Text: Michal Krechowski

Illustration: Antonis Karydis

On June 4, 1944, ground personnel from all three Czechoslovak squadrons of No. 134 (Czechoslovak) Wing applied white and black invasion stripes to the wings and fuselages of their Spitfires. With only two days to go until one of the biggest events of World War II, the Allied landing in Normandy, the paint job was to ensure the aircraft were quickly identified to avoid being shot  by stressed Allied ground troops or their own aircraft.  

The flying commander of No. 134 (Czechoslovak) Wing during Operation Overlord was Wing Commander Tomáš Vybíral while the ground operations and administrative commander of the unit was Wing Commander Jan Čermák. Although he had not flown operationally regular missions for eighteen months and was not obliged by his position to conduct operational flights, as a former commander of No. 312 Squadron he still occasionally led the unit into several actions himself. One of these was the action of June 8, 1944, portrayed by Antonis Karidis on a boxart of the kit of a Spitfire Mk.IXc.

On that day, No.134 (Czechoslovak) Wing was patrolling over the eastern beach at Caen as a part of operation Neptune. No. 312 Squadron was on the east flank of the patrol when it received a report of enemy aircraft in the vicinity. At that moment, a routine Czechoslovak fighter mission over Sword Beach turned into a major air battle. In the process, the pilots scattered a formation of a dozen Focke-Wulfs Fw 190A tasked with bombing a beach crowded with Allied troops and equipment. The result was three destroyed and five damaged German fighters with no Spitfire lost. The personal  report of W/Cdr Čermák recounts the course of the battle itself: “I was flying BLUE 1 in 312 squadron on patrol on the east flank of the beaches at 3000 ft. At 1330 we were turning 10 miles N.E. of Caen when I saw black smoke from bomb bursts on the beach. About six Fw 190 then flew south from this position at 2,000 feet climbing to cloud.  I dived down on one of them coming astern at 500 yards. As I closed to 350 I gave a very short burst. He at once climbed more steeply and at 3,000 bailed out near Mezidon. I now turned on a second giving a short burst from 400 yards decreasing. Black smoke came under the fuselage from the engine. The E/A then disappeared into cloud. I claim one Fw 190 destroyed and 1 Fw 190 damaged.”  The scene on the boxart thus depicts the Spitfire breaking away from the second  stricken Fw 190A, which, according to Čermák’s report, was on fire and found salvation in the clouds. In addition to the two successes mentioned above, F/O Otto Smik (No. 310 Sqn) and Sgt. Vítězslav Angetter (No. 312 Sqn) each recorded one enemy destroyed. Two damaged were attributed to F/O Vladimír Kopeček, and one each to W/O Antonín Škach and F/O František Mlejnecký.  

The Spitfire MK244 with fuselage code DU-Z, which W/Cdr Čermák flew during this action, was the personal aircraft of F/O Jaroslav Šodek, who was flying it regularly from February to June 1944. Jaroslav Šodek, a native of Silesian Ostrava, had already fought in France in CG III/9 and CG III/7, then with the Czechoslovak GCI/6 group. He became a member of the RAF on July 27, 1940, with the rank of Airman 2nd Class. He was than promoted to the rank of Sergeant on September 1 and started conversion on British aircraft. His route to No. 312 Squadron was via Nos. 32 and 258 Squadron. He served with No. 312 Squadron until February 1945, when he was reassigned to No. 410 OTU  with the rank of Flight Lieutenant. There he became Squadron Leader and then served as a flight instructor at No. 57 and No. 58 OTU. He achieved one kill during the war and after return home he served in the restored Czechoslovak Air Force. Political developments forced him to emigrate to the UK for a second time and he spent the rest of his life there, passing away in 2002. After 1989 he was promoted to the rank of Major General retired. 

His Spitfire MK244 was taken over by No. 602 Squadron “City of Glasgow” on July 6, and on August 15, 1944, the MK244 was hit by the ubiquitous flak near Bernay. Its pilot, F/Lt A. R. Stewart, bailed out and was rescued by parachute. However, some sources state that he was accidentally shot down by an Allied P-51 Mustang.