A multi-national Royal Air Force

Josef-Frantizek in RAF uniform

The Czech ace Josef Frantisek died in an air crash on 8th October 1940.

The 8th October 1940 saw the death of the top scoring Battle of Britain fighter pilot Jozef Frantizek. A Czechoslovakian Air Force pilot, he had moved to Poland after the Nazi takeover, where he served with a Czech unit within the Polish Air Force. During the German invasion of Poland he flew reconnaissance missions in an unarmed trainer aircraft but managed to take the fight to the enemy by throwing hand grenades out of his aircraft at columns of troops. He survived being shot down and was ordered to Rumania when Poland collapsed. Here he was interned but managed to escape and made his way, via North Africa, to France where he again served with a Polish unit. It is believed that he shot down as many as 11 aircraft during the German invasion of France.

Arriving in Britain in June 1940 he was posted to the Polish 303 Squadron. Here he survived another crash whilst converting to Hurricanes. 303 Squadron did not become operational until 31st August. Frantizek opened his scoring on 2nd September when he shot down an Me 109. By the 30th September he had 17 confirmed kills and one probable. He was the top scoring pilot of the Battle of Britain, despite only being operational for a fraction of the official period designated as the Battle.

His rate of kills was exceptional and seems to have been borne of a highly individualistic, even indisciplined, outlook but he was indulged with considerable freedom by Squadron Leader Kellet of 303 Squadron with remarkable results. A part of his method was to attack straggling aircraft making their way back home across Kent. Yet he must have been a exceptional airman to bring down a total of nine Me 109s whilst flying a Hurricane during this short period. His results are in marked contrast to the debates about the relative performance of the Spitfire and the Me 109, or the need for an organisational response, such as the ‘Big Wing‘. A crucial factor in fighter combat was evidently the skills and length of experience of the individual pilots.

Frantisek was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal at the end of September. The reasons for his crash in Ewell, Surrey have never been clearly established but it seems very likely that battle fatigue and exhaustion played a significant part.

The 8th October 1940 also saw the arrival in Britain of the first contingent of the Indian Air Force, a significant proportion of whom would also make the ultimate sacrifice.

Indian air force pilots arrive in Britain 8th October 1940

An unofficial welcome for the 24 Indian Air Force pilots arriving in Britain on 8th October 1940. Eight of them would die during training or on operations.

For more on the Indian air Force see Bharat Rakshak.com.

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