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Air Gunner Jan Bozdech and his faithful Alsation dog called Antis

Posted in Animals, Aviation, Bravery, Historical articles, History, Uncategorized, World War 2 on Friday, 1 June 2012

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This edited article about Jan Bozdech and Antis the Alsatian originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 716 published on 4 October 1975.

Dogfight WW2, picture, image, illustration

A spitfire in a dogfight with German fighters during an air raid

Air Gunner Bozdech and his pilot, Pierre Duval, were shot down over the area of no man’s land between the French Maginot Line and the German Siegfried Line on 12th February, 1940. As they picked their way through the shelled ruins of a deserted farmhouse, Jan suddenly had the feeling that they were being watched. He was right. In the centre of what was once the farm kitchen the keen eyes of a young, orphaned Alsatian were cautiously observing their every move.

Jan fondled the animal which had now overcome its initial suspicion of the two strangers. “We can’t leave him here” he said, and he tucked the small pup into his flying jacket for protection.

Jan and Pierre made their way back to the French lines and, with the help of his fellow Czechoslovakians who were serving with the French Air Force, Jan decided to call his new friend Antis after the A.N.T. bombers used by the Czech Air Force. Antis became so devoted to his master that he went aloft with him during sorties, lying contentedly at Jan’s feet through even the thickest of raids.

When in June 1940 France fell to the Germans the Czech airmen and Antis fled towards England. After a precarious cross-country journey they arrived at Sete in the south of France where they met a group of politicians who had a plane but no crew. The Czechs agreed to crew the craft and on the 30th June they took off for Algiers where they hoped to refuel before flying on to Gibraltar. But they never made it. Near the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean they were shot down by an Italian cruiser. Being ditched into the sea caused Antis to panic and he swallowed so much water that he almost drowned. Jan had to struggle to keep the lifeless dog afloat until they were picked up by one of the cargo ships that the cruiser was escorting. A day later Jan and Antis were back in the water again when the Italian vessel was sent to the bottom by a British cruiser. In spite of the fact that the sea was engulfed in blazing oil all of the Czechs survived to tell the tale and were taken to Gibraltar and thence to England.

In September 1940 Jan and Antis joined No. 312 Fighter Squadron at Duxford where Antis was to prove extremely useful. The station was frequently attacked by enemy planes but there was never any effective warning system until the Alsatian arrived. His sensitive ears picked up the sound of approaching aircraft and he would become agitated, barking at the men until they took cover and manned the anti-aircraft guns.

The dog’s uncanny premonition that enemy planes were on their way proved a life-saver for Jan when he was posted to Liverpool. He and a group of airmen were returning to camp late at night when Antis gave his customary warning. Instinctively the men tensed themselves for action and listened for the whine of aeroplane engines. But they could hear nothing. Perhaps Antis had been mistaken. Seconds later the dog was proved right as the whole area was illuminated by a brilliant flare and bombs fell angrily all around. Jan and his colleagues hurled themselves to the ground as masonry and girders fell down about them.

When the raid was over they found that, miraculously, not one of them had been hurt. Cries of help from the bombed buildings soon reached their ears and they rushed over to give what assistance they could, but could see no-one. Antis suddenly started barking at a pile of debris. When the men dug down they found a man buried in the rubble.

Hastily they pulled him out and handed him over to the medical workers who had now arrived on the scene. Antis was now at the top of a large pile of bricks and broken furniture barking furiously. Fifteen minutes later they uncovered an unconscious woman and they continued working on through the night following the dog’s directions as to where people were buried.

By two o’clock in the morning the men, exhausted and bleeding from their labours, were ordered back to camp. But Antis, his hair matted with congealed blood and his paws sore and bleeding, refused to budge. There was still work to be done. Barking loudly, he tried to pull Jan into an adjoining room. Suddenly and without warning the whole wall collapsed narrowly missing Jan but leaving him with just a broken lead in his hand. Antis was somewhere behind the collapsed wall.

As soon as it became known that Antis was lost, all the rescue workers concentrated on getting him out. Desperate hands clawed at the bricks and plaster. Jan at the front of the diggers, his hands bleeding profusely, was determined to save his friend’s life.

When the workers finally broke through, they found the reason why Antis had entered the room. Lying on the floor was a woman, already dead. Antis was standing on the other side of the room next to a baby’s cot. Amazingly, the child in it was still alive.

Throughout the rest of the war Jan and Antis were inseparable. Even after the war, when Jan returned to Czechoslovakia. Antis continued to serve him faithfully. In 1948, Jan had to flee his native country in secret because his name was at the head of the wanted list of the Communist secret police. With another escaper, Stefan, and Antis he headed across country towards Germany. Nearing the border they had to go through a wide stretch of forest crawling with Communist patrols. Every time the soldiers came near to the two men Antis let out a low growl to warn them of impending danger so they eventually made their way through to the other side without mishap. At the border itself Antis overpowered a guard to enable the men to get past. By the time that Jan and Stefan reached him, the poor guard was flat on his back with Antis standing on his chest snarling viciously. They tied the man up and made their way into Germany and to safety.

In 1959 Field Marshal Lord Wavell awarded Antis the Dickin medal, the animal V.C., in recognition of his heroic deeds and devotion to duty. Antis was the first non-British dog to receive this honour.

This brave Alsatian fully deserved his reward for he had risked his life in order to save other people’s lives. Antis was certainly a dog to be proud of.

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