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Disambiguation: 'Skorzeny redirects here. For the fictional serial killer see Janos Skorzeny. Information on the musician Fritz Skorzeny can be found here.

Otto Skorzeny (June 12, 1908 – July 6, 1975) was an SSmarker-Obersturmbannführer (Lieutenant Colonel) in the Germanmarker Waffen-SS during World War II. After fighting on the Eastern Front, he commanded a rescue mission that freed the deposed Italian dictator Benito Mussolini from captivity. Skorzeny was also the leader of Operation Greif, in which German soldiers were to infiltrate through enemy lines, using their opponents' uniforms and customs. At the end of the war, Skorzeny was part of the Werwolf guerrilla movement.

Although charged with breaching the 1907 Hague Convention in relation with Operation Greif, the Dachau Military Tribunal acquitted Skorzeny after the war. Skorzeny fled from his holding prison in 1948, first to Francemarker, and then to Spainmarker. A German court denazified him in 1952.

Prewar years

Otto Skorzeny was born in Viennamarker into a middle-class Austrianmarker family which had a long history of military service. In addition to his native German, he spoke excellent French and English. In his teens, Otto once complained to his father of the austere lifestyle that his family was suffering from, by mentioning he had never tasted real butter in his life, due to the depression that plagued Austria after its defeat in World War I. His father prophetically replied, "There is no harm in doing without things. It might even be good for you not to get used to a soft life." Thus his underprivileged upbringing helped make him the feared commando that he became[11113]. He was a noted fencer as a university student in Vienna. He engaged in thirteen personal combats. The tenth resulted in a wound that left a dramatic scar - known in academic fencing as a Schmiss (German for "gash") - on his cheek.

In 1931 Skorzeny joined the Austrian Nazi Party and soon became a member of the Nazi SAmarker. A charismatic figure, Skorzeny played a minor role in the Anschluss on March 12, 1938, when he saved the Austrian President Wilhelm Miklas from being shot by Austrian Nazis.

The Eastern Front

After the 1939 invasion of Poland, Skorzeny, then working as a civil engineer, volunteered for service in the German Air Force (the Luftwaffe), but was turned down on grounds of age. He then joined Hitler's bodyguard regiment, the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler as an officer-cadet.

In 1940, as an SS Untersturmführer (Second Lieutenant), he impressed his superiors by designing ramps to load tanks on ships. He then fought in Holland, France, and the Balkans, where he achieved distinction by forcing a large Yugoslav force to surrender, following which he was promoted to Obersturmführer (First Lieutenant) in the Waffen-SS.

Skorzeny went to war in Russia with the 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich and subsequently fought in several battles on the Eastern Front. In October 1941, he was in charge of a "technical section" of the German forces during the Battle of Moscowmarker. His mission was to seize important buildings of the Communist Party, including the NKVD headquarters at Lubyanka, and the Central Telegraph and other high priority facilities, before they could be destroyed. The mission was canceled as the German forces failed to capture the Soviet capital.

In December 1942, Skorzeny was hit in the back of the head by shrapnel from Russian Katyusha artillery rockets. He refused all first aid except for a few aspirin, a bandage, and a glass of schnapps. A few hours later Skorzeny rejoined his unit but his health deteriorated, and continuous headaches and stomach pains forced him to evacuate for proper medical treatment. He was awarded the Iron Cross for bravery under fire and sent to Vienna to recover. While in Vienna, he read all the published literature he could find on commando warfare, and forwarded to higher command his ideas on unconventional commando warfare.

Skorzeny's proposals were to develop units specialized in such unconventional warfare, including partisan-like fighting deep behind enemy lines, fighting in enemy uniform, sabotage attacks, etc. In April 1943 Skorzeny's name was put forward by Ernst Kaltenbrunner, the new head of the RSHAmarker, and Skorzeny met with Walter Schellenberg, head of the SD (the SS foreign intelligence service). Schellenberg charged Skorzeny with command of the schools organized to train operatives in sabotage, espionage, and paramilitary techniques. Skorzeny was appointed commander of the recently created Waffen Sonderverband z.b.V. Friedenthal stationed near Berlin. (The unit was later renamed SS Jagdverbände 502, and in November 1944 again to SS Combat Unit "Center", expanding ultimately to five battalions.)

Sonderverband z.b.V. Friedenthal's first mission was in summer 1943. Operation Francois saw Skorzeny send a group by parachute into Iranmarker to make contact with the dissident mountain tribes to ecourage them to sabotage Allied supplies of materiel being sent to the Soviet Union through Iran. However, commitment among the rebel tribes was suspect, and Operation Francois was deemed a failure.

Operations by Skorzeny

The liberation of Mussolini

Skorzeny with the liberated Mussolini – Sept.
12 1943
In July 1943, he was personally selected by Hitler from among six German Air Force (Luftwaffe) and German Army (Wehrmacht Heer) special agents to lead the operation to rescue Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, who had been overthrown and imprisoned by the Italian government.

Almost two months of cat-and-mouse followed as the Italians moved Mussolini from place to place to frustrate any rescuers. There was a failed attempt to rescue Mussolini on 27.07.1943. The Ju 52 that the crew was aboard was shot down in the area of Pratica di Maremarker. Otto Skorzeny and his crew managed to bailout, except for one young Oberjäger. For reasons unknown, he wasn’t able to make it out of the plane. He perished in the crash and is now buried in the war cemetery in Pomeziamarker. Mussolini was first held in a villa on La Maddalena, near Sardinia. Skorzeny was able to smuggle an Italian-speaking commando onto the island, and a few days later he confirmed Mussolini was in the villa. Skorzeny then flew over in a Heinkel He 111 to take aerial photos of the location. The bomber was shot down by Allied fighters and crash-landed at sea, but Skorzeny and the crew were rescued by an Italian destroyer. Mussolini was moved soon after.

Information on Mussolini's new location and its topographical features were finally secured by Herbert Kappler. Kappler reported Mussolini was held in the Campo Imperatore Hotel at the top of the Gran Sassomarker mountain, and only accessible by cable car from the valley below. Skorzeny flew again over Gran Sasso and took pictures of the location with a handheld camera. An attack plan was formulated by General Kurt Student, Harald Mors (a paratrooper battalion commander), and Skorzeny.

On September 12, Operation Oak (Unternehmen Eiche), was carried out perfectly according to plan. Mussolini was rescued without firing a single shot. Flying out in a Storch airplane, Skorzeny escorted Mussolini to Romemarker and later to Berlinmarker. The exploit earned Skorzeny fame, promotion to Major and the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross.

Mussolini created a new Fascist regime in northern Italy, the Italian Social Republic (Repubblica Sociale Italiana).

Operation Long Jump

Skorzeny, October 3 1943
"Operation Long Jump" was the codename given to the unsuccessful plot to assassinate the "Big Three" (Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill, and Franklin Roosevelt) at the 1943 Tehran Conference. The plot was approved by Hitler and headed by Ernst Kaltenbrunner. German intelligence had learned of the time and place of the conference in mid-October 1943, after breaking a US Navy code. Otto Skorzeny, as the man who always seemed to have luck on his side, was chosen by Kaltenbrunner to head the mission.
Skorzeny in 1943
However, Soviet intelligence first became aware of the plot when legendary Soviet spy Nikolai Kuznetsov got SS Sturmbannfuhrer Hans Ulrich von Ortel to tell him about the operation while drunk. Six German radio operators were dropped by parachute and made their way to Tehranmarker, but were eventually found by Soviet agents led by Gevork Vartanian. However, one of the Germans realized they were under surveillance and the operation was called off; Skorzeny himself considered the intelligence coming from Tehran to be inadequate and did not believe the complex scheme could have worked.

Operation Rösselsprung

In the spring of 1944, Sonderverband z.b.V. Friedenthal was redesignated SS-Jäger-Bataillon 502 with Skorzeny staying on as commander. They were assigned to Operation Rösselsprung, a commando operation meant to capture Yugoslav Partisan leader Josip Broz Tito at his headquarters near Drvarmarker. Hitler knew that Tito was receiving Allied support and was aware that either British or American troops might land in Dalmatia with support from the Communist NOVJ (the "Partisan People's Liberation Army Of Yugoslavia"). Killing or capturing Tito would not only hinder this, it would give a badly needed boost to the morale of Axis forces in the Balkans.

Skorzeny was involved in planning Rösselsprung and was intended to command it. However, he argued against implementation after he visited Zagrebmarker and discovered that the operation had been compromised through the carelessness of German agents in the NDH (the satellite Independent State of Croatia).

Rösselsprung was put into action nonetheless, but it was a complete disaster. The first wave of paratroopers, following heavy bombardment by the Luftwaffe, jumped between Tito's hideout in a cave and the town of Drvarmarker; they landed on open ground and many were promptly shot by members of the partisan headquarters Escort Battalion, a unit numbering fewer than a hundred soldiers. The second wave of paratroopers missed their target and landed several miles out of town. Tito was gone long before paratroopers reached the cave; a trail at the back of the cave led to the railway tracks where Tito boarded a train that took him safely to Jajce. In the meantime, the Partisan 1st Brigade, from the 6th Partisan Division Lika, arrived after a twelve-mile (nineteen-kilometer) forced march and attacked the Waffen-SS paratroopers, inflicting heavy casualties.

The July 20 1944 plot against Hitler

On July 20 1944, Skorzeny was in Berlin when an attempt on Hitler's life was made. Anti-Nazi German Army officers tried to seize control of Germany's main decision centers before Hitler recovered from his injuries. Skorzeny helped put down the rebellion, spending 36 hours in charge of the Wehrmacht's central command centre before being relieved.

Hungary and Operation Panzerfaust

In October 1944, Hitler sent Skorzeny to Hungarymarker after receiving word that Hungary's Regent, Admiral Miklós Horthy, was secretly negotiating with the Red Army. The surrender of Hungary would have cut off the million German troops still fighting in the Balkan peninsula. Skorzeny, in a daring "snatch" codenamed Operation Panzerfaust (known as Operation Eisenfaust in Germany), kidnapped Horthy's son Miklós Horthy, Jr. and forced his father to resign as head of state. A pro-Nazi government under dictator Ferenc Szálasi was then installed in Hungary. In April 1945, after German and Hungarian forces had already been driven out of Hungary, Szálasi and his Arrow Cross Party-based forces continued the fight in Austria and Slovakiamarker. The success of the operation earned Skorzeny promotion to Obersturmbannführer.

Operation Greif and Eisenhower

As part of the German Ardennes offensive in late 1944 ("The Battle of the Bulge") Skorzeny's English speaking troops were charged with infiltrating Allied lines dressed and equipped as American soldiers in order to produce confusion to support the German attack. For the campaign, Skorzeny was the commander of a composite unit; the 150th SS Panzer Brigade.

As planned by Skorzeny, Operation Greif involved about two dozen German soldiers, most of them in captured American Jeeps and dressed as American soldiers, who would penetrate American lines in the early hours of the Battle of the Bulge and cause disorder and confusion behind the Allied lines. A handful of his men were captured and spread a rumour that Skorzeny personally was leading a raid on Paris to kill or capture General Eisenhower, who was not amused by having to spend Christmas 1944 isolated for security reasons. Eisenhower retaliated by ordering an all-out manhunt for Skorzeny, with "Wanted" posters distributed throughout Allied-controlled territories featuring a detailed description and a photograph.

Skorzeny spent January and February 1945 commanding regular troops in the defence of the German provinces of East Prussia and Pomerania, as an acting major general. Fighting at Schwedtmarker on the Oder River, he received orders to sabotage a bridge on the Rhinemarker at Remagenmarker. His frogmen tried but failed. For his actions in the East, primarily in the defence of Frankfurtmarker, Hitler awarded him one of Germany's highest military honours, the Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross. He was then sent on an inspection tour along the rapidly deteriorating Eastern front.

Operation Werwolf and surrender

With German defeat inevitable, Skorzeny played an instrumental role in selecting and training recruits for a stay-behind Nazi organization, the Werwölfe (Werewolves), who would engage in guerrilla warfare against the occupying Allies. However, Skorzeny quickly realized that the Werewolves were too few in number to become an effective fighting force and instead used them to set up the "ratlines", a secret "underground railroad" that helped leading Nazis escape after Germany's surrender.

Besides organising the "ratlines," which would form the basis of the supposed ODESSA network after the war, Skorzeny had been employed since August 1944 by high-ranking Nazis and German industrialists to hide money and documents, some of which was buried in the mountains or dropped in the lakes of Bavariamarker, and some shipped overseas.

Skorzeny surrendered on May 16, 1945, feeling that he could be useful to the Americans in the forthcoming Cold War. He emerged from the woods near Salzburgmarker, Austria and surrendered to a Lieutenant of the US 30th Infantry Regiment.

Post World War II

He was held as a prisoner of war for more than two years before being tried as a war criminal at the Dachau Trials in 1947 for allegedly violating the laws of war in the Battle of the Bulge. He and officers of the Panzer Brigade 150 were charged with improperly using American uniforms to infiltrate American lines. Skorzeny was brought before a US military court in Dachau on 18 August 1947. He and nine fellow officers of the 150th Panzer Brigade would face charges of improper use of military insignia, theft of US uniforms, and theft of Red Cross parcels from prisoners of war. The trial lasted over three weeks. The charge of stealing Red Cross parcels was dropped for lack of evidence. Skorzeny admitted to ordering his men to wear American uniforms. On the final day of the trial, 9 September, Allied Wing Commander F. F. E. Yeo-Thomas, recipient of the Military Cross and the Croix de guerre, and a former Allied Special Operations Executive agent, testified that he had worn German uniforms behind enemy lines. Realising that to convict Skorzeny could expose their own agent to the same charges, the tribunal acquitted the ten defendants, the military tribunal drawing a distinction between using enemy uniforms during combat and for other purposes including deception. They could not prove that Skorzeny had given any orders to actually fight in US uniform.

Skorzeny was detained in an internment camp at Darmstadtmarker awaiting the decision of a denazification court.. On July 27 1948 he escaped from the camp with the help of three former SS officers dressed in US Military Police uniforms who entered the camp and claimed that they had been ordered to take Skorzeny to Nuremberg for a legal hearing. Skorzeny afterwards maintained that the US authorities had aided his escape, and had supplied the uniforms.

Skorzeny hid out at a farm in Bavaria which had been rented by Ilse Lüthje, the niece of Hjalmar Schacht (Hitler's former finance minister), for around 18 months, during which time he was in contact with Reinhard Gehlen, and together with Hartmann Lauterbacher (former deputy head of the Hitler Youth) recruited for the Gehlen Organization.

Skorzeny was photographed at a café in the Champs Elyséesmarker in Parismarker on 13 February 1950, and the photo appeared in the French press the next day, causing him to retreat to Salzburg, where he met up with German veterans and also filed for divorce so that he could marry Ilse Lüthje. Shortly afterwards, with the help of a Nansen passport issued by the Spanish government, he moved to Madridmarker, where he set up a small engineering business.

Skorzeny had also been spending time in Egypt. In 1952 the country had been taken over by the CIA-backed General Mohammed Naguib. Skorzeny was sent to Egypt the following year by former General Reinhard Gehlen, who was now working for the CIA, to act as Naguib's military advisor. Skorzeny recruited a staff made up of former SS officers to train the Egyptian army. Among these Nazis were SS General Wilhelm Farmbacher, Panzer General Oskar Munzel, Leopold Gleim, chief of Hitler's personal guard, and Joachim Daemling, former chief of the Gestapo in Dusseldorf joined Skorzeny in Egypt. In addition to training the army, Skorzeny also trained Arab volunteers in commando tactics for possible use against British troops stationed in the Suez Canal zone. Several Palestinian refugees also received commando training, and Skorzeny planned their initial strikes into Israel via the Gaza Strip in 1953-1954. One of these Palestinians was Yasser Arafat.

Using the cover names of Robert Steinbacher and Otto Steinbauer, and supported by either Nazi funds (or according to some sources Austrian Intelligence), he set up a secret organization named Die Spinne which helped as many as 600 former SS men escape from Germany to Spain, Argentina, Paraguay, Chile, Bolivia, and other countries. As the years went by, Skorzeny, Gehlen, and their network of collaborators gained enormous influence in Europe and Latin America, Skorzeny travelling between Franquist Spainmarker and Argentinamarker, where he acted as an advisor to President Juan Perón, his aim to foster the growth of a fascist "Fourth Reich" centered in Latin America.

Skorzeny also acted as an advisor to the leadership of the Spanish neo-Nazi group CEDADE, which had been established in 1966, and which counted him as one of its founding fathers.

Like thousands of other former Nazis, Skorzeny was declared entnazifiziert (denazified) in absentia in 1952 by a West Germanmarker government arbitration board, which now meant he could travel from Spain into other Western countries. He spent part of his time between 1959 and 1969 in Ireland, where he bought Martinstown House, a farm in County Kildaremarker in 1959. He also had property in Mallorcamarker.

Paladin Group

In the 1960s Skorzeny set up the Paladin Group, which he envisioned as "an international directorship of strategic assault personnel [that would] straddle the watershed between paramilitary operations carried out by troops in uniforms and the political warfare which is conducted by civilian agents". Based near Alicantemarker, Spain, the Paladin Group specialized in arming and training guerrillas, and their clients included the South African Bureau of State Security and Muammar al-Gaddafi. They also carried out work for the Greek military junta of 1967–1974 and some of their operatives were recruited by the Spanish Interior Ministry to wage clandestine war against Basque separatists. The Soviet news agency TASS alleged that Paladin was involved in training US Green Berets for Vietnam missions during the 1960s, but this is considered unlikely.


In 1970, a cancerous tumor was discovered on Skorzeny's spine. Two tumors were removed in Hamburgmarker, but the surgery left him paralyzed from the waist down. Vowing to walk again, Skorzeny spent long hours with a physical therapist, and within six months was back on his feet. The years following were hard for Skorzeny, as he realised his final days were approaching.

Otto Skorzeny finally succumbed to cancer on 7 July, 1975 in Madrid at the age of 67. He was cremated. His ashes were later brought to Vienna and interred in the Skorzeny family plot at Döblinger Friedhofmarker.



  • Annussek, Greg. Hitler's Raid To Save Mussolini, (De Capo Press, 2005) ISBN 0-306-81396-3.
  • Durschmied, Erik. Don't Shoot the Yanqui (Grafton Books, 1990) ISBN 0-246-13631-6.
  • Durschmied, Erik. Whisper of the Blade (Coronet Books, 2001) ISBN 0-340-77084-8.
  • Foley, Charles, Commando Extraordinary (Arms & Armour, 1987) ISBN 0-85368-824-9.
  • Infield, Glenn, Secrets of the SS (Stein and Day, 1981) ISBN 0-8128-2790-2
  • Skorzeny, Otto, David Johnson transl. My Commando Operations: The Memoirs of Hitler's Most Daring Commando (reprint Schiffer Publishing, 1995) ISBN 0-88740-718-8.
  • Skorzeny, Otto, Skorzeny's Special Missions (Greenhill Books, 1997) ISBN 1-85367-291-2.
  • Tetens, T.H., The New Germany and the Old Nazis (Random House/Marzani & Munsell, 1961) LCN 61-7240.
  • Wechsberg, Joseph The Murderers Among Us—The Simon Wiesenthal Memoirs (McGraw Hill, 1967) LCN 67-13204.
  • Whiting, Charles, Skorzeny: "The Most Dangerous Man in Europe" (DaCapo Press, 1998) ISBN 0-938289-94-2.

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