The story of the Slovak Air Force during world war two is not well-known to the public. Avia B-534s, Letov Š-328s and later Bf-109 ‘Emils’ and ‘Gustavs’ are the best known aircraft flown by the service during the conflict.
The Slovak Air Force was the only Luftwaffe’s ally to be involved in Poland campaign in 1939, even though the sorties of biplanes, which were used back in 1939 by Slovak Air Force, were mostly tasked to escort German reconnaissance or bomber aircraft over Poland, near Slovak borders. Slovakia later joined its Axis allies in the invasion of USSR, where the Slovak Air Force operated until 1943. The small country even managed to send its small fighter unit once against US bombers flying missions over Slovakia. Slovak aircraft finished their world war two operations in Slovak National Uprising (August – October 1944) against Germany.
During invasion of USSR, the Slovak Air Force consisted of two main war planes, both biplanes: the Avia B-534 fighter aircraft and Letov Š-328 reconnaissance aircraft. Both aircraft were obsolete, however Slovakia couldn’t afford to buy modern aircraft and also Germany wasn’t willing to sell new aircraft to the country, as its pilots were not seen as ‘trustworthy’ in German eyes – mostly due to the high number of defections. Nevertheless, during Operation Barbarossa the 1st Observation Wing, consisting of 30 Š-328s and 2nd Fighter Wing, consisting of 33 B-534s, were formed. The last wing, the Courier Wing, was using Praga E-39 and E-241 biplanes and one Stinson Reliant. Their initial operations were simple – mostly escorting German reconnaissance aircraft over Soviet lines or attacking ground columns of retreating Soviet units. The fighter wing was comprised of three squadrons (11; 12 and 13). Later, the squadron 11 returned to Slovakia, to protect its air space as it did not have any aircraft back in Slovakia. The rest squadrons were often changing their airfields, as the front was moving deeper into Soviet Union.
On Jul. 25, the squadron 13 moved to Tulczyn. Just a few minutes after the squadron landed, a swarm of three Avia B-534s, composed of L. Hodra, F. Brezina and Š. Martiš, took off with the task to escort the Luftwaffe’s Henschel Hs-126 reconnaissance aircraft. After crossing the Soviet line, the aircraft immediately came under fire from anti-aircraft cannons and machine guns. Due to the damage to his machine, Brezina had to make an emergency landing 16 kilometers behind the Soviet line on the road used by Soviet troops during the retreat. The Red Army immediately began firing the aircraft and the pilot himself – he had to hide behind the damaged Avia. There was a danger that Soviet troops would soon get to the Avia B-534 and the pilot would be in danger of capture or even possible execution.
Martiš noticed the emergency landing of Brezina. He indicated to swarm commander Hodra and immediately tried to land next to the shot down Brezina, but the Soviet anti-aircraft fire prevented him from landing. To gain time he used the four 7.92 mm machine guns vz.30, the standard Avia B-534-IV armament, to attack Soviet troops several times, then landed and rolled next to Brezina. Brezina jumped on Martiš’s Avia’s bottom left wing, holding the main struts. In the heavy Soviet fire the Avia, with Martiš on the pilot seat and Brezina holding the struts took off. Because of the rough ground the small biplane jumped and Brezina slid on the bottom wing but fortunately he managed to still hold the struts with his arms even though his legs were swinging from the wing.
The whole flight, even though it was not long, was tough for Brezina. Martiš had to escape the Soviet zone at full throttle with Brezina on his fighter‘s wing. The huge air surge made breathing difficult for Brezina and he was in danger of losing consciousness. After leaving the Soviet lines Martiš slowed down the biplane thus helping Brezina to stand up and hold the struts again. After a few minutes, the Avia B-534 with Martiš on the pilot seat and Brezina standing on the bottom wing landed safely back in Tulczyn.
The Minister of National Defense of Slovakia, general Ferdinand Čatloš, awarded the pilot Štefan Martiš with the medal ‘Za hrdinstvo 2. Stupňa’ (For Heroism – 2nd Class) and František Brezina with the medal ‘Za hrdinstvo 3. Stupňa’ (For Heroism – 3rd Class). Both men were also awarded Iron Cross 2nd Class.
Both pilots later became aces. Štefan Martiš managed to shot down five aircraft (1x Yakovlev Yak-1; 1x B-20 Boston; 3x Ilyushin Il-2 and one unconfirmed Spitfire) and František Brezina shot down 14 aircraft (5x Yakovlev Yak-1; 3x Ilyushin Il-2; 3x Polikarpov I-16; 1x I-153; 1x MiG-3; 1x B-20 Boston). They scored their aerial kills flying ‘newer’ aircraft – Bf-109s of ‘Emil’ and ‘Gustav’ series. B-534s remained the main Slovak fighters until ‘Emils’ arrival. Until then, Slovak Avias shot down six Soviet aircraft without their biplanes being shot down by enemy aircraft. All top Slovak aces managed to gain their success flying modern German aircraft, with Ján Režňák (32 enemy aircraft shot down), being the most successful one.
Kliment Ch. Slovenská armáda 1939-1945 [Slovak Army 1939-1945]. Mustang Ltd., 1996. ISBN 80-7191-132-1
Rajninec J. Slovenské letectvo 1 [Slovak Air Force 1]. Ministerstvo obrany Slovenskej republiky, 1997. ISBN 80-88842-09-3
Rajlich J.; Boshniakov S.; Mandjukov P. Slovakian and Bulgarian Aces of World War 2. Osprey Publishing, 2004. ISBN 978-1-84176-652-2
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