Read an Excerpt
From Chapter 2
December 28, 1941
This should be classified, thought Benes, as another descending rhythm. In late spring, the Gestapo arrested the first of the Three Kings in Prague. Less than one month later, a direction-finding van tracked a radio signal that led the Germans to Colonel Masin and Leon.
Masin had fought the SS troops, wounding several before he was captured. Leon escaped into the underground. He was still at large, still in Prague, but hard-pressed to maintain contact with his primary source in German Army intelligence.
The information that had come like crown jewels now arrived seldom if at all. Benes had lost influence with Churchill and the Russians, who demanded every scrap of intelligence throughout the long autumn of Barbarossa. They had already accused him of withholding information in their hour of need.
The only answer Benes had were his paras. Six months training had put them at a peak of readiness. Tonight, a three-man teamSilver Awould drop into Bohemia with a transmitter. Their mission was to re-establish the link between the Last King and London. Silver B, a two-man team dropped at the same time, would provide back-up.
One more team was to jump with the groupAnthropoid. Benes had chosen the name from his store of the macabre. It meant to describe a creature that resembled what it was supposed to be, but lacked just the thing that made it so.
Benes remembered the two sergeants chosen for the mission. One Czech. One Slovak. Good balanceand hardly cynical. Impressive biographies and skills. Both would have been officers if the army had not been so top-heavy. Both spoke English, but the Slovak did it better than Benes.
"Tell me, Franta, will the radio teams maintain contact with Anthropoid?"
"No, sir. If Anthropoid is successful, we’ll know instantly."
"But what if they encounter difficulties? Shouldn’t they have some way of communicating with the others?"
"It would be dangerous for anyone to have knowledge of them, sir. The Anthropoid team must remain in isolation."
"Won’t that make the job more complex?"
"In these matters, the easiest way is never a consideration," said Franta. "Every person who knows of their presence increases the danger of discovery by a factor of five. That’s especially true in the beginning, when capture is most likely."
"Do you think our paras would talk?"
"The Gestapo are unsubtle, sir. A man who falls into their hands is asked one question. ‘Who are your collaborators’? The torture continues until the names are givenor the victim dies."
"And this is always so?"
"Always," said Franta kindly.
Benes accepted the word of his closest advisor. Franta had long ago proven himself far-sighted. When it became clear that the West would award their country to Hitler to satisfy his claims of race, Franta evacuated Prague, taking his files and staff to a waiting plane for England. Was he ever wrong?
"What are the chances for this mission? Realistically."
Franta’s face swayed to and fro in the shadows of the lamp. His dark eyes moved toward the light and became strangely polar. "If they survive the drop, and the first forty-eight hours, I’d say reasonably good."
The odds suddenly seemed high. Those two NCOs appeared in Benes mind as if they would never die.
"Perhaps I should have asked the chances for failure," he said. "There’s no way to calculate the after effects of this. That makes it very risky."
"The aircraft’s not yet over the drop-zone," said Franta quickly but with little conviction. "I’ll phone Tangmere Field. They’ll radio ahead. The mission could be aborted."
A tempting offer. What could Anthropoid really do except light a torch?
But it would certainly do that. The flames would be seen all the way to America. The attack on Pearl Harbor three weeks ago had brought them into the war. What they neededwhat all the allies neededwas a symbol of resistance to terror.
"This is a chance we must take. If our men are successful, the whole world will know Anthropoid. And they’ll know us for what we are."