August 1912: Czech RAF commander František Fajtl is born

František Fajtl

František Fajtl, a Czech fighter pilot and RAF squadron and wing commander later jailed by the Communists, was born 110 years ago, on 20 August 1912.

František Fajtl | Photo: Archive of Jiří Rajlich

František Fajtl first fought in WWII for France. After the Nazi invasion of the country he travelled through North Africa to the UK, where he joined the Royal Air Force.

He took part in the Battle of Britain in the ranks of the RAF’s No. 1 Squadron and No. 17 Squadron, shooting down his first German bomber in October 1940.

František Fajtl  (second from left) | Photo: VHÚ

The following year Fajtl fought in the new No. 313 Squadron, which was made up of Czechoslovak airmen. A year later he became the first foreigner to lead a British fighter squadron.

He was promoted to squadron leader and to command No. 122 Squadron in 1942. However soon afterwards, in May 1942, his Spitfire was shot down over France.

Fajtl then managed a dramatic escape, fleeing through Spain to the UK.

František Fajtl | Photo: Archive of Jiří Rajlich

In 1944 he was transferred to the Soviet Union, where he formed an air regiment that took part in the Slovak National Uprising.

Photo: Irina Ručkina,  Radio Prague International

Despite his hero status, like many Czech pilots who fought on the Western Front, Fajtl was harshly treated by the Communists after the war.

He was thrown out of the army and sent to a labour camp, before later being forced to work as a labourer and clerk.

He received full rehabilitation after the fall of communism. In 1990 President Václav Havel promoted him to major general, retired, and bestowed on him the Order of M. R. Štefánik.

Fajtl was also awarded four Czechoslovak War Crosses and the UK’s Distinguished Flying Cross. He became a knight of the French Legion of Honor and also received the highest Czech state award, the Order of the White Lion.

František Fajtl died in 2006 at the age of 94.

František Fajtl | Photo: Paměť národa