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Reinhard Heydrich, the target of Operation Anthropoid
The place where Obergruppenführer-SS Reinhard Heydrich was killed; the empty car was still there.
Operation Anthropoid was the code name for the assassination of top German SS leader Reinhard Heydrich. He was the chief of the Reich Main Security Officemarker (Reichssicherheitshauptamt, or RSHAmarker), the acting Protector of Bohemia and Moravia, and a chief planner of the Final Solution, the Nazi German programme for the genocide of the Jews of Europe.

Reinhard Heydrich

Heydrich had been the chief of the RSHA since 1939. This was an organisation that included the Secret Policemarker (Gestapomarker), the Security Agencymarker (Sicherheitsdienst, or SDmarker), the Criminal Policemarker (Kripomarker) -- and, in 1942, the President of the International Criminal Police Organizationmarker (Interpolmarker). Heydrich was a key planner in eliminating 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, adviser, and friend of the dictator.

Due to his abilities and power, Heydrich was feared by almost all German generals. In September 1941, Heydrich was appointed acting Protector of Bohemia and Moravia, replacing Konstantin von Neurath, whom Hitler considered too moderate. 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 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, and the Hangman.

Strategic context

Nazi zenith 1941–42
By late 1941, Hitler controlled almost all continental Europe, and German forces were approaching Moscowmarker. The Allies deemed Sovietmarker capitulation likely. The exiled government of Czechoslovakiamarker, 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 by the occupation of the Sudeten regions of the country in 1938 (occupation of whole country began in 1939). The takeover of these regions that was enforced by the Munich Agreement and the subsequent terror of the German Reich broke the will of the Czechoslovaks for a period.

The Czech lands were producing significant military material for the Third Reich. The exiled government felt it had to do something that would inspire the Czechs, as well as show the world the Czechs were allies.

The status of Reinhard Heydrich as the Protector of Bohemia and Moravia as well as his reputation for terrorizing local citizens led to him being chosen over Karl Hermann Frank as an assassination target. The assassination was also meant to prove to the Nazis that they were not untouchable.



The operation was given the codename ANTHROPOID. With the British Special Operations Executive (SOE), preparation began on 20 October 1941. Warrant Officer Jozef Gabčík and Staff Sergeant Karel Svoboda were chosen to carry out the assassination on 28 October 1941 (Czechoslovakia's Independence Day). Svoboda was replaced with Jan Kubiš 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.


Memorial to Gabčík and Kubiš in Nehvizdy
Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš of ANTHROPOID were airlifted along with seven soldiers from Czechoslovakia’s army-in-exile in the United Kingdommarker 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 2200 hours on December 28, 1941. Gabčík and Kubiš landed near Nehvizdymarker east of Praguemarker; although the plan was to land near Pilsenmarker, 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 assassinate Heydrich on a train, but after exploration they realised 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, their commander, Lt. Adolf Opálka, (from the group Out Distance), came to bring them back to Prague. The third plan was to assassinate Heydrich in Prague.


The car in which Heydrich was mortally wounded showing the upholstery fibers credited for causing his death by septicemia.

On May 27, 1942 at 10:30 AM, Heydrich proceeded on his daily commuting journey from his home in Panenské Břežany to Prague Castlemarker. Gabčík and Kubiš waited at the tram 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-Benz neared the pair, Gabčík stepped in front of the vehicle, trying to open fire, but his Sten gun jammed. Heydrich ordered his driver, SS-Oberscharführer Klein, to stop the car. When Heydrich stood up to try to shoot Gabčík, Kubiš threw 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 into Heydrich’s body, even though the grenade failed to enter the car. Kubiš was also injured by the shrapnel. Heydrich, apparently unaware of his shrapnel injuries, got out of the car, returned fire, and tried to chase Gabčík but soon collapsed. Klein returned from his abortive attempt to chase Kubiš, and Heydrich ordered him to chase Gabčík. Klein was shot twice by Gabčík (who was now using his revolver) and wounded in the pursuit. The assassins were initially convinced that the attack had failed.

Heydrich was taken to Bulovka Hospital, 2.5 km from the site of the attack. There he was operated on by Professor Hollbaum, a Silesian German who was chairman of surgery at Charles University in Prague, assisted by Doctor Dick, the Sudeten German chief of surgery at the hospital. The surgeons reinflated the collapsed left lung, removed the tip of the fractured eleventh rib, sutured the torn diaphragm, inserted several catheters and removed the spleen, which contained a grenade fragment and upholstery material. The surgery lasted an hour and went uneventfully. Heydrich’s direct superior, SS head Heinrich Himmler, sent his personal physician, Karl Gebhardt, who arrived that evening, and after May 29 Heydrich was entirely in the care of SS physicians. Postoperative care included administration of large amounts of morphine. There are contradictory accounts concerning whether sulfanilamide were given, but Gebhardt testified at his 1947 war crimes trial that they were not. The patient developed a fever of 38-39 °C and wound drainage. After 7 days his condition appeared to be improving, when he collapsed and went into shock, dying the next morning. His physicians concluded that he had died from infection of his wounds. It has also been suggested that he died of a cerebral or pulmonary embolism.

Conspiracy theories

Himmler’s physicians described the cause of death as of septicemia . Their theory was that some of the horsehair used in the upholstery of Heydrich’s car was forced into his body by the blast of the grenade, causing a systemic infection. In light of the rumours 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, have been open to much speculation. According to "A Higher Form of Killing" by Harris and Paxman, Heydrich died from botulism. This was attributed to botulinum toxin that was placed in the Type 73 Hand Anti-Armor grenades used in the attack. The story originated with comments made by Paul Fildes, a Porton Downmarker botulism researcher. No hard evidence to support this allegation has come to light in the records of Porton Down or elsewhere (the records of the SOE for the period have remained sealed). The allegation has been discounted on the basis of Fildes' tendency to boast and Heydrich's failure to display the normal paralytic symptoms of botulism.



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.

More than 13,000 people were ultimately arrested, including the girlfriend of Jan Kubiš, Anna Malinová, who died in the Mauthausenmarker concentration camp.


The most notorious incident was in the village of Lidicemarker, which was destroyed on June 9, 1942: 199 male residents were executed, 95 children taken, 8 of which were taken for adoption by German families, and 195 women

The possibility that the Germans would apply the principle of "collective responsibility" on this scale in avenging Heydrich's assassination was either not foreseen by the Czech government-in-exile or else was deemed an acceptable cost to pay for eliminating Heydrich and provoking reprisals that would reduce Czech acquiescence to the German administration.

Britain’s wartime leader Winston Churchill, infuriated, suggested leveling three German villages for every Czech village the Nazis destroyed. The Allies instead stopped planning operations to assassinate top Nazis for fear of reprisals. Two years after Heydrich was killed, however, they planned one more attempt, this time targeting Hitler in Operation Foxley, but failed to obtain approval. Operation Anthropoid remains the only assassination of a top-ranking Nazi, although the Polish underground successfully assassinated two senior SS officers in the Generalgouvernment (occupied Poland) and General-Kommissar of Belarus Wilhelm Kube was killed by a Belarus woman.

Attempted capture of the assassins

The attackers initially hid with two Prague families and later took refuge in Karel Boromejsky Churchmarker, an Orthodox church dedicated to Saints Cyril and Methodius in Prague. The Gestapo could not find the assassins until Karel Čurda (of the group Out Distance, whose objective was sabotage), was arrested and told the Gestapo 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 Žižkovmarker. At 5 a.m. on June 17, the Moravec apartment was raided. The family was made to stand in the corridor while the Gestapo searched their apartment. Mrs. Moravec was allowed to go to the toilet, and killed herself with a cyanide capsule. Mr. Moravec, oblivious to his family's involvement with the resistance, was taken to the Peček Palác together with his son Ata. Ata was tortured throughout the day. Finally, he was stupefied with brandy and shown his mother's severed head in a fish tank . Ata Moravec told the Gestapo all he knew. SS troops laid siege to the church but, despite the best efforts of over 700 Nazi soldiers, they were unable to take the paratroopers alive; 3, including Heydrich’s assassin Kubiš, were killed in the prayer loft (Kubiš was said to have survived the battle, but died shortly afterward from his injuries) after a 2-hour gun battle. The other four, including Gabčík, committed suicide in the crypt after fending off SS attacks, attempts to smoke them out, and fire trucks being brought in to try to flood the crypt. The Germans (SS and Police) also had casualites; SS casualties being 14 killed and 21 wounded.

Bishop Gorazd, in an attempt to minimize the reprisals among his flock, took the blame for the actions in the Church on himself, even writing letters to the Nazi authorities. On June 27, 1942, he was arrested and tortured. On September 4, 1942, he, the Church priests, and senior lay leaders were executed by firing squad. (For his actions, Bishop Gorazd was later glorified as a martyr by the Eastern Orthodox Church.)

Political consequence and aftermath

The success of the operation made Great Britain and France renounce the Munich Agreement. They agreed that after the Nazis were defeated the Sudetenland would be restored to Czechoslovakia. It also led to sympathy for the idea of expelling the German population of Czechoslovakia.

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.

Karel Čurda, after attempting suicide, was hanged in 1947 for high treason.

The story of this operation was the basis for the 1943 films Hangmen Also Die and Hitler's Madman, the 1964 film Atentat, and the 1975 film Operation Daybreak. It is also the basis for the 1966 book Seven Men at Daybreak by Alan Burgess.

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 (Zítra bude krásný den) for a limited edition release in 2004. This event also inspired American thrash metal band Slayer to write song SS-3, referring to Heydrich's registration plates.

The Slovak National Museum opened an exhibition in May, 2007 to commemorate the heroes of the Czech and Slovak resistance, presenting one of the most important resistance actions in the whole of Nazi-occupied Europe.

See also


  1. Alan Burgess: Seven Men At Daybreak, p.160. ISBN 0-553-23508-7
  2. McDonald, Callum: The Killing of Reinhard Heydrich: The SS “Butcher of Prague”, p.202. ISBN 0-306-80860-9
  3. McDonald, Callum: The Killing of Reinhard Heydrich: The SS “Butcher of Prague”. ISBN 0-306-80860-9
  4. Alan Burgess: Seven Men At Daybreak. ISBN 0-553-23508-7
  5. Axis History Forum • View topic - Last fight of Heydrich's killers
  6. Ray R. Cowdery with Peter Vodenka: Reinhard Heydrich: Assassination. Victory WW2 Publishing Ltd. (1994) Lakeville, MN, USA

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