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Life Stories 3

From a batman to squadron commander

S/Ldr Otto Smik, DFC

Born on 20th January 1922, Borjomi, Georgia
Killed in action on 28th November 1944, Zwolle, Holland

Buried under a different name

He was born as a son of a captured Austro-Hungarian soldier, originally from Slovakia, and a Russian Jewish woman. He started his military career from the very bottom - at first, he served as a batman. In 1941, upon his own request, he was sent to a pilot training course. He was one of the best Czechoslovak pilots, which was one of the reasons he was selected to be a gunner trainer after he finished his first flying term. Apart from other feats, he shot down three V-1 flying bombs in one day during his second term. He was shot down in September 1944, however, he returned to Great Britain with the help of the Dutch resistance movement. In November 1944, he was shot down for the second time. Because of an incorrect identification, his remains were originally buried under the name of a Belgian F/O Henri L. J. M. TAYMANS. Nevertheless, Taymans’ body was located in 1965 and Otto SMIK was thus consequently buried again, this time under his real name, at the cemetery Adegem East by Gent in Belgium. In September 1994, his remains were transported to Slovakia and buried at the cemetery in the Bratislava Slávičí Valley.

Otto SMIK shot down a total of eleven aircraft (two of them in cooperation) for sure, one probably and three V-1 bombs.

A memory plaque in his memory was unveiled already in 1977 in Bratislava, on the building where he lived after his return from Georgia. Yet another plaque was put up at the location of his accident in 1992. On 26th November 2010, his bust was installed at the Sliač air base of the Composite Wing, which bears SMIK’s name since 2002. Moreover, one of the streets of the city of Zwolle was also named after Otta SMIK. A street was also named after him in the Černý Most residential quarter in Prague. The transfer of the SMIK’s remains has been recorder in a documentary movie called “The Lost Son of Slovakia.”

Otto SMIK during shooting training, year 1943. Archive of Tomáš Jambor.

Otto SMIK awarded DFC. Uxbridge, 31st January 1944. Archive of Tomáš Jambor.

Members of 122 Squadron RAF “City of Bombay”. Otto SMIK – 1st row, first from the left, Tomáš KRUML - 2nd row, third from the right, Jaroslav HLAĎO – 2nd row, sixth from the right. Archive of Tomáš Jambor.

One of the survivors from Wellington KX-B

W/O Alois Šiška

Born on 15th May 1914, Lutopecny, Kroměříž District, Zlín Region
Died on 9th September 2003, Prague

Author of a legendary book

As a member of the RAF, he participated in all three sorties with 311 (Czechoslovak) Squadron RAF over Italy. He did not come back from his nineteenth air raid mission. His plane was heavily damaged and he was forced to make an emergency landing in the North Sea. Air gunner Rudolf SKALICKÝ did not survive the landing. Josef MOHR and Josef TOMÁNEK died subsequently in the lifeboat. The survivors, Alois ŠIŠKA, Pavel SVOBODA and Josef ŠČERBA, were washed up on the coast after six days. He described this story, during which he almost lost his legs, in a book called “Flying For Freedom”. After the communist putsch, he and his family were persecuted. After 1989, he actively participated in the activities of the Association of Czechoslovak Airmen and in the organization of various events. In 2001, he took patronage over the 222nd Training Squadron in Náměšti nad Oslavou.

In 2011, a monument was unveiled in his memory in his birth place and in Prague – Modřany, not far from where he used to live a street was named after him as well. In 2012, a monument was unveiled in the memory of his crew in Petten, Holland (www.kx-b.com).

Members of the ŠIŠKA’s crew from the ill-fated mission in December 1941. From the left, Josef MOHR (KIA, 2nd January 1942), Rudolf SKALICKÝ (MIA, 28th December 1941), Pavel SVOBODA. Archive of Dagmar Johnson - Šišková.

Alois ŠIŠKA, in the middle, as a witness against the former Nazi official Hans GLOBKE. July, 1963, East Berlin. Archive of Dagmar Johnson - Šišková.

Alois ŠIŠKA and the members of “his” Air Force unit of the Army of the Czech Republic, which was named after him. Archive of Dagmar Johnson - Šišková.

The Great Escaper

F/Lt Ivo Tonder

Born on 16th April 1913, Prague
Died on 4th May 1995, London, Great Britain

He tried to escape from a German POW camp as well as communist jail.

After he bailed out of his Spitfire above the English Channel on 3rd June 1942, he was interned in the Stalag Luft III Sagan POW camp. Together with others, he attempted to escape during the so-called “Great Escape”. He was recaptured five days later, sent to the Gestapo and, subsequently, to a POW camp at the Colditz chateau, where he, although sentenced to death, survived until the end of the war. After the communist putsch, he and his family, including his very little children, attempted to leave to exile. But he was captured and put in prison. After a while, his wife was also imprisoned. That is why he escaped the prison to help her and his family. In 1951, the entire family eventually reunited in London. The rest of his life, Ivo TONDER had a small textile imprinting business.

Future fighter pilot. Archive of Petra Tonder.

Photograph of Ivo TONDER on the way to his first exile. Beirut, 1940.

The last photograph of Ivo TONDER. Ambassador to Great Britain JUDr. Karel Kühnl presenting a promotion decree to the rank of major general on 29th April 1995. Archive of Petra Tonder.

Murdered as a participant of the Great Escape

F/Lt Arnošt Valenta

Born on 25th October 1912, Svébohov, Zábřeh District, Olomouc Region
Murdered on 31st March 1944, at the crossroad of road Sagan – Zhořelec and Berlin – Wroclaw, former Germany

His bomber plane chose a bad place for landing...

He was one of the first ones to leave the country to fight in a foreign army. After the fall of Poland, he was captured by the Red Army and interned in Soviet camps. He did not return from his sixth sortie. The crew lost orientation when returning from the raid and, once out of fuel, landed by mistake at a Luftwaffe airfield in occupied France. In the Stalag Luft III POW camp, he joined the “Escaping Committee” as an exponent for contact with the Germans. He participated in the construction of tunnel Harry. After the Great Escape, he was captured together with other escaped prisoners of war and murdered by the Gestapo. His ash has been placed to the British Military Cemetery in Poznaň.

In the memory of Arnošt VALENTA, Česká Pošta has issued a postage stamp as well as an occasional stamp. The Czech TV paid tribute to his memory in the “Secret of a Suitcase” show. The Czech Tourist Club organizes a memorial named after him. Streets were also named after him at the residential quarter of Černý Most in Prague and in his birthplace of Svébohov, where they unveiled a memorial plaque in his memory in 1973, when the severe communist regime was in power in Czechoslovakia again. He is also reminded to us in a song called “Bad Place for Landing” by the band Taxmeni. Yet another memorial plaque in his memory was unveiled in his birthplace community in 2012.

Photo of Arnošt VALENTA from his university student’s record book

Record from a log book that shows the last sortie of Arnošt VALENTA

Decree to the Military Order for Freedom, Gold Star, which he was awarded in 1949. It remains a question what awards Arnošt VALENTA would be awarded if he had survived the war and returned to Czechoslovakia.