Four tankmen, love and a dog: We remember the actors of the legendary Polish TV series

Film frame "Four troopers and a dog"

Frame from the film “Four Tankers and a Dog”

Last week Franciszek Pechka passed away, Polish actor. He was 96 years old, he played dozens of roles in very, very different films. He was loved by all Polish directors, he often starred in Germany, he was awarded the highest Polish award – the Order of the White Eagle. And he is Gustlik, one of the main characters of the series “Four Tankmen and a Dog”. One of the favorite films of Soviet boys. We want to honor the memory of a wonderful actor and recall the tape that glorified him and other “tank” heroes in the USSR.

More than a series

Janusz Przymanowski (1922-1998), author of a book and script for a series about tankers and a dog, volunteered for the front in 1939. Poland was defeated, and he, as a soldier, was interned in the USSR, even spent time in prison. And when the formation of Polish units began, he again voluntarily went to fight as part of the future Polish Army. In the 1980s, as a member of the Sejm, Pszymanowski fought desperately against Solidarity and anti-Soviet sentiment. In 1987, he published the book “Memory”, collecting in it the names of Soviet and Polish soldiers who died during the liberation of Poland.

He dedicated the book “Four Tankers and a Dog” to the First Tank Brigade of the Polish Army named after the heroes of Westerplatte (from September 1 to September 7, 1939, the garrison of the peninsula, numbering 182 people, kept the German forces in 3,500 people). Polish tankers armed with Soviet tanks participated in the defeat of Nazi Germany.

The book became a hit, and in the years 1966-1970, the TV series “Cheri Panzerni and the dog” appeared. The film was a wild success both in Poland and in the USSR.

Olgerd Yarosh (Roman Wilhelmy), first crew commander

Olgerd Yarosh (Roman Wilhelmy)

Olgerd Yarosh (Roman Wilhelmy)

A photo: frame from the film.

The most exciting films about the war have always been accompanied by a nagging expectation – who will be killed, who will not live to see the final credits? The first crew commander, the authoritative and heroic lieutenant Yarosh, died in the Four Tankers. According to the book, the first commander of the tank was a Russian by the name of Semyon (translated by Semenov, of course), but for the series they decided it was politically correct to give leadership to “local personnel”.

The prototype of Yarosh is considered to be the Polish tanker Vaclav Ferinec, who commanded a real tank with number 102 (he died in 2017 with the rank of colonel).

The lieutenant was played by Roman Wilhelmy (1936-1991). In Poland, Wilhelmy is considered one of the most outstanding actors in the history of the country (primarily in the theater). He has dozens of roles in the best Polish films. At the same time, work in the “tankers” almost became fatal for his career. The success of the flight was stunning, his lieutenant Yarosh instantly became a national hero, and the directors began to be afraid to invite the actor to the role of a different plan. However, Wilhelmy’s talent still made its way.

In the series, his hero appears only in the first eight episodes, but the audience was so indignant at the death of the brave lieutenant that the writers were even going to “resurrect” the hero. But Wilhelmy himself was against it, at that time he was invited to star in an interesting project in the GDR.

The actor was married twice, he has a son, Rafal.

Jan Kos “Janek” (Janusz Gaios), second commander of “Rudogo” (Red)

Jan Kos

Jan Kos “Janek” (Janus Gaios)

A photo: frame from the film.

Jan Kos lost his father during the defense of Westerplatte, searched for him in Siberia, where he learned to shoot well, got a puppy Sharik (the same dog from the name, or a dog in the Polish version). With his desperate courage, Jan won the right to become a tank commander (after the death of the first commander), despite his young age. And he also fell in love with Marusya “Spark”.

Janusz Gajos (born 1939), who played Janek, now lives in Warsaw. On the set of “tankers” the actor fell asleep on the grass and a truck ran over him. Then there was a lot of talk about the fact that the collision was not accidental. Allegedly, everything was set up by a certain jealous person from a love triangle on the set. “That could very well be the case,” the actor agreed in an interview a few years ago. The actor has always had the image of a womanizer and heartthrob.

Gaios was treated for fractures for a long time, the shooting of the film was stopped for this time. Until now, he suffers from pain in the spine. At the same time, in the hospital, he met his first wife. In total, the actor was married four times and did not hide the fact that he led a hectic life as a hero-lover. “All this was before my last marriage, we are a happy married couple,” he notes.

“Beautiful women, of course, cause an atavistic feather reflex, but reality returns everything to its place. There is an anecdote about three elderly gentlemen who walk along the promenade, which is full of girls in bathing suits. One suddenly freezes as if rooted to the spot: “Well, ass!”. And after a while he adds: “So what now?”, – he said in an interview.,

Gustav Jelen “Gustlik” (Franciszek Pechka)

Gustav Jelen

Gustav Jelen “Gustlik” (Franciszek Pechka)

A photo: frame from the film.

The hero of the stove was responsible in the film for both humor and folk wisdom. Gustlik, like the actor playing him, comes from Silesia, where Poles and Germans lived together. The name of the hero is also German, and there were Germans in his family. Gustlik opposes cruelty to enemies, proves that the war goes with the Nazis, and not with the Germans.

The actor constantly emphasized that he remained a “Silesian boy” until old age. Pechka was married once, lived with his wife for 50 years until her death in 2004. The couple had a son, Peter, and a daughter, Ilona.

Grigory Saakashvili – Gzhes (Wlodzimierz Press)

Grigory Saakashvili - Gzhes (Wlodzimierz Press)

Grigory Saakashvili – Gzhes (Wlodzimierz Press)

A photo: frame from the film.

In the hooligan (by Soviet standards) version, the series was called: “Three Poles, a Georgian and a dog.” The driver Saakashvili symbolized the friendship of peoples and the important role of the USSR in the creation of the Polish Army. He also looked like a young Stalin and joked merrily.

The role of the Georgian was brilliantly played by Vlozimierz Press (born in 1940 in Lvov). His father ended up in the Warsaw ghetto and died in the Treblinka camp. Mother and son fled to the USSR, and in the first years the future actor spoke Russian better than Polish. Wlodzimierz is still filming, he has many roles in film and theater. The Polish audience will definitely recognize him by his voice, as Press has dubbed hundreds of foreign films.

Tomasz Chereshniak – “Tomus” (Veslav Golas)

Tomasz Chereshniak -

Tomasz Chereshniak – “Tomus” (Veslav Golas)

A photo: frame from the film.

The second gunner-radio operator who got into the crew after Janek became commander. He plays the accordion and is a constant object of training from the commander and senior (by experience) comrades.

This role was played by Veslav Golas. The actor died last year at the age of 90.

His father was also killed by the Germans in a concentration camp in 1939. As a teenager, young Wieslaw participated in the Polish resistance, got into the Gestapo, was imprisoned, and was sitting in the cell in which his father had been a few years before.

Voice has appeared in dozens of films. Was married twice. In films, he played mainly episodic roles, but he always did it so masterfully that he remains one of the most beloved actors in Poland. They say he was a master of practical jokes, he liked to pretend to be drunk in a serious company or bring the director to a swoon before the premiere. He also spoke brilliantly in made-up languages. Many believed.

Dog Sharik (dog Trimer and others)

Dog Sharik (dog Trimer and others)

Dog Sharik (dog Trimer and others)

A photo: frame from the film.

The series begins with a hunting scene in Siberia, in which Janek from his mentor Efim Semenovich participates. On this hunt, Semyon Efimovich’s dog dies, and Janek keeps her puppy Sharik. Then Sharik becomes a full-fledged member of the tank crew, he is even officially enrolled in a tank division.

The role of Sharik was simultaneously played by three dogs. Trimer, a police dog, is involved in most of the scenes. Her character is evidenced by the fact that she was written off from the police because of the extremely low level of aggression. Trimer is a very smart dog, but, as the director considered, not very cinematic. Therefore, in close-ups, she is replaced by two other dogs – Spike and Attack. The attack, for all its charm, was weakly controlled and excitable. But she is incredibly beautiful. Then she starred in an episode of another cult TV series “Bet more than life”. In order for the three dogs to become similar to each other, they were constantly sheared.

The memory of Trimer, by the way, is still kept in Poland, her stuffed animal is installed in the police museum in the city of Sulkowice.

Fighting girlfriends

As befits a war film, the female roles are not the main ones, although they are important. Malgorzata Nemirskaya (born 1947) played Sergeant Lidka Wisniewska. The actress was married twice (to directors Andrzej Makowiecki and Marek Walczewski). He still performs at the Warsaw Drama Theatre.

Lidka Vishnevskaya (Malgorzata Nemirskaya)

Lidka Vishnevskaya (Malgorzata Nemirskaya)

A photo: frame from the film.

Janek’s beloved Marusya “Spark” was red, and our heroes also piled a tank in her honor Rudy (Red). Marusya played Paul (Apolonia) Rax (born in 1941). In Poland, she was called a sex symbol back in Soviet times. In the USSR, they did not know this word, but in terms of meaning they could say exactly the same. In 2003, she was recognized as the most beautiful blonde in the history of Poland. She played in Andrzej Wajda’s “Ashes” and dozens of other films, but in 1993 she left the cinema and leads a rather closed lifestyle.


Marusya “Spark” – Apolonia Raksi

A photo: frame from the film.

She was married to director Andrzej Kostenko in 1964-1970 and has a son, Martin.

Tank “Red” number 102 (RUDY)

On the armor of the T-34 tank, there were handprints of all crew members and Sharik’s paws. After the death of the first tank, his name went to the new car. Now this car is stored in the museum of armored vehicles in Poznan. In total, several (more than two dozen) tanks with the inscription RUDY were filmed in the film, some of which are now stored in private museums.

On historical truth

After World War II, Poland fell into the socialist camp, was among the countries of the Warsaw Pact and the CMEA (Council for Mutual Economic Assistance). This became possible as a communist government came to power, which was supported by the Soviet Union. But there was also a Polish government in exile, which, in particular, supported the so-called Warsaw Uprising in 1944. The uprising lasted five months, but was crushed by the Germans. It is believed that the rebels did not have enough help from the Red Army.

The film “Four Tankmen and a Dog” tells the Soviet version of the liberation of Poland, which reflects the role of the People’s Army (people’s army, assembled in the USSR), and the role of the Home Army (the army of the Polish government in exile) is forgotten.

In 2006, Polish television announced that it would no longer broadcast the series Four Tankmen and a Dog and The Rate is Bigger Than Life, but already in 2007 tankmen were shown on one of the central channels. In 2008, the series was shown again, provided with subtitles explaining the new political line.

The book “Four Tankmen and a Dog” was a hit, its last edition in Poland was published in 1986, and then it was not published for 30 years. In 2007 it was published again.

“For those who are now 30 or 40 years old, for their sons and grandchildren, “Four Tankmen” is what the Sienkiewicz trilogy was [«Огнем и мечом», «Потоп», «Пан Володыевский»]– an illustration of the eternal myth of the struggle between good and evil, love and reason with stupidity,” wrote a Polish book reviewer in his review. And I want to agree with him.

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