Gran Sasso Raid

The Gran Sasso raid refers to Operation Eiche (“Oak”), the rescue of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini by German paratroopers  and Waffen-SS commandos on September 12 1943.

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On the night between 24 and 25 July 1943, a few weeks after the Allied invasion of Sicily and bombing of Rome, the Italian Grand Council of Fascism voted a motion of no confidence (Ordine del Giorno Grandi) against Mussolini. On the same day, the king replaced him with Marshal Pietro Badoglio and had him arrested.

Mussolini was being transported around Italy by his captors (first to Ponza, then to La Maddalena, both small islands in the Tyrrhenian sea), while Hauptsturmführer (SS captain) Otto Skorzeny—selected personally by Hitler and Ernst Kaltenbrunner to carry out the mission—was tracking him.

Mussolini had first been held on the island of Sardinia, where Skorzeny started to gather intelligence. He was shot down during a reconnaissance mission but managed to bail in time to be saved by a passing Italian destroyer ship, still loyal to the Fascists.

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Intercepting a coded Italian radio message, Skorzeny used the reconnaissance provided by the agents and informants of SS-Obersturmbannführer Herbert Kappler to determine that Mussolini was being imprisoned at Campo Imperatore Hotel, a ski resort at Campo Imperatore in Italy’s Gran Sasso massif, high in the Apennine Mountains. Together with  Kurt Student and Harald Mors, Skorzeny devised a daring plan which would be remembered as one of the finest commando operations ever.

Gran Sasso, gelandeter Lastensegler

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On 12 September 1943, Skorzeny’s 26 SS troopers joined the team of 82 Fallschirmjäger to rescue Mussolini in a high-risk glider mission. The commandos landed their dozen DFS 230 gliders on the mountain; only one crashed, causing minor injuries. The Fallschirmjäger and Skorzeny’s special troopers then overwhelmed Mussolini’s captors (200 well-equipped Carabinieri guards) without a single shot being fired; this was also due to the fact that General Fernando Soleti of the Polizia, who flew in with Skorzeny, told them to stand down or be executed for treason. Skorzeny attacked the radio operator and his equipment, then he formally greeted Mussolini with “Duce, the Führer has sent me to set you free!”, to which Mussolini replied “I knew that my friend would not forsake me!”

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Once the area had been clear of rocks and debris Skorzeny radioed for  a small Storch reconnaissance plane to land where the gliders had landed and made his way to the pilot with Mussilini. When Skorzeny told the pilot, Captain Gerlach, to fly the three of them out he was met with  strenuous objection as the plane was not designed for that kind of weight under a challenged take off with such a short mountain top runway. Skorzney insisted and  Mussolini was flown from Campo Imperatore to Vienna, where Mussolini stayed overnight at the Hotel Imperial and was given a hero’s welcome, and eventually into Berlin, right in front of the cameras.
watch clips below
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Published in: on September 11, 2016 at 4:54 am  Leave a Comment  

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