Hello everyone, today, we are going to talk about Richard Tesařík – possibly the best (and certainly best known) Czech tank commander of all times. As one of few Czechoslovaks, for his heroic exploits during the liberation of Kiev, he was awarded the title of the Hero of the USSR and with the Soviet order of Lenin. Richard Tesařík was born on 3.12.1915 in Prague. His father was a small businessman, his mother was an opera singer. From 1921, his family lived in Příbram in central Bohemia, where Richard Tesařík went to the elementary school and high school, later he studied arrangment in Prague. Later on he worked as an arranger (advertiser) in Příbram, Milovice, Velvary and Pardubice. Richard Tesařík enlisted (or rather, was conscripted) in October 1937 in Beroun, from where he moved to the NCO school in Kladno. After successfully finishing it, he was sent back to Beroun with the rank of a corporal. During the 1938 mobilization, he was moved to Postoloprty u Žatce, where he led a guard squad. After the Munich treason, he was once again transferred to a batallion of rangers to Carpathian Ruthenia, where he fought the Hungarian fascists during the clash near the Domaninsk bridge. Shortly after he was transferred again (this time to Pardubice), but seening what was happening to Czechoslovakia, he decided to join the anti-nazi foreign resistance. Shortly before the outbreak of the war, he left Czechoslovakia and went to Poland, where he wanted to join the Czechoslovak Legion in Krakow. As a part of it, he fought the Germans during the Polish blitzkrieg as an anti-aircraft machinegunner. After the surrender of the Polish army, he was captured and interned for a short while by the Russians, but he was released soon after. He drifted for a while, living with the Volyn Czechs in České Kvasilovo in Ukraine, but he felt restless. He formed a group of volunteers and with them, he went to the internation camp in Oranky (later Suzdal) to become an instructor in the Eastern Group of the Czechoslovak Army in Exile (carrying the rank of a sargeant). From February 1942, he led the training of the 2nd Company of the 1st Czechoslovak Field Batallion in Buzuluk – this batallion was formed from Czechoslovak volunteers under Colonel L.Svoboda, who later became a military legend. After an NCO crash course, he became a platoon leader in the 2nd Infantry Company and in January 1943 he was transferred with his unit to the front. There, he was awarded for the first time – during the Battle of Sokolovo. Battle of Sokolovo was the first military engagement between Czechoslovak and German forces between 8.3. and 13.3.1943. The battle is called after the village of Sokolovo (Rus: Sokolove), where the Soviet lines were spread thin and the Germans tried to use it to stage a couterattack and to break through. It was a brutal battle – on one side, nearly 2400 elite Germans from the 3rd Waffen SS division “Totenkopf” with more than a dozen tanks and air support, on the other one, 350 Czechoslovaks with two anti-tank guns. It started with an assault of 14 German Panzers, that was thrown back by Soviet artillery fire and air support, but one of the tanks, that was supposedly destroyed was in fact undamaged and its crew, pretending to be dead, radioed the entire defensive layout to the Germans. When the Germans attacked two hours later, they knew perfectly where to strike and managed to knock out one of the two AT guns and a machinegun nest, before the tanks and the German infantry charged the Czechoslovak line. A bitter hand-to-hand combat ensued. The Soviet anti-tank rifles couldn’t penetrate the frontal armor of the Panzers – and so, the Czechoslovak infantry fought the tanks up close with hand grenades and rifles shooting at the tank weakpoints. During the melee, Germans were gradually pushed back. At that point, the commander, L.Svoboda, decided to send in the Soviet tank reinforcements over the frozen river Mzha, but the first tank broke through the ice and drowned, leaving the tanks stranded on the other side, unable to do anything. That however also meant that the German Panzers wouldn’t be able to cross either. Seeing this, Svoboda ordered the Czechoslovaks to retreat over the river, but because of the bad radio quality, the signal never reached the troops in the village, dug in around the church, that stood in the center – their last stand. Couriers, carrying the same order, were repeatedly killed by German snipers. And so the Czechoslovaks did not retreat, but faced the enemy, outnumbering them at some points 20 to 1. The insane bravery of some of the soldiers is worth noting – private Černý knocked out a Panzer IV with a hand grenade and then charged a German halftrack, throwing a grenade inside and killing 20 soldiers. Many Czechoslovaks were killed, including one of the popular commanders, Otakar Jaroš. After the night fell, the order finally got through though and the remnants of the Czechoslovak infantry retreated over the river, their task completed with honor. Out of 240 Czechoslovak men, 86 fell, 20 were captured or missing and all the others were wounded – some severly. The SS lost 300 to 400 men, 19 tanks and 6 armored halftracks. During this battle, Richard Tesařík was wounded in melee. He personally killed a German officer and captured valuable military intelligence. For his bravery in the battle, he was awarded with the Czechoslovak War Cross (1939) and the Order of the Red Star. In July 1943, having the rank of Second Lieutenant, Tesařík applied for transfer to the newly forming 1st Independent Czechoslovak Tank Brigade in Tambov. After finishing the tanker training in August, Tesařík (due to his natural leadership skills and respect he had as one of the “heroes of Sokolovo”) was appointed as a commander of a T-70 light tank company, with which (in his command T-34), he took part in the Liberation of Kiev as a part of the 1st Czechoslovak Brigade, which was in turn part of the 51st Rifle Corps, 38th Army of the 1st Ukraine Front under Nikolai Vatutin. The battle took place between 3rd and 6th of November, 1943 and Tesařík’s attack came on 5th of November. In the afternoon, he took his T-70 (T-70M) light tank company and – supporting the infantry – he managed to knock out several German artillery positions from south-west of the city, allowing the beleagured infantry to advance further. Within two hours of fighting, Tesařík’s company along with a platoon of submachinegunners managed to capture large chunks of Kiev and to reach Continue reading →

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