Belgians (29) - you are here referring to just pilots who flew in the Battle of Britain. In this battle it was actually 88 Czechoslovak pilots flew. Over the course of WW2 there was some 1360 Czechoslovak who were actually aircrew of which 684 were actually pilots.
Comment from: Catskill Published: 09:52:14 20.10.2013
It is puzzling to witness how the fact that Czechoslovakia didn't put up a stiff military resistance against the nazis seems to be better remembered than the outrageous fact that the "allies" especially Britain and France sold CZ down the river.... During the negotiations and while Daladier and Chamberlain were cutting up CZ, Benes was kept waiting in another room not allowing him ANY participation in the negotiation...They essentially told him to "sign on the dotted line and keep comments to himself". These are the same countries who had an agreement to defend CZ against Germany... These are the same countries who hardly moved a finger when the Soviets invaded Poland a few days after the Nazis and gobbled part of the territory some of which they are still holding today, and yes, the allies were the same"paladins" who stood still when the Soviets gobbled up part of Finland and the Baltic States. Some other stuff to remember: - Augustin Preuci was a Czech pilot who fought for the RAF in the Battle of Britain...but he turned into a Gestapo agent for - One of the greatest Luftwaffe aces was of Czech descendance. - Anthropoid was a very misguided operation. By the way, Karel Čurda did did not identify the assassins "after being interrogated by the Gestapo......" as the article states in a sanitized version....he SOLD them to the Gestapo voluntarily for 500,000 Reichmarks, married a German woman and continued spying for the Gestapo. Cheers!
Richard Williams(Guest) Published: 05:56:52 19.10.2013
Hello, I am researching Czech espionage efforts in Kabul, Afghanistan 1939-1945. Any suggestions on resources in regards to Czech Espionage efforts would be greatly appreciated. Richard Williams
Comment from: nancyrock Published: 04:51:51 24.01.2013
Besides the more well known Czechs who fought during the war, travel to some small towns outside Plzen and around that area and read the roadside memorials built to the men who performed very brave acts. And, also thank the Czechs for never forgetting what the Americans did to help. Attend a parade that marks the end of WWII, whether in a large city or small town and be moved to tears when you see the outpouring of gratitude of the Czech people for the liberation from the Nazis. Let them know you are American, no matter your age, and strangers will come up to you, shake your hand and say "Thank you America".
Comment from: Published: 08:10:17 23.01.2013
to anybody who submits posts about Czechoslovak cowards. There are some very helpful things to look at when considering situation of Czechoslovakia in that days. Maps. try to search for some maps of czechoslovakia in 1938 and 1939. Then look how long was our borders with Germany (or The Reich) They are quite long and somehow encirkling Bohemia and Moravia (Slovakia is completely different story) Then search for some map including areas with German majority. and then think about defending the rest. (minus Slovakia, those guys abandoned us on march 1939) Now, imagine landscape of Bohemia. there are really very few locations where partisan warfare is possible (some of them in not so densely populated Moravian regions, some of them in mostly German-populated area) that is not so much in comparison to previousely mentioned Yugoslavia. And search something about czechoslovak mobilisation, 1938, sudeten crisis and, best of all: "help" of UK and France in Munich, which ruined Czechoslovak defensive strategy altogether (we were counting on your help, lads!) I am over. please, learn something about topic before spreading your opinion online. pretty please
Comment from: Published: 11:46:58 05.03.2012
Bek: Thank you for your comments. Please note that the usage of the word "German" and "Russian" is of course a generalization and virtually all educated readers will know that what I wrote does not apply to all members of those nations during WWII. Czechoslovakia was indeed essential for the war effort. I myself have German blood in me and my grandfather was born to a German/Czech family - only speaking German. I know for a fact my Great-Grandmother despised the Nazis, regardless of their nationality. I have no resentment against the Germans whatsoever. Within the EU, such attitudes simply do not make sense and we should all learn from history. Germans and Czechs lived together for centuries and this will remain so. You will find most older generation Czechs who have lived through he war have some resentment, but the educated younger generation sees the bigger picture and does not have memories to cloud their views.
Comment from: Published: 07:20:26 03.03.2012
A major fact is, that Germany,( and in this case I want to say Nazi Germany, because a lot of Germans were not Nazi's in the same way as before and during the Russian revolution many weren't Bolsheviks), needed the resources and manufacturing capabilities of Czechslovakia to fight and sustain any meaningful war, and it was well known then. The fact is that the Czechslovakians capitulated and decided not to fight, there was no gun to their heads in any way more than the Russian's to the Finnish, or in Hungary or many other places. It was a national decision as was shown by the majorities acquiescence...which can be called as participatory by many as only the very few fought or did anything against. There were 8.7 million Czechoslovaks as far I know, and only a few thousand did anything against the Nazi's... I think there are a large historical willful forgetfulness about the reality of matters in any war as well as historical falseness afterwards by the victors or those perceived as the 'moral' right. I know of a few Czechs, very nationalistic today, whose grandfathers fought for the Nazi's on the eastern front. They considered it adventurism and not betrayal as well as, many had German blood as in fact most Czechs today have German blood. Which brings me to a last point, in order to be more accurate why call it a fight against the Germans and not Nazi's while you refer to the Soviets and not Russians? It was an idealogy, also know as the third Reich, and not a germanic whole as such fighting that war, remember, the US had 45 million Germans living there before WW2 and their young men fought for the US, although as Americans then. All you're doing is perpetuating the simmering resentment against Germans and who still are today and will be tomorrow.
Comment from: Published: 10:12:02 15.02.2012
WIth reference to the "wise" decision not to find against Germans, both during their invasion (outright war) and after it (as a resistance). Should other nations fought the same, that the most important thing is not to have their cities bombed, we would have much less soldiers in the entire coalition to fight against Germans. Czechs, Hungarians etc. - they are small nations indeed, but other nations who had less human power than Germans - e.g. Poles or Yugoslavs - did opposed the Nazis. The Yuogoslav resistance was the biggest during Second Word War, the Polish one was the second largest. Poles were the first who openly opposed the Nazis, otherwise the WWII would have officialy started when - in 1941 ? When I hear Czechs saying it was a wise decision, I always remind them the quote from one of the best movies ever, which was additionally directed by a Czech, Milos Forman - "One flew over the cuckoo's nest". You might remember the scene when McMurphy (starred by Jack Nicholson) bet that he will move the big box out of the shower room ? The other guys were laughing at him when he tried in vain, and were happy that they won their 1 dollar bets. And he replied to them "But at least I tried". Unfortunately, many people before and during WWII did not even bother to try, preferring to sit calm. So eventually they indeed have their cities unbombed (won 1 dollar bets), but have lost something more ...
Comment from: Published: 09:44:23 14.02.2012
Casastrpraha: Thank you very much for the comment. There are points that could indeed not be ignored from your comments. It is no secret that Czechoslovakia belonged to the most industrialized and developed countries before the WWII. The army was indeed considerable and well-equipped. However, what you seem to ignore is the fact that the political choice was to succumb to the Nazi pressure by being deprived of Sudetenland and much of its defenses, then followed by the decision not to fight when it became apparent that Czechoslovakia would be separated and fall. It was no secret any outright defensive action would equal suicide. The repercussions would have been severe. Mind you that as a result, we still have what we have, i.e. a country largely untouched by bombing and with much of its cities still present - something that could not be said of other countries. Plzen and other industrial centers were indeed bombed, but because of their significant military production assets. The grip of the Nazi power figures on Czechoslovakia did not allow for much open resistance and much of it was indeed not something you will find in textbooks. The Czechoslovak territories, primarily the production centers were indeed an essential and indispensable asset to Germany. Forget not that at the end of the war, there were still over 1 million German soldiers left in what is now the Czech Republic. Would it be wise to fight them? Fighting them would not be an option when the Czechs still did not have the capability to do so. I would compare it to trying to fight someone outside of the prison when you are actually behind bars. Put yourself in the situation at hand at the time. It is easy to denounce in retrospective, but much harder to understand what lead to the decisions at the time. The choice was made not to fight as it would lead to the destruction of much of what we have, not mentioning the loss of life. The choice was made and those outside of the country did their utmost to fight the Nazi opression - i.e. what this article covers.
Comment from: Published: 08:17:53 13.02.2012
Could not believe my eyes when I saw the comment which says "Czechoslovaks, both ordinary and military, played a major role in the course of the War and together with the Allies, helped defeat the Germans." It would be a sacrilege to say something like that. Nothing can be farther from the truth. The Czechs, and I am not talking about the several hundred who actually did fight against the Nazis, but about the millions who did not, played a most major role in providing the Nazi Germany with weapons and ammunition. Of the highest quality. In 1935 CS was the largest producer of arms in Europe, and had one of the best equipped armies. That army did nothing to try and stop the Nazi invasion. When Hitler took over CS, all these Skoda plants worked at full steam providing the Wehrmacht with tools which were used to kill tens of millions of English, French, American, Soviet, Polish, you name it, soldiers and civilians. What also should not be forgotten, is that during the war there was virtually no guerrilla warfare conducted by the locals against the Nazi invaders. And the first and only "Prague uprising" against the Nazis happened less than 2 days before the end of the war, when there were virtually no Germans left on the CZ territory, with the sole purpose of pretending that the Czechs were against the Nazis. And what also should not be forgotten, is that the Allied forces bombed the Czechs just as they bombed the Germans, as the Czechs were not considered as friendlies that much at the time.
Comment from: Published: 09:49:13 11.02.2012
Globetrotter: Thank you for the comments. It is indeed true that the Slovak Army had some 42,000 - 50,000 troops depending on the sources which were involved, among other things, in Operation Barbarossa. Unfortunately, I do not know the exact number of those who switched sides to fight with the Russians. However, I would not be surprised if that were the case as they were involved in some of the heaviest fighting. Some 10,000 Slovaks were killed as a result.
Comment from: Published: 07:56:28 10.02.2012
Kudos goes to the author for this most informative article. I often wondered what happened to the Czech military after the Nazis occupied CZ? Now I know :-) ....I heard from a seemingly knowledgeable Czech that the Slovak Army during WWII at first fought for the Nazis in Operation Babarossa (the invasion of Russia by Germany and her Allies Slovokia, Hungary, etc), but actually only fought at the beginning for the Nazis, and that they soon defected to the Russian side on the Eastern Front. Is this true? Perhaps Mr. Purkrábek can shed some light on what the Slovak Army was doing on the Eastern Front? In any even thanks for a great article.
Comment from: Published: 03:04:54 10.02.2012
A well-written and well-researched article. I have previously researched the role of Czechoslovak pilots in the Royal Air Force and their contribution to the Allied war effort during WWII (particularly the Battle of Britain) along with Operation Anthropoid. I find your article to be very accurate. Well done!
Comment from: Published: 12:16:42 10.02.2012
ChicagoSportsFan: Thank you for the comments on my article. Much of the events that occurred during or prior to WWII were separate from the will of the populations. The developments that occurred were a result of the military and political developments of the time. It is unjust to claim that the Slovaks sold out to the best of their ability. The truth is different. Czechoslovakia was forcefully separated, one part became the Protectorate and the other the Slovak State, both of which did not have the public backing it. One could look at the Ustaša movement in Croatia in comparison. Despite a fraction of the population supporting it, it failed because the majority did not and also because it was seated into power through non-democratic means and essentially, with German support. You may also find that the article mentions Czechoslovaks as one entity, because indeed it was one before and after the War. Those that did fight together considered themselves Czechoslovaks. Despite the differences, they were brothers in arms. Even the separation of Czechoslovakia in 1993 was not welcomed by the majority at all and most still considered themselves as one nation. Much of the separation was political in nature. I believe that there is very little more to say regarding the points you raised and the article's purpose was not to cover the differences, but rather the similarities of Czechoslovaks (yes, composed of Czechs and Slovaks) who chose to oppose the changes that took place.
Comment from: Published: 11:15:45 10.02.2012
You serious? Czechs and Slovaks were 2 different states with 2 distinct identities in WWII. Slovaks embraced the Germans and sold out to the best of their ability so as to create their own state and become German allies. Czechs were invaded and became and unwilling German state with an actual partisan opposition. This article is borderline revisionist propaganda in the way it arbitrarily groups everyone as Czechoslovak. Am I right or wrong?