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Pre-war Czechoslovakia

In pre-war Czechoslovakia´s the saying for aviation was “The Sky is our Ocean.” Airmen were very popular. Outstanding pilots were called “Kings of the Air” – and not incorrectly. František NOVÁK was one of those who held this title. Not only was he a Czechoslovak military pilot, but he was also an outstanding aerobatic pilot. As leader of the Czechoslovak aerobatic team at the 1937 World Aviation competition in Zurich, they succeeded in beating-off stiff opposition from rival national teams, and, on their return, were welcomed back as Olympic champions are today.

Photograph from the magazine Pražský Ilustrovaný Zpravodaj (The Prague Illustrated Reporter) about the return of the Czechoslovak Aerobatic team from the 1937 World Aerobatic Championships at Zurich with the title “The Winners´ Celebratory Return.”

Pilots were regarded to one of the deterrents against nazi Germany. This was the reason for the Czechoslovak authorities to instigate the “One Thousand Pilots for the Republic” and the „Masaryk´s Aviation League“ training schemes. Here, young Czechoslovak men were covertly trained to become military pilots. Some of the pilots trained under these schemes were later to become members of the RAF in England.

Photograph of the signing of the Munich Agreement. Prime Minister Neville CHAMBERLAIN signed on behalf of Great Britain.

The following poem was written by František HRUBÍN in the wake of the Munich Agreement. A Song of Distress – Zpěv Úzkosti

Zvoní zvoní zrady zvon zrady zvon
Čí ruce ho rozhoupaly
Francie sladká hrdý Albion
a my jsme je milovali

Ty Francie sladká Francie
kde je tvá čapka Marianno
Sluneční štít tvůj prasklý je
a hanbou čpí tvé ano

Photograph of the Czechoslovak fort on a German postcard, which was taken after the annexation of the border areas and border fortifications. Following the occupation of Czechoslovakia, the Nazi’s gained the Czechoslovak armaments industry, one of the largest and most modern in Europe at that time, which they were to use against Poland, France, the USSR and Great Britain. Bouda Club Collection.

Another protection against threats to Czechoslovakia was the border fortifications. However these fortifications were never to be used by Czechoslovakian soldiers. Meanwhile back in Czechoslovakia, that some soldiers took the defense of their border fortifications seriously is shown by the example of Sgt Arnošt HRAD, who – after the order arrived to evacuate his border post on 3rd October 1938 – fatally shot himself at his post of because he refused to evacuate it and hand it over to the Germans. Additionally, the entire company of Frýdek–Místek´s Czajánek Barracks defended them against Nazi troops on the day they entered Czechoslovakia. Even today, for those in the (now) Czech Republic as to whether the country should have defended itself or not at all is still a topic of discussion. As history has shown Hitler did not adhere to the Munich Agreement and wanted more. With no help from France and Britain, Czechoslovakia was alone and very limited how it could defend itself. The Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia was created on 15th March 1939 following the occupation of Czechoslovakia; Slovakia declared independence and became a ‘puppet state’ ally to the Germans.

One of the commemorative postcards remembering withdrawal from the border areas as a result of the Munich Agreement and the sentiments with which the population of Czechoslovakia accepted this. You can read the following on the postcard: “They rent your body terribly, terribly on that October morning. For the love of God, what did they do to you, my beloved country? And the arms that stood in waiting turned aside in horrific silence. Betrayal awaits the one who betrayed; our injured heart knows this. Betrayal awaits the one betrayed, the one betrayed – in their heart they will live”. Archive of Martin Vrána.

The occupation of Czechoslovakia was the catalyst for many Czechoslovak soldiers and airmen to begin escaping from their homeland to Poland in order to fight for liberation of their homeland. Their escape to Poland was not easy. They needed to cross borders, patrolled with armed guards which carried the threat of death; just as dangerous was escape through other countries, which you can read about in other parts of this exhibition.

Brno–Slatina Airport, July 1938. Miroslav LIŠKUTÍN is the third from the left – here, a future member of the 145 Squadron and 312 (Czechoslovak) Squadron. Archive of Sqn. Ldr. Miroslav Liškutín, DFC, AFC via Václav Tikovský.

Reconnaissance and light bomber planes Letov Š 328 hidden on field airbase of Czechoslovak air forces, September 1938. Zdeněk Hurt collection.

Otakar HRUBÝ´s pilots log book. The log books of all the Czechoslovak pilots after the occupation of Nazi Germany on 15th March 1939 looked like this. Otakar HRUBÝ was future pilot with 111 squadron. Archive of Ota Hrubý

Luftwaffe inspecting the aircraft gained from the Czechoslovak Air Force after the occupation of Czechoslovakia. Archive of Ota Hrubý.