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Operation Eiche: Benito Mussolini & The Gran Sasso Raid

WWII

Operation Eiche: Benito Mussolini & The Gran Sasso Raid

During the Gran Sasso Raid (also called Operation Eiche), Otto Skorzeny led a daring mission to rescue Benito Mussolini from Italy.

During the Gran Sasso Raid (also called Operation Eiche), Otto Skorzeny led a daring mission to rescue Benito Mussolini from Italy.

by Michael Haskew

When news of Benito Mussolini’s removal from power in Italy reached Adolf Hitler in far-off Berlin, the Nazi Fuhrer flew into a rage. His Axis partner had obviously been betrayed, driven from office by disloyal elements in the government and armed forces. Hitler considered an outright invasion of Italy, the kidnapping of the Italian royal family, the arrest of officials in the new Italian government, and even a bid to imprison the Pope in retaliation.

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After he was finally dissuaded from these actions, Hitler remained determined to find Mussolini and rescue him from the clutches of the new Italian government, which would surely place Il Duce on trial for crimes committed while in office, find him guilty, and render a sentence of disgraceful death. An intercepted radio message led the Germans to Mussolini’s location. After being moved six times, the former dictator was being held at the Albergo Rufigo, a luxury hotel at Gran Sasso in the Abruzzi Mountains north of Rome. The hotel was somewhat secluded, and its location at 7,000 feet above sea level added to the measures of security that had already been taken.

Hitler Brings In Otto Skorzeny

Hitler summoned SS Major Otto Skorzeny, a daredevil officer with a reputation as the “most dangerous man in Europe,” and charged him with formulating a plan to rescue Mussolini from his mountaintop prison. Skorzeny assembled a force of 90 handpicked airborne troops and determined that the best option for the rescue was to send his men in by glider, overpower any resistance, and then fly Mussolini to safety aboard a Fieseler Storch, a light aircraft that would be strained due to limited weight capacity but was probably capable of carrying Il Duce to freedom.

On September 12, 1943, German airborne troops captured the rail line that ran from the valley floor up the side of the steep mountain, ensuring that no Italian reinforcements would interfere with the rescue attempt. Skorzeny’s glider men made pinpoint landings near the hotel, surprised and captured Mussolini’s guards, and escorted the dazed and frail former dictator to the waiting plane.

Refugee Without A Country

Just as the Storch was preparing to take off, Skorzeny climbed aboard. The weight of the pilot, Skorzeny, and Mussolini exceeded the capacity for the plane to safely operate, but Skorzeny ordered the pilot to open the throttle. When the plane reached the edge of a nearby cliff, it plunged earthward. With only seconds to spare, the pilot maintained control and the Storch began to claw for altitude. A short while later, the plane landed safely at a Luftwaffe airfield. Mussolini then boarded a Heinkel He-111 bomber for the flight to Wolf’s Lair, Hitler’s headquarters at Rastenburg in East Prussia.

Hitler greeted his friend warmly but was shocked at Mussolini’s appearance. No longer was he the swaggering, robust leader of Fascist Italy. He was a refugee without a country.

The Nazis sought to take advantage of what little pro-Fascist sentiment remained in Italy and installed Mussolini as the leader of a puppet regime, the Italian Socialist Republic, in the town of Salo on Lake Garda in northern Italy. Few men rallied to the support of the former Duce, whose days were already numbered.

Add Your Comments

2 Comments

  1. Posted June 10, 2015 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    First off I want to say wonderful blog! I had a quick question in which I’d like to ask if you don’t
    mind. I was interested to know how you center yourself and clear your head before writing.
    I’ve had trouble clearing my mind in getting my ideas out.
    I do take pleasure in writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes
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  2. Posted September 13, 2016 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    Actually it was the Italian government that was the real architect of the creation of the Social Republic.” This is the conclusion reached by Vincenzo Di Michele, in his latest book, “The Last Secret of Mussolini – From Campo Imperatore to the Italian Social Republic: a story to be rewritten” which rewrites the history of the release of the Duce by the Germans. “The suffering of the Italian people could have been ended much sooner and a bloody civil war avoided,” says Di Michele. A government in northern Italy (RSI) with someone else at the helm, would certainly not have had the same result as Mussolini’s. ”

    Despite the fact that on 8 September 1943 Italy had announced an Armistice with the Allied forces, there was another channel, through which the Badoglio Government continued to cooperate with its old German friend. Amid blackmail, hostages, threats and subterfuge, the illustrious prisoner Mussolini was thus stolen away from the Allies and handed over to the Germans on September 12 in Campo Imperatore. In short, Di Michele contradicts conventional wisdom that has always depicted Operation Oak as an audacious undertaking by German paratroopers. Karl Radl (the adjutant of the one who has always mistakenly been considered to be the real brains behind “Operation Oak”, Captain Otto Skorzeny), in direct contradiction of the testimony of General Soleti, – penned in 1944 and recently coming to light – declared that everyone knew that Mussolini was being held prisoner in Campo Imperatore; even children knew about it. There was even a thirteen year old shepherd boy who stole some paraphernalia from the German gliders. “In the final analysis it boiled down to an agreement between the Italians and the Germans and it is history itself that has paid the highest price” stresses Di Michele.

    Among the previously unheard and the new evidence, mention must be made of agent Nelio Pannuti, assigned to care for Mussolini at Gran Sasso who, in a written statement released directly to the author of the book, clearly stated that that incursion by the Germans “looked like a prearranged action, so much so that, once the Duce was freed, there was a friendly interchange between Italian and German soldiers in the hall of the hotel itself, with all weapons peacefully shouldered”.
    “Not to speak of the government’s willingness to reshape history,” concludes Di Michele. The commander of the Carabinieri in Gran Sasso, Alberto Faiola, was even commended in his military record, when in fact not only did he not take any precautionary measures but he also failed in his duties – so much so that legal steps were taken to deny everything – inviting some of his friends in those days to the hotel in Campo Imperatore. ”

    Di Michele had already addressed this thorny episode of Italian history in “Mussolini, Mock Prisoner of Gran Sasso,” published in 2012.

    “The Last Secret of Mussolini – From Campo Imperatore to the Italian Social Republic: a story to be rewritten “

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