Vladimir Urbanek sent us his brand new drawing entitled “RAF Duty”, showing another Spitfire of No. 312 (Czechoslovak) Squadron.
The scene depicts one of the few RAF successes of the Czech “France Ace” František Peřina.
František Peřina was a Czech fighter pilot who became famous through his exploits with the French Armee de l’Air, but also served later with the Royal Air Force.
Following the dissolution of Czechoslovakia by Nazi Germany and the subsequent invasion of Poland, the Czechoslovaks obtained a contract from the French Air Ministry to transfer from the Foreign Legion to the Armée de l’Air.
Initiated at Châtres, Seine-et-Marne, Peřina flew the Curtiss H-75A. On 1 December 1939 Peřina was assigned to the 1ère Escadrille of Groupe de Chasse I, Escadre de Chasse 5 based at Suippes near Reims. The squadron was made up of French pilots who had attended the Zürich air festival, and commanded by Capitaine Jean Accart. His took on the French alias of François Rinopé, in case he was taken prisoner – it was assumed that the Germans would treat a French prisoner much better than they would do with an exiled Czech.
On operations after 10 May 1940, after Germany began executing its Manstein battle plan against France and the Low Countries, Peřina shot down four planes in two sorties. He was also promoted to sergeant-chef. The next day he shot down his fifth, thus becoming the first Czech fighter ace in the Second World War. A day after that he shot down two more planes. Promoted to Adjutant, he became well-known throughout France through media coverage of his exploits.
Peřina’s squadron moved to St. Dizier on the Marne River on 14 May. In June 1940 as the Luftwaffe focused on Paris, Peřina and colleagues attacked a bombing formation. While his colleagues attacked the bombers Peřina focused on a fighter escort of 60 Messerschmitt Bf 109’s, shooting down one plane but getting badly shot up himself. In interview on his 95th birthday, Peřina recalled:
“I had to gain them some time, and I could think of nothing other than to attack. I had to stop them somehow. I distracted them, and I even managed to shoot one down, but then I myself was hit. My plane took 15 cannon hits, 80 by machine gun. My leg and my arm were injured, although I didn’t feel a thing. I knew I probably wasn’t going to make it back.”
After being hospitalised in Coulomiers he left the hospital and escaped to Paris and then Chartres. He then joined GC I/5 at Carcasonne, retrieving a Curtiss with a flat tailwheel tire from another airfield and flying to join the Free French Forces in Saint-Denis-du-Sig airfield located near Oran, Algeria. Having been awarded but never received the customary Croix de Guerre for his first air-to-air victory, the Free French decorated Peřina with Légion d’Honneur and also awarded him the Croix de Guerre with six palms. He then travelled by train to Casablanca where he boarded a ship to Great Britain.
After a 29-day boat trip, Peřina was allocated to No. 312 (Czechoslovak) Squadron RAF, which at the time operated Hawker Hurricanes. He saw little action before suffering from acute appendicitis and was treated at hospital in Ely, Cambridgeshire. He returned to No. 312 on recovery and moved with the squadron to Ayr, Scotland in 1941 to convert to the Supermarine Spitfire Mk V.
On 3 June 1942 while on a bomber escort mission, František Peřina claimed two Focke-Wulf Fw 190’s from a formation of four, one of which was confirmed destroyed and a second accounted as ‘probable’.
These were to be the last victories of this talented pilot. Peřina subsequently served as sector gunnery officer for a year, and then spent the remainder of the war at Fighter Command as part of the Czechoslovak liaison establishment.
[Vladimir Urbanek, used with permission of the artist]