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The Avia B534 – Czechoslovakia’s last hope

Posted in Aviation, World War 2 on Tuesday, 28 June 2011

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This edited article about fighter planes originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 979 published on 13 December 1980.

As the dark green biplane banked low over a spur of the Kremnica Mountains, its pilot, Warrant Officer Cyprich, saw a Hungarian Ju 52/3m flying beneath him just above the forests of Slovakia. Cyprich also noticed that his enemy’s gun positions were unmanned. Clearly the Hungarians did not expect to be attacked this far from the Eastern Front. Nobody had warned them about the five-day-old Slovakian National Uprising.

Warrant Officer Cyprich’s battered old Avia B534 made two firing passes, setting the Junkers’ starboard engine ablaze, but the Hungarian pilot was able to crash-land the crippled Junkers in a small meadow as Warrant Officer Cyprich swooped down and waved farewell. He had no wish to kill men who, only days before, had been his allies.

This brief air-combat over eastern Czechoslovakia took place on 2nd September, 1944, two years after fighter biplanes were thought to have ceased to fly in combat. Of course biplanes still flew non-operational missions in many countries, but that Czech-built Avia B534, in the markings of the Slovakian Insurgent Air Force, made the last known “kill” by a fighter biplane.

The Avia B534 never fought for the Air Force for which it was designed. Czechoslovakia was crushed and dismembered without a bullet being fired, and the nearest the Avia ever came to fighting for its own country was its service in Slovak markings. This one-time eastern province of Czecholslovakia became a semi-independent ally of Nazi Germany in 1939. Three Avia B534 squadrons fought under Luftwaffe command against the Soviet Union in 1941, and later Avias were used as trainers.

Then came Slovakia’s heroic attempt to throw off Nazi domination in September, 1944. This was supported by three Avias which operated from the isolated airfield of Tri Duby, a name which means Three Oaks. These trees appeared on the insignia of the rebel air force. Their hopeless struggle ended the B534’s strange career.

This story began back in 1933 when the Avia B534 first flew. It was developed from various versions of the B34, designed by Frantisek Novotny. Service trials showed the B534 to have a good turn of speed and rate of climb.

In 1936, the Czechoslovakian Air Force decided to adopt the Avia as its standard fighter. Next year the B534 beat all other fighter biplanes at an International Flying Meeting in Switzerland. But monoplanes were already showing that the days of the biplane were numbered. So were the days of Czechoslovakian independence.

The years 1938 and 1939 were tragic for that country, and they ended with the destruction of Czechoslovakia. Novotny’s little fighter now had to fight as an ally of the country that had destroyed the nation that gave it birth – at least until its two brief months of glory in 1944.

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