Operation Daybreak: Obscure war film with a killer synth score (1975)

It’s good having a wide circle of heads to slip you good music, but this is the first tip-off I’ve ever got in my granny’s house having a cup of tea.

I was caught off guard visiting over Christmas, with Channel 5 on in the corner, half-glancing at a Nazi by numbers World War II film. It was in 1970s Technicolor with that deep red for the swastika flags, and featured Anton Diffring, who always played aloof German officers (and the commentator in Escape to Victory).

I did a double-take at one scene of Diffring ceremoniously donning his uniform, with subordinates brushing his collar and generally milling around. The music wasn’t the stock Wagnerian orchestral sweeps you’d expect, but a jolt of unsettling dark synth minimalism, as if John Carpenter had just infiltrated the Nazi lair.

A flick through the TV mag showed it was the 1975 WWII film Operation Daybreak, the true story of the assassination of SS general Reinhard Heydrich in Prague. It has a better pulp title than the more recent adaptation Anthropoid, starring Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan, and a way more striking soundtrack.

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YouTube did the crate-dig heavy lifting – the opening credits show “music composed by David Henschel, composed on an A.R.P. synthesiser”, a year before the release of Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13, and three years before Halloween.

Without the long, slightly fetishised panned close-ups of the Nazi uniform and regalia, the Operation Daybreak theme could easily open a sci-fi concept album or an episode of Doctor Who, reimagined by Tangerine Dream. The skeletal minor key synth motif would hide in plain sight on Arpanet’s Wireless Internet album, or some high-concept particle physics exploration by Dopplereffekt. Aside from this proto-Detroit electro, there’s space-opera arpeggios in a parachute scene, a droney dark ambient dirge on the tense assassination scene, and who knows what else it’ll throw up if I actually bother to watch the whole film.

David Hentschel played synths on some heavy-hitters in the 70s. He featured on Elton John’s Rocket Man and Funeral For a Friend, and played with Genesis on five albums. He also produced and engineered records by Mike Oldfield, Queen and Ringo Starr. His discogs page only has two official releases, though – an odd 1975 Ringo Starr tribute album, and the soundtrack to the 1983 cult rom-com Educating Rita – which just opens another synth rabbit hole.