Otto Rolf Skorzeny ( Vienna , December of June of 1908 – Madrid , 7 of July of 1975 ), one engineer and colonel Austrian of the Waffen-SS , who commanded the unit Friedentahler , was a specialist in special operations during World War II World .
An expert in espionage and sabotage actions , he was dubbed by the Americans as “Scarface” because of the large scars that pierced his cheeks. He became famous in rescuing the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini , as well as for carrying out Operation Greif that earned him the title of “The Most Dangerous Man in Europe” by the Allies . He is believed to have been one of the main organizers of ODESSA in Spain .
Youth and beginnings in the Waffen-SS
Skorzeny was born into a middle-class family of Viennese origin by mother, and Eger ( Hungary ) by father, being the youngest of three brothers. He grew up in a very nationalistic family , values that would shape his personality . At the end of the First World War , his family, like all Austrians, suffered the consequences of the Treaty of Versailles and survived thanks to the help of the Red Cross .
At the age of 18 he enrolled at the University of Vienna to study engineering following in the footsteps of his father and brother. There he joined one of the many Schlagende Verbindungen or Mensur societies that existed in Austria and Germany. He fought thirteen duels in total, and in the tenth, in 1928, he received the Schmit or scar of honor that he carried with pride all his life.
He sympathized openly with the National Socialist Party , in which he entered with the file number 1,083,671. In 1938, during the Anschluss , he intervened at the request of a friend of his, Bruno Weiss, member of the new National Socialist government, to protect the deposed president Wilhelm Miklas in a meeting between the police and his personal guard. In 1939, Skorzeny worked as an engineer when World War II broke out . He immediately offered himself as a pilot to the Luftwaffe , having had experience with small planes, but was assigned to ground operations because he was 31 years old in 1939 and because he was too tall, he measured 1.92 meters . Not being discouraged, is proposed to serve in the Waffen-SS Reserve , where he enters the 1st SS Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler . Later it was sent to the 2ª Division SS Das Reich . Between 1940 and 1941, he participated in the campaigns in France , Holland and the Balkans . In the 1941 campaign in Russia , where he is awarded the Iron Cross , he falls ill and is sent back to Vienna in December.
Upon his return to Germany he was promoted to the Hauptsturmführer (captain) of the Reserve and assigned to Intelligence Services at the Reich Central Security Office in Berlin . After this destiny is appointed Head of Commands and is entrusted with the task of training special troops for guerrilla warfare , sabotage, kidnappings, etc. His unit was named Friedenthal .
Rescue of Mussolini
On July 25, 1943, Hitler named him in charge of the rescue operation of Benito Mussolini , who had just been arrested, his whereabouts unknown. Skorzeny was called to the Wolf ‘s Den , Hitler’s headquarters in East Prussia . It was recommended by SS General Ernst Kaltenbrunner , head of the Central Security Office of the Reich and SD. According to Skorzeny himself, at that meeting Hitler asked what he thought of Italy, to which he replied: “I am Austrian, mein Führer , loss of South Tyrol at the hands of Italy ( done happened after the First World War ) is a thorn Which every Austrian carries in his heart. ” It seems that this decided Hitler to opt for him (since there were other soldiers from different branches of the army in the meeting) to head the rescue of the Duce, which Hitler called his personal friend and the last Roman . Since then he was looking for Mussolini, being attacked by British fighters, who shot down his Heinkel He 111 , suffering some wounds of medium gravity. The Badoglio government learned of the operation and tried to avoid being tracked down by issuing false news about his whereabouts. It was finally discovered that he was in the Gran Sasso, at the Campo Imperatore Hotel, at the highest peak of the Apennines ; The hotel was located in a difficult topography of Gran Sasso . The carabinieri who guarded it had orders to execute it before the first attempt of rescue or escape.
Although given the topography of the terrain the operation, called Unternehmen Eiche (Mission Oak), was complicated, the group of Skorzeny, composed by German parachutist commands, managed to carry out the mission with success, landing in gliders 12 of September of 1943 Without firing a single shot, as the Carabinieri surrendered in the act. Mussolini was boarded on a Storch plane , where Skorzeny himself was also accommodated as his bodyguard, despite the protests of the pilot. During take-off, the plane was barely able to take flight since its carrying capacity had been exceeded.
Skorzeny and Mussolini moved to Vienna on a Heinkel He 111 that was there specially prepared by Student. By this operation Skorzeny was congratulated by the same Hitler, who gave to him the Cross of Gentleman and also promoted it to Sturmbannführer of the Waffen SS .
Operations in Yugoslavia and Hungary
On May 25, 1944, he was ordered to capture the leader of the Yugoslav partisans, Josip Broz Tito , known as Operation Rösselsprung, alive or dead . For this purpose he sent paratrooper commands to Tito’s headquarters. The Germans, in numerical disadvantage, managed to defeat the Partisans, but during the attack Tito fled.
On September 10 of that same year the Führer called him back to the ” Wolf’s Lair ” to order him a secret mission. There he informed him of the contacts that the regent of Hungary , Admiral Miklós Horthy , was having with the Red Army to render them the country. He was ordered that in case of attempting to render Hungary, Skorzeny was to take the Burgberg , the hill where Horthy resided.
After investigating in Budapest , Skorzeny discovered that Horthy’s son, Niki, was negotiating the surrender with Partisans of Tito, so on October 15 he went to the hotel where they were negotiating the surrender and arrested the partisans along with the young man Horthy. A few hours later, Horthy’s father announced on the radio that Hungary would surrender to the Russians, so that Skorzeny went to the Burgberg to arrest also old Horthy. However, in fearing for the life of his son, Horthy finally decided not to surrender Hungary.
Operation Iron Fist ( Unternehmen Eisenfaust ) was held that same night. Skorzeny and his troops besieged the hill and began to patrol around. The Hungarians believed that the Germans were going to besiege the place and they trusted each other. Nevertheless, Skorzeny unexpectedly went up with his armed vehicles the hill and after facing the defenders, it took, with 4 German dead. Admiral Horty was brought as a “guest” to Germany , where he abdicated a few days later. The Germanophile Count Ferenc Szálasi replaced him as regent.
20 of July 1944: plot against Hitler
During the bombing of July 20, 1944 Skorzeny was in Berlin when senior officers of the German army tried to kill Hitler; These tried to take control of the main centers of decision of Germany before the loyal officers to Hitler retook the command, but Hitler miraculously survived the bombing and recovered of its injuries. Skorzeny helped end the rebellion , spent 36 hours in charge of the Wehrmacht command center before being relieved. It arrived at the headquarters of the conspirators, the building Bendlerblock in Berlin, just 30 minutes after the Oberst (Colonel) Claus von Stauffenberg and the main ringleaders of the plot were executed by order of Generaloberst (Colonel General) Friedrich Fromm .
On October 22, 1944 Hitler summoned Otto Skorzeny to inform him of the preparation of an offensive to be carried out in the Ardennes , a forested area comprising Belgium and Luxembourg , whose final objective was the capture of the port of Antwerp , Which would markedly delay the offensive on the Western Front , allowing the Germans time to stabilize the Eastern Front .
Skorzeny is entrusted with a planned operation after learning that some Americans had disguised themselves as Germans near Aachen . Skorzeny and his units were to cross enemy lines disguised as British and American militaries, and would sow confusion among allied troops just hours before the Ardennes offensive began .
Skorzeny’s unit had about 80 soldiers who spoke fluent English, as well as 14 American jeeps and 60 armed camouflage cars like Sherman tanks . Skorzeny also had about 3500 men who would pass behind the camouflaged soldiers. After interning his soldiers for several weeks in isolated fields from abroad to teach them North American customs, Skorzeny felt ready to carry out the mission.
In the morning on December 16, 1944, two thousand German guns fired on the front and the offensive began. The German troops rushed on the surprised Americans but nevertheless, in spite of fulfilling their initial objectives, the losses were elevated and the initial advance stopped.
Meanwhile several “American” jeeps penetrated the Allied ranks. After sowing the confusion in the enemy, they even managed to divert important units of their destiny, and for a moment the confusion was total. Soon the Allies realized that the routes of their units had been altered by “officers” who were at the intersections of the roads in American jeeps and who were undoubtedly German infiltrators, so they took strict measures.
The Germans in disguise were one by one being discovered and arrested. Because they used the enemy uniform, they were accused of espionage and were shot immediately, with at least about 20 dead. However, before being executed, the German soldiers had stated, based on rumors, that the objective of Operation Greif was The assault on Eisenhower Headquarters and his assassination. During this period, the Americans gave Skorzeny the title of “the most dangerous man in Europe”.
One day, as he moved through the front, he was hit by shrapnel from a grenade that severely injured him in the head and was sent to a hospital in Berlin.
Last days of the war
On 30 January 1945 Skorzeny was sent by Himmler to the head of the River Oder to stop the Russians. With a force of 5,000 men, of the 20,000 promised by Himmler, Skorzeny left for Schwedt to fight in a lost war. After recruiting men among former pilots, wounded, engineers, elders and teenagers, they increased their forces to nearly 15,000, most without any combat experience.
On 7 March Skorzeny was ordered to go to Berlin to give him another assignment. There he was informed that the first bridge over the Rhine had been taken by the Allies near Remagen . Hitler was furious and ordered to organize a command of frog men to fly the Ludendorff Bridge . The operation was a failure and the men who were not captured died frozen in the freezing waters of the Rhine.
When his native city was about to fall into the hands of the Soviets , Skorzeny left for Vienna to learn the fate of his family. On 11 April Skorzeny left Vienna and, obeying orders from Berlin, addressed the so-called “Alpine Redoubt” on Lake Toplitz between Austria and Germany, where he should organize the defense of the last National Socialist stronghold. Disappointed, Skorzeny discovered that the Alpine Redoubt had never been built, so on May 8, 1945 Otto Skorzeny surrendered to the US Army.
Promotions in the SS
- SS Standartenführer of the Reserve – April 20, 1945.
- SS Obersturmbannführer of the Reserve – October 16, 1944.
- SS Sturmbannführer of the Reserve – September 12, 1943.
- SS Hauptsturmführer of the Reserve – April 28, 1943.
- Ritterkreuz des EK: 13 September 1943 as SS-Hauptsturmführer. Des. Book it. & Gruppenleiter in Reichssicherheitshauptamt Berlin & Kdr. Des Sonderverband zbV Friedenthal;
- Eichenlaub (Nr. 826): April 9, 1945 as SS Obersturmbannführer. Des. Book it. & Kdr. Der SS-Jagdverbände;
- German Cross in Gold: October 16, 1944 (according to Franz Thomas, “Die Eichenlaubträger; Jost Schneider” in Verleihung Genemigt ! , granted January 16, 1945);
- First Class Iron Cross “1939” – EK I: September 12, 1943;
- Second Class Iron Cross “1939” – EK II: August 26, 1941;
- Totenkopfring der SS (Ring of the SS Skull).
After the war
Skorzeny spent the next two years in different prisoner-of-war centers in Germany . He was tried in Nuremberg . There he was accused of the massacre of several Allied soldiers during the Battle of the Bulge ( Malmedy Slaughter), but was declared innocent. He was later accused of attempting to kill Eisenhower , but this new accusation was baseless. In the end he was accused of ordering his men to wear the enemy uniform during Operation Greif . This constituted a war crime and Skorzeny could not deny it. However, the accusation collapsed when the famous English squadron and spy chief Yeo-Thomas, known under the nickname “White Rabbit” came to his aid and testified that the British had also used the enemy uniform during the war.
Although Skorzeny was declared innocent of all the charges, it was interned in a field of denazification . They tried to open new cases against him, but these were down for lack of grounds or because the alleged witnesses retracted in the confrontations with Skorzeny.
Skorzeny never retracted his National Socialist ideals and considered Claus von Stauffenberg a traitor who should never have been in the Wehrmacht. 2
The National Socialist hero escaped, thanks to the help of a group of former SS officers , to Spain on July 27, 1948. Skorzeny settled in Madrid and continued working as an engineer representing prosperous German steel companies. In Spain it was well treated by the pro-Franco regime: it enjoyed great prestige and popularity due to its exploits in the war.
His stay in the Spanish capital was tarnished by the suspicion that he helped alleged war criminals escape to Malaga and Alicante through the ODESSA organization , created by former SS members .
In the 1950s he was a fervent supporter of the creation of an anti-Communist military body in Spain, formed by former German National Socialists refugees under Franco ‘s dictatorship . It was supported and diplomatically backed by a former German chaplain of the Condor Legion and Blue Division volunteer nicknamed “Father Conrad”, who sought the support of the Holy See . The spy of West Germany was aware of his intentions. The justification was the creation of a Reserve Army or integrated into the Spanish Army under the name of “Legion Carlos V”, before an imminent (according to Skorzeny) Third World War against communism .
He published his memoirs in two volumes titled Lives Dangerously and We Fight and We Lost . In Argentina a condensed one of the two volumes titled Secret Missions was published in 1954. Its autobiography was a best seller, being taken like reading obligatory by armed forces of countries as distant with Skorzeny as the United States or even Israel . Having emerged clean of the allegations to which he was subjected by the Allies , as well as the extraordinary courage he demonstrated in battle, made him a kind of hero of command.
During his last years Otto Skorzeny lived in the locality of Alcudia , in the Balearic Islands , dying from lung cancer (he was an inveterate smoker) in Madrid on July 7, 1975 , at age 67 and being a convinced National Socialist Until the very day of his death. Its body was cremated in Madrid and the urn with its rest was carried by Germany until Austria, making stages where there were commemorative acts on the part of neo – Nazi of all Europe. His remains were buried in the pantheon of his family in Vienna , capital of Austria and city where he was born.
- Back to top↑ “Otto Skorzeny” (in English) . Encyclopædia Britannica . 2009 . Retrieved on June 27, 2009 .
- Back to top↑ Skorzeny, Otto. Secret Missions , p. 143. ISBN 978-958-8573-38-0 .