On 30th of September 1938, the Munich Agreement was signed, a notorious deal to surrender lands of Czechoslovakia to Germany, only to appease raging Hitler. Of course that was not enough and barely a year later whole Czechoslovakia fell to the Nazi rule. Reinhard Heydrich, Hitler’s top man, a brutal enforcer, The Butcher of Prague, The Hangman, was appointed as Protector of Bohemia and Moravia, to rule over the Czech land with an iron and deadly fist, and keep its plentiful production lines chugging along, fuelling the Nazi war machine. Something needed to be done, something that would put Czechoslovakia back on the map and show the world that the Czechs were ready to fight and die for their motherland.
Operation Anthropoid was a brainchild of František Moravec, Czechoslovak military intelligence officer. A simple plan was to drop into occupied Czechoslovakia and assassinate the man who was so efficiently squeezing it for all its worth, Reinhard Heydrich. With the approval from Edvard Beneš, head of the exiled Czechoslovak government, and with support from the British Special Operations Executive (SOE), the operation was drafted and put into action. Two Czechoslovakia soldiers were selected for the job, Warrant Officer Jozef Gabčík and Staff Sergeant Jan Kubiš, one was Slav and another Czech. On 28th of December, they boarded a plane from №138 Squadron RAF and soon were flying over dark and sleepy Prague.
They landed near a small town called Nehvizdy and made their way to Pilsen, where they met their Czech contacts. After four days stop, to rest and get their bearing, Gabcik and Kubis finally made their way to Prague. In the capital, they met with the local resistance, who provided them with new papers and all resources needed for the operation. The planning stage of the mission begun and it was not easy. Nazis were everywhere and getting close to a man like Heydrich was tricky. Gabcik and Kubis went through a couple of plans, but nothing seemed to make sense. Only after they made some very risky contacts among Heydrich’s domestic staff, they got their hands on a solid lead. Heydrich had a habit of driving from his home in Panenské Břežany to Prague Castle in an unarmed, convertible Mercedes. The Nazi Butcher was a proud man, and strongly believed that nobody would dare to attack him, especially in ravaged and subdued by him Czechoslovakia.
Gabcik and Kubis stay in Prague was not as smooth as their hoped. The local resistance, same people who helped them to hide, found out about their plans and were horrified. If Hitler was rough with Czechoslovakia before, what would he do after one of his top men was assassinated? More bloodshed, more merciless killing and more savage culling. The resistance confronted Gabcik and Kubis, but the two soon-to-be assassins did not budge, they had their mission and they would see it through. Resistance leaders tried to contact Intelligence in London to stop the operation, but they were rebuffed.
The ambush was set on May 27, near a sharp turn next to Bulovka Hospital in Prague 8-Libeň. Josef Valčík, another Czech soldier, was on the lookout for the approaching car, while Gabčík and Kubiš were ready to pounce on their target. That day Heydrich was late, an hour late, quite unusual for the over punctilious Nazi murdered. The men started to get cold feet, the operation was not going as planned, but finally, a Mercedes 320 Convertible B appeared down the road, making its way towards the hospital. The car was driven by Klein, an SS driver, and on the back seat lounged Heydrich himself.
As it was planned, the Mercedes slowed down before the sharp turn, and Gabčík appeared by its side. He pulled out a Sten submachine gun from under his coat, took a hastily aim and squeezed the trigger. Nothing happened, the gun jammed. Gabčík froze, panic took hold of his body. Heydrich spotted his assassin and instead of fleeing from the ambush, as any sane person would do, he told his driver to stop, got up on his feet and took out his Luger pistol. He was obviously planning to shoot Gabčík and would do so if not for Kubiš, who ran up to the car and threw modified anti-tank grenade at it. His aim failed him, and the grenade fell short of its target, but the explosion was strong enough to rip through the side of the car, shooting shrapnel in every direction, injuring Heydrich and Kubiš.
Chaos reigned on the street near Bulovka Hospital. Kubiš, with blood dashing from his head wound, fled first by jumping on his bike and racing away. Klein chased after him, leaving his master to take care of the second assassin. Gabčík was still unmoving, still holding his useless weapon. Heydrich got out of the damaged vehicle and opened fire. Gabčík managed to take cover, but was pinned down and it seemed like his end was near. Heydrich moved forward, ready to collect his quarry, when his body failed him and he collapsed onto the ground. Gabčík did not waste a moment and fled down the street, but his day was not over yet. Klein came back and after some encouragement from his command with words “Get that bastard!”, he raced after the failed assassin. The two men had their final showdown inside of a butcher shop. Gabčík got out his Colt pistol and desperately fired at his pursuer, wounding him in the leg, and then disappeared in a nearby crowd.
The assassins escaped, convinced that they had failed. Heydrich, with a help from onlookers, was transported to Bulovka Hospital. Even though he was not shot, he was badly wounded by the shrapnel from the grenade and torn up Mercedes. He went through a long list of surgeries to remove all unwanted materials from his body and to rebuild his broken organs. SS doctors flew to Prague to help with the rehabilitation, but they could not change the outcome. For a week Heydrich went from bad to worse, slowly slipping further and further away from his wretched life. On the seventh day, after feeling little bit better, he went into a coma and died the next morning. The official report stated that he died from an internal infection, otherwise called sepsis. The Butcher of Prague was no more, a heinous man died, but the bloodshed was yet to come.
Hitler was mad, his top man was murdered. He ordered for 10,000 of Czechs to be massacred, but was talked down as the Czech territory was an important industrial zone for Nazi efforts. Instead more than ten thousands of people were arrested and thousands executed. A small village of Lidice, falsely accused of supporting the assassins, was completely razed. Its men were shot on sight, women sent to concentration camps and then gassed, children imprisoned or given to SS families, many of them never to be seen again. Another village, Ležáky, was destroyed while SS were looking for the assassins. Most of its inhabitants were shot, only a handful of children spared. The Nazis were ruthless, killing, imprisoning, torturing. Czechoslovakia was horrified and scared, for the death of one, tens of thousands suffered.
While the Nazis were on a brutal rampage, Gabcik and Kubis hid in a basement of St. Cyril and Methodius Church in central Prague. They were terrified of what was happening in Czechoslovakia and even contemplated a suicide but were talked out of it. So they sat in the dark catacombs and waited for their fate. Meanwhile, the Gestapo was getting close. They offered 1,000,000 Reichsmarks to anyone who would help with the capture of the notorious assassins. A Czech soldier, either greedy for money or broken by the butchery of SS, surrendered himself in and gave up the locations of several resistance safe houses. More arrests and torturing followed, and soon enough SS troops appeared in front of St. Cyril and Methodius Church. After a prolonged firefight and flooding of the church’s basement, Gabcik and Kubis, along with several men who hid with them, were killed, and the Nazis finally had their revenge.
Was it worth it? That still remains a controversial question. The Munich Agreement was nullified shortly after the death of Heydrich. After the war, Czechoslovak sovereignty was restored and all the occupied territories were returned. Tens of thousands suffered for it, but so did millions who died in World War II. Maybe if Heydrich did not die, he would butcher hundreds of thousands, he was definitely capable of such a feat. Gabcik and Kubis became national heroes, and to this day their names are still remembered and revered.