Monday, January 4, 2021

Czech Paratroopers from 'Operation Anthropoid'

Here are figures representing the Czech paratroops, members of 'Operation Anthropoid', who were trapped and killed in the Church of Saint Cyril and Methodius in Prague on June 18, 1942.

My grandfather was raised just outside Prague and emigrated to Canada when he was a boy. In around 1940 he received a draft notice from the German-controlled Czech government  calling him 'home' to serve in the army. Being a new Canadian he pointedly ignored it. When I was a teen he told me of the Czech patriots that killed Heydrich along with its heavy cost. Being young, I really didn't know much of what he talked about, but I knew it made him very sad and yet proud. It wasn't until I watched the excellent movie 'Anthropoid' a few years ago that I understood what this event may have meant to him.

Poster from the 2016 film

As a bit of background, 'Operation Anthropoid' was a Special Operations Executive (SOE) mission whose objective was to assassinate SS Obergruppenfurer Reinhard Heydrich in Prague in the spring of 1942.  

Heydrich was the head of the SS security service and was the Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia. In addition to being soullessly ruthless (he was the chief architect of 'The Final Solution'), he was also regarded as a brilliant administrator and a savvy politician. His influence and position within the Nazi party made him an obvious target for the SOE, who wanted to make the point that any Nazi leader, no matter how powerful, could be found, targeted and killed.

In light of the despondency and acquiescence of many Czechoslovakians to the 1938 German occupation, the Czech government-in-exile was eager to show its commitment to the overthrow of Nazi Germany. They wanted to be seen as active participants in the war, and were enthusiastic to be involved in a bold strike to salve their national pride and bolster their credentials in any postwar reconstruction.

As such, a team of SOE-trained Czech paratroopers were dropped into Czechoslovakia, and after several setbacks and false starts, succeeded in fatally wounding Heydrich while he was being driven to work in his open-topped staff car.

Heydrich's staff car after the attack. Note the bomb damage on the rear running board.

The Czech commandos were given sanctuary in the Church of Saint Cyril and Methodius. Nonetheless, their hiding place was ultimately discovered by the SS through torture and treachery. 

Approximately 750 SS troops laid siege to the church. They tried numerous times to simply force an entry, but were bloodily repulsed. After several hours of fighting they managed to force the surviving paratroopers down into the lower crypt. The SS then used tear gas and then began to flood it from firetrucks brought to the scene. Recognising that their situation was hopeless, the last remaining paratroopers committed suicide rather than being captured.

Memorial plaque at the Church commemorating the Czech and Slovak paratroopers killed in the siege and the church's clergy who were subsequently murdered by the Nazis. 

As expected, the reprisals for the assassination were swift, brutal and without any sense of proportion. The Nazis arrested thousands, and the villages of Lidice and Lezaky were effectively wiped from the map. It is estimated that approximately 5000 civilians were murdered by the SS, with many being interred and later executed in concentration camps. The clergy from the church where the paratroopers were hidden were summarily executed. 

The believed necessity of Heydrich's assassination weighed against the resulting reprisals is something which is still debated today - it certainly isn't an easy question to rationalise or square with. Yes, 'The Butcher of Prague' and the architect of the Final Solution had been brought to justice. It did cause the Nazis to increase security in their rear areas, which meant less troops serving at the front, and it did steel the Czech's will against their occupiers, but the cost of these gains was so very high that it brings into question the decision to mount the operation in the first place.


The majority of the figures I used for the paratroopers are 28mm partisans from Artizan Design and Wargames Foundry. Nice, simple and characterful. 

I used fairly large bases with sloped sides so I had space to paint in the names of the seven paratroopers. My script is a little off here and there, but it serves alright.

Sorry for the rambling history lesson, but thank you for dropping in!