Bill Preddy’s Death

by Peter Vodicka

Peter-Vodicka-1945-2Events in Southern Bohemia, April 1945

On April 17th, 1945, probably at about 3pm, Lieutenant Bill Preddy’s Mustang P51 was hit by anti-aircraft fire whilst strafing a German military airfield about 15km south of the town of Ceske Budejovice. He and Captain Reuter had apparently been chasing two German Messerschmitt jets. What neither of the pilots was aware of at the time was that the German’s were in fact testing jets from this airfield and there was probably heavier than usual anti-aircraft batteries positioned there.

It appears that just prior to the end of the war the Germans were relocating jet engines stored at the airfield. One jet engine which could not be moved was buried in the ground and recently uncovered. It is being restored for placement in a museum in the Czech Republic.

In April 1945, I was staying with various members of my family at a weekend cottage near the site where the aircraft piloted by Bill Preddy went down. The cottage was located in a small wood, I think to the north of the area where he crashed. We had been living in the central part of the nearby town of Ceske Budejovice, when, after a couple of bombs landed in the street opposite the house we were living in, we decided to move temporarily to the cottage.

At the time allied aircraft were bombing German military installations in Bohemia. The cottage was on the other side of a small valley on the other side of which there was a military airfield occupied by the Germans. Accordingly we had a grandstand view of the continuous attacks by the Allies on the airfield. I was almost seven years old then and the activity at the airfield was certainly fascinating.

We obtained most of our food supplies from a nearby farm which we visited often. Between the cottage and the farm was a grassed field on which in April 1945 ( I now believe ) the local farmer was gathering hay. There was a hay cart in the middle of the paddock 17th part filled with hay. I remember I was standing near the hay cart when we heard the noise of an approaching aircraft. We looked up and saw an American fighter aircraft coming towards us. We could see the plane had been hit as it was trailing black smoke from the back. We all dived under the hay cart and the plane passed directly overhead. The plane would have been only about 20 ft above us and we could clearly see the pilot. I now believe the aircraft was a Mustang P51. As he passed over us we could also see he was trying to climb over a wooded hill in his path. He was unable to do so and we saw him crash between two pine trees about 200 to 300 yards away. We could see burning parts of the aircraft but there were people on the scene fairly quickly and they wouldn’t allow any kids to get too close.

Vodicka-2I was there with my cousin who was about 7 years older than me. We were able to go to the crash site later and there we collected things like magnets and bits and pieces from the aircraft engines which as kids we thought were pretty interesting.

It has only just occurred to me that Bill Preddy may have been intending to crash land in the field but the hay cart was in the way and he ran out of room. I guess we will never know.

I have read the reports collected by M van Eyck from local witnesses and they tally with my recollection of events. I do recall many people in uniform being about. However, at the time there were many men in uniform hanging about near the farm probably hoping to obtain food. Their uniforms had no insignia which was probably deliberate. I very much doubt if any Gestapo were at the scene of the crash. They didn’t wear any uniforms and I would say by that time, most of them had probably fled.

I first became aware of the existence of Bill Preddy being the pilot of the aircraft I had seen crash, at a family dinner in Ceske Budejovice in the latter part of 2014. My late cousin’s grandson, Matej, who is a University student and something of an aircraft enthusiast (a friend of his pilots a 737) told me, much to my surprise that the identity of the pilot was known and informed me of the existence of the Preddy Foundation. Hence my contact with Joe Noah.

Vodicka-3Metej also told me that Bill Preddy’s crash had not only been witnessed by his grandfather (who was with me at the time), but also by his grandfather from his mother’s side, who was 15 years old at the time and saw the crash from a nearby billage. This grandfather bought a cottage in the early 70s situated about 500 meters from the place of the crash. When they bought the cottage, there was a very old farmer living in a small room in the cottage who had taken some aluminum parts of Bill Preddy’s Mustang after the crash and kept them in the attic of the cottage. Unfortunately, Matej tells me that his grandparents probably “banished” the parts when they were renovating the building.

Towards the end of April 1945, my father came to fetch me from the cottage and we walked along the main road back to Ceske Budejovice. I remember very well the road being like a long traffic jam, packed with German military vehicles fleeing south from the advancing Russian Army.

Ceske Budejovice is not a name with which you may be familiar, but I suspect you would be familiar with a product which originated there. Like most towns in the Czech Republic, dating back to when the Czech lands were a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Ceske Budejovice has a German name. It was Budwies and it’s where Budweiser beer originated.

Ceske Budejovice was liberated by the US army, notwithstanding what you may read on Wikipedia. I know, because I was there and remember it well. In fact this was the limit of the US army advance under the Yalta Agreement.

The airfield over which Bill Preddy was shot is still there, but only used for private domestic purposes. Ironically its construction was only finished in 1939, just in time for the Nazi invasion. After the war, it was used as a training facility by the Czech 5th Air Wing and action there was officially marked with the code DI (confidential ~ Israel) and unofficially known as the “Hagana Action” (Hagana in Hebrew equals self-defense). This came from the fact that Israeli Airman were involved. From 1948 however it was taken over by forces representing the communist led Czech government.

Later in May 1945, my cousin and I went back to the cottage to collect some things. On opening the door we were amazed to discover the cottage was full of German military insignia flags and medals, as well as guns. It was like an Aladdin’s cave of German military memorabilia. I’m not quite sure why we didn’t take a few medals and things, but we did remove a German Luger pistol. I didn’t go back to the Czech Republic until 1989, some 40 years later, when I asked my cousin what happened to the pistol. He told me he hid it up in his attic for many years, but then worried that the commies might find it and throw it in the river.

It was a tragedy that Bill Preddy could not survive the war, which ended less that 3 weeks after his death.

Silent Heroes by Manuel F. van Eyck

Peter-Vodicka-1945-1Peter Vodicka Autobiographical Summary

Born in Tabor, Czech Republic, where my father was in charge of the local hospital. For the first 10 years of my life I lived in Ceske Budejovice, the Capital of Southern Bohemia, some 160 kilometers south of Prague.

I left Ceske Budejovice with my family in 1948, at the time of the communist coup in Prague. We were possibly the last people to leave Czechoslovakia legally as we had obtained visas to an American school in India called Woodstock located in the foothills of the Himalayas. We then travelled to Melbourne which has been my home town since.

I am a graduate of the University of Melbourne Law School and practice as a commercial lawyer in Melbourne. My main activity is as chairman of a group of family companies involved in commercial real estate in Melbourne. I also have a farm near Melbourne, running Black Angus beef cattle where I spend most of my weekends. My other interest is travel.

My wife’s name is Rachel. We have two children, David, another lawyer and Elisabeth, an architect. We have four grandchildren.