Richard Tesařík – Czechoslovak tanker and a Hero of the USSR

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 the main train station. Bitter fighting ensued, but by 19:00 (the attack itself started at 15:00!), the train station – along with a nearby bridge – was in Czechoslovak hands and it was saved from destruction by the Germans, who intended to undermine it. Tesařík personally knocked out three machinegun nests and an anti-tank gun.

For this heroic action, he became one of the three men of the Czechoslovak brigade to recieve the Hero of the USSR award on 21.12.1943, along with the Order of Lenin. In March 1944, he was promoted to Lieutenant and in June 1944, he married Markéta Olšanová, a military nurse, who he knew ever since Sokolovo.

In September 1944, as a tank commander of the 3rd Tank Batallion, he took part in the battle of the Dukla Pass – an attempt to break through the German lines to Slovakia to help the national uprising. On 22.9.1944, during the battle of the Point 694 (“Hyrow mountain”), Tesařík was severly injured. Aiming to break through the German lines, his tank was the first to reach the German trenches, but as soon as he approached the first fortified area, a German soldier fired a Panzerfaust shell at him. The tank immediately caught on fire and started sliding down the hill. Out of the crew, only Tesařík survived, but he was burned and lost an eye and he survived the ordeal just barely. Nevertheless, he recovered fast and was fighting again in November 1944 as a 1st Lieutenant. He finished the war fighting the Germans near Ostrava in March 1945.

Immediately after the war, he became a member of president Beneš’s honor guard and took part in the cleaning operations in Silesia. From October 1945, now a captain, he started his studies at the Moscow armored warfare university – he finished his studies in 1949. According to the eyewitnesses, Tesařík was a harsh man and caused many altercations during his stay in Russia, disrespecting officers who have never seen battle – allegedly, only his Hero of the USSR status saved him from being expelled.

In July 1949, he returned to Czechoslovakia as a Major and became a military instructor. From 1950, he became the Chief of Staff for the Czechoslovak armored troops (now he was a Lt.Col.). In 1951, he was promoted to a full colonel, but again his aggressive nature caused a conflict with the Minister of Defense and Gottwald’s protegé, Alexej Čepička. He was forced to resign his staff position in 1952 and became a tank commander in one of the military districts in Trenčín. At this point he had problems with drinking and disorderly conduct again and in 1953, he was arrested for drunk driving and for losing sensitive documents. He was sent to prison in Ruzyně, but in 1954, he was released and recieved only a small punishment for negligence after the intervention of Nikita Khruschev. In November 1954 he was again promoted to the post of a commander of 13th Tank Division and after Alexej Čepička was sacked in June 1956, he was promoted to Major General. After serving on several command posts, he was sent to the Staff Academy in Moscow again in August 1959, but after several incidents, including a diplomatic scandal, when he got drunk during Hungarian embassy banquet, he was sent back to Czechoslovakia. More problems piled on and in 1960, he was kicked out from the Communist Party (which equalled social execution) and was sacked from the army.

For the rest of his life, Richard Tesařík worked on several civillian positions (like aircraft dispatcher), but in 1966, his health got worse suddenly and he had to retire. Soon afterwards, on 27.3.1966, he died of an heart attack. He is buried in Příbram.

25 thoughts on “Richard Tesařík – Czechoslovak tanker and a Hero of the USSR

  1. That’s one hell of a badass Czech. Even for Russian’s. Good thing he died before Operation Danube.

  2. Pretty interesting story. Although he was great leader by the stories here, he was also full of himself. I don’t understand why do people who achieved something in their lives (surviving the war), goes down badly. I know that war changes human but that’s not the way he should go, aggresive drunk who argued with almost everyone. He really screwed his position and influence by those actions.

    • I think we have it twisted. There is this general idea that war changes men and I am sure that is true to some extent, but to be really good at it requires a certain type of person. Tesařík was, according to eyewitnesses, “problematic” even before the war. Maybe it was his nature that allowed him to be a hero, not vice versa.

    • I am going to go with something similar to what SS wrote.

      Although I would not be surprised if the drinking was a reaction to another underlying problem (It usually is) and I don’t mean the war explicitly but that cant be discounted. I think he never changed from day one and that actions done in war were rewarded by awards and once the war was over such actions were no longer kosher and he just never changed.

      As for him being aggressive as an instructor it does make sense, same with him arguing with officers who never saw combat. He happened to see combat and to him believed that he was right about what ever was being argued about since he had seen combat and was not a desk jockey. As to if he was actually right in his arguments “who knows”. One would suspect that he was right more often then not and it drove the other officers crazy. Enough to report him.

  3. “charged a German halftrack, throwing a grenade inside and killing 20 soldiers”

    Did he kill those 20 soldiers during whole battle? Because it’s kind of hard to believe there were twenty Germans in one vehicle.

    “During the melee, Germans were gradually pushed back.”

    Shouldn’t it be other side being pushed? Rest of article suggests it that way.

    But those are technicalities, great read overall.

    • I checked the source (V.Majnek – Bitva Dvakrát Znásilněná) – yes, it was 20 men killed “at once”, the text doesn’t specify, whether they were all inside, some could have been taking cover behind it. It’s not that hard to believe – during emergencies, the vehicle could carry as many as 15 troops + 2 crewmembers and three could have been killed behind it.

      The first melee actually ended with Germans retreating (being repulsed), that’s what I meant by “pushed back” – but the Czechoslovak troops were heavily outnumbered and in the end (around 17PM IIRC) they were pushed towards the church.

    • Actually it’s quite possible if it was a Sd.Kfz 250/251 with an open top and armoured sides.
      It could only take 10 passengers and 2 drivers but who knows – maybe all passengers were standing…
      I can only guess that the blast was much stronger because of the sides that cumulated the energy of the explosion and thus killed so many.
      It doens’t seem likely that a grenade would kill both of people around and inside the haltruck since it had armored sides.

      • I guess it could meant 20 kills for whole “action”, i.e. charging, throwing grenade, blowing up the halftrack, subsequent exchange of fire.
        Because it would be mighty weird for Germans to pack like sardines into that halftrack, and then drive into the village.
        And I don’t know how reliable is that source, but if it is based on post battle reports or soldiers tales, it should be taken with a pinch of salt.
        Just like those tales of allied tankers always meeting Panthers or Tigers, German fighter aces with 200 or 300+ “confirmed” kills, Soviet Navy sinking more U-boats then there were in the whole operating area, etc.
        Taking 20 soldiers with one grenade is a lot – especially during firefight, and not some ambush.

        • A fully agree. 20 ppl with one granade in such conditions with an prolly open half track where the blast has room to “spread” is highly doubtfull. I mean sure it could kill a few inside and cripple some, but the balst radius is in no possible way able to kill ppl standing outside it.

    • German source? Like Nazi documents? Yeah because they are totally legit, full of propaganda in order to glorify their shitty Fascist shithole and making their army invincible. Nazis best known for white washing history worse than both USA and USSR combined.

      • That is a gross oversimplification.
        And you mistake propaganda with sources.
        Article about operation X in “Signal” magazine? Pure propaganda (but still valuable for historians).
        Report by commander that took part in operation X, sent to his superiors? Source.
        See the difference?

        Army needs to produce a lot of paper to function, and Germans were quite efficient bureaucrats.

      • riight. german documenst were pretty reliable, they were writing down everything, every prisoners name in camps was written down, etc.

      • Well, isn’t the same question asked when a German report of some tank destroying 10-20 enemy tanks? We are asked to look for a Bolshevik document to confirm it. Sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander.

  4. Really cool article but a few typos, son instead of soon and returmed instead of returned

  5. Very interesting read, its very sad that his aggressive personality got the better of him in the end. He should have gotten help but I guess he would refuse it if he were to be offered such help.

  6. Looks badass on the pic with eyepatch. In the eyes of Nazi troops, he really looks an evil villain boss with that getup on the pic.