Czech Battle of Britain ace Josef František honoured in UK

Hawker Hurricane RF-R, R4175, photo: archive of FCAFA

In a major honour for Czech RAF legend Josef František, the Hawker Hurricane plane in which he met his death near the end of the Battle of Britain was renamed after him in a ceremony in the UK at the weekend. What’s more, one of the few such planes still flying should visit the Czech Republic next year.

I discussed František’s heroic exploits with Tom Dolezal, who runs the Czechoslovak Free Air Force website.

“Josef František was the most successful Allied pilot in the Battle of Britain. Up to the time of his death he had shot down 17 German aircraft in a 28-day period.

“Unfortunately he got killed in a flying accident on October 28 [1940] – that’s why his record stops at 17 and that’s why other airmen surpass his record for that period.

“If he hadn’t had that accident and survived, his record would have been much higher.

Josef František, photo: B & E Kudlacek collection, www.fcafa.com

“But overall for 1940 he was the most outstanding Czechoslovak pilot that was in the RAF here.”

Josef František has just received a great honour in the UK – what form did it take?

“This year we have numerous anniversaries. For example, on Saturday it was the 75th anniversary of VJ Day. The day before was the 75th anniversary of the Czechoslovak airmen returning to their home country.

“Later this month we have the 80th anniversary of the 312th [Czechoslovak] Squadron being formed. In July we had the 80th anniversary of the 310 squadron, another Battle of Britain squadron, being formed. Also the 311 [like 310 also Czechoslovak].

“It was also the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.

“So when you look at all of these different anniversaries, the man who was actually outstanding from the Czechoslovak side was really only František.”

And the number of his plane has been given to a different plane, is that it?

“No. What is quite customary in the warbird field is where aircrafts are rebranded, to depict an aircraft in a particular squadron, or that flown by a particular pilot.

“The Historical Aircraft Collection actually own that Hurricane. Originally it was under the designation of HAC.

“In 2015, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, it was re-livered into 303 Squadron markings, so it was RF-E.

“And this year because of the various anniversaries and the reasons I’ve given, it was decided it would be rebranded into Josef František’s markings of RFR; of his 17 victories, eight of them were actually achieved in RFR.

“It’s also the aircraft in which he had his flying accident.”

This plane is based at Duxford in Cambridgeshire, but I understand there are plans, all going well, for the plane to fly to parts of Europe?

Tom Dolezal, photo: Ian Willoughby

“That’s true. That was actually meant to happen this year.

“It was going to be in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland on a tour that was going to commence at the end of May and going through to June.

“But the world as we know has been hit very badly by Covid-19, which meant the aircraft couldn’t go out there.

“So that tour is being rescheduled for 2021.”

So people can look forward to seeing this actual plane here in the Czech Republic, if they like, next year?

“Yes, that’s absolutely the case.

“Certainly the feedback we have were having was, Yes, they really want to see it over there.

“There are only 11 flying Hurricanes in the world and to have one of those actually come to the Czech Republic, particularly in the markings of Josef František, is very significant.

“It would have been better if it could have happened on the 80th anniversary year, but that’s totally beyond everyone’s control.

“So it was just rescheduled by 12 months to next year.”