Today marks 80 years since Czechoslovak parachutists Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš were dropped into occupied Bohemia to carry out the assassination of Nazi Governor Reinhard Heidrych in Operation Anthropoid.
The May 1942 assassination of Acting Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia Reinhard Heydrich in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia is considered to be the greatest act of European domestic resistance during the Second World War. The eventual fate of Heydrich, the “executioner of the Czech nation,” who immediately unleashed terror against the Czechs in September 1941 and launched the Holocaust of the Protectorate Jews and Roma, first began to materialize in the autumn of 1941.
The Czechoslovak government-in-exile in London began planning an action on a larger scale with the British at that time. Eighty years ago, on the night of 28-29 December 1941, three airdrops of paratroopers (Silver A, Silver B and Anthropoid) were deployed into the Protectorate, including those would would plan the assassination of Heydrich.
The 37-year-old Heydrich, who had been the Acting Reich Protector for a total of eight months and eight days, had been installed as ruler at Prague Castle for just three months as of 28 December 1941. The assassination would take place five months from the paratrooper deployment.
Heydrich, whom Adolf Hitler himself considered irreplaceable, came to the then-Protectorate at the end of September 1941 to break the resistance and revolt of the Czech people. He declared a state of emergency immediately and during the next four months, 486 death sentences were handed down and more than 2 100 Czechs ended up in concentration camps.
The deportations of Protectorate Jews to Łódž also began in mid-October 1941, and Terezín (Theresienstadt) was designated as a suitable place to concentrate them (the first such transport arrived there in November 1941). The formation of special Czechoslovak paratrooper groups in Britain had begun early in 1941.
The assassination was decided at a meeting with the then-commander of the Czechoslovak intelligence service, František Moravec, on 3 October 1941, and it was later decided that Heydrich should be the target. The assassination was to have been carried out on 28 October 1941, the day symbolizing Czechoslovak independence, but that did not happen.
Anthropoid, Silver A and Silver B groups deployed to the Protectorate
The assassination action began two months after that symbolic date. On Sunday, 28 December 1941, a four-engine Halifax aircraft took off from Tangmere Airport in southeast England at 22:00.
The plane was piloted by Captain Ron Hockey and there were seven Czechoslovak paratroopers on board. Over Germany proper the pilots managed to shake off German air fighters, and on 29 December at 02:15 they entered Protectorate airspace.
At 02:24, two members of the Anthropoid paratrooper group (Sergeants Jan Kubiš and Jozef Gabčík) jumped out around Nehvizd near Čelákovice, although the planned place for the jump had actually been 100 km away, in Ejpovice near Plzeň. At 02:37, the Silver A landing party (composed of Lieutenant Alfred Bartoš, Sergeant Josef Valčík and Sergeant Jiří Potůček) followed, jumping over the village of Senice between Poděbrady and Městec Králové, although they had meant to jump out over the village of Vyžice u Chrudimi, 40 km away.
At 02:56, a pair of Silver B paratroopers, Captain Jan Zemek and Sergeant Vladimír Škácha, jumped from the plane near the village of Kasaličky near Přelouč (they were meant to have jumped at Ždírec nad Doubravou, 50 km away). The Hercules then returned to Tangmere Airport at 08:19, after 10 hours and 19 minutes of flight.
Operation Silver A was tasked with providing a radio link to London using a transmitter with the code name “Libuše”, as well as with setting up a coordination center for the deployed paratroopers. In addition, Valčík helped prepare the assassination of Heydrich.
That operation is rated as one of the most successful sent from London. The group completed all of its assigned tasks.
Its members (none of whom survived) showed great bravery and moral qualities. As for Operation Silver B, they were supposed to hand over their radio transmitter and the code name “Božena” to the local resistance, but the equipment was damaged during the jump; both of its paratroopers hid out for practically the whole war, but both survived.
Operation Anthropoid eliminated Heydrich
The aim of Operation Anthropoid was to do away with Heydrich. The group established contacts with the local resistance and the government-in-exile helped them in March and April 1942 by sending another seven paragroups of 18 soldiers.
Gabčík and Kubiš then started planning the attack, which was helped by the fact that Heydrich moved into the castle in Panenské Břežany, about 15 km north of Prague, at the beginning of April. However, the domestic resistance were afraid of the action, and in a dispatch to London on 12 May wrote that “the assassination would probably not benefit the Allies in any way and would have far-reaching consequences for our nation”.
Be that as it may, Gabčík and Kubiš continued their observations and then set out a plan for a military action to be executed at a sharp bend in the road below Vychovatelná Street in the Kobylisy neighborhood. Heydrich’s car was attacked on 27 May by First Lietuenant Adolf Opálka of the Out Distance resistance group and by Valčík.
Heydrich was wounded in the explosion and died on 4 June. Immediately after the attack, martial law was declared and mass executions began – by 3 June alone more than 13 000 people had been arrested and 700 executed.
The retaliation was led by the head of the Nazi riot police, General Kurt Daluege, who was appointed the new Acting Reich Protector. Seven of the paratroopers involved with the assassination died on 18 June in the Orthodox Church of Cyril and Methodius in Prague’s Resslova Street.
The Nazi terror in the Protectorate culminated in June 1942 with the extermination of the inhabitants of the villages of Ležáky and Lidice; more than 3 000 people total died under this second phase of martial law, which ended on 3 July 1942. France and Great Britain subsequently withdrew their signatures from the Munich Agreement, which later contributed to the re-establishment of post-war Czechoslovakia within its pre-Munich borders.