František Peringer

* 1955

  • “As we were driving towards České Budějovice to confuse the capitalists, near Týn nad Vltavou, in the direction of Bechyně, there’s this... Jewish Gulley they call it, with a small bridge over it. One of the tank driver didn’t manage it – he slipped, or fell asleep. It was okay on rough terrain, the tank drivers just about knew how to drive on terrain, they could keep on course. But it was asphalt there, slippery as well, and the tank capsized. Of course, the drivers coming up behind this tank could see what had happened. So they drove to the gulley to see what the situation was. They wanted to chain up – because it’s no easy matter, technically, to pull out a tank. They wanted to pull the tank out, but the Klatovy tank commander came up and ordered the drivers to carry on, that this was a combat operation and it wasn’t an option for them to stay there. He said they’d directed a rescue tank to arrive from Klatovy. Doctor Deniger and I were at the end of all this here, to be able to solve any issues that might arise. They ordered us to wait there and see to the soldiers who were stuck in the tank. We waited more than six hours for that rescue tank. We didn’t really believe it would end well.”

  • “The soldiers received an order, the order was to set out for České Budějovice. The comrade generals wanted to confuse the capitalist enemy, who could see all of it. And to make it seem like we weren’t going hard north, we drove from Klatovy to České Budějovice, where we were to turn round and finally go actually north. We did that, but to describe it from the end, we arrived at the airfield in Čáslav unfit for combat. When I was returning from the event that I will try to describe, I saw tanks broken down in ditches, trees demolished, APCs and other military vehicles that were completely smashed. Allow me, to make a complete record, to read out some verified information. This is from sources regarding the event, how many soldiers actually took part and which vehicles did or did not reach Poland. The operation included 17,309 soldiers, 541 tanks, of which 80 tanks broke down. Those were the ones we met when we set out after them. 261 infantry fighting vehicles, 335 armoured personal carriers, of which 122 did not reach deployment, and 139 guns, of which some 120 had malfunctions. So like I said, we were unfit for combat. We found that our army was not worth its upkeep. The equipment was old, and the December weather conditions were extreme, minus 20, 25 degrees [Celsius]. The soldiers started freezing to the vehicles, to the armour. They were soaked with diesel and oil. When they slept, they leant against the vehicle, and of course their uniforms froze to the skin, they froze to the tanks. We had to cut them free, in Čáslav and on the way there. Some of them – I didn’t see it, but some of them lost their fingers or even their limbs, they had a frozen hand or a frozen leg. The weather was insane.”

  • “Our doctors suspected that something was afoot because they were visited by a lot of soldiers, mainly from the tank companies, who complained they were overworked. Because they had joined in October 1980, they had had one month of prelims, and then after being sworn in they were forced to climb into the tanks in the night after their daytime jobs and learn to drive them – with all the less sleep because of it, of course. They just couldn’t go on, so they said: ‘We’re terribly tired, bossed about in the morning, bossed about in the day, bossed about in the night.’ The doctors started to suspect that something was going on because this was not entirely standard. We had information from Poland, we knew that something was happening there. We knew there was a reformist movement there and reformist events. But we had no idea that there could be a repeat of what happened here in ’68, we had no idea, of course. But we did know there could be some extraordinary exercise because the soldiers were learning to drive. We were all ready for that, to be part of some exercise. That was nothing extraordinary. But we didn’t consider it that important.”

  • “In other words, we received the order indirectly, it was clear we were going to a military exercise. That we were going to attack the Poles, and that we would go at the Poles by heading to České Budějovice [in the opposite direction than Poland – trans.], that kind of silliness would never have occurred to us. The units that set out after receiving the order on 6 December, they knew it and they also drove straight towards Poland, and as I have heard, some of them even entered Poland. The soldiers were afraid of the Polish, the word was that ‘Poles aren’t Czechs, Poles won’t just let some tank crews drive around Poland.’ Our soldiers knew that the Poles would defend their country. And then there were some of our soldiers who said: ‘At least we’ll get to do some shooting!’ Different kinds of mentalities. Some were reasonably afraid, others were unreasonably eager to shoot at people. But that’s how it is with people. Yes, there were those who would have enjoyed it. The question is, they might’ve been bragging, but I don’t know, I’m not sure that every other man is ready to shoot at people, especially without cause. There was no vital threat here, and if there was, for what reason? If anyone asked himself those questions, everyone would’ve done all they could to avoid it. And if someone can’t see this, he might reckon he’d have himself a hunt.”

  • “So we waited for the tow truck from Týn, but it was already being used elsewhere. It took six seven hours for it to arrive, in that freezing cold. Then a second one came and they managed to pull it out. They opened the tank hatch, the crew were obviously already dead. I won’t describe it in detail, all four of them. Doctor Deniger wrote out their death certificates, but Mr Wolf was the only one whom he suspected of dying from mechanical injury, by breaking his neck or something. All the other ones had very clearly died by drowning and suffocation. All four soldiers were alive when it happened, which is a terrible tragedy. The way I see it, those soldiers could have lived if the other tank crews that had been down there hadn’t been called away and had pulled the tank out. Another big problem was that the bodies were frozen. They had to remove hundreds of rounds of ammunition from around them in the tank. It was awful, I can’t describe it. Doctor Deniger examined the bodies. Then a helicopter landed there with some general of ours. I don’t know what it was, but he wasn’t exactly on the bright side because Doctor Deniger was with one of them, it happened to be that Mr Wolf, who was married and had a ring. The general told him: ‘Doctor, take off his ring, so his comrade wife has the ring.’ That’s like from some TV series. The doctor said: ‘But I can’t, you can see that it won’t come off.’ The general said: ‘Then cut the finger off, that can’t be a problem, it’s dead anyway.’ The doctor retorted: ‘You do that yourself, I won’t do it.’ We went through their papers and saw that the one man had been married. We even saw that he had three children, though in the end he was only expecting one. The three we saw were not his, just relatives, as I found out recently. Until now I’d thought he had three children, the kids were there in the photos, he had them rolled into a tube.”

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    Praha, 06.05.2021

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The pointless Operation Krkonoše had its victims

František Peringer at the infirmary of the military detachment in Klatovy, where he served as a medic, 1981
František Peringer at the infirmary of the military detachment in Klatovy, where he served as a medic, 1981
photo: archives of the witness

František Peringer was born on 6 March 1955 in Nové Město na Moravě. His family lived in Bystřice pod Perštýnem. His father worked in the uranium mines in Dolní Rožínka, his mother was a housewife. At primary school, his teacher ridiculed František as a church-goer and troglodyte. He graduated from grammar school and was accepted to the Faculty of Physical Education and Sport of Charles University. He dropped out of school because of muscle injury, but he completed a secondary-school medical course instead. In 1979 he started his compulsory military service. He attended a school for NCOs and was certified as a medical instructor; half a year later he was assigned to a combat unit in Klatovy, where he worked at the infirmary. In December 1980 the Klatovy detachment received orders to move to the Polish borders. Dubbed “Operation Krkonoše”, the event had the Czechoslovak People’s Army poised to invade Poland to quash the efforts of the workers’ union movement Solidarity to transform the totalitarian system. During the move to the Polish borders, a tank crashed near Týn nad Vltavou, causing the death of all four members of the crew. František Peringer and doctor Jan Deniger were at the place of the accident, but they could not help the tank’s crew. The Klatovy tank unit and other soldiers only reached Čáslav before they were called back to their barracks. František Peringer concluded his military service in 1981. In the 1980s he refused an offer to collaborate with State Security. In 1989 he started a logistics business, which he was still running in 2021. As of 2021, he lived in Brno.