The Czechoslovak Air Force in Britain, 1940-1945
After the defeat of France in 1940, the surviving service personnel of several occupied European nations were evacuated to Britain where they reconstituted air and army units under the military control of the Allied High Command. Politically, however, they were the responsibility of their own national governments which were also exiled as Germany consolidated its gains in Europe, and this diversity of interests often produced sharp conflict. This study examines the political, military and social experiences of one such unit. The central thesis is that the Czechoslovak Air Force in Britain was first and last a political tool to be used by the governments of both nations; first by the British as a means of international propaganda; then by the Czechoslovaks as a means of gaining prestige and influence while in exile; and last by the British again as a foil to the Soviets. To test the thesis, the study is divided into three parts, each of which is sub-divided into a series of themes through which the emigre experience can be explored. Part One examines the escape of the air personnel from France; the serious effect their arrival had upon the political relationship between the British Government and the Czechoslovak National Committee headed by Edvard Benes; the complex development of a military agreement between the two parties; the formation of the first two fighter squadrons; and the internal dissent and rebellion within the air contingent itself. Part Two examines the social and practical aspects of emigre life, concentrating on the provisions made by the Air Ministry and the British Council for the training and welfare of the men. Also examined are the two primary problems which faced the Czechoslovak Air Force throughout the war: the lack of recruitment and the quest for fully independent status. Part Three is concerned with the Czechoslovaks' attempts to break free from British control and return to their homeland; first as combatants in the Slovak Uprising of 1944, and second as heroes returning to liberated Czechoslovakia in 1945. On both occasions, the British raised obstacles, and the section concludes with an examination of the British efforts to use the air contingent to gain a political foothold in the post-war Soviet sphere of influence. Overall, the study demonstrates that the British political and military establishments maintained an attitude of distrust and sometimes contempt for the Czechoslovaks. Political friction often affected the military context, and examples of hypocrisy and blatant deceit illustrate that the public and private views of this small Allied force were sharply at variance. The study also demonstrates that the existing interpretations of the recognition of the Provisional Czechoslovak Government in 1940 are flawed in that they do not sufficiently take into account the military pressures of the time.