Bahna 2003 "Ground Forces' Day"
I am currently standing at the foot of a massive hill between the cities of Prague and Pilsen on top of which Bahna 2003 - the "Day of the Czech Ground Forces", is currently being held for the 14th year. Organised by the Czech Ground Forces, Czech Territorial Forces, the Castle Guard, the Ground Troops Foundation, the Museum of Demarcation Line, the Czechoslovakian Legionary Society and several military history clubs, the Day of the Czech Ground Forces was festively opened at ten a.m. and is expected to attract several thousand spectators. But now it's time for me to walk up to Bahna and find someone who can tell us more about the event...
Where are the foreign armies from?
"This year we have four armies. They are from Austria, France, Germany and Poland."
What are visitors able to see here?
"There's a wide selection of things you can see here. There are the Polish light terrain vehicles, France has a light reconnaissance car, Austria is presenting a combat vehicle, and Germany has very strong and heavy equipment such as the very famous Leopard tank, which has a big 2500 horse power engine. They also have the Haubitze 2000 and an armoured car. It's all very modern equipment. The Leopard tank, for example, is currently the most popular tank in Europe. It's being used by the armies of seven countries."
This looks like a very large space. How big is it?
"I don't know how many square metres it has but in terms of the capacity of people, we had about 50,000 people here two years ago. Last year we had really bad weather. It rained for four days. However, we had between 30,000 to 35,000 visitors. Today I think all records will be broken because the weather is very nice with almost tropical conditions and I think about 60,000 to 70,000 people will come."
Several metres from where we are standing right now, there are currently all sorts of presentations going on...
"During the main exhibition, visitors can see a reconstruction of battles from WWII, a presentation of historic equipment starting with a tank from WWI, and slowly, step by step escalating through the Second World War up to the state of the current army. The presentation ended with the latest equipment of NATO country armies."
"My name is Lieutenant Guillaume Botreau and I'm from France, Brittany, near the seaside, which you haven't got in the Czech Republic [laughing] but it's also a nice country. Different but very nice as well."
What battalion or unit are you from?
"I'm from the Mechanised Infantry Battalion and I'm the leader of the Reconnaissance Platoon. I had the chance to go to Kosovo and Afghanistan. I just came back a week ago... now I'm on holiday in the Czech Republic."
Can you tell us a little bit about what the mechanised infantry battalion does?
"It mainly gains and keeps contact on the terrain. When tanks comes to an area, the fight follows and then they leave to go to another area. You need an infantry man to stay and keep the terrain. That is mainly our job. The mechanised infantry has also got another asset. It has fire power, which is more important than light infantry."
What are you presenting here today?
"We are presenting the VBL, which is a light armoured vehicle. They are mostly reconnaissance and command vehicles. They are amphibious and go very fast. Today, we drove about 70km/hr on the cross-country presentation, so we flew quite a bit [laughing]. It's small and silent, so it's good for reconnaissance operations."
How are you enjoying the show here today?
"I am seeing this show for the first time. It's the second time I've come to the Czech Republic. I came here in 1995 in a Tricolour exercise. I'm very impressed by the show because there are a lot of vehicles and a lot of visitors. We have quite a similar show in France but I'm not sure if it's that famous in the country. I'm very pleased to see that the Czech people come here to see the equipment and ask so many questions and are interested in what we do."
Well, I'm now in front of what looks like the Polish presentation. There are little kids running around looking at the parachutes and the cars and all sorts of technology...
"My name is Major Krzysztof Tytko and I'm from the 6th Air Assault Brigade, which is a typical Polish assault unit. There are about fifteen soldiers here today with the typical weapons and parachutes. There is also a team leader, the operator of the machine gun, of the bazooka, of the anti-tank launcher, and the sixteen millimetre motor. We also have an operator of the forty millimetre grenade launcher and the tree terrain Tarpan vehicle."
Is there a show similar to Bahna in Poland?
"No. In Poland we do not have Ground Forces' Day. We only have a parade but no vehicle and weapons show."
"I'm stationed in Germany. Here you can see the Haubitze 2000 A1, which at the moment is the most modern of its kind in the world."
What is it used for?
"It's an artillery system. What is special about it is it can fire a very long distance. The maximum range of this system is 40 kilometres."
How can you see that far?
"I have a forward fire controller with the targets and get the order to fire."
Inside the tank, you have a screen in front of a seat and on it you have the target?
"No, on that screen I get the order to fire certain co-ordinates and a number and type of rounds. Then I can do my firing."
What kind of ammunition is in this. What kind of damage does it do?
"A lot of damage. We have evil types of rounds - high explosive, bomb lead, illume, smoke... for every situation on the battle field, we have the ammunition inside."
What kind of ammunition is in front of us now?
"They are training rounds. The system of this Haubitze is very big and I have to give my crew hard training in order for the system to perform at its best. So with these rounds we train our crews."