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SS Tiger
12-19-2005, 03:12 PM
Introduction

SS Hauptsturmfuhrer Otto Skorzeny was the man personally chosen by Hitler to lead the mission to rescue Mussolini, after the Duce had been removed from power by the King of Italy in July 1943 and replaced by Marshal Pietro Badoglio, whom Hitler feared may surrender Italy to the Allies. If this happened then southern Europe would be opened up to allied invasion. The rescue mission was to be codenamed Operation Eiche (Oak), and was one of four operations ordered by Hitler to counter any attack on Italy by the Allies.

The other three:
Operation Achse (Axis), was aimed at destroying or capturing the Italian fleet in the event of capitulation or invasion.
Operation Schwarz (Black), was aimed at the complete German occupation of Italy and disarming of Italian forces.
Operation Student, was aimed at the occupation of Rome and with the successfull execution of Operation Eiche, the restoration of Mussolini's regime.

Skorzeny was subordinated to the Luftwaffe for the mission and took his orders from General Kurt Student.

Locating the Duce

The first problem to overcome was the location of the Duce. After his arrest he was taken away to an unknown destination and it was several weeks before the first lead came in. He was supposedly being held on the Island of Ponza off the West Coast of Italy.
By the time investigations had been carried out on this report he had been moved on, this time to the island of La Maddalena off the north east coast of Sardinia.
Plans were drawn up for a rescue attempt but before they could be carried out Mussolini was once again spirited away to a new destination.
The leads had now dried up and his location was a mystery, until German radio intercepts confirmed that he had been moved to the Gran Sasso d'Italia, (an unusually high amount of signal traffic, which regularly referred to an person of importance) a high peak in the Appenine mountain region 80 miles north east of Rome. It was the best lead they had and preparations could now begin for the mission.

Planning

Built on the peak of the Gran Sasso was the Campo Imperatore hotel, part of a winter ski resort constructed a few years before the war. The only access to this hotel was via a cable car that ran up the side of the mountain from the valley below.

Any plans had to include the taking of the cable car station in the valley to stop any re-inforcements getting through. If Mussolini was being held on the Gran Sasso then it was guaranteed that he was being well guarded.
On September 10th 1943, Skorzeny, his adjutant and Luftwaffe planners carried out the first aerial reconnaissance over the Gran Sasso, which revealed an ideal landing place for an assault, a small meadow only yards from the front of the hotel.

Now only the method of assault was left, Skorzeny decided that a parachute assault was out of the question because of the risk of scattering the men, so a glider assault was planned.
It was decided to use 12 fully manned DFS-230 light assault gliders for the assault, consisting of several men from Skorzeny's Friedenthal Battalion and men of the 1st Kompanie, 1st Battalion, 7th Regiment, (the Fallschirm - Lehr Battalion), under the command of Oberleutnant Georg von Berlepsch.The remainder of the Battalion under the command of Major Otto-Harald Mors were to travel by road and take the nearby airfield at Aquila and the cable car station in the valley below. Another group of Skorzenyís men were tasked with the job of freeing the Duce's family.

Action

On the afternoon of the 12th September the gliders and their towing aircraft took off from the Practica de Mare airfield near Rome on their 1-hour flight to the Gran Sasso.They took with them a pro-german Italian officer called General Soletti who could be useful in negotiations if things became bloody. Four of the gliders didnít make it to the final destination.

s they approached the Gran Sasso visibilty was still bad, it was only recognised because of the previous reconnaissance carried out by Skorzeny, they immediately prepared to be cast from their tows.
As they approached the target they saw that the meadow previously planned as the landing area was in fact covered in large rocks not observed during the reconnaissance. They made a crash landing only yards from the front of the hotel, the obstacles helping to brake the gliders.

Skorzeny led his men into the hotel, overcoming the resistance at the entrance and headed straight for the Duces room, which was guarded by two Italian officers. They offered no resistance and within minutes the commanding officer of the garrison had promised no resistance from the rest of his men . The whole complex fell into in German hands quickly and without bloodshed.
The hotel had been taken in four minutes, gliders #6 & #7 were just coming in to land. Glider #8 made its approach shortly afterwards but crash-landed, badly injuring all those on board.

Escape

Mussolini had been released from his detention and now only the problem of getting him off the Gran Sasso remained.
There were 3 options for escape, the first was by road to Rome through the valley below which was now in the safe hands of Major Mors and the Fallschirm Lehr Battalion, this was risky due to the partisan activity in the area. The second was to transport the Duce to the nearby airfield at Aquila which was due to be attacked by paratroops and fly him out.
Skorzeny chose the third option, fly him directly off the Gran Sasso using the Feisler Storch recconaisance aircraft piloted by Studentís personal pilot Captain Gerlach, which was flying overhead.
The danger of a take off from the small meadow was increased when Skorzeny insisted on accompanying the Italian leader and the pilot. The Storch was not really built to carry such a load, and in fact the pilot pointed out this fact, and how short was the runway, but the brave SS Officer was adamant. The men boarded the plane and the engine was revved to produce maximum power. The brake was released suddenly and the Storch shot forward along the boulder strewn runway, careered over the edge of the cliff and vanished from sight. For a few frightening seconds the light plane plunged towards the valley floor, but the pilot regained control and landed at Practica di Mare whence Mussolini, still escorted by Skorzeny, was flown to Hitler's Headquarters.

Conculsion

This raid was a success with very few casualties. Skorzeny and the SS came off best and got a lot of the credit though others may argue that the Fallschirmtruppe played a major part in the planning and execution of the operation and deserved more credit than they got.

Associated pictures

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/f/fb/Skorzeny.png
Major Otto Skorzeny, the SS Officer who rescued Mussolini and then went on to lead the special forces of the Third Reich.

http://www.portal-ns.com/thecensure/Brandenburg37.jpg
The glider in which Skorzeny flew to the Gran Sasso to rescue Benito Mussolini.

http://www.portal-ns.com/thecensure/Brandenburg38.jpg
Skorzeny, the figure on the left of this photograph, escorts Mussolini from the hotel on the Gran Sasso.


http://www.portal-ns.com/thecensure/Brandenburg39.jpg
The Fiesler Storch is being prepared for the escape flight. Mussolini and Skorzeny are already aboard; Gerlach, the pilot, is about to climb in.

http://www.giorgiobifani.net/rsi2/mussolini_gran_sasso_skorzeny2.JPG
Mussolini and Otto Skorzeny after Gran Sasso's liberation.

Sources

http://www.portal-ns.com/thecensure/skorzeny.htm
http://www.eagle19.freeserve.co.uk/gransasso.htm
http://www.giorgiobifani.net/rsi2a_eng.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otto_Skorzeny

Does anyone else know of any other daring raids/missions carried out by German commandos?

Firefly
12-19-2005, 03:19 PM
I always feel a wee bit sorry for the Duce. I dont think he was ever in the mould of the Nazis, who borrowed a lot of his ideas and twisted them.

I'm not saying he was a Saint or anything, more like a gullible fool who was sucked along. Its a pity he didnt realise what he was getting into, it would have been a diffrent war had he stayed nuetral. No Desert campaign, no Italian campaign etc etc.

Twitch1
12-20-2005, 01:58 PM
SS Tiger- excellent profile of the operation!! :D Skorzeny was one bad mofo.

cpl condor
12-20-2005, 06:18 PM
What a profile!! I think thre are a lots of nights researching and classifying
the files. My respect 8)

SS Tiger
12-20-2005, 07:52 PM
Thanks guys!

Another operation Skorzeny lead was Operation Greif, where German soldiers dressed up in allied uniforms and drove allied jeeps behind enemy lines and caused confusion and disorder in the enemy lines. Maybe I'll put together another post on this in the future as its another quite intresting operation.