Karel Kuttelwascher

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Hawker Hurricane PZ865 in the livery of Hurricane BE581 flown by Karel Kuttelwascher.

Karel Miloslav Kuttelwascher DFC and Bar, "Kut" (23 September 1916 – 17 August 1959) was a Czech fighter pilot, and a flying ace of the UK's Royal Air Force (RAF) in World War II. He was in active service from May 1940 to October 1942, under both French and British command, and during that time he was the most successful Czech RAF pilot, and one of the highest ranked in the RAF overall.

Early life[edit]

Kuttelwascher was born in the village of Svatý Kříž (now part of Havlíčkův Brod). His paternal family were ethnic Germans from Deutschbrod (Czech: Německý Brod); the family name means tripe washer. He joined the Czechoslovak Air Force in 1934, became a fighter pilot and served with the 32nd squadron in Hradec Králové. After the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia on 15 March 1939, he escaped to Poland, and in July of that year he left for France with a number of other Czech airmen.

In France[edit]

In France, the Czech airmen, including Kuttelwascher, were initially enlisted in the French Foreign Legion. When World War II broke out and France declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939, the French started to utilise the Czech pilots. On 17 May 1940, Kuttelwascher was assigned to the French GC III/3 fighter squadron, flying a Morane-Saulnier MS.406, then a Dewoitine D.520 fighter. It is unclear whether he achieved any victories in France or how many; incomplete French documents do not confirm any victories, but Kuttelwascher claimed he destroyed or damaged several enemy aircraft. When France fell, GC III/6 squadron was withdrawn to Algiers. Kuttelwascher left the French service there on 1 July and travalled to England by sea.

In Britain[edit]

In Britain, Kuttelwascher was assigned to No. 1 Squadron RAF on 3 October 1940 with a rank of Sergeant, and is recorded as a participant in the Battle of Britain. In December the squadron was moved to RAF Northolt and flew combat missions over northern France. On 8 April 1941, Kuttelwascher made his first confirmed kill - a Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter. In the next two months he added two more. In 1942 he got married in England and was promoted to Flight Lieutenant.

On 12 February 1942, No.1 Squadron took part in an attack on German destroyers in the English Channel, known as the Channel Dash. The squadron was then assigned to a new type of operation - "night intruder" missions over France. These were night missions by single aircraft with the intent of shooting down German bombers over their own airfields. Due to lack of radar in the aircraft, these missions were undertaken only during a full moon; they were dangerous, demanding both navigation skill and excellent vision. Kuttelwascher flew a Hawker Hurricane Mk IIc coded "JX-E", equipped with two 200-litre under-wing auxiliary tanks,[1] which allowed for 3.5 hours of flying-time, and had the most successful strikes of any night intruder. He shot down his first aircraft on 1 April 1942 (a Ju 88). On the night of 4/5 May he shot down three Heinkel He 111 bombers in one flight. In three months of No 1 Squadron's night intruder actions, Kuttelwascher shot down 15 aircraft and damaged five, from a squadron total of 21 claimed shot down in 180 missions (including 67 trains and railway stock, 5 boats and one road vehicle.) On 28/29 June 1942 a Do 217E-4 Werk # 5370 of 7./KG 2 was downed by Kuttelwascher at Trevieres, near Caen, killing all the crew.[2]

On 8 July 1942, Kuttelwascher was assigned to No. 23 Squadron RAF flying the de Havilland Mosquito on night intruder missions. Partnered with P/O G.E. Palmer, he flew six intruder missions over France and the Netherlands during August and September, but did not encounter any enemy aircraft.

In October 1942 he was withdrawn from combat flying and assigned to staff work in the Czechoslovak Air Inspectorate in London. In June 1943 he was sent on a six-month mission to the United States. On his return he was assigned to No. 32 Maintenance Unit, where he served until the end of the war.

Karel Kuttelwascher claimed 18 confirmed air victories during the war, the highest tally of any Czech pilot, although his kill count may have been higher - a number of 20 is often quoted, including two aircraft shot down in 1940. Karel Kuttelwascher was also the RAF's most effective night intruder and sixth ranked night fighter (others flew mostly radar-equipped aircraft). He was awarded the Czechoslovak War Cross 1939 five times, as well as the Distinguished Flying Cross with Bar, and the Croix de Guerre.

After the war[edit]

Kuttelwascher returned to Czechoslovakia in August 1945, but returned to Britain when the Communists came to power, becoming an airline pilot for British European Airways. Kuttelwascher became a naturalised British citizen in January 1956, at which point he was described as a salesman.[3] He died of a heart attack on 17 August 1959, while on holiday in Cornwall.

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

  • Brown, Alan. Airmen In Exile, The Allied Air Forces in WWII. Stroud, UK: Sutton Publishing, 2000. ISBN 0-7509-2012-2.
  • Darlington, Roger. Night Hawk: the Biography of Flight Lieutenant Karel Kuttelwascher, DFC and Bar, the RAF's Greatest Night Intruder Ace. London: William Kimber, 1985. ISBN 0-7183-0574-4.
  • Liskutin, M.A. Challenge In The Air: A Spitfire Pilot Remembers. London: William Kimber, 1988. ISBN 0-7183-0691-0
  • Mason, Francis K. The Hawker Hurricane IIC. Leatherhead, Surrey, UK: Profile Publications Ltd., 1965.