Poland suffers from the most regrettably cursed geography. Trapped as they are between Germany and the former USSR, the Poles found themselves brutalized for generations. During WW2 the Nazis had their jackboots on the neck of the Polish nation. Throughout it all, however, the Poles fought like lions for their freedom, their land, their people, and their dignity.
History calls the overall enterprise “Operation Heads.” This is a sardonic allusion to “Operation Little Heads,” itself an oblique reference to the Totenkopf “Death’s Head” insignia that German SS soldiers wore on their uniforms. While the Germans unleashed their full fury against the innocent Polish population, these Nazis also lived in justifiable fear of sudden gory death at the hands of patriotic Polish partisans.
Franz Kutschera was born in 1904 in Oberwaltersdorf, Lower Austria, an area that was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He was the son of a professional gardener. After a stint as a cabin boy in the Austro-Hungarian Navy, Franz attended machinist’s school but subsequently entered training to become a gardener like his dad. International geopolitics then took the promising young Austrian in a dark direction.
In 1930 Kutschera joined the Austrian Nazi Party and a year later the Schutzstaffel (SS). The Austrofascist government of Engelbert Dollfuss banned the National Socialists in the summer of 1933, but Franz Kutschera was a zealot. Facing arrest on numerous occasions for his illegal pro-Nazi activities, his enthusiasm gained the attention of certain like-minded monsters. By 1940 Kutschera was a Brigadefuhrer in the SS.
Kutschera took part in the Battle of France as well as the Nazi operations in the Balkans. While fighting Tito’s partisans Kutschera earned a reputation for ruthlessness. After murdering his way through a series of mass killings in the occupied Soviet Union, Kutschera found himself posted in Warsaw.
By 1943 Kutschera was a Generalmajor der Polizei responsible for maintaining order in occupied Poland. Under his direction, the number of roundups of Polish citizens increased substantially. At a time when Polish partisans were sowing havoc in the German rear areas he published daily lists of Polish citizens to be executed should the partisans attack during certain designated blocks of time. The Poles called him the “Butcher of Warsaw.”
A Lucky Break
The identities of these German SS and Gestapo commanders were closely guarded secrets. However, in December of 1943 Aleksander Kunicki, the chief of intelligence for the anti-Gestapo unit in Kedyw, happened to spot Kutschera as he exited his Opel Admiral limousine outside the Warsaw SS headquarters. As Kutschera left the vehicle his greatcoat swept open far enough for Kunicki to spot his distinctive General Officer rank insignia. The Polish Underground State now had their man.
Kutschera was tried in absentia and convicted of the routine mass murder of civilians in Warsaw. His sentence was death. The Polish government-in-exile concurred with the decision, and the combat-sabotage unit of the Polish underground in Kedyw was given the mission.
Twelve Polish operators organized to assassinate SS Brigadefuhrer Franz Kutschera. There were nine male hitters as well as three female signals specialists. The first attempt went down on 28 January 1944 but had to be scrubbed when Kutschera failed to leave his home. The second effort was planned for the morning of 1 February. Kutschera only lived 150 meters from the Warsaw SS headquarters, yet he invariably took his chauffeured limousine to work every day.
On this bright Tuesday morning, the dozen Polish operators were in position before Kutschera finished breakfast. As we walk through the op we will use the operator’s code names for ease of description. Polish names can be a mouthful. Please forgive the poor quality of these photos, but it is at times edifying to appreciate the true faces of heroism.
At 0909 the female communications specialist Kama signaled that Kutschera was leaving his home. As the target approached SS headquarters, Mis staged an accident with his automobile, immobilizing Kutschera’s limousine. Mis was armed with a P08 Parabellum pistol and a hand grenade.
Lot and Kruszynka then approached Kutschera’s disabled vehicle at a trot. The guards outside the SS headquarters building were momentarily stunned. Lot carried a captured German MP40 submachine gun, a Polish vis Radom pistol, and a Filipinka impact-detonated hand grenade. Kruszynka wielded a Sten submachine gun supplied by the Allied OSS along with a grenade of his own. The two men opened fire at near contact range, killing the SS driver and severely wounding Kutschera. Mis then leaped out of his vehicle, drew his 9mm Luger pistol, and shot Kutschera through the head. By now the SS guards had regained their composure, and a fierce firefight ensued.
The remaining Polish operators roared up in a pair of getaway cars to extract the hit team amidst sleeting automatic weapons fire. A Polish operative named Ali carried a briefcase filled with hand grenades and was supposed to deploy the bombs as cover. However, Mr. Murphy is never far away from a complicated military operation of this sort. Ali was unable to disengage the latch on his case, so the grenades remained unused.
Cichy, Lot, and Olbrzym were badly wounded in the exchange of fire. Lot, the unit commander, was therefore unable to give the order to withdraw. As a result, the firefight went on somewhat longer than it should have. Regardless, the entire exchange was still over in about a minute and a half. All of the Poles eventually escaped the kill zone.
The German MP40 submachine gun became inextricably associated with the German Wehrmacht. Much like the coal-scuttle Stahlhelm, the hobnailed jackboot, and the stielhandgranate potato masher hand grenade, the MP40 was a Nazi icon. This stamped steel SMG represented a truly groundbreaking design.
The Maschinenpistole 40 was designed by Heinrich Vollmer and was a direct evolutionary descendant of the antecedent MP38. Featuring the same basic layout and several common interchangeable components, the MP38 and MP40 differed primarily in the design of their tubular receivers. That of the MP38 was a machined steel tube, where the MP40 receiver was simply pressed out of sheet stock. The two guns can be differentiated at a glance by the longitudinal grooves cut into the MP38 receiver as well as a lightening hole about the size of a dime pressed into the MP38’s magazine well.
The MP40 was issued to tank crews and Infantry soldiers in leadership roles early in the war. As the conflict ground on, the guns were even issued to soldiers who showed exceptional bravery or combat prowess. Between 1940 and 1945 the Germans produced a bit more than one million copies of the weapon.
At nearly nine pounds and 32 inches long the MP40 is undeniably bulky. However, its sedate 500rpm rate of fire combined with the gun’s innate mass make it exceptionally controllable. The MP40 remains one of my personal favorite subguns.
British Major RV Shepherd and Mr. Harold John Turpin designed the British Sten in 1941 while working at the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield. The name Sten is a portmanteau of the designer’s final initials along with En for Enfield. A remarkably austere design, the Sten gun cycles at a leisurely 500rpm and features a mere 47 parts.
The Sten weighs seven pounds and can be broken down into four major components for transport, concealment, or compact stowage. In 1942 the Sten gun cost $10 to build. That equates out to around $154 today.
The Rest of the Story
Franz Kutschera died at the scene along with his driver and three SS men. The Germans guarded local hospitals and threatened severe reprisals if any of them rendered medical care to wounded partisans. It took several hours and five attempts before the Poles could find a hospital willing to treat their wounded. Cichy and Lot died of their wounds as a result.
Sokol and Juno were intercepted by pursuing Germans as they crossed the Kierbedz Bridge. After a fierce exchange of fire, both men leaped into the river Vistula below. The Germans later recovered both men’s bodies downstream.
Sokol had been shot and carried an ID card that led the Germans back to his family. Juno apparently drowned but carried no unique documentation. The Germans therefore never did accurately determine his identity, and his family survived the war.
The following day the Nazis shot 300 innocent Polish civilians in retaliation for the killing. The Germans gave the monster Kutschera a hero’s funeral and dedicated a special train to retrieve his body to Berlin for the ceremony. The Warsaw Uprising broke out soon thereafter and claimed the lives of another 200,000 Poles.
Each year the Polish Scouts, a coeducational children’s leadership and service organization conceptually similar to the American Scouting program, formally commemorates Operation Kutschera. Unlike American Scouts, however, the Polish version evolved from the Gray Ranks, a paramilitary wartime organization wherein older children carried out sabotage, armed resistance, and assassination missions against the occupying Germans.
In these days wherein American politicians seem so rabid to squander our blood-won liberties it behooves us ever to remember the true cost of freedom.