«On July 26, 1943 I drank coffee quietly with a friend when it occurred to me to call the office. They told me that they had been looking for me all over Berlin for two hours, since the Führer Headquarters was urgently demanding me. A plane was waiting for me at the airport, ”Otto Skorzeny (Vienna, June 12, 1908-Madrid, July 7, 1975) told me in the spring of 1973, a big man (1.92 tall) that his 65 years old, she wore a care, abundant and wavy gray hair, a smile as permanent as the cigarette she smoked, threaded to a mouthpiece and a striking scar that furrowed his left cheek from near the ear to below the mouth. At this time it was a prosperous businessman, based in Madrid, who had granted me an interview to talk about the rescue of Benito Mussolini that I had achieved thirty years before, when I was a modest captain of the SS, 35, that trained special forces.
When he arrived at “The Wolf’s Den”, the surprised Skorzeny met five other officers. Hitler exchanged a few words with each of them and, in the end, asked Skorzeny to stay: – «I have for you a mission of the utmost importance,» he said. Mussolini, my friend, and faithful collaborator was betrayed yesterday by his own king (…) He is unaccounted for and as a friend and as an ally I have great interest in liberation. I am fully convinced that you will get it, Skorzeny ».
Why was he chosen? Nor was he a distinguished Nazi, as he had joined in 1938; nor was he a relevant military, but an engineer, a reservist who at the age of 31 had taken the course of officers and participated as a lieutenant in the campaigns of France, Balkans and Russia, where he was wounded. Then he was assigned to a service as scarce as tradition and resources: special forces. But yes He had a relevant detail although it was painful and uncomfortable to remember: he was a friend of the head of the Reich Security and Himmler’s right hand, the also Austrian Kaltenbrunner, which had been tried and hanged in Nuremberg in 1946.
Seven weeks of persecution
Otto Skorzeny traveled with a group of his men to Rome and ten days later he found the first clue: Mussolini had been introduced into an ambulance in the king’s palace and taken to a carabinieri barracks, then to another and then to a third, from where he was transferred to the island of Ponza. The captain was always two steps behind the kidnapped: when he found out the last destination and the prisoner had been held on the island of Santa Magdalena and when he was finalizing the preparations for release, the police of the new Italian government, chaired by Marshal Badoglio, The place of confinement changed again: a Red Cross seaplane drove the Duce to a lake of the Abruzzos and, from there, by cable car, reached a hotel in the Gran Sasso.
Skorzeny had to resume the search and when he discovered the new place he was stunned by the inaccessibility of the winter season. He considered it counterproductive to assault the funicular, as the Duce’s guards would have time to cut the line and kill him. He only found the solution of arriving from the air, but an attack with paratroopers would be visible, disperse his troops and allow the reaction of the guardians. Your options were reduced to arrive with gliders. He had about 200 men from his special forces in Italy, but his problems would be arduous: he would need a lot of collaboration: gliders, airplanes, pilots and a paratrooper battalion that covered the operation and prevented the intervention of Badoglio forces. Many people, many bosses and the usual competition between weapons. Everyone obeyed Hitler’s orders, but misgivings were inevitable.
On Sunday, September 12, Skorzeny arrived with 108 men at the Pratica de Mare airport, where the delays accumulated: the gliders were late, just like a collaborating Italian general and the airport was bombed … Finally, around 13 hours they were already in the Air and shortly before 2 pm the gliders silently chopped towards the esplanade of the hotel that, with anguish, saw that it was not flat, but steep and full of stone and potholes. «A cold sweat ran down my back. I calculated my possibilities and wondered: will the glider resist air pressure? Can he keep his balance despite his flying speed? (…) The roar of the air intensified as we approached the target. And, suddenly, we brutally bump into the earth, in the middle of a deafening noise, ”Skorzeny narrated in his memoirs (“ Live Dangerously, ”Circle of Readers. Barcelona. 1971). The glider braked shattered about fifteen meters from the side of the hotel. The sentries were paralyzed by the rumble, the cries of the Italian general ordering that they throw the weapons, the appearance of the commands shrieking. But Skorzeny found in anguish that from where they were there was no access to the hotel … Fortunately he was able to climb to a terrace where several policemen were trying to place two machine guns, but they were slow and were immediately disarmed. From there he could see Mussolini looking out a window and quickly reached the room, where he found him accompanied by two officers who did not resist, as did the colonel who commanded the force. «My Duce, the Führer sends me to free you! You are free! ”He exclaimed.
Mission and success changed Skorzeny’s life. He was promoted to major, they put at his command more means and Hitler always wanted to have him when he wanted especially delicate and dangerous missions, such as, in October 1944, when he sent him with his commands to Budapest to prevent the defection of the Horty ruler who wanted capitulate to the allies: Skorzeny kidnapped the son of the regent, seized the latter and led him to Germany, where he remained until the end of the war. More desperate was his mission, already with the rank of colonel of the SS, during the battle of the Ardennes, in December 1944. So much was his fame and fear that he managed to inspire his name that the Americans themselves were looking for him in Paris , where the hoax was spread to assassinate Eisenhower, the supreme allied commander. At that time the allies considered him “the most dangerous man in Europe.”
After the contest, he was held in Nuremberg and tried in 1947 in relation to the performance of his commands in the battle of the Ardennes. Even if acquitted he wandered as a prisoner for various prisons waiting for evidence to appear against him but tired of his anomalous situation, on July 27, 1948 he left prison and with the support of Nazi organizations that protected his people crossed without major problems Europe and He settled in Madrid. Here he lived for 27 years dedicated to import / export business, although rumorology related him to paramilitary activities, collaboration with the Peronist dictatorship, arms trafficking to countries vetoed by the UN, support to organizations dedicated to the protection of persecuted Nazis, but it has never been clarified if there was any truth behind it.
Otto Skorzeny was a good engineering student at the Technical School of Vienna, also excelling in sports such as sailing, pentathlon, gun shooting and, especially fencing, a fashionable activity among the Central European students of the time, who joined the Studentenverbindung, organizations that promoted sports duels by sword as a demonstration of skill, character and overcoming one’s own fear. They were performed among members of those societies – not among enemies – at least once in their university life; the confrontation was “first blood” and ceased at the time there was a wound greater than one inch. Skorzeny was a stubborn mensur (measure), which is what that confrontation was called: he settled 14 fights in four years and was hit in the tenth of them on the left cheek; He was always very proud of that scar (Schmiss) that earned him the nickname “Caracortada” and that crossed almost half of his face.