Gran Sasso raid

Last updated

Operation Oak
Part of World War II
Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-567-1503A-07, Gran Sasso, Mussolini mit deutschen Fallschirmjagern.jpg
Mussolini rescued by German commandos from his prison in the Hotel Campo Imperatore on 12 September 1943.
Italy provincial location map 2015.svg
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Italy Abruzzo location map.svg
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Operational scopeOperational
Location
42°26′32.73″N13°33′31.66″E / 42.4424250°N 13.5587944°E / 42.4424250; 13.5587944 Coordinates: 42°26′32.73″N13°33′31.66″E / 42.4424250°N 13.5587944°E / 42.4424250; 13.5587944
Planned by Harald Mors
Target Campo Imperatore
Date12 September 1943 (1943-09-12)
Executed byFallschirmjäger-Lehr-Bataillon of the 2. Fallschirmjägerdivision, 1/FJR 7; SS-Sonderverband z.b.V. Friedenthal; Polizia di Stato
OutcomeRescue of Benito Mussolini
CasualtiesItalian: two killed [1]
German: 10 injured

The Gran Sasso raid or Operation Eiche ("Oak") was 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 and executed by Major Harald Mors, and approved by General Kurt Student.

Benito Mussolini Duce and President of the Council of Ministers of Italy. Leader of the National Fascist Party and subsequent Republican Fascist Party

Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini was an Italian politician and journalist who was the leader of the National Fascist Party. He ruled Italy as Prime Minister from 1922 to 1943; he constitutionally led the country until 1925, when he dropped the pretense of democracy and established a dictatorship.

Nazi Germany The German state from 1933 to 1945, under the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler

Nazi Germany is the common English name for Germany between 1933 and 1945, when Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party (NSDAP) controlled the country through a dictatorship. Under Hitler's rule, Germany was transformed into a totalitarian state that controlled nearly all aspects of life via the Gleichschaltung legal process. The official name of the state was Deutsches Reich until 1943 and Großdeutsches Reich from 1943 to 1945. Nazi Germany is also known as the Third Reich, meaning "Third Realm" or "Third Empire", the first two being the Holy Roman Empire (800–1806) and the German Empire (1871–1918). The Nazi regime ended after the Allies defeated Germany in May 1945, ending World War II in Europe.

Fallschirmjäger is the German word for paratroopers. They played an important role during World War II, when, together with the Gebirgsjäger they were perceived as the elite infantry units of the German military. After World War II, they were reconstituted as parts of postwar armed forces of both West and East Germany, mainly as special ops troops.

Contents

Overview

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 [2] and had him arrested. [3]

Allied invasion of Sicily major World War II campaign

The Allied invasion of Sicily, codenamed Operation Husky, was a major campaign of World War II, in which the Allies took the island of Sicily from the Axis powers. It began with a large amphibious and airborne operation, followed by a six-week land campaign, and initiated the Italian Campaign.

Bombing of Rome in World War II

The bombing of Rome in World War II took place on several occasions in 1943 and 1944, primarily by Allied and to a smaller degree by Axis aircraft, before the city was invaded by the Allies on June 4, 1944. Pope Pius XII was initially unsuccessful in attempting to have Rome declared an open city, through negotiations with President Roosevelt via Archbishop Francis Spellman. Rome was eventually declared an open city on August 14, 1943 by the defending forces.

Grand Council of Fascism

The Grand Council of Fascism was the main body of Mussolini's Fascist government in Italy. A body which held and applied great power to control the institutions of government, it was created as a body of the National Fascist Party in 1923 and became a state body on 9 December 1928. The council usually met at the Palazzo Venezia, Rome, which was also the seat of head of the Italian government.

Campo Imperatore Hotel in 1943 Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-567-1503A-05, Gran Sasso, Hotel Campo Imperatore.jpg
Campo Imperatore Hotel in 1943
Campo Imperatore in 2008 Campo Imperatore 04(RaBoe).jpg
Campo Imperatore in 2008

Hitler's common procedure was to give similar orders to competing organisations within the German military. So he ordered the Hauptsturmführer (SS captain) Otto Skorzeny to track Mussolini, and simultaneously ordered the paratroop General Kurt Student to execute the liberation.

<i>Hauptsturmführer</i> Nazi party paramilitary rank

Hauptsturmführer was a Nazi Party paramilitary rank that was used in several Nazi organizations such as the SS, NSKK and the NSFK. The rank of Hauptsturmführer was a mid-level commander and had equivalent seniority to a captain (Hauptmann) in the German Army and also the equivalency of captain in foreign armies.

Otto Skorzeny Austrian SS-Standartenführer (colonel) in the German Waffen-SS

Otto Skorzeny was an Austrian born SS-Obersturmbannführer in the Waffen-SS during World War II. During the war, he was involved in a string of operations, including the removal of Hungarian Regent Miklós Horthy from power and the rescue mission that freed the deposed Italian dictator Benito Mussolini from captivity. Skorzeny led Operation Greif, in which German soldiers infiltrated enemy lines using their opponents' languages, uniforms, and customs. For this he was charged at the Dachau Military Tribunal with breaching the 1907 Hague Convention, but was acquitted.

Mussolini was being transported around Italy by his captors (first to Ponza, then to La Maddalena, both small islands in the Tyrrhenian sea). Intercepting a coded Italian radio message, Skorzeny used the reconnaissance provided by the agents and informants (counterfeit notes with a face value of £100,000 forged under Operation Bernhard were used to help obtain information) 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.

Italy republic in Southern Europe

Italy, officially the Italian Republic, is a country in Southern and Western Europe. Located in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, Italy shares open land borders with France, Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia and the enclaved microstates San Marino and Vatican City. Italy covers an area of 301,340 km2 (116,350 sq mi) and has a largely temperate seasonal and Mediterranean climate. With around 61 million inhabitants, it is the fourth-most populous EU member state and the most populous country in Southern Europe.

Ponza largest of the Italian Pontine Islands

Ponza is the largest island of the Italian Pontine Islands archipelago, located 33 km (21 mi) south of Cape Circeo in the Tyrrhenian Sea. It is also the name of the commune of the island, a part of the province of Latina in the Lazio region.

La Maddalena Comune in Sardinia, Italy

La Maddalena is a town and comune located on the island with the same name, in the province of Sassari, northern Sardinia, Italy.

On 12 September 1943, Skorzeny and 16 SS troopers joined the Fallschirmjäger to rescue Mussolini in a high-risk glider mission. Ten DFS 230 gliders, each carrying nine soldiers and a pilot, towed by Henschel Hs 126 planes started between 13:05 and 13:10 from the Pratica di Mare Air Base near Rome. The leader of the airborne operation, paratrooper-Oberleutnant Georg Freiherr von Berlepsch entered the first glider, Skorzeny and his SS troopers sat in the fourth and fifth glider. To gain height before crossing the close-by Alban Hills the leading three glider-towing plane units flew an additional loop. All following units considered this manoeuvre unnecessary and preferred not to endanger the given time of arrival at the target. This led to the situation that Skorzeny's two units arrived first over the target. [4] Meanwhile the valley station of the funicular railway leading to the Campo Imperatore was captured at 14:00 in a ground attack by two paratrooper companies led by Major Harald Mors, who was commander-in-chief of the whole raid. They also cut all telephone lines. At 14:05 the airborne commandos landed their ten DFS 230 gliders on the mountain near the hotel; only one crashed, causing injuries. The Fallschirmjäger and Skorzeny's special troopers 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 (it) of the Polizia dell'Africa Italiana , who flew in with Skorzeny, told them to stand down. Skorzeny attacked the radio operator and his equipment and stormed into the hotel, being followed by his SS troopers and the paratroopers. Ten minutes after the beginning of the raid, Mussolini left the hotel, accompanied by the German soldiers. At 14:45 Major Mors accessed the Hotel via the funicular railway and introduced himself to Mussolini.

DFS 230 military glider

The DFS 230 was a German transport glider operated by the Luftwaffe in World War II. It was developed in 1933 by the Deutsche Forschungsanstalt für Segelflug with Hans Jacobs as the head designer. The glider was the German inspiration for the British Hotspur glider and was intended for airborne assault operations.

Henschel Hs 126 aircraft

The Henschel Hs 126 was a German two-seat reconnaissance and observation aircraft of World War II that was derived from the Henschel Hs 122. The pilot was seated in a protected cockpit under the parasol wing and the gunner in an open rear cockpit. The prototype aircraft frame was that of a Hs 122A fitted with a Junkers engine. The Hs 126 was well received for its good short takeoff and low-speed characteristics which were needed at the time. It was put into service for a few years, but was soon superseded by the general-purpose, STOL Fieseler Fi 156 Storch and the medium-range Focke-Wulf Fw 189 "flying eye".

Pratica di Mare Air Base is a military airport of the Italian Air Force. It was installed in Pomezia, Lazio, Italy; southwest of Rome, Italy in 1937. In 1957, it was named after Colonnello Mario de Bernardi. It is the biggest Italian air base. A particular detail is that the base is located 2.5 km (1.6 mi) from the village of Pratica di Mare, a small Middle Aged-styled town, which is built on the old acropolis of Lavinium.

Fieseler Fi 156 Storch used to rescue Mussolini Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-567-1503C-04, Gran Sasso, Fieseler Fi 156 >>Storch<<.jpg
Fieseler Fi 156 Storch used to rescue Mussolini

Subsequently Mussolini was to be flown out by a Fieseler Fi 156 STOL plane that had arrived meanwhile. Although under the given circumstances the small plane was overloaded, Skorzeny insisted to accompany Mussolini, thus endangering the success of the mission. After an extremely dangerous but successful lift-off, they flew to Pratica di Mare. There they continued immediately, flying in a Heinkel He 111 to Vienna, where Mussolini stayed overnight at the Hotel Imperial. The next day he was flown to Munich and on September 14 he met Hitler at Führer Headquarters Wolf's Lair in near Rastenburg. [5]

Fieseler Fi 156 liaison aircraft

The Fieseler Fi 156 Storch was a small German liaison aircraft built by Fieseler before and during World War II. Production continued in other countries into the 1950s for the private market. It remains famous for its excellent STOL performance and low stall speed of 31 mph ; French-built later variants often appear at air shows.

STOL aircraft takeoff and landing using a short runway

STOL is an acronym for a short takeoff and landing aircraft, which have short runway requirements for takeoff and landing. Many STOL-designed aircraft also feature various arrangements for use on runways with harsh conditions. STOL aircraft, including those used in scheduled passenger airline operations, have also been operated from STOLport airfields which feature short runways.

Heinkel He 111 medium bomber

The Heinkel He 111 was a German aircraft designed by Siegfried and Walter Günter at Heinkel Flugzeugwerke in 1934. Through development it was described as a "wolf in sheep's clothing". Due to restrictions placed on Germany after the First World War prohibiting bombers, it masqueraded as a civil airliner, although from conception the design was intended to provide the nascent Luftwaffe with a fast medium bomber.

Aftermath

Mussolini leaving the Hotel Bundesarchiv Bild 183-J15420, Gran Sasso, Mussolini vor Hotel.jpg
Mussolini leaving the Hotel

Mussolini was made leader of the Italian Social Republic (a German puppet state consisting of the German-occupied portion of Italy).

The operation granted a rare late-war public relations opportunity to Hermann Göring, with German propaganda hailing the operation for months afterward. (The Axis otherwise had little about which to boast in the fall of 1943.) The landing at Campo Imperatore was in fact led by First Lieutenant von Berlepsch, commanded by Major Mors and under orders from General Student, all Fallschirmjäger (German air force paratroop) officers; but Skorzeny stewarded the Italian leader right in front of the cameras. After a pro-SS propaganda coup at the behest of Reichsführer-SS 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. 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. [4]

Winston Churchill himself described the mission as "one of great daring". As it turned out, however, this was one of the last of Hitler's spectacular gambles to bear fruit.

Additional information

According to Michele Vicenzo's researches, based on interviews and supposed contradictions between eyewitnesses and on other documents, the Gran Sasso raid is considered as possible result of a secret agreement between Badoglio's Italian government and the German government. [6] Gerhard Mertins was among the paratroopers who participated in the raid. [7]

See also

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References

  1. Forestry Guard Pasqualino Vitocco and Carabineer Giovanni Natali were shot dead while trying to alert the Campo Imperatore garrison.
  2. Whittam, John (2005). Fascist Italy. Manchester University Press. ISBN   0-7190-4004-3.
  3. Annussek, Greg (2005). Hitler's Raid to Save Mussolini. Da Capo Press. ISBN   978-0-306-81396-2.
  4. 1 2 Óscar González López (2007). Fallschirmjäger at the Gran Sasso. Valladolid: AF Editores. ISBN   978-84-96935-00-6.
  5. Erich Kuby: Verrat auf deutsch. Wie das Dritte Reich Italien ruinierte. Hoffmann und Campe, Hamburg 1982, isbn 3-455-08754-X.
  6. Di Michele, Vincenzo (2015). The Last Secret of Mussolini. Rimini: Il Cerchio. ISBN   978-8884744265.
  7. Romano Mussolini, My father, il Duce, Kales Press 2006, S.29: "For more than sixty years, my father´s liberation from Gran Sasso was attributed solely to Skorzeny, even though Mors and Mertins played crucial roles."