One of the most important covert operations of the Second World War, Operation Anthropoid was the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the Nazi commander who led the Gestapo and had chaired the planning of the horrifying “final solution”. A daring operation behind Nazi lines, it achieved its aims, but with terrible consequences.
Special Group D
When Czechoslovakia was occupied by Nazi Germany, some of its leaders went on the run. Forming a government in exile, they sought to continue fighting the Nazis.
In 1941, they formed Special Group D of the Ministry of Defence. The purpose of this group was to send missions back into Czechoslovakia, where they would sabotage the occupiers and gather information on their activities.
This involved similar skills and objectives to the British Special Operations Executive (SOE). Backed by the British government, Special Group D used facilities set up by the SOE to train their agents.
Reinhard Heydrich and Czechoslovakia
While the Czech government was looking for ways to free their country, it was falling into the hands of one of the most monstrous figures of the Nazi regime – Reinhard Heydrich.
A close ally of Himmler, Heydrich helped to secure the dominance of the SS within Nazi Germany and was made the head of the Gestapo, the secret police. As chair of the conference that planned the “final solution to the Jewish problem”, he was one of the key architects of the Holocaust.
Put in charge of running occupied Czechoslovakia, he treated the country with a brutality fitting his past acts. Hundreds of political opponents were disposed of, and he earned nicknames such as “Hangman Heydrich” and “The Butcher of Prague”.
When the Czech government decided that they wanted to punish the Nazi occupiers for their brutality, Heydrich was the natural target.
Preparing for Anthropoid
In October 1941, Special Group D and the SOE began preparations for Operation Anthropoid, the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich. Two Czech soldiers were chosen for the task – Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš, the latter replacing Karel Svoboda after Svoboda was injured during parachute training.
Gabčík and Kubiš trained in parachuting and combat techniques suitable for an assassination. But while they were preparing, the Nazis clamped down on resistance in Czechoslovakia. The operation had to be postponed while other operatives re-established links with the Czech resistance.
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