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Otto Skorzeny

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"The most dangerous man in Europe"

Otto Skorzeny, Hitler's commando leader in World War 2, became known to the world in September 1943, when boastful German radio broadcasts hailed the previously unknown Skorzeny as "The most dangerous man in Europe" for his key role in the successful and daring airborne raid to rescue the ousted Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, who was secretly imprisoned at the almost inaccessible summit of Gran Sasso, the highest mountain in the Italian Apennines, on September 12, 1943.

This was just the first of Skorzeny's successes as Hitler's commando leader. With the successes that followed, western media too, called Otto Skorzeny "The most dangerous man in Europe".

The unusual making of a commando leader

Otto Skorzeny was born June 12, 1908, in Vienna, Austria. Otto's father owned a successful engineering firm, and the family lived quite comfortably until the depression that ravished Austria at the end of World War I. When the teenaged Otto once complained that he'd never tasted real butter, his father's response was prophetic:

There is no harm in doing without things. It might even be good for you not to get used to a soft life.

Otto entered the Technische Hochschule Wien on his eighteenth birthday, and graduated in 1931 with an engineering degree, after which he started his own firm. Though Skorzeny's skill as an engineer would later prove quite useful in planning his missions of terrorism and sabotage, his time in the Schlagende Verbindung (dueling society) 'Burschenschaft Markomannia' would prove the most influential part of his college experience.  Skorzeny fought his first duel during his freshman year, and in 1928 earned the coveted Schmisse-the "scars of honor," which would earn him the nickname of "Scarface" among the Americans during World War II. Skorzeny would later credit his success in war to his experiences in the dueling society: 

During the war I never felt that afraid than when I had to fought my first single combat in front of my classmates.

My knowledge of pain, learned with the sabre, taught me not to be afraid. And just as in dueling when you must concentrate on your enemy's cheek, so, too, in war. You cannot waste time on feinting and sidestepping. You must decide on your target and go in.

In 1930, Skorzeny joined the Austrian Nazi Party and strongly advocated union with Germany, and by 1938 he was very active in the party.


There are three seemingly unimportant details from Skorzeny's pre-war life which became important later:

In 1934 Skorzeny and his bride spent their honeymoon in Italy, travelling by motorcycle as far South as Naples.

On March 12, 1938, when Nazi Germany annexed Austria with the threat of an immediate invasion, combined with organized riots by Austrian Nazis, in order to prevent a bloodbath, Skorzeny was ordered by Artur Seyss-Inquart, Austria's leading Nazi and its newly-appointed chancellor, to intercept several armed Nazis determined to take the Austrian palace by force. Skorzeny arrived just in time to prevent a shoot-out between the Nazis and Austrian guards, and quite likely saved the life of Austrian President Wilhelm Miklas.

Ernst Kaltenbrunner, the head of the Austrian branch of the Nazi SS, knew Skorzeny and knew of his action in saving Miklas.

In 1939 Skorzeny earned his pilot's licence. He became part owner of a construction firm and is on friendly terms with influential people like the Ingenieur Ferdinand Porsche and Reichsbankpräsident Hjalmar Schacht, whose daughter became his second wife.

When World War 2 started on September 1, 1939 with the German invasion of Poland, Skorzeny volunteered for the Luftwaffe, but at 6' 4" and thirty-one years of age, was considered too tall and too old for flight training. Instead, Skorzeny's superiors assigned him to train as a communications expert, an assignment he hated.
Three months later, Skorzeny's class of 100 would-be Air Force technical personnel was told that 20 of them can volunteer to service as technical officers in the Waffen SS, the military branch of the Nazi party's SS organization. The Waffen SS divisions were the Nazi Party's private army, which fought together with the regular German army, and its all-volunteer units were considered elite combat units.

Only twelve of the class, including Skorzeny, passed the Waffen SS admission tests and were first sent to basic combat soldier training in the training barracks of the 1st Waffen SS Division, named Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler  Division for its early origin from Hitler's SS bodyguard unit.

On May 9, 1940, a day before the German invasion of France, instead of completing his technical officer training, Skorzeny was sent to Berlin and was given an "Expert Mechanic" certificate, and was promoted to the rank of junior sergeant. Eager to participate in the invasion of France that just started, Skorzeny convinced the commander of Leibstandarte's heavy artillery unit to take him as acting technical officer, and mostly spent the days of the invasion "chasing" the war in the trail of the rapidly advancing German forces.

Skorzeny was later transferred to the 2nd Waffen SS division, Das Reich (The Reich), and a year later participated in the German invasion of Russia as a technical officer in Das Reich. Skorzeny was put in charge of keeping his division's  tanks and other equipment operational. He was successful, but his unorthodox methods often got him into trouble. Skorzeny was not above stealing equipment from other divisions, and once even took tires from a depot at gunpoint. His chances for a commission were tabled indefinitely when he shot down a portrait of Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands (who had denounced Hitler) from the wall of a Dutch café after the owner refused to remove it.

Skorzeny's fortunes turned in April 1941 when his regiment was sent to
Yugoslavia to quell a revolt. The rebellion was engineered by Yugoslav military officers who overthrew the government of Prince-Regent Paul on March 26-27 because they felt their ruler was getting too close to Hitler. Three days after the invasion, Skorzeny and his men managed to capture fifty-four Yugoslav soldiers and three officers. Skorzeny marched his prisoners to his regiment's headquarters and was commissioned on the spot.

But fortune would again turn her back on Otto. In June of 1941, Division Reich participated in the invasion of the Soviet Union, where it suffered heavy casualties. One day in early winter of that year, Skorzeny was hit in the back of the head by shrapnel from Russian Katyusha artillery rockets which struck near his position some 200 yards from the front line. Taken to a nearby aid station, he refused all treatment except for a few aspirin, a bandage, and a glass of schnapps. A few hours later, Skorzeny rejoined his regiment, but his health only deteriorated. Eventually a combination of continuous headaches from his head injury and continuous stomach pains forced him to evacuate for proper medical treatment. By January 1942, he was headed back to Germany on a hospital train, promising to return in a few weeks. By the time he recovered, however, the Third Reich would have other plans for Skorzeny.

Once out of hospital, and since his body still needed to recover, Skorzeny was assigned to a non-combat role in Leibstandarte's depot in Berlin. It was, he wrote later, a boring role for him, and he wanted to return to his unit in the front, but in the meantime, he had many months in Berlin with spare time to read and to meet fellow Waffen SS officers, and what he did and what he did was to read all the literature that he could find about commando warfare, and suggested his ideas about the subject to anyone who would listen to a junior technical officer's ideas about unconventional commando warfare.

Skorzeny's main argument, based on his experience in the Russian front, was that the German army, which demonstrated innovative warfare early in the war, gradually deteriorated to ordinary war of attrition. His proposed solution was to develop units specialized in unconventional warfare that will include fighting behind enemy lines, fighting in enemy uniform, sabotage attacks, and more.

All that talking eventually paid off, when in April 1943 Skorzeny was summoned to the Waffen SS headquarters  to meet with Walter Schellenberg, head of the SD (the SS foreign intelligence service). Schellenberg needed someone to take charge of the schools being organized to train special agents in sabotage, espionage, and paramilitary skills. Skorzeny accepted immediately, and was promoted to Captain, as the commander of a recently created Waffen SS special unit named SS Special Unit Friedensthal, after the location of its training barracks at Friedensthal, near Berlin.

During Skorzeny's tenure as commander (1943-1945), the unit was renamed twice, first from SS Special Unit Friedensthal to SS Jagdverbände 502 (Hunters Battalion), and in November 1944 to SS Combat Unit "Center", and by then it expanded from a small unit to five battalions.



SS Special Unit Friedensthal

Until 1943 the German army did not think that it needed to have special units for unconventional special warfare deep behind enemy lines. Germany had a large army, the best in the world then, and it was not restrained by political diplomatic or moral constraints. In those years, Adolf Hitler did not need to limit himself to sending commandos to neighbouring countries. He simply sent his army to invade and occupy them.

For military action beyond enemy lines during those invasions, two types of units were used, mostly to capture key targets by using the element of surprise, and then to temporarily hold them until relieved by the advancing main German invasion force. These units were the elite German Paratroopers, and the Brandenburg Regiment of the German Abwehr (Military Intelligence), which used soldiers fluent in foreign languages and wearing enemy uniforms to achieve the element of surprise.

 But as Skorzeny argued, this was no longer enough for Germany. The war was increasingly turning against Germany, which could no longer quickly invade and occupy enemy territories, and this finally raised a need for having a real behind-enemy-lines military unit, a unit capable of long term activity, sabotage mostly, deep behind enemy lines.

 Since unconventional warfare deep behind enemy lines was considered a military extension of the espionage and sabotage activities done by spies, the new unit was going to work for the Ausland-SD (Foreign Security Department), the foreign espionage branch of the RSHA, the giant security organization within the Nazi SS that included the GESTAPO (secret police), the SD (internal security), the Ausland-SD (foreign espionage), criminal investigations, and the Einsatzgruppen death squads in charge of the mass murder of entire population groups in the occupied countries, including Jews, Communists, the Intelligentsia, and others, which were considered a possible threat to the German occupation.

 Simply put, the new commando unit established at Friedensthal, was going to belong to the military branch of the SS (the Waffen SS), and to provide its military-scale services to the espionage branch of the SS (the Ausland-SD) in tasks that require a military-scale sabotage or attack capacity, which is greater than the limited capacity of a single or a small team of spies.

 So in early 1943 the SS was looking for the right man, among its officers, to lead that new type of special unit. They wanted a person with a combination of leadership, good judgement in sensitive situations, combat experience, technical skills, and fanatic Nazi loyalty.

 Skorzeny's name was apparently suggested by no other than Ernst Kaltenbrunner, previously the head of the Austrian SS, who by 1943 was the new head of the RSHA, after his predecessor, Reinhard Heydrich, was assassinated by British-sponsored Czech patriots.

 Kaltenbrunner knew Skorzeny from their pre-war years in Vienna, and he must have remembered how Skorzeny, the Nazi engineer, demonstrated unusually good judgement and leadership in saving the Austrian president from his trigger-happy fellow SS men that night in 1938, and since by 1943 Skorzeny was already a decorated Waffen-SS officer with full combat training and combat experience, a man who demonstrated both courage in combat and great dedication, and was a fanatically loyal Nazi, and a man who told every one who listened that Germany needs to establish unconventional warfare units, Kaltenbrunner knew that although the 35 years old Skorzeny was just a Lieutenant, he found the man he was looking for.

 Skorzeny began training his men for their intended special missions, repeatedly telling them that in their special type of warfare behind enemy lines, not shooting, as much as possible, should be their most important guideline. He intended to impose following that guideline in future action by "running ahead of my men, and not firing my own gun".

The men were culled from the best of the best of the Reich's various military units. Each member was expected to have a basic knowledge of firearms, grenades, and artillery. They also had to know how to operate automobiles, motorcycles, watercraft, and locomotives. They had to be expert swimmers and be able to parachute from aircraft. Many were also trained in foreign languages, such as English, Italian, Russian, and Persian.

Skorzeny, for his part, studied the techniques found in captured British commando documents, and learned even more from captured British commandos who were willing to switch sides. He also attended a course on espionage taught by an Abwehr (army intelligence) officer.

Jagdverbände 502's first mission, "Operation Francois," took place in the summer of 1943. The group parachuted into Iran, where they made contact with the dissident mountain tribes. These insurgent forces were used to sabotage US and British supplies of materiel bound for the Soviet Union. However, within a few months, interest waned among the rebel tribes. Skorzeny, who remained behind to train more recruits, characterized Operation Francois as "a failure," due mainly to inadequate reinforcements and supplies needed for the mission.

 Though Jagdverbände 502 had gotten off to a shaky start, greater things lay in store. While his commandos were implementing Operation Francois in Iran, Skorzeny was ordered to appear before the Führer himself.


Operation Oak to find and rescue Mussolini

Skorzeny appeared before Adolf Hitler On July 26, 1943. Hitler had learned that his political and military ally and friend Benito Mussolini, the Fascist dictator of Italy, was ousted and arrested by his own countrymen.

The Italian people got tired of their failing megalomaniac dictator, who was so much better in words than in deeds. After four years of war, instead of the promised victories, Italy lost its large colonial territories in North Africa and East Africa, and now Sicily, the large island in southern Italy, was occupied by the advancing Allies, who were clearly going to follow soon with an invasion of the Italian mainland (which they did six weeks later, on Sept. 3, 1943).

Overthrowing Mussolini was quick and bloodless. In a late night session, the members of the Fascist leadership accused Mussolini of failures, and then voted against him, for the first and last time, and the next day the king summoned Mussolini to his villa, told him that all Italians now hated him and that he must go, and when Mussolini stepped out of the king's office, he was arrested by the Carabinieri military police force, and the king appointed Pietro Badoglio, a former politician and army Chief of Staff as the new temporary Prime Minister.

 Hitler was terribly furious about these news; not just because his fellow dictator and friend was overthrown, but also because there was very little he could do about it. He could not retaliate by invading Italy, because Italy was still his ally in the war, and the new Italian government immediately assured him that they remain loyal allies, which they did, for a while. It was clear to both sides that the new Italian government was quietly looking for a way to switch sides in the war, to end its long alliance with Nazi Germany, and to most likely deliver the arrested Mussolini to The Allies as a gesture, but so far Italy kept fighting against the Allies, shoulder to shoulder with the German military, which was already deployed in large numbers all over Italy. All that Hitler could do, was to try to find where the Italians were hiding their former dictator before they delivered him to The Allies, and only then act quickly to rescue him, in order to put him back in power by force, this time as a German puppet backed by the Nazi military power in Italy.

 So on July 26, 1943, the day after Mussolini's arrest, Otto Skorzeny and five other commanders of Germany's most elite military units, were urgently summoned to "Wolfsschanze" (Wolf's Lair), Hitler's isolated and heavily guarded command post in the forests of East Prussia. Once there, the six officers (Captain Skorzeny was of the lowest rank) met Adolf Hitler. Hitler did not tell them why they were summoned. After each of them presented himself, Hitler simply asked each of them two questions:

Are you familiar with Italy ? What do you think of Italy ?

To the first question, only Skorzeny answered 'Yes', referring to his honeymoon in Italy nine years earlier.

To the seconds question, while the other five officers gave politically correct answers about Italy being an Ally of Germany and so on, Skorzeny decided to gamble and answered just: "I am an Austrian, Führer". It was a short answer that said a lot. Skorzeny knew that Hitler, also originally Austrian, will understand that he was thinking of the traditional hostility between Austria and Italy, which increased when Austria was forced to hand a large territory to Italy after World War I.

The gamble paid off. Hitler dismissed the other officers, and after they left, he told Skorzeny what really happened in Italy (German news media just said that Mussolini resigned for poor health), and told Skorzeny that he entrusts him with a mission of the highest strategic importance, to rescue Mussolini before he will be delivered up to The Allies.

For convenience and secrecy, for the duration of the mission Skorzeny was placed under the command of General Kurt Student, the commander of the German Paratroopers Corps, who was also sent to Italy that day, with a large force of his elite Paratroopers for the same reason, but also to prepare to occupy Rome by force if necessary. To the Italians, Skorzeny, the SS officer, will pose as General Student's adjutant, wearing paratrooper uniform.

 After meeting with General Student in "Wolfsschanze" that night, Skorzeny phoned his deputy, Karl Radl, and told him that they were given a mission that can not be discussed over the phone, and asked him to prepare, by dawn, a very long list of every kind of special equipment imaginable, from guns and explosives to black hair color and monk robes. Radl was also instructed to select forty of Friedenthal's best men, including all those who spoke Italian, and bring with him ten secret agents from the Ausland-SD headquarters, and ordered that all will be dressed as paratroopers. They all flew to the German military headquarters outside Rome.

 In the seven weeks that followed, Skorzeny helped as much as he could in the German intelligence gathering group effort to find where Mussolini was held and then to gather tactical intelligence to be used for planning a rescue operation once the location was known. By the way, in addition to using every intelligence resource they had in Italy, the SS, under constant pressure by Hitler, also used astrologers and psychics in Berlin in an attempt to find Mussolini. During those seven weeks, the suspicious Italians moved Mussolini to a different location three times, to prevent a rescue attempt, and he was heavily guarded by the Carabinieri. Three times the Germans were able to find out where Mussolini was held, and three times he was moved before the Germans were ready to raid the location.

 Mussolini was first transferred to the tiny island Ponza, off Naples. When the Germans had that information, Mussolini was already transferred elsewhere. Then they were hinted that Mussolini was held in an isolated villa in the tiny island La Maddalena, near the large island Sardinia, 150 miles West of the Italian mainland. Skorzeny was able to smuggle one of his Italian speaking commandos to that island, disguised as a sailor, and a few days later that man reported that he even saw Mussolini in the villa from a distance. Skorzeny then flew in a Heinkel 111 bomber to take aerial photos of the location. The bomber was shot down by allied fighters and crash landed at sea, but Skorzeny and the bomber's crew were rescued by an Italian destroyer, whose crew was unaware of the purpose of the pictures in Skorzeny's camera. Before the Germans raided La Maddalena island, they found out that Mussolini was already flown away from the island in a seaplane and his location was lost again.

Hotel "Campo Imperatore" (south face) Gran Sasso d'Italia

Mussolini's new location was then picked in September by Herbert Kappler, the police attache in the German embassy in Rome, who intercepted a seemingly meaningless Italian police radio transmission referring to security preparations around Gran Sasso. The experienced and suspicious Kappler immediately guessed that Mussolini is held in the ski hotel at the top of the Gran Sasso mountain, that was only accessible by cable car from the valley below. Further intelligence hints convinced the Germans that Mussolini might now be imprisoned on the Gran Sasso.


The Germans had to really hurry now, since on September 3, 1943, The Allies invaded the Italian mainland, and on September 8, Italy surrendered to The Allies, and a day later The Allies landed further North at Salerno, near Naples. Italy was not yet an enemy of Germany, but no longer its ally, and time was short. Preparations were minimal, not just because of the new political situation but also because of heavy allied air bombardments on the German bases near Rome.  

Skorzeny flew again in a Heinkel 111 bomber, this time over Gran Sasso, and took pictures of the location with a plain handheld camera. When he returned, a simple attack plan was quickly designed by General Student, Harald Mors (one of Student's paratrooper battalion commanders), and Skorzeny. The plan was simple, but not easy:


Twelve DFS 230 assault gliders, each carrying nine troops and a pilot, will be released from their tow aircraft over Gran Sasso at a rate of about one glider every minute. Each glider pilot will then have to struggle against the strong and unpredictable wind conditions above the 9500 ft summit, in an attempt to land on a tiny patch of straight soil next to the ski hotel at the summit, that was surrounded by steep and rocky slopes from all directions.

Once on the ground, the troops will storm the ski hotel, where it was assumed that Mussolini was held, in an attempt to get to Mussolini as fast as possible, before his surprised guards will have time to shoot him in the last moment. The Italian guards will have to be defeated and the mountain summit secured.

A secondary force, led by Major Mors, will simultaneously arrive by trucks to the lower cable car station at the bottom of the mountain and will secure it.


Mussolini will then be flown off the Gran Sasso by a Stork light aircraft.

The glider assault force, a total of 108 troops, was comprised of 81 paratroopers in 9 gliders, and Skorzeny with 25 of his men, and a guest, in 3 gliders. Skorzeny's "guest" was General Fernando Soleti of the Italian Carabinieri, who was kidnapped by Skorzeny's men and forced to board Skorzeny's glider. The idea was that his presence in the raid could further confuse the surprised Carabinieri guarding the Gran Sasso summit.

There was no time to arrange maps for the glider and tow aircraft pilots who were flown in to Italy just before the raid. They were to simply follow the lead aircraft, piloted by Student's intelligence officer.

 Despite serious difficulties before and after the raid itself, the operation, on September 12, 1943, was a complete success, and the only injuries were among the troops onboard the last glider in the row, which crashed while landing right in front of the already released Mussolini, and among the Italian guards at the lower cable car station who were shot by the Germans, but nobody was killed.

Skorzeny's glider was initially the 2nd in the row of 12 tow and glider pairs, but during the flight the lead tow aircraft, with the only pilot who knew how to navigate to Gran Sasso, had to abandon the lead, and Skorzeny's tow pilot suddenly found himself first in the row but without a map. Skorzeny then used his knife to cut a small window in the glider's bottom under him, which was enough for him to successfully navigate to Gran Sasso, based on his memory of the flight path from his aerial photo flight a day earlier, by passing navigation instructions to the glider pilot in front of him, who relayed them by cable to the tow aircraft's pilot.

Once on the ground, after a perfect landing just next to the side of the ski hotel, Skorzeny ran forward, pushing General Soleti ahead of him, looking for the first door he could find, when he saw Mussolini looking at him from a 2nd floor window. This was definitely helpful, since he now knew exactly where to go. Skorzeny shouted to Mussolini to get inside to avoid being hit by possible shots, and then charged into the hotel. The surprised Italian guards were further confused by General Soleti who shouted at them to avoid shooting, and less than a minute later Skorzeny broke into Mussolini's room and disarmed his two guards, as two others of his men came in from the window after climbing the wall. Once Mussolini was secured in his room, Skorzeny saluted Mussolini and said: "Duce, I was sent by the Führer to rescue you." "I knew my friend would never let me down," Mussolini replied and he embraced Skorzeny.

 Within a few minutes, all the Italian guards in the ski hotel and upper cable car station were disarmed without a single shot being fired, and at the bottom of the mountain Major Mors' men took over the lower cable car station after a short fire fight, and by the time of the last glider landing (the one that crashed) Mussolini was already out of the hotel, waiting for the Stork light aircraft that will fly him to safety.

 The Stork, a two seater light aircraft, was flown by Captain Heinrich Gerlach, General Student's personal pilot. After he successfully landed on the Gran Sasso summit, the big Skorzeny insisted to also board the tiny two seater aircraft, and placed himself in its small cargo bay behind the passenger's seat. Skorzeny later explained this action in saying that he was not willing to risk a situation in which after a successful rescue he will face Hitler only to report to him that Mussolini was rescued by him but then crashed on the slopes of the Gran Sasso mountain. He preferred to die in such a crash too instead.

 Captain Gerlach, the pilot, had his own doubts about the chances of a successful takeoff, since in addition to having an incredibly short and rocky "runway" that ended in an abyss, that runway was also cut in the middle by a deep ditch that was not visible in the aerial photos that Skorzeny took a day earlier. Skorzeny's extra weight, and the lower lift in the thin air at 9500ft, were not helpful either.

 With Mussolini and Skorzeny onboard, Gerlach told the paratroopers to hold the small aircraft in place while he increased the engine's power to the maximum, and then signalled them to let go. The small aircraft ran forward. When he reached the ditch, Gerlach pulled the stick to raise the aircraft a few inches in the air before it descended back to the ground after the ditch and gained a little more speed before it fell down to the abyss at the end of the runway. With nerves of steel, Gerlach let the small aircraft dive down just over the steep mountain slope, and then slowly pulled the stick to level in the valley below, keeping the aircraft at tree top level to avoid possible enemy fighters, and not sharing with his two passengers the information that the engine was damaged in the bumpy takeoff and was not fully functional.

They landed in a German controlled air base near Rome, where Mussolini and Skorzeny immediately transferred to a German bomber that flew them to Vienna, and from there Mussolini was flown by another aircraft to meet Hitler in "Wolfsschanze" that same day.

 There were well deserved honors for all the key players. Skorzeny was promoted to Major and was awarded the Knights Cross, and became famous. Herbert Kappler, the German police attache who found Mussolini, was also both promoted and decorated. Captain Gerlach, the Stork Pilot, was awarded the Knights Cross for performing one of the most difficult takeoffs in the history of aviation. And several others among the pilots, paratroopers, intelligence personnel, and of course Karl Radl, Skorzeny's deputy, were either promoted or decorated for their role in the operation.


Skorzeny in 1944

Following their success in rescuing Mussolini, Skorzeny and his commandos returned to their base and continued training for future special missions. Skorzeny was now able to expand his unit, and also gradually received operational and training control over other German special units, including the Navy's sabotage divers and midget submarine units, and since May 1944 also of the Air Force's suicide ground attack unit, an equivalent of the Japanese Kamikaze, called the Leonidas squadron.

The Leonidas Squadron was made of volunteer pilots who were supposed to fly a manned version of the V-1 cruise missile that will be carried to the target area by bombers of KG 200, the Luftwaffe's special missions air wing, which mainly provided special flight services to the Ausland-SD while flying both German and captured Allied aircraft, in the same manner that Skorzeny's unit provided special ground fighting services to the Ausland-SD.

 The manned V-1 was successfully test flown and produced, but opposition in KG 200, both moral and practical, to the idea of suicide ground attacks by these pilots, and the general lack of fuel at that late stage of the war, resulted in zero supply of fuel for the suicide pilots training flights, so eventually Skorzeny embedded them in his commando unit (Skorzeny controlled the suicide pilots, but the bombers, the missiles, and the jet fuel belonged to KG 200, which was also equipped with other types of air-to-ground missiles, which were naturally preferred by its elite pilots over using suicide missiles flown by minimally trained pilots).

 On July 20, 1944, when a group of senior German army officers attempted to overthrow the Nazi regime in Berlin following their failed attempt to assassinate Hitler in the "Wolfsschanze", Skorzeny played an important role, but not a decisive one, in saving the Nazi regime. When he was informed of the rebellion, he hurried, as instructed, to the SD headquarters building in Berlin. He calmed the panic there, called a company of his men to help secure the building, and then went to the Armor Corps headquarters, which controlled the most powerful unit in Berlin, the tank training school, which had tanks. The school's tanks already rolled into Berlin's streets in response to orders given by the rebel officers, but were already cautiously ordered to avoid fighting and behave as in ordinary training, making them useless for the rebels. After supporting the Armor Corps duty officer's decision to obey only orders from his normal chain of command, Skorzeny went to General Student's home in Berlin, where the two officers called Göring for further instrcutions. Skorzeny then returned to the SD headquarters, and with a group of armed SD agents he went to the rebels' headquarters in the Reserve Army headquarters building, where the rebel leaders where already arrested and some already executed. Skorzeny took control there, stopped the executions, transferred the remaining arrested rebels to a GESTAPO prison, and then remained in the Reserve Army headquarters as acting commander for the next 36 hours until relieved.

Since then, Hitler trusted and appreciated Skorzeny even more.

 Three months later, as a result of the participation of the Abwehr's top officers in the rebellion, it was dismantled, and its duties were transferred to the SS. The Brandenburg Regiment, the Abwehr's special unit of foreign language speakers specialized is fighting behind enemy lines disguised as enemy soldiers, was also dismantled, but most of its men were transferred to Skorzeny's expanding unit, and played a key role in Skorzeny's last special operation.

Operation Mickey Mouse


Skorzeny's next major success would take place in Hungary on October 15, 1944. Upon hearing that Miklos Horthy, the Hungarian regent, was negotiating an armistice with the Soviets, Hitler sent his favorite commando to Hungary to resolve the problem. Skorzeny's solution was "Operation Mickey Mouse," named after Horthy's son, Miki, whom many believed to be influencing his father to side with the USSR. Skorzeny entered Miki's apartment, shot him in the arm and, inspired by George Bernard Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra, rolled him up in a rug and put him on a plane to Berlin.


The elder Horthy, despite the kidnaping of his son, refused to cooperate. Two days after the kidnaping, Skorzeny stormed the citadel where the regent resided. Skorzeny had a tank, twenty-five men, and a truck. The citadel was guarded by an entire parachute battalion. Within one hour, the Hungarians had surrendered, with a total of seven lives lost. Horthy was replaced with a new pro-German prime minister.




Operation Greif  (Griffin)

After returning from Hungary, Hitler promoted Skorzeny to Lieutenant Colonel, and gave him a new mission. As part of the planned German offensive in the Ardennes in the last days of 1944 ("The Battle of the Bulge"), the last German offensive in the West, Hitler suggested that Skorzeny's English speaking men will infiltrate behind Allied lines dressed and equipped as American soldiers, in order to produce mass confusion in The Allies side to support the main German attack. In addition to captured allied Jeeps, the Germans also used Panther tanks and other German vehicles repainted and modified to look like Allied vehicles. For the duration of that campaign, Skorzeny himself was the commander of a makeshift unit named the 150th SS Panzer Brigade.

Hitler's idea was quite successful. In addition to the direct damage caused by the activity of Skorzeny's fake American soldiers, which disguised mostly as American military policemen, the news of their activity, once it was detected by the Allies, spread rapidly among Allied units, and caused a reaction that was much more damaging, as traffic of Allied officers of all ranks and of reinforcements and supplies, was seriously slowed down by the need to repeatedly stop at checkpoint after checkpoint and identify as genuine Americans, and not just by presenting identification papers but also by having to answer American Trivia questions, because of the obvious suspicion that the disguised Germans also carry fake American papers. The number of checkpoints was also much higher than usual, because of the effort to capture the fake soldiers, which further slowed Allied traffic.

December 17, 1944, US Third Army commander General George S Patton described the situation to Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D Eisenhower:

 Krauts . . . speaking perfect English . . . raising hell, cutting wires, turning road signs around, spooking whole divisions, and shoving a bulge into our defenses.

When some of Skorzeny's fake American soldiers were eventually captured, they told their interrogators that their mission was to reach Paris and assassinate the Allied supreme commander, General Eisenhower. This was a lie, but they also said that their commander was Skorzeny, which was true, and since Skorzeny's record with regard to foreign leaders was well known, they immediately believed that Skorzeny was trying to get to Eisenhower, and as a result Eisenhower was confined to his  his headquarter in Versailles for 2 weeks, very massively guarded.

 Skorzeny actually considered Operation Greif a failure. Because of various delays, only a small number of his men actually infiltrated behind the American lines, and the rest, most of his unit, had to fight as regular soldiers. If it had been fully implemented, Operation Greif could cause much greater damage behind the American lines.


Werewolves and Buried Treasure


Skorzeny saw little action after the Battle of the Bulge, the last offensive of the exhausted German army. In the last months of the war the Germans were rapidly losing ground to the advancing Allies in both West and East. For a few weeks in January and February, he held off the advancing Soviet army with a ragtag force at Schwedt on the Oder River, 50 miles east of Berlin, but eventually had to fall back. Skorzeny also received orders to blow up a bridge on the Rhine at Remagen, but his frogmen failed due to the icy waters.


Hitler summoned him again, awarded him the Knights Cross with oak leaves medal for his excellence in the battle on the Oder, and sent him to an inspection tour along the rapidly collapsing German East front. During that tour, Skorzeny found out that his home city, Vienna, was about to be captured by the Russians. He hurried to Vienna, but it was too late for him to prevent its surrender the next day, shortly after he left it. 


Knowing, like many other Nazi leaders, that the war was lost, Skorzeny spent most of his time preparing for the future. Until March of 1945 he helped train several recruits for the underground resistance group known as "Werewolf" who were to make occupation by the Allies difficult, if not impossible. Skorzeny soon discovered that the number of Werewolf cells had been greatly exaggerated, and would be rather ineffective as a fighting force. Instead, the Werewolves would be used as part of a Nazi "underground railroad," facilitating travel along escape routes called "ratlines" that allowed thousands of SS officers and other Nazis to flee Germany after the fall of the Third Reich.


Since August of 1944, Skorzeny had been employed by various high-ranking Nazis and wealthy German industrialists to transfer and hide large quantities of money, looted property, documents, and other assets. Some of these were buried in the mountains of Bavaria, while other stashes were shipped overseas.


Two days before Hitler committed suicide in his bunker in Berlin, Skorzeny was given his last mission, to go to Bavaria in southern Germany, and command the German forces there in a last battle to the bitter end, as part of what was called "The Alpine Fortress" but when he got there, there was nothing left to command. After the German capitulation he was hiding himself for a while in a cabin in the Dachstein Mountains. 


Skorzeny felt he could potentially be of use to the Americans in the forthcoming Cold War. On May 16, 1945, Otto Skorzeny emerged from the Austrian woods near Salzburg and surrendered to a lieutenant of the US Thirtieth Infantry Regiment. His commando unit, which was separately sent to "The Alpine Fortress", surrendered in Linz, Hitler's home town in Austria.




The Trial


After two years in various internment camps, Skorzeny was to face charges of war crimes for his actions in the Battle of the Bulge. Characterized at his arraignment as "the most dangerous man in Europe," Skorzeny was brought before a US military court in Dachau on August 18, 1947. He and nine fellow officers of the 150th Panzer Brigade would face charges of improper use of military insignia, theft of US uniforms, and theft of Red Cross parcels from American prisoners of war.


The trial lasted over three weeks. The charge of stealing Red Cross parcels was dropped for lack of evidence, but Skorzeny did admit to ordering his men to wear American uniforms, and a conviction by the American court seemed eminent. But on September 9, the last day of the trial, a British officer testified that he and his men had engaged in similar tactics during the war. Realizing that to convict Skorzeny would be hypocrisy, the tribunal acquitted the ten defendants.




The Escape


Despite his acquittal by the Americans, Skorzeny remained a prisoner, as other nations wished to try him for war crimes. During his internment, both before and after the Dachau trial, Skorzeny continued his clandestine activities. An informant for Army Counterintelligence discovered a vast underground network known as ODESSA, which helped Nazi prisoners escape and secure false identity papers. Otto Skorzeny was identified as a leader of this movement, though very little concrete evidence existed.


Meanwhile, while in prison, Skorzeny received offers of employment from the Soviets. He refused all of these, but said nothing of such overtures until early 1948, when he told his American captors, perhaps to prevent his extradition for another trial. In fact, the US had been blocking his extradition to Soviet-controlled Czechoslovakia since his acquittal. Unfortunately, by midsummer of 1948 it looked like the Czechs would succeed, as they were now working through the United Nations. By that time, both the US and Skorzeny knew something had to be done to keep him out of Soviet hands. Fieldmarshall Montgomery had warned him there were plans to kill 'the most dangerous man in Europe".


On July 27, 1948, a car bearing American military license plates arrived at the Darmstadt internment camp where the infamous commando was being held. Three US Army police-one captain and two enlisted men-exited the vehicle and entered the detention center. "We are here to take prisoner Otto Skorzeny to Nuremburg for his scheduled hearing tomorrow," the captain announced. Within minutes, Skorzeny was handed over to the "police"- who were actually SS veterans - and vanished from the camp forever.  fleeing first to France where an American colonel gave him refuge in his Parisian apartment.. When questioned years later about the escape, Skorzeny claimed that the license plates and uniforms were supplied by the American camp commander.




Otto and Evita


In 1951 Skorzeny established a base of operations in Madrid, Spain, under the fascist regime of Francisco Franco. Here Skorzeny started a successful engineering firm, but also engaged in less scrupulous ventures, such as the international arms trade. He also continued to oversee the activities of ODESSA and other Nazi organizations.


In 1949, Skorzeny was known to be in Argentina, where many of his fellow Nazis had fled to the safety of the fascist Peron government. Skorzeny went to Argentina because he was concerned about the Bormann treasure-a vast amount of wealth accumulated by Hitler's right-hand man, Martin Bormann, who for years had been embezzling money from a secret Nazi fund in the Reichsbank in Berlin. This secret fund was derived from the currency, gold, jewels, and other assets taken from the victims of the death camps. Skorzeny had helped Bormann transfer part of this fortune before the war ended.


Martin Bormann had entrusted Juan Peron as caretaker of the Nazi fortune before the end of the war. In 1945, Peron married the social-climbing temptress Evita Duarte, and before long she had arranged to have the entire amount of the fortune deposited in her name in several Buenos Aires banks. The Bormann treasure at the end of 1945 was estimated at over $800 million in bank deposits, 2500 kilograms of gold, 90 kilograms of platinum, and 4600 carats of diamonds and other precious stones. When Bormann failed to appear after the war ended, the Perons acted as if the fortune were theirs alone.


Juan Peron had admired Skorzeny ever since the Mussolini rescue, and welcomed the big Austrian personally upon his arrival in Argentina. Wishing to develop a good relationship with the Argentine president, Skorzeny gave no hint that he even knew the treasure existed. Argentina was a place of great unrest at the time, and Peron readily accepted Skorzeny's offer to help maintain order in the country. One result of Skorzeny's "help" was that the Argentine police became quite versed in Nazi torture and interrogation methods.


Evita's trust had to be won in a more clever fashion. In July, 1949, Skorzeny received word that two navy officers were planning to murder the first lady. The big commando led a police raid on the men's apartment, where he found guns, ammo, and details of the hit. Skorzeny rushed to the Evita's office and warned her of the plot. She did not take the plot seriously, but did invite Skorzeny to accompany her on a visit to one of her charities. On the way, Skorzeny ordered the driver to stop. He jumped out of the limousine and ran into a nearby building. Skorzeny emerged moments later, holding the two would-be assassins at gunpoint. In truth, the two men had been captured and placed in the building earlier by former SS members Skorzeny had dispatched after the apartment raid. He never told Evita that the rescue was staged, however, for he had now gained her trust.


Evita and Skorzeny became lovers, and by early 1950 he had reclaimed roughly one-forth of the Bormann treasure, which he funneled back to ODESSA and other Nazi groups. When Evita died from cancer in 1952, the remainder of the Bormann treasure was inherited by Juan Peron. Skorzeny finally recovered the remainder of the fortune in 1955, when Peron's government fell. Skorzeny helped Peron escape Argentina and arranged for him to live in exile in Spain. Skorzeny received the remainder of the Bormann treasure in return.




Fascists and Fundamentalists


Skorzeny had also been spending time in Egypt. In 1952 the country had been taken over by the CIA-backed General Mohammed Naguib, who was effectively a puppet of Egyptian Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser. Skorzeny was sent to Egypt the following year by former Nazi General Reinhard Gehlen, who was now working for the CIA, to act as Naguib's military advisor. Skorzeny recruited a staff made up of former SS officers to train the Egyptian army. Among these die-hard Nazis were General Oskar Dirlewanger, the "Butcher of Warsaw," and Adolf Eichmann, the man who engineered the Final Solution.


Many other Nazis joined Skorzeny in Egypt, attracted to the Naguib/Nasser government's tolerance for fascism and their shared hatred for the newly created state of Israel. The Nazis further fueled Arab antisemitism with translated copies of Mein Kampf and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.


In addition to training the army, 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 Skorzeny planned their initial strikes into Israel via the Gaza Strip in 1953-1954. One of these Palestinians was a young Yasser Arafat, who formed a long-lasting friendship with the Nazi commando.



Skorzeny and the Nazi Hunters

"We Fought - We Lost"


Unlike many of his fellow Nazis, Skorzeny never denounced Hitler or National Socialism, and remained unapologetic for his actions during the war. For nearly thirty years, he devoted much time to thwarting Nazi hunters, though Skorzeny was rarely a target himself.


In 1964, famed Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal located Franz Paul Stangl, former commander of the Treblinka death camp, in Brazil. However, the Brazilian police refuse to arrest him and Austrian authorities refused to extradite him. For three years, Skorzeny bribed police and Austrian officials until an anti-Nazi governor was elected in Stangl's state, and Wiesenthal was finally able to arrange the war criminal's arrest and extradition.


Skorzeny also used long trial delays as a tactic to prevent his comrades from facing justice. Delays of ten years were not uncommon, due to bribes doled out to judges and prosecutors. He was also very good at hiding his fellow Nazis. When Adolf Eichman was captured by Israeli agents in Buenos Aires in 1960, Skorzeny sent word to other Nazis in the city to seek safer locations immediately. One of these was Josef Mengele, Auschwitz's "Angel of Death," who was responsible for sending tens of thousands to their deaths in the gas chambers, and thanks to Skorzeny and ODESSA, never paid for his crimes.


Protecting his fellow Nazis also involved killing any who attempted to squeal. In 1965 Hubert Curkers, the "Monster of Riga" who helped massacre 32,000 Latvian Jews in 1941, offered to reveal Mengele's location to Jewish agents for $150,000 and a guarantee of his own safety. A few days later Curkers' body was found in Montevideo, Uruguay with his skull crushed.


Death and Legacy


In 1970, a tumor was discovered on Skorzeny's spine. The commando leader underwent back surgery in Hamburg, while fellow ODESSA members stood guard. Two cancerous tumors were removed, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. Vowing to walk again, Skorzeny spent long hours with a physical therapist, and within six months was back on his feet.


The years following therapy were hard for Skorzeny, as the cancer was ravaging his body. Some days he felt well, other days the cancer reminded him that his final days were fast approaching. Still he continued his work with ODESSA, though he was not as active as before. Otto Skorzeny finally succumbed to the cancer on July 7, 1975 in Madrid. Over 500 Nazi diehards from all over the world attended his memorial service.


Though dead for nearly thirty years, Skorzeny's legacy remains with us today. His pioneering terrorist tactics live on in the likes of Yasser Arafat and Osama Bin-Laden. His unapologetic fascism and antisemitism live on in politicians like Jorg Haider and Jean-Marie Le Pen.


Click on Picture to enlarge

Otto Skorzeny's Combined Pilot-Observer Badge in Gold with Diamonds

For comparison's sake - the regular awarded Combined Pilot's and Observer's Badge

Gold death's head ring and cigarette case, presented by Adolf Hitler to SS-Sturmbannführer Otto Skorzeny, following his dramatic rescue of Italian leader Benito Mussolini on September 12, 1943. The case was made at the Allach works at the Auschwitz concentration camp and signed by designer Benno von Arendt, the President of the Fraternity of German Artists


The Teheran Conference - November 1943

Gen. Dmitry Arkadiev, a functionary who headed the NKVD department of transportation took Mike Reilly, FDR’s security man on a tour of the Soviet Embassy and told him in passing that the NKVD had learned that Nazi “parachutists” had jumped in the area the previous day, but so far had not been apprehended. Their intentions could only be terrible: kidnapping and/or assassination of the world leaders, and possibly sabotage of key installations.


Although the exact date for the Teheran conference had not yet been fixed, the Nazis were aware of the prospect. On 22 November 1943, New York Times correspondent James Reston reported from London that a German radio broadcast had announced a Big Three meeting in Teheran at the end of the month. It is difficult to understand why the Nazis would disclose the secret meeting if they planned to assassinate its participants. They may have learned about the conference from FDR and Churchill’s intercontinental telephone calls, all of which were intercepted after a technical breakthrough by German intelligence in March 1942.


Soviet, British, and American security dragged a net through the city for Nazi agents, and a Nazi spy in custody, “Fritz Meier,” had admitted, after a bit of persuasion, that he expected to be contacted by the “paratroopers. This information appears faulty, because the British had rolled up Franz Mayer and his non-functional Teheran network in August.

The NKVD got hold of Reilly and elaborated on the Nazi plot. Thirty-eight paratroopers had landed, Arkadiev now told him, and Soviet Security had captured all but six. Reilly saw none of the prisoners, but all the same began to worry that even the best security might not stop a fanatical assassin from making an assault on one or all of the Big Three as they rode back and forth through the streets.

At midnight, Molotov sent an urgent summons to W. Averell Harriman, Ambassador to the Soviet Union and Archibald Clark Kerr, the British Ambassador to the USSR.When the two ambassadors arrived, he gave his version of the Nazi plot, saying that there might be “a demonstration” in which there would be “shooting” and innocent bystanders would be hurt. The bloodbath would cause an international scandal. He refused to give details.


Harriman never quite believed in the existence of a plot against the President. Back in Moscow after the conference, he asked Vyacheslav Molotov, Commissar for Foreign Affairs, whether the Nazis had cooked it up, or whether Molotov and he himself had conjured it. Molotov, who had no sense of humor, replied that, in point of fact, he had no details of an actual plot, yet knew that there were Nazi agents in Teheran.


Reilly was later told that three months after the conference the Russians caught the six missing paratroopers living with a Bedouin tribe in the mountains, and executed them. Such information could have originated only with the NKVD. He filed no report on the alleged plot with the Secret Service, and the report on the conference that the Secret Service did produce makes no mention of a plot. The British record likewise lacks any such reference. The Joint Intelligence Committee of the War Cabinet considered the matter afterward in London and concluded that the so-called Nazi plot against the Big Three was “complete baloney.”


In contrast to the West, the NKVD retained the story of the plot and, twenty years later during a publicity campaign, its successor, the KGB, began to promote it in the press. In its new guise, the purported plot against FDR acquired a wealth of details and a sterling cast of characters, most notably SS Captain Otto Skorzeny, one of the legendary figures of World War II. In the literature generated by the KGB, Skorzeny was the man designated by Hitler to lead the attack on the Big Three in Teheran and, in one stroke, turn the war around. But—the story went—the Nazis did not count on NKVD ace Nikolai Kuznetsov, who, posing as a Wehrmacht lieutenant in occupied Ukraine, befriended a hard-drinking and talkative SS officer named von Ortel, who blurted out revealing tidbits of the plan. Consequently, all three nations—the United States, the United Kingdom, and the USSR—owed the survival of their leaders to the vigilance of the Soviet Secret Police. As might be expected, Skorzeny’s memoirs mention no such plan and the various Soviet accounts differ among themselves in names, places, and other specifics.


In fact, a Georgian defector who claims to have heard the inside story from sources close to Stalin and Beria (both Georgians), debunks the idea of a Nazi plot. In order to impress Roosevelt and impose a feeling of indebtedness on him, writes Yuri Krotkov (a pseudonym), Stalin conceived a bogus assassination attempt and ordered Beria to set it up, with the provision that “assassins” should actually be arrested. Roosevelt, informed of his salvation by Soviet counterintelligence, asked to see the man who had busted the plot. He was presented with a colonel from Saratov named Kravchenko. When FDR mistakenly called Col. Kravchenko “General,” Stalin jovially promoted him in rank. Krotkov does not say what happened to the men who filled the role of the arrested.


Although the evidence remains insubstantial, it is not altogether impossible that the Nazis did plan an attack on the Allied leaders, perhaps even at the Teheran conference and even with only a week to prepare (following the radio broadcast of 21 November). It is completely impossible, however, that such a Nazi plan could have been the one that Stalin warned FDR about. If Stalin thought that Otto Skorzeny, who had whisked Mussolini off a mountain top as if he were a feather, were planning to assassinate him, or to try any action in Teheran, he would have postponed the conference and left. He would not have remained in the city even if the story that his own men were spreading were true, that a half-dozen assassins possibly capable of shelling the Soviet Embassy were in the vicinity. He was not a man to take such a risk.


Two Panzer Armies, von Manteuffel's 5th and Sepp Dietrich's 6th SS Panzer Army, together with Brandenberger's 7th Army in the south, would thrust through the hostile winter terrain of the Ardennes and drive for the all important supply port of Antwerp.

"Wacht am Rhein" codename for the extremely daring and ambitious German counter-attack that shattered the Belgian winter of 1944. Churchill would later call it the "Battle of the Bulge".

Although driven back to the borders of their Fatherland by the victorious Allies, the German soldier was far from defeated. Badly mauled in the charnel house of the Eastern Front and having suffered severe reversals in
Normandy and in the retreat through France, they remained a deadly fighting force.

Such was Hitler's faith in his vaunted Panzerkorps that he now rested his hopes on an all-or-nothing masterstroke that would sweep the Allies back to the beaches.



Oberssturmbannführer Joachim Peiper, commander of the armoured spearhead of 1st SS Panzer Division, in conference with some of the officers of other units under his command. Aside frorm men and tanks of his own division, these included King tigers of the 501st heavy tank battalion and paratroops of 1st battalion,
9th Fallschirmjäger regiment.


The Battle of the Bulge was the "last hurrah" for the German Army on the Western Front.


The greatest military disaster the United States suffered in the European Theater of Operations in World War II occurred in the Ardennes Offensive, when most of the U.S. 106th Infantry Division was destroyed in the Schnee Eifel (Snow Mountains). This defeat was not inflicted by the vaulted Panzer troops, the elite paratroopers, the hardened SS men, or Skorzeny's commandos. It was administered by a mediocre and unheralded unit  - the 18th Volksgrenadier Division.













Operation Greif was a special false flag operation commanded by the notorious Waffen-SS commando Otto Skorzeny during the Battle of the Bulge.


The operation was the brainchild of German dictator Adolf Hitler, and consisted of using specially-trained German soldiers in captured Allied uniforms and vehicles to cause confusion in the rear of the Allied defense. A lack of transport aircraft, uniforms and English-speaking soldiers limited this operation, but the confusion created by this so-called "Trojan Horse Brigade" was considerable.


About two dozen German soldiers, most of them in captured American army Jeeps, got through the lines in the initial confusion of December 16, 1944, and began changing signposts and creating panic among American troops they encountered.


However, some of the saboteurs were captured by the Americans. Because they were caught in American uniforms, their interrogators threatened to execute them unless they divulged their mission. Knowing they were likely to meet that fate anyway (they did), the Germans falsely told the Americans that their mission was to go to Paris to either kill or capture overall Allied commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower. They truthfully told the interrogators that Skorzeny was their commander.


The Americans had already captured some documents referring to Operation Greif - the German word "Greif" translating to "seize!" in English. In reality, the word "Greif" was used probably in a non-communicative sense, simply meaning the heraldic beast griffin. Because Skorzeny was already well-known for rescuing Italian dictator Benito Mussolini and kidnapping the son of Hungarian regent Miklós Horthy, the Americans were more than willing to believe Eisenhower was his next target.


Because of the perceived threat, Eisenhower was confined to his headquarters for several days, and thousands of American MP's were put to work trying to hunt down Skorzeny's men. Checkpoints were soon set up all over the Allied rear, greatly slowing the movement of soldiers and equipment. Military policemen drilled servicemen on things which every American was expected to know, such as the identity of Mickey Mouse's girlfriend, baseball scores, or the capital of Illinois. This latter question resulted in the brief detention of General Omar Bradley himself; although he gave the correct answer—Springfield—the GI who questioned him apparently believed that the capital was Chicago.


Ironically, the overall mission was regarded by Skorzeny as a failure. Because a total breakthrough wasn't achieved on the first day of the battle, Skorzeny had to use most of his panzer brigade as ordinary combat troops, in German uniform.


After the war, Skorzeny was tried by the Allies as a war criminal for allowing his men to fight in enemy uniform. He was acquitted when the British Wing commander Yeo-Thomas of the SOE testified in his defense that he and other Allied commandos had done the same thing.

There was another documented military operations with this name, an anti-partisan operation performed by German army, begun on August 14, 1944, in the vicinity of Orsha and Vitebsk, USSR.


English-speaking Germans in captured American uniforms had infiltrated our lines in a brash attempt to panic our rear areas. Volunteers were selected and trained by the notorious  Lieutenant Colonel Otto Skorzeny, the airborne privateer who the year before had snatched Mussolini out of the Italian hotel in which he had been imprisoned following his fall from power. Most of these GI-uniformed enemy troops were cut down before they reached the Meuse but not until a half-million GI's played cat and mouse with each other each time they met on the road. Neither rank nor credentials nor protests spared the traveler an inquisition at each intersection he passed.

Three times I was ordered to prove my identity by cautious GI's.

The first time by identifying Springfield as the capital of Illinois (my questioner held out for Chicago); the second time by locating the guard between the center and tackle on a line of scrimmage; the third time by naming the then current spouse of a blonde named Betty Grable.

Grable stopped me but the sentry did not. Pleased at having stumped me, he nevertheless passed me on.

General Omar Bradley


Revealed: Farce of plot to kidnap Eisenhower

By Tony Paterson in Berlin



They were the decisive days of the Second World War and the Nazis faced defeat. Allied troops were on French soil and Hitler, desperate to prevent an invasion of Germany, hatched a final extraordinary plan: infiltrate the US army and take Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander, dead or alive.


The German leader entrusted Operation Greif to the Austrian SS Obersturmbahnfùhrer Otto Skorzeny, who had rescued Mussolini from imprisonment by the Italian government in 1943, flying him off a mountaintop in a tiny aircraft.


Skorzeny assembled a "crack unit" which would pose as GIs to launch their attack on Eisenhower at Fontainebleu, the Allied headquarters near Paris.


Yet, as one of the mission's survivors has now revealed, Operation Greif rapidly descended into farce. Of the 600 men who were to masquerade as Americans, only 10 could speak fluent English. Scores were caught by the Americans, exposed as Germans, and shot.


According to Fritz Christ, then a 21-year-old Luftwaffe lance-corporal, many of his comrades were hopelessly ill-equipped.


"Those with no English were instructed to exclaim, 'Sorry', if they were approached by Americans, and then to open their trousers and hurry off feigning an attack of diarrhoea," he told The Sunday Telegraph last week.


Mr Christ was transformed into "Lieutenant Charles Smith" from Detroit. The troops were trained to salute, shoot and even smoke like GIs, but there were fatal gaps in their coaching.


Many turned up at US army supply depots and asked for "petrol" instead of "gas". They mistakenly rode four to a Jeep instead of two, as was standard US army practice.


"Without prior notice, we were turned into suicide commandos," said Mr Christ, who decided to speak out to mark the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings.


"At the last minute, when there was no going back, we were given cigarette lighters stuffed with cyanide capsules. It became clear that we were being sent to face terrible danger."


Mr Christ says that in October 1944 he was duped into taking part in Operation Greif. Two plainclothed SS men turned up at his Luftwaffe barracks near Hamburg, asking for fluent English or French speakers.


Mr Christ, who had been trained as an English translator, immediately volunteered. "I thought, 'Wonderful! I am going to interrogate American prisoners of war and be well away from the fighting'," he said.


The following eight weeks surpassed his wildest expectations. At an SS training camp, the men were equipped with fake US army documents, dressed in captured US uniforms and coached to fire their US army-issue machineguns from the hip, American-style.


"We had to watch American films which showed us how the GIs saluted, and even how they smoked cigarettes - never right down to the butt - and put them out. We were even given daily lessons in American slang," Mr Christ said.


"We were accompanied by a fanatical SS officer who told us that our mission was to take Eisenhower dead or alive. We had detailed maps of French back roads leading to the general's headquarters at Fontainebleu."


The operation was considered so dangerous, however, that Hitler forbade Skorzeny himself from taking part. Skorzeny surrendered to the Allies in May 1945 and escaped from a prison camp in 1948. He settled in Fascist Spain and died in Madrid in 1975.


Nazi high command documents suggested that Operation Greif involved 3,000 men equipped with 20 US Sherman tanks and 30 captured US reconnaissance vehicles.


Yet in reality the mission was equipped with only two captured Shermans and a number of Jeeps. But though the raiders failed to achieve their goal, they did cause havoc within the US army ranks for several weeks.


L/Cpl Christ survived only because he was attacked by his own side. His lorry, marked with white US army stars, was strafed by Luftwaffe fighter planes shortly after it set out from Belgium towards American army lines on December 16, 1944.


"I jumped off the lorry and hid in a ditch before the vehicle exploded in a ball of fire," Mr Christ said.


"Nobody had told the Luftwaffe what was going on."



Panzer-Brigade 150




Already from the initial planning of the German offensive in the Ardennes in 1944, which was later to be known as the Battle of the Bulge, Hitler emphasized the importance of taking the bridges over the river Meuse before the Allied forces could destroy them. These bridges played a vital role in surrounding of Montgomerys 21st army group. The most essential part of the Ardennes offensive, known to the Germans as Wacht am Rhein, was the 'Rollbahn A-E', where the 1.SS-Panzer-Regiment (under SS-Obersturmbannführer Joachim Peiper) and 12.SS-Panzer-Division where to advance through the Losheim gap to the Meuse.


It was considered carefully what would be the best suggestion, and Hitler came up with the idea of equipping Panzer Grenadier battalions with American vehicles, weapons and clothing.


The commander considered most likely to be able to cary out this operation was SS-Sturmbannführer Otto Skorzeny, a favorite of Hitler, and famous for the operation which set free Mussolini from the Hotel Gran Sazzo in Italy the year before, using only a handfull of paratroopers. He had just kidnapped the Hungarian Crown Prince, and subsequently captured the city of Budapest, when he was called to Rastenburg to meet with Hitler on 1944-10-22. After receiving the rank of SS-Obersturmbannführer, he was briefed about the situation. Otto Skorzeny later recalled that

He [Hitler] told me about the tremendous quantity of material which had been accumulated, and I recall that he stated we would have 6,000 artillery pieces in the Ardennes, and, in addition, the Luftwaffe would have about 2,000 planes, including many of the new jet planes. He then told me that I would lead a Panzer brigade which would be trained to reach the Meuse bridges and capture them intact.


The creation

Although Skorzeny only had little more than a month to make this special-task formation, he started working immediately. On October 26, 1944 he sent General Jodl the initial unit lay-out. He requested 3,300 men, divided into 3 battalions. Although Jodl must have know that to supply such a formation would have been impossible, Skorzeny was given permission to continue, and was promised full support.


Because of the low number of actual American equipment, German equipment was modified, or just painted green and given US stars, to resemble US vehicles. 5 Panthers and 5 Sturmgeschütze were "modified" with thin metal plates. The Panthers clearly were meant to resemble the M10, and the result was not all that bad. What the Sturmgeschütze were meant to look like is unknown - but they were green with stars. 1 Sherman (out of 2 captured) was in operational condition the night before the attack, but it came down with problems, and did therefore not take part of the action.



Panther tank as a M-10 tank destroyer


Besides the volunteer units, a few regular units were taken from the Heer, such as parachute battalions, 7.Panzer-Grenadier-Kompagnie and parts of 11.Panzer-Regiment. There were 500 Waffen-SS, 800 Luftwaffe and 1,200 Heer soldiers in the volunteer formation.


Because no one besides Skorzeny knew about the operation, there occured several rumors as to the purpose of the formation. Many of them were very optimistic (which could indicate that the soldiers were positive as to the future), but none of them were entirely accurate. These rumors were not put to rest, as the Allied intelligence would then be confused of the true purpose.


The prevent friendly fire, the Germans were to wear blue or pink scarfs, flash red or blue torches or (as for vehicles) display a yellow triangle on the rear of the tank (or drive with the gun pointing towards 9 o'clock). Furthermore, the unit was to paint white signs on the roads they used. This would certainly indicate to the Allies that something was up. Not only would it look suspecious that an entire unit of soldiers would wear similar scarfs - the ordinary army troops would also have to be told, which no doubt would have leaked to the Allies.


Einheit Stielau

The best English-speaking volunteers were selected to a special commando unit, know as Einheit Stielau. They were taught in various forms of warfare, such as demolition and radio technique. They were also given instructions on how the US army looked like from within, and a few were sent to POW camps to refresh their English. This unit was be sent in small units, and destroy fuel dumps, bridges ammunition, do reconnaissance missions seep inside the Allied territory, and give out fake orders and spread confusion.


Operation "Greif"


On 1944-12-14, Panzer-Brigade 150 reached its assembly area, and two days later, it moved out. The unit was attacking behind the forward units of the 1.SS-Pz.Div., 12.SS-Pz.Div. and 12.Volks-Grenadier-Division - the 3 leading formations. The unit, along with the rest of the offensive, was entangled in the massive traffic jams that occurred. Before having even moved into action, the leader of the first Kampfgruppe was killed by a mine.


After the I.SS-Panzer-Korps didn't arrive at the starting point until 2 days after the operation, and the Allies were aware of the operation, Skorzeny gave up the goals. He agreed with the 6.Panzer-Armee to use the unit as a regular battlegroup, and was given the task of securing the road junction of Malmédy, thus making the advance of the 1.SS-Pz.Div. and 12.SS-Pz.Div move again. What Skorzeny didn't know when planning this attack was, that what was thought to be only one engineer regiment holding Malmédy, was now more than a division.


On 1944-12-20, Panzer-Brigade 150 prepared to attack Malmédy. Because of the low strength of the unit, Skorzeny was hoping to be able to make a surprise attack. Unfortunately for Skorzeny, one of his men had been captured, and had revealed the battle plan. When Skorzeny attacked the day after, his Panzergrenadiers were met by heavy artillery, and therefore had to withdraw. Some of the Panthers set off a trip wire, and gave away their position. Although the Panzergrenadiers almost reached the US positions, they had to withdraw as darkness fell. Some Panthers and Panzergrenadiers managed to reach one of the US positions. Here, they were stopped by Private Francis Currey, who ran to help a bazooka gunner with new roackets (who then blew up a Panther), took the bazooka to fire at some of the Panzergrenadiers, managed to stop 3 Panthers with AT rifles, and then held back some more Panzergrenadiers long enough to allow a tank destroyer crew to escape. (an action for which he was later given the Congressional Medal of Honour).


The German forces slowly fell back, as they lost their Panther support - the only major battle by Panzer-Brigade 150 was over. On 1944-12-28, Panzer-Brigade 150 was relieved by the 18.Volks-Grenadier-Division. The unit withdrew and dissolved, the total casualties being 15 %.


Final note

It should be considered when referring to Panzer-Brigade 150, that it is comon practice to send out recon units wearing enemy uniforms. The use of disguised soldiers is not a feature limited to this one action. Many German soldier were also wearing the superior US clothes, thus making the unit seem larger as these were captured. Panzerbrigade was not a powerful unit, and once it was revealed to the Allies, most of the units were transferred to ordinary units for the duration of the campaign.


The accomplishments of the unit was not small, although most of this was indirect - the action itself was limited. The confusions caused by this unit in the US army was far strechting, and the Allies became very cautionous. Some captured soldiers from Panzer-Brigade 150 claimed that their mission was to capture Eisenhover and his staff, which of course upset the Allied intelligence. Post-war literature exaggerates the Panzer-Brigade 150 to the extremes, as if it was a fighting unit with unlimited resources. Fact remain that it was under equipped, and in no condition to do the job it was assigned for. The unit did, however, deceive the US forces - 44 Germans managed to get through the US lines and back, losing only 8 soldiers. 2 even made a trip to the Meuse river and back in a jeep! On 1944-12-16, however, one unit already revealed itself, as it referred to itself as cavalrymen from the E company, while the US cavalry used the term troop in stead of company. This is an excellent example to prove, that even how careful preparations are made, certain thing can not be rehearsed, and may remain unknown until it is to late.


The soldiers of the units who were captured (a mere 18) were all executed as spies. Otto Skorzeny himself was not hung at the Nuremberg trials, but moved to Spain, from where he helped more than 500 Nazis escape to South America.




Source: Law Reports of Trials of War Criminals. United Nations War Crimes Commission.  Vol. IX, 1949








The ten accused involved in this trial were all officers in the 150th Panzer Brigade commanded by the accused Skorzeny. They were charged with participating in the improper use of American uniforms by entering into combat disguised therewith and treacherously firing upon and killing members of the armed forces of the United States. They were also charged with participation in wrongfully obtaining from a prisoner-of-war camp United States uniforms and Red Cross parcels consigned to American prisoners of war.


In October, 1944, the accused Colonel Otto Skorzeny had an interview with Hitler. Hitler knew Skorzeny personally from his successful exploit in liberating Mussolini and commissioned him to organise a special task force for the planned Ardennes offensive. This special force was to infiltrate through the American lines in American uniform and to capture specified objectives in the rear of the enemy. The German High Command directed all army groups to seek volunteers who spoke English for a secret assignment. These volunteers were concentrated in a training centre where a special task force called the 150th Brigade was formed. It was furnished with jeeps and other American vehicles, part of their weapons and ammunition was American and the members were issued with American documents. They received training in English, American mannerisms, driving of American vehicles, and the use of American weapons. The Chief-of-Staff of the German Prisoner-of-War Bureau was approached by Skorzeny to furnish the Brigade with American uniforms. These uniforms were mainly obtained from booty dumps and warehouses, but some were obtained from prisonerof-war camps where they were taken from the prisoners on orders from two of the accused. Some Red Cross parcels were also obtained in this manner.


The accused Skorzeny took over the command of the brigade on 14th December. On the 16th December the Ardennes offensive began. The objectives of the three combat groups into which the brigade was divided were the three Maas bridges at Angier, Amee and Huy respectively. The men were dressed in American uniforms and wore German parachute overalls over these uniforms. Their orders were to follow the spearhead of the three panzer divisions to which they were attached and as soon as the American lines were pierced they were to discard their overalls and, dressed in American uniforms, make for the three bridges. They were instructed to avoid contact with enemy troops and if possible to avoid combat in reaching their objectives. The piercing of the enemy lines by the S.S. Armoured Division was not successful, and on 18th December Skorzeny decided to abandon the plan of taking the three Maas bridges and put his brigade at the disposal of the commander of the S.S. corps to which it had been attached, to be used as infantry. He was given an infantry mission to attack towards Malmedy. During this attack several witnesses saw members of Skorzeny's brigade, including two of the accused, wearing American uniforms and a German parachute combination in operational areas, but the evidence included only two cases of fighting in American uniform.


In the first case, Lieutenant O'Neil testified that in fighting in which he was engaged about 20th December his opponents wore American uniforms with German parachute overalls, some of them who were captured by him said " that they belonged to the ' First ', or the ' Adolf Hitler ', or the ' Panzer ' Division ". The second case was contained in an affidavit of the accused Kocherscheid, who elected not to give evidence in the trial. He said in his affidavit that during the attack on Malmedy he and some of his men were engaged in a reconnaisance mission in American uniform when they were approached by an American military police sergeant. Kocherscheid, fearing that they would be recognised, fired several shots at the sergeant.


Skorzeny's brigade was relieved by other troops on 28th December and was subsequently disbanded.


All accused were acquitted of all charges.






It is a generally recognised rule that the belligerents are allowed to employ ruses of war or stratagems during battles. A ruse of war is defined by Oppenheim-Lauterpacht (International Law, Vol. II, paragraph 163) as a deceit employed in the interest of military operations for the purpose of misleading the enemy ". When contemplating whether the wearing of enemy uniforms is or is not a legal ruse of war, one must distinguish between the use of enemy uniforms in actual fighting and such use during operations other than actual fighting.


On the use of enemy uniforms during actual fighting the law is clear. Lauterpacht says: 

As regards the use of the national flag, the military insignia and the uniforms of the enemy, theory and practice are unanimous in prohibiting such use during actual attack and defence since the principle is considered inviolable that during actual fighting belligerent forces ought to be certain of who is friend and who is foe.


The Defence, quoting Lauterpacht, pleaded that the 150th Brigade had instructions to reach their obectives under cover of darkness and in enemy uniforms, but as soon as they were detected, they were to discard their American uniforms and fight under their true colours.


On the use of enemy uniforms other than in actual fighting, the law is uncertain. Some writers hold the view that until the actual fighting starts the combatants may use enemy uniforms as a legitimate ruse of war, others think that the use of enemy uniforms is illegal even before the actual attack.


Lawrence (International Law, p. 445) says that the rule is generally accepted that " troops may be clothed in the uniform of the enemy in order to creep unrecognised or unmolested into his position, but during the actual conflict they must wear some distinctive badge to mark them off from the soldiers they assault".


J. A. Hall (Treatise on International Law, eighth edition, p. 537), holds it to be " perfectly legitimate to use the distinctive emblem of an enemy in order to escape from him or draw his forces into action".


Spaight (War Rights on Land, 1911, p. 105) disagrees with the views expressed above. He argues that there is little virtue in discarding the disguise after it has served its purpose, i.e. to deceive the enemy. " If it is imroper to wear the enemy's uniform in a pitched battle it must surely be equally improper to deceive him by wearing it up to the first shot or clash of arms ".


Lauterpacht observes (International Law, Vol. 11, p. 335, note 1) that before the second World War " the number of writers who considered it illegal to make use of the enemy flag, ensigns and uniforms, even before the actual attack, was becoming larger


Article 23 of the Annex of the Hague Convention, No. IV, 1907, says: 

In addition to the prohibitions provided by special conventions it is especially forbidden . . . (f) to make improper use of a flag of truce, of the national flag, or of the military insignia or uniform of the enemy, as well as the distinctive badges of the Geneva Convention.

This does not carry the law on the point any further since it does not generally prohibit the use of enemy uniforms, but only the improper use, and as Professor Lauterpacht points out, it leaves the question what uses are proper and what are improper, open.


Wheaton (International Law, Vol. II, sixth edition, p. 753), points out that Article 23 (f) by no means settles the question, and adds that "each case must necessarily be judged on its merit, and determined conformably to the basic principles of war law, special regard being paid to the element of bona fides ". (As an example for a bona fides use of enemy uniforms, he gives the case where no other uniforms are available to the belligerent army.)


Paragraph 43 of the Field Manual published by the War Department, United States Army, on 1st October, 1940, under the title " Rules of Land Warfare ", says: 

National flags, insignias and uniforms as a ruse-in practice it has been authorised to make use of these as a ruse. The foregoing rule (Article 23 of the Annex of the IVth Hague Convention), does not prohibit such use, but does prohibit their improper use. It is certainly forbidden to make use of them during a combat. Before opening fire upon the enemy, they must be discarded.

The American Soldiers' Handbook, which was quoted by Defence Counsel, says: 

The use of the enemy flag, insignia and uniform is permitted under some circumstances. They are not to be used during actual fighting, and if used in order to approach the enemy without drawing fire, should be thrown away or removed as soon as fighting begins .


The procedure applicable in this case did not require that the Court make findings other than those of guilty or not guilty. Consequently no safe conclusion can be drawn from the acquittal of all accused, but if the two above-mentioned American publications contain correct statements of international law, as it stands today, they dispose of the whole case for the Prosecution, apart from the two instances of use of American uniforms during actual fighting.


The first case, that of Lieutenant O'Neil, has to be disregarded as the evidence does not seem to disclose with sufficient certainty the connection between the men dressed in American uniform whom Lieutenant O'Neil captured and the 150th Brigade. In the second instance, the case of the accused Kocherscheid who in an affidavit admitted that he fired on an American military police sergeant when dressed in American uniform, the accused stated in his affidavit that he fired several shots at the sergeant, but there was no evidence to show that he killed or even wounded him as was alleged in the charge.





Two Counsel in defence of the accused Kocherscheid, argued that he was on an espionage mission in " no man's land " when he met the military police sergeant. He believed, on reasonable grounds, that he and his men were discovered and shot at the military police sergeant to protect his own life and the lives of his men. Counsel argued that as he returned from the espionage mission to his own lines he was protected by Article 31 of the Hague Convention and could therefore not be punished afterwards for his acts as a spy.


Article 29 of the Annex to the Hague Convention, 18th October, 190.7, defines espionage as the "act of a soldier or other individual who clandestinely or under false pretences seeks to obtain information concerning one belligerent in the zone of belligerent operations with the intention of communicating it to the other belligerent ". According to Article 31 of the same Convention, a spy who is not captured in the act but rejoins the army to which he belongs and is subsequently captured by the enemy, cannot be punished for his previous espionage but must be treated as a prisoner of war.


The argument put forward by Defence Counsel appears to be unsound. Article 31 gives immunity to a spy who returns to his lines in so far as he cannot be punished as a spy. The accused in this case, however, were not tried as spies but were tried for a violation of the laws and usages of war alleged to have been committed by entering combat in enemy uniforms. Articles 29-31 of the Hague Convention have therefore no application in this case and it would appear that the accused Kocherscheid's acquittal was based on lack of sufficient evidence, as he did not give evidence at the trial and the Prosecution's case rested entirely on his pre-trial affidavit.





Article 6 of the Geneva (Prisoner-of-War) Convention, 1929, provides that:


All effects and objects of personal use, except arms, military equipment and military papers, shall remain in the possession of prisoners of war ...

The taking of uniforms of prisoners of war is therefore a violation of the Geneva Convention.


Article 37 of the same Convention states that: 

Prisoners of war shall be allowed individually to receive parcels by mail containing food and other articles intended for consumption or clothing. Packages should be delivered to the addressees and a receipt given.

To appropriate such packages before they reach their addressees is therefore also a violation of the Geneva Convention.


As mentioned above, the Court had not to give any reasons for their findings, but it is possible that having acquitted the accused of the main charge the Court applied the maxim de minimis non curat lex, also acquitting the accused of what were lesser violations of the Geneva Convention (cf. Vol. III, p. 70, of this series).


From the Aug. 9, 1948 issue of TIME magazine



Token from Der Führer


He had been a lieutenant colonel in Hitler's Elite Guard. He was intelligent, cunning, courageous. His face—ice-blue eyes, sabre-scarred chin, thin, contemptuous smile—was a symbol of Nazi fanaticism. He denied most of the legends that had grown around his name (one: that he had been assigned to assassinate General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Said he: "Only a rumor. You can be sure that if any attempt had been made it would have succeeded.") But the truth about Otto Skorzeny was impressive enough.


In the summer of 1943, after Mussolini had become the prisoner of Italy's Badoglio Government, it was Skorzeny whom Hitler personally assigned to rescue the Duce. After weeks of dime-thriller spy work he located Mussolini in an inaccessible hotel on the 9,560-ft. peak of the Gran Sasso in the Abruzzo Mountains northeast of Rome. He led an assault which reached the hotel by crash-landing gliders against the mountainside. Skorzeny reported: "Duce, the Führer has sent me as a token of his loyal friendship." They flew out together in a tiny plane which had to take off by dropping 1,000 feet over a precipice.


Skorzeny surrendered to U.S. troops at Salzburg, in 1945. Since then, he had been in prison, first at Dachau, then at Darmstadt. His war-crimes trial, on charges of torturing U.S. prisoners, resulted in acquittal; but he was held in custody because a denazification court had not yet gotten around to his case. Last week he escaped. Somewhere in Germany, Otto Skorzeny had gone underground.



The Long History of American Treachery


This fable starts during the Good (sic) War...


Commonly referred to by the German press as "Hitler's favorite commando," Otto "Scarface" Skorzeny was six feet, four inches tall and 220 pounds with, says journalist Christopher Simpson, "appropriately arrogant 'Aryan' features and a five-inch dueling scar down his left cheek,." It was Skorzeny that Hitler called upon to execute the daring rescue of Benito Mussolini when the dictator's enemies in Italy placed him under house arrest in 1943.


Mussolini was initially imprisoned on the island of Ponza, some 35 miles off the coast of Italy. Using contacts cultivated by German agents well established within the Italian hierarchy, Skorzeny learned of Il Duce's whereabouts and of his subsequent transfer to the Gran Sasso skiing area of Apennine Mountains. The hulking Scarface proceeded to execute a stunning rescue against impossible odds, thus ingratiating himself with his Führer.


"Hitler loved him," says Simpson. Allen Dulles of the OSS (and later the CIA) had a bit of a crush on him, too.


When the clever Skorzeny wisely surrendered himself to the U.S. in the last hours of the Third Reich, he was promptly acquitted of war crimes and managed to "escape" from an internment camp, leaving behind a note that proclaimed he had "only done my duty to my Fatherland." In the ensuing years, Skorzeny worked his mayhem while on the CIA payroll. It was in Egypt, in the late 40s and early 50s, that the Nazi killer left his mark on the international theater. The CIA sent Skorzeny to replace King Farouk with an Egyptian general named Mohammed Naguib. Scarface felt at home in the Middle East where he saw a chance to renew his anti-Semitic, fascist propensities. He threw his support behind rising star Gamal Abdel Nasser and used CIA money to import over 100 former SS cronies to aid in his efforts.


In a twist Hollywood could never conjure, the U.S.-funded Scarface would indirectly face off against another U.S.-funded criminal and murderer. .


In the first three months following Pearl Harbor, the U.S. and its allies lost over 120 merchant ships to German U-boats in the waters off the American coast. Suspicion of enemy infiltration grew and the investigative section of U.S. Naval Intelligence in the New York area, the B-3, began to collaborate with mobsters who dominated the New York City docks. Their first contact was Joseph "Socks" Lanza, but with multiple racketeering indictments, Lanza's motives began to be questioned by his cohorts. It was time to for the B-3 to aim higher. "Operation Underworld," as the Navy called it, led directly to Lucky Luciano.


Salvatore C. Luciana, a.k.a. Charles "Lucky" Luciano, was known as the first of the modern Mafia bosses. He had been in prison since 1936 and, as of May 1942, still had twenty-four years of his sentence to serve, followed by inevitable deportation orders. However, Luciano wasn't nicknamed "Lucky" for nothing...he had something the Navy wanted and all they needed was to find a like-minded soul to convince him to share. In 1942, the Navy reached out to Meyer Lansky.


A mobster of legendary reputation, Lansky-once dubbed "the Mafia's Henry Kissinger" by comedian Jackie Mason-was already active in domestic anti-Nazi circles when the navy contacted him. During the mid-1930s, Lansky and his henchmen would regularly break up pro-Nazi meetings in the U.S. On one occasion, journalist Walter Winchell tipped off the underworld chieftain about a gathering that would feature the leader of the pro-Hitler German-American Bund, Fritz Kuhn, scheduled to take place in Yorkville, Manhattan's German neighborhood. Lansky recalled that night as follows: "We got there that evening and found several hundred people dressed in their brown shirts. The stage was decorated with a swastika and pictures of Hitler. There were only about fifteen of us, but we went into action." Rest assured the assembled audience did not get to hear Kuhn speak that night.


With a proven anti-Nazi background and many years of lucrative collaboration with Luciano as collateral, Meyer Lansky was a natural for Operation Underworld. In no time, he had Luciano transferred to Great Meadow, "the state's unprison-looking prison" in the town of Comstock, sixty miles north of Albany. "We went up by train to Albany," Lansky recalled, "and from Albany we get a car to take us to the prison." Almost overnight, stories of lavish banquets became commonplace, although prison authorities and New York Governor Thomas Dewey denied such allegations.


Luciano put out the word on June 4, 1942, and by June 27, eight German secret agents were arrested in New York and Chicago thanks to information provided by patriots who moonlighted as murderers, loan sharks, and gamblers. In November of that same year, with Socks Lanza mediating, a threatened longshoreman's strike was averted...much to the navy's delight.


It wasn't long before the U.S. government would call on its favorite professional criminals for help in the actual fighting of WWII. As the Allies took control of North Africa and began to contemplate an assault on Sicily, military planners realized that they were too unfamiliar with the coastline of the Italian island to undertake such a venture. In a flash, Lansky recruited an illegal gambling cohort, Joe Adonis, to dig up some Sicilians in New York City. Soon, these padrones, as they were called, were meeting at the headquarters for navy intelligence at 90 Church Street to peruse a giant map of their homeland. The results are, as they say, history: In the small hours of July 10, 1943, Lieutenant Paul Alfieri landed on Licata Beach and made contact with local Sicilians who told him the secret location of Italian Naval Command, hidden in a nearby holiday vista. Inside, Alfieri discovered "the entire disposition of the Italian and German Naval forces in the Mediterranean-together with minefields located in the Mediterranean area-together with overlays of these minefields, prepared by the Germans, showing the safe-conduct routes through the mines."


Once the Allies had landed in Sicily and met with Luciano's contacts, they were aided on the ground throughout the entire venture. This was especially true for General George S. Patton, the commander of the Seventh Army. "Patton was a general of extraordinary martial dexterity, but the sixty thousand troops and countless booby traps in his path should have given him at least a few problems," says author Jonathan Vankin. "His way has been cleared by Sicily's Mafia boss Calogero Vizzini, at the request of Luciano."

While Lacey downplays such stories, he does mention "dark tales of planes dropping flags and handkerchiefs bearing the letter L behind enemy lines-signals, supposedly, from Luciano to local mafia chieftains."


Regardless of the methods used to recruit unabashed murderers into a battle against unabashed mass murderers, anti-communism was again the overriding motivation. Since much of Italy's anti-fascist resistance was made up of leftists and communists, the Mafia was a willing partner in smashing such sentiment. As Sicily was secured by the Allies, "the occupying American Army appointed Mafia bosses-including Vizzini-[as] mayors of many Sicilian townships," says Vankin. "Gangsters became an American-backed quasi-police force." When Vizzini killed the police chief in Villaba, the town where he was appointed mayor, he was not prosecuted.


"In American-occupation headquarters, one of the best employees was Vito Genovese, who eventually inherited Luciano's New York operation," adds Vankin. Upon the war's end, Luciano was granted executive clemency by New York governor Thomas Dewey and was released (albeit for deportation) on January 4, 1946.


Postscript: Amid all these machinations, Meyer Lansky kept his fingers in the foreign policy pie when, in an ironic turn, Zionists approached fellow Jew Lansky in 1948, for help arming Israel. He used his B-3 contacts to track down a Pittsburgh dealer who was supplying Arabs with weapons. These arms conveniently "fell overboard," and Lansky had them diverted to the new Jewish state so they could wage war on their neighbors...some of whom were battling Israel with tactics taught by another U.S. government soul mate, former SS legend Otto Skorzeny.


Roll over, Machiavelli ...and tell Condi Rice the news.





America's Secret Alliance with the SS
an excerpt from: Secrets of The SS
Glenn B. Infield (C)1982

The end of the war and the collapse of the Third Reich revealed the horror wrought by the SS under Hitler. The world was shocked as reports of the Holocaust became known and photographs were published of the victims found in the concentration and death camps of Europe. The entire SS organization became a target for Allied investigators seeking war criminals and at Nuremberg, where the war crimes tribunal met, the SS was officially declared a criminal organization. SS members were even shunned by many German citizens who had helplessly observed their actions during the years of Nazi power but who had been unable to interfere without jeopardizing their own lives. Everywhere the SS was undoubtedly the most hated of Nazi organizations, and public feeling in the United States was no exception. There was an outcry for their "heads." In a freedom-loving country, the deeds of the SS were considered so horrendous that death to the perpetrators seemed the only answer. American government officials agreed--at least publicly. Eisenhower's proclamation to the Germans set the tone for the Americans in their occupation zone:

We shall obliterate Nazism and German militarism. We shall overthrow the Nazi rule, dissolve the Nazi party, and abolish the cruel, oppressive, and discriminatory laws and institutions which the party has created.

To follow these guidelines, the Americans, through the U.S. military government, decided that they would denazify the 13 million surviving German adults in their zone. Under the watchful eye of Colonel Orlando Wilson, commander of the Public Sa disclosing all aspects of their life during the Third Reich. Long prison terms were threatened to those Germans who didn't fill out the questionnaire fully and truthfully. The American counterintelligence corps, using the Nazi files found in the Brown House in Munich, checked the questionnaires to make certain that the answers were correct. Five major categories were defined and each German was placed in one of the five. They were: major offenders, offenders, lesser offenders, followers, and exonerated.

The plan seemed simple and workable. It proved complex and unworkable. After the questionnaires were scrutinized, it was discovered that there were nearly 4 million Germans in the American zone alone in the categories requiring trials! There were not nearly enough American personnel in Germany to handle that many cases. A rough estimate indicated that it would take more than eight years to complete the trials. American officials also came to conclude that the denazification program had many failings, and that if zealously pushed could do more harm to American interests than was at first understood. They began to realize that all Nazi party members did not join for the same reason. Some joined under pressure to keep their jobs, others because they believed in the party's aims. Many wealthy persons contributed large sums to the party and helped it grow, but never became members. And as the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union deteriorated during the postwar years, many of the "war criminals" identified under the American denazification program became more and more valuable to the U.S. Facing all these problems, American officials decided that they would solve the sticky problem by turning the entire denazification program over to the Germans.

On June 1, 1946, all denazification trials became the responsibility of the Germans. Immediately there were two important results: The United States was relieved of the responsibility for passing judgment on the indicted Germans, and it became very obvious that the German judges were not going to be as severe as the Americans had first intended to be when the program began. Enough time had already passed that the average German citizen felt safe in deciding not to testify against other Germans; they preferred not to be seen as traitors. In fact, most of the Germans considered admitting that they had played a minor role in the Nazi party, proof that they had been loyal to their country! By right, the American officials should have been angry and disillusioned by the debasement of the process and should perhaps have reclaimed the denazification program from the Germans. But the world situation was such at the time that they were more pleased than disappointed. There was not a word of criticism when the Germans freed General Franz Halder, Hitler's army chief of staff; Edward Jadamczik, former Gestapo chief in East Prussia: Günther Reinecke, chief SS judge; and Hugo Stinnes, the Ruhr steel and coal industrialist; and when the courts classified Karol Baron von Eberstein, an SS general, a minor offender. Others who received light or no sentences were Heinrich Morgen, deputy SS judge (exonerated); SS General Felix Steiner (minor offender); SS General Wilhelm Bruckner (three-year sentence); SS Brigadier Alexander von Dornberg (exonerated); and Kurt Schmitt (minor offender).

Why didn't the United States complain about the verdicts of the German denazification courts? The ever-growing conflict between the United States and Russia was causing great concern in Washington. The huge American military force that had played an important role in the defeat of Nazi Germany had been demobilized and only a small U.S. military establishment remained in Germany. Washington had believed that Russia, too, intended to demobilize. Instead, Stalin had I enlarged his military force in eastern Europe and gave evidence of, intending to move into western Europe if the Western Allies showed any weakness. With their military strength at a minimum American officials realized that the situation was critical. It was at this time that a subtle change in the official U.S. attitude toward the SS "war criminals" took place. It was decided that the SS members who had been active on the eastern front and were knowledgeable about the Soviets and their tactics could be of help. When the Soviets seized Czechoslovakia and established the Berlin blockade, the public outcry against the SS acts during the Third Reich was ignored by the American officials and a secret alliance between the United States and the SS was instigated.

One of the first high-ranking SS officers contacted was Otto Skorzeny, who was in a detention camp at Dachau. Skorzeny had been cleared by an American tribunal of any war crimes, but the German denazification court wanted to try him. United States officials were confident that the Germans would free him, too, but when the denazification trial was postponed seven times under pressure from Communist groups in the American zone so that Czechoslovakia could prepare a request to have Skorzeny extradited to their country for trial, the matter came to a head. The American counterintelligence agency tipped off Skorzeny that they could delay the extradition request for a few weeks with paperwork; after that, if he was still in the camp, there was little hope of keeping him from Soviet-dominated authorities in Czechoslovakia. The Americans arranged for him to be transferred to Darmstadt where, with the help of some SS comrades who had still not been arrested, Skorzeny escaped on July 27, 1948. The escape was well planned. An automobile with American military license plates and carrying three men wearing U.S. military police uniforms arrived at-the Darmstadt prison main gate early in the afternoon. One of the occupants, disguised as a captain, announced to the guards at the camp that they had arrived to take Otto Skorzeny to Nuremberg for a scheduled hearing. Showing forged documents to the guard, the "captain" insisted he must get the prisoner immediately so that he could get back to Nuremberg before nightfall. The guard, convinced he was doing his duty, turned Skorzeny over to the trio and they got into the car. That was the last time Skorzeny was in prison.

Did the Americans help in Skorzeny's escape? The Soviet authorities were convinced that they did and were furious. One Russian report stated that Skorzeny had been flown to the United States, where he was being interrogated about his knowledge of Russian military forces. Washington vehemently denied the report and stated that American investigators were searching throughout Europe for the elusive Skorzeny. Questioned in later years about the escape, Skorzeny just laughed. "The uniforms were provided by the Americans," was all he would say, referring to the military police uniforms worn by the trio that picked him up at the Darmstadt prison camp.

If the Americans helped Skorzeny escape as the Soviets charged, what was the reason? Even among U.S. military authorities in Europe at the time there was confusion and mistrust. When the G-2 section of the U.S. Army in Europe heard rumors that Skorzeny was working very closely with U.S. counterintelligence in thwarting Soviet aggression, the assistant chief of staff immediately sent a query to the 66th Counter Intelligence Corps Group. The reply was "doubletalk" at a high level. One paragraph stated:

In view of his past as well as the notoriety received by Skorzeny in the press during past years, it is felt that any open sponsorship or support by the U.S. government on behalf of Skorzeny would probably expose the U.S. government to extreme international embarrassment. However, the possibility exists that Skorzeny has been and is being utilized by U.S. intelligence.

In a later letter, the 66th CIC reported that Skorzeny was not a source or contact for their organization but admitted that they knew his whereabouts. There is no question that Skorzeny was used by various U.S. agencies and military units during this period. The confusion arises because of lack of communication and the adherence to strict secrecy by each of the U.S. organizations hiring Skorzeny. Each was fearful that if the American public discovered that they were collaborating with a former SS officer, the resultant publicity would be detrimental to their organization. CIC agents, for example, still suspected that he had aided several high-ranking Nazis to escape from Germany during the last days of the Third Reich, perhaps even Hitler as had been rumored. They wanted Skorzeny out of prison so they could follow him in hopes he could lead them to Bormann, Fegelein, Hitler, or others of prominence. He didn't.

They did discover, however that Skorzeny and his SS comrades had an efficient escape route out of Germany and an organization to administer it. Die Spinne (The Spider) was organized by Skorzeny and other SS members long before he escaped from Darmstadt. As one U.S. intelligence report stated:

The leader of this movement is Otto Skorzeny, who is directing this movement out of Dachau. The Polish guards are helping the men that receive orders from Skorzeny.

Die Spinne established a route of "safe houses" between Germany and Italy, starting from Stuttgart, Munich, Frankfurt, or Bremen. From any of these cities the SS members traveled to Memmingen in the Allgäu section of Bavaria. From there two routes took the men south to Italy, one going through Bregenz, Austria, and the other through Switzerland. Rome and Genoa were the destinations. It took the CIC considerably longer to learn, however, that most of the drivers of the trucks delivering the popular American army newspaper The Stars and Stripes were Spinne members and that behind the bundles of newspapers were one or more other SS members en route to Italy. The U.S. military police never checked these trucks. Working with Skorzeny in Die Spinne were SS Captain Franz Rostel, Hermann Lauterbacher of Himmler's staff, Hasso von Manteuffel, and Helmut Beck, among others.

Despite their knowledge of Die Spinne and the escape route, American authorities did nothing to stop the exodus of SS members. By this time the Korean conflict was under way and the United States was concerned about what other action the Communists might take in other parts of the world. Many political and military officials thought that Korea was merely a ploy to attract attention while lulling the U.S. asleep in western Europe and to draw further troops from the already weak American occupation forces in Germany. The ultimate aim of the Communists, according to these analysts, was to move into western Europe and control all of Germany. Skorzeny, understanding the situation clearly, made an offer to the Americans. He was in contact with most of the German generals who had survived the war, knew where the SS officers who escaped the Allies were located, and had a long list of ex-Wehrmacht and SS soldiers, including his former commandos, who were ready and willing to help the United States against the Russians. He vowed that he could organize four or five divisions of veterans who had fought against the Soviets during World War 11 and have them ready to defend western Europe or to be transferred to Korea within a short time, if the U.S. agreed and provided the necessary funds. It was a tempting offer and one that the American authorities seriously considered during the critical period of the Korean conflict.

By this time Skorzeny had set up an "engineering" office in Madrid under the protection of dictator Generalissimo Francisco Franco, whose brother-in-law Skorzeny had saved during the Nazi period. Actually he was coordinating Die Spinne activities from the office as well as handling illegal arms sales. He also managed to close a deal between Germany and Spain for the delivery of railway stock and machine tools, a deal made possible through his SS and German industrialist connections. His commission earned Skorzeny additional wealth beyond his share of the booty he'd gotten out of Germany at the end of the war. When it became obvious that the Communists were not going to use direct military force to take over all of Germany during the Korean conflict, Skorzeny's proposal to gather a new SS army was refused. But the United States government still had use for Skorzeny and his SS comrades.

John J. McCloy, the new high commissioner, was concerned about two matters: the Korean conflict and the possibility of Soviet aggression in Western Europe; and, second, the fate of the Germans sentenced to prison by the tribunal at Nuremberg. In an effort to arrange German help for the defense of Western Europe, he permitted Krupp to hold meetings in prison with his former board of directors and legal staff in order to discuss the reopening of the Krupp plants if permission to do so was granted. McCloy then established a panel under the chairmanship of David W. Peck, presiding justice of the New York Supreme Court, to review the sentences of the Nazis sentenced by U.S. tribunals. The two initiatives merged on January 31, 1951, when McCloy signed two documents: one releasing Krupp from prison, the other restoring his property to him. The SS had won another battle, a postwar battle where the odds had appeared unbeatable. Krupp soon had his dynasty back in operation and within a matter of months was producing 18 million tons of steel. This steel was of great value to the United States during the Korean crisis since the nation's mills could not provide enough steel for the defense of both western Europe and Korea.

Skorzeny was later revealed to be Krupp's representative in Argentina, verification that the SS influence had certainly not died with the end of the Third Reich. Far from it. After the United States "suggested" that West Germany rearm and join NATO, many German generals resumed important positions in the new military force. However, because of fear of public reaction both in Germany and in the U.S., prominent SS officers played a minor role at the beginning, seeking positions outside Germany. Men such as former SS Lieutenant General Wilhelm Farmbacher; Leopold Gleim, chief of Hitler's personal guard; Joachim Dämling, former chief of the Gestapo in Dusseldorf; Dr. Hans Eisele, Buchenwald's chief physician; and Heinrich Willermann, the SS doctor at Dachau; went to Egypt at the request of the U.S. to help build up Gamal Abdel Nasser's security forces. Skorzeny spent time in Argentina as well as Egypt helping organize pseudo-SS forces for these countries. By 1953, 101 prisoners had been released from prison under the McCloy-Peck sentence review procedure, so many that Eleanor Roosevelt, the ex-president's wife, demanded an explanation from the high commissioner. McCloy merely said that he considered it a fundamental principle of American justice that accused persons have a final right to be heard. He didn't mention that his predecessor, General Lucius Clay, had already had each case reviewed. Nor did he mention the real reason that Krupp and a host of other Nazis were being released--to work with and for the United States.

Germans not as well known to the public as Krupp were released from prison for a reason which was even more secret. Wilhelm Höttl, an SS officer who worked with Ernst Kaltenbrunner, chief of the SD who was sentenced to hang at Nuremberg; Gerhard Pinckert, a member of a terrorist group commanded by Skorzeny; Alfred Benzinger of the Secret Field Police; Fritz Schmidt, Gestapo chief at Kiel; and other SS officers were quietly discharged from Landsberg and other prisons or the indictments pending against them were dropped. Most of them disappeared from sight under assumed names but they definitely did not go into hiding. They became secret intelligence agents for the U.S., first for the military forces, later for the newly formed Central Intelligence Agency. Of all the strange alliances between the Nazis and the U.S. during the postwar years, this was the most secret.

The idea for the alliance actually began in 1944 when Hitler's chief intelligence officer on the eastern front, Reinhard Gehlen, came into disfavor with the Führer. At the time Gehlen was chief of Foreign Armies East and greatly respected by General Heinz Guderian, his superior officer. When Gehlen reported to Guderian that the Russians were planning a huge winter offensive and warned that the attack would crush the Nazi armies in the east, Guderian had him repeat the prediction to Hitler personally. The Führer raged that Gehlen's report was wrong and that he should be sent to a lunatic asylum. Guderian, angry, vowed that he, too, would go. Both men were subsequently relieved of duty by Hitler but not before Gehien had decided that the war was lost. Convinced of this, he made plans to protect himself and his staff after the surrender he knew would come. At the same time, he planned to lay the groundwork for the rebuilding of Germany. His plan was simple. He made copies of all his important documents dealing with intelligence work on the eastern front, put the copies into 50 steel cases, and buried them in the Bavarian mountains. He was aware that the U.S. had no intelligence organization operating behind Russian lines because the Soviet Union was an ally. He was convinced, just as Hitler was, that the United States and the Soviet Union would not remain allies long after the end of World War II, that the two nations would eventually fight each other over the control of Europe.

Gehlen and a skeleton staff of his Foreign Armies East hid out in. the Bavarian mountains after the war ended until they could surrender to the American troops in the area. When Gehlen walked into the U.S. Army headquarters in Fischausen in May 1945 and announced who he was, he expected to be treated as a VIP prisoner. Instead he was sent to a prison at Miesbach and ignored. It wasn't until Soviet agents came to the American zone asking for him by name that the American officials paid any attention to Gehlen. It was then that they discovered that Gehlen knew a great deal about the Soviet forces, and that he had voluminous files detailing their disposition, organization, and leadership. By this time it was becoming more and more evident to the Americans that the Russians, instead Of cooperating with the Western Allies in the difficult problem of governing the large areas of Europe that had been liberated from the Nazis, were determined to seize control of as much of that territory as possible. Not only did the United States find itself vulnerable because of its military demobilization but because it had no intelligence operation. The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) had been disbanded under orders from President Truman and as yet no other organization had been established to replace it.

So when the Russians showed an interest in Gehlen and demanded that he be turned over to them, General Edwin Luther Sibert, G-2 of 12th Army Group, interrogated Gehlen. When the German general offered to place himself, his Foreign Armies East-staff, and his intelligence files at the disposal of the United States under certain conditions, Sibert immediately notified General Walter Bedell Smith, Eisenhower's chief of staff The offer was tempting, but once again the thought of collaborating with Nazi officers so soon after the end of the war and the realization of the public outcry that would provoke if such a collaboration were discovered, made the two men hesitate. Finally Smith decided that Washington should make the decision. Gehlen and three of his officers were flown to the United States in Smith's plane.

Even in Washington the decision was not quick. It took nearly a year before Allen Dulles, formerly the station agent for the OSS in Switzerland; Loftus Becker; Dr. Sherman Kent; General Lucius Clay; J. Edgar Hoover; and others decided that it would be in the best interests of the United States to take Gehlen up on his offer. Moral considerations would have to take a back seat, and they so advised the Pentagon.

One of the restrictions placed on the German general, however, was that he would not use SS men in his operation. Gehlen was based at Pullach, a small town south of Munich, and he immediately began rebuilding his intelligence organization by reestablishing his network of agents in the Soviet zone of occupation and in the Soviet Union itself. Without the knowledge of Sibert and Smith initially, Gehlen combed the American prison camps for former German intelligence agents and-managed to have them released so they could join his organization. Among these agents were many SS men. By the time the Americans discovered that Gehlen had duped them it was too late. The American intelligence chiefs had become too dependent upon his organization for information about the Soviets to disown it. After the CIA was formed in 1947, the Gehlen group joined it as the Soviet intelligence arm and worked with the CIA until 1956 when the organization transferred to the new West German government as its intelligence section.

So within months after the public learned about the SS atrocities and the worldwide condemnation of that hated organization, the United States was actively collaborating with surviving SS members in a number of ways. This was one of the most closely guarded secrets shared by the SS and the United States government following the war.



West Germany had been de-Nazified, had it not? The new model, democratic West Germany was shorn of authoritarian aspirations, the ‘tiny minority’ of Nazi fanatics had been punished. Germany was safe and clean and well-behaved....

De-Nazification was a cursory, superficial affair. There were too many other interests at stake for it to have been otherwise. Even before the building of the Berlin wall the occupying forces on both sides of the newly-emergent Cold War were busy recruiting Nazis to positions of power and influence. Regardless of ideology, the Americans and the Russians needed members of the Nazi military and political machine. The Nazis had intelligence networks, safe houses, knowledge, all too valuable to ignore.

So it was that men such as Otto Skorzeny, Otto Remer and Reinhard Gehlen escaped punishment were soon able, like thousands of other Nazis, to resume their activities. Some, like Skorzeny and Gehlen, developed extensive contacts with American Intelligence. Skorzeny, the man who had rescued Mussolini after his capture by partisans, was allowed to escape to fascist Spain, where he provided the CIA with help and information over the years. Gehlen, another high-ranking Nazi, established the West German intelligence service, which was soon a major employer of thousands of displaced Nazis.

It wasn’t just Americans who adopted hard-line Nazis to their cause, the Soviets were just as assiduous in employing Nazi war criminals. Within the post-war Nazi scene groups such as Otto Remer’s ‘Socialist Reich Party’ – the successor to Hitler’s NSDAP – adopted a ‘neutralist’ foreign policy which opposed American domination of West Germany. This avowedly neo-Nazi party was soon being funded by Moscow, who had actually reduced funding to the German Communist Party because the fascist SRP was so much effective.

It would be bad enough that these people walked away from the Hitler regime unscathed, but they lost no time in rebuilding a new, post-war Nazi movement. Supplying money, contacts, intelligence and ideology these old-guard fascists set about creating fascist movements and parties throughout Europe, North America and beyond.

Whilst some of them shed the trappings of Third Reich nostalgia to create ‘pan-European’ or ‘Euro-nationalist’ variants of Nazis, others persisted in keeping a more rigid ideological line. Despite internal schisms and faction fighting, the fact remains that these fascist veterans exerted an influence right through from the immediate post-war years to the current day. like .the American far-right, the emerging ‘National Bolshevik’ Red-Brown alliances in Russia and the South American influence of Klaus Barbie and his cohorts.

A neo-Nazi conspiracy exists;  the forces of fascism have clearly depended for their continued existence on powerful allies within state agencies – particularly the intelligence services (the same people viewed as allies in the fight against fascism).

Today the biggest dangers arise not from the ideologically pure neo-Nazi sects, but from those groups who have adapted to the militant anti-fascist movement and have, or are in the process of, re-casting themselves as racist populist parties in the mould of the French National Front or the Austrian Freedom Party.



Reshaping the SS Network

By 1944, Otto Skorzeny was head of Office VI S ("S" for sabotage) of the RSHA, and head of the SD Jagdkommando, the SS's "special operations" unit.


In the post-war period, Skorzeny played a central role in the web of right-wing financial interests, neo-fascist organizations, paramilitary groups, and secret intelligence networks—the true "grandmother" of modern terrorism.

Less prominent members of the SS leadership were spirited out of Germany via the "Rat Line." They first reached Italy, often aided by corrupt Vatican networks, and thence went to Spain, where they either settled, or slipped into Latin American countries. These "Rat Line" escape routes were run by a secret organization of former SS members known as "Odessa." But Odessa could never have been able to smuggle these people out, if it had been acting alone; on the contrary, its operations were, at the very least, protected, and more likely directed, by factions within Anglo-American intelligence circles. Neither the U.S., British, nor the French governments ever put any serious pressure on Franco's Spain, which had become the hub of SS structures worldwide, to curtail or prohibit activities of former Nazis on Spanish territory.

From 1948 through 1950, Skorzeny lived incognito in Paris. His former superior in the SD, Walter Schellenberg, lived first in Switzerland, and then slipped into Italy, where he died in 1952. Skorzeny's postwar career only began in earnest after he resettled in Madrid in 1950. There he married Hjalmar Schacht's niece, Ilse von Finkenstein; Schacht himself also made frequent visits to Madrid. It is estimated that all told, by 1950, about 16,000 Nazi emigrants were living in Spain.

After 1948, Schacht became the main "trustee" of SS assets and other financial transfers out of Nazi Germany, proving beyond doubt that he had been intimately involved in the implementation of the 1944 Strasbourg Conference's decisions. In his post-1948 work to consolidate the scattered SS assets, Schacht was assisted by Skorzeny, who, in turn, brought the Belgian Waffen-SS leader Leon Degrelle to Madrid, and made him into his chief aide. In the early 1950s, Schacht and Skorzeny made frequent "business trips," criss-crossing Europe and Latin America, and extending into the Arab countries, Iran, and Indonesia.

A portion of the SS money sent abroad, was used to build up the international "Odessa" organization of former SS personnel. Around it, there formed a large number of neo-fascist organizations in Europe and in Latin America.

But Skorzeny's "Odessa" also maintained extensive networks of members and supporters in "bourgeois" parties, government administrations, religious organizations, intelligence services, police organizations, and in the militaries of many European, Latin American, and Arab countries. "Odessa" was also active in the international arms trade, mercenary operations, and a vast array of organized crime.

Over the following decades, connections to Skorzeny's SS structures frequently turned up as part of military coups, police-state "sanitizing operations" against opponents of sitting governments, rebel and low-intensity warfare operations, and spectacular assassinations, such as the "Permindex" organization's involvement in the killing of U.S. President John F. Kennedy. Typical is their role both in the Algerian opposition movement FLN, as well as in the Organisation Armeé Secrète (OAS), which sought to topple and murder France's General de Gaulle.

With the outbreak of the Cold War, American and British intelligence services' interest in Skorzeny's SS structure grew even more intense. The mentality and war experience of these former SS personnel suited them perfectly for the "covert operations" which Allen Dulles had defined as a major focus of U.S. intelligence-service activity. Many thousands of former German Waffen-SS members, along with Eastern Europeans who had been part of the Waffen-SS and who had later settled in Western Europe, the United States, Canada, or Australia, were recruited for deployment in low-intensity warfare and destabilization operations in the Soviet sphere of influence.

The SS, which, up until 1942, believed that its members' "Nordic" racial characteristics qualified them to be members of the elite, became quite "internationalized" later on. Not only were there Western European and Scandinavian Waffen-SS units, but also Baltic, Ukrainian, Hungarian, Croatian, Serbian, Bosnian, Albanian, and Caucasian ones.

Former Waffen-SS members who had managed to survive inside Soviet-occupied countries following 1945 by going underground, and others who had emigrated into the West, suddenly became immensely valuable to Anglo-American intelligence services. They were to be utilized, in connection with "covert operations," to build up a secret military and political underground infrastructure capable of destabilizing communist regimes in Eastern and Southeastern Europe.

During the first half of the 1950s, thanks to Kim Philby's defection to the Russian side, among other things, Communist intelligence services were able to break up most of these military and political underground cells. This, in turn, further increased the value of Eastern European emigrants' organizations which had been established in the West, and which harbored no small contingent of former Waffen-SS members.

On Allen Dulles's initiative, funds from SS assets and elsewhere were used to form the National Committee for a Free Europe (NCFE). Nominally a private organization, it was in fact an Anglo-American intelligence operation, assigned to back the activities of Eastern European emigrant groups.

No less important was the Islamic-Arab component of this SS structure. The Albanian Waffen-SS "Skanderbeg" division, and the Bosnian "Handschar" division, had been set up with the active participation of the Mufti of Jerusalem, Amin Mohamed Al Husseini.


After the war, Al Husseini, with the help of Anglo-American intelligence circles, was able to settle in Cairo, where he resumed his collaboration with Skorzeny, Swiss financier and Nazi activist François Genoud, and SS structures throughout the Arab world.

At the same time, certain factions within the Anglo-American intelligence establishment set up Skorzeny's network of former SS members in Western Europe itself, as deeply covert partisan groups which could be activated in the event of a Soviet invasion of Western Europe. The existence of this network, code-named "Gladio," was first revealed in 1991, in a public statement issued by Italian Prime Minister Guilio Andreotti.


The most intriguing Skorzeny story  that has surfaced in recent years concerns the alleged Churchill-Mussolini correspondence. New light has been shed upon the mystery of a possible unauthorized Churchill-Mussolini correspondence during the war, whether Mussolini kept the documents with him even in exile, the possible involvement of British intelligence in Mussolini's death, and whether Skorzeny met Churchill in Venice to exchange the Mussolini papers for an unofficial "amnesty" from Allied Nazi-hunters.

In the final days of the war Mussolini tried to escape to Switzerland. The Duce was carrying a portfolio of documents and three suitcases packed with banknotes and 65 kilos of gold bullion, the total value estimated at the time to be around 90 million dollars. His widow, Rachele, said that he had exchanged secret correspondence with Churchill, letters he was carrying with him when he fled Italy.

Both the documents and the gold disappeared following his capture and execution. After the war, the communists were blamed. A trial was held in Padua with 35 defendants and almost 400 witnesses, but the men who personally knew about the affair had been killed in mysterious circumstances. Near the end of the trial, one of the jurors committed suicide and a mistrial was declared.

Rachele claimed that the reason Churchill came to Lake Garda (the area of Mussolini’s final government) for his first vacation after the war, supposedly to paint, was actually to remove any trace of his contacts with Mussolini.



Otto Skorzeny and the Castle of Montségur

In 1991, a somewhat strange book appeared making some extraordinary claims about a treasure supposedly recovered by the Nazis from the south of France in 1944.


Written by Howard Buechner, a medical doctor and veteran of World War II, Emerald Cup - Ark of Gold states that a famous German commando, Otto Skorzeny, was sent to France to recover the treasure of the Cathars, supposedly smuggled out of the mountain fortress of Montségur a few days before its eventual fall to an army of crusaders in 1244.


Although Otto Skorzeny wrote several books detailing his war time exploits, he never mentions the alleged recovery of the Cathar treasure. However, his books do mention how he and his men fought in US military uniforms during the battle of the bulge to sow fear and confusion through the allied lines - a war crime that he could have been executed for. He was only cleared of these charges when Forest Frederick Edward Yeo-Thomas, a member of the Special Operations Executive, testified that allied troops had also fought in enemy uniforms.


It would seem that although Skorzeny was perfectly happy to write about his war crimes, he took the secret of the Cathar treasure to his grave.


SS Colonel Otto Skorzeny, once called "the most dangerous man in Europe" lived out the rest of his life in Spain after being cleared of war crimes. He died in a car crash, or from cancer (depending on source) in 1975, a multi millionaire, having never mentioned the the Cathar treasure to anyone.


Why? Because in all probability he didn't know anything about the Cathar treasure, let alone been in charge of its recovery.


Scar faced Skorzeny has become one of recent history's universal bad guys, need someone to blame for anything odd, untoward or underhanded going on anywhere in the world from 1939 to 1975? Otto Skorzeny is your man, Scotland Yard even seriously investigated claims that he was the mastermind behind the 1963 "Great Train Robbery."


To call Buechner's story "questionable" is probably being overly charitable.


Did Nazi Commandos recover the Ark of the Covenant and/or the "Germanic Grail" from Montségur in 1944? Probably not, but it is an entertaining story, and to a great many people that seems to be all that matters.





The Train Robbers

On August 8, 1963 a British hoodlum named Ronald Biggs participated in what came to be called "the Great Train Robbery," sharing more than $7-million in cash and valuables stolen from a Glasgow-to-London mail-train.

Apprehended, and sentenced to 30 years, Biggs escaped from prison in 1965. Fleeing to
France, he relied upon an international criminal network to obtain plastic surgery and passage to Australia. Tracked by the police as the "most wanted" man in the world, Biggs subsequently found his way to Rio de Janeiro (where extradition is, at best, a rarity).

Piers Paul Read's The Train Robbers is of interest. Read undertook to write the book more than a decade after the robbery, and long after several other books had already been published on the subject. What made these unpromising circumstances auger well, according to Read, were two things: first, he had the cooperation of most of the men who'd pulled off the robbery. Previously, only Ronald Biggs had given an account, and Biggs was considered an outsider by those who had conceived and executed the plan. Second, and even more importantly, the gang confided important new information to Read. This was that the train robbery, and several of the subsequent escapes, had been financed and finessed by Gen. Otto Skorzeny. Among other things, this explained why it had never been possible to account for more than half of the money stolen in the robbery.

An unrepentant Nazi, Skorzeny had been Hitler's favorite commando. After the war, he had re-established himself in
Madrid as an arms-dealer and, with even greater secrecy, as the mastermind behind Die Spinne---the underground railroad that obtained forged documents and plastic surgery for war criminals and others requiring safe-havens in South America and the Middle East. As the proprietor of a de facto intelligence agency with connections throughout the world, Skorzeny made millions as a consultant to countries and organizations whose politics were compatible with his own (e.g., Nasser's Egypt and the Secret Army Organization in Algiers).

Train-robber Buster Edwards and his wife gave Read a detailed description---names, dates and places---of how Die Spinne had smuggled him from
England to Germany to Mexico. A woman named "Hannah Schmid,"  whose father had served with Skorzeny in the Second World War, saw to it that he received plastic surgery and the documents necessary to travel. Edwards recuperated for nearly a month in the home of a Prussian aristocrat, "Annaliese von Lutzeberg,"  and was then sent on his way to Mexico---but not before he'd purchased shares (under an assumed name) in a business that Skorzeny owned.  

While in
Mexico, Edwards and two of the other train-robbers reunited with Schmid, who "proposed that they should run guns to the Peronists in Argentina; or train troops for a planned putsch in Panama..."  Edwards and his friends declined: it just wasn't their scene.

 In checking Edwards' story, and the stories of the other robbers, Read found that every verifiable detail was confirmed. Before finishing his book, however, it was left to him to interview Ronald Biggs in
. Accordingly, he got on a plane.

Finding Biggs was not that difficult but what he had to say, however, was in flat contradiction to the accounts of everyone else. According to Biggs, there were no Germans. Read was flabbergasted. Had he been hoaxed? Or was Biggs lying on behalf of what Read suspected were his Nazi protectors? Read couldn't be sure.

At best (Biggs) wished me to disbelieve the Skorzeny connection so that he himself could break it to the world and reap the benefit; at worst he was still in the care of Skorzeny's organisation and had been told to persuade me that it did not exist.

The more I pondered this last possibility, the more convinced I became that this was the explanation---for it still seemed inconceivable to me that June (Edwards) had invented her meeting with Skorzeny in Madrid, or could have discovered that he was a friend of the Reader's Digest editor who spoke fourteen Chinese dialects. I suddenly realised how thoughtless and foolhardy I had been to come to a country (
Brazil) known to be a nest of ex-Nazis. Clearly Biggs had been saved from extradition not because of his child, but because of neo-Nazi influence in government circles. The woman who had been with him at the airport, Ulla Sopher, a German-Argentinian with blonde hair and blue eyes, was part of their network. All the strands of the story came together to form a noose around my neck.

 And yet, despite this cogent explanation for what had happened, and despite the evidence that Edwards and the others had provided, Read demurred. Over drinks in a sidewalk cafe, "I began to believe that Biggs was telling the truth."

A bizarre turn-about that occurs at the very end of the book, Read's conversion to Biggs' account makes no sense at all. Biggs's own fugitivity, which (like Edwards's) was facilitated by plastic surgery and forged documents provided by an unnamed criminal syndicate, is the best argument against the story he tells.






I was in Madrid in 1970 on business shooting TV commercials for the Eastman Kodak Company. This was a sunny lazy Sunday at the Ritz hotel. I was nursing the last of my excellent room service coffee when the phone rang. "Ola Artur. Have lunch with us today. OK? Great. Meet you at the Madrid Tennis club at 2 this afternoon. I have some friends I want you to meet. See you later".

I arrived at the Club to see my friends seated and enjoying drinks. As I walked toward them and my friend Robert rose and said, "Artur. How nice, and here comes Otto" I turned and behind me was an absolutely huge imposing giant of a man. Maybe 6'4" 300 pounds. Face scarred and with a beat up look like a fighter who has had a few too many fights, He thrust out his hand and said "Otto" I took his hand and he said “Otto Skorzeny". I said, "Arthur Kramer" but I thought "Nazi son of a bitch" and was sorry I had shaken his hand.

We all sat down. I expected Skorzeny to be course crude and overbearing. In fact he was extremely polite and soft-spoken. His manner was so courteous and gentlemanly that I found it very difficult to hate him on a face to face personal level. The conversation covered the weather, the great food at this club, what a fine fellow Robert was how did I like Spain? No talk of war at all. Somehow, here in neutral Spain 25 years after the war it seemed as though war talk between ex-enemies was neither polite nor called for.

I found out later that Robert had told Otto about my military experiences in detail. I guess neither one of us cared to dig up the past on this warm sunny Sunday afternoon. I found out later that Skorzeny got those scars dueling during his school days in Austria. After the war he was acquitted of all war crimes and all charges were dropped. During the lunch he spoke to me in English, to Robert in French and to Robert's wife Rosie in German. He was impressive, not just on the physical level. But he was man of rather high intelligence. And he was the man who rescued Mussolini as one of his many exploits and was generally acknowledged by all sides as the most successful commando of WW II.

We had finished lunch. We all exchanged good byes, but Skorzeny and I didn't shake hands. We just nodded cordially at one another. And then we parted.

Otto died in 1975 in Madrid. After I heard of his death I regretted not having offered him my hand when we parted on that memorable afternoon.

The moral of the story is, if you want to hate a man, don't have lunch with him.

Arthur Kramer
344th BG 494th BS
England, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany

Visit my WW II B-26 website at:


Art Kramer

B-26 of 344th BG, Stansted, England, 1944




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