I used to watch this as a little kid, and this was by far the coolest thing on TV. But all I had were my memories of 20 years past and a book with a few photographs. Getting the DVD set as a present was a wonderful surprise, and it allowed me to revisit the series again.
The show, made in the late 60s, covers the adventures of a tank crew, and its dog, part of the Soviet-backed Polish army, in their march from the borders to Poland all the way to Berlin.
The 21 episodes are divided into two main parts. The first part of the series, 8 episodes, shows us how the crew is assembled, its baptism of fire, and its fight to liberate Poland. Although there are a few situations in which they fight on their own, overall they fight as part of the army. The second part of the series, 13 more episodes, show the crew as they enter Germany, and are usually shown to fight on their own due to various twists of fate. The two parts are differentiated by some crew changes brought about by the fortunes of war.
For a series made at the height of the Cold War it does have moments of heavy handed socialist preaching, but overall shows a fairly realistic portrait of war. The cross-section of the crew is rather interesting. Its various members consist of a Russian of Polish descent, a Silesian who escaped from the German army, a native Pole who somehow ended up in Siberia, a Georgian (with an amazing grasp of Polish) and a somewhat naive Polish country bumpkin. The varied ethnicity of the crew is often a source of much of the humor, but never in a mean spirited way, rather to show how people from different backgrounds can unite together to accomplish a common goal.
The show is filmed in black and white. The locations are excellent as are the props, although this being only 20 years after the war, its a good possibility that a lot of the props were genuine equipment. You get to see T-34s, Tigers, Panthers, and a lot of Soviet and German artillery and small arms. The series faithfully sticks to the languages spoken, so the Poles speak Polish, the Russians speak Russian and the Germans speak German.
The plots of the episode are rather creative, but our heroes always pull through with a mix of cleverness and luck. Their dog, a German Shepherd named Szarik, often bails them out of a tough situation. A few of the plots are rather far fetched, but they make an interesting diversion from standard war movie plots of taking or defending a town.
The series has moments of exciting action, but is also a very funny show. Granted there is a lot of wordplay and puns that makes a knowledge of Polish a necessity to fully appreciate, but the chemistry between the crew members is genuine, the nonstop ribbing never overshadows that they really care for each other. There is some sentimentality when an unexpected family reunion occurs, and the protagonist is never bereft of female attention, especially of his love, the Russian medic with whom I fell in love a long time ago.
Polish people are all familiar with this series, but I would highly recommend this for others, especially WW 2 buffs, as a counterpoint to what was happening on the other end of Germany while the 101st was storming across Germany and France. A good TV series with an excellent cast, great action and a lot of comedy.