Operation Kutschera: The Polish Monster Killers & The True Cost of Freedom

In early 1944 in front of the SS headquarters building in Warsaw, Polish soldiers used these weapons to assassinate an unrepentant Nazi mass murderer. From left to right are the British Sten, the German P08 Parabellum, the German MP40, and the Polish vis Radom pistol.

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.

“Operation Heads” was a veiled reference to the skull insignia found on German SS uniforms.

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.

The Monster

The offspring of an Austrian gardener, Franz Kutschera matured into a heartless fiend.

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.

Kutschera’s fervor for National Socialism earned him friends in high places.

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 fought in several theaters and earned a reputation for bloodthirstiness that took him to rarefied levels of Nazi power.

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 1944 Kutschera ran in the highest circles of power. Here he is seen on the far right alongside Heinrich Himmler, the leader of the SS.

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

As is so often the case in wartime, a Polish intelligence specialist named Aleksander Kunicki serendipitously happened to identify Franz Kutschera as he climbed out of an automobile.

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.

Franz Kutschera’s penchant for mass executions of civilians earned him a death sentence.

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.

The Operation

The hit was planned in front of this building, the SS headquarters in Warsaw.

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.

Kutschera prepared for his day oblivious to the chaos that awaited him.

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.

Maria Stypulkowska-Chojecka, codenamed “Kama,” alerted her comrades that the target had entered his vehicle for the short drive to SS headquarters.

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.

The unit commander was Bronislaw Pietraszewicz, codenamed “Lot.”

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.

Stanislaw Huskowski, codenamed “Ali,” had not been issued a firearm.

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.

Marian Senger, codenamed “Cichy,” was grievously wounded by German return fire.

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 Guns

The German MP40 was the world’s first stamped steel, mass-produced submachine gun.

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 previous MP38 can be distinguished by the long grooves in its receiver and the prominent lightening hole in the magazine well.

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 prized on both sides of the line. Both the British Sten and German MP40 shared a common 9mm Parabellum round. This MP40 is seen here in the hands of a WW2-era Australian Digger. Mind that trigger finger, mate.

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.

The German MP40 is full auto only, but its placid rate of fire keeps the gun controllable.

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.

The British Sten gun was also called the “Stench” gun or the “Plumber’s Nightmare.” For all its utilitarian simplicity, however, it was an effective combat tool that saw service throughout the war with Commonwealth troops.

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 broke down readily without tools and lent itself to undercover operations.

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

After his Polish assassins shot Kutschera in the head they rifled his pockets for important documents. The Butcher of Warsaw was later afforded a Nazi state funeral.

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.

Juno and Sokol leaped from this bridge into the Vistula under withering German fire.

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.

The body of Zbigniew Gesicki, codenamed “Juno,” was recovered by the Nazis but never formally identified.

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.

Kutschera’s funeral in Berlin was widely attended.

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.

The Polish Scouts youth organization evolved from a paramilitary group that employed children in the bitter fight with the Nazis.

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.

This poignant memorial commemorates the children who lost their lives fighting the Nazis during World War 2. We modern Americans literally have no idea.

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.

We are never more than a generation away from tyranny. These Nazi troopers on duty in Warsaw are armed with an eclectic amalgam of weaponry. From left to right appears to be either a Finnish Suomi KP/-31 or a Soviet PPD, a pair of Schmeisser MP41’s, and an MP28.
Though fundamentally dissimilar designs, the British Sten and German MP40 served side by side in the hands of partisans throughout occupied Europe.
This is a list of Poles scheduled for execution in occupied Warsaw. The Nazis were nothing if not efficient.

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About the author: Will Dabbs was born and raised in the Mississippi Delta, having been immersed in hunting and the outdoors since his earliest recollections. He holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Mississippi and is the product of a traditional American nuclear family. Where most normal American kids get drunk to celebrate their 21st birthday, Will bought his first two machineguns. Will served eight years as an Army Aviator and accumulated more than 1,100 flight hours piloting CH47D, UH1H, OH58A/C, and AH1S helicopters. He is scuba qualified, has parachuted out of perfectly good airplanes at 3 o’clock in the morning, and has summited Mt. McKinley, Alaska–the highest point in North America–six times (at the controls of a helicopter, which is the only way sensible folk climb mountains). For reasons that seemed sagacious at the time he ultimately left the Army as a Major to pursue medical school. Dr. Dabbs has for the last dozen years owned the Urgent Care Clinic of Oxford, Mississippi. He also serves as the plant physician for the sprawling Winchester ammunition plant in that same delightful little Southern town. Will is a founding partner of Advanced Tactical Ordnance LLC, a licensed 07/02 firearms manufacturer and has written for the gun press for a quarter century. He writes solely to support a shooting habit that is as insensate as it is insatiable. Will has been married to his high school sweetheart for more than thirty years and has taught his Young Married Sunday School class for more than a decade. He and his wife currently have three adult children and a most thoroughly worthless farm dog named Dog.

{ 26 comments… add one }
  • YankeeDespot April 15, 2020, 9:22 am

    Dr.Dabbs,
    I share your love of history. Please do a piece on JFKs assassination. With you medical and firearms expertise, you can add clarity to what I’ve read. Which isn’t much, as so much of it seems silly.

  • LJ Balt April 15, 2020, 3:49 am

    A wonderful piece of history that is not well known.

  • Henry pietrzak April 14, 2020, 11:31 am

    Great story. There is a great book I recommend to your readers. “A Question of Honor: The Kosciusko Squadron: Forgotten Heroes of World War II” by Lynne Olson and Stanley Cloud. The book covers heroic Polish pilots that fought in the Battle of Britain and how they got screwed after the war. Nevertheless, these Polish pilots fought and some gave their lives for freedom. Thank you for your article. I am proud and grateful that I’m a free Polish-American.

  • Douglas Riding April 14, 2020, 12:11 am

    I don’t have a lot to add about this article…

    Suffice it to say that – although I’ve known about the horrors of WWII all of my life, I have never had my nose rubbed in them quite so effectively…

    I’m not a squeamish person… I was raised on a farm, hunted since I could hold a gun, and I am a decorated combat veteran from the Vietnam conflict…

    But this article has left me with a profound sense of sadness, and a tear in my eye…

    May God bless the souls of the lost…

    And may we always remember the heros !

  • David Call April 13, 2020, 10:25 pm

    A great story of “True History”, that we all should learn from, Freedom is not Free. The Polish People between Germany and Soviet Union, had no relief for many years. A great part of history we all should remember.Dr. thank you for sharing this great story.
    God & Country

  • Mikial April 13, 2020, 9:15 pm

    Wonderful article. My wife grew up in Austria before immigrating to marry me, and her grandmother, though not Jewish, still bears the tattoo she was given when her family was arrested for not showing the proper level of adoration for Hitler. Her mother and brother died in the camps and she was only spared because American troops rescued her and hundreds of others from the train they had been loaded into for the trip to a death camp. She was 18.

    We must never forget how close tyranny is on any given day. Freedom is most certainly not free.

  • Kane April 13, 2020, 4:37 pm

    A relative of mine worked with a woman from one of the Baltic states that said the Germans were quite nice and the Soviets were low life pigs. I guess when the “gallant Red Army” raped 10’s of millions of females between the ages of 8 and 80 people remember what “professional historians” ignoe.

    BTW, the photos of Kutschera showed the officer wearing both SS and German Army uniforms. Does anyone know why?

    • Dr Motown April 14, 2020, 6:49 am

      The Nazis were “quite nice” to the Baltic states because, as with Finland, they considered them to be a useful buffer-ally in the fight against the Soviets. There were volunteer SS regiments recruited from those areas. They also thought the Baltic folks were “more Aryan” than the Slavic people. The Polish people know better than anyone else about the savagery of the Nazis and the Soviets

  • Patrick McWilliams April 13, 2020, 3:54 pm

    I was not familiar with the name of Franz Kutschera, a name which deserves to be wiped from the earth forever, along with that of Reinhard Heydrich, who perished under similar circumstances. Both men deserved their fate. I admire the heroism of those who gave their lives to give these monsters a measure of earthly justice. I suppose one could debate the decision to kill a murderer, knowing that innocents would be shot in retaliation. Goes to show that free people who intend to remain that way should, must be prepared to bring death to those who see death as a way of life. As Ayn Rand would say, it is only granting them the premises they choose to live by.

  • Bo bo April 13, 2020, 3:17 pm

    As he Russian troops neared Warsaw the Polish underground rose up. Stalin ordered his troops to stand down outside of Warsaw since he perceived the Polish underground was to closely allied with the western powers. The Nazis systematically destroyed Warsaw and killed or captured the Polish resistance. After the carnage the Russian troops resumed their march west.

  • Archie Brown April 13, 2020, 2:19 pm

    You are right, Dr. Dabbs. The post WW2 generations-except for the Korean, Vietnam, and Mid-East wars vets- have no idea.

    • Mikial April 13, 2020, 9:17 pm

      Sadly, so true. American society had forgotten what it is to struggle to survive and to fight for a cause. Now the young people admire scum like ANTIFA as Heroes of the Revolution. Sound familiar?

  • Pantexan April 13, 2020, 1:00 pm

    The execution of Kutschera was the subject of the 1959 movie Zamach by Jerzy Passendorfer

  • John Bibb April 13, 2020, 12:52 pm

    ***
    Remarkable photos and history in this excellent article! Thank you.
    ***
    John Bibb
    ***

  • Tin Hip April 13, 2020, 12:50 pm

    Is the memorial to the children who lost their lives fighting the Nazis in WWII located in Poland (source of my late mother’s family) or somewhere in the United States?

    • Gunny8541 April 17, 2020, 2:21 pm

      It’s located in Warsaw Poland. I had my picture taken next to it.

  • leon April 13, 2020, 12:15 pm

    what brave people god bless them all

  • Slovak33 April 13, 2020, 11:40 am

    Everyone please remember how Roosevelt and Churchill sold out Poland and Eastern Europe to Stalin. So sad.

    • Steve Hovermale April 14, 2020, 12:29 am

      Slovak33 you are so right and it blows my mind nobody will stand up and tell how the allies really screwed the Poles at the end of the war with all their black door politics dividing up the spoils , let alone look how the Brits treated the Polish Aviators that fought so fearsomely against the Germans in the Battle of Britain how they basically forced them out of England and into the hands of the Russians back in Poland. Also isn’t it funny how the Russians got a free get out of jail card !! do people not remember that it was both Germany and Russia that invaded Poland at the beginning of the war truly unbelievable !

  • Guido April 13, 2020, 10:20 am

    Bravo, Dr. Dabbs. Bravo!

    I only wish I had the rabid fascination with history and her Heroes and Heroines and their often faceless adversaries when I was in school.
    I was certainly not dreaming about the first two machineguns that I would purchase.

    I must admit, my monitor is still a bit fuzzy after viewing that statue honoring the children who so valiantly fought for their lives and freedoms, and the photo of the Polish Scouts, who have optimism and defiance etched into their young faces.

    My God, this Country and my generation have been both so fortunate and so spoiled.

    Thanks for an exceptional read, Sir. Eagerly awaiting the next installment.

  • SargintRock April 13, 2020, 10:15 am

    Most Excellent! Attention! Hand Salute!
    In these dark times, the pictures of the Nazi SS troopers could well be DHS Enforcers in OUR immediate Future! Stay Alert America!! WE learn from the Past as WE prepare for the Challenges of the Future! I suggest everyone read a copy of Leon Uris’s “Mila 18” about the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.If YOU refuse the coming Vaccinations and tattoos, you might well be Selected for a “Readjustment” camp!

  • Zupglick April 13, 2020, 9:54 am

    Worked with a man who was one of the Polish Scouts in Warsaw. He told some very hairy stories.

  • Nanook12 April 13, 2020, 9:31 am

    The Poles didn’t catch a break for about 50yrs! Between the Soviets and the Germans overrunning the Country. I remember a Polish Citizen jumping ship in Seward, Alaska, this was during the Cold War. He worked for our small airline in Fairbanks. He had formal aviation training, but, because he wouldn’t become a communist, he was forced to work in their version of the Merchant Marines.

  • Ralph Bosen April 13, 2020, 8:25 am

    A short essay into a heroic situation during WWII that gets ones attention immediately and clearly takes you up to and through an awesome event! Kudos to the author! This makes for a great movie some day. Would love to read a book about this effort. Lastly, the book and/or movie would be an immediate success if Dr. Dabbs was the writer!

    • Nanook12 April 13, 2020, 9:35 am

      I believe this has just become a movie! It may become a victim of the Wuhan Virus though, as it was released about the time the theater’s were being shut down.

  • Bob Mercer April 13, 2020, 3:47 am

    What a sobering read and I am on my 5th beer right now.

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