Warrant Officer Rudolf Ptacek
On 28th March, 1942, Warrant Officer Rudolf Ptacek of 602 Squadron, RAF Kenley, was reported missing after a “Rodeo” fighter sweep. It was assumed that he had been shot down in the Calais area during a huge dogfight with a large number of FW190’s.
RUDOLF PTACEK was born in April 1918, in Kostelec nad Orlici, now part of the Czech Republic. His Father owned a leather shop but died while Rudolf was still at school.
Ptacek was studying to become a confectioner when he entered the flying school at Prostejov, in late 1936. He graduated as a letec-polni pilot in the Czech Air Force in May 1938, but was forced to flee his homeland when the Germans invaded in March 1939. He escaped to Poland but left for France by ship at the end of July, arriving at Boulogne-sur-Mer on 1st August 1939.
Rudolf was sent to the training school at Chartres where he learnt to fly the Morane MS-406 fighter. He was serving in the defence patrol at Chartres when the base was attacked by 15 Dornier Do-17’s, on 3rd June 1940. Ptacek was wounded in the arm and lost a finger.
Rudolf was still suffering from these wounds when France collapsed. Yet again, he was forced to flee, this time to England by sea, arriving at Plymouth on 26th June. He joined the RAF at the end of July 1940, and was posted to No.6 Operational Training Unit, Sutton Bridge, to convert to Hurricanes on 26th September. On 4th October, he was posted to 43 Squadron at Usworth in time to take part in the final dogfights of the Battle of Britain.
On 23rd November, Ptacek was posted to 615 Squadron at RAF Northolt, flying Hurricanes. The squadron was based at Kenley from 17th December to 21st April 1941. In June, Rudolf was posted to 313 Czech squadron as one of it’s founding members, flying Spitfire Mk.I’s, but he was soon transferred to 222 Squadron at Manston.
On 19th August 1941, 222 Squadron, now based at North Weald, took part in a “Circus” operation, as fighter escort on a bombing raid. Ptacek, flying Spitfire Mk IIB (P8244), claimed a Me109 destroyed east of St.Omer but was shot down in return, by Oberleutnant Johannes Schmid of JG26. Rudolf managed to evade capture and returned to England with the aid of the “Pat O’Leary” escape line, as it was later known.
Ptacek made it back to England on the 5th January 1942, and was posted to 602 Squadron, based at Kenley, three days later. On the 3rd February, he was promoted to Warrant Officer.
On 28th March, 1942, Rudolf was flying Spitfire Vb, (BM148), on a Rodeo fighter sweep. The squadrons of the Kenley Wing rendezvoused at 17.05 and set a course for Cap Griz-Nez, St. Inglevert and Ambleteuse, led by Group Captain Victor Beamish. The Luftwaffe reacted in force, sending up between 50 and 60 FW190’s and Me109’s. Beamish spotted them at 19,000ft and turned the Wing in towards them and a huge dogfight broke out. Ptacek and Beamish both lost their lives in this battle, though none of their comrades witnessed what happened to them. The Spitfires of the Kenley wing returned triumphant at 18.20hrs, with several pilots claiming victories, but it soon became clear that Beamish and Ptacek were missing and the search for them began.
Neither of their bodies was recovered and no evidence of either aircraft ever found. Rudolf Ptacek, having no known grave, is remembered on the Runnymede Memorial.
Rest in peace Sir and thank you for your service.
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