Mussolini Rescue Postcard: Skorzeny Gran Sasso 1943
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Mussolini Rescue by Skorzeny Gran Sasso 1943
Original Postcard from CAMPO IMPERATORE Hotel
Hitler ordered Skorzeny to rescue Mussolini as quickly as possible. For the mission, codenamed Operation Eiche (Oak), Skorzeny and his men would report directly to Luftwaffe Gen. Kurt Student, who would provide all the necessary support.
In late August, Skorzeny received intelligence indicating that Mussolini was being held in the Campo Imperatore Hotel, part of a central Italy ski resort on the Gran Sasso and located on a plateau roughly 6,300 feet above sea level. As ground access was by funicular, Skorzeny determined that only an air assault would work. The thin atmosphere at that altitude negated a parachute drop. Skorzeny and Student agreed that the only assault possible was by gliders landing on what appeared to be a triangular patch of grass near the hotel.
On Sept. 12, 1943, Operation Oak was launched. During takeoff, the first two gliders struck bomb craters from a recent Allied air raid and crashed. As the gliders approached the landing zone, Skorzeny discovered that the level patch of grass seen in the high-level reconnaissance photos was actually a rock-strewn incline. Countermanding orders to abort in such a situation, Skorzeny shouted to the pilot, “Dive – crash-land as near to the hotel as you can!”
With heroic effort, the pilot landed the glider thirty feet from the hotel. As the other gliders made their approach, Skorzeny, Gen. Soleti, and the handful of commandos from the glider rushed into the hotel. Three minutes later, Skorzeny stood before Mussolini and said, “Il Duce, the Führer has sent me to free you.” Mussolini hugged him and said, “I knew my friend Adolf Hitler would not leave me in the lurch.” Not a shot had been fired.
A lightweight Fieseler Storch, the only airplane capable of landing on the small clearing by the hotel, was summoned. Though designed to only carry two people, Skorzeny squeezed into the fuselage, and the overloaded airplane successfully took off for Rome on the first leg of a flight to Berlin. When Skorzeny and Mussolini reached Vienna, Skorzeny received a call from an ecstatic Hitler who said, “Today, you have carried out a mission that will go down in history.” Skorzeny received the Knight’s Cross and was promoted to major. This, and further exploits, would earn Skorzeny the sobriquet “the most dangerous man in Europe.”