Otto Skorzeny

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Otto Skorzeny

Otto Skorzeny (June 12, 1908 - July 5, 1975) was a colonel in the German Waffen-SS during World War II. He is best-known as the commando leader who rescued Benito Mussolini from imprisonment after his overthrow.

Born into a middle-class Austrian family with a long history of military service, Skorzeny was a noted fencer as a student in Vienna in the 1920s. He engaged in fifteen personal duels, and in the tenth of these he received a wound that left a dramatic scar (or more technically, a smite) on his cheek. He joined the Austrian Nazi Party in 1931 and soon he joined the SA. He showed aptitude as a leader of men from the very beginning, and even played a minor role in the German takeover of Austria on March 12, 1938, when he saved the Austrian President Wilhelm Miklas from being shot by Nazi roughnecks.

When the war broke out a year later, Skorzeny, then working as a civil engineer, volunteered for service in the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) but was turned down because he was over the age of 30. Failing that, he turned to the Waffen-SS. On February 21, 1940, Skorzeny went off to war with one of its most famous units, the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler and fought with distinction in the campaigns against the Soviet Union in 1941 and 1942 before being wounded and returning to Germany in December of 1942, a winner of the Iron Cross for bravery under fire.

After Skorzeny had recovered from his wounds, a friend in the SS recommended him to the German military leadership as a possible leader of commando forces Hitler wanted to create. It was in this role, in July 1943, that he was personally selected by Hitler, from among half a dozen Luftwaffe and Army special agents, to lead the operation to rescue Benito Mussolini, the dictator of Italy and a friend of Hitler's, who had been removed from power and imprisoned by the Italian government.

Today it is known that Skorzeny was not the leader of that raid. It was lead by airforce Gen. Student. Capt. Gerlach and Lt. Meyer-Whener of the paratroopers were also awarded with the knights cross after the real story came out. Skorzenys plane had been damaged and he severely endangered the mission when forcing his way out with the plane that took Mussolini out.

Almost two months of cat-and-mouse followed, as the Italians moved Mussolini from place to place in order to frustrate any would-be rescuers. Finally, on September 12, Skorzeny took part in a daring glider-based assault on the Gran Sasso Hotel, high in the Apennine Mountains, and rescued Mussolini with very few shots being fired. The exploit earned Skorzeny worldwide fame, promotion to major and the Knight's Cross, a higher order of the Iron Cross. On May 25, 1944. he was assigned to Operation Rsselsprung, the paratroop commando operation designed at capturing Yugoslav Partisan leader Tito at his headquarters near Drvar and crushing the communist resistance in the Balkans. Skorzeny and his troops successfully fought the numerically larger force of partisan defenders, but Tito escaped just a few minutes before Skorzenys men reached the cave in which he made his headquarters. German casualties were 213 killed, 881 wounded, and 51 missing, with a total of about 6000 on the Partisan side.

On July 20, 1944, Skorzeny was in Berlin when an attempt on Hitler's life was made, with German officials trying to seize control of the country's vital organs before the dictator recovered from his injuries. Skorzeny helped put down the rebellion in the capital, actually spending 36 hours in charge of the German army's central command center before being relieved.

In October 1944, Hitler sent Skorzeny to Hungary when he received word that the country's Regent, Mikls Horthy was secretly negotiating his country's surrender to the Red Army. This surrender would have cut off a million German troops fighting in the Balkan peninsula. Skorzeny, in another daring "snatch" codenamed Operation Panzerfaust, kidnapped Horthy's son Nicolas and forced his father to abdicate as Regent. A pro-German government was installed in Hungary which fought along side Germany until April 1945 when German troops were driven out of Hungary by the Red Army.

Otto Skorzeny, after Operation Greif he was called "the most dangerous man in Europe"
Otto Skorzeny, after Operation Greif he was called "the most dangerous man in Europe"

On October 21, Hitler, inspired by an American subterfuge that had put three captured German tanks flying German colours to devastating use at Aachen, summoned Skorzeny to Berlin and assigned him to lead a panzer brigade. As planned by Skorzeny in Operation Greif, about two dozen German soldiers, most of them in captured American army Jeeps and disguised as American soldiers, penetrated American lines in the early hours of the Battle of the Bulge and sowed disorder and confusion behind the Allied lines. A handful of his men were captured by the Americans and spread a rumour that Skorzeny was leading a raid on Paris to kill or capture General Eisenhower; this was untrue, but the Americans believed it and Eisenhower was confined to his headquarters for weeks. By this time, Skorzeny was referred to as the most dangerous man in Europe by the Allies.

He spent the first two months of 1945 commanding regular troops in the defence of the German provinces of Prussia and Pomerania as an acting major general. For his actions there, primarily in the defence of the Frankfurt an der Oder, Hitler awarded him one of Germany's highest military honors, the Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross.

Skorzeny surrendered to the Allies in May and was held as a prisoner of war for more than two years before being tried as a war criminal for his actions in the Battle of the Bulge. However, he was acquitted when Wing Commander Yeo-Thomas G.C. of the SOE testified in his defence that Allied forces had also fought in enemy uniform. Still, he continued to be held until he escaped from a prison camp on July 27, 1948.

He settled in franquist Spain with a passport granted by its dictator, Francisco Franco and resumed his prewar occupation as an engineer. In 1952, he was declared "entnazifiziert" (denazified) in absentia by a German government arbitration board, which enabled him to travel abroad. Before the declaration, he could have been interned in Germany or Austria until he had convinced the authorities that he had seen the error of his beliefs. Later on, he worked as a consultant to the Egyptian dictator Gamel Abdel Nasser and the Argentine President Juan Peron, and is rumoured to have assisted several of his friends in the secret SS escape network "Odessa" in the years after the war.

Skorzeny died as a multi-millionaire in Madrid in 1975.

Skorzeny is a key figure in Harry Turtledove's alternate history series Worldwar.


External links

fr:Otto Skorzeny it:Otto Skorzeny ja:オットー・スコルツェニー pl:Otto Skorzeny


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