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The Gran Sasso raid refers to Operation Eiche (German for 'Oak'), the daring rescue of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini by German paratroopers in September 1943, during World War II. It was planned by Major Harald Mors and approved by General Kurt Student.

Campo Imperatore Hotel
Campo Imperatore

Contents

Overview

On 25 July 1943, a few weeks after the allied invasion of Sicily and bombing of Rome, the Italian Grand Council of Fascism voted to depose Mussolini and replace him with Marshal Pietro Badoglio.[1] Mussolini was subsequently arrested on King Victor Emmanuel's orders.[2]

After his arrest, Mussolini was transported around Italy by his captors. Otto Skorzeny, selected personally by Hitler and Ernst Kaltenbrunner to carry out the rescue mission, tracked him.

Intercepting a coded Italian radio message, Skorzeny used his own reconnaissance to determine that Mussolini was being imprisoned at Campo Imperatore Hotel, a ski resort at Campo Imperatore in Italy's Gran Sasso, high in the Apennine Mountains. On 12 September 1943, Skorzeny joined the team, led by Major Harald Mors, to rescue Mussolini in a high-risk military mission.

Mussolini leaving the Hotel

The operation on the ground at Campo Imperatore was led by Lieutenant Count Otto von Berlepsch, planned by Major Harald Mors and under orders from General Kurt Student, all Fallschirmjäger (German Air Force Paratroop) officers. The commandos crashed their gliders into the nearby mountains, then overwhelmed Mussolini's captors without a single shot being fired. Skorzeny attacked the radio operator and his equipment, and formally greeted Mussolini with "Duce, the Führer has sent me to set you free!" to which Mussolini replied "I knew that my friend would not forsake me!" Mussolini was first flown from Campo Imperatore in a Luftwaffe Fieseler Fi 156 Storch STOL liaison aircraft, initially flown in by Captain Walter Gerlach, then taking off with Mussolini and Skorzeny (even though the weight of an extra passenger almost caused the tiny plane to crash) then on to Vienna, where Mussolini stayed overnight at the Hotel Imperial and was given a hero's welcome. The Storch involved in rescuing Mussolini bore the radio code letters, or Stammkennzeichen, of "SJ + LL" in motion picture coverage, for propaganda purposes, of the daring rescue.

Aftermath

Berlin celebration of the troops under the command of Skorzeny that rescued Mussolini.

The operation granted a rare late-war public relations opportunity to Hermann Göring. Mussolini was returned to power again in the German-occupied portion of Italy (the Italian Social Republic). Otto Skorzeny gained a large amount of success from this mission; he received a promotion to Major, the award of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross and fame that led to his "most dangerous man in Europe" image.

Nazi propaganda hailed the operation for months, the Axis otherwise having little about which to boast in the fall of 1943. As it turned out, it was the last of Hitler's spectacular gambles to bear fruit.

References

  • Gonzalez Lopez, Oscar. Fallschirmjager at the Gran Sasso: The Liberation of Mussolini by the German Parachutist on the 12th September 1943. 
  • Patricelli, Marco (2001). Mondadori. ed (in Italian). Liberate il Duce. Le Scie. ISBN 88-04-48860-3. 

Notes


Coordinates: 42°25′34″N 13°31′42″E / 42.42611°N 13.52833°E / 42.42611; 13.52833

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