RAF wings





Remarks: Josef Frantisek left his homeland in 1938 when the Germans occupied the Sudetenland – the western border of Czechoslovakia - and flew to Poland where he joined the Polish Air Force. Frantisek is believed to have shot down some German aircraft during the subsequent invasion f Poland in September 1939, and after the German conquest of Poland, escaped to Romania where he was interned. However, he escaped and via the Balkans and Syria, eventually arrived in France, just as the German invasion of that country began. Joining a French Air Force fighter squadron, Frantisek is believed to have destroyed 11 enemy aircraft, for which he was awarded the French Croix de Guerre.

When France fell, Frantisek escaped to England and joined 303 Sqn. which was formed in July from Polish personnel evacuated from France, the squadron becoming operational soon afterwards with Hurricanes. Frantisek claimed his first kill of the Battle, a Bf109, on 2 September and thereafter claimed regularly, sometimes destroying two aircraft on the same day and on 11 September claimed two Bf109s and an He111. Not including claims made while flying with the French Air Force, his final total was 17 confirmed (six bombers, two Bf110s and nine Bf109s), making him the highest scorer of the Battle of Britain. This feat is all the more remarkable since it was achieved in less than a month, his last kill being a Bf109 on 30 September. He was awarded the DFM by King George VI personally.

As with several other well-known flying personalities, Frantisek was killed not in combat but during a routine patrol, his Hurricane crashing at Ewell, Surrey, due to unknown causes on 20 September 1940, ironically just three days before 303Sqn. was withdrawn to the quieter 12 Group area. He was posthumously awarded the Polish Virtuti Militari (5th Class), the Krzyz Walecznych and three Bars, and the Czech Military Cross.

Joseph František - Born 7th October 1914 - KIFA † 8 October 1940

The son of a carpenter, Josef František was born on 7 October 1914 at Dolní Otaslavice, in the district of Prostejov in the South East of Czechoslovakia. At the time of his birth this area was part of the Austro Hungarian empire.

On leaving school he was apprenticed to a locksmith and in 1934 he volunteered to join Czechoslovak Air Training School at Prostejov. In 1936, on completion of his training, he was assigned to the 2 "Dr Edvard Beneš" Regiment of the Czechoslovak Air Force which was based at Olomouc. In 1935 he held the rank of a Corporal in Air Regiment 1 and in 1937 returned to Air Regiment 2 with the rank of Sergeant.

During this period František individualistic attitude first showed. He lacked a sense of discipline whilst on the ground and this resulted him to be demoted for numerous indiscretions like fighting, returning late to his unit and other incidents. With these indiscretions František faced the possibility of being discharged from the service but at the same time he was developing into a exceptionally talent as a pilot. This talent resulted in him being chosen to join a fighter training course, with the 4th Regiment, and initially he remained with this regiment when his training was complete.

Following fighter pilot training, in June 1938, he posted to the 40 Fighter Flight in Praha-Kbely. It was here that with the guidance of Lt. František Novak that František honed his undoubted flying and shooting skills whilst flying Avia B-534 and Bk-534 fighters.

On 15 March 1939., when Czechoslovakia was annexed by Germany, many Czechoslovak airmen, František included, escaped to Poland. While most of these airmen journeyed on to France, František and a few others joined the Polish Air Force so that they would be able to fight the Germans. He joined the Polish Air Force on 29 July 1939 and was based at Dęblin airbase.

In September 1939, Germany invaded Poland. During the unequal struggle of this campaign František flew reconnaissance missions in an unarmed RWD-8 truing aircraft. Despite flying an unarmed aircraft this did not prevent him from attacking the advancing German forces and on 19 and 20 September he has dropping hand grenades onto German columns. He was shot down on 20 September but a Polish aircrew landed under fire to rescued him.

On 22 September 1939, František's unit was ordered to to withdraw, with their aircraft to Romania. František flew General Strzemiński in his aircraft. They went to Ispas airfield, and then onto Pipera via Cernovici and Jassa. Here he was interned and he, like many other Polish airmen, escaped and travelled on to France, via North Africa in October 1939.

In France he elected to stay with the Polish Air Force, which was part of L'Armee de l'Air rather than join his own countrymen who where also serving in units of the French Air Force. Initially, František was posted to the Polish airbase at Clermont Ferand as a mechanic where he established a reputation for trying to fly as many types of French aircraft as he could and also for being AWOL [absent without leave] on several occasions.

The position is unclear as to his combat flying during the French campaign of 1940 as there are no supporting official Polish or French documents available, but witnesses claim that he shot down 9 German aircraft and destroyed further 2 on the ground. It is possible that he, like many other Czech and Polish airman, was flying under an assumed name to protect their families back home under German occupation but as yet his assumed name is still unknown. There are also unconfirmed reports that he was awarded a Croix de Guerre for shooting down his first German aircraft during this period.

When France capitulated, František along with many other Czech and Polish airmen, managed to get to Britain. Again he chose to fly with Polish forces and on 2 August 1940 joined 303 Polish Squadron of the RAF which were based at Northolt and flying Hawker Hurricanes. Despite the Polish airmen already having considerable combat experience against the Germans, they were having to retrain to ensure that they met the standards of the RAF. On 8 August 1940, following a training flight, František, being used to flying fixed undercarriages aircraft, landed his Hurricane Mk1, V7245, with it's undercarriage up. He was unhurt, the aircraft suffered only repairable damage. This was the first mishap for the Squadron.

This re-training resulted in the Squadron only seeing combat in the later stages of the Battle of Britain। František's first combat success was on 2 September 1940 and in the subsequent 28 days succeeded in shooting down 17 German aircraft, making him the highest scoring allied pilot of that battle. On 20 September 1940 he was the first foreign pilot to be awarded the DFM and this was presented by the King, on 1 October 1940 , at Northolt.

These number of success's can be attributed to František's individualistic, but unorthodox and undisciplined, style which also caused much exasperation for the British and Polish authorities as to how to handle this outstanding pilot. Eventually a compromise was reached in that František was invited to fly as a guest of 303 Sqd. Clearly he enjoyed this new status as the following day, 11 September 1940, he shot down 3 German aircraft!

"metoda Frantiszka" [František's method] was how the Poles called his tactics whilst the British referred to them as 'lone wolf' but regardless of the name they achieved the destruction of many German aircraft. František's method often was to break away from the formation after take off and proceed on his own hunting mission in pursuit of German aircraft. This often meant patrolling along the Channel Channel and waiting for German planes trying to return to France after their mission over England. In the actual attack he, like many of the other pilots of 303 Sqd. where noted for getting very close to the enemy aircraft before firing their guns.

Tragically, on 8 October 1940, František's Hurricane, RF-R R4175, whilst on a patrol, crashed near Ewell, Surrey. The exact cause of the crash is unclear but battle fatigue and exhaustion, or a flying error whilst performing aerobatics to impress his girlfriend, who lived nearby, or a combination of these two have been suggested as possibilities.

He is buried at the Polish Military Cemetery at Northwood, London.

Despite this short flying period in World War 2, his bravery and tenacity did not go unnoticed and he was awarded numerous bravery medals from the 4 countries whose Air Forces he flew in:

Czechoslovakia: Československý válečný kříž 1939 [Czechoslovak War Cross, 15/07/41] Za statečnost [Bravery Medal 2 x Za zásluhy [Merits medal and 2 Bars] Pamětní medaile československé armadý v zahraničí P, F a VB [Memorial Medal with Polish, France and Great Britain Bars]

Poland: Order Virtuti Militari [Polands highest military decoration, 23/12/40] 4 x Krzyż Walecznych [Cross of Valour, 01/02/41]

British: Distinguished Flying Medal & Bar [11/9/40 and 4/10/40] The 1939 – 1945 Star with Battle of Britain clasp

France: Croix de Guerre [ unconfirmed]

He is commemorated, along with the other 2936 Battle of Britain pilots, on the Christopher Foxley-Norris Memorial Wall at the National Battle of Britain Memorial at Capel-le-Ferne, Kent.

Sergeant Joseph František

Sergeant Joseph František was a Czech pilot who, after fighting the Germans in Poland and France, was assigned at his request to the Polish 303 Squadron, where he became the fourth-highest scoring ace in the Battle of Britain. Given his undisciplined tendency to break rank in pursuit of the enemy, it was thought less dangerous to his colleagues if František were to continue with the squadron as their "guest," flying patrols on his own.

On September 2, 1940, only a month after being posted, he shot down the first of seventeen German planes (and a final probable), a feat all the more remarkable in that they occurred within a single month of the four-month long battle. Awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal, a bar was posthumously added after František's death on October 8, a day after his twenty-seventh birthday.

Here, the plane is not as interesting as the person. This is František's first mount and one of several Hurricane Mk Is that he flew, including a damaged plane that crashed during landing and the one in which he died.

The Airmen's Stories - Sgt. J František

No 303 Kosciusko Polish Squadron achieved great fame and the status of the highest scoring squadron in the Battle of Britain: one of its pilots, Sergeant Josef Frantisek (who was in fact a Czech) being the highest scoring individual in the Battle of Britain with 17 'kills' in just 27 days.

Frantisek was a remarkable pilot who flew with a passion that few could match: within the Czech air force, from his earliest days he had been well-known for his exceptional flying and his lack of discipline. Following the seizure of Czechoslovakia in 1938 Frantisek escaped to Poland and became an honorary Pole. He seemed to have nerves of steel when in combat. The Northolt Station Commander, Group Captain S F Vincent, once had to reprimand Frantisek after he had ignored a Messerschmitt on his tail. Frantisek replied: "But he could not fire at me; I was too close on the tail of a bomber."

Frantisek's method was to break formation, to proceed on solitary missions to score his 'kills', hunting as if by instinct. Once, after pursuing a fleeing German bomber, flight commander Flight Lieutenant Witold Urbanowicz had ordered Frantisek never to break formation again without permission. Two days later Frantisek disobeyed this order, endangering lives and undermining discipline in the squadron. Something had to be done. Squadron Leader Ronald Kellett and Urbanowicz came to a compromise: Frantisek would become a 'guest' of the squadron: he was therefore free to do what he was best at. The following day he shot down three more German aircraft.

Unfortunately Frantisek was to be killed in a flying accident on 8 October 1940, and lies buried in Northwood Cemetery. Squadron Leader Ronald Kellett received both the DSO and the DFC for his outstanding leadership during the Battle, as well as the Virtuti Militari, the Polish equivalent of the Victoria Cross. Fellow-pilot Squadron Leader Johnny Kent stated that Frantisek's death was "a very great loss and a very worrying one."

Frantisek's decorations included: Distinguished Flying Medal (British), Croix de Guerre (French), Virtuti Militari (Polish), Krzyz Waleecznych and 3 bars (Polish), and the Czech Military Cross.

Josef Frantisek was born a carpenter's son in Otaslavice near Prostejov on 7 October 1913. After his initial training as a locksmith, Josef volunteered for the air force, and went through the VLU Flying School in Prostejov in 1934-1936. He was then assigned to the 2nd "Dr. Edvard Benes" (named after the then Czech Prime Minister) regiment in Olomouc. He was with the 5th observation flight flying the Aero A-11, and Letov S-328 biplanes. It was during this time Josef's individualistic attitude first showed. He never had a sense of discipline on the ground. Demoted from the rank of Lance Corporal to Private for late returns to his unit, pub fights and other incidents, Frantisek faced the prospect of being released from service. As an exceptionally talented pilot he was chosen for a fighter course with the 4th regiment, and he stayed with this regiment after completing training. In June, 1938 he was assigned to the 40th Fighter Flight in Praha-Kbely. He was under the command of Staff Captain Korcak, and the pre-war Czechoslovak "king of the air" - Lieutenant Frantisek Novak. Frantisek perfected his flying and shooting skills here, flying Avia B-534 and Bk-534 fighters. During the dramatic events of 1938, the 40th flight was dispatched to several airports around Prague to defend the capital.

After the Munich agreement, the flight had to return to Kbely, where it stayed until 15 March 1939, when Czechoslovakia was taken by Germany without a fight. Josef Frantisek wasted no time escaping to neighbouring Poland.

On 29 July 1939, preparing to travel to France, Frantisek received an offer to join the Polish Air Force. He arrived at Deblin airbase, and after retraining with Polish equipment, became an instructor with the Observation Training Squadron under the Air Force Officers Training Centre Nr 1. He flew Potez XXV, Breguet XIX, PWS 26, RWD 8, RWD 14 Czapla, Lublin R XIII and other aircraft. On 2 September 1939, Deblin was the target of a huge Luftwaffe air raid. Frantisek had no time to take off with his Potez XXV among the falling bombs. He saw 88 Heinkel He111's from KG4 "General Wever" turning the largest Polish airbase into a heap of rubble. Frantisek then left for Gora Pulawska airfield, where, under the command of Captain Jan Hryniewicz, he helped fly the remaining aircraft away from the advancing Wehrmacht. On 7 September 1939, Frantisek and some other Czech pilots were assigned to an observation training squadron at the Sosnowice Wielkie airfield near Parczewo. The unit, commanded by Lieutenant Zbigniew Osuchowski, had fifteen RWD 8 and PWS 25 trainers. On 16 September 1939, after further retreat, the unit was assigned to General of Brigade Skuratowicz to defend the city of Luck. On 18-22 September 1939, they flew reconnaissance and communication flights.

For all their bravery and determination, Polish resistance was coming to an end. On 22 September 1939, the remaining six planes flew from Kamionka Strumilowa airfield to Romania. Three of these machines were flown by Czechs. Frantisek flew General Strzeminski in his machine. They landed at the Ispas airfield, and went on through Cernovici and Jassa to Pipera. They were interned, but escaped on 26 September. They got to Bucharest, obtained documents, and on 3 October 1939 boarded the steamer "Dacia" leaving Constanta for Beirut. They continued to Marseilles on board the "Theophile Gautier", entering France on 20 October 1939.

Frantisek stayed with the Polish Air Force in France, which was part of L'Armee de l'Air. He was retrained at Lyon-Bronand, Clermont-Ferrand, where he reportedly test-flew aircraft after repairs. There are conflicting reports regarding his combat activities. Some witnesses claimed Frantisek shot down 10 or 11 enemy aircraft flying with the French. These published reports have never been disproved; yet official French and Polish documents have neither confirmed the claims. Some witnesses recall that Frantisek changed his name temporarily in April, 1940 to protect his family in Otaslavice from persecution by the Gestapo. His cover name is still unknown. As long as this question remains unanswered, Frantisek's French period cannot be closed.

On 18 June 1940, after the fall of France, Frantisek took a Polish ship from Bordeaux to England. He arrived at Falmouth on 21 June. Frantisek was sent to a Polish aviation depot in Blackpool, and on 2 August 1940 he left for RAF Northolt, where the 303rd Polish Fighter Squadron (also known as Kosciusko) was being formed. The squadron was equipped with Hurricane MkI fighters, coded with the letters "RF". In one of first training flights on 8 August Frantisek belly landed - he forgot to open the gear in his Hurricane before landing. Luckily the pilot was untouched and his fighter (RF-M V7245) got only light damage.

Frantisek scored his first kill under British skies on 2 September 1940. This was very busy day for the 303rd - flying three sorties. In the last one, at 16:35, the Squadron took off with orders to encounter a formation of 'bandits' at 20,000 feet over Dover. In the combat, Frantisek and Sgt. Rogowski scored one confirmed Me109 each. The next day, the Squadron took off (at 14:45) and was vectored to Dover, where Frantisek again shot down an enemy fighter for his second kill in the "Battle of Britain". On 6 September 1940, in heavy combat, the 303rd downed 5 Me109's, but Polish losses this day were serious: both Squadron leaders (Polish - Mjr Krasnodebski, British - S/Ldr Kellett) and 2 other pilots were shot down, Frantisek luckily returning in his damaged fighter to Northolt. Three days later, Frantisek was forced to land with a badly damaged Hurricane. The plane was totally destroyed but Frantisek got out of it unscathed. 15th September 1940, was a great day for the 303rd, when its pilots tallied 16 victories against the Luftwaffe, and Frantisek downed one Me 110 in that action.

Frantisek and the best Polish Fighter's Scores during the Battle of Britain

Pilot Squadron Score Remarks
Sgt. Josef Frantisek 303 (Polish) 17 - 1 - 0 Czech pilot.
S/Ldr (Lt.) Witold Urbanowicz 303 (Polish) 15 - 1 - 0 Best score on 27 September 1940 - 4 victories
Corp. Antoni Glowacki 501 (British) 8 - 1 - 3 Best score on 24 August 1940 5 victories
Lt. Zdzislaw Henneberg 303 (Polish) 8 - 1 - 1 KIA on 12 April 1941.
Sec Lt Jan Zumbach 303 (Polish) 8 - 1 - 0  

Out of the top 5 RAF aces 4 of the best pilots were from the   303 (Polish) Sqn best pilots 56 - 5 - 4

'Poles and Czechs were not permitted to participate in the air fighting until they had mastered the rudiments of the English language and flying procedures.
When they did start operations, these homeless men, motivated often by a hatred bordering upon despair, fought with a terrible and merciless dedication.' - Len Deighton, Fighter

In only four weeks, from September 2nd through the 30th, Frantisek achieved 17 certain kills and 1 probable. This was a unique achievement in the RAF for this period - bettered only by F/Lt. AA McKellar and W/O ES Lock. Each of them both had 20 victories; sadly both were to be killed during the Battle.

It is often mentioned that Frantisek's excellent results were due to his lack of discipline in the air. He often left the formation and hunted for the enemy on his own. He also waited over the Channel for returning German planes, which were often flying without ammo, with limited fuel, sometimes damaged, and with tired crews. This was a usual tactic for Allied pilots, but only after completing all mission objectives. After Polish pilot mission briefings, Frantisek often disappeared from 303rd formations just after take-off. Despite higher command warnings, for Frantisek these lone-wolf missions were like a drug - and his number of kills grew quickly. As the squadron leader, Witold Urbanowicz was facing an almost insoluble dilemma: either discipline Frantisek (which he attempted several times without success), or have him transferred at the expense of losing squadron pride. Urbanowicz dealt with this cunningly: unofficially declaring Frantisek a squadron guest, which was acceptable due to his Czech origin. The Poles called his tactics "metoda Frantiszka" (Frantisek Method) while the British spoke of the lone wolf tactics. It is by no means true that Frantisek gained all his victories in individual actions - many kills were scored in group missions.

303 Squadron had 126 confirmed kills in the Battle of Britain - the most successful record for a RAF squadron in this period. Frantisek, with his 17 kills was not only the best pilot of the squadron, but also among the elite of the RAF.

Frantisek's sudden death in an 8 October 1940 accident remains incomprehensible, as is the case with some other excellent pilots. 303 Squadron was flying a routine patrol that morning. Frantisek's machine disappeared from the view of his fellow pilots, and he was never again seen alive. At 9:40 a.m. his Hurricane MkI R4175 (RF-R) crashed on Cuddington Way in Ewell, Surrey. Frantisek was thrown from the cockpit and his body was found in a hedge nearby. At first glance he had only scratches on his face, and his uniform was slightly charred. But Frantisek's neck had been broken in the impact and he died immediately. There has been no definitive cause in the crash of his plane. Some sources say he misjudged an aerobatic manoeuvre in front of his girlfriend's house. Other witnesses mention his absolute exhaustion from previous fighting, and I would certainly ascribe Frantisek's death to this cause. A combination of these two factors is, of course, another possibility.

His Polish friends buried Frantisek at the Polish Air Force Cemetery at Northwood, Middlesex, on October 10, 1940, where he is still resting. He stayed with the Poles forever.

Frantisek's 17 kills rank him second among the best Czech aces, right after Karel Miroslav Kuttelwascher's 20 victories.

Josef Frantisek Date Time Hurricane Location No Enemy a/c type and remarks
02.09.1940 17:50 P3975 / RF-U 5km East from Dover 1 Bf 109E
03.09.1940 15:40 P3975 / RF-U Over Channel near Dover 1 Bf 109E mistakenly reported as He 113
05.09.1940 15:05 R4175 / RF-R ? 1 Ju 88
05.09.1940 15:10 R4175 / RF-R ? 1 Bf 109E
06.09.1940 09:00 R4175 / RF-R Sevenoaks 1 Bf 109E WNr 1138 of 3./JG52, piloted Oblt Waller fell POW, Frantisek's Hurricane was heavily damaged
09.09.1940 18:00 P3975 / RF-U Horsham 1 Bf 109E-4 WNr 1617 of 7./JG27, pilot Uffz Karl Born was KIA
09.09.1940 18:05 P3975 / RF-U Beachy Head 1 He 111H-2 WNr 5548 A1+DS of III/KG53, crashed on French coast
11.09.1940 16:00 V7289 / RF-S Horsham 2 Bf 109E
11.09.1940 16:00 V7289 / RF-S Horsham 1 He 111
15.09.1940 12:00 P3089 / RF-P Hastings 1 Bf 110
18.09.1940 13:15 V7465 / RF-V West Mailing 1 Bf 109E
26.09.1940 16:30 R4175 / RF-R Portsmouth 1 He 111
26.09.1940 16:35 R4175 / RF-R S/E of Portsmouth 1 He 111
27.09.1940 09:20 R4175 / RF-R Horsham 1 He 111
27.09.1940 09:25 R4175 / RF-R Gatwick 1 Bf 110D-0 WNr 3147 L1+BL of 15./LG1, piloted by Oblt Ulrich Freiherr von Grafenreuth
30.09.1940 16:50 L2099 / RF-O Brooklands 1 Bf 109E-1 WNr 3895 of 6./JG27, pilot Lt Herbert Schmidt fell POW
30.09.1940 16:55 L2099 / RF-O Brooklands 1 Bf 109E probable

  Web References: +

  • 'Lotnictwo Wojskowe' 2/99, Jiri Railich 'Josef Frantisek'
  • No 303 Kosciusko Squadron, pictured at RAF Northolt, September 1940.
  • http://www.pcv.cz/home/adamec/toc.html ©Sgt Mark Bristow, Station Historian, RAF Northolt