Parachutists took off 75 years ago

The plan to assassinate Heydrich started with a parachute drop

The parachutists who would take part in the assassination of acting Reichsprotektor Reinhard Heydrich took off from London 75 years ago on the night of Dec. 28 and 29, 1941. The assassination would take place May 27, 1942 and Heydrich would die from his wounds June 4, 1942.

There were actually three missions launched that night, Silver A, Silver B and Anthropoid. The latter was the plan by the London-based government in exile along with the British to assassinate Heydrich. The other two were involved with establishing radio communication.

Heydrich arrived Sept. 29, 1941, to the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia to put an end to the opposition by the Czech people. He declared a state of emergency and in four months there were 486 death sentences and 2,100 Czechs were killed in concentration camps. Deportation of Jews began in mid-October to the Lodz. Theresienstadt (Terezín) was converted into a concentration camp and the first transport arrived there in November. Heydrich quickly earned himself the name “the butcher of Prague.”

Czechoslovak paratroop units began to be formed in early 1941. The original plan was for a significant assassination to take place Oct. 28, 1941, which is the anniversary of Czechoslovak independence. Czechoslovak intelligence, led by František Moravec, had decided Oct. 3 that the target would be Heydrich.

There were delays with the planning, and the flight with 16 passengers including Sergeants First Class Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš took off Dec. 28, 1941, at 10 pm from Tangmere airbase in the south of Britain in four-engine Handley Page Halifax plane piloted by Captain Ron Hockey and co-pilot Charles Pickard.

The Halifax got past defenses in Germany and entered Bohemian airspace at 2:15 am. Two members of the Anthropoid group, Gabčík and Kubiš, parachuted from the plane at 2:24 am near Nehvizdy just north of Prague, though the intended drop site was Ejpovice near Plzeň.

Members of the Silver A unit, composed of Senior Warrant Officer Alfred Bartos, Sergeant First Class Josef Valčík and Sergeant Jiří Potůček, jumped from the plane at 2:37 above the village of Senice. The Silver B group, with Staff Sergeant Jan Zemek and Sergeant Vladimír Škácha, jumped at 2:56 over the village of Kasaličky. The plane returned to its base at 8:19 am on Dec. 29.

Silver A was successful. The group's mission was to establish communication with London via a radio codenamed Libuše. The radio, which was used to coordinate the missions of the paratroopers, was located at a mine called Hluboká near the village of Ležáky. Team member Valčík also helped with the Heydrich assassination. None of the team members survived the war.

Silver B was supposed to deliver a radio codenamed Božena, to the resistance, but the radio was damaged in the drop. The team members hid for the rest of the war and survived.

More paratroopers joined the Anthropoid group in March and April 1942. The Czech resistance was skeptical of the plan, though, and urged London to call it off.

Gabčík and Kubiš waited for Heydrich at a sharp turn in Prague 8-Libeň on May 27 at 10:30 am. Gabčík attempted to shoot at Heydrich's Mercedes 320 Convertible B but his Sten machine gun jammed. Kubiš threw a briefcase with a modified anti-tank grenade at the car. The grenade exploded and Heydrich was hit with shrapnel. Both assassins also shot with handguns but missed. Heydrich died June 4, 1942, from septicemia from infected wounds.

Martial law was declared after the attack, and a wave of reprisals and executions began. The paratroopers were tracked to the Church of Saints Cyril and Methodius in Resslova street in Prague and killed June 18, 1942. The villages of Lidice and Ležáky were obliterated as reprisals.

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