Vít Angetter, was a man who fought as a pilot not only in WWII but also, as one of the very few, in the so called Third Resistance, i.e. in the Cold War. He was also the last living pilot from the world-famous defection (or hijack) of three Czechoslovak State Airline aircraft’s to Bavarian Erding and one of a handful of Czechs who had served as CIA pilots during the Cold War.
Angetter was born 25 February 1921 at Přáslavice in the Olomouc district of Czechoslovakia. He started his military career shortly after his nineteenth birthday in March 1940 when he joined the Czechoslovak Air Force in Agde (France), having fled German occupied Czechoslovakia in a single-handed and very adventurous escape via Austria, Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey, Syria and Lebanon. Three months later he left defeated France aboard a ship to England.
He joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve and for the first two years of his UK service – from July 1940 to May 1942 – he served as a aircraft fitter in No. 310 (Czechoslovak) Fighter Squadron, which had shortly after its formation successfully participated in the Battle of Britain. Eventually, he managed to obtain a leave to participate in a fighter pilot training, which he underwent in Canada and Britain. From May 1944 to April 1945 he then fought as a fighter pilot in No. 312 (Czechoslovak) Fighter Squadron. In its ranks, he distinguished himself during the Allied invasion in Normandy, low-level ground attacks in Holland as well as long-range escort duties over Germany.
After the end of War he returned to his country in August 1945 and until October 1947 he then served as a Czechoslovak Air Force officer in the roles of fighter pilot and flying instructor. Subsequently he got a pilot job at Československé Státní Aerolinie [ČSA the Czechoslovak State Airlines]. In contrast to the sweeping purges in the Czechoslovak Army, the repercussions of the February 1948 impacted, at least initially, only individual cases from the ranks of former RAF pilots in service of ČSA.
In the following two years, until March 24, 1950, the company dismissed “only” 26 of them. The problem was that those who remained continued to constitute the most numerous and, more importantly, the most experienced part of the ČSA‘s flying staff. The airlines management therefore at least started shifting them from international to domestic flights, while conducting intensive training of new pilots who were deemed as politically more reliable.
In this situation it became clear that sooner or later even the remaining RAF pilots would be forced to leave their beloved profession. One of the consequences of this anticipated fate was a unique getaway over the Iron Curtain, a coordinated multiple defection or hijack of three ČSA airplanes flown by (former) RAF pilots now employed by ČSA. The event took place on March 24, 1950 when three Douglas C-47 Skytrain (Dakota DC3) airliners took off from Brno, Ostrava and Bratislava but instead of their Prague destination landed at Erding airport near Munich in West Germany.
The outcome of the brilliantly executed plan for the Communist regime was rather pathetic. Although only a small part of the 85 persons on board of the three planes knew about the plan, a total of 27 of them remained abroad and 58 returned to Czechoslovakia. Some of those who had for personal reasons returned to their country later again escaped behind the Iron Curtain. The event was met with huge response on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Although the communist Czechoslovakia requested extradition of the hijackers “as common criminals,” no one was extradited. Moreover, the entire operation had a positive impact on the upcoming US Senate discussion of the reform of the legislature governing the settling of the refugees from communist countries (Displaced Persons Act). The Communist regime had to settle for dismissing the remaining RAF pilots from ČSA even at a price of cuts in air traffic.
Nonetheless, it is indisputable that the multiple hijack did not cause but merely hastened this process. The hijack ringleaders were sentenced in absentia to “the most severe penalties,” while each of the passengers who had failed to return received a 25 year prison sentence. In contrast to the majority of other refugees who wished to settle in Britain, Vít Angetter opted for the USA where he wanted to actively fight against communism.
He signed a two year service contract with USAF. As an experienced pilot he initially wished to volunteer for service in Korea but the Americans offered him another position on the front against communism. He stayed in West Germany and until 1952 he served at the bases in Mildenheim, Munich-Riem and Wiesbaden. Behind the controls of C-47 aircraft he took part in an extremely demanding and risky CIA aerial operation Rollback – Sedsox. During this operation he flew on secret missions above the USSR territory – specifically above Russia, Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. He was delivering paratroopers charged with conducting intelligence, sabotage and organisational activities.
Angetter decided to sign up for the above described CIA work primarily because of the promise that the Agency would help him land a civilian airline pilot job upon the expiration of his contract. Nonetheless, in October 1952 when together with his wife he arrived to the shores of the New World, he did not get the promised airline pilot job because of a US citizenship requirement (he obtained his citizenship only in 1959).
Therefore he started working in a civilian sector as a turner, which was his original vocation. Between 1953 and 1962 he worked for Mikromat company first in New York and later in New Jersey. He started working as a turner and gradually worked his way up to the position of production supervisor. After he had saved some money, he went independent. During the next 24 years, i.e. from 1963 until 1987, owned a New Jersey firm Matric Manufacturing Co. where he had twelve employees.
After his wife fell ill in 1987, they sold the firm and retired to Prescott, Arizona. After November 1989 he first received back his Lieutenant rank, of which he had been stripped in September 1950 by the decision of the Communist minister JUDr. Alexej Čepička and subsequently, in September 1991, forty one years after his degradation, was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel (retired) as a part of the general rehabilitation of Western airmen.
After short illness he died on 24 October 2009 at Phoenix, Arizona, USA.
© PhDr. Jiří Rajlich