Wing Commander Vladimir Nedved RAF Bomber Command
27 March 1917 - 31 October 2012
Wing Commander Vladimir Nedved, who has died aged 95, was twice forced to flee his native Czechoslovakia to seek his freedom; first to fight with the RAF, and later with his young family after the communist takeover of his country.
Following the German occupation in 1939 he left Czechoslovakia without identity papers, travelling by train and on foot through the Balkans. In Lebanon he boarded a ship for France, arriving in early 1940; and in June he managed to escape to England, where he joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve and trained as a navigator before joining No 311 (Czech) Squadron, equipped with the Wellington bomber.
On the night of December 16/17 1940 his crew was sent to bomb Mannheim. Shortly after take-off, one of the engines failed and caught fire and the bomber crashed into trees. Nedved survived uninjured and immediately went to the aid of the pilot, who was badly injured. Despite the flames, he was able to drag him clear. He then returned into the blazing fuselage to assist the rear gunner, who was trapped in his turret. Ammunition started to explode and the fire intensified. Even when a bomb exploded Nedved refused to leave his injured colleague.
As the flames approached the rear of the aircraft, Nedved’s colleague implored him to shoot him rather than let him die in the fire. Nedved refused, but the explosion of another bomb killed the gunner. Miraculously, Nedved survived; all his colleagues perished.
Nedved was recommended for the George Cross, but in the event was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire for gallantry.
Vladimir Nedved was born in Brno, Czechoslovakia, on March 27 1917 and educated at Kyjov High School. He joined the Czech Air Force in October 1936 and trained as a navigator, graduating from the Military College in 1938 as a flight lieutenant.
Nedved completed 25 bombing operations over Germany with No 311 before training as a pilot, and in 1942 he returned to the Czech bomber squadron which had recently been assigned to Coastal Command for operations against U-boats in the Atlantic.
Flying a Wellington on September 29 1942, Nedved was involved in a running battle with three Junkers 88 fighters over the Bay of Biscay. He jettisoned his bombs and tried to gain some cloud. His gunner shot down one fighter before a second attacked, only to be driven off with a burning engine. Nedved then escaped into cloud before returning to his base at sea level.
The squadron was re-equipped with the long-range four-engine Liberator, for the first time giving Coastal Command the capability to close the “Atlantic Gap” which had allowed the U-boats to operate with greater freedom. In November 1942 Nedved was promoted to squadron leader.
In August 1943, aged 26, Nedved was awarded a DFC for his aggressive patrolling and was also promoted to wing commander. As commander of No 311 he continued to patrol the Atlantic. The Czech government-in-exile awarded him the Czech Gallantry Medal and the War Cross with three bars.
In April 1944 he left for Burma to be a staff officer at the Headquarters of 3rd Tactical Air Force. Despite his ground appointment, he flew a number of transport operations dropping supplies to the Army garrisons that were surrounded at Imphal and Kohima.
After six months Nedved returned to England to join the Czech Inspectorate with Transport Command and in January married his Czech sweetheart. In August 1945 he was repatriated to Czechoslovakia and served at the Air Force College as a tactics instructor before attending the Military Staff College in Prague on his promotion to lieutenant-colonel.
The communists took power in February 1948 as Nedved was completing his course. He and his RAF wartime colleagues who had returned to their homeland were persecuted, and Nedved joined a group planning to escape back to England. He booked three seats on an internal flight to Bratislava piloted by a friend. After take-off the co-pilot (a communist sympathiser) was arrested at gunpoint and the aircraft turned for Germany and flew at very low level to land at a USAF base near Munich where most of the passengers sought political refugee status.
Nedved and his family travelled to England, where they were given British citizenship. He rejoined the RAF in October 1948, and for two years flew transport aircraft with No 31 Squadron before heading for the Middle East to take command of No 78 Squadron flying Valetta transport aircraft. On his return to Britain he converted to jets and was adjutant at the Central Gunnery School. In 1956 he was put in command of the RAF’s Selection Board for ground officers. He retired two years later, and moved with his family to Australia. Settling in Sydney, he worked in administration for the Shell-BP oil company. He later moved to the Sunshine Coast in Queensland.
Nedved spent much of his time writing and recording events of the war. A deeply religious man, he always claimed that his faith was one reason for his survival. For many years he was a lay preacher with the Uniting Church.
After the fall of communism, President Vaclav Havel promoted Nedved to major-general in the Air Force Reserve. On October 28 1996 he was awarded the country’s highest honour, the Order of the White Lion, for outstanding service and leadership in the fight for freedom; he also received the Order of Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, awarded to individuals who have made outstanding contributions to humanity, democracy and human rights. On May 8 2005 he was given the rank of lieutenant-general.
Vladimir Nedved married his wife, Luisa, in 1945; she survives him with their three sons.
Wing Commander Vladimir Nedved, born March 27 1917, died October 31 2012
Reprinted with the kind permission of the Daily Telegraph obituaries column.
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Article prepared by Barry Howard.