The 25th Aviation Fair will follow in the tradition of commemorating Czechoslovak pilots who did not hesitate to lay down their lives for the freedom of their occupied homeland. This year we will honour the memory of a man who was born in Pardubice and served as a pilot during World War II. He was on the verge of deployment in the Battle of France, fully engaged in RAF operations on Hurricanes and Spitfires and then actively participated in the Slovak Nation Uprising with the 1st Czechoslovak Independent Fighter Regiment. As a consequence of unfortunate events, he was forced to retreat into Slovak mountains. Faced with the enemy, he laid down his life as a partisan. Thus, he truly fulfilled the oath to his homeland.
Rudolf Borovec was born in the town of Czech aviation pioneers Ing. J. Kašpar and E. Čihák on 5 February 1915. His early aviation experience dates back to his studies at a secondary school and technical college when he was a member of a flourishing East Bohemian Aeroclub. As a result, he was drafted into the Czechoslovak air force. There he completed the school for reserve flying officers and was assigned to No. 5 Air Regiment in Brno.
Since he was not going to put up with the curtailed territory after the Munich Agreement and the occupation of his homeland by Nazis, he found a connection to an underground network which organized departures of Czechoslovak soldiers from the Protectorate. On 4 August 1939, he managed to cross the border to Poland. On 18 August, upon incorporation into the Czechoslovak military unit, he set sail from the port of Gdynia to France. In early September, he was assigned to an air unit in the camp of Czechoslovak troops in Agde and on 6 October sent to the French Base Aérienne in Tours to complete a course for air gunners. In January 1940, he received pilot and subsequently fighter training at BA La Rochelle, starting with 2-seaters Morane and Hanriot. After moving to Étampes in March, he continued with his training, including flying Morane-Saulnier 406 fighters. Nevertheless, German “blitzkrieg” prevented him from flying with the frontline unit...
With the Fall of France, the reserve second lieutenant Borovec shifted to the port of Bayonne and on 21 June set sail to Great Britain. On 12 July, he was admitted into the RAF volunteer reserve unit in the rank of Pilot Officer. On 23 August 1940, he left the air depot in Cosford to undergo an introductory training with the Operational Training Unit at the RAF Benson base. From 28 October, upon completing the training on light bombers Fairy Battle, he continued with a fighter course on Hawker Hurricane aircrafts at the No. 6 OTU in Sutton Bridge near the Lincolnshire coast.
Given the number of pilots at the two Czechoslovak fighter squadrons, our fighters replenished British squadrons. Therefore, on 19 February 1941, P/O Borovec joined No. 601 Squadron called The County of London at the RAF Northholt base in the north of London. Having suffered major losses in the Battle of Britain, the squadron was replenished with new pilots including four from Czechoslovakia. It carried out mainly patrols in the assigned sectors and over ship convoys. In early March, the squadron transitioned from Hurricanes Mk. I to new aircrafts - Hurricanes Mk. Iib with 12 machine guns on the wing. A change came on 2 May 1941 when the unit moved RAF Manston base in Kent on the Eastern coast. The unit launched offensive combat activities, escorting bombers over northern France. In Manston, P/O Borovec was assigned to F/Lt. Whitney-Straight’s B flight, together with Czech pilots P/O K. Drbohlav and F/Sgt. F. Mareš. However, his days there were coming to an end, as the initial combat activities were interrupted by moving into the second line.
During the operational rest period, which lasted from June 1941 to January 1942, he flew navigation teachers and students from No.2 Air Observer´s School from the Millom airport in Cumberland on the twin-engine Avro Anson, then he worked in a similar position in Llandwrog in northern Wales at No.9 Air Gunner´s School, where he flew A. W. Whitley Mk. II bombers. In November 1941, he became an instructor of fighting students on Hurricanes at No. 55 OTU in Usworth, North England.
After half a year, from 6 January 1942, F/O Borovec could continue in operational assignment. He joins No.19 Squadron equipped with Spitfires Mk. Vb at the Ludham base in Norfolk, where he meets other pilots-compatriots. Among others, the unit escorts Bristol Beaufort bombers over Dutch and Belgian coasts. Although Borovec did not fly much over the four months, a heavy workload was awaiting him in the Czechoslovak Fighter Wing, headed by the former commander of No. 312 Squadron W/Cdr. Alois Vašátko.
On 9 May, just days after the formation of the wing, Rudolf Borovec arrived at the RAF sector station in Exeter, Devon, and joined No.310 Squadron. He debuted there on the following day while escorting Douglas Boston bombers over a target in northern France. On 19 August, he participated in the first of three starts of No. 310 and 312 Squadrons during the Jubilee operation – support of the landing of Canadian and British Commandos in the port of Dieppe in France. Daily activities included patrols over ship convoys passing through the Channel from the Bolt Head airport, anti-ship reconnaissance missions or patrols against raids by Fw 190 equipped with bombs. By June 1943, Rudolf Borovec operated a number of offensive flights with No.310 Squadron over France, be it offensive operations with Westland Whirlwind fighters or escorting RAF and USAAF bombers. In 1943, he also participated in two voluntary offensive operations of two aircrafts over northern France called Rhubarb. At that time, he was already wearing the British rank insignia of Flight Lieutenant and was promoted to reserve Flight Lieutenant in the Czechoslovak ranks.
No.310 Squadron as part of the Czechoslovak wing spent the operational rest in Castletown, Scotland, and at the Sumburgh airport on the Shetlands. In September, the unit moved back to the offensive combat zone of No. 10th RAF Fighter Group at the Ibsley base in Hampshire. Czechoslovak wing, under the command of W/Cdr. František Doležal, launched operations towards northern France, escorted by Mitchell RAF and B-26 Marauder USAAF bombers. Borovec participated in these inconspicuous and diversified offensive activities aimed at preparing the Normandy invasion only on several occasions. At the turn of 1943/44 he spent his rest period in an operational centre at the Ibsley base. He had already submitted an application in response to the Czechoslovak exile government’ call regarding a service at the national flight unit on the Soviet front. Surprisingly, a large percentage of Czechoslovak fighters in Britain applied for a service in Russia. Lieutenant Borovec became one of a handful of selected men who received a notification from the Ministry of National Defence in London to prepare for the travel to the USSR.
On 21 February 1944, following the official farewell in London, a group of pilots under the command of Staff Capitan František Fajl, set sail from Glasgow to Port Said. From Egypt they continued by train and bus through Syria and Iraq to Tehran. In early April the group was flown to Moscow. A training of 122 pilots of No.128 Czechoslovak fighter squadron took place at the Ivanovo base and in Kubinka near Moscow on Lavochkin La-5UTI fighters with dual controls and newly supplied LA-5FN of mixed construction, achieving max.speed of 648 km/h.
In June 1944 the unit changed its name to No.1 Czechoslovak Independent Fighter Regiment, but remained in Kubinka. The pilots asked the Russian command to be sent to the front, however, the issue began to be addressed only after September 7 with a relocation to the Stubno airport, where the unit came under the operational subordination of the 2nd Air Army of General Krasovsky. On August 29, the Slovak national uprising against the fascist regime broke out. In response, General Krasovsky sends the command of the Czechoslovak regiment to the rebel territory to examine the possibilities of transferring into the enemy area. The necessary air support of 21 fighters with Czechoslovak pilots set out from Stubno to Zolná near Zvolen on 17 September. During a stopover in Krosno, the undercarriage of Lieutenant Borovec’s aircraft closed spontaneously. Thus, he could attend the commemorative act in Zolná, where the Czechoslovak flag was raised upon the arrival of the regiment. In memory of this moment, this date was after the war declared the Day of the Czechoslovak Air Force.
Nevertheless, Borovec soon arrived in Slovakia with members of the regiment and engaged in intense work. Unfortunately, once again, he had bad luck. On September 20, while attacking a mortar battery of the enemy, his “Lavochka” No. 23 received two shots into the oil cooler from a machine gun. With all efforts he made an emergency landing at the Tri Duby airport. Temporarily without his own aircraft, he worked at the radio station with a Soviet forward air controller Lieutenant Yemelyanov.
Subsequently, he returned to the fights. Although Fajtl’s regiment struggled with worn-out technology and losses, his pilots performed hundreds of starts from Zolná, or when the land was soggy, from the Tri Duby airport, mainly to support ground troops, including bomb attacks. Recently promoted to the Lieutenant rank, on 20 and 21 October, Borovec destroyed by firing and bombings the dormitories and warehouses of the SS units.
Slovakia became his fatal destiny. Due to the strong German pressure the uprising was gradually suppressed and the operating space for the fighter regiment reached unsustainable proportions. Thus, on 25 October the unit was forced into retreat. 12 remaining La-5FN fly back to their Soviet positions on that day. First Lieutenant Chábera crashes during take-off and finally takes off on an aircraft ceded to him by Borovec. The conditions of the siege required the regiment’s members, who were not evacuated by air, to make difficult decisions. Thus, they joined the retreating rebels and headed for the mountains towards Donovaly. With the winter coming, the conditions of these refugees in high altitudes were not very promising. In this situation, pilot Rudolf Borovec actively accepted a new challenge – resistance against the enemy. In the Low Tatras, he joined the 2nd Czechoslovak Parachute Brigade and embarked on a journey of partisan warfare. Not suspecting anything, on 9 November 1944 his group fell into German clutches near Liptovská Ľupča. Under a snow blizzard, Borovec’s unit came across a radio vehicle near Solisko. The commander approached the vehicle to check the possibility of acquiring components for a partisan radio. Unfortunately, an unexpected enemy fire ended his life...
After the war, as soon as his mother Aloisie Borovcová became aware of the tragic fate of her son, she contacted his fellow combatants to arrange the transportation of Rudolf’s remains home. Her husband he was tortured to death in Auschwitz concentration camp in 1943 and she suffered in the Svatobořice concentration camp. Exhumation and other official steps had to be performed, but she did not give in and finally achieved her goal. A farewell to the war hero was carried out with full military honours in his hometown on Smetana square on 1 December 1945. The funeral speech was delivered by Rudolf’s commander Major František Fajl. The coffin was deposited at the Pardubice cemetery.
Rudolf Borovec was awarded with the Czechoslovak War Cross 1939, Czechoslovak Medal for Bravery, Commemorative Medal of the Czechoslovak Army Abroad (labels F, UK) and was posthumously promoted to the rank of Staff Capitan and awarded with the Order of the Slovak National Uprising 1st class. On 1 June 1991, by order of the Czechoslovak Minister of Defence, he was posthumously promoted to the rank of Colonel.