Historical story

The secret of the most effective 303 Squadron pilot during the Battle of Britain. Did Josef František shoot down so many Germans just because ...

Josef František only needed a month to shoot down 17 German planes. During the Battle of Britain, no other 303 Squadron pilot could boast of such a feat. His tactics, however, were very controversial.

Josef František was a Czech who, after Hitler had occupied his homeland, joined the Polish air force. He took part in the September campaign, then he made his way to France, and after its defeat, he found himself in Great Britain. There he fought in the 303 Squadron.

He executed them in cold blood

In September 1940, he recorded as many as 17 certain killings of enemy machines and one probable. Jan Zumbach, another ace of the Squadron and one of its commanders, writes about the secret of its extraordinary effectiveness in "The Last Battle". As we read in the book:

[František - ed. ed.] he developed his own, original combat tactics. After participating in the first attack on the Germans, carried out by the entire squadron, he took advantage of the ensuing commotion, detached himself from the team and flew over Dover. There he waited patiently for the return of enemy planes.

This method of fighting drew the anger of the command and numerous reprimands. It was against the regulations, and besides, it exposed other pilots who could not count on a colleague during the fight with the enemy. But it was also deadly effective.

This was because among the returning German machines there were always those which - as Zumbach writes - “after firing all their ammunition or because of running out of fuel, they flew home alone. František was executing them in cold blood ”.

Hawker Hurricane. 303 Squadron pilots flew with such machines.

František's method, however, was not as easy to apply as it might seem. Zumbach himself learned about it painfully, and in mid-September 1940 he finally decided to try it out.

He was already in the backyard…

One day, when a Pole landed at the airport in Redhill to replenish ammunition and fuel after an earlier fight with the Germans, he learned that single Luftwaffe machines were "wandering" between London and Dover. The Polish pilot could not miss such an opportunity - he waited for the enemy in the clouds on the banks of the Canal.

After several dozen minutes of fruitless waiting, an unsuspecting victim finally arrived. It was the Dornier Do 215 light bomber. Zumbach was already mentally recording another aerial victory when:

Suddenly - a deafening bang, a terrible explosion! The cabin of my plane disappeared, I found myself in a vacuum, all alone, still holding the control stick in my hand like a witch's broomstick . I didn't have to jump out - the plane was gone - before opening the parachute, all I had to do was free myself from the rest of the chair that was still with me. I did it by falling at a dizzying pace.

The text was based on the memoirs of Jan Zumbach entitled "The Last Fight" (Bellona 2019).

And so the Polish pilot turned from a predator, lurking for easy prey, himself turned into a victim of the attack. Fortunately, the misfortune was that the wind carried Zumbach to the land and he did not have to bathe in the cold and dark waters of the English Channel. But also here it was not without an unpleasant surprise. The Polish pilot landed on ... a mined beach . He was, however, safely led out by an English non-commissioned officer guarding this stretch of coast.

This is how the attempt to copy the tactics of the deadly Czech ended. Josef František himself did not enjoy his fame. He died on October 8, 1940. His plane crashed after it hit a tree during its landing approach. A long and adventurous life awaited Zumbach, about which you can read HERE .


Trivia is the essence of our website. Short materials devoted to interesting anecdotes, surprising details from the past, strange news from the old press. Reading that will take you no more than 3 minutes, based on single sources. This particular material is based on the book:

  • Jan Zumbach, The Last Fight , Bellona 2019

Check where to buy "The Last Fight":