Branch: Waffen SS
Born: 12 June 1908 in Vienna, Austria.
Died: 6 July 1975 in Madrid, Spain
Iron Cross 1939
2nd Class 12 September 1943
1st Class 26 August 1941
Knights Cross 13 September 1943
Oak Leaves 9 April 1945
German Cross in Gold 16 October 1944
Honour Roll Clasp
SS Totenkopf Ring
Otto Skorzeny was born on 12 June 1908 and became an SS-Obersturmbannführer in the German Waffen-SS during the Second World War. After fighting on the Eastern Front, Otto Skorzeny was chosen as the field commander to carry out the rescue mission that freed the deposed Italian dictator Benito Mussolini from captivity. Otto Skorzeny was also the leader of Operation Greif, in which German soldiers were to infiltrate through enemy lines, using their opponents' uniforms and customs. At the end of the war, Otto Skorzeny was involved with the Werwolf guerrilla movement and the ODESSA network where Otto Skorzeny would serve as Spanish coordinator
Although Otto Skorzeny was charged with breaching the 1907 Hague Convention in relation with Operation Greif, the Dachau Military Tribunal acquitted Otto Skorzeny after the war. Otto Skorzeny fled from his holding prison in 1948, first to France, and then to Spain.
Otto Skorzeny prewar years
Otto Skorzeny was born in Vienna into a middle-class Austrian family which had a long history of military service. In addition to his native German, Otto Skorzeny spoke excellent French.
In his teens, Otto once complained to his father of the austere lifestyle that his family was suffering from, by mentioning Otto Skorzeny had never tasted real butter in his life, because of the depression that plagued Austria after its defeat in the first world war. Otto Skorzeny father prophetically replied, There is no harm in doing without things. It might even be good for you not to get used to a soft life. Thus his underprivileged upbringing helped make him the feared commando that Otto Skorzeny became. Otto Skorzeny was a noted fencer as a university student in Vienna. Otto Skorzeny engaged in thirteen personal combats. The tenth resulted in a wound that left a dramatic duelling scar known in academic fencing as a Schmiss (smite or hit) on his cheek.
In 1931 Otto Skorzeny joined the Austrian National Socialists Party and soon became a member of the National Socialists SA. A charismatic figure, Otto Skorzeny played a minor role in the Anschluss on 12 March 1938, when Otto Skorzeny saved the Austrian President Wilhelm Miklas from being shot by Austrian Nazis.
Otto Skorzeny on the Eastern Front
After the 1939 invasion of Poland, Otto Skorzeny, then working as a civil engineer, volunteered for service in the German the Luftwaffe, but was turned down because Otto Skorzeny was considered too tall 1.92 meters and too old 31 years in 1939 for aircrew training. Otto Skorzeny then joined Adolf Hitler's bodyguard regiment, the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (LSSAH) as an officer cadet.
In 1940, as an SS Untersturmführer, Otto Skorzeny impressed his superiors by designing ramps to load tanks on ships. Otto Skorzeny then fought in Holland, France and the Balkans, where Otto Skorzeny achieved distinction by forcing a large Yugoslav force to surrender, following which Otto Skorzeny was promoted to Obersturmführer in the Waffen-SS.
Otto Skorzeny went to war in the USSR with the 2. SS-Panzer-Division Das Reich (2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich) and subsequently fought in several battles on the Eastern Front. In October 1941, Otto Skorzeny was in charge of a technical section of the German forces during the Battle of Moscow. His mission was to seize important buildings of the Communist Party, including the NKVD headquarters at Lubyanka, and the Central Telegraph and other high priority facilities, before they could be destroyed. Otto Skorzeny was also ordered to capture the sluices of the Moscow-Volga Canal because Adolf Hitler wanted them used to turn Moscow into a huge artificial lake by opening them. The missions were cancelled as the German forces failed to capture the Soviet capital.
In December 1942, Otto Skorzeny was hit in the back of the head by shrapnel from Soviet Katyusha artillery rockets. Otto Skorzeny refused all first aid except for a few aspirin, a bandage, and a glass of schnaps. A few hours later Otto Skorzeny rejoined his unit but his health deteriorated, and continuous headaches and stomach pains forced him to evacuate for proper medical treatment. Otto Skorzeny was awarded the Iron Cross for bravery under fire and was hospitalised in Vienna. While recuperating from his injuries Otto Skorzeny was given a staff role in Berlin, where Otto Skorzeny read all the published literature Otto Skorzeny could find on commando warfare, and forwarded to higher command his ideas on unconventional commando warfare.
Otto Skorzeny's proposals were to develop units specialised in such unconventional warfare, including partisan-like fighting deep behind enemy lines, fighting in enemy uniform, sabotage attacks, etc. In April 1943 Otto Skorzeny's name was put forward by Ernst Kaltenbrunner, the new head of the RSHA, and Otto Skorzeny met with SS-Brigadeführer Walter Schellenberg, head of Amt VI, Ausland-SD, (the SS foreign intelligence service department of the RSHA). Walter Schellenberg charged Otto Skorzeny with command of the schools organised to train operatives in sabotage, espionage, and paramilitary techniques. Otto Skorzeny was appointed commander of the recently created Waffen Sonderverband z.b.V. Friedenthal stationed near Berlin. The unit was later renamed SS Jagdverbände 502, and in November 1944 again to SS Combat Unit Centre, expanding ultimately to five battalions.
Sonderverband z.b.V. Friedenthal's first mission was in summer 1943. Operation Francois saw Otto Skorzeny send a group by parachute into Iran to make contact with the dissident mountain tribes to encourage them to sabotage Allied supplies of material being sent to the Soviet Union via the Trans-Iranian Railway. However, commitment among the rebel tribes was suspect, and Operation Francois was deemed a failure.
Operations by Otto Skorzeny
Operation Francois Co-ordination of Partisan operations in Iran.
Unternehmen Eiche (Operation Oak, September 1943) The rescue of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.
Der Betrieb Weitsprung (Operation Long Jump) A proposed attempt to assassinate the Big Three (Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt) during the 1943 Tehran Conference.
Unternehmen Rösselsprung (Operation Knight's Leap, May 1944) An attempt to capture Josip Broz Tito alive.
Unternehmen Panzerfaust a.k.a. Unternehmen Eisenfaust (Operation Armoured Fist, October 1944) The kidnapping of Miklós Horthy, Jr., son of Hungarian Regent, Admiral Miklós Horthy, to force Admiral Horthy to resign as head of state in favour of the pro-National Socialists leader of the Arrow Cross Party, Ferenc Szálasi.
Unternehmen Greif (Operation Griffin, December 1944) A false flag operation to spread disinformation during the Battle of the Bulge.
Werewolf SS (Werwolf SS) A planned National Socialists underground resistance movement in Allied-occupied Europe.
The liberation of Benito Mussolini
In July 1943, Otto Skorzeny was personally selected by Adolf Hitler from among six German Luftwaffe and Wehrmacht Heer special agents to lead the operation to rescue Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, who had been overthrown and imprisoned by the Italian government.
Almost two months of cat and mouse followed as the Italians moved Benito Mussolini from place to place to frustrate any rescuers. There was a failed attempt to rescue Benito Mussolini on 27 July 1943. The Ju 52 that the crew was aboard was shot down in the area of Pratica di Mare. Otto Skorzeny and his crew managed to bail out, except for one young Oberjäger. For reasons unknown, he was not able to make it out of the plane. He perished in the crash and is now buried in the war cemetery in Pomezia. Benito Mussolini was first held in a villa on La Maddalena, near Sardinia. Otto Skorzeny was able to smuggle an Italian-speaking commando onto the island, and a few days later he confirmed Benito Mussolini was in the villa. Otto Skorzeny then flew over in a Heinkel He 111 to take aerial photos of the location. The bomber was shot down by Allied fighters and crash landed at sea, but Otto Skorzeny and the crew were rescued by an Italian destroyer. Benito Mussolini was moved soon after.
Information on Benito Mussolini's new location and its topographical features were finally secured by Herbert Kappler. Herbert Kappler reported Benito Mussolini was held in the Campo Imperatore Hotel at the top of the Gran Sasso mountain, and only accessible by cable car from the valley below. Otto Skorzeny flew again over Gran Sasso and took pictures of the location with a handheld camera. An attack plan was formulated by General Kurt Student, Harald Mors a paratrooper battalion commander, and Otto Skorzeny.
On 12 September Gran Sasso raid (a.k.a. Operation Oak and Unternehmen Eiche), was carried out perfectly according to plan. Benito Mussolini was rescued without firing a single shot. Flying out in a Storch aeroplane, Otto Skorzeny escorted Benito Mussolini to Rome and later to Berlin. The exploit earned Otto Skorzeny fame, promotion to Sturmbannführer and the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross.
Benito Mussolini created a new Fascist regime in northern Italy, the Italian Social Republic (Repubblica Sociale Italiana).
Operation Long Jump
Operation Long Jump was the codename given to the unsuccessful plot to assassinate the Big Three Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill, and Franklin Roosevelt at the 1943 Tehran Conference. The plot was approved by Adolf Hitler and headed by Ernst Kaltenbrunner. German intelligence had learned of the time and place of the conference in mid-October 1943, after breaking a US Navy code. Otto Skorzeny, as the man who always seemed to have luck on his side, was chosen by Ernst Kaltenbrunner to head the mission.
However, Soviet intelligence first became aware of the plot when legendary Soviet spy Nikolai Kuznetsov got SS Sturmbannfuhrer Hans Ulrich von Ortel to tell him about the operation while drunk. Six German radio operators were dropped by parachute and made their way to Tehran, but were eventually found by Soviet agents led by Gevork Vartanian. One of the Germans realised they were under surveillance and the operation was called off; Otto Skorzeny himself considered the intelligence coming from Tehran to be inadequate and did not believe the complex scheme could have worked.
Raid on Drvar
In the spring of 1944, Sonderverband z.b.V. Friedenthal was redesignated SS-Jäger-Bataillon 502 with Otto Skorzeny staying on as commander. They were assigned to Operation Rösselsprung, known subsequently as the Raid on Drvar. Rösselsprung was a commando operation meant to capture the Yugoslav commander-in-chief, Marshal Josip Broz Tito, who was also recently reorganised by the Allies as the Yugoslav prime minister. Marshal Josip Broz Tito led the Yugoslav Partisans resistance army from his headquarters near the Bosnian town of Drvar, in the centre of a large non-occupied area held by the Partisans. Adolf Hitler knew that Josip Broz Tito was receiving Allied support and was aware that either British or American troops might land in Dalmatia along the Adriatic coastline with support from the Partisans. Killing or capturing Josip Broz Tito would not only hinder this, it would give a badly needed boost to the morale of Axis forces engaged in the Yugoslav Front in occupied Yugoslavia.
Otto Skorzeny was involved in planning Rösselsprung and was intended to command it. However, Otto Skorzeny argued against implementation after Otto Skorzeny visited Zagreb and discovered that the operation had been compromised through the carelessness of German agents in the Independent State of Croatia a German puppet state on occupied Yugoslav territory.
Rösselsprung was put into action nonetheless, but it was a complete disaster. The first wave of paratroopers, following heavy bombardment by the Luftwaffe, jumped between Josip Broz Tito's hideout in a cave and the town of Drvar; they landed on open ground and many were promptly shot by members of the Partisan headquarters Escort Battalion, a unit numbering fewer than a hundred soldiers. The second wave of paratroopers missed their target and landed several miles out of town. Josip Broz Tito was gone long before paratroopers reached the cave; a trail at the back of the cave led to the railway tracks where Josip Broz Tito boarded a train that took him safely to Jajce. In the meantime, the Partisan 1st Brigade, from the 6th Lika Partisan Division, arrived after a 19 km forced march and attacked the Waffen-SS paratroopers, inflicting heavy casualties.
The 20 July 1944 plot against Hitler
On 20 July 1944, Otto Skorzeny was in Berlin when an attempt on Adolf Hitler's life was made. Anti-National Socialists German Army officers tried to seize control of Germany's main decision centres before Adolf Hitler recovered from his injuries. Otto Skorzeny helped put down the rebellion, spending 36 hours in charge of the Wehrmacht's central command centre before being relieved. Otto Skorzeny got to the Bendlerstrasse offices a half hour after Claus Von Stauffenberg and the others were executed.
Hungary and Operation Panzerfaust
In October 1944, Adolf Hitler sent Otto Skorzeny to Hungary after receiving word that Hungary's Regent, Admiral Miklós Horthy, was secretly negotiating with the Red Army. The surrender of Hungary would have cut off the million German troops still fighting in the Balkan peninsula. Otto Skorzeny, in a daring snatch codenamed Operation Panzerfaust known as Operation Eisenfaust in Germany, kidnapped Miklós Horthy's son Miklós Horthy, Jr. and forced his father to resign as head of state. A pro-National Socialists government under dictator Ferenc Szálasi was then installed in Hungary. In April 1945, after German and Hungarian forces had already been driven out of Hungary, Ferenc Szálasi and his Arrow Cross Party-based forces continued the fight in Austria and Slovakia. The success of the operation earned Otto Skorzeny promotion to Obersturmbannführer.
Operation Greif and Eisenhower
As part of the German Ardennes offensive in late 1944 (The Battle of the Bulge) Otto Skorzeny's English speaking troops were charged with infiltrating Allied lines dressed and equipped as American soldiers in order to produce confusion to support the German attack. For the campaign, Otto Skorzeny was the commander of a composite unit, the 150. SS-Panzer-Brigade (150th SS Panzer Brigade).
As planned by Otto Skorzeny, Operation Greif involved about two dozen German soldiers, most of them in captured American Jeeps and dressed as American soldiers, who would penetrate American lines in the early hours of the Battle of the Bulge and cause disorder and confusion behind the Allied lines. A handful of his men were captured and spread a rumour that Otto Skorzeny personally was leading a raid on Paris to kill or capture General Eisenhower, who was not amused by having to spend Christmas 1944 isolated for security reasons. Eisenhower retaliated by ordering an all-out manhunt for Otto Skorzeny, with Wanted posters distributed throughout Allied-controlled territories featuring a detailed description and a photograph.
Otto Skorzeny spent January and February 1945 commanding regular troops in the defence of the German provinces of East Prussia and Pomerania, as an acting major general. Fighting at Schwedt on the Oder River, Otto Skorzeny received orders to sabotage a bridge on the Rhine at Remagen. His frogmen tried but failed. For his actions in the East, primarily in the defence of Frankfurt, Adolf Hitler awarded him one of Germany's highest military honours, the Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross. Otto Skorzeny was then sent on an inspection tour along the rapidly deteriorating Eastern front.
Operation Werwolf and surrender
With German defeat inevitable, Otto Skorzeny played an instrumental role in selecting and training recruits for a stay behind National Socialists organisation, the Werwölfe (Werewolves), who would engage in guerrilla warfare against the occupying Allies. However, Otto Skorzeny quickly realised that the Werewolves were too few in number to become an effective fighting force and instead used them to set up the ratlines, a secret underground railroad that helped leading Nazis escape after Germany's surrender.
Besides organising the ratlines, which would form the basis of the supposed ODESSA network after the war, Otto Skorzeny had been employed since August 1944 by high-ranking Nazis and German industrialists to hide money and documents, some of which was buried in the mountains or dropped in the lakes of Bavaria, and some shipped overseas.
Otto Skorzeny surrendered on 16 May 1945, feeling that he could be useful to the Americans in the forthcoming Cold War. Otto Skorzeny emerged from the woods near Salzburg, Austria, and surrendered to a Lieutenant of the US 30th Infantry Regiment.
Otto Skorzeny after the Second World War
Otto Skorzeny was held as a prisoner of war for more than two years before being tried as a war criminal at the Dachau Trials in 1947 for allegedly violating the laws of war in the Battle of the Bulge. Otto Skorzeny and officers of the 150. SS-Panzer-Brigade (150th SS Panzer Brigade) were charged with improperly using American uniforms to infiltrate American lines. Otto Skorzeny was brought before a US military court in Dachau on 18 August 1947. Otto Skorzeny and nine fellow officers of the 150. SS-Panzer-Brigade (150th SS Panzer Brigade) would face charges of improper use of military insignia, theft of US uniforms, and theft of Red Cross parcels from prisoners of war. The trial lasted over three weeks. The charge of stealing Red Cross parcels was dropped for lack of evidence. Otto Skorzeny admitted to ordering his men to wear American uniforms, but his defence argued that providing that enemy uniforms were discarded before combat started such a tactic was a legitimate ruse de guerre. On the final day of the trial, 9 September, Wing Commander F. F. E. Yeo-Thomas, recipient of the George Cross and the Croix de guerre, and a former British Special Operations Executive agent, testified that he had worn German uniforms behind enemy lines. Realising that to convict Otto Skorzeny could expose their own agent to the same charges, the tribunal acquitted the ten defendants, the military tribunal drawing a distinction between using enemy uniforms during combat and for other purposes including deception. They could not prove that Otto Skorzeny had given any orders to actually fight in a US uniform.
Otto Skorzeny escape from prison and ODESSA
Otto Skorzeny was detained in an internment camp at Darmstadt awaiting the decision of a denazification court. On 27 July 1948 Otto Skorzeny escaped from the camp with the help of three former SS officers dressed in US Military Police uniforms who entered the camp and claimed that they had been ordered to take Otto Skorzeny to Nuremberg for a legal hearing. Otto Skorzeny afterwards maintained that the US authorities had aided his escape, and had supplied the uniforms.
Otto Skorzeny hid out at a farm in Bavaria which had been rented by Countess Ilse Lüthje, the niece of Hjalmar Schacht Adolf Hitler's former finance minister, for around 18 months, during which time Otto Skorzeny was in contact with Reinhard Gehlen, and together with Hartmann Lauterbacher former deputy head of the Hitler Youth recruited for the Reinhard Gehlen organisation
Otto Skorzeny was photographed at a café on the Champs Elysées in Paris on 13 February 1950. The photo appeared in the French press the next day, causing him to retreat to Salzburg, where Otto Skorzeny met up with German veterans and also filed for divorce so that Otto Skorzeny could marry Ilse Lüthje. Shortly afterwards, with the help of a Nansen passport issued by the Spanish government, Otto Skorzeny moved to Madrid, where Otto Skorzeny set up a small engineering business which helped serve as a front for his operations with the ODESSA network as Otto Skorzeny had become the Spanish coordinator On April 1950 the publication of Otto Skorzeny's memoirs by French newspaper Le Figaro caused 1500 communists to riot outside the journal's headquarters.
Otto Skorzeny in the Middle East
Otto Skorzeny had also been spending time in Egypt. In 1952, the country had been taken over by General Mohammed Naguib. Otto Skorzeny was sent to Egypt the following year by former General Reinhard Gehlen, who was now working for the CIA, to act as Naguib's military advisor. Otto Skorzeny recruited a staff made up of former SS officers to train the Egyptian army. Among these officers were SS General Wilhelm Farmbacher, Panzer General Oskar Munzel, Leopold Gleim, head of the Gestapo Department for Jewish Affairs in Poland, and Joachim Daemling, former chief of the Gestapo in Düsseldorf joined Otto Skorzeny in Egypt. In addition to training the army, Otto Skorzeny also trained Arab volunteers in commando tactics for possible use against British troops stationed in the Suez Canal zone. Several Palestinian refugees also received commando training, and Otto Skorzeny planned their raids into Israel via the Gaza Strip in 1953-1954. One of these Palestinians was Yasser Arafat. Otto Skorzeny would eventually serve as an adviser to Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser.
Otto Skorzeny later provided intelligence to Mossad, Israel's external intelligence service, on ex-National Socialists scientists working for the Egyptian government. Otto Skorzeny agreed to co-operate with Israel on condition that Simon Wiesenthal erase his name from the list of wanted National Socialists war criminals and act to have an arrest warrant against him cancelled. Though Simon Wiesenthal rejected this request, Otto Skorzeny decided in the end to co-operate with Mossad anyway.
Otto Skorzeny Die Spinne
Using the cover names of Robert Steinbacher and Otto Steinbauer, and supported by either National Socialists funds or according to some sources Austrian Intelligence, Otto Skorzeny set up a secret organisation named Die Spinne which helped as many as 600 former SS men escape from Germany to Spain, Argentina, Paraguay, Chile, Bolivia, and other countries. As the years went by, Otto Skorzeny, Reinhard Gehlen, and their network of collaborators gained enormous influence in Europe and Latin America. Otto Skorzeny travelled between Franquist Spain and Argentina, where Otto Skorzeny acted as an advisor to President Juan Perón and bodyguard of Eva Perón, while fostering an ambition for the Fourth Reich centred in Latin America.
Otto Skorzeny CEDADE
Otto Skorzeny also acted as an advisor to the leadership of the Spanish neo-Nazi group CEDADE, which had been established in 1966, and which counted him as one of its founding fathers.
Otto Skorzeny Spain and Ireland
Like thousands of other former Nazis, Otto Skorzeny was declared entnazifiziert (de-nazified) in absentia in 1952 by a West German government arbitration board, which now meant Otto Skorzeny could travel from Spain into other Western countries. Otto Skorzeny spent part of his time between 1959 and 1969 in Ireland, where Otto Skorzeny bought Martinstown House, a 0.81 km2 farm in County Kildare in 1959. Otto Skorzeny also had property in Mallorca.
Otto Skorzeny Paladin Group
In the 1960s Otto Skorzeny set up the Paladin Group, which Otto Skorzeny envisioned as an international directorship of strategic assault personnel that would straddle the watershed between paramilitary operations carried out by troops in uniforms and the political warfare which is conducted by civilian agents. Based near Alicante, Spain, the Paladin Group specialised in arming and training guerrillas, and their clients included the South African Bureau of State Security and Muammar al-Gaddafi. They also carried out work for the Greek military junta of 1967 to 1974 and some of their operatives were recruited by the Spanish Interior Ministry to wage clandestine war against Basque separatists. The Soviet news agency TASS alleged that Paladin was involved in training US Green Berets for Vietnam missions during the 1960s, but this is considered unlikely.
Otto Skorzeny Death
In 1970, a cancerous tumour was discovered on Otto Skorzeny's spine. Two tumours were removed in Hamburg, but the surgery left him paralysed from the waist down. Vowing to walk again, Otto Skorzeny spent long hours with a physical therapist, and within six months was back on his feet.
Otto Skorzeny finally succumbed to cancer on 5 July 1975 in Madrid. Otto Skorzeny was 67. Otto Skorzeny was cremated and his ashes were later brought to Vienna to be interred in the Skorzeny family plot at Döblinger Friedhof.
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