Gran Sasso raid

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Operation Oak
Part of World War II
Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-567-1503A-07, Gran Sasso, Mussolini mit deutschen Fallschirmjägern.jpg
Mussolini rescued by German commandos from his prison in Campo Imperatore on 12 September 1943.
Operational scope Operational
Location Campo Imperatore, Italy
42°25′34″N 13°31′42″E / 42.42611°N 13.52833°E / 42.42611; 13.52833Coordinates: 42°25′34″N 13°31′42″E / 42.42611°N 13.52833°E / 42.42611; 13.52833
Planned Kurt Student
Planned by Harald Mors
Target Campo Imperatore
Date 12 September 1943 (1943-09-12)
Executed by Fallschirmjäger-Lehr-Bataillon of the 2. Fallschirmjägerdivision, 1/FJR 7; SS-Sonderverband z.b.V. Friedenthal
Outcome Rescue of Benito Mussolini
Casualties None

The Gran Sasso raid refers to Operation Eiche (German for "Oak"), the rescue of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini by German paratroopers led by Major Otto-Harald Mors and Waffen-SS commandos in September 1943, during World War II. The airborne operation was personally ordered by Adolf Hitler, planned by Major Harald Mors, and approved by General Kurt Student.

Overview[edit]

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[1] and had him arrested.[2]

Campo Imperatore Hotel in 1943
Campo Imperatore in 2008

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

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, high in the Apennine Mountains. On 12 September 1943, Skorzeny joined the team of Fallschirmjäger to rescue Mussolini in a high-risk glider mission. The commandos landed their DFS 230 gliders onto the mountain, only one crashed causing some minor injuries to the passengers. 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 Soleti of 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!"[3]

The actual Storch used to rescue Mussolini

Mussolini was first flown from Campo Imperatore in a Luftwaffe Fieseler Fi 156C-3/Trop Storch STOL liaison aircraft, Werknummer (serial number) 1268,[4] initially flown in by Hauptmann Heinrich Gerlach (1912—1993),[5] then taking off with Mussolini and Skorzeny (even though the weight of an extra passenger almost caused the tiny plane to crash) to the military airport of Pratica di Mare (near Rome) then embarked in an Heinkel He 111 on to Vienna, where Mussolini stayed overnight at the Hotel Imperial and was given a hero's welcome. The Storch involved in rescuing Mussolini bore the radio code letters, or Stammkennzeichen, of "SJ + LL"[6] in motion picture coverage of the rescue.

The operation on the ground at Campo Imperatore was in fact led by First Lieutenant Baron Georg Freiherr von Berlepsch, commanded by Major Otto-Harald Mors and under orders from General Kurt Student, all Fallschirmjäger (German Air Force Paratroopers) officers; but Skorzeny stewarded the Italian leader first into Rome and eventually into Berlin, right in front of the cameras. After a pro-SS propaganda coup at the behest of SS Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler and propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, Skorzeny and his Special Forces (SS-Sonderverband z. b. V. "Friedenthal") of the Waffen-SS were granted the majority of the credit for the operation. The "Friedenthaler" of the SS-Reichssicherheitshauptamt were for the Waffen-SS what the Brandenburgers were for the Wehrmacht and Abwehr.

Aftermath[edit]

Mussolini leaving the Hotel
Berlin celebration of the troops under the command of Skorzeny that rescued Mussolini.

The operation granted a rare late-war public relations opportunity to Hermann Göring. Mussolini was made leader of the Italian Social Republic (a German puppet state consisting of the German-occupied portion of Italy). Otto Skorzeny gained a large amount of success from this mission; he received a promotion to Sturmbannführer, the award of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross and fame that led to his "most dangerous man in Europe" image. Winston Churchill himself described the mission as "one of great daring".

The Campo Imperatore Hotel still exists. The hotel maintains Mussolini's bedroom just as it was when he left it, with the same furnishings.[7]

Awards[edit]

Almost all of the members of the operation received an award. The most of them were awarded the Iron Cross (EK I or EK II), four were awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross and nine were awarded the German Cross in Gold.

Knight's Cross (4)[edit]

  • Student, Kurt, 27 September 1943 (305. EL/Oak Leaves), General der Fallschirmtruppe, K. G. XI. Flieger-Korps [LL-Korps]
  • Skorzeny, Otto, 13.09.1943, SS-Hauptsturmführer d. R., Kdr SS-Sonderverband z. b. V. Friedenthal
  • Gerlach, Heinrich, 19.09.1943, Hauptmann, Flugzeugführer beim K. G. XI. Flieger-Korps [pilot Fieseler Storch (Fi 156)]
  • Meyer, Elimar, 17.09.1943, Leutnant (Kr.O.) Pilot eines Lastenseglers i. d. III./LL-Geschw 1

German Cross in Gold (9)[edit]

  • Freiherr von Berlepsch, Georg, 1 November 1943, Oberleutnant, Chef 1./Fsch.Jäg.Rgt 7 [1./Fsch.Jäg-Lehr.Btl]
  • Mors, Otto-Harald, 01.11.1943, Major I. G., Kdr I./Fsch.Jäg.Rgt 7 [Fsch.Jäg-Lehr.Btl]
  • Langguth, Gerhard, 01.11.1943, Hauptmann, Ic XI. Flieger-Korps [Verbandsführer/flight leader]
  • Heidenreich, Johannes, 26.09.1943, Oberleutnant, Staffelkapitän 12.[III.]/LL-Geschw 1
  • Neelmeyer, Hans, 26.09.1943, Oberfeldwebel, Pilot eines Lastenseglers i. d. 12.[III.]/LL-Geschw 1
  • Lohrmann, Heiner, 26.09.1943, Feldwebel, Pilot eines Lastenseglers i. d. 12.[III.]/LL-Geschw 1
  • Thielmann, Gustav, 26 September 1943, Unteroffizier, Pilot eines Lastenseglers i. d. 12.[III.]/LL-Geschw 1
  • Neitzel, Robert, 15 September 1943, SS-Unterscharführer, SS-Sonderverband z. b. V. Friedenthal
  • Holzer, Hans, 15 September 1943, SS- Rottenführer, SS-Sonderverband z. b. V. Friedenthal

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Whittam, John (2005). Fascist Italy. Manchester University Press. ISBN 0-7190-4004-3. 
  2. ^ Annussek, Greg (2005). Hitler's Raid to Save Mussolini. Da Capo Press. ISBN 978-0-306-81396-2. 
  3. ^ Williamson, D. G., The age of the dictators: a study of the European dictatorships, 1918-53 ISBN 978-0-582-50580-3, p. 440, url [1]
  4. ^ "stamm Sx+xx". Luftwaffe Experten Message Board. Retrieved 22 October 2011. "SJ+LL — Fieseler — Fi156C-3/Trop — W.Nr.1268 — W.Nr.1268 — used on the liberation of Mussolini; source B0001 has this wrong as SU+LL" 
  5. ^ Mussolini was first flown by Captain Heinrich Gerlach from Campo Imperatore in a Luftwaffe Fieseler Fi 156 Storch liaison aircraft, then flown on to Vienna (where he stayed overnight at the Hotel Imperial) and given a hero's welcome.
  6. ^ "The LEMB Stammkennzeichen Database Project -"S" Codes (stkz-Sx+xx)". The LEMB Stammkennzeichen Database Project. LEMB. 31 March 2011. Retrieved 26 November 2012. 
  7. ^ Kington, Tom. "In bed with Mussolini". The Guardian (London). 18 May 2014. Retrieved 22 May 2014. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Gonzalez Lopez, Oscar. Fallschirmjager at the Gran Sasso: The Liberation of Mussolini by the German Parachutist on the 12th September 1943. 
  • Patricelli, Marco (2001). Mondadori, ed. Liberate il Duce. Le Scie (in Italian). ISBN 88-04-48860-3. 
  • Forczyk, Robert (2010); Rescuing Mussolini – Gran Sasso 1943, Osprey Raid Series #9; Osprey Publishing; ISBN 978-1-84603-462-6
  • Antonio Munoz: Forgotten Legions: Obscure Combat Formations of the Waffen-SS, Axis Europa Inc (1991), ISBN 978-0739408179

External links[edit]