The Airmen's Stories - Sgt. V E Cukr
Vaclav Eric Cukr was born on 16th October 1913 in Prague, Czechoslovakia. On leaving school he trained as an electrician but on 1st October 1932 enrolled in the Military Aviation Academy at Prostejov.
He graduated on 15th June 1934 and was posted to the 2nd Squadron of the 1st Air Regiment, based at Prague-Kbely. On 15th September 1935 he was assigned to the Military Aviation College at the same location. On 1st July 1937 he was posted to 85 Bomber Squadron of the 6th Air Regiment.
When the Germans took over Czechoslovakia in March 1939 the Czech Air Force was disbanded and Cizek was demobilized.
On the night of 13th June 1939 Cukr was in a group of airmen smuggled aboard a coal train near Kuncice, Ostrava. It took them over the border into Poland where he reported to the Czech Consulate in Krakow. They arranged for him to board the Kastelholm at Gydnia on 27th July 1939, which sailed for France. He was enrolled into l'Armee de l'Air and on 6th October 1939 was assigned to CIC Chartres for retraining on French equipment. On 8th March 1940, after completing an air-gunnery course at Montpelier, he was posted to GC II/3, operating the MS406 aircraft but later re-equipped with the D520.
On 20th May Cukr claimed a probable Do17, on the 22nd a Ju87 destroyed and a Hs126 shared, on the 24th and 26th he shared in the destruction of two Do17's and on 4th June he destroyed a Me109 and shared a He111.
On 8th June, during an attack on a Ju87, he received a head wound which nearly blinded him. He had to abort the attack and make a belly-landing in a field near Vailly, an area already being overrun by forward units of the German army. He managed to evade capture and crossed back into French held territory where he collapsed unconscious. He was found by French soldiers who took him to the hospital at Chateau-Thierry.
After treatment he left to avoid capture by the advancing Germans.
During the Battle of France Cukr was credited with the destruction of eight German aircraft, making him the third most successful Czech pilot of that Battle.
With France collapsing, Cukr and other Czech airmen were released from service and travelled to Port Vendres from where on 24th June they were evacuated by ship to North Africa. He then boarded a ship for Gibraltar where he transferred to the Neuralia which arrived in Liverpool on 12th July 1940.
He was enrolled into the RAFVR on 6th August at the Czechoslovak Depot at Cosford and on the following day joined 310 Squadron at Duxford.
He was sent to 6 OTU on 17th August, converted to Hurricanes and joined 43 Squadron at Usworth on 12th September. During a combat on 23rd September his aircraft was badly damaged and he had to make an emergency landing at Biggin Hill. He went to 253 Squadron at Kenley on or about 28th September. He made his first sortie with them on the 29th.
Commissioned in early 1941, Cukr remained with 253 but the injuries he had received in France started to affect his flying. Following medical tests he had to cease operational flying and on 12th March 1941 he was posted to 52 OTU at Debden as an instructor.
During 1942 Cukr was posted to the Test Unit at Kemble, where he went on a conversion course to become a test pilot on multi-engined aircraft. On 15th January 1943 he was posted to 20 MU at Aston Down as a test pilot for the SOA technical unit.
He also commanded a small flight which converted multi-engined pilots to single-engined fighters.
On 4th July 1943, during a test flight in a modified Mustang I, AG489, Cukr was in collision with a Spitfire flown by a pupil from 52 OTU. He managed to bale out but was at low altitude and the parachute failed to fully deploy. He landed in some tree-tops but was seriously injured. He was admitted to the RAF Hospital at Wroughton and then spent the remainder of the war in the RAF Rehabilitation Unit at Loughborough.
He was invalided out of the RAF on 13th August 1945 as a Flight Lieutenant and returned to Czechoslovakia.
Initially he remained in the Czechoslovak Air Force with the rank of Major but his injuries eventually resulted in him being invalided out. Following the communist takeover in February 1948 Cukr was warned of his coming arrest and in spite of his injuries was able to escape over the border into the American Zone of Germany in May 1948.
He was assisted by five former RAF colleagues.
In Germany Cukr joined the Czechoslovak Intelligence Office, an anti-communist news organisation.
He remained with the CIO until 1957 when it was disbanded due to infiltration by communist agents.
Cukr returned to England where he obtained British nationality and changed his name to Cooper. In 1959 he emigrated to New Zealand where he died in Christchurch on 24th October 1989.