Sergeant Jacob Frantisek was the third most successful RAF pilot in the Battle of Britain. A triple ace, Frantisek was credited with 17 kills before his death. Only Eric Lock and ‘Ginger’ Lacey shot down more aircraft during the battle.
Frantisek, a Czech, fled to Poland when Czechoslovakia was overrun in March 1939.
When in Poland, it is generally thought that Frantisek joined the Polish Air Force and fought the invading Germans. However, some sources have stated that Frantisek fought with other Czech pilots in a separate unit against Soviet forces invading Poland from the east.
When it became clear that Poland was going to fall, Frantisek went to France (via the Middle East and North Africa) and fought with the French Air Force during the invasion of Western Europe in the spring of 1940. He shot down 11 German aircraft and was awarded the Croix de Guerre.
When it became obvious that France was also going to fall to the onslaught of Blitzkrieg, Frantisek went to England. Here he joined the Royal Air Force and was a founding member of the famous 303 Polish Squadron, which he joined on August 8th 1940. As a Czech, it might have been expected that Frantisek would have joined a Czech squadron. However, the exiled Czech government in London may not have approved of this, as they were still favourable towards Stalin’s government in Moscow – and the story that Frantisek may have attacked Soviet forces in late September 1939 would not have been well received. If there is any truth in this, joining 303 Squadron would have avoided any anger – if it ever existed.
Frantisek made his first kill, a Me 109, on September 2nd.
In the space of one month Frantisek shot down 17 confirmed kills including 9 Me 109’s. However, his approach to combat caused huge problems for 303 Squadron. Once in combat, Frantisek did ‘his own thing’ and failed to fly according to normal squadron rules – observing for others and helping them when necessary. However, his success rate could not be argued with. Frantisek could not be grounded because of his success but he could also not be allowed to endanger others in the squadron. Therefore, another pilot took his place when the squadron was flying and Frantisek was allowed to fly as a ‘reserve’. Once the Luftwaffe was engaged, Frantisek was allowed to go his separate way. In this way, 303 went into combat with a cohesive squadron unit but Frantisek was also allowed to continue flying and making kills. Frantisek flew where he knew German aircraft would be on their return to France. He was a maverick but his success was recognised when he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal (DFM). George VI presented this to him at Northolt.
Because he effectively flew by himself on one-man patrols, there is an element of mystery about the crash that killed Frantisek – even where exactly it took place. Some sources state that he crash-landed at Northolt but others that he crashed miles away. No other pilot witnessed it so the crash was declared as a ‘cause unknown’.
Frantisek was killed on October 8th 1940 aged 27. He was posthumously awarded the Virtuti Militari (Poland’s highest bravery award) and the Polish Cross of Valour. In 1945, Frantisek was posthumously awarded a commission with the rank of lieutenant.