In the closing days of September 1938 England’s Neville Chamberlain and representatives of France and Italy signed the Munich Pact essentially telling Hitler he could have Czechoslovakia if he wanted it, thus allowing the British Prime Minister to famously tell the world that he and his allies had purchased “peace in our times” in return. Of course the Czechs had not been consulted on this agreement and when Nazi forces occupied their country on March 15, 1939 many citizens died attempting to resist. When the failing government disbanded their small but determined Air Force, many of its members escaped to fly first for Poland or France and eventually for the British Royal Air Force. One of these brave aviators was an aerial gunner named Robert Bozdech who was flying a mission with a French pilot in a twin-engine Potez 63 when the attack bomber was shot down over German-occupied France. Seeking temporary shelter in a wrecked farm shed, the young Czech discovered a tiny puppy covered by the rubble. Despite the objection of the injured pilot, Bozdech wrapped the barely-mobile dog in rags and took it with him.
In the weeks that followed, and while he was escaping from the enemy even as France was collapsing all around him, he managed to avoid the discovery of the tiny and surprisingly-quiet puppy while making one mad dash for freedom after another, any one of which would have been a story all by itself. At one point having been denied the boarding of a British ship because of the strictly forbidden canine, he invented a floating “stowaway” craft permitting him to hoist the amazingly cooperative German Shepherd puppy aboard before sailing and without detection.
Arriving in England just as the “Battle of Britain” in the air was getting started, airman Bozdech along with other French, Polish and Czech pilots and crewmen found an immediate and welcome home in the RAF, a service which happened to nurture its own particular form of animal discrimination – especially those of German origin.
Along with many of his friends, Sgt. Bozdech was assigned to Number 311 Squadron, among whose enlisted flying staff the rapidly-growing dog - now known as Antis - was viewed not just as a mascot, but as an honored and much-loved Squadron mate. So devoted was the Shepherd to his master, that he would wait anxiously beside the runway until his plane would return from its mission – even when delayed by a forced landing at an alternate field due to battle damage or weather.
The Squadron now was flying twin-engine Armstrong Vickers Wellington bombers, a medium range bomber which carried a crew of 5 or 6, featuring a lightweight frame of aluminum rods covered with dope-treated fabric. Although of unique design of which more than 14,000 were built, it was known as “The Widow-Maker” to its crew members. Despite the nickname it was an unusually durable aircraft and could sustain a great deal of pummeling as a night-bomber.
One day Antis was unusually absent from his standard departure place beside the runway and with misgivings C-Celia and her crew took off without their “good-luck visit”. As Bozdech clambered back to his lonely rear turret gun position sixty feet behind the forward compartment, there was the missing talisman curled up on the deck beneath the .303 twin Browning machine guns, as if speaking to say “okay you chaps, I’m ready let’s roll.”
On that unplanned stowaway journey, Bozdech had no choice but to share his oxygen with the conniving canine, but soon the aircraft maintenance crew saw to it that Antis had his own lovingly-fitted mask and bottle; Antis had assumed flying status.
The last mission Bozdech and Antis flew together was a nighttime attack on Manheim when the Wellingtons were caught by brilliant radar-controlled searchlights that pinned them mercilessly against the black of night. All during the pasting taken by C-Cecila, the loss of an engine and the crash-landing at RAF East Wretham, Antis had lain obedient and brave at Robert’s feet. Only after the agonizing trip was over was it discovered that the dog was the only crew member to sustain injuries, quietly lying in his own blood. Flying shrapnel had raked his belly.
After 40 missions, Sergeant Bozdech – soon to be Flight Lieutenant Bozdech – left 311 Squadron and Antis received the highest award given to British War Dogs. He lived to chase rabbits until age 14. Colonel Václav Robert Bozděch died Feb. 27, 1980 in Devon, U.K.. After Antis he never owned another dog.
Robert Bozdech and Antis