Josef František
Josef František
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František was born in Otaslavice, in what is now Czechoslovakia on 7 Oct. 1912 (or 1913 - Aces High or 1914 - a Czech website, which is confirmed by Jiri Rajlich = JR * see below) and was the son of a carpenter. He was first apprenticed to a locksmith, or a car mechanic says JR, before joining the Czechoslovak air force in 1934. After basic training he joined the Czechoslovakian Air Force Air Regiment 2. In 1935 he was a Corporal in Air Regiment 1 and returned to Air Regiment 2 as a Sergeant in 1937. They never faced the Germans in direct combat due to the decisisions of the Munich Agreement 29/30 Sept 1938. JR states that following the German occupation the Czechoslovak Army was desolved on 1 April 1939 and Frantasek was released from service and became a civilian!

It is said that he escaped to Poland in 1938 and joined the Polish Air Force. According to Aces High, he escaped to Rumania where he was interned but escaped to France via the Balkans and Syria about early May 1940 and arrived in England by about June 1940. In view of what JR states this can not be right; although he does acknowledge that many legends grew up about this time. It would seem that František crossed into Poland on the night of 13 June 1939. He found his way south to Constanta on the Black Sea and sailed to Marseille and then by train to Paris arriving on 22 Oct 1939.

His history becomes confused as Battle of Britain Then and Now states that he did not serve in the Polish Air Force in 1938-9 but that a Czech platoon was formed in Poland and served in the East against invading Soviets. All Czechs who served in this unit and escaped from Poland to UK remained with the Poles since Czech authorities in exile maintained friendly relations with the Soviets. František was posted as a fitter at the Polish airbase at Clermont Ferrand and was notorious for being AWOL and flying all types of French aircraft he could get his hands on.

It has been said that he machine gunned columns of troops before flying off to Poland and joined the Polish airforce in March 1939 and may have destroyed some German aircraft in the September invasion. He immediately joined a French fighter squadron and was reported to have destroyed 11 enemy aircraft and was awarded the Croix de Guerre. However, it seems likely that he has been confused with František Perina, another Czechoslovakian.

František's time in France is as confused as ever with his life, but it seems that there can be no doubt that he landed at Falmouth on 21 June 1940. All Polish pilots were assemled at a Depot in Blackpool from where he was posted not to 310 Czech Squadron but to 303 Polish Squadron on its formation on 2 August 1940.

Beyond question, Sgt. František was flying with 303 Squadron on 8 August 1940 as it was on this date that he landed with his undercarriage up following a training flight. He was unhurt, the aircraft was damaged but repairable and this appears to be 303 Squadron's first misfortune. On 2 September 1940 he achieved the first of his kills, an Me 109, followed by another on 3 Sept .On 5 Sept. he downed Ju 88 together with another Me 109, and yet another on 6 September. On 9 Sept. while breaking up a raid which went on to disgorge its load on Purley and Epsom he accounted for another Me 109 together with an HE 111 before he appears to have been shot down over Beachy Head, having to force land near Falmer unhurt with the aircraft repairable.

His success continued, accounting for a further four ME 109s plus one probable, four HE 111s, probable misidentified Ju88s and two ME 110s. This total of 17 victories and one probably detstroyed made him the top scoring pilot in the Battle of Britain, and all within the month of September 1940.

Regrettably he crashed on 8 October in his Hurricane R 4175, Squadron marking RF-R but again there is some confusion. Aces High vol. 2 states that he was killed while crash landing at Northolt, the Squadron's base at the time, but this is not confirmed by Battle of Britain Now and Then which states that he crashed at Cuddington Way, Ewell [Priest Hill].

Regardless of František's background, there can be no denying his bravery. His list of decorations is as follows:
  • Virtuti Militari 5th Class (VM), 18.09.1940
  • Distinguished Flying Medal (D F M) - for recommendation see TNA AIR 2/9326." This award, although recommended on 01.10.1940 by ACM Dowding and Granted by King George VI, was never actually presented to Frantsek as he died just a week later. Unusually he had been strongly recommended for a bar to his DFM just twenty days after the first.
  • Virtuti Militari 5th Class (VM), 23.12.1940
  • Polish Cross of Valour (KW) with three bars, 1.02.1941, or 1.07.1941, says JR
  • Polish Air Force commission - 16.07.1941
  • Czech Military Cross to DFM, 15.07.1941
  • and posthumously commissioned as 1st. Lieutenant 1945.
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Text Source: Copyright Bert Barnhurst 2005,
Chairman Epsom & Ewell Local & Family History Centre (Opens in a new window)

During other recent research, and quite by chance, the following emerged regarding Sgt J František :

Sgt František, a Czechoslovakian, flew with No.303 Polish Squadron during the Battle of Britain when he became the highest scoring pilot of the Battle. He died on 8 October 1940 when aged 27.He was one of eight airmen who died that day, and one of the nine casualties of 303 Sqd. throughout the Battle.

Sgt J František DFM is buried at Northwood Cemetery, Ruislip, Middlesex in section H, grave no. 246.

Text Source: Copyright Bert Barnhurst 2007

* Since the publication in 2010 of Jiri Rajlich's book, Hurricane Ace, Josef František, The True Story (ISBN 978-83-89450-71-5), much credit should be given to Rajlich for what must be considered the definative work on Josef František. It is well researched with many photos and it is on the basis of this that some of the above text has been ammeded.

Bert Barnhurst April 2013

Spotlight on the Hawker Hurricane

Hawker Hurricane
Hawker Hurricane
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The Hurricane was initially developed by Hawker to meet an the Air Ministry specification for a fighter aircraft built around the new Rolls-Royce Merlin engines. The original design was started in 1934 and was the work of Sidney Camm but it was rejected by the Ministry so Hawker decided to proceed with it as a private venture. The plane was designed for traditional construction with fabric stretched over a metal frame and utilised many of Hawker's existing parts, tools and jigs. The Hurricane was very durable and proved far more resistant to exploding cannon shells than the metal-skinned Spitfire. The simplicity of its design meant that remarkable repairs could be improvised in Squadron workshops.

The Hurricane was ordered into production in 1936 mainly by virtue of its relatively simple construction and ease of manufacture. At the time it was unclear if the much more advanced Spitfire would be able to enter production smoothly, whereas Hurricane production was a well understood manufacturing process. This was true for service squadrons as well, who were experienced in working on and repairing aircraft constructed like the Hurricane. With its ease of maintenance, widely set landing gear and benign flying characteristics, the Hurricane remained in use in theatres of operations where reliability was more important than performance, long after it was obsolete as a fighter aircraft. In all, some 14,000 Hurricanes and Sea Hurricanes were produced.

Hurricane Mk I
Deliveries of the Mark I production planes started in October 1937. These early aircraft were simple, with fabric-covered wings, a wooden two-bladed, fixed-pitch propeller, and lacking armour or self-sealing tanks. Powered by the 1,030 hp (768 kW) Rolls-Royce Merlin Mk II or III engine, the Mk I was armed with eight .303 inch Browning machine guns. Although the use of this number of guns sounds impressive, the fact is that this relatively small calibre armament was more suited to shooting down the wood/canvas machines of the First World War. It was relatively common during the Battle of Britain for the (metal) German planes to be struck by a surprisingly high numbers of .303 bullets but still return safely to base. The use of a smaller number of larger calibre guns would have been far more effective and this was rectified in later versions of the Hurricane.

In 1939, a revised Mk I series was introduced which included metal-covered wings, armour and other improvements and about 500 of this later design formed the backbone of the fighter squadrons during the Battle of France and into the Battle of Britain. During the Battle of Britain, the Hurricane shot down the majority of the planes claimed by the RAF (1,593 out of 2,739 total claimed). By late 1940 the Huricane was becoming outclassed as a pure fighter and the higher specification Spitfire could be produced faster. However the general design went through marks II to V and was modified for many other tasks including a fighter bomber and the succesful Sea Hurricane modified for launching from carriers.

Specifications (Hurricane IIC)
General characteristics
  • Crew: One
  • Length: 32 ft 3 in (9.84 m)
  • Wingspan: 40 ft 0 in (12.19 m)
  • Height: 13 ft 1½ in (4.0 m)
  • Wing area: 257.5 ft² (23.92 m²)
  • Empty weight: 5,745 lb (2,605 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 7,670 lb (3,480 kg)
  • Max takeoff weight: 8,710 lb (3,950 kg)
  • Powerplant: 1× Rolls-Royce Merlin XX liquid-cooled V-12, 1,185 hp at 21,000 ft (883 kW at 6,400 m)
  • Maximum speed: 334 mph at 21,500 ft (505 km/h at 5,400 m)
  • Range: 600 mi (965 km)
  • Service ceiling: 36,000 ft (10,970 m)
  • Rate of climb: 2,780 ft/min (14.1 m/s)
  • Wing loading: 29.8 lb/ft² (kg/m²)
  • Power/mass: 6.47 lb/hp (kg/kW)
Armament - Guns
  • IIA: 8× 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Browning machine guns
  • IIB: 12× 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Browning machine guns
  • IIC: 4× 20 mm Hispano Mk II cannon
  • IID: 2× 40 mm Vickers Type S cannon, 2× 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Browning machine guns
Armament - Bombs (IIC & IID):
  • 2× 250 lb bombs, or
  • 2× 500 lb bombs

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