Wing Commander Alois Vaátko DFC, DSO
I recently found that one of our relative's father was Alois Vaátko. Alois or (The Great Amos) served in the RAF during World War 2 and this article is dedicated to Alois and all those who fought in the two major wars of the last century and the other conflicts that extracted the highest toll from many of those who took part. I was born 12 years after the second world war and so know nothing of the hardships or trauma of those times. I have however ensured that I understand the background behind these conflicts and never forget that we live in a society made possible by our forefathers. The members of our family who perished in defence of this country can be viewed at the War Memorial Pages on this site click here.
The few, as we know them, were not just British pilots but numbered flyers and ground crew from around the Commonwealth (British Empire) and those who were expelled from Europe through the overrunning of France and the Low Countries. Arriving in the UK, were Polish, French, Czechoslovak and other Europeans eager to participate in the future freedom of their countries by fighting from the UK's shores until a new invasion could be planned and mounted. One Czech pilot was Alois Vaátko. When Winston Churchill spoke those memorable words, "Never was so much owed by so many to so few" we can be certain that these brave young men from all over Europe, the Commonwealth and North America were also in his mind.
Alois was born in 1908 in Celakovice, Czechoslovakia. Wing Commander Vaátko was a very famous pilot and the commander of the Czechoslovak squadrons and later the Czechoslovak Fighter Wing in the RAF. All the pilots, when talking about him, use words like "remarkable", "outstanding", and "exceptional". He made 15 kills in the battle of France (shared kills were credited to all the participating pilots as a kill in the French Air Force), flying Curtiss 75's in the Groupe de Chasse I/75, sharing the 2nd and 3rd place in the top aces list with Captain Accart. (at the end of Battle of France, one quarter of the French Air Force consisted of Czechoslovak pilots).
In England he had a 1/3 share of a JU 88 and a probable 109, a probable 190, and a confirmed 190. He was awarded three Czechoslovak War Crosses, the Czechoslovak Medal For Bravery, he was a Knight of the French Legion d'Honneur, he also had a Croix de Guerre with seven palms, 2 Gold and one Silver Star and a DFC. He was further awarded the Order of the White Lion (Highest Czech Order) in Memoriam and on the 7th March 1992 was promoted to the rank of Major General in Memoriam. Alois was also awarded the DSO. He has also been called "the man from the postage stamp" because he had his portrait placed on an issue of Czechoslovak stamps published after the war. I understand that Alois was also awarded the 1939-1945 Star with Battle of Britain Clasp and the Air Crew Europe Star although I am still trying to confirm these.
The DFC has been awarded to him, tragically, on the very same day that he died.
Focke Wolf 190The 312th Squadron, RAF, was set up on the 29th August 1940 from Czechoslovak aviators, who came to Britain after the defeat of France by the Germans. They were the elite of the Czechoslovak Air Force, who, in France, fought in the front units and accounted for a number of aerial victories.
Many of them flew in France for the Groupe de Chasse I/5 "Escradrile des Cygelines". The squadron crest originates from the name of their unit - "The Storks".
312 Squadron participated in the last phase of the Battle of Britain, and then fought over England and the Continent for the rest of the war. On May the 3rd it became a part of the Czechoslovak Fighter Wing. Previous commander of 312, Wing Commander Alois Vaátko, became the new commander of this unit. 312 Squadron had successfully participated in the air combat over Dieppe, provided air cover in Normandy and then fought during the liberation of Europe.
Aircraft of 312 Squadron
The Squadron flew the Hurricane Mk.I, and then Spitfires from the Mk. II through to the Mk. IX. Alois flew a Supermarine Spitfire Mk. VB BM592 "AV" at the time of his tragic accident.
Fighters Over The Channel
An account from Fighters Over The Channel.
"On the 23rd of June, 1942 the Czechoslovak Fighter Wing (310, 312, 313 squadrons) took
off at 18:20 from Exeter for "Ramrod 23", an escort of six Bostons to the
Morlaix airfield. They have successfully escorted the buffs, fought off an attack by
III/JG2 Focke Wolfs (2 190 kills, one 190 damaged, no own losses) and turned back for
England. Just then a group of about 29 Focke Wolf 190s led by Hans "Assi"
Hahn was climbing to catch them on return to base, and the RAF squadrons have been warned
by their ground control.
"Hello Maiden blue and green, break away! Attacking!" orders Wing Commander Alois Vaátko. The formation of 312th squadron breaks up and eight pilots of the blue and green flight led by their wing leader start for a counter-attack. At that moment none of the Czechs knew that they had just heard their commander's last words. Between the eight Spitfires fly from high up about ten Focke Wolf 190s from 7/JG2 led by oberleutenant Egon Mayer. Vaátko sharply pulls his spitfire BM592 with his personal initials AV on the fuselage into a right-hand climbing turn and then it happened..."
"Spitfire collides from down under into one of the attackers. Focke Wolf 190 A-3 (W.Nr.0330] with a white 2 on the fuselage shuddered. Its pilot, Unteroffizier Wilhelm Reuschling from 7/JG2 feels a hard impact, which knocks the stick out of his hand. He reacts automatically and quickly. Opening the fuselage he saves himself on a chute. No one jumps from the Spit. It's falling into the sea, its cockpit crushed and wing partly broken. The engine is still running on full throttle and all guns are firing. Pilot is probably not alive anymore, only his hand is pushing the trigger in a last final seizure. About ten kilometres south from Start Point the Spitfire hits the water. A giant geyser rises and the plane with its pilot disappears. Thus has died the creator and first commander of the Czechoslovak Fighter Wing."
(from "Fighters Over The Channel" by Jiri Rajlich and jiri Sehnal)
An account from "Broken Wings"
"Beware, Focke-Wolfs on the right!" Clearly apparent, 20 enemy planes close in fast from Southeast. "Break formation!" Vaátko commands, "Come on! Attacking!"
He himself pulled his spitfire into a sharp right turn, to catch the first attack. Over the channel, about 10-km south from Start Point peninsula, a wild, merciless combat breaks out. It was 19:35. About ten Focke-Wolf 190s from III/JG2 attack from the sun. The attack has been extremely fast. Our pilots have fought it off, but it has cost them dearly. Flight Lieutenant K. Kasal has had a cannon grenade explode in his cockpit and is wounded on his foot. The Spitfire of Flight Sergeant V. Ruprecht takes two hits, which have damaged the undercarriage. While Kasal lands in Exeter successfully, Ruprecht couldn't open his gear and damages his plane on landing. On the coast near Bold Head Flight Lieutenant Frantisek Perina crashes his Spitfire, too.
Unfortunately, the bad luck for the Czechoslovak Wing didn't end there. In combat, Wing Commander A. Vaátko died. In the very beginning of the engagement, which lasted only a few minutes, one of the attacking Focke-Wolfs has appeared near to him. It has been climbing up fast with an unexpected turn. Vaátko perhaps instinctively pulls his Spitfire BM592 to the side. It all happens in an instant. In a split second the giant grey mass of the enemy machine catches up with him. Horrible impact. Both planes have hit at full speed. Spitfire canopy falls off, helpless plane with a half-broken wing falls into the sea unstoppably. It falls down in a spin, faster and faster, the guns fire for a while, then only the fall. Pilot is unconscious, or.. "
(from "Broken Wings" by Eduard Cejka)
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission has the following information:
In Memory of
Alois Vaátko DFC
312 (Czech) Sqdn., Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve
Who died on
Tuesday, 23rd June 1942
Native of Czechoslovakia
Runnymede Memorial, Surrey, United Kingdom
This Memorial overlooks the River Thames on Cooper's Hill at Englefield Green between Windsor and Egham on the A308, 4 miles from Windsor.
Alois' son wrote to me recently explaining that the RAF and Government of the day did not publish the exploits of the foreign pilots in case their relatives were persecuted. Hence, we see very little about their exploits. Hopefully this small tribute will begin to change that balance. His son has also told me that he was known as Amos, he later found out that this was his nickname and he was also known as the Great Amos. On investigation at the Hendon RAF Museum he found a chapter of a book about Alois. He was estimated to have shot down 17 aircraft in the short time until he himself was killed. There is a statue to him in his birthplace. A few years ago the Czech government posthumously made him a general in recognition of his service. He was awarded medals in Poland and France. Let us hope that we get some more detailed information to add to this area.
The Motto of 312 Squadron Non multi sed multa - "Not many but much". The badge is a stork volant. The stork in the badge relates to the French "Escradrile des Cygelines" with whom the original pilots of 312 Squadron had flown prior to coming to the UK. The squadron was formed at Duxford on 29th August 1940 with Czechoslovak personnel as a fighter unit.
The RAF Battle of Britain site records Alois and Flying Officer R. Ferdinand on its Roll of Honour. Further details can be found at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission site and on the War Casualties page on this site.
Accounts are also found in the following articles/book(s):
"Thanks for the Memory" (Unforgettable Characters in Air Warfare 1939 - 1945) by Laddie Lucas
"Broken Wings" by Eduard Cejka
"Fighters Over The Channel" by Jiri Rajlich and jiri Sehnal