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Ceremony to salute wartime Czechoslovakian bomber squadron

PUBLISHED: 18:00 29 July 2020 | UPDATED: 18:00 29 July 2020

Flags fly at the ceremony to commemorate the formation of 311 (Czechoslovak) Squadron at RAF Honington in 1940. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Flags fly at the ceremony to commemorate the formation of 311 (Czechoslovak) Squadron at RAF Honington in 1940. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

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A World War II Czechoslovakian bomber squadron formed at RAF Honington 80 years ago has been commemorated with a special service at the Suffolk air base.

Members of 311 (Czechoslovak) Squadron in front of a Wellington bomber at RAF Honington. Picture: RAF HONINGTONMembers of 311 (Czechoslovak) Squadron in front of a Wellington bomber at RAF Honington. Picture: RAF HONINGTON

The deputy ambassador of the Czech Republic joined descendants of founding members of 311 (Czechoslovak) Squadron for a ceremony celebrating the anniversary of its formation.

Also attending were the defence attachés from the Czech and Slovak Republics and personnel from the Czech Air Force.

The ceremony took place in the station’s memorial garden ceremony and wreaths were also laid at Czechoslovak war graves in the nearby churchyards of Honington and East Wretham.

Station commander Group Captain Matt Radnall said it was an honour to host the service.

Wreaths to 311 (Czechoslovak) Squadron were laid by dignitaries and military officials in the memorial garden at RAF Honington. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNWreaths to 311 (Czechoslovak) Squadron were laid by dignitaries and military officials in the memorial garden at RAF Honington. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

He said: “During the Second World War over 500 Czechoslovaks serving in Allied air forces were killed. Of these, 273 died while serving with 311 Squadron.

“Today it is fitting that we mark the squadron’s formation with a simple ceremony in our memorial garden to ensure their sacrifice will always be remembered.

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“There is added significance as we also mark the 80th anniversary year of the Battle of Britain, during which Czechoslovaks played a critical and courageous role.”

Station commander Group Captain Matt Radnall lays a wreath. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNStation commander Group Captain Matt Radnall lays a wreath. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

After the First World War the Czech and Slovakian republics of today were a single country of Czechoslovakia, which it remained until the fall of the Communist bloc in Eastern Europe in the early 1990s when they separated peacefully.

The squadron was formed from Czechoslovakian personnel who escaped the Nazi occupation of their homeland in 1938 and the subsequent outbreak of war in September 1939.

It was the only fully Czechoslovakian-manned bomber squadron of the RAF during the war and suffered the heaviest losses of any of that country’s RAF formations.

It was equipped with Wellington bombers and flew more than 1,000 sorties for Bomber Command before being re-assigned to Coastal Command in 1942.

Station commander Group Captain Matt Radnall addresses the service celebrating the 80th anniversary of the formation of 311 (Czechoslovak) Squadron at RAF Honington. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNStation commander Group Captain Matt Radnall addresses the service celebrating the 80th anniversary of the formation of 311 (Czechoslovak) Squadron at RAF Honington. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

It flew 2,111 sorties in Liberator bombers from Aldergrove in Northern Ireland and then from RAF Predannack in Cornwall, scoring the highest success rate of any Coastal Command squadron.

Notable success were the sinking of the German blockade runner ‘Alsterufer’ in December 1942 in the Bay of Biscay, and U-Boat U-971 in the English Channel in February 1944.

A member of 311 Squadron, Pilot Officer Arnošt Valenta, became a prisoner of war and was murdered by the Nazis after escaping from Stalag Luft III in the legendary Great Escape.

311 Squadron was disbanded in February 1946 at RAF Milltown in Moray, Scotland, and became part of the Czech air force.


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