|Part of World War II|
Mussolini rescued by German commandos from his prison in the Hotel Campo Imperatore on 12 September 1943.
|Planned by||Harald Mors|
|Date||12 September 1943|
|Executed by||Fallschirmjäger-Lehr-Bataillon of the 2. Fallschirmjägerdivision, 1/FJR 7; SS-Sonderverband z.b.V. Friedenthal; Polizia di Stato|
|Outcome||Rescue of Benito Mussolini|
|Casualties||Italian: two killed |
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 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 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.
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 Badoglioand had him arrested.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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, 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 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 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.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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.Gerhard Mertins was among the paratroopers who participated in the raid.
A paratrooper is a military parachutist—someone trained to parachute into an operation, and usually functioning as part of an airborne force. Military parachutists (troops) and parachutes were first used on a large scale during World War II for troop distribution and transportation. Paratroopers are often used in surprise attacks, to seize strategic objectives such as airfields or bridges.
Airborne forces are military units set up to be moved by aircraft and "dropped" into battle, typically by parachute. Thus, they can be placed behind enemy lines, and have the capability to deploy almost anywhere with little warning. The formations are limited only by the number and size of their aircraft, so given enough capacity a huge force can appear "out of nowhere" in minutes, an action referred to as vertical envelopment.
Operation Fustian was an airborne forces operation undertaken during the Allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943 in the Second World War. The operation was carried out by Brigadier Gerald Lathbury's 1st Parachute Brigade, part of the British 1st Airborne Division. Their objective was the Primosole Bridge across the Simeto River. The intention was for the brigade, with glider-borne forces in support, to land on both sides of the river. They would then capture the bridge and secure the surrounding area until relieved by the advance of British XIII Corps, which had landed on the south eastern coast three days previously. Because the bridge was the only crossing on the river and would give the British Eighth Army access to the Catania plain, its capture was expected to speed the advance and lead to the defeat of the Axis forces in Sicily.
The Italian Social Republic, popularly and historically known as the Republic of Salò, was a German puppet state with limited recognition that was created during the later part of World War II, existing from the beginning of German occupation of Italy in September 1943 until the surrender of German troops in Italy in May 1945.
Gran Sasso d'Italia (Italian: [ɡran ˈsasso diˈtaːlja] is an Apennine secondary mountain massif. Its highest peak, Corno Grande, is the highest mountain in the Apennines and outside the Alps. Included in Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga National Park, is a popular touristic attraction and ski resort, used several times as filming locations.
Kurt Student was a general in the Luftwaffe during World War II. He led the first major airborne operation of the war, the Battle for The Hague in May 1940. The highest-ranking member of Germany's parachute infantry, he commanded the Fallschirmjäger throughout the war. In 1947, Student was tried and convicted of war crimes committed while in command on Crete.
Major Otto-Harald Mors was a battalion commander with the Fallschirmjäger who planned and led the Gran Sasso raid to rescue Benito Mussolini following his arrest in September 1943. He received the German Cross in Gold on 26 September 1943.
Campo Imperatore is a mountain grassland or alpine meadow formed by a high basin shaped plateau located above Gran Sasso massif, the largest plateau of Apennine ridge. Known as "Little Tibet", it is located in Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga National Park, near L'Aquila, Abruzzo, Italy.
The 500th SS-Parachute Battalion was the parachute unit of the Waffen-SS. The idea to form a paratrooper unit within the Waffen-SS allegedly came directly from Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler.
Bruce Quarrie was an English writer on wargaming and militaria topics.
SS-Jäger-Bataillon 502 was a special forces unit of Nazi Germany from 1943-1944.
Operation Achse, originally called Operation Alaric, was the codename for the German plan to forcibly disarm the Italian armed forces after the armistice with the Allies in 1943. Several German divisions had entered Italy after the fall of Benito Mussolini in July 1943, while Italy was officially still an ally of Germany, despite the protests of the new Italian government under Pietro Badoglio.
Mussolini and I is a 1985 TV docu-drama, directed by Alberto Negrin, about the strained relationship between Italy's fascist dictator Benito Mussolini and his son-in-law and foreign minister, Count Galeazzo Ciano, based on Ciano's diaries. Made in English as an Italian-French-German-Swiss-Spanish-US co-production, with Bob Hoskins, Anthony Hopkins and Susan Sarandon in the leading roles, it first aired on Rai Uno on 15 April 1985 in a 130-minute version. On 8 September 1985, it premiered in the USA on HBO in an extended four-hour version.
Walter Koch was a commander of the Fallschirmjäger during World War II who died in mysterious circumstances after openly criticising Adolf Hitler. Koch, who was the recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross for his actions during the Battle of Fort Eben-Emael in May 1940, had publicly denounced the Führer's infamous Commando Order, which ordered that all captured enemy commandos were to be executed. Shortly afterwards the Oberstleutnant and commander of Fallschirmjäger-Regiment 5 died in Berlin from injuries allegedly resulting from a motor vehicle collision.
The Fallschirmjäger were the paratrooper branch of the German Luftwaffe before and during World War II. They were the first German paratroopers to be committed in large-scale airborne operations and came to be known as the "green devils" by the Allied forces they fought against. The Fallschirmjäger were very effective when used in commando style raids. The Fallschirmjäger were famous for their willingness to give every effort unwaveringly even in the grimmest of situations. The Fallschirmjäger were seldom used as parachutists. Instead, they were prized for their combat abilities and frequently acted in a "fire brigade" role as roving elite infantrymen. Throughout World War II the Fallschirmjäger commander was Kurt Student.
The Verona Trial was held in the Italian Social Republic (ISR) to punish - by five almost immediately executed death sentences and one 30-year imprisonment - the members of the Grand Council of Fascism who had committed the offence of voting for Benito Mussolini's removal from power in the Kingdom of Italy and had later been arrested by Mussolini's forces.
Gerhard Mertins was a German paratrooper, arms trafficker, Nazi and associate of pedophile cult leader Paul Schäfer. In 1943, he participated in the Gran Sasso raid rescuing Benito Mussolini from prison.
The Hotel Campo Imperatore, also known as Albergo di Campo Imperatore, is a hotel on top of Campo Imperatore at 2,130 metres (6,990 ft) altitude on the slopes of Monte Portella, in the massif of Gran Sasso d'Italia, within the municipality of L'Aquila.
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