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SS-Gruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich. Source: National Archives

I have been researching Operation Anthropoid (the assassination of SS-Gruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich on 27 May 1942 in Prague, Czechoslovakia by Czech operatives Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš with British assistance from SOE). All of the reference material I have found to date (some listed below) indicate the Czechs’ mission was called Operation Anthropoid (as I would expect) - except one.

The CIA's Secret report (declassified September 1993) on The Assassination of Reinhard Heydrich refers to this as Operation Salmon (both in the sub-title and in one footnote). In no place in this report is the name Anthropoid found.

Was Anthropoid part of a larger operation (Salmon), or vice-versa? I have not found any references to this effect anywhere. Neither have I been able to find any other source calling this mission Operation Salmon. Why does the CIA report indicate Salmon as this operation's name?

The only reference I can find to an operation called Salmon within the context of WWII is this codename reference to a 1943 British and US operation against U-boats operating in the North Atlantic. Additional Google searches have yielded no other Operation Salmon (during WWII).

Sources searched:

- Wikipedia: Operation Anthropoid;
- Holocaust Research Project: The Assassination of Reinhard Heydrich - Operation Anthropoid;
- War History Online: The Assassination of The Butcher of Prague – Reinhard Heydrich;
- Warfare History Network: Operation Anthropoid: Killing Reinhard Heydrich;
- The National Interest: Operation Anthropoid: How Czech Commandos Assassinated Hitler's Most Ruthless Henchman;
- Jewish Virtual Library: Operation Anthropoid;
- Private Prague Guide: The Assassination of Reinhard Heydrich;
- Wikipedia: List of WWII Military Operations (Anthropoid is listed under Partisan operations, Salmon is not listed anywhere);
- Wikipedia: Category: Battles and operations of WWII involving Czechoslovakia (Anthropoid is listed, Salmon is not);
- Czech Radio Praha: 70th Anniversary Special - The Czech Resistance During World War II (Anthropoid is very prominent in this special Czech Radio Praha report, no mention of Salmon);
- Interesting Histories [Medium]: Interesting Histories: Operation Anthropoid;
- WWII Database: List of Allied Operations (neither Anthropoid nor Salmon appear, probably because it was a Partisan operation)


4 Answers 4


As the author of the CIA article, R. C. Jaggers, does not cite any sources, it is difficult to establish with certainty why he used the name 'Operation Salmon'.

The most likely reason may be that Operation Salmon was an earlier designation for Operation Anthropoid (which raises the question as to why he preferred one over the other), but - amidst a fair quantity of literature - there is only one clear reference to this. Therefore, two other possible reasons cannot be entirely discounted, namely that Jaggers used bad or misleading sources, or he did not know the name of the operation and thus invented one.

'Salmon' as an earlier name

It is not unknown for the names of operations to be changed so it is possible that 'Salmon' was the original name for what later became known as 'Anthropoid'.

The only reference I've found for this is an article by the journalist Gian Paolo Pellizzaro on an Italian website Europa Orientale. Unfortunately, there is no clear citation, though some sources are given in the main body of the article. Google translates the relevant section as (my highlighting):

Anthropoid's initial planning was developed by the 2nd Department of the Czechoslovak Defense Ministry in exile, in collaboration with Baker Street specialists (named after the Special Operations Executive headquarters) and the Intelligence Service. The original name assigned to the operation was Salmon and as a date to carry out the assassination of Heydrich it was initially thought up to October 28, 1941, the 23rd anniversary of the Czechoslovak independence. But something went wrong and the plan was postponed ...

Pellizzaro's article does not seem to contain any obvious errors and that 'something went wrong' is corroborated by Michal Burian (2002) in Assassination — Operation Arthropoid, 1941–1942. The drop into Czechoslovakia was originally scheduled between 7 and 10 October 1941 but had to be postponed when one of the men selected for the mission, Karel Svoboda, was injured in training.

Pellizzaro's source for 'Salmon' may be one of two books mentioned in the text shortly before he mentions 'Salmon'. One of these is the Diaries of Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart, but very limited searching is allowed on Google books.

The other possibility is The Unseen War in Europe by John H. Waller. This is also hard to search but, interestingly, the index gives Salmon, Operation, 234 while another page mentions Anthropoid Team, 234-35. Not definite corroboration, but interesting.

If Salmon was indeed an earlier name, why did Jaggers use it instead of Anthropoid? This probably can't be known for sure without asking him, but there are a number of possibilities:

(1) he didn't know Anthropoid was the name finally settled on,

(2) he felt it sounded better in an article which clearly has one eye on 'entertainment' (see below), and / or that Anthropoid might have some of his readers reaching for a dictionary,

(3) 'tradecraft' (as mentioned by NonCreature0714) in his comment, perhaps with particular reference Churchill's instruction on using names "which do not suggest the character of the operation" or

(4) a careless error - there are lots of them in the article (see below) so this may well be the explanation.

Bad or misleading sources

On the second possibility, Marakai's answer has already noted the numerous and obvious errors made by Jaggers. Whether these came from Frantisek Moravec is, though, unclear at best. Moravec's book, Master of Spies, was not published until 1975 while Jaggers' article is dated 1960. The book was in progress when Moravec died, and was completed by his son. Also, some of Jaggers' biggest errors (date of Heydrich's death, the ages of Gabcik and Kubis) are not in the book.

According to the son (in the foreword to the book), Moravec (who was deeply involved in Operation Anthropoid) started making notes on his experiences (in Czech) shortly after he arrived in the US in 1948; he also made recordings and wrote various articles during his time working at the Pentagon. These were used to complete the book.

It is therefore possible that Jaggers somehow had access to Moravec or to something he had written in the 1950s. If Jaggers knew that Moravec was at the Pentagon, it would have been natural to try to consult him given the subject material. Moravec's son might have edited out errors in his father's material before publishing the book, and this could explain why some of the errors in Jaggers' article do not appear in Moravec's book.

Artistic licence or ignorance

The final possibility is that Jaggers, for one reason or another, simply made up the name 'Salmon', just as he made up the dialogues. At this point, it is worth taking a look at where Jaggers' artcle apeared, namely Studies in Intelligence: The IC’s Journal for the Intelligence Professional (vol 4).

This journal contains a number of articles where authors seem intent on displaying literary pretensions by using a writing style clearly not suited for a straightforward report. One article in volume 4 (The Defections of Dr. John) begins with:

Rain streaked the streets of Berlin, splashed on darkened houses, glistened in the light from an east-west border check point. A sedan rolled up, its tires singing on the wet pavement.

Clearly, imagined situations were OK with the editorial board. Perhaps this was because of the $500 prize on offer for the best article, one of the two criteria being "literary qualities". Thus, it is possible that, not knowing the official name 'Operation Anthropoid', Jaggers simply made it up (as he did the dialogues, though these may also have come from or been inspired by conversations with Moravec - assuming Jaggers even met him). It is worth noting that some details on Operation Anthropoid were still classified until around 1995; if Jaggers was junior at the CIA, he may not have had access to such classified material.

Interestingly, Moravec does not reveal the name 'Operation Anthropoid' in his 1975 book (though he must have known it given his role in selecting and instructing Kubis and Gabcek).

  • 1
    Your research and analysis are spot on Lars. +1 and Answer Most Likely To Be Accepted as of this morning!
    – Kerry L
    Commented Nov 4, 2018 at 14:17
  • 1
    @KerryL Thanks. I just wish I could nail it for certain...I haven't given up yet! Commented Nov 4, 2018 at 14:59
  • 1
    You forgot to mention the possibility of tradecraft: that Jaggers intentionally, or the OSS at the time, named the operation Salmon, so it wouldn’t be associated with Anthropoid. Commented Nov 4, 2018 at 21:52
  • 2
    @NonCreature0714 I did consider whether Jaggers might have deliberately changed the name but, given the amount of detail included in the article (albeit often inaccurate!), it doesn't seem very likely. Another possibility is that he used Salmon because he felt (rightly or wrongly) it sounds better than Anthropoid. Commented Nov 5, 2018 at 3:58
  • 2
    @LarsBosteen I’m glad to see you considered a deliberate name change, and thank YOU for your good research and interesting answer! Commented Nov 5, 2018 at 14:47

Curiously, after a bit of research I found this - a comment on the Amazon Kindle entry for the "book" The Assassination of Reinhard Heydrich Kindle Edition

Make of it what you will, but possibly it is simply a CIA screw up, or at the very least by its author R.C.Jaggers.

The commenter goes by the handle of Kallisto and writes:

First of all, you can get this document free of charge on the C.I.A. website. But why bother? It is a mind-boggling puzzle why this mess of false information was even written, let alone published.

Nothing in it - not even the DATES of the assassination and Heydrich's death! - are correct. It says the assassination took place on the 29th of May and that Heydrich died on the 6th of June. Wrong: the correct dates are May 27th and June 4th. (Mind you, this was written cca 1960, so the dates were available in any encyclopedia.)

The same goes for the date of the parachute drop (it happened in December 1941, not in April 1942), the personal details of the assassins - and so on and so forth.

Admittedly, some of the data are hilarious (the operation is called "Salmon" instead of "Anthropoid") [emphasis mine], but one can find worthier types of amusement.

The document seems to rely heavily on Moravec's book Master of Spies (or the material included in the latter, anyway), witness some of the mistakes, which replicate exactly those in Moravec's book, going as far as relating private conversations that the author clearly could not have witnessed. It is all incredibly childish and amateurish, especially considering it was made for the C.I.A.

The most alluring thing about this puzzling document is wondering about its purpose (this was supposedly a "secret" document up to 1993 when it was released) - and about the quality of C.I.A.'s "intelligence" in general if it employed personnel like the author of this oddity.

Zero stars for content, eleven stars for entertainment value - but only if you're familiar with the actual story.

P.S. If you want a good laugh, be sure to read the same author's review of Burgess' book "Seven Men at Daybreak". https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/kent-csi/vol5no3/html/v05i3a06p_0001.htm

If you are familiar with the actual story, Jaggers' badmouthing of Burgess' book will have you in stitches.

It goes without saying that simply because of the source my answer has huge disclaimers and caveats - but in light of what you found, namely that there simply is nothing else that links the name "Salmon" with the assassination of Heydrich, it seems we're talking about a case of bad intelligence and historical research on the side of the CIA.

EDIT: I just looked the CIA review of the mentioned book Seven Men at Daybreak, which indeed the same R.C.Jaggers savages. Seeing as that book is otherwise reviewed and rated as an excellent account of the Heydrich assassination, it adds fodder to the thesis that this "Jaggers" may simply be a vindictive, clueless hack, yet one employed by the CIA.

  • Thank you, this is excellent information - I appreciate your research and findings! +1
    – Kerry L
    Commented Nov 4, 2018 at 14:15

The "CIA's secret report" by R. C. Jaggers reads like a "as told by" version of some primary document originating outside the CIA. The CIA of course did not exist in 1942, and its predecessor, the OSS, had nothing to do with the operation. So this report might be a version of an account appearing in the Czech press, or a memoir by a Czech official of some sort.

The quotations of direct dialog such as

They glanced at each other. "No," said Gabcik. "We want to do it." Kubis just nodded.

seem consistent with something written for the popular press; the absence of detail about the SOE seems consistent with a Czech audience.

So, I suppose, it was written by a Czech, who probably didn't know or care what codename SOE used for the operation. Possibly "Operation Salmon" is what the Czechs called it?

  • Yes the CIA has lots of analysts who research topics and compile reports from several sources. Since Anthropoid was a Czech operation from its inception, planned by the Czech government in exile in London, carried out by Czech agents, paid for with Czech blood on Czech soil, I don't imagine all the history reports would change the name of the operation from a Czech choice (Salmon) to some other (British?) choice. If we are going to suppose (but that's not why I'm here on History:SE) then I might suppose the CIA may have altered the operation name in the report for some policy reason
    – Kerry L
    Commented Nov 4, 2018 at 3:21
  • Comments that say "thank you"are discouraged here, but - thank you for taking the time to be the first responder to my question and for suggesting the possibility of Czech sources for the report.
    – Kerry L
    Commented Nov 7, 2018 at 16:22
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    @KerryL: In Czech, it's known as Anthropoid (or evt. SilverA/Silver B) as well. I could not find "losos" (Czech for "salmon") and Heydrich on the same page in google search, so it's probably not a translation either.
    – Edheldil
    Commented Nov 8, 2018 at 10:52

I'm a little late to this party, but if anyone is still interested.... I'm sure the source was Moravec himself, but the melodramatic spin would certainly not have been his. As for the errors, they may well have been deliberate. Moravec was acutely aware the Czechoslovak Communists were persecuting members of his family as well as his wartime colleagues and virtually everyone else who had been based in the U.K. rather than in the Soviet Union during the war (and had not suddenly become loyal Communists when they saw which way the wind was blowing). Moravec would want to protect those people as much as he could - and giving misleading information that could fall into the Communists' hands would fall in line with that. It is hard to believe, although possible, he would have forgotten the timeline of such a significant event. As for "Salmon" - who knows? It is "Anthropoid" in the SOE records. Moravec was an avid trout-fisherman. Maybe "Salmon" was a quirky fish joke of his.

Disclaimer: Moravec was my grandfather.

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