Blackbushe, 5 October 1945


Remains of the burnt out fuselage of Liberator GR VI, PP-N, KG867

In World War 2, whilst serving in the RAF, 511 Czechoslovak airmen lost their lives. Of these approximately 40% were killed in flying or training accidents.

The most tragic of these accidents happened on 5 October 1945. Wartime hostilities had been over for some months and on board the Liberator aircraft were Czechoslovak women and children being repatriated to their recently liberated homeland.

In the immediate post war period the Liberator aircraft of 311 Sqn, since August based at Ruzyně airport at Prague, were now used for the repatriation of Czechoslovak citizens and stores from England back to Prague. To facilitate this new role, the bomb bay of the aircraft having temporary wooden flooring and makeshift wooden benches for passenger seating.

Liberator GR VI, PP-N, KG867 had been originally scheduled for take-off on 4 October, from Blackbushe airfield, but after three attempts to take-off were aborted due to a engine problem the pilot, P/O Jaroslav Kudláček, returned the aircraft to the hanger so that the problem could be rectified. Following inspection, mechanics commenced the required remedial work and the flight was re-schuduled for the following day. The passengers were put into temporary overnight accommodation on the airfield.

The following morning the original passenger manifest had been changed. Two of the original passengers, W/O Pavel Svoboda, a Air Gunner and LACW 1st class Edita Sedláková 19, a WAAF ground Wireless Operator, both still serving in 311 Sqn, were told that they were no longer on the passenger manifest and their seats had been allocated to two other passengers.

Typical Liberator VI, with Czech markings, as for used for transporting personnel

Liberator KG867 took-off from Blackbushe airfield, Hampshire, UK, at 12:43 hrs in good weather conditions. The flight was authorised for the repatriation of Czech nationals to Prague. On board were 23 people. They included the crew of: pilot – P/O Jaroslav Kudláček, co-pilot: W/O Antonín Brož, navigator: P/O Karel Rybníček, Wireless Operator: F/O Bohumil Vaverka, Flight Engineer: F/Sgt Zdeněk Sedlák. On the passenger manifest were 17 passengers including 9 women and 5 children, a authorised total of 22 people. It was later found that a stowaway had also been on board.

The pilot, 25 years old P/O Jaroslav Kudláček, had 1,421 flying hours to his credit. His experience as a pilot on four-engined aircraft was 512 hours day and night, most of which was on Liberators. During his attachment with Transport Command his experience was 44 hours. This was due to be his last flight as a pilot. He had just returned from a very brief visit to his wife and newborn son at Wolverhampton Hospital, and the following day would be the fourth birthday of their 1st son.

About 3 minutes after take-off, at an altitude of about 500 feet, witnesses on the ground, saw that the aircraft was on fire which was intense and appeared to be located around the inner port engine. The fire developed rapidly and it was obvious that the pilot was endeavouring to return to the airfield. The aircraft was losing height. About 1½ miles short of the airfield, it developed a steep turn to port. With the port wing facing down it was diving at an angle of 30 deg. At high speed, the port wing tip clipped a hedgerow which caused the aircraft to spin, the port engine then hit the ground causing the aircraft to cartwheel, disintegrate and burst into flames when it hit the ground. The force of the impact caused one of the starboard engines to be thrown about 200 yards into a ajoining field. All the occupants on board were killed. The aircraft had been airborne about 5 minutes. This was the first major air disaster at Blackbushe airfield.

George Greenwood, at the time serving with 4167 Sqn at Blackbushe, was an eye-witness. He recalled: ‘I remember that on the other side of the airfield was a Czech unit from Coastal Command. They had B-24 Liberators painted with white overhaul with camoflage upper surfaces, they had arrived on the airfield for demiliterizing and civilian preparation in readiness for going back to Czechoslovakia. Although they were on the other side of the airfield we all got to know about the Czechs and that they were all getting ready to go home. All the Liberators were air-tested for the coming journey, and all passed with flying colours. But on the day it came for 311 Sqn to leave the UK, one B-24 failed to take-off, having to abort take-off on at least three occasions with a faulty engine. It was held back at Blackbushe until repairs could be carried out on the engine, and would then leave solo for the homward journey to Czechoslovakia’. He remembered seeing KG863 being worked on, and all that day he remembered them having trouble with a faulty engine.

‘The following day, they loaded that B-24 with as many people as they could get onto it. Women, children, men etc., then the aircraft took-off and I believe it was either a Friday or a Saturday. It climbed out and completed the normal circuit of the aerodrome, then he said ‘we all watched as a great plume of black smoke came back from one of the engines. The aircraft just rolled over and dived into a heavily wooded area a couple of miles a couple of miles from the airfield’. He recalls everybody on the airfield was stunned to silence at the terrible tragedy.

An eye witness to the crash was Mrs Burke, who still lives in the area. At the time of the crash she was 12 years old and helping to pick potatoes with the farmer and other people in a nearby field. She recalls that: ‘when the aircraft flew over them with one wing slightly down, it was on fire and flames were coming from the back of one the engines. The engines on the other side were running very fast. Then there was an explosion when it hit the ground out of their sight. She remembered the farmer telling the children to pick a large potato and take it home to cook. We made our way down the lane towards the crash but we were all stopped.

Nobody was allowed to go anywhere near the crash. There were many lorries and people at the site for almost a week investigating the wreckage’.

Another eye witness, Ms Brenda Hitchings, who lived at a farm 300 yards from the crash, with her parents, recalled ‘hearing a tremendous crash, they ran out of the house and ran towards the crashed aircraft but were unable to get any of the occupants out because of the intense heat’. 

In an interview by Barry Kudláček some years later, W/O Aladár Pokorný (Berry), a 311 Sqn Wireless Operator at that times, recalled:

‘I was the wireless operator on the 2nd Liberator, and preparing for take off. I was told by control tower to taxi onto the perimeter track, and that there would be a delay. I was not informed what the delay was for. I don’t remember seeing any smoke. We were told when we got to Prague. Your father had been a good friend, and I was very sad to hear that there had been an accident.’

Remains of passenger compartment.

The accident was reported in the Gloucester Echo newspaper the following day:

Report on the crash of a Czech Air Force Liberator yesterday (5th).

All 22 on board were killed. The aircraft was returning home with Czech civilians including women and children. 23 bodies were recovered, the unknown passenger was a woman.

The aircraft crashed at Elvetham, Hants, a village within 2 miles of Blackbushe, after take-off. The aircraft was well clear of the ground and at a fair altitude when it seemed to burst into flames. It came down in a sugar-beet field on the estate of Sir Fitzroy Calthorpe.

Five gypsies trimming sugar beet had a narrow escape, when the aircraft crashed 200 yds away. They were sitting around a fire, having a meal. The passenger list has 17 names and 5 crew (22 total. The Czech authorities are trying to discover the identity of the unknown woman. A mother, husband and 2 two 18 month old twins were amongst the dead. Also Miss Marina Pauliny, Vice Chairman of Czech Red Cross.

Starboard wing in area of ground fire

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The accident investigation report stated that the aircraft took-off from Blackbushe at 14:20 hrs, flown by a very experienced pilot P/O Kudlacek with a total number of flying hours totaling 1,420, 500 of which being on the type of aircraft in question, the B24 Liberator. Two minutes after take-off the port inner caught fire, the aircraft then rolled over and dived into the ground. The report states that all on board would have been killed instantly in the crash. When the rescue services arrived on the site, the aircraft had been totally burnt out leaving very little to investigate. But it was thought that a member of the crew may have pushed the wrong extinguisher button when trying extinguish the port engine.

The aircraft had struck the ground initially with the port wing tip at low speed and cartwheeled. The disintegrated wreckage was scattered forward about 250 yards. Fire broke out immediately after impact and caused extensive damage to the structure. Portions of burnt cowlings were found about ½ mile back along of the track of the aircraft and which had come adrift due to the fire in the air on the port inner engine. The port port inner engine which had been torn from its location had rolled a further 100 yards forward of the main wreckage and ground fire and was found resting in a grass field.

The distribution of the wreckage suggests that the aircraft struck the ground whilst in a steep turn to port and out of control.

The accident examination examination report for this crash concluded that:

The accident was due to loss of control following an outbreak of fire at the port inner engine.

The fire was caused by the failure and subsequent leakage of fuel from the fuel pressure pipe. The failure of this pipe originated from chafing against a clip.

Fuel pressure pipe (carb. to oil dilution valve) and type of clip on fuel feed pipe. Note: Split in pipe coincides with sharp edge of clip.

Showing relationship of fuel pipe and clip when installed. Note: Split in pipe coincides with sharp edge of clip.

Ignition of the free fuel or vapour was most likely from the shrouded exhaust pipe to the turbo.

Loss of control was most likely caused by fire damage to the wing structure and possibly also the failure of the port outer engine from fuel starvation once the fuel feed pipe to that engine had burnt through.

No fire warning devices are fitted to this type of aircraft. Both CO2 fire extinguisher bottles were recovered and examined with both being found to have been discharged. The extinguisher operating head, whilst having received impact damage, was found with the port selector set to the ‘OFF’ position and the starboard selector was set to No. 3 engine (starboard inner). The evidence suggests that the wrong fire extinguisher was inadvertently operated.

The layout of the fire extinguisher panel leaves much to be desired. It is situated on the floor on the right hand side of the cockpit and is partially obstructed by the handle of the emergency hydraulics pump. It is the co-pilots duty to operate this extinguisher on instructions issued by the pilot. Misunderstanding could, therefore, easily take place.

Although the unsatisfactory features of (i) an unauthorised passenger being on board and (ii) the unserviceable state of the engine oil filters which were brought to light during the investigation, neither of these aspects are considered to have any direct bearing on the accident.

Starboard inner engine.

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The lucky person that day was W/O Pavel Svoboda 311 Sqn Air Gunner and former PoW was on the original passenger manifest for that flight but shortly before take-off he was informed that another passenger would be taking his place instead. Pavel had already written to his father in Prague advising him that he would be arriving that day. Pavel had a parcel for his father, as he was no longer able to be on the flight, Pavel asked Jaroslav Kudláček to take the parcel to give to his father for him, which he agreed to do. This lucky escape for Pavel was the 2nd time that he had cheated death.

In a interview, with Barry Kudláček, some years later, Pavel Svoboda recalled the events at Blackbushe 4th and 5th October 1945, as follows:

‘On the 4th of October 1945, I was to leave England for Czechoslovakia, on board a 311 Sqdn Liberator Bomber as a passenger. Just prior to take off, there was a problem with one of the 4 engines, and we taxied back to the terminal, where we disembarked. Later we were told that the flight would not take place until the next day. We spent a very unpleasant night, due to a lack of accommodation, especially the women with children.

On the 5th October, we were informed that the flight was to take place approx. midday. Unfortunately my name was taken off the manifest to go, and I was replaced by reason I was never informed. I was truely disappointed about this. I had a parcel; with presents for my family back home. I approached your father [Jaroslav Kudláček], the pilot of the Liberator and my friend, and asked why I was taken off the flight, and he said that he hadn’t been told. I asked him if he would take my parcel, and give it to my father on their arrival. This was no problem for him. I watched the Liberator off, then I returned into the building.

At first I was unaware that there had been an accident with the A/C. There became a lot of activity on the airfield, and the following Liberator was taken back to the hanger area. It appeared fate was on my side for the second time’.

The unlucky person that day was LACW 1st class Edita Sedláková, a WAAF 311 Sqn Wireless Operator, who was also on the original passenger manifest and was the wife of F/Sgt Zdenek Sedlák. She had originally arranged with her brother, who had already returned to Prague, to meet her at Prague’s Ruzně airport, when her Liberator would arrive from England. On 5 October, shortly before take-off, she was last seen close to the aircraft, near the luggage as it was being loaded onto the aircraft. Either by herself, or with the assistance of the crew, she boarded the aircraft, and was the stowaway on this flight.

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On board the Liberator for the fateful flight had been:

KUDLÁČEK Jaroslav, P/O, 311 Sqn., Pilot, 25

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* 09/12/19, Chrudim, Czechoslovakia

† 05/10/45, Blackbushe, UK

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.BROŽ Antonín, W/O, 311 Sqn., Co-Pilot, 31

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* 29/10/13, Hradec Králové, Czechoslovakia

† 05/10/45, Blackbushe, UK

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.RYBNÍČEK Karel, P/O, 311 Sqn., Navigator, 26

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* 05/02/19, Kozlov, Žďár nad Sázavou, Czechoslovakia

† 05/10/45, Blackbushe, UK

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.VAVERKA Bohumil, F/O, 311 Sqn., Wireless Operator, 30

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* 23/10/14, Milokošť, Hodonín, Czechoslovakia

† 05/10/45, Blackbushe, UK

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.SEDLÁK Zdeněk, F/Sgt, 311 Sqn., Flight Engineer, 33

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* 29/07/12, Prague, Czechoslovakia

† 05/10/45, Blackbushe, UK

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Passengers:

LICHTENSTEINOVÁ Růžena, 25

OBRAZOVÁ Marta, 37

PAULINYOVÁ Marina, 46 [vice-chairman of the Czechoslovak Red Cross in London]

RICHTER Michal, 40

ROSENBLUMOVÁ Anna, 30

ROSENBLUM Jiři, 2

ŠAFRANEK Antonie, 33

ŠAFRANKOVÁ Eva, 3

SCHWARZ Otto, 43

SOBĚSLAVSKY Ladíslav, 1

SOBĚSLAVSKÁ Margita, 30

SOBĚSLAVSKÁ Marenka, 1

TRINKS Ota, 37

TRINKSOVÁ Irma, 28

WODAKOVÁ Helena, 24

ŽALDOVÁ Greta, 27

ŽALDOVÁ Helena, 2

SEDLÁKOVÁ Edita, LACW 1st class, 311 Sqn., Wireless Operator, 19

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* 03/03/26, Plzeň, Czechoslovakia

† 05/10/45, Blackbushe, UK

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All onboard the aircraft are interred at Brookwood Cemetery, Surrey, UK. The aircrew are in the Czechoslovak section of the CWWG Military Cemetery.




The passengers are in a communal grave in the civilian area of the cemetery.

On 1 November, a memorial plaque by the communal grave, for Edita Sedláčová, was unveiled. .


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In the Autumn of 2009, following research into the crash by aviation archaeologist Colin Lee, permission was obtained from the landowners for the Kudláček brothers to visit the site of their father’s crash.

2009, Barry and Eldon Kudláček at the crash site of their father

Despite the crash site having being cleared after the accident, some sixty three years earlier, the three still found some crash remains on the ground.

A piece of the windscreen perspex found at the crash site 2009

Article last updated 30 May 2012

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This entry was posted in 311 Sqd, Not Forgotton. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Blackbushe, 5 October 1945

  1. francesca lonsdale says:

    I am the very proud grand daughter of Bohumil Vaverka. Would like to keep the heroic memories alive …..

    • Michael Robert Hermann says:

      I have a group photograph of your grandfather.

      If you contact me via this website I will send it to you.

      Regards

      Mike

  2. David Grundy says:

    Hi,

    My name is David Grundy and Antonin Broz was my grandfather.
    Thank you so much for sharing this article. For me it had filled in a lot of the gaps that surrounded his death, and the circumstances that led to his death.
    Antonin was survived his wife, Nancy, who is still alive and his daughter, who was 1 at the time of his death.
    My grandmother, an English national, briefly lived in Trebechovice, in the CR, but returned to the UK and has lived in the Midlands ever since.
    Discussions, around my grandfathers death, are still emotive subjects
    Thank you again. David

    • Alan says:

      Hello David,
      In researching my family through Ancestry.co.uk I have only this week discovered info on Antonin. If I have got correct info Nancy(nee Hodson) is my cousin, her mother Frances
      (nee Johnson) was my father’s sister.
      I would be most grateful if you could confirm or otherwise.
      Best wishes
      Alan

  3. Trevor A. Williams. says:

    I was so pleased for you Barry when you finally got to find and visit the crash site where your Father and his crew were killed. It must bring some sort of closure to an incident that you have had to grow up with for many years. Now together with this article they can take their place in the long line of tributes we pay to all those who lost their young lives in defence of Mother England and in your Father’s case their homeland……Czechoslovakia ……..this Country owes so very much to those from Europe and our Commonwealth as well as America…..who put their young lives on the line for us and humanity………

  4. adrian kudlacek says:

    its the first time that i have took in the enormity of what happened

  5. Jitka Brynjolffssen says:

    My name is Jitka Brynjolffssen, (Žaludová). Greta Žaludová was my father’s first wife. Like in the comment above, thank you for publishing this article, which gives such good account what had happened on the tragic day.
    I have visited Brookwood cemetery and paid respect to the dead few times now since the help from http://forum.valka.cz in 2008 to locate the graves.

  6. Rchard Wells says:

    Tragic story. RIP

  7. Michael Hermann says:

    Thank you very much for publishing this.

    I am sure it is the most detailed and accurate record that has ever been made of this tragedy

    I am the nephew of Edith Sedlakova (Hermannova).

    Edith did not get the benefit of a military grave but, with assistance, an application has been made for Edith’s wartime services as a WAAF to be recognised.

    I am pleased that I was able to help in a very small way with this project.

    Michael Hermann

    • lynda catherine vlasta vaverka says:

      My name is Lynda Catherine Vlasta Vaverka, daughter of F/O Bohumil Vaverka 311 sqd.
      This article is the first version of the tragic accident which I have seen, there has always been alot of mystery surrounding the event and nothing has ever been clear.

      • Shane Mundell (Harrison) says:

        Hi Lynda, I remember you speaking about this when we were at school. So glad you finally have some answers. Shane

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