One of the Few
…………….* 30.01.1913, Nymburk.
…………….† 20.06.2001, Oxford, UK.
Josef Antonín Jaške was born on 30 January 1913 in Nymburk, a town about 30 km from Prague. There he undertook five years of elementary school and then a further seven years at Nymburk High school, matriculating in 1931. As his father had been a legionnaire in Russia during WW1, Josef decided to follow in his footsteps and chose the military as his career. He joined the Officer’s Cadet School at Josefov and later went to the Military Academy at Hranice.
In 1933, he volunteered for pilot training and was transferred to the Military Aviation Academy at Prostějov for a pilot training course. On completion, he was selected for fighter pilot training and posted to the Military Aviation Academy at Chleb.
Successfully graduating from this course, he was then posted, at the rank of lieutenant, to the 4th Air Regiment of the Czechoslovak Air Force who were stationed at Prague-Kbely airbase and equipped with Avia B-534 biplane fighter aircraft. By the time of the German occupation of Czechoslovakia, on 15 March 1939, he had achieved 880 flying hours.
Within a few days of the occupation, the Czechoslovak Air Force was disbanded by the Germans and all personnel dismissed. Like many of his former Air Force colleagues, Josef could not reconcile himself to the Munich surrender and subsequent occupation. Amongst the now demobilised former members of the Czechoslovak military, rumours were being heard that Czechoslovak military units were being formed in Poland for the purpose of fighting for the freedom of their homeland. Josef was one of many who responded to this news and investigated further. He was put in contact with the Obrana Národa [Defence of the Nation] an underground organisation formed since the German occupation in order to get military personnel to Poland.
Obrana Národa also worked in co-operation with Svaz Letců, the Airman Association of the Czechoslovak Republic and also the Sokol organisation, another patriotic group. These three organisations provided money, courier and other assistance to enable airmen to escape to Poland. Usually, this was by crossing the border from the Ostrava region into neighbouring Poland. On 16 June 1939, with their help, Josef escaped to Poland, and reported for duty to the Czechoslovak Consulate in Krakow.
However, at this stage, the Polish authorities were concerned about Czechoslovaks forming military units on their soil, as they had no wish to antagonise neighbouring Nazi Germany. Instead, arrangements were made with the French Government to transfer the Czechoslovaks to France. As French law did not allow for foreign nationals to serve in its own armed forces, the agreement made was that these Czechoslovaks would have to enlist, for a five year period, in the French Foreign Legion. If and when war broke out they would be transferred back to French units.
Josef was initially placed at the transit camp for escaped Czechoslovak military personnel at nearby Bronowice Małe, a former Polish army barracks on the outskirts of Krakow, whilst travel arrangements to France were made. On 26 July 1939, Josef and 190 other Czechoslovak military escapees were taken by train to the Baltic port of Gydnia, Poland. The following day they boarded the ‘SS Kastelholm’ and sailed to Calais, France This was the third transport ship taking Czechoslovaks to France. Part of the voyage down the Baltic Sea was very rough, even to airmen who were used to flying in turbulent conditions. After a five-day voyage, they arrived in Calais on 31 July 1939.
On arrival in France Josef and his fellow Czechoslovaks were billeted at the Legion’s recruitment centre at Paris but before he could be transferred to the Foreign Legion, war was declared and he was instead transferred to l’Armée de l’Air. He was posted to their training airbase Centre d’Instruction de Chasse at Chartres for re-training on French fighter aircraft and French language lessons. On 2 December 1939, Josef, at the rank of Lieutenant, and fellow Czechoslovaks Jan Klan, Otto Hanzlíček, Ladislav Světlík, František Chábera, Josef Janeba and Vilém Nosek were posted to GC II/ 5 ‘La Fayette’, who were deployed at Toul-Croix-de-Metz airbase and equipped with Curtis H-75c fighter aircraft.
In the Battle of France this unit was to become one of the most successful French units: its pilots destroyed 76 Luftwaffe aircraft, 17 of which were downed by its Czechoslovak pilots.
During the Battle of France, Josef achieved mixed combat success:
On 23 April 1940, Josef was flying Curtis H-75c, no. 198, with French pilots Sgt Salés, Lt Villacéque, Cne Portalis, Sgt Audrain and fellow Czechoslovak Otto Hanzlíček in other Curtis H-75c aircraft. They intercepted and attacked a Luftwaffe Do 17p from I. H/13, near the German border at Sarrelouis. The Do 17p was hit in its right engine causing it to catch fire. The Luftwaffe pilot headed home crossing the border into Germany, pursued by its five French assailants. Near Saarbrücken, the French planes came under fire from German anti-aircraft flak guns. Josef’s Curtis was hit by this flak and the oil feed system to his engine was damaged. He managed to turn back to cross the border to France but the oil leak caused his engine to seize, forcing him to make a belly-landing about 1 km from Pont á Mousson, just inside French territory. Josef escaped uninjured from this crash landing
Josef had another eventful day on 16 May 1940. At 15:15, three GC II/ 5 aircraft were on patrol, flown by Josef, fellow Czechoslovak Ladislav Světlík and Frenchman Jean Gisclon, when they were ordered to attack a formation of 15 Heinkel He III bombers in the Sedan area. Josef was flying Curtis H-75c No 60 and during their first attack he fired at a Heinkel causing both its engines to begin to smoke. As he made his second attack on this Heinkel, its gunner’s return fire hit Josef’s engine causing him to break off the attack and prepare to make a emergency belly landing. As he was approaching a field for that landing, about 3 km from the French village of Damvillers Meuse, about 20 km south of Sedan, at an altitude of about 30mtrs, he was attacked by a Luftwaffe Me 110 and his Curtis H-75c was hit by its canon fire. Josef was uninjured in the crash landing, but his Curtis had received 5 canon and 35 machine gun hits. To add to his woes, Josef was immediately captured by a local farmer, armed with a rifle, who thought him to be a German. That miss-identity was eventually cleared up and Josef was taken by car to rejoin his unit. However the road they were travelling along had been damaged by bombing and an accident happened resulting in Josef being injured and having to spend a week recovering at the hospital at Metz.
The rapid advance of the German Blitzkreig caused GC II /5 to keep retreating westward to avoid capture. By 18 June they were at Perpignan in south-west France. They evacuated to Maison Blanche airbase, in Algeria, on 20 June.
When France capitulated, Czechoslovak airmen were released from l’Armée de l’Air service. Josef and other Czechoslovak airmen travelled by train for four days to Casablanca, Morocco. Here they boarded the MV Royal Scotsman, a passenger and cargo ferry, which sailed on 9 July for Gibraltar arriving the next day. On 21 July 1940, they embarked on the MV David Livingstone which was part of a convoy of 69 vessels They sailed for the UK, arriving in Cardiff on 5 August 1940.
On arrival in England, after security clearance, like most of the Czechoslovaks, Josef’s path first led to the Czechoslovak resettlement camp at Cholmondeley Park, near Chester, arriving there on 8 August. The Battle of Britain was now in progress and there was an urgent need for fighter pilots. As a trained fighter pilot he was quickly admitted to the voluntary reserves of the RAF, at the rank of P/O, on 17 August and transferred to the Czechoslovak RAF Depot, Cosford. On 5 September he was posted to the newly formed 312 (Czechoslovak) Sqn which was stationed at Duxford and were equipped with Hurricane Mk I fighter aircraft, becoming one of its founding members. There, Josef and his fellow Czechoslovak pilots were re-trained to fly Hurricanes as well as having to undertake English lessons to enable at least elementary airborne communication to the required RAF standard.
On 26 September, 312 Sqn, now an operational unit, were re-deployed to Speke airfield, now John Lennon airport, at Liverpool where their role was the defence of the city and its ports from Luftwaffe air raids. Initially, however, poor weather hampered further training of the pilots on their Hurricanes. Josef made his first operational flight on 11 October, flying Hurricane V6846 on a scramble at 15:20 returning at 15:55, but no Luftwaffe aircraft were sighted.
Later the same day, six of the squadron’s Hurricanes were scrambled again to intercept an approaching Luftwaffe aircraft. Take-off was at 17:50 and Josef was flying Hurricane H1807. They were at an altitude of 20,000 feet when they saw a lone Dornier 17z over the coast between Prestatyn and Chester, so they dived down to attack. The Dornier sighted the five Hurricanes and dived in an attempt to escape. Josef fired, at close range, a long burst with the Hurricane’s eight machine guns’ and saw smoke coming from his victim before it went into the cover of the clouds. In this brief combat Josef’s Hurricane was hit by return fire from the Dornier, causing explosive bullet damage to the Hurricane fabric and the spars of the main and tail-plain elevator and aileron. Despite this damage, Josef managed to fly back and safely land at Speke at 18:50. The five Hurricanes exhausted all their ammunition in the attack and returned to Speke. Whilst the Dornier, which had managed to escape from the attack, found one of its engines on fire and subsequently crashed, some 60 miles away, into Caernarvon Bay.
During the Battle of Britain Josef made a total of seven operational flights, totalling 5 hrs 20 min.
For themselves, on 20 December Czechoslovak officers from 312 Sqn arranged a dinner at the Adelphi Hotel, a prestigious hotel near the docks in Liverpool. The event was to celebrate the recent awards made to several members of the squadron by Dr Eduard Benes, the Czechoslovak President in Exile, for their service during the Battle of France that summer, this being the first suitable occasion. The dinner also served as a farewell to Speke for the squadron’s ‘B’ Flight who shortly were departing for Penhros, North Wales, for a four month deployment. During the celebration a severe air raid occurred, lasting several hours, during which a 1000 kg bomb, known as a ‘Herman’ fell in the vicinity of the hotel causing much damage to the nearby Lewis store and surrounding buildings. The blast from the explosion shattered some of the windows in the hotel and S/Ldr Alois Vašátko, P/O Josef Burger, F/Lt Jan Klán and Josef received superficial facial injuries from splinters of flying glass. Josef was considerably shaken up by this experience which kept him from flying duties for a few weeks.
Whilst flying with 312 Sqn, Josef received further promotions: on 1 March 1941 to F/O and on 20 July to F/Lt. On 21 May 1941 he was appointed Flight Commander of 312 Sqn’s ‘A’ Flight. He remained with 312 Sqn until 23 July 1941 when he was posted, at the rank of Acting S/Ldr to the newly formed 313 (Czechoslovak) Sqn as joint Commanding Officer with S/Ldr Gordon Sinclair. Thus Josef became the first Czechoslovak Commanding Officer of the squadron. They were based at Leaconsfield, Yorkshire, and equipped with Spitfire Mk Ia’s .
He remained with 313 Sqn until 15 December 1941 when he was posted to the Czechoslovak Inspectorate General in London. Here he was assigned to 10 Group HQ as Czechoslovak Liaison Officer and on 1 September 1942 as Deputy Czechoslovak Liaison Officer to RAF Fighter Command HQ.
On 26 November 1942 Josef and G/Cpt Čížek, also with the Czechoslovak Inspectorate General, were determined to attend the funeral of Sgt František Remeš who had been killed in a training accident with 53 OTU and was to be buried in Llanvit Cemetery near RAF St Athan in South Wales. The weather was very bad, with visibility below 500 mtrs. The decision to fly, instead of taking the train, was necessary because the railtrack had been damaged by bombing. With G/Cpt Čížek as passenger, Josef was at the controls of a Foster-Wickner Warferry aircraft, ES947 G-AFKU and flying in poor visibility in clouds. At 11:45, having just passed the Port of Cardiff, the aircraft was at an altitude of 1,000 mtrs and hit a barrage-balloon cable over Penarth Point, that tore off the propeller and got embedded in the right wing. The plane went into a corkscrew dive and crashed into Bristol Channel, off Cardiff harbour. G/C Čížek was killed by the impact with the balloon cable and Josef was thrown, without a parachute, from the plane and was seriously injured, landing in the sea of the Bristol Channel.
In 2000, aged 88, Josef recalls of the incident: “Together with the Yugoslav flight attendant Vesna Vulovičová (a Serbian flight attendant who was the sole survivor after a briefcase bomb exploded in the baggage compartment of JAT Flight 367 on 26 January 1972 and survived a fall, without parachute of 10,160 mtrs) I am probably the only one in the world who survived a fall of from that height”
After 70 minutes he was found and rescued by a vessel from No. 45 Air Sea Rescue Marine Craft Unit and taken to hospital. Originally, however, the sailors wanted to take his body to the morgue. “Fortunately, I started screaming, so they took me to the hospital!”
At hospital the Doctors found that the fall had broken Josef’s spine. Due to innovative surgery on his spine, he was able to make a full recovery and spent the next eight months recuperating in a military hospital at St Athan in Glamorgan, South Wales.
Although he had recovered from the fall, those injuries precluded him from further operational flying. On 27 May 1943, he was posted to Ottawa, Canada as assistant to W/Cmdr Ján Ambruš the Czechoslovak Air Attaché there. When 312 Sqn were deployed to Speke in September 1940, W/Cmdr Ambruš had been its Czechoslovak Commanding Officer.
On 16 March 1945 he went to the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, USA, for a Staff training course. He returned to England in June 1945 and was assigned to RAF Manston where he was responsible for repatriation duties for the airmen of the four Czechoslovak RAF squadrons who had been assembled there awaiting the return to their homeland. Those airmen were finally able to return home by mid-August and Josef returned to Czechoslovakia in September 1945.
On his return, he remained in the Czechoslovak Air Force and served as a Staff Officer for the 4th Air Region, stationed in Bratislava. In September 1947 he married Vladimíra Bednářová, and in mid 1948 their daughter Dagmar was born.
Following the Communist take-over of Czechoslovakia in February 1948, the new regime began their persecution of those who had fought in the West during WW2 as they were regarded as being politically unsuitable to the new regime. Josef was serving in Bratislava at the time of this purge and on 2 March 1948 was dismissed from the Air Force. He was warned that he was due to be arrested, so with Vladimíra, they escaped from Czechoslovakia by crossing the Danube river into the Russian Zone of Austria and made their way to Vienna to the British Zone in the city (like Berlin at the end of WW2, Vienna was also divided into four with each of the Allied powers controlling one section). Because of the dangers involved in their escape and the risk of taking a young baby, Josef and Vladimíra had no option but to leave their three-month-old daughter, Dagmar, with her grandmother because they thought that they would be back soon. That “back soon” was sadly to last 15 years! It was not until 1963, with the help of British intervention, that Dagmar was able to join her parents in England.
On arrival into the British Zone, they were thorough security checked by the British, and after a short period in a Displaced Persons Camp in Germany, Josef and Vladimíra were then able to travel to England where Josef intended to re-join the RAF. Whilst in England, waiting for Josef’s acceptance to the RAF, they had to undertake factory work to support themselves. Finally in December 1949 he was able to rejoin the RAF, but at the lower rank of F/Lt not his WW2 RAF rank of S/Ldr. Following medical checks, Josef was able to resume his flying career and was trained to fly Meteor and Vampire jets in the UK and was posted to the Sudan On his return to the UK, he was posted, as Commanding Officer, to a RAF Navigation School until 1958. His next assignment was as RAF Liaison Officer with l’Armée de l’Air and then as a Commanding Officer of the radar station in Gibraltar.
He retired from the RAF on 31 May 1968 and had achieved a total of 4810 flying hours. In retirement Josef and Vladimíra lived in the Oxford area where he became a flying instructor at Kidlington Flying Club.
Vladimíra pre-deceased him in January 2000 and Josef died on 20 June 2001. Their ashes are interred in the post WW2 Czechoslovak ex-Servicemen’s plot at Brookwood cemetery, Surrey.
1939 – 45 Star with Battle of Britain clasp
Air Crew Europe Star
Válečný kříž and bar
Za zásluhy I.stupně
Pamětní medaile se štítky F–VB
Croix de Guerre avec Palme
Prague – Klárov:
In November 2017, his name, along with the names of 2512 other Czechoslovak men and women who had served in the RAF during WW2, was unveiled at the Winged Lion Monument at Klárov, Prague.
He is commemorated, along with the other 2938 Battle of Britain aircrew, on the Christopher Foxley-Norris Memorial Wall at the National Battle of Britain Memorial at Capel-le-Ferne, Kent:
He is also commemorated on the London Battle of Britain Memorial: