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Czechoslovak pilots in Soviet captivity 1939–1941

Author : 🕔13.03.2011 📕25.260
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Journey into Soviet captivity

At the end of August 1939, there were almost 700 Czechoslovak pilots on Polish territory. Due to various circumstances, 190 of them eventually remained here. After the outbreak of war, 93 pilots served in the Polish Air Force. The rapid and destructive progress of the German army and air force meant that most of them undertook reconnaissance flights or relocation of aircraft to the background. On unarmed machines, brave pilots often attacked German columns with the help of hand grenades and other explosives.

Poland's difficult situation worsened after the Soviet Union joined the attack on September 17, 1939. As is well known, this was done on the basis of a non-aggression pact , which the German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop ( 1893–1946 ) signed in Moscow on August 23, 1939 with his Soviet counterpart Vyacheslav Molotov ( 1890–1986 ). Poland was bleeding from both the West and the East, while the United Kingdom and France watched idly by.


Molotov signs the Soviet-German non-aggression pact. Behind him Stalin and Ribbentrop

During the attacks of the Red Army, about 115 Czechoslovak pilots were captured. A significant part of them in the group, which was commanded by Capt. flight. Bohumil Liška. The second group, commanded by Capt. chat. František Divoký, fortunately managed to break through the Romanian territory. It was a total of 114 men, of which 57 were pilots. There were originally 78 of them, but several of them disconnected from the group during the chaotic retreat. For example, five of them later joined the 6th " Lviv " Air Regiment. The Polish campaign required four fallen Czechoslovak pilots. Three were killed on September 2, 1939 during the noon bombing of Dęblin, the fourth was accidentally shot on September 8 by Polish gendarmes.

Group of Capt. flight. Bohumil Liška A total of 72 pilots of this group arrived on 30 August 1939 at the air base Dęblin, where 24 pilots were already staying. Two days later, the airport was hit by German bombing, which claimed a considerable number of victims and wounded on both the Polish and Czechoslovak sides. The day after, Capt. flight. The fox is awakened by quarrel and lamentation. Indiscriminate words spoke of a group of officers who separated from the group during the crisis without saying goodbye to the others. The team claimed that by this act they had tarnished the oath of a Czechoslovak soldier, which everyone undertook not to leave their friend in the fight. The NCOs remained. The officers left. That was the opinion of the majority of the team. This event had a detrimental effect on the shaken discipline caused by the massive air raid of the Luftwaffe.


The dividing border of Poland between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union

After another attack, it was decided to move to Ruda Pulawska; the group of 93 people set out on September 6, 1939. Here again, officers joined it, who had left it three days earlier and whose main spokesman was Capt. flight. Zbyněk Roušar . The march was very strenuous. The German air force was ubiquitous and the men suffered from food shortages. It was eaten only once a day. During the difficult transfer, some pilots were recalled from the main group to fly the planes into the background.

On September 16, 1939, tired pilots arrived in Novošulka, where they were caught the next day with a report of a Soviet attack. They left the new place with the knowledge that the Red Army had come to the aid of the fighting Poles.This soon turned out to be just a pious wish. Most pilots therefore decided to retreat to Romania. However, this was prevented by an armed uprising of Ukrainians. Near the town of Brody, the group joined an evacuating Polish division, with which it fell into Soviet captivity on September 23, 1939. It happened between the towns of Toporov and Zločov.

Testimony of individuals about falling into Soviet captivity

Pore. flight. Antonín Liška was captured with a group of about 20 to 30 Czechoslovak pilots, which at the time of the outbreak of war was located at the Legion of Czechs and Slovaks ( founded on September 3, 1939 ) in the training camp Leśna near Baranowicz. As part of the Legion, the pilots set out for the Romanian border on September 11, 1939.


German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop

Lieutenant Liska stated: "On September 17, 1939, the group, despite the proximity of the German front, marched on the Romanian border, but was attacked on the night of September 18 while resting in a settlement by heavy fire from one of the Red Army's rapid armored units advancing into Polish Ukraine. which the almost defenseless group had to give up. Then, through all-day tiring marches, almost without boarding, we were escorted to the USSR, where we arrived on September 22, 1939, and were interned in Kamenec Podolský. "

Chet. flight. Jaroslav Dobrovolný survived both the German tank and Soviet air attack. It all started on the morning of September 13, 1939 at Dęblin Airport, from where he was to fly with Czechoslovak and Polish colleagues with operational aircraft to the field airport near Brus: “We hear the rumble of engines, gunfire and shouting. The Polish guard runs away and shouts that the Germans have the airport occupied. A big fog saves us. Because chat. Kuhn and Matowski don't have a machine, they run into mine, while Kulczinski and Lazar have a machine. I start with the roar of engines and shooting from tanks. [...] Since the plane is very overloaded, there is a big fog and I don't have a map, I'm losing my orientation and I'm sitting in an emergency near the village of Garbov. When I landed, my tire on the left wheel burst. I'm going to seek help in the village, but I'm locked up by three infantry captains with the entire crew, we're spies. Even the mother tongue of Corporal Matowski did not help to legitimize it. One Polish air force lieutenant in the reserve freed us from this and learned about us.


In the middle, Major General Heinz Guderian and Brigadier General Semyon Krivoshein on a joint tour of the Wehrmacht and the Red Army in Brest.

Since we couldn't get help and the roads were full of retreating troops, we destroyed the second tire and that's how I started. Polish troops from machine guns began firing at us over Lublin. Finally we landed happily at the airport Brus, but Capt. Chrniewicz, without leaving orders for us, flew off to nowhere. [...] Above Wlodawa we sat on the "Bug " and flew towards Hrubešov. Since we could not stand the hunger and weakness, we landed in the fields near the farm, where the Polish army was, and ate there. There they told us about Wojnica Airport. But even here Capt. Chrniewicz was not.

Here, Corporal Schimanski gave us 10 liters of gasoline each and we found a des. Halu. After lunch we continued our flight to Wielick Airport. Above the Kowel - Lutsk line, we were attacked by Tupolev SB-2 bombers and sprayed from machine gun fire. I happily landed in the fields near Wielick without a breakdown and petrol, and at midnight I found Capt. Chrniewic- ze. On September 16, 1939, he took my machine and put me on the bus to watch the women and children of Polish pilots. [...] The same day we left by bus towards Kowel and on the 17th.September at 12.00 we were captured by the Red Army at [village] Kolodna pod Zbaraží. "


RWD-8 destroyed after an attack by Luftwa ff e

Rtm. flight. Jaroslav Taudy very aptly described the Anabasis, which was issued jointly with others, the bombing Deblin after falling into Soviet captivity, "the third day after the Germans broke two mA raids airport so strongly that it can not be used as an airport. Then, with the explosions of bombs, the roar of cannons, the whistling of shards, and the crashing of falling masonry, I saw explosions rippling from the ground, a terrible theater in which the heart remained standing. I saw falling pieces of bodies [...]. I saw killed women and children, men and old men, and at that moment I asked myself with eyes wide with horror, why? '. [...]

After the bombing of Dęblin, there was a complete disorganization. The place of the assembly after a possible bombing was not determined in advance. Most of the air force scattered. Everything was evacuated quickly. None of the Polish officers, some of whom I still found there, could give me the desired instructions or the desired information, so I asked where the Czechs had gone. I was indicated the direction in which a group of Czechs allegedly went. The roads were crowded with the army and wandering emigrants, who were already fleeing on foot or in wagons with whole families and the most necessary things, nowhere. They were fleeing a terrible bombing, and it was raging everywhere, all over Poland. "


German and Soviet soldiers on Polish territory

Finally, rtm. flight. Taudy managed to join the group of škpt. flight. Bohumil Liška. He had previously witnessed the massacre of Polish refugees dying under German planes. Defenseless children, women, the elderly, and often entire families died before his eyes. In Pavlov, he and some other pilots were separated from the main group, transported to the field airport Brus, from where he was to fly planes to the field airport in Vojnice. A large part of the aircraft remained in the woods without gasoline. Rtm. Taudy started with the obsolete Potez XXV , which had a limited supply of gasoline. From Vojnice, the pilots continued to Wielick Field Airport. There was little fuel in Taudy Potez, so on the advice of a Polish pilot, he transferred it to a smaller RWD-8 aircraft.


Stalin watches the exchange of views between friends in arms from the image of " daddy "

Just before takeoff, two more Czech pilots landed at the airport, who were also without gasoline. Since the firing of German works could already be heard, rtm. flight. Taudy shared his gasoline with his companions and quickly started. After the troops, they were attacked by a Soviet SB-2 machine: "Miraculously, we escaped death because our planes were terribly slow and unarmed. However, the loss of time maneuvering in front of the Soviet plane became fatal for us anyway, as our engines stopped before we reached the airport. One plane was damaged during an emergency landing in the field, the other had to land in the woods and I overturned it in a peat bog. Fortunately, nothing happened to any of us. We left the airport by bus, because there was not enough petrol even for the planes standing there. Several women with children also went with us. They were women of Polish officers and non-commissioned officers who did not want to separate from them. Some even took them with them on the plane. "

After a day's bus ride, they arrived in the village of Kolodna.The group was about to rest when it saw military units in unknown uniforms passing through the village: "After the red stars, we knew who we had to deal with. Our heads flashed: 'The Russians are going to help'. As if on command, we called 'hello'. Several [Soviet] platoons passed. Some returned the greeting, some measured us incomprehensibly. Suddenly, a Russian non-commissioned officer's horse and the muzzle of a aimed revolver rose up in front of us, and a terrifying, uncompromising look showed us that there was something wrong. When the question "Who are you?", We answered "Czechs", the view of the Russian non-commissioned officer became more welcoming, but we were captured at the same time as the Poles. It was September 17, 1939. Over two thousand of us were captured in the village alone. There were civilians, women and several children among us. "

Feeding in Soviet camps

After the capture, many pilots followed a trip to Volyn, where they were accommodated in local Czech villages. They worked here in local agricultural plants and trades until March 1940. Often among Czech peasants, whose ancestors set out from Austria-Hungary to the then territory of Tsarist Russia between 1868 and 1880. The reason for leaving was the rumor of good prosperity of local agriculture. It was about 16 thousand Czechs.


Soviet tanker in a friendly conversation with German soldiers. Behind them, Polish refugees

The pilots were stationed in Šepetovka, then a small town in western Ukraine, Český Kvasilov, also located in Ukraine, and in Lviv, occupied by the Red Army. Beginning March 23, 1940, a group from Volyn was joined to the main group of Lt. Col. Ludvík Svoboda , which was located in Kamenec Podolský. Two days later, she was followed by a detachment from Lviv, and all were transported by train to Oránka near Nizhny Novgorod, specifically to the internment camp in Suzdal. Other unfortunates were placed directly in labor camps beyond the Arctic Circle. Even more harsh living conditions prevailed here.


Tupolev SB-2 . Another of a number of Soviet machines used extensively in Poland

Škpt. flight. Fox, he tried in vain to join the group of Lt. Col. Freedom. The pilots therefore survived the winter of 1939–1940 with Czech peasants, who did their best to improve their life situation. Something else, however, was the internment camp in Suzdal, where the pilots: “lived in a camp perfectly enclosed. The group consisted of people of different beliefs, soldiers and non-soldiers, and in many cases of mysterious and dubious people whom no one knew. It was a big mistake that such people were accepted into the group. These caused the fragmentation of the group. It took a tenacious, strong will to withstand all these harmful influences in such poor conditions. Also, the beautiful interpretations of the communist propagandists, so unhappy in the foreign situation, were really resisted only by those who still had in mind what they were following and what is their first sacred duty. "Free Democratic Republic led by Beneš!" it was our motto and a boost in the worst times. [...] In internment we lived very sparingly, because the whole nation also lives very sparingly. At first glance, you can see the long-term hardship. "


Antonín Liška as a lieutenant of the RAF, 1942

The above was also confirmed by Lt. flight.Antonín Liška: “We were placed in hundreds of small rooms, whose wet walls were covered with mold, lying on bare boards, half-naked, exposed to crackling Russian frosts, constantly sore, often hungry, suffering from diseases and various infections, full of ulcers due to insufficient and one-sided diet . And yet in the unhappy mental atmosphere, in the constant struggle against internal decay by the subversive elements associated in the communist group. "


Škpt. flight. Bohumil Liška after arriving in England

Even worse were individuals who fell into Soviet captivity with their Polish comrades. Many ended up in labor camps beyond the Arctic Circle, others were deployed to the mines where they worked as slaves. One of these men was des. flight. Imrich Gablech , who ended up in labor camp number 19. He was in the Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic of Komi. He spent a total of five years of forced labor. The prisoners refused to work on Pentecost . Among them is Gablech. A draconian punishment followed: "They took me to the court, to the prison cell. In fact, it was a pit about 150 centimeters deep, somehow covered. At the bottom of this turmoil, as the pit was called by the militiamen, was only bare ground and only a piece of a bar for sitting. The clay was still frozen, and it was already June! No wonder our camp lay beyond the Arctic Circle. And not to forget when they threw me in there, I had to undress and undress naked. The time I spent in the pit was about four hours, I cut short by reading the notes of previous prisoners. The memory of one of the victims remained in my memory: "I, young, full of life and desire, write in my own blood that I must die. " All indications are that the stay in the Soviet camp became a fatal platoon. asp. Karel Kubánek, who probably died at the beginning of 1941 in one of the northernmost camps located just beyond the Pechora River.

Road to the West

From the first day, the group headquarters sought to release the pilots from Soviet captivity so that they could join the Czechoslovak. foreign army in France. Although Soviet officials assured the men that they did not consider them prisoners and that they would be released shortly after the necessary formalities, their internment lasted for many months full of hardships. Škpt. flight. Bohumil Liška established contact with Edvard Beneš , who in the winter of 1939 was still fighting for his position as the first man of the foreign resistance, with former envoy to Moscow Zdeněk Fierlinger and Lt. Col. Svoboda in Kamenec Podolský. Furthermore, the leadership of the group submitted applications to all possible Soviet authorities with a request that the pilots could leave the USSR. Beneš soon told the interned Czechoslovaks that they had not been forgotten, but that it was their release. Based on this telegram, many pilots abandoned the idea of entering Romania illegally.


Imrich Gablech at the beginning of his military career.
Archive of the Memory of the Nation

The Czechoslovak National Committee in Paris then actually negotiated with the Soviet government, which was apparently itself in favor of expelling Czechoslovaks from its territory. The first transport, which included at least 17 pilots, sailed on March 17, 1940 from Odessa via Istanbul and Beirut to Marseille, where he arrived on April 15, 1940. The second transport of 33 pilots also sailed on June 26, 1940 from Odessa and landed on October 27, 1940 in Liverpool. The third transport of 59 pilots sailed from Odessa until February 22, 1941 and arrived on July 12, 1941 in Glasgow. Six pilots remained in the USSR, one of them came from Murmansk to England in 1942.The remaining five pilots were recruited by Soviet intelligence agencies in the Protectorate, where they were arrested in March 1941 and sentenced to death.


Imrich Gablech as a RAF lieutenant, 1945.
Archive of the Memory of the Nation

Many of the pilots, who returned from the Soviet hell, he felt that it was not a welcome reinforcement of our resistance in the West: "I feel like a worker whose employer must employ though it does not work for him. None of the members of the government came to see us. We are depressed, like screams. I remember the words of one man who said, 'Finally, you are not to blame for staying in Poland.' I wonder why we have not been deployed elsewhere, now that our participation in Poland is considered unnecessary. [...] Why are they looking at us through their fingers now? "Many of these men bore the consequences of Soviet captivity all their lives. Destroyed health prevented many of them from returning to active air service. Imrich Gablech was one of them. The sad point behind their Soviet stay was the NGO's decision not to pay these men any financial compensation for their internment.

Published with the kind permission of the author.
Published in the magazine Fakta a svědectví 2/2010 published by Naše Vojsko

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Author : 🕔13.03.2011 📕25.260