Antis’ story is one courageous tale of how a dog’s bravery and loyalty made him a WWII hero.
Enemy fire tore into the engines of the warplane Gunner Robert Bozdech was in. As it began its mad dash down into Northern France’s No Ma’s Land, the gunner braced himself for crash landing or a worse fate.
The plane ending up tearing its wheel in a terrifying crash into a patch of woodland below and by the time it came into a jarring halt, the gunner had lost consciousness. He came around with no sense of time or direction while the French pilot manning the plane lay seriously injured a few yards away from the crash.
Bozdech rose to a kneeling position and after checking himself found out he was unhurt after all. He saw an old farmhouse to the north over 90 meters away from his position so he headed to it stealthily. There were no footprints in the snow saved his but he heard stifled movements inside when he got near. He cocked his pistol and cautiously opened the door after which he shouted in paltry French:
“Get your hands up! Show yourself now!”
He could hear a faint yawn being executed by whoever was inside – a clear defiance to his order. he shouted again, this time using a few German words he had picked up during the course of the war:
‘Wake up, you b*****d!’ he snarled. ‘Show yourself!’
And so, that “someone” showed himself – in a form of a fluffy grey-brown ball. It was puppy! It got up on its feet unsteadily, peered at him and decided to execute an answering tiny growl to his orders.
Seeing the creature, the gunner’s earlier aggression disappeared. He found it funny that he had been threatening a puppy all along, a brave one at that. He picked it up and slipped it inside his leather flying jacket.
‘You’re coming with me, boy,’ he said. ‘We’re in this together.’
That was the start of a friendship that lasted for a lifetime between the soldier and the German shepherd dog who he named Antis in one of WWII’s most inspiring stories of courage — a story which saw both of them posted in England then over the skies overlooking battle-torn Europe.
Antis’ Uncanny Ability
24 hours after gunner Robert Bozdech was believed to be killed in action, he turned up in St. Dizier, his airbase which was 200 miles away from France’s Champagne country with his new friend – the puppy he found in the farmhouse. Turned out he, together with the French pilot who was with him, was rescued by a passing patrol. He rejoined his Czech comrades who like him served with the French Air Force after they fled their country when Germany invaded it.
The Czech airmen accepted the new addition to their group – the puppy – with open arms and named him Antis after the Russian ANT dive-bombers they loved to take to the air when they were still in their own country. Soon, Robert and Antis became inseparable.
“Even though he’s a German Shepherd, he was found in a French house. We’d better show him some solidarity,” said one of the men.
1940 was a year of inaction for the men but come May 10, all that changed.
Robert with the other soldiers were engaged in an impromptu football game, an activity they usually did to ease the tension of having to wait. Antis joined in the game when suddenly his mood shifted. Robert saw how his dog stood stiff-legged while staring at the horizon with his hackles up as if on a fight and was growling, the same stance he had shown to the soldier when he was found in that old French farmhouse.
A few seconds later, the sounds of the air-raid siren permeated the air and the first of Germany’s Luftwaffe’s Dornier Do-17s came into view.
That was how the band came to know Antis’ uncanny ability to sense enemy aircraft even before they became perceptible to human eyes and ears, at times even before the radars detected them, and the dog’s ability had helped save countless of lives throughout the war.
The Flying Dog and the Lucky Charm
When the war intensified, Robert worried about Antis’ plight if something would happen to him. So, in this light, he decided the dog would fly with him, too, in his warplane. When he was called for his next raid, he let out a whistle so Antis would follow. As the airman climbed into his Potez-63, the dog would jump on its wing and get in the craft beside him.
He barely moved when the twin engines came to life; he was satisfied with the pat on the head Robert gave him when he nuzzled his hand. What was more amazing was how Antis took in all the things that happened during his flights. The Potez would be subjected to countless dives, soars and swoops to avoid anti-crafts that zoom in all around them but the dog would just doze off through all of these.
When the Germans brought in the Wehrmacht war machine, it added to the many dangers the Czech airmen were facing.
The RAF’s hurricane fighters even fought together with the French Air Force against the enemy in their desperate attempts to keep the British Expeditionary Force going. However, in the middle of this chaos, Robert Bozdech and his fellow Czech airmen looked like they were leading charmed lives as not one of them suffered from being shot down or harmed.
And so the belief that their canine friend brought about their good fortune circulated among the group and intensified as the war did.
When French leader Marshal Petain decided make peace with Germany, Borden and his Czech comrades who belonged to the French First Bomber-Reconnaissance Squadron decided to jump overboard to the one country that still continued to fight against the Germans – Great Britain.
The Battle of Britain was now on its height and Bozdech, together with Antis, was assigned in RAF Speke, in Liverpool to help strengthen the city’s defences against the nightly raids of the German Luftwaffe.
Miles away from home, Robert appreciated the companionship Antis offered him as it eased his homesickness.
Dog to the Rescue!
One night, while they were doing their regular nightly walks over the city’s ravaged streets, Antis suddenly adapted his “fighting” form – standing rock-like with his head thrusting upward, eyes toward the sky and growling all along – a stance that had always meant danger was imminent.
‘Don’t worry, boy,’ Bozdech said to him to ease his stance. ‘We’re safe here. It’s the docks they’re after.’
However, even while he was still speaking, the bombs high-pitched screamed wailed into the darkness. Seeing no cover in sight, Robert hunched his form over the dog to shield him from the blast.
The raid ended as soon as it begun. Getting unsteadily to his feet, the airman saw that what were once three houses in front of him, only broken wall stumps remained. He also heard cries for help as these stumps crumbled.
Antis scrambled, leading his owner to the rescue. The dog dug through the dust, stopping on top of a mound of rubble, his ears ever listening to the cries for help underneath.
The rescue went on for quite sometime and even when the dog became immersed in the rubble himself and needed rescuing, he did not stop. He still managed to sniff out a one-year-old child among the crumbling edifices.
In the wee hours of the morning, the man and the dog, gripped with so much exhaustion after their rescue efforts, arrived in their camp. Bozdech even had to carry Antis for the last hundred yards into the camp as his paws had became so painful for him to use. he even tended to his dog first before he accepted treatments for the injuries he acquired.
That dark night Antis proved he was not just a pet, a lonely soldier’s companion and a company’s mascot, he was a brave life-saver as well.
if the French allowed Antis to fly with his master, British rules forbid it.
So, when Bozdech got to fly a Wellington bomber from the RAF East Wretham in Norfolk, their new base, he had to contend watching him.
As his master maneuvered the aircraft, dubbed C for Cecilia, Antis turn to it with a mournful gaze, pasting his eyes on it as it flew up the ground and disappeared into the skies.
Seeing it no more, he dropped into his haunches and stayed where he was – at the edge of the dispersal area. The ground crew coaxed him into moving but he did not heed them. They brought him food but he did not eat it.
When dawn broke, the dog’s posture changed. It looked like he knew the planes were returning. The waiting crew then knew he could hear the Wellingtons from afar. After a few moments, he was on his feet barking loudly and did a wild dance looking joyous, running around the waiting ground crew as i he was mad. It was then that they knew he had heard the engine of the plane his master was flying.
When C for Cecilia touched down, he waited until the hatches opened as he was trained to do so and with uncontrollable excitement bolted up as his master was coming down from the craft.
Scenarios like this became a pattern as Bozdech flew to carry on various sorties as WWII progressed.
Master in Trouble
June 1941 – Robert was among the airmen of the 311 Squadron tasked to bomb Hamm’s railway yard which was situated in West Germany.
As usual, Antis dozed off on the runway, waiting for his master’s return from the raid.
However, the dog woke up from his long sleep by 1 AM looking like he was jolted up with a shock. Suddenly, he threw his head back to the heavens and gave out a long, sad howl – an act he never did before. The howl was hollow, loss-filled and spine-tingling.
‘Cecilia’s in trouble,’ shouted one man from the ground crew. ‘Antis can sense it. God knows how, but he can.’
True enough, Robert was in trouble.
200 hundred miles In the south east where an aerial battle was happening, Bozdech was hit on the forehead by a shard of metal which punched through the Wellington’s Perspex gun turret. the exact time this happened was 1 AM.
While blood poured from the airman’s eye, his plane was starting to lose height, dropping dangerously over the Coast of England. Worse, the plane was lunging towards the cliffs.
Back in the airbase, the ground crew waited for news. No one could get Anti to abandon his lonely vigil on the runway even as rain lashed on him.
The good news came late afternoon – the plane had landed safely in Norfolk and the injured Robert safe though he had to be taken to the hospital and had to stay there for a few days.
Nevertheless, the crew had no idea how to pass the news to Antis who was getting weaker as he continued to refuse food and shelter. They were afraid he would really succumb to death if he did not see his master soon.
Then the squadron’s padre came up with an idea – why not ask the hospital if Robert could come out for a few hours to rescue his dog? And so, for that second night running, the crew of East Wretham covered the weak dog with blankets and let out a prayer that he’d live through the ordeal.
The wee hours next morning, a car bearing the bruised and injured but bandaged Bozdech came.
he came up to the ground where his dog lay. The dog’s tongue flicked out and touched his master’s face tentatively. He was able to identify Bozdech’s scent amidst the the smell of iodine and lint. He thumped his tail weakly and tried to stand up but his weakness got the best of him. Robert had to pick him up and cradled him into the car.
Late June and the C for Cecilia was ready to take off again.
However, Antis was nowhere to be seen. After the pre-flight checks, Robert laid aside his nagging worries for his dog as they took flight. As he was focusing on the mission, he felt a nudge on his elbow and thinking it was the navigator, turned, only to find Antis laying prone on the floor. He shook his head, believing it was the altitude playing tricks on his mind.
But, it wasn’t. Antis was really with him in the craft – somehow, he had managed to stow away in the plane and hid himself carefully.
Recovering from the shock that took over him after seeing the dog, Robert noticed that Antis began to heave as they were climbing into 16,000 feet off the ground. Antis was having difficulty breathing as they were entering the thin atmosphere.
So Robert took a huge gasp then unstrapped the oxygen mask and placed it on the dog’s muzzle. They did just that for the rest of the flight.
The plane managed to drop its payload in the oil refinery in Bremen, survived the night fighters, ground fire and even the barrage balloons. As they were nearing base, Robert readied himself to what might come after. It was common knowledge that Britain’s Air Ministry regulations strictly forbid taking animals into air most specifically on sortie over the enemy’s territory.
‘No prizes for guessing where Antis has spent the night, then,’ the Wing Commander said.
‘Sir, please let me explain…’ Bozdech started to explain but the man just raised up his hand to still him.
‘There’s a very good English expression,’ he said. ‘What the eye doesn’t see, the heart doesn’t grieve after.’
No Dog After
Antis continued to act as 311 Squadron’s mascot for the rest of WWII.
He was formally recognized as one of WWII’s heroes in 1949 – he was awarded the Dickin Medal which was commonly known as the Victoria Cross for animals.
1951, his master was granted British citizenship but Antis only lived two years more after the event.
The dog died at the ripe age (for a dog) of 14 a hero, a good luck charm, a mascot and a very loyal friend. His grave bore the words ‘Loyal unto death’ in Czech.
Soon afterwards, Robert got married to a British girl and settled in the West Country. He continued serving in the RAF and was even deployed in the Suez.
However, for the rest of his life he never got another dog again nor did he allowed his children to have their own pet dogs.
After having Antis, his war dog, he had sworn never to own one again.
(Above article an adaptation from War Dog: The No-Man’s Land Puppy Who Took To The Skies; Author: Damien Lewis)