Gran Sasso raid

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Gran Sasso raid
Part of World War II
Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-567-1503A-07, Gran Sasso, Mussolini mit deutschen Fallschirmjagern.jpg
Mussolini with German commandos
TypeRescue mission
Location
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 by
Outcome Benito Mussolini rescued
Casualties2 Italians killed, 10 Germans wounded

The Gran Sasso raid was the rescue of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini by German Fallschirmjäger led by Major 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 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 Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Italy from his golpe in 1922 to 1943, and Duce of Fascism from 1919 to his execution in 1945 during the Italian civil war. As dictator of Italy and founder of fascism, Mussolini inspired several totalitarian rulers such as Adolf Hitler.

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.

Harald Mors Germany military officer of World War II

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.

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 against Mussolini. On the same day, the king replaced him with Marshal Pietro Badoglio [1] and had him arrested. [2]

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.

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

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 European country consisting of a peninsula delimited by the Italian Alps and surrounded by several islands. Located in the middle of the Mediterranean sea and traversed along its length by the Apennines, Italy has a largely temperate seasonal and Mediterranean climate. The country covers an area of 301,340 km2 (116,350 sq mi) and shares open land borders with France, Slovenia, Austria, Switzerland and the enclaved microstates of Vatican City and San Marino. Italy has a territorial exclave in Switzerland (Campione) and a maritime exclave in the Tunisian Sea (Lampedusa). With around 60 million inhabitants, Italy is the fourth-most populous member state of the European Union.

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 comune located on the islands of the Maddalena archipelago in the province of Sassari, northern Sardinia, Italy.

Campo Imperatore Hotel in 1943 Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-567-1503A-05, Gran Sasso, Hotel Campo Imperatore.jpg
Campo Imperatore Hotel in 1943

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.

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.

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. [3]

Oberleutnant (OF-1a) is the highest lieutenant officer rank in the armed forces of Germany (Bundeswehr), Austrian Armed Forces, and Military of Switzerland.

Alban Hills mountain range

The Alban Hills are the caldera remains of a quiescent volcanic complex in Italy, located 20 km (12 mi) southeast of Rome and about 24 km (15 mi) north of Anzio. The 950 m (3,120 ft) high Monte Cavo forms a highly visible peak the centre of the caldera, but the highest point is Maschio delle Faete approximately 2 km (1.2 mi) to the east of Cavo and 6 m (20 ft) taller. There are subsidiary calderas along the rim of the Alban Hills that contain the lakes Albano and Nemi. The hills are composed of peperino, a variety of tuff that is useful for construction and provides a mineral-rich substrate for nearby vineyards.

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.

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

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 of the Italian African Police, 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.

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. [4]

Aftermath

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

The operation granted a rare late-war public relations opportunity to Hermann Göring, with German propaganda hailing the operation for months afterward. 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 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 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. [3]

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.

See also

Footnotes

  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. 1 2 Óscar González López (2007). Fallschirmjäger at the Gran Sasso. Valladolid: AF Editores. ISBN   978-84-96935-00-6.
  4. Erich Kuby: Verrat auf deutsch. Wie das Dritte Reich Italien ruinierte. Hoffmann und Campe, Hamburg 1982, ISBN   3-455-08754-X.

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