Colonel (ret.) Jan Koukol

* 1912  †︎ 2012

  • “I was preparing myself for an entrance exam to the technical college. That was my career path. But when Germans came, they interrupted it, and the mobilization was declared shortly after. Before the mobilization was declared, I had signed up for a follow-up course in Štěpánská Street in order to be able to continue my studies at the technical college. Final exam from secondary school was required for the college, but I did not have it anyway. Germans came and I was drafted to Spišská Nová Ves where our regiment was located. I spent the mobilization there. While there I also befriended some of the airmen who [later] went abroad.”

  • “I was the highest rank in the group in the command. And so I accepted it, on my own responsibility. Nothing happened to those people who had escaped, because they escaped in order to fight. But they have not returned to our unit anymore. I don’t know where they went. I served as a deputy to the technical sergeant, and so I got this executive function [What did you have to do in this function? It was no fun, right? It was a lot of work.] The technical sergeant actually did everything to keep the company in good health and in good supply condition. He simply secured the flawless operation of the unit. I started in this position.”

  • “On the following day we sent out our signal officers, we surveyed the situation and we separated into the individual bunkers. There are many differences between the bunkers. How should I explain it? For example, the first platoon [perhaps a company - auth.’s note] was in a cave which was quite deep, but with a low ceiling. The ceiling could not be penetrated by anything, and the front part was built from bags filled with sand. That was the first company. Then the second company. We had concrete bunkers and we could not sleep in them. They were not interconnected, they were only linked by artillery walls. There were some bunkers which had anti-aircraft cannons on top of them. We used kerosene lamps down there. The air was terrible. There was a space near the entrance, if you walked down there. It probably served as a firing position. The air there was breathable, and so I moved myself there.”

  • “Then I got to [Malé] Bronowice. There was sergeant Josef Komínek and he told me to join the air force. And so I joined the air force. Then we were retreating eastward and I eventually became captured. When we were looking for a way with certain lawyer, captain [Emil] Konopásek, we were arrested by a Soviet border guard. We were threatened with gulag. But again, we were lucky. The commander had a Ukrainian Czech for his wife and he thus told us: ‘You would have been imprisoned for that.’ But he annulled it and he arranged for us to be released. But we had to leave the territory. We got to Vilno, and we learnt that Russia would hand the city over to Vilno administration.”

  • “The way people accepted it. They received news that they lost their son or two [sons]. There was the war, what can we do? They took the news with stoic calm. No dismay. In our country it would have been a terrible tragedy. But they were quite calm: ‘There is nothing we can do, it’s war.’ We have to realize that the first day of the landing [in Normandy] cost the Americans three thousand people. We did not even have such an army abroad, ever. Well, eventually we did. [At the end we did.]”

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    Praha, 18.01.2012

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I have to say that luck has accompanied me

Jan Koukol
Jan Koukol
photo: archiv Jana Koukola

  Colonel in retirement Jan Koukol was born December 26, 1912 in the village Helenín near Jihlava in the then Austria-Hungary. His father worked as a machine minder in a textile factory and his mother was a housewife. Jan attended elementary school, then he studied a secondary school of electrical engineering and after obtaining his certificate he was drafted to the Czechoslovak army, where he served in the 3rd air regiment in Piešťany in Slovakia. He went through a school for non-commissioned officers in Čáslav and thus he was promoted to the rank of a sergeant. In 1938 he experienced the mobilization while he was in Spišská Nová Ves, but after the establishment of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia he crossed the border with Poland where on August 25, 1939 he was presented in Malé Bronowice near Krakow as a member of the Czechoslovak Legion (the Czech and Slovak Legion). After the German invasion of Poland he got to Moscow via Vilnius, and from there he left for the Middle East. He was assigned to the Czechoslovak Infantry Battalion No. 11 - East, and he served as a technical sergeant in the 2nd company. With the infantry battalion he took part in the occupation of Syria in 1941 as well as in the well-known defence of Tobruk. After the arrival of other soldiers and reorganization of the infantry battalion into a 200th light anti-aircraft regiment he continued serving in this unit as a technical sergeant and his duty consisted mainly in securing the proper functioning of the unit. In 1943 he went on the ship Mauretania around Africa to Liverpool in England, where he joined the 1st Czechoslovak Independent Armoured Brigade as a technical sergeant. In 1944-1945 he took part in the siege of the French city Dunkerque. One of his jobs after the war included work in the Škoda factory. Jan Koukol lived in Prague and he reached the venerable age of nearly 100 years before he died on July 6, 2012 as one of the last Czechoslovak defenders of Tobruk.