F/Lt Ivo Tonder recalls the day he was shot down and became a prisoner of war :
“The 3rd of June 1942 was a beautiful sunny day. The Czech wing was flying from Warmwell to give top cover to several bombers on their way to bomb something in Cherbourg.
310 Sqn, led by W/Cmdr Vašátko, was leading the formation with 312 Sqn port and 313 Sqn starboard.
I was leading white section of 312 sq on the port of the leading section and F/Lt Dvořák the green section on starboard. The squadron was led by S/Ldr Cermák.
When the bombers crossed the French coast, the wing started the turn for the homerun. We were in a very loose formation as top cover always was. Therefore the squadrons on the wings had to change from port to starboard and vice versa. The same had to be done in each squadron, each section and each pair. You can imagine, that there was a lot of action in the air as 36 aircraft were regrouping. All pilots watching out to avoid collisions.
It was a perfect moment for the Fw-190’s to attack there was no warning on R/T and they came from the sun which at that moment was at 50K. We were taken completely by surprise.
The first 190 I spotted passed me on the starboard coming down from the sun at considerable speed. I just had time to scream my warning “Breakaway port”, turn on my back and went down. As I did that I saw another 190 which overtook me and started to climb. I followed and was on his tail, I fired a short burst without results. Then I got him perfectly in my sights but was losing speed. Never the less I gave him a very long burst. Unfortunately, the recoil of my canons slowed me down so much that my Spit went into a spin.
I made a few turns and straightened out into the company of four 190s. They were completely unprepared for my recovery, which ended about 60 yards behind the tail of the leader of the second pair. My first burst sent him down in smoke. His No.2 followed him down. The remaining two started a dog fight which lasted about four to five minutes. By then I was out of ammunition but they must also have exhausted theirs as they turned for home. I was left alone trying to control my nerves, circling and looking for friend or foe. There was nothing around! I could still see the coast of France and I turned for home, climbing slightly to recover some height. I was checking my plane for damage but could see none.
I continued on my way home wondering where everybody was. Suddenly, I heard two loud bangs, it sounded very much like my own canons. Thinking that I must have overlooked somebody, I turned to see behind my tail, but there was nothing – when I turned back, my cockpit was full of fire. I always dreaded fire; In a split second I undid my harness, opened the cockpit and the door and was out before I started to think.
Going down head first I could see my aircraft going straight, no smoke, no fire, the biggest shock in my life. I just could not believe it. Also, there was nobody around as far as I could see. This stayed engraved in my memory day and night for many months. I was trying to figure out what happened. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that what happened must have been the explosion of the two wireless sets, which could be destroyed by pressing a button in case of a landing in enemy territory.
Unfortunately, my theory was shattered only last year by my best friend, the chief engineering officer of our squadron, he said that it was not possible and what must have happened was that I was hit by a high explosive shell directly in the cockpit. He did not explain why I was not touched or at least my uniform pierced by the hundreds of splinters that must have been flying around. So here I am back with the mystery.
But I had better go on with my journey down on my parachute.
I landed in the drink, blew up my dinghy without trouble, got out my compass and the paddles and started on my journey home. I was not very worried as I thought I must be close to halfway between the Isle of Wight and Normandy and sooner or later some British aircraft will spot me and send rescue.
It happened almost as I expected, with only a minor variation – it was not a British but a German aircraft. First two FWs 190 and after some time a seaplane. It landed 60 to 80 yards from me, a door opened and down the steps out onto the float came an airman armed with a boathook.
I was not very keen to becoming a PoW and foolishly decided to capture his plane. I got my gun out of my boots; the canvas paddles strapped to my arms hid them completely and I was slowly approaching my unsuspecting victim. As he started to reach for the dinghy with his boathook another man stepped out of the door, aiming at me with a Tommy gun. I was all the time a little worried whether my gun would fire properly, having been submerged in water, so I decided not to take the risk.
I opened my hands and my guns went down to the bottom of the channel. So this is how I finished as PoW.
Dvořák was shot down sometime during the first attack. His tail was shot off and he had a hard time to get out of the uncontrollable aircraft. He eventually succeeded but on opening his parachute he got entangled in the cord and his arm was broken. He was transferred to a hospital and arrived at Sagan much later.
He did not get out after the communists took over in Czechoslovakia, was very badly treated and died in the seventies.”
Both Tonder and Dvořák participated in ‘The Great Escape’ from Sagan on the night of 23/24 March 1944 where 76 Allied RAF officers escaped from Stalag Luft III. Of the escapees, Three managed to successfully reach neutral countries; two to Sweden and one to Spain. Of the 73 who were recaptured 50 were murdered by the Gestapo; Tonder and Dvořák were one of the lucky 23. After their recapture, both airmen were sent to Pankrac prison, Prague where they were tried, along with other Czechoslovak RAF PoW’s for being traitors to the Third Reich and received death sentences. The intervention of the International Red Cross resulted in the Germans agreeing that the sentences being suspended until after the war.