Catterick, June 1941. From the left F/Lt Kilmartin, Sgt Ptacek, F/O Fajtl, in civil life prof. Girdleson (who was teaching Czechoslovak pilots English) and P/O Jicha. Frantisek Fajtl’s

face shows suffering not giving an eager professor too many chances in his „cultural mission“. (family archive)

This brings up one little known fact. Not much was needed for Frantisek Fajtl

to become Flight Leader at the British unit in July, 1941. This was set in motion

by the death of F/Lt Antonin Velebnovsky on the 16th of the month. He led the

Czechoslovak A Flight at the famous British No.1 Squadron (equipped with the

Hurricane Mk.IIb/IIc), and the search was on for a replacement among Czechoslovak officers. The decision to assign the post to Fajtl was helped by his ability

to speak English. Although this meant a elevation in his duties, he had no desire

to return to flying the Hurricane. In this regard, consideration was also given to

F/Lt Stanislav Fejfar who was also experienced in the Hurricane, but he was not

as well off with his English, and this would be seen as a major handicap with

No.1 Squadron. To top it off, he had no desire to leave the No.313 Squadron

and the Spitfire, either.

Ultimately, both remained with No.313 Squadron. Fejfar became B Flight

Leader and Fajtl remained with his regular piloting responsibilities and unit

commander. 11 ‘I fell in nicely in this happy, friendly group of people, which spoke

the mother tongue and on top of all that, flew Spitfires.’ 12 he stated later. No.1

Squadron Flight Leader became Karel Kuttelwascher, who was soon destined

to achieve greatness in his own right in this function.

At that time, the character of the air war was going through major changes,

including over the English Channel. The debacle that was suffered by the Luftwaffe in the fall of 1940 in its effort to gain air superiority over the British

Isles, brought with it a certain role reversal. While the Luftwaffe changed its

attacks on Britain to night raids, which strained RAF strength by the necessity to

counter these attacks, Bomber Command had begun to conduct their offensive

attacks in daylight hours, having initiated strategic nighttime raids as early as

May, 1940. The enemy on the other side of the Channel, the Luftwaffe, went on

the strategic defensive. This role reversal was made possible by the Germans’

opening a second front in the East in June, 1941.

The night offensive of Bomber Command aside, which is relevant to this article only lightly, Fighter Command instigated daylight attacks over the beaches of occupied Western Europe at the beginning of 1941. There were several strategies that were employed by the quantitatively improving Fighter

Command, and the task at hand became to determine which road was best

The new No.313 Squadron vigorously geared up for action at Catterick and

was deemed combat-ready on June 10th, 1941, exactly a month after being formed. The leadership at 13th Group, Fighter Command, declared the

squadron as combat ready. The first operational flights followed the next day.

Two Red Section Spitfire Mk.Is took off from Catterick at 1359 hours, flown

by F/Lt John Kilmartin, DFC, (flying X4652/RY-B) and Sgt. Jaroslav Sika

(X4653/RY-D). Twenty minutes later, Yellow Section, consisting of F/Lt Karel

Mrazek (R6604/RY-F) and Sgt Jiri Reznicek (X4163/RY-R), took to the air.

They were vectored onto a lone Junkers Ju 88. The intruder dropped his bombs

on Northallerton and was in the process of making haste back to its home field

in occupied Holland. The vectoring conducted by ground control radar was

accurate and Yellow Section intercepted the intruder. Mrazek and Reznicek

spotted the distant dot from about two kilometers and above the clouds at

a height of some 1300m. They immediately began to press home their attack,

but the Germans decided it was better to avoid combat by taking refuge in the

cloud cover. The Czechs were not to be so easily dissuaded, though. After some

two minutes, the Ju 88 emerged from the clouds, and was now closer to the

Spitfires. However, before they could set up for their shots, the Junkers again

disappeared into a thick cloud layer and was not spotted again. Kilmartin’s

section landed at 1505 hours and Mrazek’s followed ten minutes after. 13

The first opportunity for a victory had not worked out…’what can you do,

when the ’88 is fast, and we only had the Mk.I Spitfire?’ 14 was how it was summed up in the No.313 Squadron logbook. As a sidenote, the unit was led by

Frantisek Fajtl at the time. The military finesse he possessed in the air translated

into a corresponding flair he had for writing. After Fajtl left for No.122 Squadron at the end of April, 1942, the job of documenting the unit’s daily life fell on

war correspondent Hugo J. Slipka. Under him, the chronicles retained a high level of grammar and style. 15 After Slipka’s departure from No.313 Squadron,

the task of documenting the unit’s exploits was given to F/Lt Vaclav Bergman,

DFC, born in the same town as Fajtl, Domousice na Lounsku. His method of writing was quite to the contrary, and could be described as very ‘military’, so the

reader had to be satisfied with pure fact with little commentary.



Catterick, June 1941. Picture was taken by No. 313 Squadron flight surgeon

Dr. Vladislav Kruta.

INFO Eduard - DECEMBER 2020