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The Rise and Fall of the Bucharest Alliance


For those of you who followed me through my "Divided Austria" saga, you will recall that the tripartite Bucharest Alliance had a part to play in the formation of two Austrias.

The Bucharest Alliance lasted only a few years. Though the Alliance came to a notoriously bad end, it's contribution to the allied war effort in the early days of WWII was laudable.

Here is the story:

Leading up to the 1936 Olympics, Hitler’s global spectacle of Aryan racial superiority, the world had stood witness to his many provocative and arrogant actions and statements in the time since he had risen to power in Germany.

That Hitler had included Slavs along with Jews and Gypsies in his statements declaring which ethnicities he felt deserved complete eradication was not ignored in the halls of power in Poland and Czechoslovakia. Both countries had been upgrading their military equipment and training throughout the early 30s. By 1935, both countries had a defensive alliance to assist each other in defending their mutual territory and further development of their respective arsenals.

Of great concern to Czechoslovakia was their southern flank. In sharing a border with Austria and Hungary, both of which had strong ties to Germany, it was realized that it would be most prudent to try to secure additional alliances on the continent. As both Poland and Czechoslovakia shared a border with Romania at the time, an alliance with that country was considered essential. Using Hungary’s right wing leanings, its desire to reclaim the territory it lost to Romania in the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Hitler’s apparent willingness to help them do it as leverage; Czechoslovakia and Poland formally proposed a tri-national defensive alliance. After a major amount of negotiation, the Romanians accepted the proposal. This went into history as the Bucharest Alliance.

The Bucharest Alliance was a tenuous one in the beginning, the three countries did not exactly have a harmonious history with each other and there was much in the way of old animosities to overcome. It did, however seem that sense was over-riding history and the three countries realized it was in their mutual interests to combine resources and stand together against Hitler.

At the time of the Hossbach Conference, in November of 1937, where Hitler declared a clear intent to secure territory in Czechoslovakia, plans for the prototypes of the PZL.50 Jastrab and Avia B.135 and IAR 80 fighters were on the tables in Poland and Czechoslovakia and Romania and every attempt to accelerate their development was being made. The existing front line fighters in those countries were long in the tooth and not up to fighting what the Germans could send. A stopgap measure had to be found quickly to buy time for the development and implementation of the new fighters.

Enter the Hurricane:
By this time, the new Hawker Hurricane fighter was known about, and of great interest to the Bucharest Alliance countries as a potential stopgap measure. The introduction of the Hurricane into RAF service in December of 1937 was a key incentive for them to approach Great Britain with a proposal to not only purchase Hurricanes, but also open assembly lines for them on the continent if Britain would grant them a production license.

As it was known that these countries possessed highly skilled technical workforces that were competent to carry out such a task, and Hitler was becoming a more worrisome issue by the day for any European nation that wouldn’t align themselves with him, Britain was not about to say “no” to any help it could get in increasing production output and deployment of the new fighter. In spite of the geographic proximity to the Soviet Union, another large worry for Britain, production licenses for both the aircraft and the Merlin engine that powered it were quickly, and quietly, granted. The first production facilities were highly secretive and well concealed.

In early 1938, a handpicked group of top Polish, Czechoslovak and Romanian pilots were sent to Britain to be trained on the Hurricane, to accelerate the process, priority was given to any pilot who had some, however limited, command of English already. By the time they returned home in early summer of the same year, round the clock production of Hurricanes at all three factories had assured a respectable and viable force of the aircraft in the three countries. There was also no shortage of young men eager to be trained to fly it.

Storm and Counter Storm:
By this point, Germany had declared union with Austria and clear signs of mobilization were seen in Germany’s military along the border with Czechoslovakia, an invasion attempt was clearly in the works. Combined Polish, Czechoslovak and Romanian forces mobilized to counter any such attempt. However, the Hurricanes were kept back initially.

While it could not be said that Germany was completely ignorant to the three countries working with Britain, it was clear that they had underestimated the exact presence and strength of the Hurricane force in the region. At the time the Hitler proposed the Munich agreement, the combined force of Hurricanes was in the hundreds. If he had knowledge of the production lines, he was not showing it.

On September 30, 1938; in recognition of Hitler as the mad man that he was and in gratitude to Poland, Czechoslovakia and Romania for their willingness to help produce the Hurricane, Britain refused to be signatory to the Munich Agreement. The Hurricane lines on the continent had been established and could not be compromised.

Hitler, enraged, gave the order to invade Czechoslovakia and Poland in October of that year. Germany’s first invasion attempt was largely on the western border and primarily intended to secure the Sudetenland area with its high percentage of Germanic descended people. The attempt was brief, bloody and not at all what the Germans had expected.

The Germans had intended on taking the countries primarily by numbers and overwhelming the combined defense forces. However, the cohesiveness and discipline of the joint Czechoslovak and Polish forces, in addition to better usage and deployment of their resources not only kept the Germans in check, it also effectively cut the entire territory of Silesia off from the rest of Germany.

The biggest shock for the Germans came in the air. Two fleets of Luftwaffe bombers, with relatively light fighter escort, bound for Pilsen and Liberec were all but cut to ribbons well before reaching their targets when they were jumped by large formations of Hurricanes.

The German bombers retreated and the Hurricane’s scope of presence in the region would be a secret no longer.

The western borders had been maintained. By the end of November, the Germans had been driven back to their own side of the border and the territories of Silesia and East Prussia had been annexed from them. Hurricanes had been stationed at key points and patrolled the borders routinely.

Knowing full well that Germany would try to retake the annexed regions, it was only a matter of time, the governments of the Bucharest Alliance instituted martial law in all regions within their borders that contained high Germanic populations. Any and all communication between Germanic populations in these countries and Germany or its allies would be seen as treason and severely punished.

The Main Act Begins:
Britain had little choice but to see Germany’s invasion attempt as an act of war, In December 1938 Britain, the Bucharest Alliance, Australia, New Zealand, France and Canada formally declared war on Germany and its allies.

Almost at once, Denmark became the first major battle ground of the war. In early January of 1939 Germany mounted an invasion into Denmark. As a clear sea corridor between Britain and Poland would be essential to maintaining logistical ties. Both countries mobilized their navies and converged on Denmark. A drive along Germany’s Baltic coast, by the Polish navy, army and air force to cut further German access to the Jutland Peninsula was also initiated. After three months of fighting, Denmark had been saved and an uninterrupted sea corridor between Britian and the Bucharest Alliance was established.

To support the established Polish land blockade between Denmark and Germany, the Danish military was furnished with surplus Polish Hurricanes, PZL.37 Los bombers and training on them.

In Poland, the PZL.50 Jastrab was on the eve of entering service and many Polish Hurricanes were being refitted to ground attack work.

A similar action was being taken with Czechoslovak and Romanian Hurricanes as the Avia B.135 and IAR.80 fighters were being put into service in the air defense role. As such a large number of early build Hurricanes became surplus in the region. Several of them found their way to Britain to bolster the RAF’s existing Hurricane fleet, still others were provided to Norway for their agreement to help defend the North Sea and keep the corridor to the Baltic open. In the North Sea, Danish and Norwegian Hurricanes were a scourge to any German ship that dared enter the region. Armed with armor piercing rockets and 30mm cannons, they were particularly feared by the crews of smaller surface vessels.

Through the summer of 1939, tension was kept on the border between the Bucharest Alliance, Germany, Austria and Hungary. With the assistance of Italian equipment, the Hungarian military was mobilizing along its borders with Czechoslovakia and Romania. A second, larger invasion was on the horizon.

The Devil Comes Calling:
Moscow saw the Bucharest alliance nations as potential stepping stones to securing a foothold further west in Europe. Seeing a second, larger invasion force amassing, the Soviet Union approached the Alliance governments with an offer of “assistance”.

The offer was to provide “assistance regiments” in key locations throughout the alliance countries to ensure as little territory as possible would be lost to any advance Germany attempted to make. Militarily the arrangement worked. However, the political ramifications were dire to say the least. To say that the Bucharest Alliance signing into such an agreement with the Soviets made relations between them and Britain frosty would have been a true understatement. Hitler was distasteful to Britain, Stalin only marginally less so. To see the Soviet Union joining the fray was not exactly welcome in all quarters.

In September of 1939, the combined forces of Germany and Hungary clashed with the Bucharest Alliance forces and their Soviet “assistance” all along the border region. It would be a bloody and long battle and would become known as the eastern front of the European Theatre in history books.

Having made little headway eastward, Germany redirected the bulk of its aggressions westward; first invading France and then directly attacking Britain

The face of the Soviet assistance regiments was changing rapidly. What had begun as simple tactical help, quite often a Soviet crew in Bucharest Alliance provided hardware, had transformed into clearly recognizable Soviet army detachments or full regiments with their own Soviet produced machinery, including bombers. Many of their outposts had been enlarged to near base sized fortifications.

Many higher-ranking officers within the militaries of the Bucharest Alliance were demoted or outright replaced by Soviet officers. Several Polish, Czechoslovakian and Romanian officers, fearing for their positions quietly left the region and volunteered to serve in Danish, British or Norwegian military units.

The Battle of Britain began and the ranks of the RAF had been reinforced with many former Bucharest Alliance pilots who possessed valuable combat experience in the Hurricane.

The Axis was formally established between Germany, Italy, Japan and Spain. Throughout WWII Germany would locate death and forced labour camps on the Iberian Peninsula. Germany was also granted Spanish land to establish testing grounds for new weaponry.

Hungary fell in 1940. One of the bloodiest battles along the eastern front was the battle for north Transylvania, a former Hungarian territory that had been given to Romania when the Austro-Hungarian Empire was dissolved. Hungary, with Italian backing, staged an attack to recover the region by force. Not only did they fail to recover the region, they paid dearly for the attempt.

In retaliation, the Soviet forces, with largely Romanian fighter escort, launched large scale bombing raids on the Hungarian cities of Debrecen, Szeged and Kecskemet. The Soviets swiftly occupied the eastern part of the country and demanded unconditional surrender threatening an even heavier bombardment of Budapest. Initially Hungary resisted, however after a week of near relentless and merciless strafing by Romanian Hurricanes of the bombed cities and Budapest itself, the resistance was crushed. On May 1, 1940, Hungary surrendered to Soviet control. Shortly after, in June, the Soviets would use Hungary and Romania to mount their occupation of the Balkans.

An Alliance Broken:
With the occupation of the Balkans, Britain formally severed ties with the Bucharest Alliance. Having their hands full with Germany, and America yet to involve itself in the conflict in any official sense, Britain used great caution in properly and diplomatically severing those ties. A war with the Soviet Union could not be risked. Newly elected British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill declared that the corrupted Bucharest Alliance could no longer be considered a truly reliable ally.

In August of 1940, Britain and the Soviet Union signed a non-aggression treaty in Copenhagen. The treaty stipulated, among other things, that the Soviet forces were to come no further west than the Czechoslovak border with Germany and that the Bucharest Alliance would no longer be recognized as an official body by Britain or her allies. The signing of this treaty also revoked any licenses granted to the Bucharest Alliance for producing the Hurricane or the Merlin engine for it. However, with Soviet support, unauthorized Hurricane production would continue.

Taking advantage of the break of Britain with the Bucharest Alliance, and the desire to have the Balkans for itself, Germany turned their attentions again eastward. Austria was still under German control and would be used to mount a land based counter occupation into the Balkan Peninsula. While the Germans and Italians moved eastward, the Soviets and Bucharest Alliance secured Bulgaria and much of Greece with little trouble.

The battle for Austria was the beginning of the end for any hope the Axis had of securing the Balkans. In August of 1941, the first of many Soviet heavy bombing missions into Austria was initiated. Two large fleets of Petlyakov PE-8 bombers with large fighter escort from bases in Czechoslovakia and Hungary set out for Vienna and Graz. Despite Luftwaffe counter attack, they were largely successful in inflicting major damage on both cities. Through late summer and autumn, the Soviets and former Bucharest Alliance nations pushed both west and south to establish a land blockade between Germany and the Balkans. In December of 1941 they succeeded in establishing such a blockade between Linz, Austria and Trieste in Italy. Three months later, the Axis surrendered the Balkans. Shortly thereafter, the Soviets occupied Turkey.

The Curtain Falls:
March 1942 marked the end of any further major fighting along the eastern front, there were still small localized skirmishes here and there, eventually Germany retook part of its Baltic coast region, but the line was clearly drawn as to where Socialism’s influence on Europe would be and the Soviet Union and countries that would form the nucleus of the Warsaw Pact had made it clear that it was a line that could be held. An evolved heavy air defense variant of the Hurricane had emerged early in 1942 and squadrons of them had been strategically stationed along the border region as a warning of what the Luftwaffe could expect to greet them.

A virtual straight line was drawn from the point where the German, Austrian and Czechoslovak borders converged south to Trieste. The balance of the war in the European Theatre would be fought to the west of that line.

Austria lay split into a democratic west and socialist east and would remain so until 1989. Vienna would remain the capital in the east while Salzburg was established as the western capital.

The entirety of the Balkan Peninsula, including Greece, was firmly in Moscow’s grip and would remain so until 1989.

Signatory to the establishment of the Warsaw Pact in 1955 were: The Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, Poland, East Austria, Yugoslavia, Greece, Bulgaria, Albania, Romania, Hungary, and Turkey.

The Hurricane was one of the most produced fighters of the war regardless of who had built them. Its actions, both Heroic and oppressive in the hands of Bucharest Alliance pilots too numerous to list. It was a ubiquitous shape throughout Europe and North Africa. The exact number of Hurricanes built is highly speculative, particularly after August of 1940. In the post war years it was widely suspected that the Soviets had opened up their own production lines for Hurricanes as instruments and placards found in the wreckage of many later aircraft with Bucharest Alliance nation markings contained Cyrilic characters.

After the fall of Socialism, the existence of Soviet production lines was proven. While the true production numbers of the Hurricane family will never be known for certain, it is estimated to have been in the tens of thousands.


Czechoslovak Hurricane K7-6 “Magda’s Revenge”

The subject of my build was a Czechoslovak Hurricane flown by the young, but respected, Kapitan (Captain) Ladislav Holy. He dubbed his aircraft “Magda’s Revenge” in honour and memory of his sister, Magdalena (Magda for short) who, along with their aunt and Uncle who had raised them, were killed in a Luftwaffe straffing attack on their home town of Teplice in  early 1939.

In mid 1940, Holy found his entire career in jeopardy. He had been in line to be promoted and take over deputy commanding duties of his regiment, based at Hradec Kralove. His promotion was overuled by the  regional commander of the Soviet “Assistance regiment” ; the primary reason given for overuling the promotion was that the art work on his aircraft was of too personal a nature rather than patriotic and would set a “bad example” for his subordinates in the unit and encourage them to take the war too personally.

However, within the unit, it was generally felt that what cost Holy the promotion was his clear popularity with his fellow unit mates, both officers and enlisted, that made the Soviet commanders percieve him as a threat to their growing authority. It generally is surmised that he would have been promoted had he been more supportive of the Soviet “Assistance regiments”.

Holy’s lot got increasingly worse after the debacle over his lack of promotion. He was given increasingly more dangerous missions to fly in the hopes that he would become a combat loss and so no longer a threat. Much to the disdain of the Soviet orders to put him deeper into harm’s way, Holy’s skills as a pilot were always enough to bring him back home.

In early 1941, rumour in the unit were that the Soviets were planning to strip Holy of his wings and court martial him on charges of “insubordination” stemming from his ever increasing popularity in his unit everytime he came back from a mission alive. To this day, surviving members of the “Assistance regiments” deny such a plan was ever afoot to discredit and destroy Holy.

The rumors were too much for Holy, he, and three other pilots, decided in mid February of 1941 that they would desert the unit and try to fly their planes to Denmark.. On the evening of February 15, the plan was set in motion. Holy and the other three pilots were scheduled to go out on a night training mission and decided to use it as their opportunity to flee.

Their Hurricanes, early variants of the heavy air defence version that would eventually debut in 1942, had pods for 20 mm cannons built into the wings. In a very risky move, Holy and his wingmen had the cannon modules removed and replaced with auxiliary fuel cells. This move reduced their armament to four .50 calibre machine guns, but did ensure their aircraft could cover the distance to Denmark..

They took their aircraft to maximum altitude as quickly as they could and hoped to be well over Poland before Soviet commanders suspected anything was amiss and put the alert out to Polish forces and Soviet forces in Poland to intercept them.

The flight was largely uneventful until they were just past Poznan and turning toward Denmark. They were suddenly jumped  by five aircraft from the local “assistance regiment”; quickly breaking formation, they were forced to engage the Soviets. Holy and his wingmen quickly dispatched two of their attackers when two additional aircraft joined the fray, this time Polish Hurricanes.

The Polish pilots, led by Martin Gorny, made it clear early on that they were there to support Holy and his men. Gorny and Holy had trained on the Hurricane together in Britain and had become friends quickly. Word had travelled discretely to Gorny about what Holy and his men were trying to do and why. Gorny was in a similar situation to Holy, fearing for his career at the hands of the Soviets and decided to use the situation as a an opportunity for his own escape.

Gorny and his wingman down two of the other marauding Soviet planes and sent the other into retreat. The attack had come at the cost of one of Holy’s wingmen, Pavel Lipa. The wreckage of Lipa’s aircraft was found in a Polish lake in the mid 1950s. It is generally agreed that he escaped from his aircraft, but his whereabouts after the incident have remained a mystery. Today he is still officially listed as MIA.

Gorny and his wingman, Janusz Sokolski, joined Holy’s formation and continued toward Denmark.. Near the Danish border they encountered anti aircraft fire from both land and ships. Sokolski’s aircraft sustained a direct hit and was destoyed leaving him no chance of escape. A hit to the tail of one of Holy’s remaining wingmen ,Stanislav Borsky’s , aircraft sent him spinning into the Baltic. Borsky’s body was recovered by a Danish navy ship the next morning.

The three remaining aircraft dropped altitude quickly and engaged in a mad dash across the Danish border. Holy was able to radio the control tower of a nearby Danish air force base and, with no small difficulty, arrange clearance to land for himself, his remaining wingman, Tomas Kovarek and Martin Gorny. All three aircraft wer dangerously low on fuel upon arrival.

“Magda’s Revenge” and the other two Hurricanes were immediately handed over to Danish forces for evaluation as they represented a variant not at that time known outside the Bucharest Alliance. The three pilots briefed the Danish air force on the variant.

Kovarek’s aircraft had been damaged in the escape and he opted to stay in Denmark while the presence of Holy and Gorny and their undamaged aircraft were requested in Britain. Holy and Gorny flew their aircraft across the North Sea under heavy RAF escort directly to Hawker aircraft facilities. The aircraft were immediately impounded and heavily scrutinised by both Hawker and RAF authorities. The two pilots found themselves givng similar briefings to British officials as they had to the Danish ones.

Their aircraft would never fly combat missions again and instead were set aside for research and test flying for the development of further Hurricane variants by Hawker. A similar end was for Kovarek’s aircraft once it was rendered airworthy again. A Hurricane assembly line was opened in Denmark and Kovarek’s aircraft served as a research aircraft until it was destroyed in a crash, with Kovarek at the controls in 1943. Kovarek was hospitalised but did not survive his injuries.

Gorny and Holy were eventually assigned to RAF Hurricane units and both survived the war. Sadly, in their lifetimes, they were not able to return to their homelands. Branded as traitors by the Socialist regime that had taken over Poland and Czecholsovakia after the war, there could simply be no going back for them.

Gorny found his way to Australia and was instrumental in helping to develop the Post war RAAF. Holy settled in south western England, married and raised a family and worked as a regional airline pilot in the post war years.

“Magda’s Revenge” was dismantled and passed from one owner to another after the war but was never reassembled and simply gathered dust in various hangars over the years. Though she languished, she was fortunately always hangared so deterioration was minimal.

She was eventually taken on by a German museum in the early 80s and restored to static condition. Sadly, the “Magda’s Revenge” artwork could not be referenced for reproduction as no knowm pictures, drawings or descriptions existed of it and Holy himself would talk very little of the war, even to his own family. He passed on shortly before the restoration was completed in 1985 and the true form of the “Magda’s Revenge “ artwork died with him. However, as some small testament to the identity of the aircraft and it’s history, the patch of dark green paint Holy was ordered to slap over the airtwork by the Soviets, was reproduced in the restoration.

After the fall of Socialism, she was presented to Prague’s Kbely Museum and, in a special ceremony attended by Holy’s son, daughters and grandchildren, Holy was posthumously named a national hero of the Czech Republic and promoted to a full Colonel.


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