Otto Skorzeny was a soldier of Nazi Germany, acquired great notoriety during the Second World War for having participated in the liberation of Mussolini from his imprisonment of the Gran Sasso of Italy (1943).
He was still a student at the Austrian Nazi party in 1930 and eight years later he was in favor of the annexation between Austria and the Third Reich. In this period he suffered a facial injury during a student duel and was disfigured. In 1939 he arrived in Berlin and first tried to enter the Luftwaffe. Being unfit for reasons of age, serving as a fighter pilot (a role to which he yearned), he abandoned his aeronautical ambitions and entered the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, passing the following year to the Das Reich division. After fighting in the Netherlands and then in France, in 1941 he was transferred to the Eastern Front, from which he was repatriated in December 1942.
After July 25, 1943, Skorzeny was sent to Italy by Himmler with the task of assisting General Kurt Student, to whom Hitler had entrusted the task of conducting the Operation Eiche (or to seek the place where Mussolini was held prisoner and to free him). Student paratroopers had to raid while the Skorzeny SS needed to retrieve information about the prisoner's whereabouts. According to a current of thought [Which? Source?], Skorzeny had no great merit in the liberation of Mussolini, since his deeds were depleted at the moment when the duce's prison on Gran Sasso was discovered. Officially, he took part in the operation (conducted on 12 September by paratroopers of the Fallschirmjäger-Lehrbataillon), as an observer. According to another view of the facts, however, Skorzeny had the merit of the success of the operation, since he had the idea to bring with him the Soleti police general who, being recognized by the carabinieri and soldiers who guarded the hotel on the Grand Sasso and telling them not to shoot, allowed the liberation of the leader who was then bloodless.
Skorzeny succeeded in introducing himself to Mussolini to announce that, by order of Hitler, the Germans had come to free him without facing any reaction from the Italians, totally bewildered by the presence of General Soleti, in view of the same Mussolini, looking out the window , he said: "Do not shoot, do not you see that everything is in order? There is an Italian general". It should also be mentioned that Karl Radl, the brilliant officer of the SS, played a leading role in the Eiche operation. In 1955, Radl published the book "Yo Rescate a Mussolini", where he specifically declared that he was the real creator of the inclusion of General Soleti in the German expedition to Campo Imperatore to free Mussolini.
However, Skorzeny took full advantage of the opportunity to self-promote: he insisted to the point of threats to get on the light Fieseler Storch (which in German means "stork"), which was to lead Mussolini to Pratica di Mare airport, and from there in Germany; the Storch (reconnaissance aircraft designed for just two occupants) ran a huge risk taking off from a short descent burdened by the weight of the pilot, the corpulent Mussolini and the giant Skorzeny (2 meters high for about 100 kilos weight). In any case, the SS officer made sure to be present in all the photos taken by the dictator just released and, thanks to them, the propaganda of Goebbels catapulted him into a massive popular campaign, which made him the protagonist of the operation to damage of General Student, commander of the paratroopers. Promoted to the rank of SS-Sturmbannführer and decorated with the Knight's Cross, Skorzeny was given the command of Section S (Special Operations) of the Sicherheitsdienst.
In April 1944 he collaborated with Himmler on the planning of the operation, then bankrupt, conducted by the SS-Fallschirmjäger-Bataillon 500 for the capture of Tito. He was able to bring himself to light again following von Stauffenberg's failed attack on Hitler on July 20, 1944, when he organized a special unit of the SS that began repression in Berlin.
In October, with another coup, he kidnapped in Budapest the son of the Hungarian regent, Admiral Horthy, occupying the headquarters of the Hungarian government and preventing the latter from signing an armistice agreement with the Soviet forces. For this success, on October 22nd, in Rastenburg, SS-Obersturmbannführer was promoted and charged in the context of the Wacht am Rhein operation (the Ardennes Offensive), to occupy the bridges of Amay, Huy and Ardenne, on the Meuse (Operation Greif ), with a unit organized and directed by him, the Panzerbrigade 150, which included in its ranks even German soldiers in American uniform recruited in the ranks of the merchant navy, who could speak English with an accent and slang from Yankee.
He was captured in May 1945 by the Americans, but was later acquitted of all charges (1947) for war crimes. The trial of the allies based the accusation on him fundamentally on the illicit use in war of enemy uniforms during Operation Greif. The defense fought on the lawfulness of using the enemy's uniforms to approach the latter, as long as they throw off their uniforms when fighting begins.
In support of this, it was confirmed that the matter had been accomplished by the allies: in Hungary British officers were captured with German uniforms and were not shot, and the same thing had been done by the Americans in Aachen.
On the use of disguises and identity cards by the Americans witnessed the trial also an English officer, commander Forrest Yeo-Thomas, with a chivalric gesture rarely accomplished in the post-war period: an Englishman came to testify in favor of a German, an ex-enemy, which gave great vivacity to the trial and a remarkable tension throughout its development. Thomas affirmed that the British had used not only disguises but also distinctive enemies, enemy weapons, false documents, all for one purpose: to win the war and, textual words, to make out the other.
Skorzeny was thus acquitted and, although formally held back in Austria, easily fled to Spain, then ruled by the caudillo Francisco Franco, of whom Skorzeny was a supporter.
Skorzeny is supposed to have played an active part in organizing the escape of former SS soldiers from Germany within the so-called organization Die Spinne, the Spider, similar to goals of the Odessa organization, but obviously because of the secrecy of the organization itself they know only partial data.
According to some testimonies (including that of Adriano Monti, an accomplice of Junio Valerio Borghese in the attempted coup), he was also one of the promoters of the Geleme organization, a branch of the German secret services during the war, later included among the flanking intelligence organizations of the CIA. Monti himself would have been named Giulio Andreotti as the political guarantor of the Borghese coup d'état.