Operation Anthropoid

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Template:Refimprove Template:Operational plan Template:Use dmy dates Operation Anthropoid was the code name for the assassination of SS-Obergruppenführer and General der Polizei Reinhard Heydrich, head of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Reich Main Security Office, RSHA), the combined security services of Nazi Germany, and acting Reichsprotektor of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.Template:Sfn 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 a key player 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.<ref name="Assassination-31">Assassination by Michal Burian et al. See p. 31.</ref>


File:Bundesarchiv Bild 183-R98683, Reinhard Heydrich.jpg
Reinhard Heydrich, the target of Operation Anthropoid

Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia

Heydrich, who had been the chief of the RSHA since September 1939,Template:Sfn 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.Template:Sfn Heydrich came to Prague to "strengthen policy, carry out countermeasures against resistance" and keep up production quotas of Czech motor and arms that were "extremely important to the German war effort".Template:Sfn 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.Template:Sfn Due to his brutal efficiency, Heydrich was nicknamed the Butcher of Prague, the Blond Beast, and the Hangman.

Strategic context

By late 1941, Hitler controlled almost all continental Europe, and German forces were approaching Moscow.<ref name="ww2-timeline">Template:Cite web</ref> 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 that was enforced by the Munich Agreement and the subsequent terror of the German Reich broke the will of the Czechs for a period.

While in several other countries defeated in open warfare (e.g. Poland, Yugoslavia and Greece) the resistance was active from the very beginning of occupation, the subjugated Czech lands remained relatively calm, and produced significant amounts of military materiel for the Third Reich. The exiled government felt it had to do something that would inspire the Czechs, as well as show the world that the Czechs were allies.

The status of Reinhard Heydrich as the acting 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 operation was also meant to prove to the Nazis that they were not untouchable.<ref name="Assassination-31" />



The operation was given the codename "Anthropoid". With the British Special Operations Executive (SOE), preparation began on 20 October 1941. Warrant Officer Jozef Gab?ík (Slovak) and Staff Sergeant Karel Svoboda (Czech) were chosen to carry out the operation on 28 October 1941 (Czechoslovakia's Independence Day).<ref name="Assassination-31" /> 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.<ref name="Assassination-35">Template:Harvnb</ref>


Jozef Gab?ík 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. Gab?ík and Kubiš landed near Nehvizdy east of Prague; although the plan was to land near Pilsen, the pilots had problems with orientation.<ref name="Assassination-44">Template:Harvnb</ref> 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 targeted kill. Gab?ík 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.

The attack in Prague

File:Heydrich's car.jpg
Another of Heydrich's Mercedes 320 Convertible B cars, similar to the one in which he was mortally wounded (currently in the Military History Museum in Prague)

On 27 May 1942, at 10:30, Heydrich proceeded on his daily commute from his home in Panenské B?ežany to Prague Castle. Gab?ík and Kubiš waited at the tram stop at a tight curve near Bulovka Hospital in Prague 8-Libe?. The spot was chosen because the curve would force the car to slow down. Val?ík was positioned about 100 metres north of Gab?ík and Kubiš as lookout for the approaching car.

As Heydrich’s open-topped Mercedes 320 Convertible B reached the curve two minutes later, Gab?ík stepped in front of the vehicle and tried to open fire, but his Sten submachine gun jammed. Heydrich ordered his driver, SS-Oberscharführer Klein, to stop the car. When Heydrich stood up to try to shoot Gab?ík 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, even though the grenade failed to enter the car. Kubiš was also injured by the shrapnel.Template:Sfn

Following the explosion, Gab?ík and Kubiš fired at Heydrich with their handguns but, shocked by the explosion as well, failed to hit him. Heydrich, apparently unaware of his shrapnel injuries, staggered out of the car, returned fire and tried to chase Gab?ík but 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 Gab?ík on foot.Template:Sfn Klein chased him into a butcher shop, where Gab?ík shot him twice with his revolver, severely wounding him in the leg, and then escaped to a local safe house via tram. Gab?ík and Kubiš were initially convinced that the attack had failed.

Medical treatment and death

A Czech woman 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.Template:Sfn 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. Professor Hollbaum, a Silesian German who was chairman of surgery at Charles University in Prague, operated on Heydrich with Drs. Diek and Slanina's assistance.Template:Sfn 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.<ref name = "Defalque"/> Heydrich’s direct superior, Himmler, sent his personal physician, Karl Gebhardt, who arrived that evening. After 29 May, Heydrich was entirely in the care of SS physicians. Postoperative care included administration of large amounts of morphine. There are contradictory accounts concerning whether sulfanilamides were given, but Gebhardt testified at his 1947 war crimes trial that they were not.<ref name = "Defalque"/> The patient developed a high fever of 38–39 °C (100.4–102.2 °F) and wound drainage. After seven days, his condition appeared to be improving when, while sitting up eating a noon meal, he collapsed and went into shock. Spending most of his remaining hours in a coma, he died around 4:30 the next morning.<ref name = "Defalque"/> Himmler’s physicians officially described the cause of death as septicemia, meaning infection of the bloodstream. One of the theories 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.Template:Sfn It has also been suggested that he died of a massive pulmonary embolism. In support of the latter possibility, at autopsy particles of fat and blood clots were found in the right ventricle and pulmonary artery, and severe edema was noted in the upper lobes of the lungs, while the lower lobes were collapsed.<ref name = "Defalque"/>

Botulinum poisoning theory

The authors of A Higher Form of Killing claim that Heydrich died from botulism; i.e. botulinum poisoning.<ref name = "Higher">Template:Cite book</ref> According to this theory, the Type 73 anti-armor hand grenade used in the attack had been modified to contain botulinum toxin. This story originates from comments made by Paul Fildes, a Porton Down botulism researcher. There is only circumstantial evidence to support this allegation<ref name = "Defalque"/> (the records of the SOE for the period have remained sealed), and few medical records of Heydrich's condition and treatment have been preserved.<ref name = "Defalque">Template:Cite journal</ref>

The general evidence cited to support the theory includes the modifications made to the Type 73 grenade: the upper third part of this British anti-tank grenade had been removed, and the open end and sides wrapped up with tape. Such a specially modified weapon could indicate an attached toxic or biological payload. Heydrich received excellent medical care by the standards of the time. His autopsy showed none of the usual signs of septicemia, although infection of the wound and areas surrounding the lungs and heart was reported.<ref name = "Defalque"/> The authors of a German wartime report on the incident stated, "Death occurred as a consequence of lesions in the vital parenchymatous organs caused by bacteria and possibly by poisons carried into them by bomb splinters ... ".

Heydrich's condition while hospitalized was not documented in detail, but he was not noted to have developed any of the distinctive paralytic or other symptoms associated with botulism (which have a gradual, progressive onset). Two others were also wounded by fragments of the same grenade: Kubiš, the Czech soldier who threw the grenade, and a bystander, but neither was reported to have shown any sign of poisoning.<ref name = "Defalque"/> Given that Fildes had a reputation for "extravagant boasts", and that the grenade modifications could have been aimed at making it lighter, the validity of the botulinum toxin theory has been disputed.<ref name = "Defalque"/> Two of the six original modified grenades are kept by the Military History Institute in Prague.



File:Kobylisy, nomtabuloj.jpg
Memorial plaques with names of the victims at the Kobylisy shooting range in Prague, where over 500 Czechs were executed in May and June 1942.

On the very day of the assassination attempt Hitler ordered an investigation and reprisals, suggesting that Himmler send SS General Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski to Prague; according to Karl Hermann Frank's postwar testimony, Hitler knew Zelewski to be even harsher than Heydrich.Template:Sfn Hitler favored killing 10,000 politically unreliable Czechs, but after he consulted Himmler, the idea was dropped because Czech territory was an important industrial zone for the German military and indiscriminate killing could reduce the productivity of the region.Template:Sfn

The Nazi retaliation ordered by Himmler was brutal nonetheless. More than 13,000 were arrested, including Jan Kubiš' girlfriend Anna Malinová, who subsequently died in the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp. First Lieutenant Adolf Opálka's aunt, Marie Opálková, was executed in the Mauthausen camp on 24 October 1942; his father, Viktor Jarolím, was also killed. According to one estimate, 5,000 were killed in reprisals.

Intelligence falsely linked the assassins to the villages of Lidice and Ležáky. A Gestapo report identified Lidice as the assailants' suspected hiding place since several Czech army officers exiled in England at the time were known to have come from there. In addition, the Gestapo had found a resistance radio transmitter in Ležáky.Template:Sfn In the village of Lidice, destroyed on 9 June 1942, 199 men were executed, 95 children taken prisoner (81 later killed in gas vans at the Che?mno extermination camp; eight others were taken for adoption by German families), and 195 women were immediately deported to Ravensbrück concentration camp. All adults, men and women, in the village of Ležáky were murdered. Both towns were burned, and the ruins of Lidice leveled (razed to the ground).Template:SfnTemplate:Sfn

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 price to pay for eliminating Heydrich and provoking reprisals that would reduce Czech acquiescence to the German administration.

Britain’s wartime leader, Winston Churchill, was infuriated enough to suggest leveling three German villages for every Czech village the Nazis destroyed. Two years after Heydrich's death a similar assassination attempt was planned, this time targeting Hitler in Operation Foxley, but not approved.

Operation Anthropoid remains the only successful government-organized targeted killing of a top-ranking Nazi. The Polish underground killed two senior SS officers in the General government (see Operation Kutschera and Operation Bürkl); also in Operation Blowup, General-Kommissar of Belarus Wilhelm Kube was killed by Soviet partisan Yelena Mazanik, a Belarussian woman who had managed to find employment in his household in order to assassinate him.

Investigation and manhunt

Bullet-scarred window of the Church of Saints Cyril and Methodius in Prague where the attackers were cornered.

In the days following Lidice, no leads on those responsible for Heydrich's death were found despite the Nazis' zealous impatience to find them. During that time, a deadline set for the assassins to be apprehended by 18 June 1942 was publicly issued to the military and the people of Czechoslovakia. If they were not caught by then, the Germans threatened to spill far more blood as a consequence, believing that this threat would be enough to force a potential informant to sell out the culprits. Many civilians were indeed weary and fearful of further retaliations, making it increasingly difficult to hide information much longer. The assailants initially hid with two Prague families and later took refuge in Karel Boromejsky Church, an Eastern Orthodox church dedicated to Sts. Cyril and Methodius in Prague. The Germans were unable to locate the attackers until Karel ?urda of the "Out Distance" sabotage group was arrested by the Gestapo and gave them the names of the team’s local contacts for the bounty of 500,000 Reichsmarks.

?urda 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. Maria Moravec, after being allowed to go to the toilet, bit into a cyanide capsule and thereby killed herself. Mr. Moravec, unaware of his family's involvement with the resistance, was taken to the Pe?ek Palác together with his 17-year-old son Ata, who though interrogated with torture throughout the day, refused to talk. The youth was finally stupefied with brandy, shown his mother's severed head in a fish tank and warned that if he did not reveal the information they were looking for, his father would be next.Template:Sfn That finally caused him to crack and tell the Gestapo what they wanted to know.

Waffen-SS troops laid siege to the church the following day but, despite the best efforts of over 700 SS soldiers under the command of Generalleutnant Karl Fischer von Treuenfeld, they were unable to take the paratroopers alive; three, including Kubiš, were killed in the prayer loft (although he was said to have survived the battle, he died shortly afterward from his injuries) after a two-hour gun battle.Template:Sfn The other four, including Gab?ík, committed suicide in the crypt after repeated SS attacks, attempts to smoke them out with tear gas, and Prague fire brigade trucks brought in to try to flood the crypt. The Germans (SS and police) suffered casualties as well, 14 SS allegedly killed and 21 wounded according to one report<ref>Axis History Forum • View topic – Last fight of Heydrich's killers</ref> although the official SS report about the fight mentioned only five wounded SS soldiers. The men in the church had only small-caliber pistols, while the attackers had machine guns, submachine guns and hand grenades. After the battle, ?urda confirmed the identity of the dead Czech resistance fighters, including Kubiš and Gab?ík.

Bishop Gorazd, in an attempt to minimize the reprisals among his flock, took the blame for the actions in the church and even wrote letters to the Nazi authorities, who arrested him on 27 June 1942 and tortured him. On 4 September 1942 the bishop, the church's priests and senior lay leaders were taken to Kobylisy Shooting Range in a northern suburb of Prague and shot by Nazi firing squads. For his actions, Bishop Gorazd was later glorified as a martyr by the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Political consequence and aftermath

The assassination of Heydrich was one of the most significant moments of the resistance in Czechoslovakia.Template:Citation needed The act had such an impact that it led to the immediate dissolution of the Munich Agreement (called the "Munich dictate" by the Czechs) signed by Great Britain and France as well as Germany's ally Italy. Britain and France agreed that after the Nazis were defeated, the annexed territory (Sudetenland) would be restored to Czechoslovakia.

Two large funeral ceremonies were performed for Heydrich as one of the most important Nazi leaders: first in Prague, where the way to Prague Castle was lined by thousands of SS men with torches, and then in Berlin attended by all leading Nazi figures, including Hitler, who placed the German Order and Blood Order medals on the funeral pillow.Template:Sfn

The betrayer, Karel ?urda, after attempting suicide, was hanged in 1947 for high treason.


File:Memorial plague on St.Cyril and Method orthodox church in Resslova street in Prague, where the members of paratroup group died in fight with Germans.jpg
Memorial plaque on the Church of Saints Cyril and Methodius, where the Czech paratroopers died in battle with the SS

The National Memorial to the Heroes of the Heydrich Terror is located beneath the Orthodox Cathedral of Saints Cyril and Methodius in Prague.

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 German-occupied Europe. There is a small fountain in the Jephson Gardens, Leamington Spa (one of the places where the Czech Free Army were based) commemorating the bravery of the troops.

File:Nehvizdy pomnik.jpg
Memorial to Gab?ík and Kubiš in Nehvizdy

The Anthropoid Operation Memorial, 2009, Prague, authors: sculptor David Mojescik and sculptor Michal Smeral, architects — M. Tumova and J. Gulbis.

There is also a memorial in Arisaig to the Czech members of SOE who trained in that area with a list of those killed and the missions they took part in.

Portrayals in fiction

Operation Anthropoid was the basis for the films Hangmen Also Die and Hitler's Madman (1943); Atentát (1964), and Operation Daybreak (1975).

It is also the subject of several books, including:

  • Seven Men at Daybreak (1960) by Alan Burgess
  • The Killing of SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich (1998) [1989] by Callum MacDonald
  • the novel The Visible World (2008) by Mark Slouka
  • the novel HHhH (2010) by Laurent Binet, winner of that year's Prix Goncourt
  • the novel Resistance (2012) by Gerald Brennan
  • the novel "Mendelssohn is on the Roof" by Jiri Weil


Ss. Cyril and Methodius Cathedral, where the Allied agents died after being cornered, and the memorial there for those killed by the SS in retaliation for Operation Anthropoid.

See also

  • Czech resistance to Nazi occupation
  • Occupation of Czechoslovakia
  • Operation Foxley – SOE plot to kill Adolf Hitler in 1944
  • Operation Kutschera – Polish assassination of the SS and Police Leader Franz Kutschera in 1944
  • Lidice
  • List of Nazi Party leaders and officials
  • List of rulers of the Protectorate Bohemia and Moravia




External links

Template:Commons category

Template:Czechoslovakia in World War Two Template:Coord