Although neither his hearing nor his memory serve him well, he certainly does not look like a hundred-year-old man who was wounded four times in the war. He exudes vital energy and hard-won experience.
Not only did he fight intensively for four years on Russian and European battlefields as a machine gunner, a pilot of the legendary Il-2 Šturmovik fighter planes, but he also went through Soviet criminals and the gulag. He experienced disappointment in love, but in the end also a contented life and family happiness.
That I survived four years of war and four injuries was rather luck in a great misfortune
“Surviving four years of war and four injuries was rather luck in a great misfortune. I survived like many others, but it was probably because we had a clear goal: to destroy the German bases and expel the Germans from our country,” Hrozný told Právu.
A Czech RAF pilot threw himself against the enemy to save the commander
He was born on May 5, 1923 in the Ussuri taiga into the family of a Russian doctor who left for the Far East after the First World War and the Soviet revolution to save his family from the ever-present chaos and especially hunger. “Father was a good hunter, he had a gun. We lived in a smaller hunting estate and there was a lot of everything that nature provides – game, fish, caviar, we had such a barrel for the winter. We lived through the worst time there,” said Hrozný in the Memory of the Nation project years ago.
He lived in the taiga with his parents until he was eight years old, then he moved to his grandmother in Ussuriysk, where he started going to school. He later went to his parents, who returned to Siberia, where his father came from. They settled in the city of Gorno-Altaysk, where his father worked as a doctor and ran a laboratory. “He had a decent salary, we lived decently by Russian standards.”
He wanted to the planes, he went to the machine gun
He liked airplanes since he was a child, so when they moved to Siberia and he was already sixteen years old, he started commuting to the nearby city of Bijsk. He started flying the Polikarpov Po-2 biplane in the aero club there. “It was called a kukuruznik because it could even land in a cornfield,” the veteran recalled.
At that time, war was already raging in Europe, and on June 22, 1941, Hitler’s Germany invaded the USSR as well. This changed everything for the nineteen-year-old Vladimir as well, because he signed up for the Red Army. “Voluntarily cannot be said at all, I simply joined the army because our years were mobilized anyway, so I would have to join one way or another,” he told Právu.
At first he imagined the war romantically. “I read a lot of books about the First World War. A young person, every person, if they don’t live through the war, they think it’s such an adventure. He can’t imagine the horror.” At first he was not taken into the air force, he had to join the infantry. He first went through military training in the Altai city of Barnaul. And in the spring of 1942, he was already heading by train to the front near the then besieged Leningrad.
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“They dropped us off south of Leningrad. There we only saw what war means. There was a tiny station, bomb funnels everywhere and it was cold, full of snow. Some funnels were five meters in diameter, eight meters for the heavier bombs. There were dead soldiers everywhere, they were all in their underwear, undressed, if they were Germans or Russians, the devil knows. That was a shock to us, it was no longer a game of soldiers.’
When he got to the front line, he became a machine gunner. Together with five other comrades, he operated a Maxim machine gun. Here he experienced the horrors of war for the first time and an unsuccessful attack on German positions in which hundreds of comrades died senselessly.
The Germans were unhappy with us, the Il-2 was a good machine with which we did a lot of damage to them
“Infantry like World War I, hooray for flintlocks and bayonets, the Germans started mowing it down like grass with machine guns. We had each section and were to shell the German hill. My machine gun was firing until the water that is supposed to cool the barrel started to boil in the machine gun, the plug jumped out, steam like from a locomotive.” And it was because of the escaping steam from the machine gun that the Germans were able to target their position and sent them several artillery shells. One of them hit them almost directly. “Of course the machine gun was gone, it overwhelmed us in that trench, I got shrapnel, I didn’t know about it at all.”
Nobody shot us
This was his first injury and first hospital stay. But he was lucky in his misfortune, because when he got himself together, he told the officers who came to the hospital to recruit new soldiers that he could fly and had already flown independently. First, he went to training, where he demonstrated that he was no beginner on the “corn fields”, which he already knew from Siberia. Therefore, he could soon switch to the “flying tank”, as the Il-2 was called, because it not only had an armored cabin, but was also able to destroy enemy armored vehicles.
“The Germans were unhappy with us because the Il-2 was a good machine with which we did a lot of damage to them. They sent us to destroy armored trains and ammunition depots,” Horzný told Právu.
There were three people in the plane. He as a pilot, commander and gunner who covered their backs at the machine gun. “Night flights were good, we had an advantage, because our rounds lit up when they were fired and we could clearly see what we were shooting at,” recalled the veteran.
Sometimes they got into a fight with German fighters, but more often they faced German anti-aircraft guns, so-called flak. “The Germans had good fighters and defended well. We shot down a few of them, but none ever shot us down,” boasted Právu Hrozný. He served in the air force until the beginning of 1944, when he arrived with his unit in the territory of present-day Belarus.
“I liked the Air Force, it was my dream. Unfortunately, it ended when the Germans bombed our airfield.” Horrible was at the airfield at the time, and during an attack by Junkers Ju 87 dive bombers called Stukas, he ran to his plane, which was camouflaged near the forest. He wanted to fly away with it quickly and thus save himself and the plane. But he didn’t make it, the German bomb was faster.
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He woke up after a month in the hospital. Although he recovered from his second injury, he was unable to join the Air Force again due to eye injuries and loss of balance. But the army still didn’t let him go home. First, she sent him to a tank training school in Rybinsk, north of Moscow, but he didn’t like it there, so he asked to be transferred to scouts in the mechanized corps. He stayed with them until the end of the war. He became the driver of the BA-64 Broněvik armored car. With it, he traveled half of Europe as an explorer – Bessarabia (today’s Moldova), Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Austria and finally Czechoslovakia.
In Hungary he was wounded for the third time, and during the capture of Budapest he saw scenes he would rather forget. “Everywhere there were pools of blood and executed prisoners from all sides. The Red Army soldiers liquidated them in whole groups, just as the Germans and Hungarians had done with them before. Some tanks with their belts wrapped in pieces of bodies and entrails presented a particularly disgusting sight,” Hrozný recalled years ago in an interview with military historian Vlastimil Schildberger, senior.
The last injury just after the war
From Vienna he got to Břeclav and Dolní Věstony. There he was ordered to go to Prague for reconnaissance. They finally got there with their armored car without much difficulty, even though they passed fleeing German columns several times on the way.
They arrived in Prague at Žižkov in the evening of May 8, when the Germans were already on the retreat and the city was relatively calm. They waited for the main army and entered Prague with it in triumph. “When we were driving through Wenceslas Square, people threw lilacs at us, buns were thrown into the open windows of the armored personnel carriers, and I was also shoved there. That was just beautiful. Both for us and for those civilians.”
But the war is not over for Hrozný. His unit was sent to help the partisans who were fighting retreating SS units under the command of SS-Gruppenführer Karl von Pückler near Milín in the Příbram region. Fierce fighting lasted until May 11 before the SS surrendered. However, during one of the shootouts, Hrozný was wounded in the head by a bullet. Thanks to her and the fourth injury, he no longer had to return to the Soviet Union with his unit and was so-called demobilized. After being cured and released from the hospital, he returned to Prague, where he had previously met a girl from Prague’s Kyjí. It wasn’t long before they celebrated their wedding.
He never boasted that he was a Red Army man. He won me over by being a genuine guy
Hrozný, who thereby obtained Czechoslovak citizenship, wanted to look back home and show his bride to his parents. But that was not a good idea, because his young wife did not like it in the USSR and wanted to return to Czechoslovakia soon. She herself did not have a problem and could travel, but the Soviet authorities, and especially the agents of the NKVD secret police, did not allow Horzný to do so.
“They kept persuading me that there are forty girls for every guy in Russia, and I found a wife in Czechoslovakia. They offered me that I can study at university there and all paths are open for me,” he described the pressure of the secret police.
The NKVD tracked him down
In the end, Naoko agreed to stay, but in reality he was trying to cross the border illegally. He went to Lviv and from there to a small town near the Czechoslovak border. At the market, he met a man who promised to transfer him to Slovakia. But he was unlucky, because the smuggler brought him into the hands of the border guards, who killed him and took him to the local court, which unceremoniously sentenced him to three years in prison in Lviv.
Stalin is said to have forbidden the NKVD to assassinate Hitler
However, he managed to escape during the transport, and eventually crossed the border and reached Slovakia, Bratislava. But he did not stay here for long, because soon the NKVD tracked him down and dragged him back to the Soviet Union. There he received ten years plus three years of the first sentence in the Ural penal camps, in the gulags.
“The Gulag Was Worse”
“Crime was worse than war, hunger, people were zero and slave labor twelve hours a day,” Hrozný recalled. He replaced a number of camps, built houses or cut down trees.
“One time a tree fell on a friend and the branch hit him on the head and he got a terrible swelling. We quickly took him to a camp where there was a skilled doctor among the prisoners. He cut off the skin on his head with a sharp knife and tried to relieve the swelling, but it didn’t work and he died in a few moments.’
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He spent almost six years in the penal colonies, he was saved only by Stalin’s death in March 1953, when he received an amnesty and was able to return to Czechoslovakia. But he was not lucky here either. The wife could not wait and married a second time. He therefore went to the mines in Ostrava, then worked in Opava in a tractor station or drove a bulldozer during the construction of the D1 highway, where he met his second wife Maria.
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She confided in Prav that she met her husband at a dance in Brno and to this day has no idea how a man 28 years older managed to win her heart. “It certainly wasn’t because he was a World War II hero who liberated Sofia, Bucharest, Budapest, Vienna and Prague. He never boasted that he was a Red Army man. But he won me over because he’s a genuine guy,” noted Marie, adding that she never regretted her decision.
“We spent fifty beautiful years together. We have a son and a daughter who married in Britain. And guess who her man is? A marine from the Royal Marines,” she added for Právo.
A traitor since 1939, he flew from Britain in a fighter jet to the Third Reich
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