Slovakian Air Force

THE SLOVAKIAN AIR FORCE IN WORLD WAR II

BACKGROUND

     Czechoslovakia as a country did not exist prior to 1919. It was synthesized by the Treaty of Versailles following World War I. The French were insistent on weakening their former enemies in order to minimize future military threats. The Treaty of Versailles cobbled together the country of Czechoslovakia from three pieces of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire including Bohemia in the west, Moravia and Slovakia in the east. The diverse ethnic and religious groups in the "new" Czechoslovakia were a ticking time bomb waiting to explode. To make matters worse, a substantial German minority lived in the Sudentenland, an area of Czechoslovakia near the border.

     The official union of Austria with Germany, the Anchluss (Annexation), took place in March of 1938 with no significant opposition from Britain or France. The German military was in the midst of rebuilding and would have been no match for the military forces of France and Britain. Hitler needed a reason to invade Czechoslovakia. The crisis in the Sudentenland provided that reason. This section of Czechoslovakia on the border with Germany (and formerly a part of the German Empire) was inhabited with 3 million persons of German descent (out of a total population of 15 million). With clandestine assistance, training and money from the SS, pro-Nazi Sudenten Germans began to agitate in the late summer of 1938. They claimed the German minority was being mistreated and taken advantage of by the majority Czechs and Slovaks. Terrorist attacks, public demonstrations and rallies kept the political pot boiling in this manufactured crisis. The German propaganda machine of Joseph Goebbels made the most of the unrest and began to campaign publicly in the court of world opinion for justice for the "persecuted" German minority. What followed was the well-known Munich Crisis in September 1938. Britain's prime minister Neville Chamberlain, French prime minister Edward Daladier, and Italian dictator Benito Mussolini (with no representative from Czechoslovakia), basically "gave away" the Sudentenland to Hitler in exchange for his assurance that he had no more territorial demands in Europe. Chamberlain's well known "Peace in Our Time" speech became a symbol for the failed policy of APPEASEMENT.

     Germany marched into Czechoslovakia on October 1, 1938, and occupied the Sudentenland without firing a shot. Barely five months later without opposition on March 14, 1939, the Wehrmacht occupied the remainder of the provinces of Bohemia and Moravia (western half of the country). Simultaneous with this occupation, in the eastern half of the former Czechoslovakia, the independent state of Slovakia was created. Approximately twice the size of the state of New Hampshire, it was ruled by a puppet government led by former Catholic priest Josef Tiso doing the bidding of the Nazis. Pro-Nazi sentiment had always been high in Slovakia, and the war proved to be an economic boom with industrial employment increasing 50% during the war years.

THE SLOVAKIAN AIR FORCE (SVZ)

     The Slovakian Air Force, Slovenske Vzdusne Zbrane (SVZ) was formed from the remnants of the Czechoslovakian Air Force units and aircraft stationed in Slovakia when it proclaimed independence. They had more planes than they had crews since many pilots left immediately for the Reich Protectorate of Bohemia-Moravia (new name for the part of the country occupied by the Germans) to fly for the Luftwaffe. Sentiment within the country was clearly divided as evidenced by the fact that many Czechoslovakian pilots fled the country, going first to Poland, later to France and finally to Britain to fly for the Allies. From the remaining planes and pilots, the Slovaks organized three fighter squadrons and three reconnaissance squadrons.

PLANES OF THE SLOVAKIAN AIR FORCE


Avia Bk-534
The principal plane of the Slovakian Air Force during World War II was the Avia B-534 bi-wing fighter. Manufactured by the Avia Company in Prague, Czechoslovakia, the plane was introduced in 1933. With a single 830 HP engine, maximum speed of 270 mph, ceiling of 30,000 ft and a range of 420 miles, it carried four 7.92 mm machine guns. In 1938, a later model, the Avia Bk-534, was armed with a cannon in place of one of the machine guns. In February of 1942, the first Slovak pilots were sent to Denmark for training on the Messerschmitt Bf-109. This plane

Letov S-328
subsequently became the mainstay of the Slovakian Air Force. The Letov Company, also located in Prague,manufactured the S-328 bi-wing reconnaissance plane. With a crew of 2 and powered by a 560 HP engine, the plane had a maximum speed of only 200 mph, a range of 500 miles and carried four 7.92 mm guns. In March 1939, the Slovakian Air Force consisted of 91 Avia B-534 and Bk-534 fighters, 73 of the Letov S-328s, an assortment of training aircraft and 3 foreign-made bombers.

OPERATIONS OF THE SLOVAKIAN AIR FORCE IN WORLD WAR II

     Shortly after its formation in March 1939, the SVZ was involved in a skirmish with neighboring Hungary over the disputed region of Ruthenia in eastern Slovakia. The dispute was resolved with 400 square miles of Slovakian territory being ceded to Hungary. In September 1939, the SVZ took part in the Polish Blitzkrieg flying escort duty for the Luftwaffe's Ju-87 Stuka dive bombers in the southern part of the country. The Slovakian Air Force participated in Operation Barbarossa in July of 1941. Three squadrons of Avia B-534 fighters and three squadrons of Letov S-328 reconnaissance aircraft flew tactical ground support operations and Stuka escort duty. One of the interesting problems faced by the SVZ was the shortage of the unusual fuel required for their planes. The Czech-made engines were built to run on a specialized mixture of alcohol, benzene and gasoline, a fuel mixture not readily available in the steppes of the Eastern Soviet Union. The Slovak aircraft did not perform well in the conditions they found themselves in Russia and were soon sent home. The Germans re-equipped the Slovaks with Messerschmitt Bf-109s and Heinkel He-111s and sent them back to the Eastern Front in 1942. During 1943 the SVZ's enthusiasm for the war had waned and a number of pilots deserted and turned their planes over to the Russians. There are numerous examples of the Slovaks intentionally sabotaging their planes.

     By 1944 the bulk of the SVZ had returned to Slovakia and was committed to the defense of manufacturing sites throughout the country particularly around Bratislava. By April 1944, the Slovakian government sensed they were on the losing side in the conflict and began making plans to switch sides at the earliest opportunity. SVZ pilots were ordered not to engage American bombers. Communist-inspired anti-Nazi sentiment had been growing within the country since the outbreak of the war and anti-partisan activities were a steadily increasing chore for the pilots of the SVZ. In August 1944, a general uprising took place in Slovakia. A substantial portion of the Slovakian Air Force flew their planes to nearby Soviet airfields. The Slovak partisans expected assistance from nearby Soviet ground forces in the Carpathian Mountains. Unfortunately for the rebellious Slovaks, the Soviets watched passively (as they had done during the Warsaw uprising in early August 1944) as this national tragedy unfolded. Plans for an American airlift of weapons and ammunition from Italy were vetoed by the Soviets. Clearly the Russians were anticipating a post-war Soviet-dominated region and wanted no strong opposition. The uprising was quelled when the country was occupied and rapidly overwhelmed by troops of the 18th Waffen SS Division. Many Slovak pilots set fire to their planes rather than turn them over to the Luftwaffe. By November 1944 it was all over and the final chapter in the short history of the Slovakian Air Force in World War II had been written.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Wings of World War II, Russell J. Huff, Sunshine Press, Sarasota, FL, 1985.

LINKS

http://www.geocities.com/CapeCanaveral/2072/Slovakaf.html Slovakian Air Force in WWII

http://www.adc.sk/english/slovakia/slovak12.htm History of Slovakia 1939-1945

http://www.senet.com.au/~mhyde/ww2_aircraft_slovakia.htm Airplanes of the Slovakian Air Force

http://www.otr.com/munich.html The Sudentenland Crisis

http://www.dalnet.se/~surfcity/avia_slovakia.htm Slovak Air Arm use of the Avia B-534 and Bk-534 during the Second World War