The incredible story of the Czech spy who stole an RAF plane for the Nazis

11-06-2003

While thousands of Czechs fought bravely for the Royal Air Force during World War II, the British media has recently carried reports about one Czech pilot who was far from a hero. Augustin Preucil was a Nazi spy who managed to infiltrate the RAF before stealing one of their war planes for the Germans.

Preucil's story is a remarkable one. Born near Benesov in central Bohemia, in 1939 he was caught attempting to illegally cross the border from the Nazi Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, on his way to offer his services as a pilot in South America. Military historian Jiri Rajlich takes up the story.

"In exchange for being pardoned he entered the service of the Gestapo, who sent him abroad. His mission was to monitor goings on in Czechoslovak military circles abroad, and the air forces in particular."

After spells in Poland and France, Preucil made his way to Britain where he joined the Royal Air Force and pulled off what is believed to have been a unique crime - he stole a Hurricane plane (having feigned crashing in the sea) and delivered it to his Nazi handlers. Indeed it was the discovery of a photo of the fighter plane in Berlin in 1941 that recently brought the story to attention in the UK. But that daring theft wasn't the end of Antonin Preucil's treachery.

"Until the end of the war he was an agent, a provocateur whose task was to infiltrate resistance fighters. Among other tasks, he was sent into the Gestapo prison Terezin as a spy. He also spied on American pilots who had been caught. In 1944 he helped the Prague Gestapo to identify Czechoslovak pilots who had been shot down over Germany and who the Nazis wanted to try as traitors."

With the liberation of Czechoslovakia a year later the tables were turned, however, and it Augustin Preucil's own turn to stand trial for treason. Jiri Rajlich again.

"He wasn't very careful and just before the end of the war some members of the resistance had their suspicions about him. In May 1945, not long after liberation, he was arrested. He was brought before a military court, was found guilty of treason and executed on April 14, 1947."

11-06-2003