The D-Day invasion of Normandy, launched from Britain on June 6, 1944, was the turning point of World War II. Czechoslovak aviators serving in the British Royal Air Force (RAF) were among those who protected the invading army from the air, and bombed strategic targets in the weeks leading up to the invasion. Czechoslovak officers in exile were among the Allied ground forces.
Some 156,000 Allied troops arrived by boat on the beaches of Normandy in what was code named Operation Neptune. The subsequent heavy fighting to hold the beaches was was called Operation Overlord.
The first Czechoslovak soldier who fell during the invasion of Normandy was Flight Sergeant Miroslav Moravec of the 310th Fighter Squadron. The pilot did not survive an accident in his Spitfire on June 7, 1944.
Moravec had strong reasons to want to support the Allied invasion and the push to end the war with Germany. His family lived in Prague’s Zizkov district on Biskupcova Street, and supported the paratroopers who assassinated of acting Reichsprotektor Reinhard Heydrich in 1942.
His mother, Marie, when faced with arrest committed suicide. His father Alois and brother Vlastimil were executed in the Mauthausen concentration camp. The death of Flight Sergeant Moravec meant the end of the entire family.
Military cemeteries in Britain have the graves of several Czechoslovak fliers who perished during the invasion. These include Jan Laška from Havlíčkův Brod, Vojtěch Lysický from Olomouc and Jan Vlk from Lhota near Semily, according to a report by Czech Television.
Some officers who were serving with the British Army were involved in the invasion. The first was Captain Pravoslav Kubista, who landed on Sword Beach on the morning of June 7, 1944. Kubista fled from Czechoslovakia in 1939 to join other Czech volunteers fighting to liberate the country form German occupation. He made his way to Britain via Poland and France. Luckily, he survived the war and lived until Dec. 28, 2000, when he died at the age of 87.
Some five days after the landing, he wrote a letter to a friend. He said that since he was involved in the early stages of the invasion he had a “raf tajm” (rough time), according to Czech Television.
The exact number of Czechoslovak soldiers and aviators involved in the invasion is not known. After World War II, aviators who returned to communist Czechoslovakia faced persecution, rather than being treated as liberating heroes. Many did not get recognition until after 1989.
In Prague, there is now a monument to the Czechoslovak air personnel who served with the RAF. The Winged Lion, at Klarov near the Malostranská metro stop, was erected with private funds. It was unveiled June 17, 2014, in the presence of Sir Nicholas Soames, grandson of Sir Winston Churchill.
The monument honors the 2,460 Czech and Slovak men and women served in the RAF from 1940 to ’45.
In Olšany Cemeteries (Olšanské hřbitov) in Prague, there is a section dedicated to RAF pilots from all nations who died during World War II while flying over Europe.