On a very cold morning in January 1940, Czech airman Robert Bozdech and French pilot Pierre Duval were on a mission to gather information over enemy lines when a German plane shot them down. Bozdech quickly freed the injured Duval from his harness and pulled him into a snowbank for safety. Feeling the need to find cover, Bozdech noticed a farmhouse in the distance, about 300 feet away.
Inside the farmhouse, it was quite bare with only a dusty wooden dining table, a pot on the stove, piles of logs, and broken windowpanes. However, Bozdech also heard a faint scratching and whimpering. He was curious about who might be inside the house and cautiously approached the overturned chair near the stove, with his pistol at the ready.
“Get your hands up!” Bozdech shouted. “Show yourself! Come out!”
To his surprise, instead of an enemy or fugitive, he found a small and sleepy puppy struggling to wake up. Bozdech’s initial fear turned into protectiveness as he wondered who had left the puppy alone and hungry.
Without hesitation, Bozdech scooped up the puppy and tucked him into his bomber jacket. He couldn’t leave the defenseless animal behind.
In the book “The Dog Who Could Fly: The Incredible True Story of a WWII Airman and the Four-Legged Hero Who Flew At His Side,” author Damien Lewis tells the extraordinary tale of the bond between Robert Bozdech and his faithful companion, as documented in Bozdech’s unpublished manuscript.
Robert Bozdech had always felt a strong connection to animals. When the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia in 1938, he lost many friends and family members to torture and death. Alone and seeking refuge, he escaped to Poland. As a member of the Czech air force, he later joined the French air force as a turret gunner.
On that fateful day in January 1940, Bozdech and Duval, who had managed to crawl to the farmhouse despite his injured leg, waited for nightfall to make their escape. They decided to leave the hungry puppy behind, giving him water and a little food.
While trying to make their way out under the cover of darkness, Bozdech and Duval found themselves caught between the French and German lines. Amidst the chaos, they heard the howling of the approaching German bombers. Bozdech knew what he had to do.
Leaving Duval behind, Bozdech went back to the farmhouse and picked up a rock. But when he saw the emaciated and weak puppy struggling towards him, he couldn’t bring himself to harm it. He decided to bring the puppy, whom he named Ant, along with them.
That night, French soldiers rescued Bozdech and Duval. Duval was taken to a hospital, and Bozdech was transported to an airfield where a plane awaited him. Carrying his new canine companion, Bozdech boarded the plane, feeling proud to have Ant by his side
Back at the air base, Ant quickly became the soldiers’ favorite. With his black stripe along his spine, they believed him to be a purebred German shepherd, a courageous warrior. They named him Ant after their favorite dive bomber, the Russian Pe-2 known as the ANT.
Ant was showered with food and affection, but his loyalty remained unwaveringly devoted to Bozdech. He would wait for Bozdech’s return from missions and offer a paw in welcome. Despite the attention from his fellow soldiers, Ant always clung to Bozdech.
Ant became renowned for his ability to sense approaching enemy aircraft. He could anticipate attacks better than the radar systems invented by British scientists. The soldiers marveled at his skills and word spread quickly about the remarkable radar dog.
During an attack on their French outpost, Ant was the only one who sensed the incoming Dornier Do 17 bombers. Unfortunately, the soldiers couldn’t take cover in time and were caught by the blast of a bomb. Bozdech desperately searched for Ant, fearing the worst.
Two days later, with Bozdech still frantically searching, mechanics found a battered and injured Ant stumbling toward the base. The emotional reunion between Bozdech and Ant moved the onlooking soldiers deeply.
Antis, as he was now called, became the squadron’s guardian, surpassing the capabilities of radar. He took part in many sorties, sustaining injuries twice. Each time, he remained calm and resilient, never showing fear or panic.
After the war ended in 1945, Bozdech returned to Czechoslovakia with Antis. However, when the Communist invasion commenced in 1948, he had to flee, leaving behind his wife and young child. Antis accompanied him, leading the way through dangerous border crossings and alerting Bozdech to the presence of the enemy.
They eventually settled in England, where Bozdech remarried. In 1949, Antis received the Dickin Medal, an honor bestowed upon animals displaying exceptional bravery and loyalty.
Antis passed away in 1953 at the age of 13. Bozdech, who never owned another dog, kept his promise to Antis. He lived out the rest of his life with Antis always in his heart, never able to forget the incredible bond they shared.