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Archive Report: Allied Forces

Compiled from official National Archive and Service sources, contemporary press reports, personal logbooks, diaries and correspondence, reference books, other sources, and interviews.
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311 Squadron
06/07.02.1941 311 (Czecho-Slovak) Squadron, Wellington Ic L7842 Plt Off. František Cigoš

Operation: Boulogne, France

Date: 6th/7th February 1941 (Thursday/Friday)

Unit No: 311 (Czecho-Slovak) Squadron, Bomber Command, 3 Group

Type: Wellington Ic

Serial No: L7842

Code: KX:T

Base: RAF East Wretham, Norfolk

Location: Flers, Normandy, France

Pilot: Plt Off. František Cigoš 82541 RAFVR Age 30. PoW No 402 *

2nd Pilot: WO. Petr Uruba 787198 RAFVR Age 26. PoW No 450 *

Observer: Plt Off. Emil Bušina 82588 RAFVR Age 38. PoW No 401 *

WOp/Air Gnr: Plt Off. Arnost 'Wally' Valenta MiD 82532 RAFVR Age 32. PoW No. 415 **/Murdered (1)

WOp/Air Gnr: Sgt. Gustav Kopal 787232 RAFVR Age 28. PoW No. 441 ***

Air Gnr (Rear): Plt Off. Karel Križek 82903 RAFVR Age 30. PoW No. 407 ****

* Oflag IVc, Colditz Castle, Colditz in Lower Saxony, Germany .

** Stalag Luft 3, Sagan-Silesia, Germany, now Żagań in Poland. (Moved to Nuremberg-Langwasser, Bavaria).

*** Stalag 4b Mühlberg, Sachsen, Germany.

**** Stalag Luft 1 Barth-Vogelsang, today situated in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany.

REASON FOR LOSS:

L7842 took off at 18:06 hrs along with five other aircraft from the Sqn to join a force of twenty-five Wellingtons to bomb the Boulogne harbour facilities in France.

All aircraft successfully bombed the target with the loss of one Wellington.

L7842 was homebound when the navigator Plt Off. Bušina, on his 1st mission, began to suffer from altitude sickness and became too ill to navigate. The radio was used to check aircraft’s position but the radio failed so the pilots had to estimate their position.

Probably requesting a QDM which provides a magnetic heading with zero wind, for the receiver to fly towards.

Plt Off. Bušina recovered sufficiently to tell them that they were flying in the wrong direction. Low on petrol they mistakenly judged that they were over England and landed at an airfield which turned out to be Flers in Normandy.

Flers was an unpaved landing ground used by the Germans as a Feldluftpark (field air park (depot)) for aircraft spare parts. It was located 52 km SSW of Caen and about 1½ km west of Flers itself.

Realising their mistake the pilot tried to manoeuvrer the aircraft to take off again but it undercarriage became stuck in mud. They managed to destroy the IFF transponder and dispose of their secret documents which were printed on rice paper before being captured.

Wellington L7842 was flown to Rechlin for evaluation and testing by the Luftwaffe.

Rechlin Fliegerhorst (airfield) was the Erprobungsststelle der Luftwaffe (Main Testing Ground for the German Air Force) and is immediately SE of the village of Rechlin at the SE end of the Müritz See (Lake) in Northern Germany.

Above captured Wellington L7842 (Courtesy of World War Photos 2013-2022)

(1) Eventually Flt Lt. Valenta was sent to Stalag Luft 3. He spoke fluent Russian and German and was in charge of intelligence gathering, one of the key positions in the escape chain.

He had to keep a low profile, however, because if the Germans had known about his background and the work he was doing in the camp he would have been removed and executed. Very few of this fellow PoWs, even within the escape organisation were aware of his roles.

Arnost Valenta was a Czech patriot and became an officer in the 39th Infantry Regiment based in Bratislava which was then the capital of Slovakia. Before the events of March 1939 he was involved in peace-keeping and the evacuation of Slovaks. When he was ordered to swear an oath of allegiance to the newly formed Nazi puppet state of Slovakia he refused.

On the 15th March 1939, the day of the Nazi Invasion, he and four fellow officers crossed the Tatra mountains into Poland where they enlisted in the Czech Legion at Cracow. Following the German invasion of Poland the Czech Legion made their way to the NE of the country but soon found themselves between German and Soviet forces. They were soon interned by the Soviets but it was decided that those with valid passports should be allowed to leave the Soviet Union. In mid March 1940 he was amongst the first group of Czechs transported to Odessa on the Black Sea where they boarded a steamer bound for Istanbul.

They then embarked aboard a French cargo ship to Beirut which at that time was controlled by the French. Here he enlisted in the French Army and a further journey took him to Marseilles. He was transferred to the Military Administration of the Free Czech National Committee in Paris. In mid June he applied for transfer to the Air Force and by the end of the month he was in England. By the end of July 1940 he was posted to 311 (Czech) Squadron as a Wellington bomber Radio Operator and granted a commission in the RAFVR. (Ref 1 pp.77 – 80)

On the night of the 24th/25th March 1944, 76 officers escaped from the north compound of Stalag Luft 3 which, at that time, held between 1000 and 1500 RAF PoWs. The escape was made by the means of a tunnel. At about 05:00 hrs on the 25th March the 77th PoW was spotted by guards as he emerged from the tunnel.

An overview of the German response to the escape and the subsequent British prosecution of those responsible for the murder of fifty of the escapees is summarised in the report entitled “The Fifty - The Great Escape”.

Flt Lt. Valenta partnered with Flt Lt. H.C. Marshall with the intention of travelling by train to Breslau on the Czech border and then walk into Czechoslovakia.

Flt Lt. Henry Cuthbert ‘Johnny’ Marshall 36103, RAFVR Pow No. 461 was one of the fifteen escapees returned to Stalag Luft 3.

After emerging from the tunnel at about 22:30 hrs, which was later than planned because of the extra effort require to break through the end of the tunnel, their original intent in catching a train in small groups was not possible. On the way to the Sagan railway station an air-raid siren sounded and consequently the station was closed. They could not afford to wait in a large group until the air-raid was over and catch the next train at 01:00 hrs which would also have meant them missing the Breslau connection.

They decided to walk the 90 miles to the Czech border and set off in deep snow. At 09:00 hrs they hid in a fir plantation all day during which it snowed heavily. They suffered badly from the cold and exposure and set off again that evening. At 04:00 hrs whilst walking along a small country lane they were stopped and arrested by two members of the Volkssturm (Home guard). (Ref 2. pp 204 – 205).

They and a number of other recaptured officers were gathered together in Görlitz prison in Germany which was under the control of the Gestapo. Gradually the numbers of recaptured officers grew until thirty-five were held there.

On the 31st March two of the surviving officers witnessed a number of Gestapo agents collected the following ten officers and take them away; Flt Lt. C.P. Hall, Ft Lt. Birkland, Flt Lt. B. Evans, Flt Lt. G.E. McGill, Flt Lt. E.S. Humphreys, Flt Lt. P.W. Langford, Flt Lt. C.D. Swain, Fg Off. R.C. Stewart, Flt Lt. E. Valenta and Fg Off. A.D. Kolanowski. None of these men were seen alive again.

It was alleged that a Gestapo agent by the name of Lux selected and commanded the death-squad that carried out the order to execute selected prisoners.

Believed to be Kriminalobersekretär (Chief Detective) Walter Lux who was reported to have been killed in the Siege of Breslau in 1945.

No one was formally charged with the actual murder of Flt Lt. Valenta or for the other fifteen officers killed by Lux and his death-squad. The bodies of this group were cremated at Liegnitz (Legnica) in Poland and their urns returned to Stalag Luft 3.

Burial details:

Memorial to “The Fifty” near to Żagań (Courtesy: CSvBibra - Own work, Public Domain)

Above Grave marker (Courtesy of (TWGPP))

Flt Lt. Arnošt Valenta MiD. Poznan Old Garrison Cemetery, Collective Grave 9.A. Born on the 25th October 1912 in Svébohov, near Zábřeh. Son of Adolf (killed in WW1 in 1915) and Františka Valenta of Svébohov, near Zábřeh, Czechoslovakia.

Flt Lt. Valenta was Mentioned in Despatches (MiD) recognizing his conspicuous bravery as a PoW because none of the other relevant decorations then available could be awarded posthumously. Promulgated in the London Gazette on the 8th June 1944.

Researched by Ralph Snape and Traugott Vitz for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with additional thanks to Traugott for his work on the ‘VitzArchive’. Update to Narrative and links (Aug 2022).

Thanks to The War Graves Photographic Project (TWGPP)for their great work.

Other sources quoted below:

References:

1. The Great Escape - Anton Gill - ISBN: 978-1-7201-5488-4.

2. Stalag Luft III - An official history of the “Great Escape’ PoW Camp - Published by Frontline Books - ISBN: 978-1-47388-305-5.




RS & TV 14.08.2022 - Updated Narrative

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Acknowledgements
Sources used by us in compiling Archive Reports include: Bill Chorley - 'Bomber Command Losses Vols. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions', Dr. Theo E.W. Boiten and Mr. Roderick J. Mackenzie - 'Nightfighter War Diaries Vols. 1 and 2', Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt - 'Bomber Command War Diaries', Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Tom Kracker - Kracker Luftwaffe Archives, Michel Beckers, Major Fred Paradie (RCAF) and MWO François Dutil (RCAF) - Paradie Archive (on this site), Jean Schadskaje, Major Jack O'Connor USAF (Retd.), Robert Gretzyngier, Wojtek Matusiak, Waldemar Wójcik and Józef Zieliński - 'Ku Czci Połeglyçh Lotnikow 1939-1945', Archiwum - Polish Air Force Archive (on this site), Anna Krzystek, Tadeusz Krzystek - 'Polskie Siły Powietrzne w Wielkiej Brytanii', Franek Grabowski, Norman L.R. Franks 'Fighter Command Losses', Stan D. Bishop, John A. Hey MBE, Gerrie Franken and Maco Cillessen - Losses of the US 8th and 9th Air Forces, Vols 1-6, Dr. Theo E.W. Boiton - Nachtjagd Combat Archives, Vols 1-13. Aircrew Remembered Databases and our own archives. We are grateful for the support and encouragement of CWGC, UK Imperial War Museum, Australian War Memorial, Australian National Archives, New Zealand National Archives, UK National Archives and Fold3 and countless dedicated friends and researchers across the world.
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