Operation Anthropoid

Operation Anthropoid

Reinhard HeydrichDuring World War II, the Czech-British Operation Anthropoid was the assassination of top Nazi leader Reinhard Heydrich, the chief of Reich Main Security Office, the "Protector of Bohemia and Moravia" and the chief planner of the Final Solution, the Nazi term for the genocide of the Jews.

Background Since 1939 Heydrich was the chief of RSHA, an organization that included the Gestapo (Secret Police), SD (Security Agency) and Criminal police. He was the key planner in removing all Hitler's opponents, as well as (later) the key planner of the genocide of the Jews. He was involved in most of Hitler's intrigues, and a valued political ally, advisor and friend of the dictator. Due to his abilities and power he was feared by almost all Nazi generals. In September 1941 Heydrich was appointed Protector of Bohemia and Moravia, replacing Konstantin von Neurath whom Hitler considered insufficiently harsh. During his role as de facto dictator of Bohemia and Moravia, Heydrich often drove alone in a car with an open roof — a show of confidence in the occupation forces and the effectiveness of their repressive measures against the local population. Due to his cruelty, Heydrich was nicknamed The Butcher of Prague, The Blond Beast or The Hangman.

Strategic context

Nazi zenith 1941-2By late 1941, Hitler controlled almost all of continental Europe and German forces were approaching Moscow. 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 in the Czech lands since the German occupation began in 1939. Resistance was brutally destroyed by Reinhard Heydrich. The Czech lands were producing significant military material for the Third Reich. The exiled government felt it had to do something that would give the Czech people inspiration and show the world the Czechs were allies. The Special Operations Executive (SOE) trained the personnel and planned the operation. (Reference MRD Foot SOE and others. As Adolf Hitler's groomed successor, Reinhard Heydrich was one of the most important men in Nazi Germany. His death would be a huge loss and a profound psychological, if not strategic, victory.

The operation

Insertion and planning

Seven soldiers from the Czechoslovakia's army-in-exile in England, Jozef Gabčík, Jan Kubiš (Anthropoid) and two other groups (Silver A and Silver B, were parachuted by the Royal Air Force into Czechoslovakia on the night of 28 December, 1941. It wasn't the first landing force — there were several unsuccessful attempts before. Gabčík and Kubiš landed east of Prague, although the plan was to land near Pilsen, the pilots having 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 assassinate Heydrich on a train, but after exploration they realized that this was not possible. The second plan was to assassinate 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, resistance fighter Opálka came to bring them back to Prague. The third plan was to assassinate Heydrich in Prague.

The assassination

Heydrich's car after assasinationOn May 27th, Heydrich proceeded on his daily commute from his home in Panenské Břežany to Prague Castle. In a hurry, he didn't wait for the customary police escort. Gabčík and Kubiš waited at the bus stop in the curve near Bulovka hospital. Valčik was positioned about 100 metres north of Gabčík and Kubiš as lookout for the approaching car. As Heydrich's open-topped Mercedes neared the pair, Gabčík is said to have stepped in front of the vehicle, trying to open fire, but his Sten gun jammed. Heydrich's occasional driver, SS-Oberscharführer Klein, stopped the car and tried to shoot Gabčík but missed. Kubiš tossed a modified anti-tank grenade at the vehicle and its fragments ripped through the car's right fender, embedding shrapnel and fibres from the upholstery in Heydrich's body although the grenade failed to enter the car. Heydrich tried to return fire but collapsed. Klein was killed in a manhunt in pursuit of Gabčík.

Heydrich's death

Heinrich Himmler, Heydrich's direct superior, took it upon himself to see to the welfare of his subordinate. No Czech or Wehrmacht doctors were allowed to operate on Heydrich - rather, Himmler sent his personal physicians to conduct the surgery themselves. On June 4th, Heydrich succumbed to what Himmler's physicians claimed was 'blood poisoning'. They claimed that some of the horsehair which lined Heydrich's car was forced by the blast of the grenade into his body, causing a systemic infection which their medicine could not fight.

In light of the rumors that Heydrich was the one man of whom Himmler was both jealous and truly afraid, the validity of this diagnosis, and the intentions of Himmler's doctors, has been open to much speculation by historians.

There is an interesting theory too, relating to the actual cause of Heydrich's death which suggests that he was actually killed by Botulinum neurotoxin in the grenade supplied by British Bio-weapons experts.



Hitler ordered the SS and Gestapo to "wade in blood" throughout Bohemia to find Heydrich‘s killers. Initially, Hitler wanted to start with brutal, widespread killing of Czech people, but, after consultations, he reduced his response to "only" some thousands. Czech lands were an important industrial zone for the German military and indiscriminate killing could reduce the productivity of the region. More than 13,000 people were arrested. The most infamous incidents were the complete destruction of the towns of Lidice and Ležáky.

Britain‘s wartime leader Winston Churchill, infuriated, suggested leveling three German villages for every Czech village the Nazis destroyed. Instead, the Allies stopped planning similar operations to assassinate top Nazis for the fear of similar reprisals. Two years after Heydrich was killed, however, they attempted one more time, this time targeting Hitler in Operation Foxley which failed. "Operation Anthropoid" remained the only successful assassination of a top-ranking Nazi.

Capture of the assassins

Church of Saints Cyril and Methodius - assassins' hiding placeThe attackers initially hid with two Prague families and later took refuge in the Church of Saints Cyril and Methodius.

The Gestapo couldn't find the assassins until Karel Čurda (from the group "Out distance" - whose objective was sabotage) told the Gestapo the names of the team's local contact persons for the bounty of 1 Million Reichsmark. Most of the contact persons (seeing the Gestapo coming) committed suicide, but a boy in one family was too young and after torture, revealed the name of the church. The assassins were found June 18 and after a brief but fierce gun battle in the church, committed suicide to avoid capture. The traitor, Karel Čurda was, after an unsuccessful suicide attempt, executed in 1947 for high treason.

Political consequence

The success of the operation made Britain and France renounce the Munich Agreement. They agreed that after the Nazis were defeated, the Sudetenland would be restored to Czechoslovakia and its German population expelled.


As Heydrich was one of the most important Nazi leaders, two large funeral ceremonies were conducted. One was in Prague, where the way to Prague Castle was lined by thousands of SS-men with torches. The second was in Berlin attended by all leading Nazi figures, including Hitler who placed the German Order and Blood Order Medals on the funeral pillow.

A Czech urban legend holds that less than twelve months before his death, Heydrich entered the Treasure Chamber of Prague Castle in which the Crown Jewels of Bohemia are kept, took the Crown and placed it on his own head. Legend has it that whoever puts on this Crown without lawful right will die within a year.

The operation in popular culture

The story of this operation was the basis for the 1943 film Hangmen Also Die, the 1964 film Attentat and the 1975 film Operation Daybreak.

The assassination inspired rock group British Sea Power to write the song "A Lovely Day Tomorrow". Originally a b-side, the song was re-recorded with the Czech band The Ecstasy of St. Theresa in both English and Czech (Zitra Bude Krasny Den) for a limited edition release in 2004.

(Source : http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/)