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World War II
A Narrative History


"The Heydrich Assassination"
(1942)
Anthony Cave Brown
Bodyguard of Lies, Vol. 1 (1975)


Reinhard Heydrich
At the request of the Czech government-in-exile, the British Joint Intelligence Committee authorized the assassination of Obergruppenfuhrer Reinhard Heydrich, the brutal head of the Reich Main Security Office and governor of Occupied Czechoslovakia. The mission was codenamed 'Anthropoids"....
On all counts, the Anthropoid mission was an extremely risky one. It's objective, the assassination of [Reinhard] Heydrich, would gratify the Czechs, for as Reichsprotecktor of Bohemia and Moravia, Heydrich had earned a reputation for ruthlessness and brutality that eclipsed even Hitler's. The British, too, viewed him as an especially malevolent enemy; the SD under Heydrich's command had become an all-too-efficient weapon of terror in the secret war. But the murder of one of the most powerful men in the Third Reich was certain to evoke mass retaliation among the Czechs, and this had to be an important consideration for [MI6 chief Stewart] Menzies. MI6 was running the intelligence game in Czechoslovakia, and MI6 was certain to suffer the consequences .... But with no compunctions he signed Heydrich's death warrant when he agreed to allow the Anthropoids to [carry out] their mission. If the British had once had scruples about political assassination, those scruples were now gone.
The Anthropoids were Czechs -- Jan Kubis and Josef Gabcik -- both of whom carried British army paybooks. Accompanied by a wireless and cipher team of three more Czechs led by a Lieutenant Bartos, they had parachuted from an RAF Halifax into the Bohemian hills near a village called Lidice by the light of the December half-moon in 1941. All had landed safely and had quickly submerged into the Czech underground. There they remained for six months, awaiting their opportunity to strike .... [P]atiently and stealthily ... they built up a fair picture of their target's daily activities.
Then by a stroke of fortune, the Anthropoids learned exactly where Heydrich would be on May 27, 1942. Four days before, an antique clock in Heydrich's office gave trouble and his secretary called in a Czech repairman to put it right. Josef Novotny set the clock on Heydrich's desk, and as he was taking the back off, he noticed a piece of paper with Heydrich's itinerary on it. Novotny took the paper, screwed it into a ball and threw it into the wastepaper basket. Having repaired the clock, he left and minutes later one of the cleaners, Marie Rasnerova, entered Heydrich's office and emptied the wastepaper basket into her sack. Within a few hours the itinerary was in the hands of Kubis and Gabcik, and to their dismay they discovered that Heydrich was leaving Prague permanently on the 27th. They had little time to plan their attack. But they did know in detail where Heydrich would be on that day and which routes he would take. They decided to make the attack in the Prague suburb of Holesovice, where the Dresden-Prague road traces a hairpin bend down to the Troja Bridge. This was the road Heydrich would take from his villa in Paneske-Breschen to Hradcany Castle. Heydrich's car, which was only rarely escorted, was compelled to slow down at this point in order to negotiate the bend.
At 9:30 on the morning of the 27th, Kubis and Gabcik were in position with submachine guns under their raincoats and some grenades. With them were two other gunmen, and they distributed themselves around the bend. The plan provided that Rela Fafek, Gabcik's girlfriend, who owned a car, should precede Heydrich's car and if he was unescorted she would wear a hat. A fifth man was positioned in a hedge around the bend to signal with a mirror when Heydrich's Mercedes was actually approaching. As Heydrich entered the bend, Gabcik was to kill both him and the chauffeur with the submachine gun, while Kubis snatched Heydrich's briefcase.
At 10:31 Rela Fafek drove round the bend wearing a hat. Seconds later the mirror signal came. Gabcik stepped into the road and aimed at the bend. Heydrich's Mercedes came into view and Gabcik pulled the trigger. But the gun jammed -- some grass had gotten into the breech. Kubis drew a bomb and threw it at the car as both Heydrich and his chauffeur rose and shot Gabcik. The bomb exploded near the car, shattering the door. Heydrich dropped his pistol. Kubis was hit by shrapnel and debris in the face and eyes but managed to get onto his woman's pedal cycle and ride off. The two other gunmen also got away.
Heydrich staggered a few paces from the car and then collapsed. He was taken to a hospital, and there, at first, it was thought his wounds were not serious; an X-ray revealed a broken rib and some fragments of cloth and metal in his stomach. Pieces of burned leather upholstery and uniform cloth were buried near the spleen, and other small fragments embedded in the pleura. But on June 4 Heydrich died -- not of his wounds but of gangrene. Heydrich's corpse was dressed in the midnight black and silver ceremonial uniform of the SS, placed in a coffin of gunmetal and silver and taken on the breech of a cannon to the forecourt of Hradcany Castle. There it was guarded by the SS until the time came for the remains of the lord of the German terror system to be taken by a black-creped train to Berlin.
The Anthropoids had succeeded in their mission, but the Germans exacted a high price in revenge. In Prague, a ratissage (literally, a "rat-hunt," Gestapo vernacular for a man-hunt) was unleashed upon the Czechs. Over 10,000 were arrested and at least 1300 executed. The worst of the reprisals occurred at Lidice, a small mining village of sandstone and red-tile houses nestling on a hillside around an old baroque church, whose citizens the Gestapo believed -- wrongly -- had harbored the Anthropoids. The SS and the army descended upon the village at night and, by the light of the glow of blast furnaces at nearby steel mills, gathered the entire population in the village square. All males between sixteen and seventy were taken to a field and summarily shot. The women and children were carried away in trucks and, with few exceptions, were not heard of again. Then the village was leveled by fire and powder.
The Anthropoids went into hiding in the crypt of the Karel Borromaeus Greek Orthodox Church on Ressl Street in the Old Town of Prague .... [T]hey waited there as members of the Czech underground made a plan for their escape into the Moravian Mountains, whence they could be evacuated to England. The plan was to stage a mass funeral of some of the victims of the Gestapo purge at the church, and then spirit the Anthropoids away in coffins. The wireless and cipher team, Bartos and his assistant, a man called Potuchek, was still in communication with London, and June 19, 1942 was selected as the day upon which the Anthropoids would be evacuated from the church into the mountains. But before they could be moved, they were betrayed by a Czech, Karel Curda, who was covetous of the Gestapo's bounty of 10 million crowns ($600,000). Curda took the Gestapo to Bartos's safehouse in the town of Pardubice. Bartos was not there, but in the house the Gestapo found his war diary, which contained copies of all his communications with London. This led them to one of Bartos's assistants, Atya Moravech. The Gestapo tortured the nineteen-year-old boy, who was said to have broken down when his interrogators produced his mother's severed head, and revealed where the Anthropoids were hiding.
....Within the hour, shock troops of the SS moved against the church .... [As they] made their way through the pews, they were met by a hail of gunfire from the choir loft, where Kubis and some other men were hiding. Kubis was killed with a hand grenade; Bartos took poison and in the instant before the pill killed him, shot himself through the temple. The SS men tried to get into the crypt and lifted a flagstone -- to be met by another hail of bullets. The Gestapo then called in the fire brigade to flood the cellar. Down to their last cartridges, the men shot each other one by one until the only man left shot himself. The battle of the catacombs was over. But the reprisals were not; 115 people were killed that day, including the former Prime Minister of Czechoslovakia. Only Potuchek, the wireless operator, still survived. He was in hiding in the village of Lezhaky. He sent a message to London on June 26 warning of the disaster and arranging to make another transmission at 2300 hours on June 28. But he did not make the transmission. He was caught and shot, and with his death the Anthropoids' mission closed.
....The German intelligence services would never fully recover from the murder of Heydrich. In the long term it was coup de main with important consequences; for, if Heydrich had survived and had succeeded in eliminating [his rival, Abwehr chief Admiral Wilhelm] Canaris, the intelligence story surrounding the Allied invasion of France might have been very different. Heydrich was about to go to Paris as head of the SS in France when he was killed.
....Heydrich had been a marked man ever since he assumed control of the SD. He could not be permitted to live; he was too dangerous ... to the Allied cause.
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 Gestapo
Acronym for Geheime Staatspolizei (secret state police), which ruthlessly annihilated all opposition real or suspected to the Nazi party. Founded in 1933 to replace the Prussian secret police, the Gestapo operated throughout Germany and the occupied countries and became a law unto itself. The Gestapo had absolute power over the lives of people believed to be acting against the state. Victims went to concentration camps or were tortured and slain. Sometimes, in a sham of legality, the accused were brought before the Gestapo-controlled People's Courts, whose judges were notorious for their unremitting stream of death verdicts.
Reinhard Heydrich, the chief deputy of Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, was the chief of the SD (security service). When Heydrich was additionally appointed chief of the Reich Central Security Office, the main Nazi security organization, in 1939, he included the Gestapo under his command. The Gestapo was the political police, separated from the regular rural constabulary and municipal police.
World War II: America at War, 1941-1945, Polmar and Allen (1991)
 Heydrich, Reinhard
(1904-1942) By birth and training, Heydrich belonged to the "other side" of Hitler's Germany, the officer class which the Nazis both envied and disliked. But, cashiered from the Navy for trifling with the affections of a superior officer's daughter, he transferred his loyalties firmly to the new force in German life, joined the SS and was quickly chosen by Himmler as his deputy. He became head of the Reich Main Security Office, the central agency for internal counter-espionage and repression, arranged the Gleiwitz incident on the Polish border, which provided Hitler with his pretext for war in September 1939, and, after the invasion of the USSR, took charge of the operations of the extermination squads (Einsatzgruppen) which murdered the Jews of the occupied eastern territories in hundreds of thousands. It was his hand which drafted the protocol for the "Final Solution of the Jewish Problem," endorsed by the Wannsee Conference in January 1942 and led to the systematic murder of European Jews in the extermination camps of the east in 1942-4. He was then appointed Reich Protector (governor) of Bohemia-Moravia (occupied Czechoslovakia) and was assassinated in Prague by a team of Czech agents, specially parachuted into the country for the operation, in June 1942. By way of reprisal, the Germans destroyed the Czech village of Lidice and murdered its adult population. Heydrich stood out from the majority of the Nazi leadership by reason of his remarkable self-assurance, intense ability and apparently total inhumanity, a combination of qualities possessed otherwise only by Hitler himself, whom Heydrich, it is suspected, intended eventually to succeed. He frightened all who knew him, even Himmler.
Who was Who in World War II, Keegan, ed. (1978)