Alois Vašátko

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Alois Vašátko
Nickname(s) Lojzek
Amos
The Great Amos
Born (1908-08-25)25 August 1908
Čelákovice, Austria-Hungary
Died 23 June 1942(1942-06-23) (aged 33)
English Channel
Allegiance Flag of the Czech Republic.svg Czechoslovakia
Flag of France.svg France
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg United Kingdom
Service/branch Czechoslovak Army
Czechoslovak Air Force
French Foreign Legion
Armée de l'Air
Royal Air Force
Years of service 1928–42
Rank Wing Commander
Service number 83233
Unit

22nd Infantry Regiment
3rd Artillery Regiment
54th Artillery Regiment
7th Artillery Regiment
Artillery School Olomouc
14th Observation Squadron
Groupe de Chasse I/5

No. 312 Squadron RAF
Commands held

14th Observation Squadron
"B" Flight, 312 Squadron
312 Squadron

Czechoslovak Fighter Wing
Battles/wars

Second World War

Awards

Alois Vašátko DFC (25 August 1908 – 23 June 1942) was a Czechoslovak artillery officer who became an air force pilot. In the Second World War he was a fighter ace, first in the French Air Force in the Battle of France and then in the Royal Air Force.

In the French Air Force Vašátko shot down at least 12 enemy aircraft in May and June 1940. In the RAF he shot down another 14 enemy aircraft between October 1940 and his death in June 1942. He commanded No. 312 (Czechoslovak) Squadron RAF from June 1941 and RAF Fighter Command's Czechoslovak fighter wing from May 1942.

France awarded Vašátko the Croix de guerre 1939–1945 with seven palms, two gold stars and one silver star, and made him a Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur. The United Kingdom awarded him the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Vašátko was killed in action in June 1942 by a mid-air collision over the English Channel between his Supermarine Spitfire and an enemy Focke-Wulf Fw 190.

Early life[edit]

Vašátko was born in 1908 in Čelákovice in central Bohemia. He was one of five children of a cabinet-maker, also called Alois Vašátko, who served in the Austro-Hungarian armed forces and returned from the First World War as an invalid.

When Vašátko was still a child the family moved to Týniště nad Orlicí in northeastern Bohemia, where Vašátko completed secondary school. He then studied at a teacher training college in Hradec Králové and became a schoolteacher in Litoměřice in northern Bohemia.[1]

Czechoslovak armed forces[edit]

On 1 October 1928 Vašátko changed career, joining the Czechoslovak Army as an artilleryman. In 1929 he began training at the military academy in Hranice. In July 1931 he passed out as a Poruchik (junior lieutenant) and was posted to Olomouc in Moravia as commander of the 2nd battery of the 7th Artillery Regiment. On 1 October 1935 he was promoted to Senior Lieutenant.[2]

Also in 1935 Vašátko trained as an air observer at the military aviation school at Prostějov in Moravia. On 31 December 1936 he transferred from the Army to the Czechoslovak Air Force.[2] On 15 November 1937 he was appointed commander of the 14th Observation Squadron of the 2nd "Dr Edvard Beneš" Air Regiment stationed at Olomouc, which was equipped with Letov Š-328 reconnaissance aircraft.[1]

On 30 September 1938 France and the United Kingdom allowed Germany to annexe the Sudetenland. Vašátko continued his training and on 1 March 1939 he qualified as a pilot.[1] On 15 March Germany occupied the remainder of Bohemia and Moravia and imposed a Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia with a puppet government that it ordered to dissolve its armed forces. The Czechoslovak Air Force ceased to exist, and the Luftwaffe confiscated its aircraft.

Leaving the protectorate was not allowed, but many airmen chose to do so illegally. In July 1939 Vašátko passed through the now independent Slovak Republic and over the Beskid mountain range into Poland, where he reported to the Czechoslovak Consulate in Kraków. On 28 July he and other Czechoslovaks left Gdynia aboard the Polish ocean liner Chrobry.

French Air Force[edit]

Vašátko disembarked in France, where Czechoslovak refugees were not yet allowed to join the Armée de l'air. After France declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939 Czechoslovaks were allowed to join the French Foreign Legion. Only after 17 November were they allowed to the Armée de l'air.

Vašátko enlisted and was trained at the Centre d'Instruction de la Chasse ("Fighter Training Centre") at Chartres air base. On 1 May 1940 he was promoted to Captain. On 10 May Germany invaded the Netherlands and Belgium and attacked France.

Armée de l'air Curtiss H-75 fighters flying in close formation in June 1940

The next day Vašátko and fellow-Czechoslovaks Adolf Vrána and Tomáš Vybíral were posted to the Groupe de Chasse I/5 "La Fayette", which was equipped with new Curtiss H-75-C1 fighter aircraft.

Vašátko quickly became a fighter ace. By the end of the six-week campaign he was credited with shooting down 12 German aircraft and probably two more.[3] France awarded him the Croix de guerre, to which it added seven palms, two gold stars and one silver star. He was made a Chevalier of the Légion d'honneur.

After France capitulated to Germany on 22 June 1940, GC I/5 withdrew to French Algeria. Vašátko left and travelled via Morocco to Gibraltar, whence he went by ship to Cardiff in Wales.

Royal Air Force[edit]

Armourers of 312 Squadron prepare ammunition belts, with Vašátko's Hurricane Mk I fighter, DU-J, in the background

The United Kingdom quickly agreed to enlist Czechoslovak airmen in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. Vašátko was commissioned as a Pilot Officer and retrained to fly Hurricane Mk I aircraft. He was posted to the newly formed No. 312 (Czechoslovak) Squadron RAF, where he was allocated to Yellow Flight with Sergeant Josef Stehlík and led by Flight Lieutenant Denys Gillam.[4]

By October 1940 the squadron was stationed at RAF Speke outside Liverpool. About 16:00 hrs on 8 October a lone Luftwaffe Junkers Ju 88 medium bomber of Kampfgeschwader 2/806 was sighted flying up the River Mersey. Yellow Flight was scrambled, with Vašátko flying Hurricane L1926, code letters DU-J. All three fighters machine-gunned the Ju 88, killing its observer and setting fire to its two engines. At 16:15 the bomber made a forced landing in a field near Bromborough Dock and the surviving crew were captured.[4][5]

RAF Spitfire Mk VB fighter in flight

The RAF promoted Vašátko to Flight Lieutenant on 28 October 1940, and on 7 November he was given command of "B" flight of 312 Squadron. On 5 June 1941 Vašátko was appointed to command the whole of 312 Squadron. In October the squadron converted from Hurricanes to Supermarine Spitfires. Vašátko was promoted to Squadron Leader on 5 June 1941.

The RAF had three Czechoslovak-manned fighter squadrons: 310 Squadron, 313 Squadron and Vašátko's 312 Squadron. In 1942 it grouped them into a Czechoslovak fighter wing to operate together. On 1 May Vašátko was made its commanding officer and on 30 May 1942 he was promoted to Wing Commander.[2]

Vašátko continued the run of victories he had begun in France. He is credited with shooting down four enemy aircraft single-handed, another ten jointly with other airmen, and probably two more.[6]

Death[edit]

By June 1942, 312 Squadron was based at RAF Exeter.[1] On 23 June a force of Douglas Boston light bombers was sent on a "Ramrod" raid[7] to bomb an airfield in Brittany.[1] Vašátko commanded the bombers' fighter escort, which comprised Spitfire Mk VB aircraft from all three squadrons of the Czechoslovak fighter wing.[8][9]

One of the 7./JG 2 Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighters that intercepted Vašátko's Spitfire escorts on 23 June 1942

As the raiding force was returning to England a Staffel of Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighters of Jagdgeschwader 2 "Richthofen" from Morlaix airfield intercepted them over the English Channel. The escorts successfully defended the bombers and destroyed two Fw 190s, but seven Spitfires were also destroyed.

Vašátko's Spitfire collided in mid-air with an Fw 190 flown by Unteroffizier Wilhelm Reuschling of 7./JG 2, destroying both aircraft. Reuschling baled out, was rescued from the sea off Start Point, Devon and made a prisoner of war, but Vašátko went down with his 'plane and his body was never recovered.[1][7][10]

Achievements and honours[edit]

Vašátko became a fighter ace twice: first in the Battle of France and again in the RAF. Among RAFVR Czechoslovak fighter aces, only Sqn Ldr Karel Kuttelwascher and Sgt Josef František shot down more aircraft than Vašátko. As a Wing Commander, Vašátko was one of the RAF's most senior Czechoslovak officers in front-line service. Vašátko had just been awarded his DFC on the day of his death. The Inspector-General of the Czechoslovak Air Force, Air Commodore Karel Janoušek, called Vašátko's death "the most cruel blow to our entire air force".[11]

Monuments and memorials[edit]

Vašátková street in the Černý Most suburb of Prague

In 1945 after Germany surrendered, two Czechoslovak postage stamps commemorating Vašátko were issued. The first has a face value of 50 hellers and the second has a face value of five Czechoslovak crowns.[1]

On 23 June 1946, the fourth anniversary of Vašátko's death, a memorial plaque was unveiled at his birthplace in Čelákovice.[12] On 23 June 2012 the 70th anniversary of his death was commemorated with a ceremony at his monument, which included a flypast by two Czech Air Force Saab JAS 39 Gripen multirole combat aircraft.[7]

Three streets are named "Vašátková" after him. One is in Čelákovice[12] where he was born and another is in Týniště nad Orlicí[1] where he grew up. The other is in the Černý Most suburb of Prague,[13] which has streets named after numerous Second World War Czechoslovak airmen who served in the French Air Force or the RAF.

On 3 March 1948 the Czechoslovak Air Force named its 4th Fighter Regiment "Vašátko",[2] but in a reorganisation in 1950 it was renumbered the 6th Air Regiment and ceased to carry his name.[14]

As Vašátko has no known grave, his name is recorded on the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede in Surrey.[7][15]

Awards[edit]

Legion Honneur Chevalier ribbon.svg Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur.
Croix de Guerre 1939-1945 ribbon with stars and palm.png Croix de guerre with seven palm leaves, two golden stars and one silver star
Uk dfc rib.png Distinguished Flying Cross
1939-45 Star & Battle of Britain clasp.png 1939–1945 Star with Battle of Britain clasp
Ribbon - Air Crew Europe Star.png Air Crew Europe Star
Czechoslovak War Cross 1939-1945 (3x) Bar.png Czechoslovak War Cross 1939–1945 three times
Czechoslovak Medal for Bravery before the Enemy Rib.png Československá medaile Za chrabrost před nepřítelem ("Bravery in Face of the Enemy") twice
TCH CS voj med Za zasluhy hvezda ribbon.svg Československá medaile za zásluhy, 1. stupně ("Medal of Merit, First Class")
TCH CS voj pametni medaile (F-VB) BAR.svg Pamětní medaile československé armády v zahraničí ("Commemorative Medal of the Czechoslovak Army Abroad") with France and Great Britain bars

Vašátko has received numerous posthumous awards. The Czechoslovak government-in-exile promoted to him to Major on 28 October 1942 and Lieutenant-Colonel on 1 May 1944. On 11 November 1949 Vašátko was awarded the Military Order of the White Lion 1st class. In 1991 the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic promoted him to Colonel. On 7 March 1992 it promoted him again to Major-General and awarded him the Milan Rastislav Stefanik Order 3rd class.[2]

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "Alois Vášátko" (in Czech). Týniště nad Orlicí. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d e Rajlich 2005, pp. 223–224.
  3. ^ Rajlich 1998, p. 209.
  4. ^ a b "08/10/1940 - Junkers Ju88 Wk No 4068". Speke. South Lancs Aviation. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  5. ^ Kolesa 1991, pp. 16–17.
  6. ^ Shores & Williams 1995, p. 605.
  7. ^ a b c d "Alois Vasatko 70th Anniversary". Free Czechoslovak Air Force. 25 June 2012. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  8. ^ Saunders 1914, pp. 99–102.
  9. ^ Nutkins, Geoff (26 October 2011). "Unintentional Gift". Free Czechoslovak Air Force. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  10. ^ Owen 2015, p. 286.
  11. ^ "nejkrutější ránu pro celé naše letectvo", Rajlich 2005, pp. 223–224
  12. ^ a b "Pamětní deska Alois Vašátko". Spolek pro vojenská pietní místa (in Czech). Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  13. ^ "Alois Vašátko". Život v Praze 14 (in Czech). Městská Část Praha 14. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  14. ^ Fidler & Rajlich 2000, p. 102.
  15. ^ "Wing Commander Vasatko, Alois". Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Retrieved 5 November 2017.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Brown, Alan (2000). Airmen in Exile, The Allied Air Forces in WWII. Stroud: Sutton Publishing. ISBN 0-7509-2012-2.
  • Fidler, Jiří; Rajlich, Jiří (2000). Soumrak králů vzduchu: Československé vojenské letectvo 1945–1950 (in Czech). Prague: Ares. p. 102. ISBN 80-86158-24-1.
  • Kolesa, Václav (1991). Souboj na obloze (in Czech). III. Zlínek. pp. 16–17.
  • Loucký, František (1989). Mnozí nedoletěli (in Czech). Prague: Naše vojsko. p. 226. ISBN 80-206-0053-1.
  • Owen, David (2015). Dogfight: The Supermarine Spitfire and The Messerschmitt BF 109. Barnsley: Pen and Sword Books. ISBN 978-1-4738-2806-3.
  • Rajlich, Jiří (1998). Na nebi sladké Francie: Válečný deník československých letců ve službách francouzského letectva 1939–1945 (in Czech). 2. Prague: Ares. p. 209. ISBN 80-86158-04-7.
  • Rajlich, Jiří (2005). "Vašátko, Alois". In Láník, Jaroslav. Vojenské osobnosti československého odboje 1939–1945 (in Czech). Prague: Ministerstvo obrany České republiky-Agentura vojenských informací a služeb (AVIS). pp. 223–224. ISBN 80-7278-233-9.
  • Saunders, Andy (2014). Arrival of Eagles: Luftwaffe Landings in Britain 1939–1945. London: Grub Street. pp. 99–102. ISBN 1909808121.
  • Shores, Christopher; Williams, Clive (1994). Aces High (2nd ed.). London: Grub Street. p. 605. ISBN 1898697000.
  • Vrána, Adolf (2006). Letec Alois Vašátko: 1087 dní odboje štábního kapitána letectva Aloise Vašátky (in Czech) (3 ed.). Prague: Toužimský & Moravec. p. 212. ISBN 80-7264-078-X.