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The Wonder of the Cinema

#19 Operation: Daybreak

Operation: Daybreak 1975

How much is one life worth?  Is it a one-for-one proposition or can one life be worth the death of thousands?  This is the moral issue behind the assassination of SS General Reinhard Heydrich in 1942.  Heydrich was one of Adolf Hitler’s closest and most trusted advisors and at the Wannsee Conference laid out the plans for the so-called “Final Solution.” He is considered by historians as the darkest figure within the Nazi inner circle.  Following his death the first three purpose-built “death camps,” Treblinka, Sobibor, and Belzec, were established.   They lacked the pretext of labor or any legal proceedings and only created to kill as many people as possible as quickly as possible.

Reinhard Heydrich mortally wounded

Reinhard Heydrich mortally wounded

This is the target of the three stars of Operation: Daybreak.  Timothy Bottoms(The Paper Chase, The Last Picture Show), Anthony Andrews(Danger UXB, The King’s Speech), and Martin Shaw(The Professionals, Inspector George Gently) are a trio of Czech soldiers sent in to carry out the operation.  The plot of the film is loosely based upon actual events although the assassination plan was called Operation Anthropoid.  Perhaps the film’s producers thought this would not make a good title.

Anthony Andrews looking fierce.  Too bad he brought the wrong gun, a Sten.

Anthony Andrews looking fierce. Too bad he brought the wrong gun, a Sten.

The plan by today’s military standards is laughably simple.  One man will step in front of Heydrich’s car, causing it to stop.  This man will then spray the car with fire from his Sten submachine gun.  A second man will pitch a hand grenade into the car to finish Heydrich off.  Where’s the backup plan?  Two men?  And a Sten?  It’s one of the cheapest, most poorly constructed weapons of World War II.  As it turned out the Sten jammed and the hand grenade did not appear to be effective.  Both assailants fled the scene.  It all ends tragically as they all meet a horrible end in the crypt of a church.

Operation: Daybreak is a solid film, if unremarkable.  Made on a modest budget on location in Prague, Operation: Daybreak provides a mild testament to the individuals involved in killing Reinhard Heydrich.  In the end the real men parachuted in to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich all perished.  An estimated 13,000 Czechs were rounded up and deported or imprisoned.  Following an Gestapo report that the villages of Lidice and Lezaky had hidden and supported members of the resistance, both villages were virtually wiped out.  All told an estimated 5,000 Czechs perished in the reprisals.

The seven parachutists sent to kill Heydrich

The seven parachutists sent to kill Heydrich

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About Rob Sterner

English teacher, Film buff, Filmmaker, Writer, Musician, Photographer, Runner, Taoist, Thinker, List maker...

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