Hitler's Errol Flynn Commando
One of the dashing poster boys of the old third Reich, well at least in Hitler's glazed eyes was Oberstumbannfuhrer (Lt. Colonel) Otto Skorzeny.
Standing at six-feet four inches and over two hundred pounds in weight and with a noticeable duelling scar scared across his cheek, he was the dashing darling of the German Reich, during the mid 1940s. In fact if he had been portrayed on the silver screen no finer an actor than Errol Flynn could have done justice to his life and legend. (Incidentally some years ago a book was published, claiming Flynn was a closet Nazi spy. It did seem unlikely then as today.)
I suppose today he is best remembered for his daring rescue by glider of Benito Mussolini from the Gran Sasso in the Apennines at 2.20 on the 12th September 1943, grandly called "Operation Oak." Even Prime Minister Winston Churchill, always an admirer of bravery, declared to the House of Commons soon after the rescue that, "This stroke was one of great daring and conducted with heavy forces." The Prime Minster knew all about bravery having seen service himself as a young man in the Boer war.
And didn't even General Ike Eisenhower, the then Supreme Allied Commander, once refer to him as, "public enemy number one and the most dangerous man in Europe." Old Otto must have loved this free publicity.
This year is the 60th anniversary of the death of the "Divine diva" as some have fondly remembered her and she is of course Evita (Eva) Peron, forever immortalised in film and song. And she too is an important thread in the story of Otto Skorzeny. More on her later.
So who was this so-called "gentle giant," who during the war would meticulously plan assassination attempts against Tito, Churchill, Stalin and FDR, as well as trying to eliminate Eisenhower. I somehow suspect Skorzeny was born to attempt these exploits that only in wartime can be favourable or a failure and men like Skorzeny always grasp the opportunity in whatever era they live in.
Why even the late Errol Flynn never attempted these dangerous deeds on film that Otto so enjoyed arranging and carrying out in real life.
Otto Skorzeny was born in Austria in 1908 into a comfortable middle class family, that later would be caught in up in the hyperinflation that swept post war Europe. The International Red Cross would help sustain his family and many others in those dark days, but nobody likes surviving on handouts do they. For many they were indeed times of hunger and humiliation.
He would also earn another sarcastic sobriquet from the Americans during the war, being that of "scarface," usually earned from his thirteen duelling bouts at university. Of these experiences he would later recall and almost with pride, "My knowledge of pain learned with the sabre taught me not to be afraid of fear." I suggest he wore these scars with pride with a motto being, "Duellists of the world unite," it seems!
In his prepared memoirs penned in 1957 and reissued again in 2006, he seems to be rather guarded by what he is prepared to reveal of his exploits before and during the war to his readers. It may be that the Allies war crimes commission were still investigating him and the prospect of a lengthy jail sentence still worried him.
However in 1932/3 he eagerly enlisted in the Austrian cell of the Nazi party, after hearing Joseph Goebbels speak in Vienna, before it was later proscribed. (Both Hitler and Goebbles were the persuasive Nazi orators of their day but one day in the near future the coming Antichrist will have the same charisma and charm as those cunning criminals.)
However it is claimed that the theatre of war has many players, some rather willing to abide by its rules, others perhaps unwilling. Some sharing in its triumph or suffering in its travails, perhaps some will be the victors, others sadly will be the vanquished.
Otto Skorzeny, however, rather treated the war as if it were his own private playground. His motto for survival then could well be, "whom I don't know I don't trust." In 1939 he would be selected to serve in Hitler's bodyguard. He would see action in the Waffen/SS serving in France and Russia. (Incidentally Skorzent had a great respect for the British commandos and would read all he could on their training and action, even attempting to teach him self English with a dictionary to be able to read captured training manuals. This asset would serve him well later at Nuremberg, when he was put on trial after the war.)
In the meantime he would collect an Iron Cross for a head wound received in the Russian campaign (serious head traumas can and do sometimes altar a persons personality, it has been reported by the BMC.) So I'm not sure how Skorzeny's injuries would affect him or his personality or any future judgement, but it certainly didn't seem to affect his bravery either during the war or after.
As regards one of the most interesting of the war time exploits of Otto was the kidnapping of Miklos (Mikki) Horthy, son of Admiral Horthy, the then wartime dictator of Hungary; a Calvinist and an Admiral without a fleet it seems. Old Horthy Snr. would soon taste some of Skorzeny's skills when he crashed into the room with all neurons firing snatching up the young Horthy and then rolling him up into an expensing Persian carpet, quickly securing him with a sash cord from the heavy hanging drapes. Then hoisting him over his shoulder he was gone. Very awesome and very James Bond as well.
As regards the roll call of assignations attested to him, one that does cast doubt on his reputation was the poisoning (if that's what it was) of King Boris of Bulgaria. This primitive method as used to stifle the king does not sound like his calling card and although he had been called a "problem solver," this does not seem like one of those problem he could or would solve.
The plot in which Skorzent did confirm his involvement in 1966 was when he and his commandos were involved in "Operation Long Jump." Its mission to assassinate or abduct the big three: Stalin, Churchill and FDR in Tehran in 1943. Naturally nothing came of it. In fact the ring of Steele around the so-called "big three" was too formidable, even for Skorzeny.
One last desperate throw of the dice for Skorzeny's commandos in the dying days of the war was the attempted abduction of General Eisenhower in 1944. Skorzeny and his men had put on American uniforms to confuse the enemy. And as Charles Whiting, who has written about this strange episode in his book says, "Thus the Eisenhower plot was never satisfactorily explained."
How true. So was Otto ever involved in attempting to spearhead its success, well he certainly encouraged this myth to flourish long after the war had ceased.
However his greatest achievement at the height of his carer was the time he "snatched up" Mussolini from his inept Italian keepers.
On September 12th 1943, Benito Mussolini after his arrest and under strict orders from the King, was finally brought to Hotel Campo Imperatore, located in the beautiful Apennine Mounts in Italy for internment. In fact it's still there to this day, offering cuisine and curtsey to its numerous guests many obviously seeking to learn more about the famed Mussolini rescue known as "Operation Eich" (Oak.)
Today standing some 6,970 feet in the mountain heights, Benito Mussolini, the captive, would remark about it that it was: "The highest prison in the world." And he might add perhaps the loneliest. Later he would be gratefully rescued by gliders (DFS 230), manned by Skorzeny and his team. Everything it seems went to schedule. Mussolini was soon a free and grateful man and Skorzeny became an instant hero of the Reich, much to the disgust of his Superior, General Student, who had completed most of the pre-preparation and planning for this daunting and dangerous mission.
Now we at this ministry subscribe to a coming occasion known as the "rapture."
We understand that in the very near future, the born again believers will be spirited up to meet the Lord in the air. (This is not the Second Coming of Christ, which will occur seven years after the rapture.) And as Mussolini was spirited away from his fortress in the mountains silently and swiftly and successfully by Skorzeny and his commandos, so too will the born again believers be so uplifted, then being changed from mortality to immortality.
In fact there are many Bible references that confirms this amazing event, which could be imminent. For more information please check the website.
Finally home in wartime Berlin and naturally for this dangerous mission Skorzeny would be rewarded with the "Knights Cross of the Iron Cross." Remarked a beaming Hitler to Otto, "You have given me back my friend Mussolini." (Although the back room boys at HQ organized much of the success it seems.) However as regards religion I'm not sure that Otto Slavishly worshiped the Nordic gods and especially Odin and the others that many other nazis purportedly claimed to do so and as a serving soldier on the battlefield and under fierce fire he would have called on many (false) gods for imminent protection. But off duty he certainly enjoyed being summoned to meet and take camomile tea and Viennese pastries with fellow Austrian Adolph Hitler, when the deckle edged invitation or phone call summoned him to the Fuhrers lair.
And as an Austrian Catholic he had probably throughout this life paid lip service to that religion he was born into. It is perhaps no coincidence that after his death a requiem mass was said, with a cremation later providing a final backdrop to his life.
At last with the duration of the war Skorzeny found himself a guest of the allies in Nuremberg and Dachau prisons, of these confinements he would say, "We were not sorry to leave Dachau and have no happy memories of it."
What a stupid remark to make. I doubt anyone who was confined in such a ghastly cage would have enjoyed its encounter at all. Interestingly his second wife was vaguely connected to Hitler's so called banker, Hjalmar Schacht. We have featured him in the past in a video book review. Mr. Schacht a "wizard" with most finances was supposedly able to assist Skorzeny with lucrative business ventures in post war Europe. (One popular rumour has Skorzeny being smuggled quietly into America under "Operation Paperclip" after the war to be fitted with a new identity and later assisting in the birth of the fledgling CIA. Apparently this Skorzeny died in 1999 and was cremated. There's no doubt some pretty unsavoury thugs retired to the good life in America with an American passport and new identity.
Skorzeny would later purchase property in Spain and Mallorca. In 1959 he purchased a 200-acre 19th century shooting lodge and farm in Co-Kildare. I wonder what the locals thought of their new lord of the manor. One bitterly remembered that he wasn't particularly friendly to them but he lived openly for a decade in Eire, even socializing with the future Prime Minister of Ireland, the controversial, Charles Haughey. (Remember him?)
In the late 1940s Skorzeny the warrior became the Skorzeny the writer. The pistol had been put aside for the pen. He finally settled to complete his memoirs entitled "Skorzneys special missions." And always the egotist he would present himself in the light of an unrepentant dashing hero in its pages. Its final publication would cause riots in Paris as well as collecting many unlike admires of his style of soldering including Fidel Castro. He even, it is claimed, started a secret escape organization about this time called "Die Spinne." Even in post-war Europe Skorzeny were still faithful to the world and its false treasures and trappings. So perhaps he should have remembered Joshua 24:15: "Choose ye this day whom that ye will serve."
Hitler may have long gone but the seeds he left behind would be nurtured and nourished by Otto, as he reminisces in his memoirs, "No normal human being wants to lose his life, but a moment may come for all of us in which we have to choose between our existence and what we believe in." Again I'm not sure what belief Skorzny subscribed to but unless it is in the true God of the Holy Bible then all else is false and vain. And I'm sure that Odin, Thor and the rest of those mythical Valhalla villains would have reduced the Colonel to laughter at the use of those names.
However mention has to be made of his journey to Argentina and of course Evita Peron, and their so-called "romance," which he liked to boast about.
But was there any truth in it. Did he also, as he claimed, successfully foil an ambitious attack on her life? Who knows, because today so much of these insinuations remain unproved. Yet she does seem to have been perhaps involved in money laundering for the Nazis and maybe into a convenient Swiss bank when she visited Europe. (I found it interesting that the British Royal family didn't want to meet her on this trip for what ever reason), but maybe these cash transactions that she was perhaps involved in was due from pressure and a gentle persuasion from her husband Col. Peron.
But was Eva a sinner or a saint or just a much-maligned young woman. Remember she rather like Skorzeny perpetrated many myths that swirled around her own brief life. In her own memoirs (which may have been ghost written for her) she accuses the Catholic clergy, especial the bishops of being "petty, selfish with sordid ambitions for privilege." So what would Evita have to say today concerning the sordid sex scandals of the church that she claimed had abandoned the poor, the humble and the sick.
Well her own conscience seemed to be in the suffering of the people of Argentine. The welfare and love that could only come from the spiritual sacrifice of Christ may well have influenced her motives as regards the people. She was of course certainly beholden to Peron for her position and of course later he for her in maintaining his own survival in Argentinean politics. But hers was a star that flourished to quickly then faded away.
(Photo of Eva from the author's private collection)
Again Skorzeny and his allegations of his seducing the lady may just have been in his Austrian mind. But of his courage on the battlefield I have no doubt but of his conquest of Evita. I'm afraid that for this super-commando I have my doubts anything ever happened.
Another popular rumour has it that in his declining years Otto offered his specialised skills, and at a price of course, to such nefarious figures as Gadafi and Arafat to name but a few, who paid for his skills. Some claim that even the controversial CIA offered him a lucrative amount to finally depose of Castro once and for all after they had frequently failed. But was this all part of his arrogance that he had popularised and promoted with such generosity through newspaper discussions and film interviews and hadn't Skorzeny always practised self-promotion when invited to or not.
By 1946 the magic of Nazism had finally evaporated and the New World Oorder was expected or had it arrived! Yet Otto Skorzeny was always a survivor and in those post-war years he yearned for new horizons to climb and conquer. In those turbulent thirty years after the war, his exploits aided and abetted in interviews and film, would forever cease when finally in 1975 the claws of cancer silenced old "scarface" forever in Madrid, Spain.
"Of all the rogues surrounding Hitler Skorzeny was perhaps the least objectionable as a human being." So remarked the noted Historian, Louis L. Snyder and he may well have been correct in his judgment. Yet if the rescue and return to Germany of Benito Mussolini was the defining day of his life, did his conscience ever cause him to repent and to seek forgiveness for his sins and slights or was he happily resigned to his eternal fate. And perhaps he might have meditated on what Evita had confided to her diary if someone had bothered to show it to him.
She wrote: "If God did not exist, if there were no religion, man would be a few specks of dust scattered into the abyss of eternity."
Well Evita certainly was correct in her own beliefs and maybe old "scarface" would have agreed-or again
"And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment."
Update: July 27th 2012: Argentina President, Christina Fernandez has placed the face of Evita Peron, the former First Lady, on to their 100 peso note, some 60 years after her death of cancer.
Used reference books:
Hitler's henchmen, Louis Snyder
Eva Peron, Alicia Dujovne Ortiz
Skorzeny's Special Missions, Otto Skorzeny
Skorzeny, Charles Whitting
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