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Eagles of the Tatras: The Slovak Air Force 1939-1945

Discussion in 'Air War in Western Europe 1939 - 1945' started by JCFalkenbergIII, Apr 5, 2008.

  1. JCFalkenbergIII

    JCFalkenbergIII Expert

    Jan 23, 2008
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    Eagles of the Tatras:
    The Slovak Air Force 1939-1945

    by Jason Long

    The Slovak Air Force (Slovenské Vzdusné Zbrane - SVZ) was formed from the Czechoslovak Air Force units and aircraft stationed in Slovakia when it proclaimed its independence from Czechoslovakia in March, 1939. These were primarily assigned to Letecky Pluk (Air Regiment) 3 and numbered 79 Avia B-534 and 11 Bk-534 biplane fighters, 73 Letov S-328 biplane observation, and 15 Aero A-100 and Ab-101 biplane reconnaissance aircraft plus a miscellany of trainers and other minor types. However, it also had three bombers, a Bloch MB-200, a Fokker F.VII and a Avia B-71, a license-built copy of the SB-2 light bomber.
    Such a large number of Czech airmen departed for the German-occupied Protectorate of Bohemia-Moravia that the Slovaks were forced to reduce the numbers of squadrons to more sustainable levels. The original 5 fighter pletky (squadrons) were reduced to 3, numbers 11, 12, and 13 while the 7 original reconnaissance and observation pletky were consolidated into 3, numbered 1st, 2nd, and 3rd.
    However, prior to this, the Slovaks were forced to defend their country just after declaring independence as the Hungarians were intent on incorporating Ruthenia (a.k.a Carpatho-Ukraine), which had itself declared independence from Slovakia when Slovakia did the same from Czecho-Slovakia, as well as more of Slovakia than they had gotten from the First Vienna Award of 1938. The revanchist Hungarians hoped to conquer both and restore the pre-1918 Kingdom of Hungary's northern border.
    The Hungarians attacked Slovakia proper on 23 March 1939 after occupying Ruthenia against minor resistance. The SVZ could only muster some 20+ B-534/Bk-534 fighters and 20-odd S-328 observation aircraft to oppose the invasion. Even those numbers were generous given the struggle to create the SVZ. But a number of Czechs volunteered to delay their departure to defend Slovakia which proved crucial to the ability of the SVZ to put aircraft in the air, even if the results were less than satisfactory.
    The Slovaks flew a number of reconnaissance and attack sorties over the advancing Hungarians on the first day at a cost of two escorting B-534s shot down and five additional aircraft damaged by anti-aircraft fire.
    The first aerial encounters occurred the next day as the Slovak aircraft were intercepted by Hungarian Fiat CR.32bis biplane fighters. These didn't go well for the SVZ as it lost five B-534s and two S-328s shot down and a number of additional aircraft damaged. The Slovaks claimed 2 CR.32s shot down, but the Hungarians claimed zero aircraft lost for nine shot down. The truth will probably never be known.
    The Hungarians stopped their advance on the 25th of March after Germany's guarantee of Slovakia's borders became effective, but some 400 square miles of southern Slovakia were ceded to Hungary.
    Slovakia joined Germany's attack on Poland to recover the territory lost in 1938. The SVZ provided ground support to the Slovak units and escorted German Stukas. Two B-534s were lost, one to Polish anti-aircraft fire and another to a mechanical fault with one pilot killed. Only one Polish aircraft was shot down, a RWD-8 liaison plane.
    The SVZ also participated in the invasion of the Soviet Union as part of the Slovak expeditionary force. Virtually all of its forces were deployed in the East, to include 11, 12 and 13 Letky with B-534 fighters and 1, 2, and 3 Letky with S-328s as well as a liaison flight. These mustered 33 B-534s and 30 S-328s between them.
    All of these moved into the Soviet Union beginning on 7 July with the exception of 11 Letka which remained behind to provide a modicum of air cover for Slovakia itself.
    They supported the operations of the ground forces with reconnaissance and ground attack missions. The fighters also escorted German Stukas and reconnaissance aircraft.
    Serviceability and the supply of the special BiBoLi (an alcohol, benzol, and gasoline mixture) fuel used by the Slovak machines quickly became a major problem and 2 Letka gave up half its machines to the 1st and 3rd Letky before returning home on 25 July. 13 Letka followed suit on 15 August. 3rd Letka did the same two days later. This left only 1st and 12th Letky to support the army. They remained in Russia until the end of the campaigning season on 26 October with the withdrawal of the remaining three S-328s and four B-534s.
    The SVZ claimed to have shot down three Polikarpov I-16s, two so-called 'I-17s' and one 'Curtiss' in 3275 sorties without loss in aerial combat, though one B-534 may have been shot down by an 'I-17', but the surviving records are unclear. Indeed, only one pilot loss can identified and he was killed by anti-aircraft fire while escorting S-328s. But the paltry number of aircraft that returned to Slovakia indicates a high attrition rate to anti-aircraft fire and accidents; it just seems that the pilots managed to get back to friendly territory. However, at least twice, B-534 pilots were rescued from enemy territory by other B-534s. The rescued pilots were forced to cling to the wing struts as there was no room in the cockpit for them!
    The SVZ departed again for the front on 13 June 1942, but in numbers considerably reduced from its previous deployment. The 1st Letka mustered only six S-328s and the 11th had a dozen B-534s. Due to their obsolescent aircraft they weren't committed to the front line, but were deployed in support of the Slovak Security Division's anti-partisan operations. 1 Letka was withdrawn in October 1942, but the 11th remained until August 1943. The morale was not of the highest in these units and, indeed, the crews of a S-328 and a B-534 deserted to the Soviets.
    In the meantime the Deutsche Luftwaffenmission in der Slowakei realized that more modern aircraft would have to be furnished to the Slovaks if they were to continue to participate on the front line. 27 well-used Bf 109E Emils were furnished by year's end. Well-used appears to be a bit of a misnomer as one machine was recorded to have a total of 9 crashes and accidents and some were veterans of the Battle of Britain. They were accepted only after considerable pressure was exerted and the resignation of the chief of the purchasing commission in protest!
    On 25 February 1942 19 pilots were sent to Karup airfield in Denmark for conversion training to the Bf 109. This was complete by 1 July and nearly all the pilots went to 13 Letka. However, they weren't deployed to the Kuban area of Russia, east of the Crimea, until October 27th with an initial strength of 7 aircraft. 5 more Emils were delivered in early November. 13 Letka was not committed in support of the Slovak forces, but was incorporated as part of JG 52 as its 13. (Slowakei) Staffel.
    It made its first aerial claims on 28 November when a pair of its Bf 109s encountered nine Polikarpov I-153 biplanes. The Slovaks claimed three of the obsolescent fighters without loss, but these were not confirmed.
    Despite such successes the Emil was getting a bit long in the tooth against first-line Soviet fighters like the Yak-1 and La-5. Thus the Germans loaned a number of Bf 109Fs beginning in January 1943 followed by Bf 109Gs in March to 13 Letka. Many of the Gustavs had the R-6 modification of 2 underwing 20mm gondolas. This greatly increased firepower at the expense of maneuverability, but it was probably just the thing for Shturmovik hunting!
    13 Letka didn't suffer its first loss until 2 January 1943 when Josef Drlicka failed to return from a mission. He'd escorted a Fw 189 on a reconnaissance mission when a flight of MiG-3s was encountered. He was last seen chasing a MiG-3 at very low altitude in a narrow valley near Tuapse.
    The next loss was Jozef Vincúr who had a wing collapse at low altitude after taking hits from an I-16. He'd been returning to base after a frei jagd (free hunt) when half a dozen I-16s bounced him and his wingman on 17 January.
    On the 31st of January one pilot spotted a group of circling Soviet fighters over Kropotkin airfield in what appeared to be a landing pattern. He decided to try and insert himself in the pattern and get a good shot as they were landing. However, he was a little too sneaky for his own good and a trailing fighter shot him down.
    The last loss was on 29 March when Jozef Jancovic, who had claimed two of those I-153s on 28 November, intercepted some Il-2s over a German-held port. He made the common, and usually fatal, mistake of focusing too much on trying to shoot his target down and not enough on looking out behind him. The bullets of a Soviet escort forced him to crash land, though he was able to get over friendly territory. He landed severely and hit his head on the gunsight with great force. He died the next day, never coming out of his coma.
    The Slovak pilots were flying up to four sorties a day to provide air cover for the beleaguered Axis forces. This began to hinder the unit's effectiveness as the surviving pilots had little time to recuperate.
    Training began of a relief group of pilots on 1 April. Training progressed very slowly until 13 Letka's commander, Major Dumbala, returned to Slovakia to expedite matters! This was probably a result of the shattered faith in the Germans as the result of the destruction of their 6th Army at Stalingrad.
    At any rate the new group of pilots reached the front on 5 July, but their morale was quite low. They preferred to protect themselves rather than engage the enemy. A number were noted by the Germans as actively avoiding any aerial battles. Two pilots deserted to the Soviets after the Fw 189 reconnaissance plane that they were to escort failed to arrive on time on 9 September. They seized the opportunity and headed east. Three days later another Bf 109G deserted with a mechanic in the fuselage! Faced with such evidence of Slovak perfidy the Germans ordered them to return home. By late October they had gone.
    13 Letka had flown some 2000-odd sorties and claimed approximately 216 kills for the loss of only four pilots (excluding the three deserters). The degree of activity of the two group of pilots is graphically illustrated by the fact that the first group claimed 155 victories while the second only claimed 61. The claims were admittedly inflated for propaganda purposes, but most of the documentation didn't survive the war and the subsequent communist government.
    The leading ace was Ján Reznák with 32 confirmed victories and an additional two unconfirmed. Izidor Kovárik trailed with 28 confirmed and one unconfirmed victories.
    Upon its return to Slovakia 13 Letka was equipped with the 11 survivors of the original 27 Bf 109Es as well as 2 B-534s and a Bk-534. It was deployed in Western Slovakia for the defense of the arms factories located in that area and the capital of Bratislava under the control of the German Jagdfliegerführer Ostmark (Fighter Leader Austria). The Slovaks realized that these weren't suitable to fight the more modern American aircraft and began negotiations to purchase better fighters. 15 Bf 109G-6 fighters were purchased, but only 14 were delivered in late January/early February 1944 from Messerschmitt's Augsburg factory. The last plane was taken over by the Germans when it developed an engine problem on its delivery flight.
    Two old Emils were on a training flight over Southern Slovakia on 13 March 1944 and encountered a Bf 110G who's rear gunner thought they were hostile, despite the lack of any aggressive maneuvers on their part. He opened fire and Rudolf Bozik lost his temper and did the same with greater effect as the Bf 110 crashed into a tributary of the Danube after the rear gunner bailed out with the pilot dead at the controls. Bozik claimed a B-24 destroyed and the rear gunner claimed that he had been engaged by P-51s!
    The arrival of Soviet forces on the other side of the Carpathians in April '44 caused the Ministry of National Defense to conclude that the Allies were bound to win and it wished to conserve all its forces for later use against the Germans in the meantime. Therefore the Americans weren't to be engaged and the Slovaks began planning to switch sides at the earliest opportunity.
    13 Letka had its first opportunity for action on 16 June 1944 when the Apolo refinery in Bratislava was attacked, but following this policy, the Slovak pilots merely observed the action. This enraged the Germans who thought the Slovaks too cowardly to fight. Stung by this accusation, and with the squadron commander ill, the Slovaks attacked the American heavy bombers on 26 June as they approached Vienna.
    Eight Bf 109G-6s intercepted the bombers, but only managed to shoot down a B-24 and damage two others as well as damaging a B-17 before the P-51 and P-38 escorts intervened. Only one Bf 109 survived undamaged with five being shot down and two others damaged. Three pilots were killed in the action, including the intemperate acting commander.
    This ripped the heart out of 13 Letka and it was sent east on 3 August to join 12 Letka as part of the Skupina Vzdusnych Zbraní (Air Force Group) defending the Carpathian passes. This consisted of virtually all the aircraft that could be scraped together, but excluded the Bf 109s of 13 Letka and the last two Emils. The only combat machines even worthy of mention were the twelve S-328s of 2 Letka and the five B-534s and one Bk-534 of 12 Letka. The four surviving Bf 109Gs were quickly reduced to two through accidents within days of their transfer east.
    The Slovak high command intended to open the passes to the Soviets, but the Germans caught wind of this and preemptively occupied Slovakia beginning on 29 August and began to disarm the Slovak military. Unlike the other German attempts to occupy its Allies, the Slovaks resisted and the so-called Slovak National Uprising began.
    The Germans had an advantage over the Slovaks in that they were semi-prepared for resistance while the Slovaks had to move prematurely. Much of the Air Force Group defected to the Soviets on 31 August. Notably they included the two Gustavs, the two surviving Bf 109Es, four B-534s, one Bk-534, and seven S-328s, but a few remained behind.
    A number of these aircraft flew back to the Tri Duby airfield in Slovakia on 6 September when it became clear that the Germans weren't going to overrun it in the near future, but the lack of ammunition, fuel and spares severely hampered operations. The Bf 109Gs flew only sparingly and claimed three victories, namely a Ju 88 bomber and two Fw 189s. The Emils flew even less and made no claims at all. The B-534s got one kill, and the world's last by a biplane fighter, when a Hungarian Ju 52 blundered directly over Tri Duby on 2 September and was promptly shot down.
    The ex-SVZ aircraft were only used occasionally after the 1st Czechoslovak Fighter Regiment arrived on 17 September with their La-5FNs. All of their surviving aircraft were burned when the insurgents evacuated Tri Duby on 25 October as the German forces approached.

    Slovak Air Force
  2. JCFalkenbergIII

    JCFalkenbergIII Expert

    Jan 23, 2008
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    Jozef Drlicka
    2 February 1919 – 2 January 1943
    Image kindly provided by Jan Safarik
    Jozef Drlicka was born on 2 February 1919 in Piestany.
    He finished pilot training in 1937 and then served in the Czechoslovak AF as a pilot. After the creation of the Slovak State he served in the new Slovak AF.
    He took part in the border skirmishes against the Hungarians in the spring of 1939.
    At 15:00 on 24 March 1939 the whole Hungarian 1/1. "Íjász" vadászszázad’s (Fighter Squadron) scrambled. They formed in three Vs in the air; fõhadnagy Béla Csekme leading with hadnagy V. Gemeinhardt and õrmester M. Tarr as wingmen. Negró’s trio flew on the starboard side and on the port side flew fõhadnagy László Palkó’s 3. Section, with wingmen fõhadnagy Antal Békássy and hadnagy Mátyás Pirity. The CR.32s reached the cloud-base at about 6200 feet and then flew into fog. Soon there was a hole in the clouds and at the same moment Palkó and Pirity noticed three Avia B-534s and three Letov Š.328s on the port side. The 1. Section did not appear to notice the enemy and they flew on and were soon swallowed by the fog. The Avias, which were from 45th letka, jumped Negró’s 2. Section but opened fire too soon, outside the range of their machine-guns. Negró, turned the table and shot down one Avia flown by rotmajster Ján Hergott southeast of Bánovce nad Ondavou. A second Avia, flown by František Hanovec, was shot down by Szojak near Senné.
    The Letovs, which were from 12th letka on their way to bomb Hungarian troops at Sobrance, were deserted by their escort and offered a tempting target. They were 300 feet higher thus, in order to gain speed and altitude, Palkó threw his machine into a short dive and then climbed behind the Letovs. He dipped the nose of his CR.32 and sent a burst into the belly of the nearest one. The aircraft caught fire and crashed north of Pavlovce nad Uhom. The pilot slobodník Gustáv Pažický and the observer porucík Ferdinand Švento were both killed. A second Letov was claimed shot down by Pirity. This was a Letov flown by slobodník Drlicka and his observer podporucík L. Šronk and they made an emergency landing near Strazske.
    Three more Avias were discovered and Palkó’s wingmen were now locked in combat with the enemy fighter. Békássy pursued one over the border and emptied a total of a thousand rounds from both machine guns into it before shooting it down. This aircraft was flown by desiatnik Martin Danihel from 45th letka and he made an emergency landing near Brezovice nad Torysa. After having expending all his ammunition Békássy returned to Hungary.
    Looking around Pirity saw streams of tracers scorching the sky then noticed an Avia some 1500 feet below. Pirity dived on it but he had to pull out because another CR.32 crossed his path with guns blazing. The sky was now empty, Palkó, staying in the area for a minute or two, sighted Negró’s machine. One by one the other Fiats joined them. Békássy and Szojak had already landed at Ungvar.
    The Hungarian pilots totally claimed five Avias and two Letovs in the air combat over Paloc. Negró, Békássy, Szojak, Béla Csekme (not confirmed) and Kertész (one not confirmed over Michalovce) reported the destruction of the Avias, while Palkó and Pirity claimed the Letovs. Gemeinhardt and Tarr had no chance to fire their guns in anger. The Slovakian forces lost three Avia B-534s and two Letovs. Slovakian pilots Hanovec and Danihel both claimed one Fiat but this was not confirmed with the Hungarians.
    Porucík Ferdinand Švento, the observer of one of the Letovs, baled out and was wounded in the stomach while descending in his parachute. He fell near a group of Hungarian hussars. Upon impact he forced himself to sit up and reached inside his flying gear. The move was misunderstood and Švento was mortally shot. The hussars found his identification papers in his hand instead of a pistol. Švento was buried with full military honors.
    After the invasion of the Soviet Union he flew the Avia B-534 on the Eastern Front.
    On 25 July 1941 Ctk. (Sergeant) Frantisek Brezina’s (total 13 victories in WWII) Avia B-534 was damaged by Soviet AA fire and he was forced to land behind enemy lines. He was rescued by Ctk. Stefan Martis (total 6 victories in WWII) who landed alongside and brought him home, clinging to the wing struts! This stunt was repeated on 31 July 1941 when the aircraft of Drlicka’s comrade Ctk. (Sergeant) Danihel was damaged by Soviet AA fire and forced to land behind enemy lines. When Drlicka saw the force-landed aircraft he landed alongside and brought Danihel home also clinging to the wing struts! They were both later awarded the Eiserne Kreuz II.Klasse (Iron Cross 2nd Class) for this bravery. Later this scene was reconstructed in peace airfield for a war document film.
    Ctk. (Sergeant) Jozef Drlicka of 12th letka claimed one victory while flying Avia B-534, when he during dogfights over the bridge near Gornostaypol on 7 September 1941, shot down a Soviet I-16 at 18:15.
    An unknown Slovak pilot claimed a second I-16 at the same time.
    On 8 September he was awarded the German Iron Cross, 2nd Class.
    From left to right: Jozef Drlicka, A. Kubovic and Martin Danihel after having been awarded the German Iron Cross, 2nd Class, on 8 September 1941.
    Image kindly provided by Jan Safarik

    After training with new Bf109s in Grove (Denmark) he returned to Eastern Front on 27 October 1942.
    During the flight to front he crashed twice but finally arrived there with a new aircraft in the second half of December 1942.
    On 2 January 1943 Jozef Drlicka was killed in action in the cockpit of a Bf109E near Tuapse during air combat with enemy planes. He was the first pilot of 13/JG52 (13th letka) to be killed in combat. Jozef Drlicka had claimed 1 biplane victory at the time of his death.

    Slovakian biplane fighter pilots - Jozef Drlicka
  3. Za Rodinu

    Za Rodinu Aquila non capit muscas

    May 12, 2003
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    Such a messy history!

    The World War II Years | Slovakia

    Hungarian Ethnic Cleansing | Slovakia


    Who the heck is the tall German behind Msgr. Tiso? Is he on stilts? :)
  4. JCFalkenbergIII

    JCFalkenbergIII Expert

    Jan 23, 2008
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    Holy Crap!! I just noticed! Two midgets?? LOL

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