With the Lion in Their Hearts
Almost as soon as Germany invaded and occupied the former Czechoslovakia in 1939, many members of the Czechoslovak military risked death or harsh imprisonment by attempting to leave their homeland and offer their military services to nations that had taken up arms against Germany. Most fled to Poland initially; though many took up combat positions in the Polish military, many others moved on to positions in British, French and Soviet services. Roughly 2,500 Czech airmen joined the ranks of the Royal Air Force.
In June of 2014, the British expatriate communities of the Czech Republic and Slovakia presented permanent monuments in the capitals of both countries in gratitude to the many Czechoslovak pilots who served in the RAF during the Second World War. In November of 2017, placards bearing the names of the Czechoslovak men and women who served in the RAF during World War Two were added to the monument in Prague.
Czechoslovak pilots served in the RAF with distinction from the pivotal Battle of Britain in 1940 to the end of hostilities in 1945. While some remained in Great Britain after the war and continued their RAF careers, others returned to Czechoslovakia where a cruel twist of irony awaited them.
Swept Under the Carpet
In 1948, with the Communist government coming to power in the former Czechoslovakia, any hope for a return to normal life for the pilots who returned to their homeland was brutally dashed.
Initially, they were welcomed home as heroes and began the rebuilding of the nation and their lives in earnest. However; the hero status of these men, along with their exposure to western values, were seen as threats to the authority of the newly established Communist regime of 1948 and they were systematically marginalized in social status, imprisoned or forced into jobs of hard physical labour.
Some managed to escape the new regime and move to Britain or other free nations. For those who were not able to do so, their roles, sacrifices and contributions in WWII were all but erased by the Communist government and hidden from the public.
It would not be until the fall of Socialism in 1989 that the full scope of these pilots’ activities would be released to the populace of the newly democratic Czechoslovakia.
With the increasing awareness among Czechs and Slovaks of the role played by Czechoslovaks in the Allied war effort, the airmen in the RAF particularly, there have been a growing number of memorials placed around both countries in recognition of the risk, sacrifice and heroism of those men and women. Sometimes the memorial is as simple as a placard, though some are quite a bit more elaborate.
An example of one of the more complex monuments can be found in České Budějovice, in the southwest of the Czech Republic. This monument consists of a partial replica of a Supermarine Spitfire fighter with a path leading up to it that contains silhouette images of the different aircraft types flown by the Czechoslovak airmen in their RAF service.
A Story Worth Telling
If you wish to learn more about the Czechoslovak pilots and their exploits in RAF service, and I encourage you to as there are some very compelling stories connected to them, here are some links to follow:
The Free Czechoslovak Air Force blog is a wonderful resource with a wealth of information on the pilots, both collectively and as individuals:
This link will take you to a 2018 interview with the founder of the above website. In the interview, he recounts how his father and other former Czechoslovak RAF pilots committed the world’s fist triple hijacking in order to escape the Communist government that took over Czechoslovakia in 1948:
In this interview from 2001 with General Zdeněk Škarvada (1917-2013), he relates some of his experiences living in post 1948 Czechoslovakia:
Referenced in the above interview is the 2001 film “Dark Blue World”. Written and directed by Czech father and son duo, Jan and Zdeněk Svěrák, it is the compelling story of a former Czechoslovak RAF fighter pilot imprisoned by the Communist regime in the early 1950s. The story travels back and forth between the prison and the war; while fictitious, it is well worth watching and is refreshingly free of the usual bravado seen in war films.
“When Lions Roar” was a booklet published in conjunction with the unveiling of official monuments in Prague and Bratislava dedicated to the 2500 Czechoslovak airmen who served in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. It’s a very good primer for anyone wishing to know more on the subject.
Nostalgia and Nibbles
If you happen to be in Brno and have an interest in the Czechoslovak pilots’ contribution to the RAF efforts, you really should make a point of visiting the unique Air Café in the city centre.
In the café, you will be surrounded by display cases filled with photographs, uniforms and flying gear with direct connections to some of the Czechoslovak RAF pilots. You can also take in the multitude of period posters and photographs lining the café walls.
About 30 minutes south-West of Brno, you can find the RAF House restaurant and museum in the small city of Ivančice.
RAF House presents tremendous ambience in both its regular restaurant area and its showcase lounge and museum that is dedicated to the Czechoslovak airmen. The focal point of the lounge is wall mural of a Spitfire fighter which has a wing that extends outward into the room to serve as a dining table.
The restaurants museum is named after General Emil Boček (1923-), the last known surviving of the Czechoslovak airmen who served in the RAF.
Beyond the ambiance of RAF House, you’ll also be rewarded with excellent food and a chance to sample some local wines for making the trip there.
15 thoughts on “Czechs in History – Czechoslovak Pilots in World War II”
My father, Antonín Svěcený, flew for the RAF and was one of the lucky ones who both survived the war and left Czechoslovakia for England in late 1947, just before the coup. He felt it wasn’t safe to stay, and he was right.
Hi Shelley, thanks for visiting my blog and commenting. It’s most appreciated as is your father’s service.
A very welcome article and references thank you.
Does the winged lion monument carry the names of those remembered?
Paul Kopecek (ref. 312 Squadron)
Hi, Paul. Thanks for your visit and kind comments. I think the winged lion is a general monument to the airmen, there weren’t individual names on it when I saw it shortly after it was unveiled.
On 17 November 2017. the names of 2507 Czechoslovak men and women, who had served in the RAF during WW2, were unveiled on the plinth around the Winged Lion.
Thanks for the information, I’ve adjusted the article text appropriately.
I am the Honorary Consul for the Czech Republic in Queensland, Australia, and had previously heard part of the story of brave Czechoslovak and Polish pilots who fought with the Allies against Germany. can you tell me how many of the Czechs flew in Spitfire squadrons? I am one of the Trustees of The Sir Henry Royce Foundation in Australia and manage a large Showroom.museum in one of my buildings at Coolum Beach, where we have a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine on display. I have many Czech citizens come by and also presently have a display of 24 large posters featuring pics and details of the best Czech Castles and Chateaux. it will be nice if I can appear more knowledgeable on the subject of your feature article and I look forward to your help. Visit http://www.carrollstransportdepot.com.au and linked sites such as http://www.henryroycefoundation.com.au. Frank Carroll.
Thanks for taking the time to visit. I’ve asked around few sources on the internet and hopefully one of them will be able to give an answer. I’ll post it here or email it to you if they get back to me with a definitive answer.
Thanks Kevin. I did more intense research and have found a number of resources which say, among other things, that 2,507 Czechoslovak patriots served in the British RAF, mainly in 5 squadrons (after many had served in the Polish Air Force during the short time before Poland fell), but spread throughout the air force which saved the free world as we know it. Upon returning home after the War, these heroes (3 even rose to leadership of flight squadrons) were treated very badly when the Communists seized power in 1948. The Commies could not afford to have ‘heroes of the west’ being appreciated, so imprisoned, demoted, killed these patriots.
Hi Frank, I was in contact with the Military Historic Institute (VHU) here in the Czech Republic and they said that while an exact number is not possible to give, it is known that more than 300 Czechs piloted Spitfires in the RAF during the course of WWII.
Hi Kevan. That sounds right – there are many references to them in various books I have read and continue to find. I’ll keep working on it and ensure their bravery is never forgotten! Frank.
Is there a aite which lists the name around the lion monument?
The Free Czechoslovak Air Force site has a page with a list of names of Czechoslovak RAF personnel during the war. All the names on the monument should be in the lists on that page: https://fcafa.com/czechoslovak-raf-personnel/
My father Rudy Klecka during WWII was an American GI from Texas and was station next to Czechs in Exeter, England . His parents was from Czechoslovak, so he spoke and understand the Czech language. He kept in touch with the Czechs after the war and in 1960s he started bring American – Czech in groups every year till 2006. My parents spread the of freedom to the Czech people and did their part in taking down that wall down.
That’s great to hear, thanks for sharing your father’s accomplishment here.