SS-Sturmbannführer Otto Skorzeny was the most colourful and the most famous Waffen SS commander during WWII. His daring rescue of Mussolini from Gran Sasso made him world famous and his subsequent missions during the Ardennes Offensive and in Hungary during Operation Panzerfaust gave him the the title among the Allies of "The Most Dangerous Man in Europe" His extraordinary wartime career was one of high risk and adventure ...
Otto Skorzeny was born on June 12th, 1908 to a typical middle class Viennese family. He attended the University of Vienna to study engineering. He joined the Nazi Party in the twenties and signed up with the SS. During WWII he proved himself to be a superior soldier and was quickly promoted from enlistee to non-commissioned officer, and finally to officer. Skorzeny participated in the invasion of Holland and France, the invasion of the Balkans, and finally in the invasion of Russia, where he was wounded in late 1941 and returned home to convalesce.
But Otto Skorzeny proved his worth - in 1942 he was awarded the Iron Cross, and in April 1943 he was promoted to captain and named Chief of Germany's Special Troops, Existing or to be Created in the Future.
When Hitler's old friend Benito Mussolini was overthrown and imprisoned in Italy at Gran Sasso in 1943, it was Skorzeny who successfully planned and led the daring rescue, winning the Knights Cross and promotion as a result.
Adolf Hitler intended to put Musolini back on the seat of a puppet government in the part of Italy occupied by the Germans and he personally ordered Otto Skorzeny to rescue Mussolini. Skorzeny tracked Mussolini across half of Italy for a month and a half until he finally found him at the Hotle Campo, a resort high in the Gran Sasso mountains. September 8, the Germans intercepted a coded message by the italians confirming the presence of Mussolini on the Gran Sasso. Skorzeny formulated a daring plan and went right into action.
He took a contingent of his troops up in gliders and crashed them on the steep rocky slopes surrounding the hotel. He and his troops rushed out and stormed the hotel, capturing the place without a shot. After finding the room where Mussolini was held prisoner, Skorzeny entered, knocked down the chair of the radio operator, destroyed the transmitting equipment and standing to attention he exclaimed: Duke, the Fuhrer has sent me to set you free! Mussolini was promptly loaded onto an aircraft that landed after the assault and flown to Vienna. On the arrival at the Hotel Continental, where a suite had been prepared, they received a hero's welcome and Hitler telephoned to congratulate.
Skorzenys talents were brought into play again when he was sent to Budapest to prevent the Hungarian regent Admiral Horthy signing a separate peace with Stalin in 1944. His reputation thus enhanced, the most dangerous man in Europe was promoted again and awarded the German Cross in Gold. A few months later he took a critical role in the Ardennes offensive, with a controversial plan to raise an armoured brigade disguised as Americans, using captured Sherman tanks, to spread chaos and confusion.
Ten days after the war's end Skorzeny gave himself up to the Americans who had launched a massive search for The Most Dangerous Man in Europe'. He was put on trial held prisoner until July 27th 1948. It was on this day that in true commando fashion he escaped.
His whereabouts after his escape remained a mystery as Russian agents, Jewish organizations hunted for him all over Europe but the ex-commando was not in Europe. In fact he had fled to Argentina and became close to Juan and Eva Peron who was interested in recovering all the German gold and money from the days of the Reich.
Otto Skorzeny organized the Police into the most brutal in South America and also acted as Eva Peron`s bodyguard foiling at least one attempt on her life.
His post-war activities included his service as an adviser to Gamal Nasser, dictator in Egypt.
Otto Skorzeny in his later years
Skorzeny eventually settled in Spain and became a successful engineering consultant for several years. His later years were all spent on helping his SS comrades to escape justice.
He founded a secret organization which helped some 500 former SS members escape the hunt for nazi war criminals. One of the better known people the organization is said to have helped is Adolf Eichmann.
Otto Skorzeny - The Most Dangerous Man in Europe' - died comfortably in Madrid July, 1975 - in his bed.
The most intriguing Skorzeny story that has surfaced in recent years concerns the alleged Churchill-Mussolini correspondence. New light has been shed upon the mystery of a possible unauthorized Churchill-Mussolini correspondence during the war, whether Mussolini kept the documents with him even in exile, the possible involvement of British intelligence in Mussolini's death, and whether Skorzeny met Churchill in Venice to exchange the Mussolini papers for an unofficial "amnesty" from Allied Nazi-hunters ...