František Fajtl

* 1912  †︎ 2006

  • “When it was over and my daddy came back and we had freedom, an airplane arrived there, and they were offering short passenger flights. And I became somehow attracted to this airplane, I came home and I kept saying: ´Mom, I want to join the air force, I will fly.´ And just to add – I begged my father to buy me this short flight, but it cost 50 crowns, which was too expensive, and my father refused. But I still had this desire… You know, I saw this pilot, in his helmet and goggles, commanding the take off and landing. And then getting into that airplane, flying, with that friend of mine, who was sitting in the backseat as a passenger… It was so fascinating for me, you know, the roar of that engine…Oh my God, it is so amazing to be up in the air…So this is how it all began. As a young boy I began studying everything I could, books, and so on. And when I was doing my military service, I was already doing everything possible to get to the air force.”

  • “You certainly remember the King of the Air, Novák, who is known as the best aviator and acrobatic pilot. We had training in Chartres, there was a training centre. And this Novák, now already a lieutenant, he was already famous…he won the championship in Zurich in 1937, a great guy. I was to fly a practice circuit, I was taxiing slowly and suddenly I see the plane tilting. It turned over, with its nose stuck in the ground, and remained standing like this. But the plane was not broken. Naturally I had no clue what happened, suddenly, the plane began braking by itself, I did not know what to do… This lieutenant Novák came to me and said: ´By Christ, what have you done? What a shame…´ I said: ´Lieutenant, honestly, I have no idea what happened, I did not brake at all, this plane braked by itself.´ - ´Really?´ And so he ordered to put the plane back on its wheels, tow it into a hangar, and examine the landing gear. And thanks to his rank, this Novák made them take the gear apart and find what was wrong. There was a small axis, and it broke and blocked the brakes. I still like to remember this Novák.”

  • “And I walked for eight days till I came to Paris. Sometimes on the way I asked someone to give me a lift, because my feet were already hurting me. But these eight days were a sort of an adventure for me, some people received me well, some were afraid of me, or perhaps even wanted to turn me in, because a warrant had been issued on me, and the reward was great, it was posted everywhere. Because they knew everything – on my parachute, luckily, my good mechanic, an English guy, wanted to make me happy, and thus he wrote on my parachute: ´Squadron Leader, major Fajtl,´ and this way they now knew my rank and name as well. If they had caught a major, they would have received great reward. But I managed to come all the way to Paris and there I hid myself.”

  • “Our greatest hope was – and this was something the French could not understand – that we were looking forward to the war! Because when the war comes, we as pilots, will fight. It was important to us, because we considered ourselves patriots, we hated Hitler and his gang. And when the war finally broke out, the French were unable to grasp why we were looking forward to it, but we kept explaining it to them. And they understood, and we joined their armies.”

  • “We took off and we were navigated – our 12 airplanes – into the airspace of the Thames river delta. We spent plenty of fuel there, when they suddenly announced on the radio: ´Movement detected in your space, follow the course…´ The wing commander, an Englishman, received this message. And I was in my plane, and was doing precisely the same as the others. One airplane was reported, and we received a command that our blue squad (this consisted of three people) was to chase him. We went after him, we got him near Ipswich and there we shot him down. We surrounded him, three Hurricanes, with eight machine guns each. And he had no chance, it was a Dornier 17, you know. He surrendered – this is interesting, some of them did surrender – he waved his wings, which meant: ´I surrender.´ We put one of his engines on fire, then the second one as well. He landed near the city of Ipswich and we stopped shooting, we landed next to him. And as we landed, we saw living people climbing out of that plane, some were wounded. They were arrested by local policemen. However, this fight ended with a pyrrhic victory, since we had no fuel left.”

  • “I crossed the Pyrenees on foot and I got to Spain, where I was arrested, but from then on it was all right with me. I was put into a prison, in Barcelona. It was terrible, full of bedbugs. The bugs did not bite me much, but there was a group of Belgians, and the poor guys were bitten all over. I was lucky the bugs did not bite me. But still, we were held as prisoners, we could not go out, not even in the hallway, at lunchtime and in the evening we all had a roll call, we had to stand straight, raise our hands and repeat: ´Franco, Franco, Franco!´ But we did not take it seriously, we did not listen to them. The policemen were swearing at us, but then they just let it be…” (Interviewer: “And was there some reason for your imprisonment?”) “The reason was that we were foreigners and we had no documents. We crossed their border illegally, and under their law they arrested every foreign person who entered their territory. We had been ordered, when taken captives, to say only our name and rank. So I only told them my name and rank… But they were, well – they did not care, for instance they wrote: ´Born in: Donín, Inglaterra, England.´ There was chaos, but I passed through and I eventually got to the English.”

  • “I did not get to know the army so well, because I was in the air force. And the air force was good, they had good airplanes, but still worse than German Messerschmitt 109 or Focke-Wulf. But we took this in account and we did not really view our planes in a negative way, these were modern fighter planes – retractable gear, shooting well, and thus we went for it. But still, as I say, the lacking radar and the system, which was not thought out so precisely as in England, this was not all right. And in our opinion, when we then met and discussed it, the commanders were bad, the top commanders were leaving, one by one, till France became defeated.”

  • “The second case, the second airplane, was different. These Germans would not surrender. We chased him over Cambridge all the way to Saint Neots and we were already pushing him down, he was flying very low, and our commander shouted: ´Shoot upwards from below!´ Meaning not to shoot downwards, because there were people down there. They were watching us and looking at us chasing him down. We got level with him, surrounded him from both sides, and what not – they were still firing at us all the time we were after them, they still would not surrender. We could only respond to their fire and shoot back. And we smashed him into pieces. We set his engines on fire, the pilot was probably killed, in an instant we saw the plane going up and then falling and exploding, it burnt completely. Three Germans jumped out, but only one parachute opened.”

  • “In Slovakia we were encircled, surrounded to that extend that we had to retreat. And we had two options – to the mountains or to fly away. Naturally, a pilot, as long as his airplane is working, prefers to fly. We flew away, but in bad weather, we had no contact with the Russians, it was cloudy, and therefore I issued a command to form three squads and simply fly eastwards for one hour and then either land in the territory where the Red Army was already present, or jump out. Three airplanes in my squad reached Russia, the others landed in Rumania and Hungary, some had to make emergency landings, some managed to land well. And our regiment became disrupted. By various ways we returned to Russia, and there we were regrouped. And again we got into a Soviet unit and there we founded the 1st regiment and took part in the last combat action – conquering the Czechoslovak gate, meaning our former fortresses, and so on, taking them from the Schörner´s army, which was terribly furious. And thus we ended the war.”

  • “My two friends, Englishmen, and me, got into this situation…our radio was not working or something like that. Our commander landed first, because he had the least amount of fuel, and he landed right by the plane we shot down. The second guy landed in a golf course, and I landed… Because I was the only Czech there, and I did not want to get embarrassed… We were strictly forbidden to make emergency landings with gear down. This was because in rough terrain a plane with gear down could tip over and you could kill yourself. But because I was the only Czech there, I thought: ´Oh my God, I cannot be the first Czech to break a plane here.´ So I quickly pulled the gear down and I risked the landing. However, I found out there was a herd of cows in front of me. And I landed into that herd of cows, luckily the cows were apparently smart and they stepped back and I thus saved both the airplane and myself. You know, it caused quite a stir in the village, for my flight home they gave me cigarettes and whiskey…”

  • “(Over France) we were sent to five thousand metres, we flew through the assigned air space and suddenly, we got an alert report that some plane, probably a Junkers 88, was flying in our air space. We stayed alert and kept watching for him, listening to reports from the warning service, which spotted him from the ground. But we received this report with some delay. We saw him visually and started after him. Our commander ordered us to start shooting. I knew by the mirror that he was six hundred meters away from us and that I would not be able to hit him, but we did fire a shot above him. But it was pointless. We just approached the (Swiss) border and we had to make a 180-turn when he was only four or five hundred meters away and within the shooting range. We had to turn around and fly home.”

  • “I was shot down after one heavy fight in northern France. We were accompanying double-engine Bostons, Allied bombers. We were flying alongside them and protecting them from fighter planes. Enemy fighters appeared, there was a fight. I fired after two of them, I don’t know what happened with them. But I got a powerful hit from another one, and my engine began to stall. It was on May 5th 1942 in the afternoon, and these were Focke-Wulfs 190, their best airplane, and then Messerschmitts. What was I to do – when I realized I was lost, I turned the plane nose down and started to fire, firing at them all the way to the ground. I could not jump out, and the only chance was to land in the terrain. And I landed right in the midst of Germans. Well, it could have ended very tragically... But the situation turned out lucky. The bottom of my plane was on fire, and thus I sank my Spitfire with the landing gear up into that soft soil of that French field. And I think it was this soil which extinguished the fire. I fell out and ran into the fields. I met one woman there, and I asked here where the Germans were, and she said: ´Là-bas,´ meaning not far away from here. I ran into the fields, found a brook and hid in there and stayed there till it got dark, because I knew they had encircled me. I saw a plane circling above me. I got into their territory.”

  • Full recordings
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    Praha, 28.05.2003

    duration: 01:37:25
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
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When I realized I could not win, I turned the plane nose down. I could not jump out, and the only chance was to land in the terrain.

František Fajtl
František Fajtl
photo: Post Bellum

František Fajtl was born August 20, 1912 in Donín near Louny. As a child, he was brought up in the spirit of patriotism and obedience. He was an active member of the Sokol organization. He studied in a commercial academy then joined the military, passing the exams to the Military Academy in Hranice na Moravě. During his second year of studies, he began to study aviation in Prostějov. In 1935, František graduated from the academy as a lieutenant pilot. He joined the Air Force regiment in Přerov, where he, in March 1939, had to watch the surrender of the airport to the Germans. After the occupation, he was dismissed from the army and he decided to illegally cross the border to Poland. From there, he was supposed to be deployed in the Foreign Legion in Africa; however after the outbreak of WWII, he went to fly in France. He undertook training in Chartres, and fought in Lyon and Paris. After France was defeated, he left for England, where he was deployed in the Battle of Britain. He was the first Czechoslovak to become a commander of a British squadron (n. 122). In May 1942, he was shot down over France but managed to escape to Spain, where he was briefly imprisoned. After his return to England, he became the commander of the 313th Czechoslovak Fighter Squadron. At the beginning of 1944, as part of the Allied assistance, he was sent to the USSR as a commander of twenty fighter airplanes. His unit was to support the Slovak National Uprising. After the defeat of the uprising, Fajtl continued fighting in the eastern front, and the end of the war found him in Poland. After his return to Czechoslovakia, he remained in the army, and became a regimental commander and a deputy to the division commander. In 1949, he was dismissed from the army, arrested and held in prison in Mírov without a trial for 17 months. After his release, he reunited with his family and moved out of Prague. František then earned his living as a labourer, construction technician, and an accountant. After the fall of the communist regime, he was fully rehabilitated and was awarded the rank of lieutenant general in retirement and many other decorations. He died on October 4, 2006 at the age of 94.