Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Hitler's Secret Mission to Free Benito Mussolini | Otto Skorzeny's Gran Sasso Raid (WW2)

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In early 1943, the Second World War was in full swing, the fortunes of the Axis Powers

seemed to have turned.

On July 25th that year, two weeks after the Allied powers invaded Sicily, the King of

Italy Victor Emanuel the Third ordered the arrest of Benito Mussolini, following a vote

of no confidence from the Fascist Grand Council.

This new government, under Marshal Pietro Badoglio started secret peace negotiations

with the Allied powers.

Now, to the Germans, it was of vital importance that this new government not sue for peace,

or even worse, switch sides to the Allied powers.

Hitler figured the only way to prevent this from happening, was to have Benito Mussolini

rescued, and put him back in power...

What followed was one of the most daring special operations and, admittedly, incredible stories

of the Second World War: the rescue ... of Benito Mussolini.


Mussolini arrested

Alright, so after Mussolini was removed from power, Italian King Victor Emanuel III replaced

him with Marshal Pietro Badoglio.

The new government made sure Mussolini was moved, in utter secrecy, to an island off

the coast of Sardinia.

When news reached Hitler, who resided in his bunker, the Wolfs Lair in East Prussia,

he decided it was of vital importance to rescue Mussolini in order to ensure Italy would remain

at Germanys side during the war.

The 35-year-old Austrian Otto Skorzeny was the man to lead the operation to rescue Mussolini.

Given command of a group of paratroopers, or fallschirmjger in German, he would lead

the mission that would become one of the most daring operations of the entire war.

Skorzeny was a tall, scar-faced Austrian.

Battle Hardened by his exploits in France, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union.

By 1943 he was promoted as part of the Security Office, and occupied himself with secret missions

and undercover work.

Interestingly enough, before he was contacted about the mission to rescue Mussolini, he

studied Abwehr files on British commandos, Special Air Service forces, US marines among

other elite troops.

He was planning a raid into Persia and the Ural mountains of Russia.

But then, in July, word got out that the Italian Fascist Grand Council had removed Benito Mussolini

from power and Skorzenys plans rapidly changed.

Now, Skorzeny had never met Hitler nor heard about the secret Wolf Lair in East Prussia.

He was summoned to the Wolfs Lair and met Hitler personally.

As he met Hitler, the latter confided in him that he had to carry out a task of the utmost

importance that will have a tremendous effect upon the course of the war.

The entire mission fell under the command of Kurt Student, a General of the Luftwaffe

and commander of these German Fallschirmjger.

Skorzeny requested a few dozen men and a list of requirements.

These ranged from the obvious machine guns and weaponry to priests robes.

Once collected, the men flew to Rome where they met Field Marshal Albert Kesselring,

the German commander in chief in Italy.

Kesseling told the men that the Italians had assured him Mussolini was in Rome.

But Badoglio, unbeknownst to the Germans, had ordered to move Mussolini to an island

off the coast.

Both the Germans and Italians kept up an elaborate game of deception and false friendship, until

the eventual break-up of their alliance could be spun into an advantage for either side.

Skorzeny spent weeks investigating and reviewing intelligence.

Finally, he managed to pin down Mussolinis location to Ponza, a small island in the Tyrrhenian

Sea of the Italian West Coast.

But, fate had it that just as Skorzeny started planning the operation, the Italian government

moved Mussolini to Maddalena, to the north-east of Sardinia.

Mussolini on the Move

Skorzeny used many Abwehr agents and contacts in Italy in order to confirm Mussolinis

supposed whereabouts.

The German Luftwaffe confirmed that the island had suddenly upped its level of defenses,

more or less confirming the presence of an important person.

It wasnt as clear cut as identifying Mussolinis whereabouts and rescuing him, however.

During a reconnaissance mission in an aircraft where Skorzeny decided to tag along, they

were shot down by the British Royal Air Force.

Crashing in the sea without any major injuries, it is rather ironic that the group of German

special units was rescued by an Italian anti-aircraft ship there to guard Mussolini against a rescue


Skorzeny and the group returned to the mainland, disguised as German sailors.

Once again, the Germans had to rely on their intelligence assets, bribings and reconnaissance

missions in order to exactly pinpoint Mussolinis whereabouts on the island.

A German intelligence officer got lucky when he asked around and a local vegetable trader

took him to the Villa Weber on the island.

Patiently waiting outside, the officer observed the heavily-guarded villa and actually managed

to spot Mussolini, confirming his whereabouts.

The vegetable trader was paid a handsome reward (though many of it counterfeit money) and

Skorzeny made new plans: a full-scale special unit assault.

On the 28th of August they were to storm the Villa.

What the Germans didnt know was that one day before the assault, in the vicinity of

the Villa, a civilian seaplane with Red Cross Markings, seemingly unrelated to the events

about the transpire, took off and flew east..

When the German intelligence officers made their rounds the next day in order to finalize

the preparations for the raid, they discovered Mussolini wasnt there anymore.

He had boarded the Red Cross seaplane and was moved to a new secret location.

The operation was canceled at the last minute, understandably, much to the frustration of

Skorzeny and the fallschirmjger.

Final Preparations

Skorzeny had to re-discover Mussolinis location, and map out a new rescue mission.

Fortunately, SS officer Herbert Kappler contacted him with information that something strange

was happening in the Abruzzi Mountains east of the city.

Security measures around the resort of Gran Sasso were increased, seemingly without reason.

The Germans concluded it could only be because of the fact that Mussolini was moved there.

A hotel-turned-prison, high up on the Campo Imperatore plateau was where Mussolini was


The location was only to be reached by a cable car, impossible to reach by road.

It was the perfect prison, or so the Italians thought...

Now, it had to be confirmed Mussolini actually was there, and General Student got medical

officer Leo Krutoff to find out if the Italians would be willing to let the Wehrmacht use

Gran Sasso as a centre to recuperate for its troops.

When Krutoff tried to reach Gran Sasso, he was held back by Italian Carabinieri guards.

It was off-limits to outsiders, even the Germans.

Other reconnaissance missions were sent, but no agents were able to break through the many

Italian troops that protected the area.

In order to rescue Mussolini from this seemingly impenetrable prison, Skorzeny devised a plan

that his superiors didnt even consider as serious.

One-hundred German paratroopers would glide through the mountains and land on Gran Sasso.

As the gliders were silent, they would not be detected by the Italians until they had

boots on the ground.

While Skorzenys senior officers had serious doubts, Hitler, who could appreciate a daring

plan and determination, approved the plan.

Three teams were now prepared, two to raid Gran Sasso and one to rescue Mussolinis

family from their house arrest in their country-home.

The Gran Sasso Raid

On the twelfth of september 1943, twelve German aircraft towing gliders set off and flew towards

the Abruzzi mountains.

Otto Skorzenys right-hand man, Max Radl, thought it a good idea to bring along the

fascist carabinieri commander, General Fernando Soleti.

Adventurous as Soleti was, he agreed.

The reasoning for bringing him along was to ensure the Carabinieri troops that guarded

Mussolini would hold fire - the last thing the Germans wanted was an all-out firefight

with the Italians.

As Skorzeny and his team were up in the air and glanced out, they noticed two gliders

had vanished.

Considering there were several more, it shouldnt have been a problem, had it not been for the

fact that the advance troops and the guide of the entire party were in them.

Skorzeny now had to direct the glider towards the location from memory.

Perhaps romanticized, perhaps not, it is said he slashed the canvas separating the paratrooper

cabin from the pilot and shouted instructions to the pilot.

He managed to guide the remaining gliders towards the Abruzzo mountains.

As they approached the plateau, it turned out the ground wasnt level, but steeply


Student had warned Skorzeny to under no circumstances order a crash landing if this turned out to

be the case.

And as such, completely against Students wishes, the gliders crash-landed as close

to the hotel as possible.

The paratroopers rushed towards the hotel entrance and bolted up the stairs, facing

many surprised Carabinieri guards.

Heres where General Soleti came into action.

He ordered the two-hundred Carabeneries that guarded Mussolini to hold fire.

Immediately, the Germans deactivated the wireless transmitter before a signal could be sent

to other Italian troops.

Not a shot had been fired yet.

Mussolini was quickly located on the first floor.

The plan was to move him into a small Storch plane that was specifically designated to

bring the men back to Rome.

Now, this Fiesler Storch light aircraft was damaged while landing on the plateau - and

the only other plane was a Fiesler Storch observation aircraft that had yet to land

Skorzeny communicated to the pilot that he was to land, and take Mussolini and him back

to safety.

The observation aircraft with pilot Captain Gerlach managed to land without suffering

much damage and Mussolini and Skorzeny now made ready to take off.

But, this light plane was overloaded with the 3 men in it, squashed together.

At first, Captain Gerlach even refused to take off with this much weight.

Skorzeny forced him to fly.

Reluctantly, Gerlach took off over the edge of the cliff, whereupon the plane plummeted

in the ravine below.

Gerlach, fortunately an able pilot, somehow managed to stabilize it and fly away.

When they reached Rome, Mussolini and Skorzeny boarded a Heinkel He 111 and flew to the Wolfs

Lair in East Prussia, where Hitler welcomed them.

Skorzeny became famous within Germany, and his daring raid boosted the morale of the

battered German nation.

He was used in propaganda posters, radio broadcasts and papers.

He was the only man to be presented the Knights Cross on the same day he won it.

What was more important was that Mussolini set up a fascist state in northern Italy afterward,

and held the southern front.

The bloody war in Italy continued, under the command of Marshal Kesselring.

Among the German high command, Skorzeny became known as the daring trouble-shooter.

His next mission would not be until May nineteen-forty-four, as Yugoslavia became a destabilizing factor

for Nazi Germany.

But that mission, Operation Rsselsprung, is a story for another time.

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The Description of Hitler's Secret Mission to Free Benito Mussolini | Otto Skorzeny's Gran Sasso Raid (WW2)