Czech Air Force – Centenary of the founding (1918–2018)

Czech Air Force – Centenary of the founding (1918–2018)
Author: Lucie Růžková,|Caption: Winged Lion Memorial
16 / 08 / 2018, 09:45

On 14th August 2018 the Czech Air Force marked the 100th anniversary of the founding of its predecessor, the Czechoslovak Air Force (30th October 1918). A commemorative ceremony was held at the Winged Lion Memorial in Prague. It was on 14th August 1945 that most of the Czechoslovak soldiers who served with the Royal Air Force during WW2 returned back home. The ceremony was dedicated also to the creation of the Royal Air Force (founded on 1st April 1918).

The history and traditions of the Czech Air Force begun right after the foundation of the Czechoslovak Republic on 28th October 1918. Two days later, the Czechoslovak Army’s Air Corps was established, with no more than 30 pilots and personnel, assisted by the French military aviation mission.It was expanded rapidly, and local aircraft industry developed quickly with companies Aero, Avia, Letov, Praga and more. By the Munich crisis in 1938 the Air Force operated about 600 first line aircraft, about the same number were trainers and reserve planes. They all were taken by the German Luftwaffe in March 1939. Many pilots and other personnel of the Air Force emigrated and joined the Polish, the French, and finally also the Royal Air Force, or the Soviet Air Force in the East, and fought the common enemy until May 1945.

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The Winged Lion Memorial was unveiled in 2014 by the British Member of Parliament, the Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Soames MP, grandson of Sir Winston Churchill. There are 2,507 names of Czechoslovak airmen and women who served with the Royal Air Force inscribed on the memorial; 510 of them died during the war, 88 Czechoslovak pilots defended the skies of the United Kingdom in summer 1940, during the Battle of Britain. Czechoslovak pilots served with Fighter, Bomber and Coastal Commands until 1945.

Following the end of the war a new Czechoslovak Air Force was established with personnel and equipment from Germany, Britain, Russia and the former Slovak air force. As the Communists consolidated power in 1946–1948, all pro-Western and ex-RAF personnel were purged from the armed forces, many were persecuted, imprisoned as enemies of the state (and many were literally murdred in prisons) or forced to exile.

During the split of Czechoslovakia in 1992–1993, the existing air force was divided up in the ratio two to one in favour of the Czech Republic. Today the principal task of the Air Force is to secure the integrity of the Czech Republic's airspace, essentially within the NATO Integrated Air and Missile Defence System (NATINAMDS). The Air Force also provides close air support for the Land Forces. It performs tasks associated with transportation of constitutional and governmental officials, troops, material, and is part of the Czech Air Search and Rescue Service.

See also: Czech Army’s Modernization Projects: the multipurpose helicopters

The wreath-laying ceremony at the memorial was attended by veterans and dignitaries, including Major General Emil Boček (born 1923), Spitfire pilot who served with the Czechoslovak 310th Squadron during the war, Chairman of the NATO Military Committee Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, his predecessor General Petr Pavel, Brigadier General Petr Hromek, commander of the Czech Air Force, Air Vice-Marshal David Cooper, commender of No. 2 Group RAF, Jakub Landovský, Deputy Minister of Defence, Cardinal Dominik Duka, the archbishop of Prague, Jana Černochová, Chairwoman of the Committee on Defence, and others.

Both Sir Stuart Peach and Air Vice-Marshal Cooper mentioned the recent loss of three Czech soldiers in Afghanistan.

“I was present at the unveiling of the Winged Lion in 2014 and I am delighted to see that the individual names of the 2,507 brave airmen have now been added to the memorial. As both the RAF and Czechoslovak Air Force are celebrating their centenaries in 2018, it is important to recognise the deep ties that have developed between the two forces over the decades,” Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach said.

“It is an honor to represent the Royal Air Force on the occasion of this ceremony to celebrate the centenary of the Czechoslovak Air Force. The ties between the two air forces is exemplified by the brave Czech and Slovak airmen who served with such distinction during WWII and their service is symbolized by the Winged Lion Memorial,” Air Vice-Marshal Cooper said.

Brigadier General Petr Hromek said there was a special relationship between the Czech and British air forces to this day: “Cooperation with the British forces is above standard. We cooperate in many areas, not just in manning fighter jets and helicopters, training forward air-controllers and so on. We have joint exercises within Flying Rhino and now Ample Strike. The Brits helped us enormously, especially when we were training our men on military helicopters with night vision, it is thanks to them that we were able to make progress fast. So I would say we have a very close relationship, I would say above-standard.”

See also: Czech Army’s Modernization Projects: JAS-39 Gripen

Cardinal Dominik Duka, the archbishop of Prague, reflected on the sacrifices, which he said should not be forgotten, and led a blessing. The ceremony was concluded with the British, Czech and Slovak national anthems and a flypast of two JAS-39 Gripens of the 211th Tactical Squadron.

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