Saturday, 23 April 2011

Karel Kuttelwascher - "The Czech night Hawk", PART 2


On 14 August 1940, Karel Kuttelwascher was enlisted into the RAF as a Sergeant and posted to the Czechoslovak Depot Base at Cosford. The Battle of Britain had already started and the British were desperatly seeking for fighter pilots: Polish and Czech were welcomed and quickly sent to Operational Training Unit (OTU) for coversion onto Hurricanes and Spitfires. Kuttelwascher was sent to Aston Down, converting onto the Hurricane.
On 3 October he was transferred to No.1 Squadron at Northolt. The unit flew in the final stages of the Battle of Britain and in January moved south to Kenley. The Squadron, led by Sqn Ldr Richard Brooker, DFC, was made of British, Canadians, New Zealanders, French, Czechs and even one Lithuanian.
From January 1941, the Fighter Command started a series of offensive operations against the Luftwaffe over occupied France: small numbers of bombers would carry out attacks heavily escorted by RAF fighters. The aim was to draw enemy fighters into combat and destroy them thanks to the escort's numerical superiority. For how good was the theory , Fighter Command's planners soon found out that the same factors which had contributed to the defeat of the attacking Luftwaffe the previous summer, were now against the RAF: in 1940 a German fighter pilot hit over England would have either crash landed or bailed out becoming a POW, while British pilots could come to land over friendly territory and come back to their units shortly thereafter. Now the tactical situation was the opposite, further worsened by the fact the F version of the Bf 109 totally outclassed the Hurricane. 
Despite flying an inferior fighter, Sergeant Kuttelwascher managed to shoow down three BF 109s, on 2 February, 8 April and 21 May respectively.
On 1 July, No.1 Squadron was withdrawn from daylight operations and moved to Tangmere, entrusted with the night defense of the English Southern coast.  During its time as a night interceptor unit, No. 1 Squadron experimentd an anusual tactic, codenamed Turbilite. A twin-engined Douglas Havoc equipped with an AI Mk IV airborne radar and a searchlight on the nose was accompanied by a pair of Hurricanes. The Havoc's task was to guide the fighters to a point where they could sight the enemy and attack him. The tactic was good in theory, as the Hurricanes couldn't be equipped with an airborne radar, but was nevertheless a failure since results were poor and many planes were lost in night collisions.
The squadron stopped Turbinlite operations in late 1941, converting onto the new task of night offensive mission. The new task was aimed at countering enemy bombers directly over their bases. The tactic had been first used by the Luftwaffe: in September 1940 when I./NJG 2 started long-range night intruder operations against Bomber Command  airfields, attacking the bombers en route to or from their targets. Now it was the RAF's turn to do the same.
The defence of British territory was then carried out by radar-equipped Beaufighters, but they were considered too precious and sophisticated to be risked over occupied territory: for this reason, Hurricanes squadrons were chosen for the job, with No.1 Squadron destined to became the most successful one. The unit was at the time commanded by Sqn Ldr Maclachlan, who scored eight victories over Malta prior to losing his left forearm on 16 February 1941, hit by a Bf 109's cannon shells.
Night Intruder operations were extremely dangerous; the Hurricanes couldn't accomodate an airborne radar,  therefore the pilots had to rely on dead reckoning to find enemy airfields; they had to read the map in the cockpit and fly low over enemy land, paying attention to ground obstacles, flak, and night fighters. When pilots managed to reach their assigned targets, there was also a good chance of not seeing anything, since many German bombers used to came back to a different airfield from which they had taken off.
For this missions, No.1 Squadron flew Hurricanes Mk.IIC equipped with two 200-litres auxiliary tanks, which gave the fighters a flying time of nearly 3 and a half hours. Missions were long and very  risky, and put the squadron's pilots under very stressful conditions.

Kuttelwascher used to fly black-painted Hurricane IIC BE581/JX-E. The Czech opened his account on 1 April 1942 over Melun airfield, when he caught a taking off Ju 88: Kuttelwascher closed to 100 yards and set on fire the starboard engine. The bomber dived into the ground, and the Czech finished the job strafing a second Ju 88 on the runway before heading home with the squadron's first night kill.
It was the first of the 22 victories scored by No.1 Squadron's pilots in 180 missions, plus 67 train cars, 5 boats a one vehicle. Of the 22 air victories, 15 had been scored by Kuttelwascher.
Kuttelwascher scored his second kill two weeks later, on the 17th,over St. André downing a Do 217. OnN the night of 26-27 April Kuttelwascher downed another Dornier Do-217, but was then attacked by a Ju 88 night fighter, which almost hit him in the cockpit. He took evasive evaction and managed to damage the enemy fighter before losing it in the darkness.
On the night 30 April/1 May Kuttelwascher shoot down two other bombers, a Do-217 over Rennes and a He-111 near the Dinard Canal.
It was on the night of 3/4 May that Kuttelwascher had his most succesfull missions, when he spotted six He 111s in the Everaux/St. André aerea. He attacked the formation shooting down three of the Heinkels. Meanwhile, over Dinard, Sqn Ldr Maclachlan downed a Do 217 and another He 111 flying BD983/JZ-G. The two pilots returned home with five bombers killed in one mission.
The Czech's happy time continued as he destroyed a Do 217 on 3 June and another Dornier plus one He 111 on the following night. On 22 June Kuttelwascher shot down a Ju 88. His last kills came on 29 June and 2 July, both Do 217s.
On 9 July 1942 the Squadron withdrew to re-equip with Hawker Typhoons. Kuttelwascher wished to continue night operations, therefore was transferred at his own request to No. 23 Squadron in Sussex: the unit was equipped with Bostons, but less than a month later converted onto the Mosquito NF Mk. II. No. 23 Squadron Mosquitos were not equipped with the standard AI MK. IV radar, since it was considered to hazardous to send radar-equipped fighters over occupied Europe; the loss of an aircrat would have given the Germans the chance to examinate British electronic devices. Kuttelwascher was the first foreigner to fly the Mossie.
Kuttelwascher, 2nd from left, with American pilots.
The Czech ace partnered with P/O G. E. Palmer and flew six intruder missions over France and the Netherlands in August and September, but he didn't meet a single enemy aircraft. In early October 1942, Kuttelwascher was pulled out from frontline duties and posted to the Czechoslovak Airforce Inspectorate in London. He was subsequently sent to the US for a propaganda tour in June 1943,  selling war bonds, giving lectures in american flying schools and working with the americans to master the art of night fighting. He became popular and spoke twelve times on CBS radio, and 42 on the BBC. From October he left the US and continued his tour in Canada.
During this months Kuttelwascher had the chance to fly many american fighters such as the P-40, the P-51 and the P-38. He came back to England in early 1944 being posted to 32 Mantenance Unit as a test pilot. He spent the last two years of the war flying Hurricanes, Spitfires, Beaufightes, Wellingtons, B-25s and even four-engined bombers such as Halifaxes and Lancasters.
In August 1945, Kuttelwascher returned to his native country welcomed as a national hero. However, the Czechoslovak state had fallen from one invader to another, since the country was now ruled by the Soviets. Many Czech pilots who fought with the RAF were imprisoned and persecuted. Kuttelwascher was lucky enough to avoid prison until May 21 1946, when he left his country for England once again.
He had already married a British woman and got British citizenship, working for British European Airways as a first officer, and then captain.
On August 18, 1959, Karel Kuttelwascher died of heart attack while on holiday in Cornwall, at the age of 43. He was buried in Uxbridge.

During his career, Kuttelwascher received:
Czech Military Cross, five times
Czech Medal for Bravery, 4 times
Croix de Guerre with Palm and Silver Star
Distinguished Flying Cross and Bar
Battle of Britain Clasps
Defence Medal
War Medal

In 2005, the Royal Air Force's Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, based at Coningsby in Lincolnshire, England, painted its Hawker Hurricane IIC PZ865 in the colour scheme of BE581 'Night Reaper'. The scheme includes 11 swastika kill markings under the cockpit sill on the port side (as seen in a contemporary newspaper photograph) as BE581 might have appeared the morning after 'Kut's' triple kill on 5 May 1942. 
1916 - 1959
Hurricane Aces 1941-1945, Andrew Thomas. Osprey Publishing, 2003.
Night Hawk, Roger Darlington. William Kimber, 1985

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Karel Kuttelwascher, "The Czech Night Hawk" - PART 1

Karel Kuttelwascher was born on 23 September 1916 in Svaty Kritz. The town had been for a long time part of the Austro Hungarian Empire and became parte of the newly formed Czechoslovakia following the end of WW1. Karel's parents, Josef and Kristina,  had Bavarian origins and gave birth to six children, Karel being their third. He left home at 17 and went to work as a clerk in a mill, in Kladno; he was however fascinated by planes, and as soon as he turned 18 joined the Czechoslovak Air Force.
The young Karel went to a hard infantry boot camp before being posted to Prostejov's flying school. He graduated in 1937 as one of the best students in his course, and was subsequently detached to the 4th Flying Regiment at Prague-Kbely, where he received fighter pilot training. After having completed his fighter course Kuttelwascher was posted to 1 Air Regiment, 32nd Fighter Squadron.

Avia B-534s photopraphed at Kbely
In 1938, the political situation in Central Europe was hot: Austria had been annexed to the Reich in March, and Hitler's Germany was claiming territorial rights over the Sudetendland, Czechoslovakia's border regions. The area was ceded to Germany after the Munich Agreement: Czechoslovakia lost about 30% of its territory and the German border was now only 20 miles off Prague. On 15 March 1939, the Germans occupied  the remaining regions of the country: Czechoslovakia had been sacrificed by Prime Minister Nevile Chamberlain and has ceased to exist. The Army and the Air Force were disbanded; the pilots were given the opportunity to either join the Luftwaffe or the Lufthansa. 
Approximately half of the Czech pilots and soldiers choose to go abroad rather than serve the Germans; Karel Kuttelwascher was one of them, and on the night of 13/14 June 1939 he smuggled in a train car, together with other five comrades, and escaped to Poland. They reported to the consulate in Krakow and sent to Male Bronowice, were escaped members of the armed forces were gathered. 
The Polish government had unfortunately little interest in the Czechs, therefore they had to go to France to find a country willing to accept them in its armed forces. Kuttelwascher travelled to the port of Gdynia and leaved Poland aboard SS Kastelholm, a Swedish cargo, reaching Calais on 30 July.
Kuttelwascher and all the other Czechs were enlisted in the French Foreign Legion, since under peace time regulations France was not allowed to accept any foreign soldiers within its armed forces. The agreement made with the French allowed them to join the French army as soon as the war would have broke out. The pilots were therefore sent to the 1st Foreign Legion Regiment in Sidi-bel-Abbées in Algeria, and underwent a rigorous infantry training. When the war was declared in 1939 about 100 Czech pilots were transferred to l'Armée de l'Air and posted to Centre d'Instruction de Chasse No 6 at Chartres, where they were trained onto the Morane-Saulnier MS-406C.
Czech pilots remained far from the frontline during the Phoney War, but the situation changed dramatically in  May 1940, when the Wermacht launched the Blitzkrieg campaign against France and  the Low Countries. Kuttelwascher was posted to Groupe de Chasse III/3, based at Beauvais-Tille. The unit fought desperatly against the unstoppable Panzer Division, supported by the powerful Luftwaffe. On 21 May the unit the squadron was pulled out from the frontline and sent to Cormeilles-en-Vein for requipment with the Dewoitane D-520C.
The situation was nevertheless desperate, French defenses had collapsed, the British Expeditionary Force had  been evacuated from Dunkerque during Operation Dynamo, and the defeat was inevitable. GC III/3 was forced to retreat deep inside the country, and finally left France reaching Algeria on 22 June.
France surrendered to the Germans, the new French prime minister Philippe Petain asked for a truce and formed a collaborationist government. The Czechs were discharged; there was only an option for them, to reach Great Britain and join the Royal Air Force. Kuttelwascher and other Czech pilots took a train Casablanca, where they boarded SS Royal Scotsman and reached Gibraltar. There, they sailed aboard SS David Livingstone on 19 July and arrived in Cardiff on 5 August.
1940's French archives are incomplete, but it is widely believed that Kuttelwascher scored 2 confirmed victories and 1 probable, as well as receiving a Croix de Guerre with Palm Leaves and a Silver Star.
D-520, GC III/6eme Escadrille, 1940

CLICK HERE for GC III/3's victories, losses, movements and commanders + Kuttelwascher's Kills (in French).