Karel Kuttelwascher, the most successful Czechoslovak fighter ace

On the twenty-third of September 1916, Karel Miroslav Kuttelwascher (please do not confuse him with the military commander of the Prague Uprising, Karel Kutlvašr!) was born in Svatý Kříž near Německý (Havlíčkův) Brod in the family of a railway inspector. He graduated from a trade school. Like many of his peers, he was attracted to flying and volunteered for the air force. In 1937, he graduated from the School for Aviation Vocational Youth (ŠODL) at the Military Aviation School in Prostějov. During the imminent threat to the Czechoslovak Republic in 1938, he served in the 32nd Fighter Squadron of Aviation Regiment No. 1 „T. G. Masaryk“, armed with Avia B-534 biplanes, commanded by Air Staff Captain Evžen Čížek, future commander of the 312th Czechoslovak Fighter Squadron of the British Royal Air Force (RAF) and also a fighter ace. Like many other patriotic Czechoslovak airmen, Sergeant Kuttelwascher did not accept the break-up of Czechoslovakia and the German occupation. With the help of the semi-illegal Union of Czechoslovak Airmen, on the night of 19 June 1939 he reached Poland in a sealed freight car. As the Poles were not interested in Czechoslovaks at first, he joined the 1st Regiment of the Foreign Legion in Sidi Bel-Abbás, Algeria.

After the outbreak of the Second World War, which France and Britain entered on 3 September 1939, our airmen were released from the Foreign Legion and assigned to the French Armée de l’Air. According to archival material, Kuttelwascher shot down two aircraft certainly and one probably during the Battle of France, for which he received the Military Cross with Palm and Silver Star.

However, Kuttelwascher’s glory days were to come in the service of the RAF. After the surprisingly lightning-fast collapse of the Gallic cock country, the Czechoslovak airmen found refuge in the United Kingdom, which was about to face the most difficult test of its modern history. „Nighthawk“ Kuttelwascher served with the 1st and 23rd Squadrons and flew the Hurricane. When the table of the RAF’s most successful night fighters was compiled, he ranked sixth with 15 confirmed night kills.

However, as aviation historian Jiří Rajlich points out in his book Aces in the Sky, this comparison is not entirely objective, as five of his more successful comrades-in-arms achieved their victories under significantly better conditions, as they flew twin-engine beaufighters and mosquitos equipped with on-board radars, whereas Kuttelwascher flew a single-engine hurricane that lacked a radar, and the pilot was therefore reliant only on his „cat’s eyes“.

After returning to his homeland, „Kuta“, as he was nicknamed, was promoted to staff captain and began service in Hradec Kralove at the Military Aviation Academy as an instructor. Fortunately, he escaped the fate of his colleagues, who, instead of gratitude and recognition for what they had done in the Second Resistance, were at best fired after February 1948, at worse persecuted and imprisoned. Kuttelwascher had already left the Czechoslovak Air Force on 21 May 1946 and five days later flew by Dakota to England to visit the family he had founded there during the war. As an excellent pilot, in November he was offered a position with the civil airline British European Airways, with which he flew first as an officer and then as a captain on Vickers Viking, Airspeed Ambassador and Vickers Viscount transport aircraft. In all, he replaced an impressive sixty aircraft types in his short life.

He died suddenly on the night of 18 August 1959 of a heart attack in Truro, South Cornwall, England, aged just forty-two. Kuttelwascher’s final resting place is Uxbridge, near London. He received numerous Czechoslovak and foreign awards for his outstanding achievements, including the Czechoslovak War Cross five times and the British Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) twice. Hopefully, he will receive the Order of the White Lion, for which he is nominated this year, without the slightest reservation.


You may also like...

Translate »