Nadpisy článků In Memory of the General of the Sky
By Colonel Bohumil Vlach, translated by Lieutenant Colonel Jaroslav Milek
Lieutenant General Frantisek Perina died on May 6, 2006 in a military hospital in Prague in the early morning hours of his ninety-fifth year. He was a legend among Czech pilots of the Second World War.
Frantisek Perina, known to the French public as the flying ace Lieutenant “Rinope” (meaning “duvet”), was a member of the famous Escadrille Les Cignones (“Squadron Stork”), which had already achieved fame in the First World War. As a member of Les Cignones, Perina shot down fourteen German planes in France, three of which during one flight alone, something which no one else succeeded in doing.
While in the Foreign Legion, Perina went by the name Rinope, which was the translation of his name into the French, and which he used later as a code name so that the Nazis would be unable to go after his family in Czechoslovakia. For his achievements in France, he was decorated with the Légion d’honneur class Chevalier (“Knight”), and was one of only five pilots to receive the French War Cross with eight palm leaves on the ribbon. Of these five, four – the French pilots Captain Meslee and Captain Accart, commander of Escadrille Les Cignones, and two Czech pilots Captain Vasatko (known as “Big Amos”) and Lieutenant Francois Rinope (Perina) – were members of the famous Squadron Stork.
Frantisek Perina was born on April 8, 1911 in Morkuvky in Moravia. After finishing his public school education, he learned the tool making trade as a lathe machinist. In 1929, he entered a Military School for aviation as a pilot in Prostejov City. He was talented, and after two years he graduated as a military pilot, and in a very short time was promoted to a higher rank for his excellent flying. He went through many courses of study for military pilots, and excelled in aerobatics and gun shooting. In 1937, in the rank of corporal, Perina went to Zurich, Switzerland to compete in the international competitive games on the Czechoslovakian team. They received three firsts, three seconds, and four third places in seven different disciplines. Overall, the Czechoslovakian team finished in second place. Their first place finish in aerobatics was in large part due to Frantisek Perina. In this competition, Perina first met his future commander Captain Accart.
After returning from Switzerland that October, Perina went to school to become an NCO. After graduation he was promoted to be an NCO in the Air Forces. The political situation in the CSR in 1938 deteriorated, and on the 15 March 1939, after the Munich agreement, the CSR was occupied by Germany. Sergeant Perina decided to leave the country to fight as a pilot against the German occupiers.
Twenty-eight hours before leaving, Perina married his great love, Anna Klimes. He was married in the grey-blue uniform which career soldiers were able to wear only until the end of July 1939. Knowing that he was to leave the republic, and supportive of his decision, Anna accompanied him on the train to Ostrava city close to Polish border.
After crossing the border to Poland illegally, Perina boarded a ship to France on 29 July 1939 from Gdansk on the ship Chrobry (“Hero”). In the Foreign Legion, he was sent to the front in the Escadrille Les Cignones, and put second in command to Commander Accart. For his success in flying, he was commissioned to the Czech rank of lieutenant. Perina was wounded on one of his flights, and after the French debacle in which France was forced to sign an armistice and was divided into occupied and free zones, he first ran away from the hospital, then stole a plane to fly to North Africa, which was a gathering place for Czech pilots. These pilots went to Great Britain, where they were accepted into the RAF. Perina was the co-founder of the 312. Czech Fighter Squadron, which contained other pilots from Escadrille Les Cignones, including Captain Vasatko. It was no accident that 312 Squadron had in their official emblem a picture of a flying stork.
As a member of 312 Squadron, Perina shot down another two German fighters (FW 190s). Under the leadership of Captain Vasatko, and with the success of the Czech flyers, a united Czech fighter wing under Captain Vasatko was formed that combined the 310, 312, and 313 Fighter Squadrons. (311.Sq. being the bombers). Captain Vasatko, Frantisek Perina’s first commander, was given the British rank of Wing Commander.
Captain Vasatko, Perina’s commander, ordered him out of operational flights and sent him to train as a gunnery officer, which the Czech Air Forces would need later after the war. After graduating from the 9th Pilots’ Gunnery Course, Perina was promoted to Squadron Leader, and appointed Sector Gunnery Instructor. He was still formally attached to the 312. Squadron and occasionally flew operational flights, but his main function was the gunnery training of the wing and of the pilots in other British squadrons. While he was performing this function, the war came to a close and he returned to Czechoslovakia, where he was met at the Prague airport by his wife Anna. He was appointed gunnery teacher at the Air Force Academy in Prostejov, and target range instructor in Malacky. He was promoted in a short time to major, but after the February 1948 Communist takeover, was demoted and dismissed from the Air Force.
In the years after the takeover, many of those who fought with Perina in the British forces were arrested and interrogated by the secret police, and some spent years in prison. Major Perina was not keen to wait to be imprisoned and interrogated himself, and so decided to leave the country, together with his wife Anna. In April 1949, after a dramatic escape in a stolen Sokol (“Falcon”) to West Germany (he flew in bad weather with only a schematic map of the railway route, taken from the book of train schedules as a guide), he force-landed with a closed undercarriage after running out of fuel, just inside the American zone in Bavaria, close to the Soviet-occupied zone in Austria.
Perina was accepted again into the RAF, but because he was over forty years old was not allowed to fly. After six years of service for the Queen, he left with his wife for Canada, where he started a business producing and distributing small laminated boats. The success of his business allowed him the time to pursue his hobby of hunting in both Canada and Alaska. Unfortunately, the Canadian climate did not agree with Anna, and under the advice of her doctor, they moved to California. There, Perina continued his business efforts, which included producing airplane seats and seats for the American astronauts. His company employed three hundred and fifty workers. After retiring at the age of 68, he and Anna moved to the even warmer climate of Arizona.
So long as the Czech communist regime continued, Perina and Anna did not return to Czechoslovakia. After the events that began November 17, 1989, they visited Czechoslovakia for a long vacation, in 1990, during which they decided to move back, wanting to end their lives at home. After the fall of the Communist regime, Perina’s achievements became widely acknowledged in Czechoslovakia for the first time. He was promoted to Lieutenant General and was decorated with many medals. He became an aviation legend, and his story was included in a book by General Fajtl, who gave Perina the name General of the Sky.
Perina and Anna were publicly active. Perina was named honourary member of the Pilots’ Association, and honorary commander of the Gripen Squadron at the Air Force base in Caslav. With the age, their health deteriorated. When Anna died, Perina’s state of mind became depressed. He lost his will to live, and died a couple of weeks after her.
By Colonel Bohumil Vlach,
Historian of the Union of the Pilots’ Association in Pribor City
Freely translated by Lieutenant Colonel Jaroslav Milek, email@example.com