No. 311 Squadron RAF

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No. 311 Squadron RAF
RAF311Sq.gif
Badge of № 311 Squadron RAF
Active 29 July 1940 – 15 February 1946
Country United Kingdom United Kingdom
Allegiance Czech Republic Czechoslovak National Liberation Committee
Branch Air Force Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg Royal Air Force
Role Bomber, maritime patrol, transport
Motto(s) (Czech): Na množství nehleďte
("Never regard their numbers", Hussite battle cry)
Insignia
Squadron badge A thresher and a morning star in saltire, the halves fracted.
Squadron codes KX (July 1940 – April 1942)[1]
PP (1945 – February 1946)[2]
Aircraft flown
Bomber Vickers Wellington
Consolidated Liberator

No 311 (Czechoslovak) Squadron RAF was a Czechoslovak-manned bomber squadron of the Royal Air Force in the Second World War. It was the RAF's only Czechoslovak-manned medium and heavy bomber squadron. It suffered the heaviest losses of any Czechoslovak formation in the RAF. In the Second World War 511 Czechoslovaks serving in Allied air forces were killed. Of these 273 (53%) died while serving with 311 Squadron.[3]

After the end of the war, 311 Squadron was disbanded as an RAF unit and became the 6 letecká divize ("6th Air Division") of the reformed Czechoslovak Air Force.

History[edit]

Bomber Command[edit]

Three 311 Squadron Wellington Mk IC medium bombers over Norfolk in March 1941

The squadron was formed at RAF Honington in Suffolk on 29 July 1940,[4][5] although RAF records give the official date as 2 August.[6] It was crewed mostly by Czechoslovaks who had escaped from German-occupied Europe. Some were airmen who had trained with the Czechoslovak Air Force, escaped to France, served in the French Air Force in the Battle of France and then been evacuated to the UK.[7] Others were soldiers who had served in Czechoslovak Army units in the Battle of France, been evacuated to the UK and then volunteered to transfer to the RAF Volunteer Reserve in order to serve in 311 Squadron.[8]

The squadron was equipped initially with Wellington Mark I medium bombers, which were soon succeeded by Wellingtons of Marks IA and IC.[5]

From 16 September 1940 the squadron was based at RAF East Wretham in Norfolk as part of Bomber Command's No. 3 Group,[9] whose commanding officer was Air Vice-Marshal John Baldwin. He said 311 Squadron "put up a wonderful show" and had "the finest navigators in Bomber Command".[10]

On 18 January 1941 HM King George VI and his consort Queen Elizabeth visited the squadron at East Wretham.[11]

Wellington Mk IC L7842 after being captured in 1941. Its RAF roundels had been replaced with German crosses, but at this stage it still carried its RAF number and call sign.

On 6 February 1941 six of the squadron's Wellington Mk IC aircraft took part in a raid on Boulogne-sur-Mer in German-occupied France. On the return flight one aircraft, L7842/T, suffered navigation problems. Then it ran low on fuel, its commander Plt Off František Cigoš mistakenly judged that they were over England and he landed at Flers in northern France. Both the aircraft and its crew were captured.[12][13] The Luftwaffe repainted KX-T in German markings and transferred it to its Erprobungsstelle (experimental and test facility) at Rechlin–Lärz Airfield in Mecklenburg.[14]

On 20 June 1941 the squadron gave a dinner for the President of the Czechoslovak government-in-exile, Edvard Beneš. Other guests included Foreign Minister Jan Masaryk and Defence Minister, General Antonín Hasal-Nižborský.[15]

A 311 Squadron flight crew with their Wellington bomber at RAF East Wretham in Norfolk

311 Squadron was with Bomber Command for 19 months. In that time it flew 1,029 sorties, attacked 77 targets, dropped 2,492,600 lb (1,130,600 kg) of explosive bombs and 95,438 incendiary bombs.[16] It attacked targets in Germany, Italy, and occupied Belgium, France and the Netherlands. Its most frequent targets were Cologne, Hamburg and Kiel in Germany and Dunkirk, Brest and Boulogne in France.[17]

The squadron deployed 318 airmen formed into 53 aircrew. 94 were killed on operations and 34 were captured: a loss rate of more than 40%.[16]

Coastal Command[edit]

At the end of April 1942 the squadron was transferred from Bomber Command to Coastal Command in to undertake maritime patrols.[18] It moved to RAF Aldergrove in Northern Ireland on 28 April and began maritime patrol training on 1 May.[19] The squadron was made part of No. 19 Group RAF, moved to RAF Talbenny in Wales on 12 June and undertook its first anti-submarine patrol on 30 June.[20] Its Wellingtons lacked air to surface vessel (ASV) radar,[19] but despite this between June 1942 and April 1943 the squadron achieved the highest success rate of any Coastal Command squadron.[21]

Throughout July and August the squadron's Wellingtons remained in Bomber Command's Temperate Land Scheme camouflage: dark green and dark earth above, and black below. This was unsuitable for maritime patrols, but not until September 1942 were the aircraft repainted in Coastal Command's Temperate Sea Scheme: dark slate grey and extra dark sea grey above, and white below.[22]

In April 1943 the squadron was partly re-equipped with five Wellington Mark X aircraft.[23] This could carry two torpedoes or 3,999 lb (1,814 kg) of bombs,[24] but it was primarily a Bomber Command variant, not designed for maritime patrol work. Air Vice-Marshal Karel Janoušek, Inspector-General of the Czechoslovak Air Force, eventually convinced the UK Air Ministry to re-equip the squadron with Consolidated Liberator heavy bombers, as these had radar and a longer range, both of which made them more suitable for maritime patrols.[21] Retraining flights began on 25 May[21] and continued until August.[25]

On 26 May 1943 the squadron moved to RAF Beaulieu in Hampshire. On 4 August it celebrated its third anniversary. Guests again included President Beneš and Foreign Minister Masaryk. They included also General Sergej Ingr, who had succeeded General Hasal-Nižborský as Defence Minister, and the head of Coastal Command, Air Marshal John Slessor.[25]

The German blockade runner Alsterufer burning after being attacked by Plt Off Oldřich Doležal's Liberator V

On 21 August 1943 the squadron began maritime patrols with Consolidated Liberator GR Mk V[5][25] aircraft and continued anti-submarine work, but now over the Bay of Biscay. On 10 November Liberator BZ774/D, led by Flt Sgt Otto Žanta, attacked German submarine U-966 with rocket projectiles (RP's) off the Galician coast. The submarine ran aground and her crew abandoned her.[26]

On 27 December 1943 Liberator BZ796/H, led by Plt Off Oldřich Doležal, attacked the German blockade runner Alsterufer in the Bay of Biscay. Doležal's crew set the cargo ship on fire with five RP's and a 500 lb (230 kg) bomb, and she sank the next day.[27]

The crew of a Liberator IIIA, LV343, at RAF Beaulieu in Hampshire in July 1943

In February 1944 the squadron was re-equipped with nine Liberator C Mk VI aircraft.[5][28] On 23 February it moved to RAF Predannack in Cornwall. On 24 June Liberator FL961/O led by Fg Off Jan Vella, along with the Tribal-class destroyers HMS Eskimo and HMCS Haida, attacked and sank U-971 just west of the English Channel.[29][30]

On 7 August 1944 the squadron transferred to RAF Tain in Scotland[31] and its area of operations changed from the Bay of Biscay and Western Approaches to the North Sea. In September its rôle was changed from day to night anti-submarine patrols.[32] On 27 October Fleet Air Arm aircraft from HMS Implacable damaged U-1060, forcing her to run aground on the coast of German-occupied Norway. Two days later two 311 Squadron Liberators, FL949/Y led by Fg Off Josef Pavelka and BZ723/H led by Sqn Ldr Alois Šedivý, damaged the grounded submarine with salvos of RP's.[33] Later two Halifax heavy bombers of No. 502 Squadron RAF finished off U-1060 with depth charges.[33]

In February 1945 the squadron was re-equipped, again with Liberator C Mk VI aircraft but now equipped with anti-submarine Leigh Lights.[34] In March the entire squadron took part in the "Chilli-II" and "Chilli-III" raids on German submarine training areas in the Baltic.[35]

311 Squadron was with Coastal Command for 38 months, in which time it flew 2,111 sorties.[36] By the end of the war 247 of its men had been killed, either in combat or in accidents.[37] 33 of its members were released from German prisoner-of-war camps. One PoW, Plt Off Arnošt Valenta, was murdered by the Gestapo in March 1944 for taking part in the Great Escape from Stalag Luft III.[38]

Peacetime transport[edit]

After the End of World War II in Europe, on 26 May 1945 the Czechoslovak government-in-exile formed the Letecká dopravní skupina ("Air Transport Group"), and recruited most of its personnel from 311 Squadron. Its initial aircraft were two Avro Anson C XII aircraft bought from the RAF. On 12 June 1945 the unit began flights to Ruzyně Airport, Prague.[39] By October the Letecká dopravní skupina had also acquired a number of Siebel Si 204D aircraft seized from Germany as war reparations.[40]

On 25 June 1945 the remainder of 311 Squadron was transferred to RAF Transport Command's No. 301 Wing. It too flew transport flights to Ruzyně Airport, the first being on 30 July from RAF Manston in Kent,[39] where the squadron was based from 3 August.[41] On 21 August the squadron relocated to Ruzynĕ.[42] The squadron first transferred military equipment and personnel from the UK to Czechoslovakia. It then repatriated Czechoslovak civilians.[43]

Czechoslovak runways were found to be unsuitable for Liberators. Therefore, in December 1945 all those of 311 squadron were returned to the UK, landing at RAF Valley in Wales.[44]

311 Squadron was officially disbanded as an RAF unit at RAF Milltown in Moray, Scotland on 15 February 1946.[5][45][46] Most of its personnel had transferred to the Czechoslovak Air Force in August 1945, and in Czechoslovakia the unit was officially disbanded on 15 January 1946, but its personnel were not officially discharged from the RAF until 30 June 1946.[46]

On 15 January 1946 311 Squadron became the Czechoslovak 6 letecká divize ("6th Air Division") at Havlíčkův Brod in southeastern Bohemia. In May it was divided into Letecký pluk 24 and Letecký pluk 25 ("24th and 25th Air Regiments"). Letecký pluk 24 was given the name Biskajsky ("Biscay") and initially equipped with Mosquito FB Mk VI fighter-bombers. Letecký pluk 25 was given the name Atlanticky ("Atlantic") and equipped with Petlyakov Pe-2FT aircraft.[46]

Squadron codes[edit]

This squadron displayed the squadron code letters "KX" and later "PP" on its Wellingtons and "PP" on its Liberators.[5][47]

Commanding officers[edit]

Karel Toman-Mareš as a young Czechoslovak Air Force officer in 1929. He commanded 311 Squadron from July 1940 until March 1941.
From To Name
July 1940 November 1940 W/Cdr John Griffiths, DFC[48]
July 1940 March 1941 W/Cdr Karel Toman-Mareš
1941 1941 Sqn Ldr Percy Charles Pickard, DFC.[49]
March 1941 July 1941 W/Cdr Josef Schejbal
July 1941 April 1942 W/Cdr Josef Ocelka, DFC
April 1942 January 1943 W/Cdr Josef Šnajdr, DFC
January 1943 August 1943 W/Cdr Jindřich Breitcetl, DFC
August 1943 January 1944 W/Cdr Vladimír Nedvěd, MBE, DFC
January 1944 August 1944 W/Cdr Josef Šejbl, DFC
August 1944 February 1946 W/Cdr Jan Kostohryz, DSO

Squadron bases[edit]

Period Name
29 July 1940 – 16 September 1940 RAF Honington
16 September 1940 – 28 April 1942 RAF East Wretham
28 April 1942 – 12 June 1942 RAF Aldergrove
12 June 1942 – 26 May 1943 RAF Talbenny
26 May 1943 – 23 February 1944 RAF Beaulieu
23 February 1944 – 7 August 1944 RAF Predannack
7 August 1944 – 6 August 1945 RAF Tain
6 August 1945 – 21 August 1945 RAF Manston
21 August 1945 – 15 February 1946 Ruzyně Airport, Prague

Aircraft operated[edit]

[50]

Dates Aircraft Variant Notes
1940–43 Vickers Wellington I
IA
IC
X
Twin-engined medium bomber
1943
1943–45
1945–46
Consolidated B-24 Liberator IIIA
V
VI
Four-engined heavy bomber
A Vickers Wellington IC. This is the same version of Wellington as the one from 311 Squadron that crashed at South Ruislip in 1942.

Notable incidents[edit]

1942 Wellington crash[edit]

On 18 October 1942 Wellington 1C aircraft of 311 Squadron crashed and burst into flames at South Ruislip, Middlesex, on approach to RAF Northolt. The aircraft was en route to a debriefing and was carrying nine passengers as well as its usual crew of six. Everyone aboard was killed, along with four children and two mothers on the ground.[51][52][53]

A Consolidated B-24 Liberator GR.VI of No. 200 Squadron RAF. This is the same version of B-24 as the one from 311 Squadron that crashed at Elvetham in 1945.

1945 Liberator crash[edit]

On 8 October 1945 a Liberator B-24 GR.VI aircraft of 311 Squadron suffered an engine fire, crashed and burst into flames[40] in a field at Elvetham, near Hartley Wintney, Hampshire. Five minutes earlier it had taken off from RAF Blackbushe on a flight to Ruzyně Airport, Prague. All 23 people aboard were killed: five crew, 17 passengers and one stowaway. The passengers included nine women and five young children,[44] the latter ranging from 18 months to three years old.[54][55]

Legacy[edit]

In 1964, 311 Squadron veteran Richard Husmann, writing as Filip Jánský, published his novel Nebeští jezdci, portraying the lives of Czech and Polish airmen in the wartime RAF. In 1968 a film based on the book was released, having been made the previous year around Klecany military airfield north of Prague.[56] In 1969 Hodder & Stoughton published an English translation of the book as Riders in the Sky.

In 1999 the Air Café commemorating No. 311 Squadron RAF opened in Brno, South Moravia. It is in the early 17th-century Dietrichstein Palace, which also houses the Moravian Museum.[57] The café exhibits a small collection of memorabilia connected with the Czechoslovak-manned squadron.[58]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Bowyer & Rawlings 1979, p. 64.
  2. ^ Bowyer & Rawlings 1979, p. 83.
  3. ^ Ludikar, Marcel (18 September 2014). "A short history of the Czechoslovak Air Force in WW2 and the Post-War Period". Free Czechoslovak Air Force. Retrieved 12 October 2017.
  4. ^ Halley 1988, p. 362.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Lewis 1968, p. 96.
  6. ^ Vančata 2013, p. 4.
  7. ^ Vančata 2013, p. 3.
  8. ^ Vančata 2013, p. 5.
  9. ^ "311 Squadron". History RAF Formations. Ministry of Defence.
  10. ^ Janoušek 1942, p. 12.
  11. ^ Vančata 2013, pp. 15–16.
  12. ^ "Arnost Valenta – One of the Fifty". Free Czechoslovak Air Force. 24 March 2014. Retrieved 14 February 2018.
  13. ^ Vančata 2013, p. 16.
  14. ^ Vančata 2013, pp. 18–19.
  15. ^ Vančata 2013, p. 20.
  16. ^ a b Vančata 2013, p. 41.
  17. ^ Vančata 2013, p. 94.
  18. ^ Vančata 2013, pp. 41–42.
  19. ^ a b Vančata 2013, p. 43.
  20. ^ Vančata 2013, p. 44.
  21. ^ a b c Vančata 2013, p. 57.
  22. ^ Vančata 2013, p. 47.
  23. ^ Vančata 2013, p. 54.
  24. ^ Vančata 2013, p. 95.
  25. ^ a b c Vančata 2013, p. 59.
  26. ^ Vančata 2013, p. 63.
  27. ^ Vančata 2013, p. 64.
  28. ^ Vančata 2013, p. 65.
  29. ^ Vančata 2013, p. 68.
  30. ^ Helgason, Guðmundur. "U-971". uboat.net. Retrieved 8 March 2016.
  31. ^ Vančata 2013, p. 90.
  32. ^ Vančata 2013, p. 77.
  33. ^ a b Vančata 2013, pp. 69–70.
  34. ^ Vančata 2013, p. 73.
  35. ^ Vančata 2013, p. 74.
  36. ^ Vančata 2013, p. 92.
  37. ^ Vančata 2013, p. 87.
  38. ^ Vančata 2013, p. 99.
  39. ^ a b Vančata 2013, p. 80.
  40. ^ a b Vančata 2013, pp. 82–83.
  41. ^ Vančata 2013, p. 81.
  42. ^ Rijnhout & Rennison 1980, p. 92.
  43. ^ Vančata 2013, p. 82.
  44. ^ a b Vančata 2013, p. 83.
  45. ^ Rawlings 1982, p. 199.
  46. ^ a b c Vančata 2013, p. 84.
  47. ^ "No 311 (Czechoslovak) Squadron". Air of Authority – A History of RAF Organisation.
  48. ^ Hurt 2004[page needed]
  49. ^ Short 2004[page needed]
  50. ^ Jefford 1988, p. 85.
  51. ^ Vančata 2013, p. 51.
  52. ^ "ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 66571". Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved 30 December 2013.
  53. ^ Street (24 January 2006). "Wellington Crash October 1942". WW2 People's War. BBC Online. Retrieved 1 November 2017.
  54. ^ "Crash in Hampshire". The Times (50267). London. 8 October 1945. p. 4.
  55. ^ "Mystery of 23rd body in blazing 'plane wreck". The Scotsman. 8 October 1945.
  56. ^ Kucera, Pawel (September 2001). "Recreating a Wimpy". Aeroplane Monthly: 72–75.
  57. ^ Moravian Museum
  58. ^ Air Café

Bibliography[edit]

  • Bowyer, Michael JF; Rawlings, John DR (1979). Squadron Codes 1937–56. Bar Hill: Patrick Stephens Ltd. ISBN 0-85059-364-6.
  • Čapka, Jo; MacDonald, Kendall (1958). Red Sky at Night, the Story of Jo Čapka, DFM. London: Anthony Blond.
  • Halley, James J (1988). The Squadrons of the Royal Air Force & Commonwealth, 1918–1988. Tonbridge: Air-Britain (Historians) Ltd. ISBN 0-85130-164-9.
  • Hurt, Zdeněk (2004). In Focus: Czechs in the RAF. Walton-on-Thames: Red Kite. ISBN 0-9538061-9-7.
  • Janoušek, Karel (1942). The Czechoslovak Air Force. London: Inspectorate-General of the Czechoslovak Air Force.
  • Jefford, Wg Cdr CG (2001) [1998]. RAF Squadrons, A Comprehensive Record of the Movement and Equipment of all RAF Squadrons and their Antecedents since 1912 (second ed.). Shrewsbury: Airlife Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84037-141-3.
  • Lewis, Peter (1968) [1959]. Squadron Histories, RFC, RNAS and RAF, Since 1912. London: Putnam. SBN 370-00022-6.
  • Moyes, Philip JR (1976) [1964]. Bomber Squadrons of the RAF and their Aircraft (new ed.). London: Macdonald and Jane's (Publishers) Ltd. ISBN 0-354-01027-1.
  • Rawlings, John DR (1982). Coastal Support and Special Squadrons of the RAF and their Aircraft (new ed.). London: Macdonald and Jane's (Publishers) Ltd. ISBN 0-354-01028-X.
  • Rijnhout, Bart M (1979). Het mysterie van de L 7788. Oud-bemanning even terug op plek des onheils... (in Dutch). Leidschendam: House Printing Unit HTM.
  • Rijnhout, Bart M; Rennison, John P (1980). The Sky is our Ocean. De rol van het 311 (Tsjechisch) R.A.F.-squadron tijdens de tweede wereldoorlog (in Dutch). Rotterdam: Wyt Uitgeverij. ISBN 90-6007-141-7.
  • Short, K.R.M. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/62384. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  • Vančata, Pavel (2013). 311 Squadron. Sandomierz: Stratus, for Mushroom Model Publications. ISBN 978-83-61421-43-6.

External links[edit]