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312 (Czechoslovakia) Squadron


© Crown Copyright: Marks of the Secretary of State for Defence and used with their permission.

312 (Czech) Squadron came to RAF Harrowbeer from RAF Fairwood Common on the 2nd May 1942. They had been in the thick of the action and being posted to Devon was to give the Squadron time to recover from some bad losses. They stayed for five months, leaving on the 10th October 1942. The Squadron's identification letters were DU. They flew Spitfire VBs and Hurricanes.

Amazingly, one of 312 Squadron's Spitfires is still flying! Here's a beautiful shot of DU-Z (AR614) in flight. It's currently owned by the Flying Heritage Collection in America. Here's a link to their website.
Our thanks to them for providing the picture and allowing us to use it here.
Photo © Flying Heritage Collection

During their stay at Harrowbeer, they were filmed by the Czech Film Unit and this footage appeared several years ago in a Czech TV program, a copy of which has been passed to us. The commentary is in Czech! We have been unable to discover anymore information about this program, or who has the copyright. Even the BBC were unable to contact anyone when they wanted to use some shots in a recent program about Harrowbeer. The stills below are not brilliant quality but they are unique(?) colour images of RAF Harrowbeer.

The events being filmed are an inspection and medal presentation ceremony, at which Frank Mares is presented with his DFM, the first Czech Pilot to be so honoured. Frank died on the 10th February 2008. His book, "Mission Accomplished" was successfully published (by GrubStreet) in May 2007. It is available from all good book shops and is an excellent read!

The date is September 26th 1942. Harrowbeer's ORB records that this was an "Anniversary Celebration" for 312 Squadron. This was to have been held on the 5th September, the actual anniversary date but because of the death of the Duke of York it was postponed to the 26th. There is a Mass (held in one of the Bellman Hangars) prior to an inspection of the Squadron by General Viest, who also presented some of the Pilots with Czech Decorations. Then, A V M Orlebar, CBE, DFC, Air Officer Commanding 10 Group, presented the Squadron with their Crest, duly signed by His Majesty the King, and also presented Flt/Sgt Mares with his DFM. (Frank was posted from 312 on the 15th September and came back for the day to receive his medal)

The footage continues with shots of Pilots outside the Officers Mess (some of whom are Polish) and then there is film of a 312 Sqdn Spitfire returning from a sortie, then being rearmed and refuelled. The film ends with the Squadron's 13 aircraft flying off to Portreath, in Cornwall

As always on this website, we have no wish to infringe anyone's copyright, so if you know who we should contact please get in touch.

Stephen Fryer

N.B. Click on the small picture to see a larger one.

9.45am: At the start of the film, the Band is seen playing beside 312's Squadron Office, with 312 personnel lined up alongside them. The Band is the Czech Army Band. (The vehicle in the back ground is the van belonging to the 'Czech Film Unit', it appears several times in the background during the film!)

An absolutely cracking picture!
The Band is marching up the taxi-way from the Crapstone direction. The two large buildings in the background are the Fire Tender Garage and the Fuel Tractor Store.

The Band continue to march up the taxi-way, past the assembled Squadron personnel. There's the van again on the right!. The 'bar' in the top right corner is actually the door extension runner on the Bellman Hangar, (Harrowbeer had two of these) which is where a Mass takes place, led by S/L Vesely.

A few frames further on and the Bellman Hangar comes into shot. This is looking into the hangar - or it would be if the door was fully open. Note the colourful camouflage paint! The next section of the film is shot inside the Hangar and doesn't reproduce well. The Mass was held between 10am and 10.30am according to 312's ORB.

Spitfires of 312 Squadron parked on the grass, near the Watch Office. The building back left is the Bellman Hangar from the earlier shots.

The cameraman has panned to the right and now the second Bellman Hangar can be seen in the background on the right, together with the shape of Harrowbeer's large water tank, which towered over the airfield.

10.50am: A change of postion and a view over the wing of an unknown Spitfire, with the Parade marching past the house now known as 'Brigadoon'. Presumably, the Squadron has marched round the perimeter track from the Hangar, which is out of site behind the nose of the Spitfire, as we are now on the opposite side of the airfield.

A few frames further on and the parade is marching past 312's 'B' Flight dispersal huts. From the flags, we can deduce that the wind was from the North-East, and blowing quite hard!

Another cracking shot! The camerman is either on a ladder or the the arm of the dispersal bay. In the background can clearly be seen the huge water tower, the bellman hangar and also the Watch Office. Not quite so clear is a large, white twin engine aircraft parked to the right of the hangar, possibly a Wellington or Warwick. The figure bottom right may be Sitensky, taking still pictures of events.

The cameraman pans to the left and the other Bellaman Hangar can be seen, doors open, in the background. (This is the hangar in which the Mass had been held)

Frank Mares is presented with his Distinguished Flying Medal (DFM) by Air Vice Marshall Orlebar, Commander of 10 Group. He was the first Czech Pilot to be so honoured and told us he was completely shocked when he received the telegram announcing his award! Incidentally, he was only told of the award on the 3rd September! (Frank passed away in 2007)

Following the medal ceremony, the pilots relax outside the Mess. This is almost certainly Site No 2, the Communal Site. The Officer's Mess was building 136 on the map. Go to the Dispersed Sites page if you want to know more.

More shots of the Officers at rest. The lower half of the Communal Site can be seen in the background. The chimney of the Dining Hall is clearly visible on the left. Again, go to the dispersed sites page for more.

The Cameraman has panned around and is now looking north. Behind the cars is the Gymnasium.

This picture is a bit of a puzzle. This is obviously Pilots with Ladies, but who/what/why we've no idea. Also the location is a bit of a puzzle too. When the camera pans round, (see below) we are still on the Communal Site but what are the piles of stone(?) for? Runway repairs perhaps?

Here's the Band again, still playing! Apparently they gave a concert in the Mess at lunchtime, then in the Gymnasium between 5pm & 6pm and there was a Squadron dance in the evening. Maybe the Ladies in the previous photo are here for the dance?

And I included this because the 'lump' in the background is almost certainly an air raid shelter. This is still there!

The last section of the film shows a Spitfire being brought to dispersal after a mission. It is turned, refuelled and re-armed! Note the Hangar and the two buildings seen earlier in the background. The Spitfire is passing the house that is now called 'Brigadoon' (out of site to the left).

This shot included to show the airfield buildings in the background.

Here's the Water Tower and Bellman Hangar again.

The Fuel Bowser Tractor and Trailer arrives. Note the Watch Office in the background.

The Armourers get to work! The Squadron mascot dog takes in the sun on the wing!

Armourers work on and below the wing. Note the 'Trolley-Accumulator' used for starting the Spitfire's Merlin Engine.

The last shots of the film show the Squadron taking off. They were apparently flying down to Portreath. They aren't really clear enough to be used here.

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