Following on from his previous article post Operation Anthropoid Part 1, in this concluding part of Ben Mayne’s write-up of his Trip to the Czech Republic, we finish off by taking a look at the second instalment of his tour of Prague which explores the story of Operation Anthropoid.
From here I headed down to Wenceslas Square to the Bata Shoe Shop. It was here in the days after the assassination the Gestapo placed items on display along with reward posters appealing for information that would lead to the capture of the parachutists. Items were displayed in the big glass fronted window for all to see, Josef Gabcik’s bike being one of the main items. The hefty reward offered along with the likes of safety for your family must have had a big influence on the reasons for Karel Curda to completely betray his seven friends and the numerous families of the resistance. He would have known what would have happened to them all and I believe he was naive to think he would come out of this unscathed. History proves this with him being tracked down and arrested, tried and found guilty for treason, seeing him hung in April 1947.
My main pilgrimage, after learning about the men, the months of reconnaissance and intelligence gathering, the assassination attempt and the days leading up to the confirmation of the death of Heydrich, the visit to the Saints Cyril and Methodius Cathedral was going to be very powerful and emotive. I began my walk to the Cathedral.
The seven men, Jan Kubis, Josef Gabcik, Josef Valcik, Adolf Opaka, Josef Bublik, Jan Fruby and Jaroslav Svarc had sought refugee here as a last resort, the net was finally closing in on the men. I cannot begin to think of the thoughts and feelings that would have gone through their minds. I’m sure they were happy that the operation to kill Heydrich had succeeded but to hear of the reprisals and killing, especially at the small village of Lidice which was wiped from the map must have been emotionally draining.
On the morning of the 18th June at 0430hs the Catherdral began to be surrounded by SS troops, this would be the brave men’s final stand.
I arrived at the Cathedral and surprisingly found it to be open, I’d been prior informed it was rarely open. I entered inside to take stock and reflect on the layout. It was a lot smaller than I imagined it would be. The upper prayer balcony where three of the men gallantly battled for around 2 hours against the onslaught had very good positions for cover and the stairway that lead up to them would have been an imposing obstruction for all trying to gain access up towards them.
The four hidden within the crypt would have listened helplessly whilst their friends fought such a brave battle above. The silence in the end signalling the fate of the three men. It was now likely the remaining four would soon be pursued.
The small hidden crypt entrance close to the staircase in the church would of offered no way of getting down to the four of them, this was easily defendable. The other larger hidden tablet entrance by the alter which was eventually blown with a charge had a large staircase leading down into it, this was the eventual route in to the men. Again, putting up a gallant fight including a reluctant Czech fire service being made to flood the crypt with water through the vent on the outside of the church it was only a matter of time for them.
After several hours of resistance, the crypt breached, the four remaining men used their last four bullets and took their own lives. It is hard to comprehend and to stand within the crypt and think through all of this, a very moving experience. The bravery of the men is unmistakeable, it is clear to see why these men are held with such high regard and seen as heroes. The memorial and small museum within the crypt is very respectfully presented and is a lasting tribute to the seven men.
There were several other locations I took the time to visit that linked into the Operation, one being the Hradcany Castle where Heydrich was heading for on the day his car was attacked. This is a large Castle and grounds so allow good time to take it all in if you wish to visit.
Unfortunately I was not able to stop at the scene of the assassination and only drove past on a coach. There is a large memorial to the men on the corner of where it took place. It is obvious why this corner was chosen, a sharp hairpin bend giving them the best possible chance for the mission to succeed.
I have to say that over the past few months, I have learnt and taken a lot in a short space of time around this Operation, the concentration camps at Terezin and the role of the Czech Republic during the Second World War. I recommend a visit to anybody to experience this. I’m aware Legers Battlefield Tours offer a route to these locations or altnerativly research John Martin and his book, he offers bespoke in depth tours on Operation Anthropoid.
Finally, upon returning to the UK and researching further, I was surprised to learn that the men trained locally to where I live. I had the opportunity to take Lawrence of WW2 Nation with me for a little recce around Moreton Paddox where the men trained for the operation. This was followed by a visit to the memorial fountain dedicated to the men in Jephson Gardens, Royal Leamington Spa. This really has brought it closer to home with the local links and we really felt this on the night the new film was released we went to view it at Leamington.
There is a campaign to help maintain and restore the memorial fountain in Royal Leamington Spa, should you wish to learn more on this please email me so I can pass on the relevant details. I am confident though that with the new found interest the film will generate, this will be in safe hands.
Once again, thanks to Lawrence and Ross for allowing me to share my experiences with you all.
Thank you to Ben for sharing with us the experiences from his trip to Prague and the Czech Republic. Given the latest film on Operation Anthropoid, I have been fascinated to read more about the history behind this and see a number of the locations connected with it.
You can find out more about Ben and his regular WW2 related trips by following him on Twitter : @BattlefieldBen or on Facebook : Battlefield Ben.
Missed any of Ben’s previous series posts exploring Prague and the Czech Republic’s WW2 related history? Why not read them here:
Photo Credits: The photos were kindly taken and provided with permission to use here by Ben Mayne.