he came to about ten miles from Morlaix. He landed with no less than an even
hundred holes in his aircraft, which also had the tailwheel shot away. 4
‘Try to climb to 400m, if you can.’ The thought here was more on altitude to
bail out, if it came to that, rather than a more dangerous ditching in the sea.
Immediately following the attack by the Whirlwinds, some of the Spitfires jumped into the melee. Two had serious damage inflicted upon them. Spitfire Mk.IIa,
P8259 (RY-T), flown by F/O Karel Kasal, received a direct hit to the right wing 5,
and it was only through sheer skill that he would make it back to England. Even
more fortunate was the young Sgt Arnost Mrtvy, who was the one that had
sent out his love to his new bride. His Spitfire Mk.IIa P7973 (RY-H) came home
with a piece of a telephone pole imbedded in his aircraft, trailing sections of
telephone line. He acquired the trophy in an instant when he went into a turn at
extremely low level, and through the flak and the associated confusion of the
moment lost situational awareness. Despite a damaged propeller and leading
edge of the wing, and a pierced oil cooler, he managed to cross the English
Channel, which at that location spanned some 160km. He and his escorts, Sgt
Prokop Brazda (P7858) and P/O Vaclav Jicha (P8374/RY-S), landed safely
back at Predannack at 1555h. 6
‘I can’t climb. I have little power and the engine is overheating’ replied the
‘No one from the whole formation had any idea as to what happened to the
last Spitfire from Blue Section, which was flown by Arnost Mrtvy,’ Frantisek Fajtl,
who did not take part in the mission, would later recall in his published memoirs
‘Memories of Fallen Friends’. ‘Blinded by fierce fire from flak and machine guns,
he clipped a telephone pole with the propeller and lower cowling of his airplane,
severing the wires, damaging the prop and leading edge of the left wing, and
piercing the oil cooler. Now, the fight turned from being against the enemy to
being against fate. The Spitfire trembled as though it just wanted to fall apart in
the air. But, it flew![…]
After some tense moments, several of the pilots heard the muffled voice of
Arnost Mrtvy exclaiming, in Czech, ‘everything’s shaking like mad, I don’t think I
can bring it home. Boys, give my love to my wife!’ (Arnost Mrtvy was married only
three weeks prior to this mission, on September 8th, 1941).
Jicha and Brazda were ordered to slow down and try and locate the crippled
Spitfire, and escort it home. Jicha’s radio was malfunctioning, and Brazda could
barely understand anything he said. He therefore took it upon himself to try and
He slowed down and began intensely to search for his friend. This is a difficult
thing to do, and the pilot must rely in large part on luck. There was little to go by,
and ground control could not offer assistance because the conditions needed to
get a fix on him were nonexistent. Arnost Mrtvy was far away, and far too low.
Soon, Brazda could hear Mrtvy’s calls louder and clearer. Apparently, he was
getting closer to Jicha and Brazda. Brazda was obsessed with one main thought
while searching, and that was to keep Mrtvy from veering too far to the west. He
could miss the westernmost point of Cornwall, Land’s End, and after that, there
was nothing but water and more water…
‘Arnost, Prokop (Brazda) here. What is your altitude and heading?’
‘I’m at 50m over the water and on a heading of 355, three-three-five.’
‘Brazda calmly but quickly pictured the route back. ‘That’s good, Arnost’, he
said to himself. He did not ask him to alter his heading.
‘Hold on, Arnost’ You’ll see the shoreline soon, urged Prokop. The operations
shed will do everything it can. Everything will be alright.’
After that, Brazda carried on communications with the controllers in the Cornwall Sector operations shed. He was trying to ascertain whether or not they could
yet see or hear Blue Four yet.
‘Not yet’ came the reply. ’He is likely too low.’
‘Unfortunately’ thought Prokop, and continued his search.
‘Arnost, keep broadcasting, count to ten in English.’
‘Alright, though I am not really in the mood’. That was no surprise, as there was
a foot-and-a-half section of telephone pole hanging from the shattered wing and
the engine was on the verge of dying completely.
‘Prokop…I can see land.’
Brazda could hear the tremble in Mrtvy’s voice.
And now, Arost, the shortest route. But do not increase throttle.’
Lucky Blue Three, which had also sighted land, followed Prokop’s instructions.
Ground control applied their trade and gathered the Czech comrades together.
Arnost’s happiness peaked. On his right, the Spitfires flown by Brazda and Jicha,
who safely escorted him back to the field at Predannack…’ 7
Because the sweep failed to turn up the Ju 88s at Morlaix, Operation Mandolin 7 was planned for the following day. Attacks were to be conducted
against the base at Lannion, an alternate spot where it was assumed the Ju 88s
could be also found. At 1833h, four Whirlwinds again took off from Predannack, escorted by nine No.313 Squadron Spitfire Mk.IIas, which were again
led by F/Lt. Karel Mrazek.
On a heading of 152o, the formation reached the French coast at 1905h,
which coincided with dusk. Immediately, they encountered flak. The darkening
sky with the fiery explosions of the flak was reminiscent of a Venetian night.
The moment that the Whirlwind pilots realized the poor conditions under which
they found themselves, they changed plans and headed to Morlaix. At 1910h,
they initiated their attack at treetop level, and the Junkers aircraft were there
this time! Despite deteriorating visibility and fierce fire coming up from the
ground, the Whirlwinds were able to eliminate one of the 88s parked in front
of a hangar on the south side of the field.
Within some twenty minutes, a quartet of ground attack Hurricane Ml.IIc fighters from No.247 Squadron approached Lannion. That the Germans would
still be primed and ready was never in question. They downed aircraft BD832,
and it ended up in the drink, as did its pilot, F/O Kenneth W. MacKenzie, DFC.
This Battle of Britain veteran survived the ditching in the sea and took to his
life raft and was taken prisoner by the Germans after paddling to shore. P/O
S.S. Hord nursed his heavily shot up Z3561 back home, with a wounded leg.
The action against Morlaix wasn’t without a cost. No.313 Squadron Spitfires
escorted home only two of the four Whirlwinds under cover of darkness. Sgt.
Jack Maddocks (P6987) landed at 2005h at Predannack, followed by P/O
Geoff Warnes (P7061) at 2015h, sucking up the last three gallons of fuel he
had left. A third pilot, F/O Hugh Coghlan, who led the flight of Whirlwinds
and who was responsible for the destruction of the aforementioned Ju 88, was
following behind, but ran out of fuel overflying the coast. His second engine
quit immediately after the first one died, and he bellied in at Portreath under
moonlit conditions at 2020h. Aircraft P6998, that he was flying, was a write-off. The pilot escaped with only some bruising. The fourth pilot, Sgt. Thomas
hunter, was not as fortunate. While over the English Channel, but within site of
the coast at Plymouth, his P7009 lost both engines due to the exhaustion of his
fuel. He had no choice but to bail out of his aircraft, which he did at 2005h,
but despite the immediate search for him, he wasn’t found until the ocean gave
up his body on October 10th. 8
P/O Vaclav Jicha and Sgt. Prokop Brazda during fall 1941 at Portreath from where 313 Squadron
flew missions over the occupied Bretagne. Both were devoted to take care of Sgt. Arnost Mrtvy who
on September 28, 1941 was returning to England in the heavily damaged Spitfire Mk.IIA P7973
(RY-H). I April 1941 Jicha was defending heavily damaged aircraft with wounded Brazda in the
cockpit against six attacking enemy airplanes. This time the fate was cruel to Brazda, he was killed
upon his aircraft impact on the English soil (author’s collection).
INFO Eduard - January 2021
No.313 Squadron was more fortunate. Her Spitfires landed at their home
field lit up with spotlights at 2015h with no losses. 9
Up to November, 1941, No 313 Squadron conducted another three sweeps.
In all cases, these were escort missions for twin engined Blenheims, once to the
port of Le Havre, and twice to the field at Morlaix. 10 However, due to unfa-