Requisitioned by the War Office in early 1941, Bellasis (today Bellasis House) was one of six initial Special Training Schools (STS) for the Special Operations Executive (SOE), a secret organisation created in July 1940 to ‘coordinate all action, by way of subversion and sabotage, against the enemy overseas’. Today it is a private home, not open to the public.
School for Secret Agents
In the first half of 1941 Bellasis provided paramilitary training for SOE staff and Italian/Italian-American anti-fascist would-be agents. Later trainees came from Denmark and the Netherlands.
By November 1941 Bellasis had become the Holding School for Czechoslovakian agents, giving initial and refresher training for agents waiting to progress through the training syllabus, or to depart on missions in enemy-occupied Czechoslovakia.
The SOE agents for whom Bellasis is chiefly remembered were the two members of Operation Anthropoid, the mission to assassinate SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, head of the combined security services of Nazi Germany and acting Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia. In early November 1941, Warrant Officers Jozef Gabčik and Jan Kubiš of the Czechoslovak army-in-exile, came to Bellasis for six weeks of ‘continuation and skill enhancement’ instruction after extensive training elsewhere by SOE.
Gabčik and Kubiš parachuted into Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia on the night of 28/29 December 1941. On 27 May 1942, they carried out their attack as Heydrich was being driven into Prague. Heydrich died in hospital from infected wounds on 4 June 1942.
On 18 June 1942 Gabčik and Kubiš, together with five other Czechoslovak parachutists trained by SOE, were cornered and besieged by overwhelming enemy forces in the Saint Karel Boromeo church, now the Church of Saints Cyril and Methodius, in Prague. As ammunition and hope ran out, Gabčik took his own life. Kubiš, already mortally wounded by grenade shrapnel and unconscious, died shortly after being taken to hospital.
By the summer of 1942 Bellasis hosted several nationalities, including British, American, French, more Danes, Yugoslavs and even two trainee agents from the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). From 1942 to 1943 Bellasis offered training for what were termed coup de main missions – commando-style raids for which instruction included physical training, map reading, fieldcraft, Morse code, coding and demolitions.
From June 1944, prisoners of war from the German forces who claimed to be anti-Nazi, including Austrians, Poles and Russians, as well as Germans, were interrogated at Bellasis to determine whether they might be suitable for training to be inserted as agents behind German lines and in Germany itself. These men were codenamed BONZOS. Austrian BONZOs who were screened at Bellasis were dropped into Austria in 1945 in order to secure a large collection of Nazi-looted art treasures and its subsequent rescue by an Allied mission.
STS 2 Bellasis was closed by SOE in June 1945. Find out more about the secret history of Headley Heath by following the Second World War History walking trail.
Text and photos, with thanks - The Secret WW2 Learning Network