Czech Tribute Spitfire

Captain Alois Vašátko 

25 August 1908 – 23 June 1942

Vašátko was born in 1908 in Čelákovice in central Bohemia. He was one of five children.

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

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. 

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. On 15 November 1937 he was appointed commander of the 14th Observation Squadron of the 2nd "Dr Edvard Beneš" Air Regiment stationed at Olomouc. On 30 September 1938 France and the United Kingdom allowed Germany to annexe the Sudetenland.

Continuing his training and on 1 March 1939 he qualified as a pilot. On 15 March Germany occupied the remainder of Bohemia and Moraviaand imposed a Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, and with its puppet government 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.

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 quickly became a fighter ace. He was credited with shooting down 12 German aircraft and 2 probables . 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, his squadron ,GC I/5 withdrew to French Algeria. Vašátko left it and traveled via Morocco to  Gibraltar, whence he went by ship to Cardiff in Wales.

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.

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.

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.

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

With his Spitfire out of ammunition, Vašátko rammed 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, but Vašátko's Spitfire was seen to dive into the sea off Dartmouth, his body was never recovered.

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.