11 – Jan Kubis & Jozef Gabcik
Some of the craziest soldiers, as we have seen, are those who are most willing to put themselves in the path of danger without any regard for their own safety. In that regard, the names of Jan Kubis and Jozef Gabcik will go down as some of the most lunatic around. Their bravery and dedication to the cause of Czech liberation will go down through the ages and, since we’re discussing lunatic behavior, perhaps so will the actions of their victim, Reinhard Heydrich, also known as the Butcher of Prague.
Jan Kubis & Jozef Gabcik were picked from a whole range of Czech and Slovak officers by the British intelligence services to carry out the attack, which was designed to destabilize the Nazi regime in Czechoslovakia and inspire the locals there to form a resistance movement similar to that was active in Poland, France and Holland. The pair had shown their fighting chops previously: Kubis had served with distinction against the Nazis as part of the French Foreign Legion and had found himself in Britain after the capitulation of France, while Gabcik had trained as a paratrooper in the UK and beat out 20 competitors to be picked for the task.
Their target was Reinhard Heydrich, the Nazi leader in Prague. Heydrich was up there with the very worst of the Nazis: he had founded the SD, the Nazi intelligence agency, had chaired the Wannsee Conference in which the Holocaust was decided upon and had to led the forces which had summarily executed those who showed resistance to the Nazi war machine in Czechoslovakia. It was not for no reason that he was known as “The Butcher of Prague”.
Kubis and Gabcik were parachuted into Prague in December 1941 and spent months researching how best to attack Heydrich. They ascertained that – despite being the most hated man in Czechoslovakia – he drove to work every day in an open-topped car with just one driver. They picked a suitable curve in the road, where he would be forced to slow down, and, when he came past, sprang out. Gabcik attempted to open fire but his gun stalled and ruined the element of surprise, but Kubis was more successful: as Heydrich attempted to return fire at Gabcik, Kubis launched a briefcase stuffed with grenades at the car and it exploded. Neither of the Czechs knew that their attack had worked and fled – both were also injured by the blast – and only discovered the next day that Heydrich had been hit heavily. The Butcher of Prague eventually died, although historians attribute it as much to poor medical care after the attack as to anything caused by the attack itself.
Nevertheless, their attack had had its intended effect and now the retribution began. Hitler was dissuaded from killing 10,000 Czechs as a punishment and instead thousands were sent to the concentration camps, including those from the ancestral homes of the perpetrators. Kubis and Gabcik, however, had one last stand left in them. They holed themselves up in an Orthodox Church in the center of Prague and, along with two other Czech resistance members, took on 750 SS soldiers. They held out for six hours, withstanding tear gas and machine guns, only for their refuge in the crypt of the church to be flooded with water. They took down an estimated 14 SS men and injured 22 more before Gabcik killed himself and Kubis was mortally wounded. The pair would go on to be feted by both Czechs and Slovaks, and their bravery was never forgotten in their native lands.