On the twenty-ninth of May, 1942, Radio Prague announced that Reinhard Heydrich, Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia, lay dying at the Bulovka hospital in Prague from wounds sustained in a daring ambush by Czech partisans as his car passed through the city outskirts at Holesovice, on the Rude Armady VII Kobylisky not far from the Vltava river.
The assassins attempted to kill Heydrich with automatic weapons but experienced a malfunction so a grenade was then tossed at the car by one of the Czechs. The resulting explosion caused sever damage to the right rear wing of the Mercedes, puncturing the tire and blowing a large hole in the bodywork.The attackers then fled and, Heydrich attempted to shoot at the escaping assassins but his weapon also misfired. He then staggered back to the car and collapsed on the hood in severe pain.
The operation was carried out in Prague on 27 May 1942 after having been prepared by the British Special Operations Executive with the approval of the Czechoslovak government-in-exile. Although only wounded in the attack, Heydrich died of his injuries on 4 June 1942. His death led to a wave of merciless reprisals by German SS troops, including the destruction of villages and the killing of civilians.
Heydrich had been important in the rise of Adolf Hitler; as a Nazi potentate, he was given overall charge of the Final Solution and the Holocaust of the Jews in Europe. Despite the risks, the primary purpose of Anthropoid, from the Czech perspective, was to confer legitimacy on Edvard Beneš’s government-in-exile in London.
Operation Anthropoid – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Heydrich had been the chief of the RSHA since September 1939 and was appointed acting Protector of Bohemia and Moravia after replacing Konstantin von Neurath in September 1941. Hitler agreed with Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler and Heydrich that von Neurath’s relatively lenient approach to the Czechs promoted anti-German sentiment, and encouraged anti-German resistance by strikes and sabotage.
On September 27, 1941, the Czech Press Agency released the news that the Reich Protector Konstantin von Neurath had fallen ill.
and Hitler had named a substitute Reich Protector, Reinhard Heydrich.
Heydrich came to Prague to “strengthen policy, carry out countermeasures against resistance”, and keep up production quotas of Czech motors and arms that were “extremely important to the German war effort”. During his role as de facto dictator of Bohemia and Moravia, Heydrich often drove with his chauffeur in a car with an open roof. This was a show of his confidence in the occupation forces and in the effectiveness of his government.Due to his brutal efficiency, Heydrich was nicknamed the Butcher of Prague, the Blond Beast, and the Hangman.
One of Heydrich’s first decrees, dated September 29, 1941,concerning the treatment of Jews and closing of synagogues stated:
“…Jewish synagogues and places of prayer have not been used for religious purposes for some time. Instead, they have become centers for all kinds of Jewish subversive elements and focal points of illegal whispered propaganda. For this reason I have ordered the closing of all Jewish synagogues and places of prayer.”
By late 1941, Hitler controlled almost all continental Europe, and German forces were approaching Moscow.The Allies deemed Soviet capitulation likely. The exiled government of Czechoslovakia under President Edvard Beneš
was under pressure from British intelligence, as there had been very little visible resistance since the occupation of the Sudeten regions of the country in 1938. (Occupation of the whole country began in 1939.) The takeover of these regions was enforced by the Munich Agreement, and the subsequent terror of the German Reich broke the will of the Czechs for a period.
The resistance was active from the very beginning of occupation in several other countries defeated in open warfare (e.g., Poland, Yugoslavia, and Greece), but the subjugated Czech lands remained relatively calm and produced significant amounts of materiel for the Third Reich. The exiled government felt that it had to do something that would inspire the Czechs as well as show the world that the Czechs were allies.
Reinhard Heydrich was chosen over Karl Hermann Frank as an assassination target due to his status as the acting Protector of Bohemia and Moravia as well as his reputation for terrorizing local citizens. The operation was also intended to demonstrate to senior Nazis that they were not untouchable
The operation was given the codename Anthropoid, Greek for “having the form of a human”, a term usually used in zoology. Preparation began on 20 October 1941 with the British Special Operations Executive (SOE). Warrant Officer Jozef Gabčík (Slovak) and Staff Sergeant Karel Svoboda (Czech) were chosen to carry out the operation on 28 October 1941 (Czechoslovakia’s Independence Day). Svoboda was replaced with Jan Kubiš (Czech) after a head injury during training, causing delays in the mission as Kubiš had not completed training, nor had the necessary false documents been prepared for him.
Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš were airlifted along with seven soldiers from Czechoslovakia’s army-in-exile in the United Kingdom and two other groups named Silver A and Silver B (who had different missions) by a Royal Air Force Halifax of No. 138 Squadron into Czechoslovakia at 10 pm on 28 December 1941.
Gabčík and Kubiš landed near Nehvizdy east of Prague; although the plan was to land near Pilsen, the pilots had problems with orientation.The soldiers then moved to Pilsen to contact their allies, and from there on to Prague, where the attack was planned.
In Prague, they contacted several families and anti-Nazi organisations who helped them during the preparations for the assassination.Gabčík and Kubiš initially planned to kill Heydrich on a train, but after examination of the logistics, they realised that this was not possible. The second plan was to kill him on the road in the forest on the way from Heydrich’s seat to Prague. They planned to pull a cable across the road that would stop Heydrich’s car but, after waiting several hours, their commander, Lt. Adolf Opálka (from the group Out Distance), came to bring them back to Prague. The third plan was to kill Heydrich in Prague.
On 27 May 1942 at 10:30, Heydrich proceeded on his daily commute from his home in Panenské Břežany to Prague Castle. Gabčík and Kubiš waited at the tram stop at a tight curve near Bulovka Hospital in Prague 8-Libeň. The spot was chosen because the curve would force the car to slow down. Josef Valčík was positioned about 100 metres (109 yards) north of Gabčík and Kubiš as lookout for the approaching car.
Heydrich’s green, open-topped Mercedes 320 Convertible B reached the curve two minutes later.
Gabčík stepped in front of the vehicle and tried to open fire with his Sten submachine gun, but it jammed.
Heydrich ordered his driver, SS-Oberscharführer Klein, to stop the car, then stood up to shoot Gabčík with his Luger pistol.
Kubiš threw a modified anti-tank grenade(concealed in a briefcase) at the vehicle and its fragments ripped through the car’s right rear bumper, embedding shrapnel and fibres from the upholstery in Heydrich’s body upon detonation, even though the grenade failed to enter the car. The grenade also injured Kubiš.
Following the explosion, Gabčík and Kubiš fired at Heydrich with their Colt M1903 pistols but failed to hit him, as they were shocked by the explosion as well.
Heydrich staggered out of the car, apparently unaware of his shrapnel injuries, returned fire, and tried to chase Gabčík, but he soon collapsed. Klein returned from his abortive attempt to chase Kubiš, who fled the scene by bicycle. Now bleeding profusely, Heydrich ordered Klein to chase Gabčík on foot, saying “Get that bastard!”.Klein chased him into a butcher shop, where Gabčík shot him twice with his pistol, severely wounding him in the leg, and then escaped to a local safe house via tram. Gabčík and Kubiš were initially convinced that the attack had failed.
A Czech woman and an off-duty policeman went to Heydrich’s aid and flagged down a delivery van. Heydrich was first placed in the driver’s cab, but complained that the truck’s movement was causing him pain. He was then transferred to the back of the truck, placed on his stomach, and taken to the emergency room at Na Bulovce Hospital. He had suffered severe injuries to his left side, with major diaphragm, spleen, and lung damage as well as a fractured rib. A Dr. Slanina packed the chest wound, while Dr. Walter Diek (the Sudeten German chief of surgery at the hospital) tried unsuccessfully to remove the splinters.
He was rushed to the Bulovka emergency room shortly after 11:00 a.m. and was registered under the number 12.555/42. Heydrich’s spleen had been fatally damaged and he contracted blood poisoning from grenade shrapnel, seat-spring splinters, and horse-hair used to cushion the cars upholstery.
On May 27, 1942, Karl. Hermann Frank, declared a state of civil emergency. Posters appeared in the streets offering a reward for information on the perpetrators. Himmler, at Hitler’s headquarters in Rastenburg was immediately notified of the incident and ordered Dr. K. Gebhardt, his personal physician and Professor of Orthopedics in Berlin, to fly at once to Heydrich’s bedside.
Gebhardt landed in Prague the evening of May 27, and followed Heydrich progress closely even telephoning Himmler twice a day to report on his patient’s status
He soon developed a fever and suffered from copious wound drainage until June 2, but the following day the fever appeared to have subsided. However, around noon, while Heydrich was sitting in bed eating a late breakfast, he suddenly went into shock and quickly lapsed into a deep coma from which he never recovered.
He died at 4:30 a.m. the next morning, June 4, 1942. The death of the Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia was recorded in the Bulovka death register as “Nr 348/1942.Reinhard Tristan Eugen Heydrich.
Cause of death: gunshot wound/murder attempt/wound infection
Hitler ordered the SS and Gestapo to “wade in blood” throughout Bohemia to find Heydrich’s killers. Hitler wanted to start with brutal, widespread killing of the Czech people but, after consultations, he reduced his response to only some thousands. The Czech lands were an important industrial zone for the German military and indiscriminate killing could reduce the productivity of the region.
Things went from bad to worse for the ANTHRPOID team and their collaborators in hiding. Karel Čurda another of the men from the OUT DISTANCE unit, who left Prague immediately after the assassination and hid out with his mother in Nová Hlína near Třeboň, was captured by the Gestapo and betrayed the names of the team’s local contact persons for the bounty of 1 million Reichsmarks.
Čurda betrayed several safe houses provided by the Jindra group, including that of the Moravec family in Žižkov. At 05:00 on 17 June, the Moravec flat was raided.
The family was made to stand in the hallway while the Gestapo searched their flat. Mrs. Marie Moravec was allowed to go to the toilet, where she bit into a cyanide capsule and killed herself. Mr. Alois Moravec was unaware of his family’s involvement with the resistance; he was taken to the Peček Palác together with his 17-year-old son Ata, who was interrogated with torture throughout the day but refused to talk. The youth was stupefied with brandy, shown his mother’s severed head in a fish tank, and warned that, if he did not reveal the information that they were looking for, his father would be next. Ata’s strong willpower finally snapped, and he told the Gestapo what they wanted to know. Vlastimil “Ata” Moravec was executed by the Nazis in Mauthausen on 24 October 1942, the same day as his father, his fiancé, her mother, and her brother were executed
At 3:45 am on June 18, 1942, SS-Brigadeführer Karl von Treuenfeld, issued an order to the Reserve Battalion Deutschland and the Guard Battalion Prague to surround the area around the Church of St. Cyril and Methodius. The location of where Kubiš, Gabčík and Opálka were hiding.
German Police under the command of Gestapo Chief Heinz Pannwitz and Nazi Secretary of State Karl Frank quickly overpowered the priest, Father Vladimir Petrek and von Treuenfeld was given the order to attack. The battled ensued for fourteen hours as the Czech parachutists put up fierce resistance.The Germans first searched the church warden’s apartment. They quickly found the window with an unscrewed inside grating, which would have been used in the event of the paratroopers’ escape. The Gestapo and SS then proceeded to the inner section of the Church of St. Cyril and Methodius, where Adolf Opálka, Josef Bublík and Jan Kubiš were keeping guard in the gallery and the choir.
The attackers tried to reach the choir through a narrow staircase, under cover fire provided by Adolf Opálka. Wounded and nearing the end of his ammunition Adolf Opálka took poison and simultaneously ended his life with a pistol shot to the left temple.
After the inside of the church was overrun, the battle shifted to the crypt, the only entrance to which led through a small ventilation opening in the western part of the church which was accessible from the street outside. The Germans seized this opportunity and ordered in the Prague fire department to begin flooding the crypt with water and tear gas.
Near the altar, under a carpet, the Germans found an entrance into the crypt covered with a stone slab. After destroying it with explosives, they discovered steep stairs leading into the crypt; the Czechs were now fighting from all sides.Pannwitz and Frank had Čurda brought in to try and persuade the men in the crypt to surrender, but his shouts for them to give themselves up were met by fire form the defenders guns. The Czech’s thought they might have a chance if they could tunnel there way out of the crypt into the sewer system below, but Jan Kubiš suffered from multiple gun shot and grenade wounds and died of blood loss.
The remaining defenders both exhausted and their ammunition just about gone, chose suicide over capture. Josef Gabčík ended his own life with a pistol shot. Fourteen German soldiers had been killed and many more injured in the series of attacks. The dead paratroopers were carried out in front of the church and identified by the traitor Karel Čurda.
The assassination led to the reprisal of the complete destruction of the village of Lidice, 173 Lidice men were shot on that fateful day in the garden of the Horak farm.
Jan Kubiš’ girlfriend, Anna Malinova, was arrested in the aftermath of the assassination, and died in Mauthausen concentration camp. Many Resistance helpers were also arrested and murdered, including Father Petrek
The Germans erected a monument to Heydrich which was torn down by the Czechs in 1945.
Hitler granted Lina, Heydrich’s widow, heavily pregnant at the time of his death, the estate at Panenske Brezany, and she ended her days as a hotel-keeper on the island of Fehmarn.
“I have only a few words to dedicate to this dead man. He was one of the best National Socialists, one of the strongest defenders of German Reich, one of the biggest opponents of all the enemies of the Reich. He fell as a martyr for the preservation and safeguarding of the Reich. As leader of the party and as leader of the German Reich, I give you, my dear comrade Heydrich, the highest recognition I have to bestow, the uppermost level of the German Order.
The events of this operation have been remembered in several monumments.
And have also been told in several movies.
In 1943 two movies were made Hitler’s Madman by Douglas Sirk and Hangmen also die by Fritz Lang.
In 1964 Jiří Sequens directed the Czech Movie Atentat
In 1975 Operation Daybreak starring Timothy Bottoms and Martin Shaw , directed by Lewis Gilbert.
In all fairness I don’t think the movie did the story any justice. the performances were weak.
I am looking forward to the upcoming movie “Operation Anthropoid” directed by Sean Ellis.