Frantisec, Josef.

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Frantisec, Josef, born 07-10-1913, a carpenter’s son in Otaslavice near Prostejov  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. Josef was then assigned to the 2nd Dr. Edvard Benes 

(named after the then Czech Prime Minister) Regiment in Olomouc.

He was serving with the 5th observation flight flying the Aero A-11, and Letov S-328 biplanes. It was during this time that Frantisek’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. In the fall of 1939, Frantisec Novak fell ill with a malignant stomach disease and underwent surgery. After an incomplete recovery, he boarded the plane too early and his weakened body could not handle the heavy load. Doctors’ efforts to prevent recurrence remained futile. He died after a difficult operation on 27-04-1940, age 37, in a military hospital in Paris. Just before his death he was promoted to captain on 15-04-1940, after his death he was promoted to staff captain, major and colonel

Josef 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 15-03-1939, when Czechoslovakia was taken by Germany without a fight. Josef Frantisek wasted no time escaping to neighbouring Poland.

On 29-07-1939, preparing to travel to France, Frantisek received an offer to join the Polish Air Force. Josef 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 02-09-1939, 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 He111s from KG4 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.  Hryniewicz survived the war and died 26-07-1989, age 87, in Dęblin. On 07-09-1939, 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 16-09-1939, after further retreat, the unit was assigned to General of Brigade Skuratowicz to defend the city of Luck. On 18th-22nd September 1939, they flew reconnaissance and communication flights. Zbigniew Osuchowski  died 14-10-1944, age 35, while a mission to Duisburg due Flak.

With Polish resistance coming to an end, on 22-09-1939 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 26th September.

They got to Bucharest, obtained documents, and on 03-10-1939 boarded the steamer Dacia leaving Constanta for Beirut. They continued to Marseilles on board the Theophile Gautier, entering France on 20-10-1939.

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 claims have never been disproved and, as Frantisek may have changed his name to protect his family, its unlikely that they will be resolved.

On 18-06-1940, after the fall of France, Frantisek took a Polish ship from Bordeaux to England. He arrived at Falmouth on 21st June. Frantisek was sent to a Polish aviation depot in Blackpool, and on 02-08-1940 he left for RAF Northolt, where the 303rd Polish Fighter Squadron under command of Air Chief Marshal “Styffy” Sir Hugh Dowding was being formed. The squadron was equipped with Hurricanes and on one of his first training flights on 8th August Frantisek belly landed after forgetting to lower his undercarriage, his aircraft V7245 was repairable.

On 2nd September he claimed a Me109 destroyed, on the 3rd another, on the 5th a Me109 and a Ju88, on the 6th a Me109. As a result of this encounter Frantisek’s aircraft suffered substantial damage and he crash landed in a field near Falmer.

On the 9th Frantisek shot down a Me109 and a He111, on the 11th two Me109s and a He111, on the 15th a Me109, on the 18th a Me109, on the 26th two He111s, on the 27th a He111, and a Me110, and on the 30th a Me109 and probably another.

He was awarded the DFM/Distinguished Flying Medal on 17th September and was decorated by the King at Northolt on 1st October.

Death and burial ground of Josef Frantisec.

During a routine patrol on 8th October Frantisek was killed, when his Hurricane, R4175, crashed at Cuddington Way, Ewell, Surrey, after he clipped his wing tip on a tree.

Josef Frantisec after a fieldgrave is reburied at the Northwood Cemetery, Middlesex.. Frantisek was awarded the VM (5th Class) (gazetted 23rd December 1940), the KW and three Bars (gazetted 1st February 1941) and the Czech Military Cross (gazetted 15th July 1941).

Frantisek often left the squadron formation and hunted for the enemy on his own. The 303 Squadron Leader, Witold Urbanowicz, dealt with this ostensible breach of discipline by unofficially declaring Frantisek a ‘squadron guest’, which was acceptable due to his Czech origin.

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 best pilot of the squadron.

On the cemetery of Northwood Cemetery, Middlesex is also buried the Polish flyer ace Mirosław Ferić

(17-06-1915 – 1-02-1942),  a Polish-Croatian fighter pilot, a flying ace of World War II. On 14-02-1942 Feric was killed at RAF Northolt after his Spitfire (BL432) broke up at 3,000 feet (910 m) and the resulting G-forces as the aircraft corkscrewed held him inside and prevented him bailing out.

Mirosław Ferić was the 11th ranked Polish fighter ace with 8 and 2/3 confirmed kills and 1 probable kill. From September 1939 he had kept a personal diary, which became No.303 Squadron’s unit history.

Also buried there is Polish flyer ace Franciszek Kornicki

who survived the war. Kornicki died on 16-11-2017 age 100, at the Sussex Clinic, a nursing home in Worthing. His wife, Pat, died ten days later, on 26 November. Their joint funeral took place on 30-11-2017 at St Michael’s Church, Worthing, in the presence of the Polish ambassador and the head of the Polish Air Force, and they were later interred at Northwood Cemetery, in a plot beside the Polish Air Force war graves. The Polish Air Force provided pall-bearers and colour parties, the Queen’s Colour Squadron of the RAF Regiment lined the route with arms reversed, and there was a fly-past by an aircraft of 32 (The Royal) Squadron based at RAF Northolt.

This monument was solemnly unveiled on 04-09-2022, and is on the spot of the crash of Josef Frantisec.

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