After the Germans marched into their country on 15th. March 1939, Czechoslovak airmen began to organise escapes illegally, defying the constant threat of the concentration camp and Gestapo torturers. They did so either through Poland in anticipation of the war or, after the fall of Poland, via a hostile Hungary and Friendly Yugoslavia.
Most headed for France where the Czechoslovak Government in exile was preparing for action to liberate their country from the enemy. those who arrived before the start of the war had to enlist into the French Foreign Legion, the only way of joining the French armed forces at that time.
On the outbreak of hostilities however, these exiles were transferred to the French Air Force and within the first few months of the war, a total of 146 Czechoslovak fighter pilots entered the fight and constituted approximately 1/4 of the French fighter force. Czech pilots, flying Dewoitine and Curtis fighters, fought with considerable distinction, between them destroying 140 enemy aircraft during the campaign in France.
Following the collapse of France, Czechoslovak Air Force personell once again escaped from the hostile invaders, making their way, by whatever means they could to England where, unlike the Poles who remained autonomous, they were incorporated as members of the Royal Air Force.
On 12th. July 1940, number 310 (Czech) fighter squadron formed at RAF Duxford in time to enter the early phases of the Battle of Britain, followed on 2nd August by number 311 (Czech) bomber squadron equipped with Wellington aircraft. These first two squadrons were joined in September 1940 and May 1941 respectively by numbers 312 and 313 (Czech) fighter squadrons. Czech airmen also formed part of number 68 night fighter squadron.
As a result of heavy losses, number 311 squadron was later transferred to Coastal Command and took part in the fight agains U-boats in the Battle of the Atlantic. Czech squadrons also took part in the Normandy invasion and the battle against the V bombs.
In 1944, following an agreement between the exiled Czech government in London and the Soviet Union, a number of experienced Czech fighter pilots were posted to the Russian front where they formed the 1st. Czechoslovak Fighter Regiment fighting alongside the Russian Army. These men were joined by exiled Czechs living in the Soviet Union and deserters from the Slovak Fascist Army. the regiment was subsequently expanded to a combined division flying both fighters and attck aircraft. Members of the regiment were the first exiled Czechs to enter liberated Czechoslovakia.
Throughout the war years a total of 2,507 Czechoslovak men and women served in the Royal Air Force, of which 634 were pilots, 1981 other aircrew catergories and 526 ground personnel. Of these 512 were killed.
For their gallantry, Czechoslovak airmen were awarded numerous British gallantry awards in addition to awards of the Czechoslovak War Cross, Gallantry Medal and Merit Medal.
My thanks to Mr. Tom Dolezal and his colleagues of the Free Czechoslovak Air Force Association for the assistance given regarding the facts contained in this page.