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The Airmen's Stories - Sgt. J Frantisek

 

Josef Frantisek was born a carpenter's son in Otaslavice near Prostejov on 7th October 1913. After his initial training as a locksmith, Josef volunteered for the air force, and went through the VLU Flying School in Prostejov in 1934-1936. He was then assigned to the 2nd Dr. Edvard Benes (named after the then Czech Prime Minister) Regiment in Olomouc.

 

 

He was serving with the 5th observation flight flying the Aero A-11, and Letov S-328 biplanes. It was during this time that Frantisek's individualistic attitude first showed. He never had a sense of discipline on the ground. Demoted from the rank of Lance Corporal to Private for late returns to his unit, pub fights and other incidents, Frantisek faced the prospect of being released from service.

As an exceptionally talented pilot he was chosen for a fighter course with the 4th Regiment, and he stayed with this regiment after completing training. In June 1938 he was assigned to the 40th Fighter Flight in Praha-Kbely. He was under the command of Staff Captain Korcak, and the pre-war Czechoslovak King of the Air - Lieutenant Frantisek Novak.

Frantisek perfected his flying and shooting skills here, flying Avia B-534 and Bk-534 fighters. During the dramatic events of 1938, the 40th flight was dispatched to several airports around Prague to defend the capital.

After the Munich agreement, the flight had to return to Kbely, where it stayed until 15th March 1939, when Czechoslovakia was taken by Germany without a fight. Josef Frantisek wasted no time escaping to neighbouring Poland.

On 29th July 1939, preparing to travel to France, Frantisek received an offer to join the Polish Air Force. He arrived at Deblin airbase, and after retraining with Polish equipment, became an instructor with the Observation Training Squadron under the Air Force Officers Training Centre Nr 1. He flew Potez XXV, Breguet XIX, PWS 26, RWD 8, RWD 14 Czapla, Lublin R XIII and other aircraft.

On 2nd September 1939, Deblin was the target of a huge Luftwaffe air raid. Frantisek had no time to take off with his Potez XXV among the falling bombs. He saw 88 Heinkel He111s from KG4 turning the largest Polish airbase into a heap of rubble.

Frantisek then left for Gora Pulawska airfield, where, under the command of Captain Jan Hryniewicz, he helped fly the remaining aircraft away from the advancing Wehrmacht. On 7th September 1939, Frantisek and some other Czech pilots were assigned to an observation training squadron at the Sosnowice Wielkie airfield near Parczewo. The unit, commanded by Lieutenant Zbigniew Osuchowski, had fifteen RWD 8 and PWS 25 trainers. On 16th September 1939, after further retreat, the unit was assigned to General of Brigade Skuratowicz to defend the city of Luck. On 18th-22nd September 1939, they flew reconnaissance and communication flights.

With Polish resistance coming to an end, on 22nd September 1939 the remaining six planes flew from Kamionka Strumilowa airfield to Romania. Three of these machines were flown by Czechs. Frantisek flew General Strzeminski in his machine. They landed at the Ispas airfield, and went on through Cernovici and Jassa to Pipera. They were interned, but escaped on 26th September.

They got to Bucharest, obtained documents, and on 3rd October 1939 boarded the steamer Dacia leaving Constanta for Beirut. They continued to Marseilles on board the Theophile Gautier, entering France on 20th October 1939.

Frantisek stayed with the Polish Air Force in France, which was part of L'Armee de l'Air. He was retrained at Lyon-Bronand, Clermont-Ferrand, where he reportedly test-flew aircraft after repairs. There are conflicting reports regarding his combat activities. Some witnesses claimed Frantisek shot down 10 or 11 enemy aircraft flying with the French.

These claims have never been disproved and, as Frantisek may have changed his name to protect his family, its unlikely that they will be resolved.

On 18th June 1940, after the fall of France, Frantisek took a Polish ship from Bordeaux to England. He arrived at Falmouth on 21st June. Frantisek was sent to a Polish aviation depot in Blackpool, and on 2nd August 1940 he left for RAF Northolt, where the 303rd Polish Fighter Squadron was being formed. The squadron was equipped with Hurricanes and on one of his first training flights on 8th August Frantisek belly landed after forgetting to lower his undercarriage, his aircraft V7245 was repairable.

 

 

On 2nd September he claimed a Me109 destroyed, on the 3rd another, on the 5th a Me109 and a Ju88, on the 6th a Me109. As a result of this encounter Frantisek’s aircraft suffered substantial damage and he crash landed in a field near Falmer.

On the 9th Frantisek shot down a Me109 and a He111, on the 11th two Me109s and a He111, on the 15th a Me109, on the 18th a Me109, on the 26th two He111s, on the 27th a He111, and a Me110, and on the 30th a Me109 and probably another.

He was awarded the DFM on 17th September and was decorated by the King at Northolt on 1st October. During a routine patrol on 8th October Frantisek was killed, when his Hurricane, R4175, crashed at Cuddington Way, Ewell, Surrey, after he clipped his wing tip on a tree.

He is buried in Northwood Cemetery, Middlesex. Frantisek was awarded the VM (5th Class) (gazetted 23rd December 1940), the KW and three Bars (gazetted 1st February 1941) and the Czech Military Cross (gazetted 15th July 1941).

 

His portrait was made by Cuthbert Orde in September 1940.

 

Frantisek often left the squadron formation and hunted for the enemy on his own. The 303 Squadron Leader, Witold Urbanowicz, dealt with this ostensible breach of discipline by unofficially declaring Frantisek a 'squadron guest', which was acceptable due to his Czech origin.

303 Squadron had 126 confirmed kills in the Battle of Britain - the most successful record for a RAF squadron in this period. Frantisek, with his 17 kills was best pilot of the squadron.

 

Additional research courtesy of Sgt Mark Bristow, Station Historian, RAF Northolt.

 

 

 

 
 

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