Hitler’s Secret Mission to Free Benito Mussolini | The Gran Sasso Raid (WW2)

Hitler’s Secret Mission to Free Benito Mussolini | The Gran Sasso Raid (WW2)

In early 1943, the Second World War was in
full swing, the fortunes of the Axis Powers seemed to have turned. On July 25th that year, two weeks after the
Allied powers invaded Sicily, the King of Italy Victor Emanuel the Third ordered the
arrest of Benito Mussolini, following a vote of no confidence from the Fascist Grand Council. This new government, under Marshal Pietro
Badoglio started secret peace negotiations with the Allied powers. Now, to the Germans, it was of vital importance
that this new government not sue for peace, or even worse, switch sides to the Allied
powers. Hitler figured the only way to prevent this
from happening, was to have Benito Mussolini rescued, and put him back in power… What followed was one of the most daring special
operations and, admittedly, incredible stories of the Second World War: the rescue … of
Benito Mussolini. -intro- Mussolini arrested Alright, so after Mussolini was removed from
power, Italian King Victor Emanuel III replaced him with Marshal Pietro Badoglio. The new government made sure Mussolini was
moved, in utter secrecy, to an island off the coast of Sardinia. When news reached Hitler, who resided in his
bunker, the Wolf’s Lair in East Prussia, he decided it was of vital importance to rescue
Mussolini in order to ensure Italy would remain at Germany’s side during the war. The 35-year-old Austrian Otto Skorzeny was
the man to lead the operation to rescue Mussolini. Given command of a group of paratroopers,
or fallschirmjäger in German, he would lead the mission that would become one of the most
daring operations of the entire war. Skorzeny was a tall, scar-faced Austrian. Battle Hardened by his exploits in France,
Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. By 1943 he was promoted as part of the Security
Office, and occupied himself with secret missions and undercover work. Interestingly enough, before he was contacted
about the mission to rescue Mussolini, he studied Abwehr files on British commandos,
Special Air Service forces, US marines among other elite troops. He was planning a raid into Persia and the
Ural mountains of Russia. But then, in July, word got out that the Italian
Fascist Grand Council had removed Benito Mussolini from power and Skorzeny’s plans rapidly
changed. Now, Skorzeny had never met Hitler nor heard
about the secret Wolf Lair in East Prussia. He was summoned to the Wolf’s Lair and met
Hitler personally. As he met Hitler, the latter confided in him
that he had to carry out a task of the utmost importance that will “have a tremendous
effect upon the course of the war”. The entire mission fell under the command
of Kurt Student, a General of the Luftwaffe and commander of these German Fallschirmjäger. Skorzeny requested a few dozen men and a list
of requirements. These ranged from the obvious machine guns
and weaponry to priests’ robes. Once collected, the men flew to Rome where
they met Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, the German commander in chief in Italy. Kesseling told the men that the Italians had
assured him Mussolini was in Rome. But Badoglio, unbeknownst to the Germans,
had ordered to move Mussolini to an island off the coast. Both the Germans and Italians kept up an elaborate
game of deception and false friendship, until the eventual break-up of their alliance could
be spun into an advantage for either side. Skorzeny spent weeks investigating and reviewing
intelligence. Finally, he managed to pin down Mussolini’s
location to Ponza, a small island in the Tyrrhenian Sea of the Italian West Coast. But, fate had it that just as Skorzeny started
planning the operation, the Italian government moved Mussolini to Maddalena, to the north-east
of Sardinia. Mussolini on the Move Skorzeny used many Abwehr agents and contacts
in Italy in order to confirm Mussolini’s supposed whereabouts. The German Luftwaffe confirmed that the island
had suddenly upped its level of defenses, more or less confirming the presence of an
important person. It wasn’t as clear cut as identifying Mussolini’s
whereabouts and rescuing him, however. During a reconnaissance mission in an aircraft
where Skorzeny decided to tag along, they were shot down by the British Royal Air Force. Crashing in the sea without any major injuries,
it is rather ironic that the group of German special units was rescued by an Italian anti-aircraft
ship there to guard Mussolini against a rescue attempt. Skorzeny and the group returned to the mainland,
disguised as German sailors. Once again, the Germans had to rely on their
intelligence assets, bribings and reconnaissance missions in order to exactly pinpoint Mussolini’s
whereabouts on the island. A German intelligence officer got lucky when
he asked around and a local vegetable trader took him to the Villa Weber on the island. Patiently waiting outside, the officer observed
the heavily-guarded villa and actually managed to spot Mussolini, confirming his whereabouts. The vegetable trader was paid a handsome reward
(though many of it counterfeit money) and Skorzeny made new plans: a full-scale special
unit assault. On the 28th of August they were to storm the
Villa. What the Germans didn’t know was that one
day before the assault, in the vicinity of the Villa, a civilian seaplane with Red Cross
Markings, seemingly unrelated to the events about the transpire, took off and flew east.. When the German intelligence officers made
their rounds the next day in order to finalize the preparations for the raid, they discovered
Mussolini wasn’t there anymore. He had boarded the Red Cross seaplane and
was moved to a new secret location. The operation was canceled at the last minute,
understandably, much to the frustration of Skorzeny and the fallschirmjäger. Final Preparations Skorzeny had to re-discover Mussolini’s
location, and map out a new rescue mission. Fortunately, SS officer Herbert Kappler contacted
him with information that something… strange was happening in the Abruzzi Mountains east
of the city. Security measures around the resort of Gran
Sasso were increased, seemingly without reason. The Germans concluded it could only be because
of the fact that Mussolini was moved there. A hotel-turned-prison, high up on the Campo
Imperatore plateau was where Mussolini was held. The location was only to be reached by a cable
car, impossible to reach by road. It was the perfect prison, or so the Italians
thought… Now, it had to be confirmed Mussolini actually
was there, and General Student got medical officer Leo Krutoff to find out if the Italians
would be willing to let the Wehrmacht use Gran Sasso as a centre to recuperate for its
troops. When Krutoff tried to reach Gran Sasso, he
was held back by Italian Carabinieri guards. It was off-limits to outsiders, even the Germans. Other reconnaissance missions were sent, but
no agents were able to break through the many Italian troops that protected the area. In order to rescue Mussolini from this seemingly
impenetrable prison, Skorzeny devised a plan that his superiors didn’t even consider
as serious. One-hundred German paratroopers would glide
through the mountains and land on Gran Sasso. As the gliders were silent, they would not
be detected by the Italians until they had boots on the ground. While Skorzeny’s senior officers had serious
doubts, Hitler, who could appreciate a daring plan and determination, approved the plan. Three teams were now prepared, two to raid
Gran Sasso and one to rescue Mussolini’s family from their house arrest in their country-home. The Gran Sasso Raid On the twelfth of september 1943, twelve German
aircraft towing gliders set off and flew towards the Abruzzi mountains. Otto Skorzeny’s right-hand man, Max Radl,
thought it a good idea to bring along the fascist carabinieri commander, General Fernando
Soleti. Adventurous as Soleti was, he agreed. The reasoning for bringing him along was to
ensure the Carabinieri troops that guarded Mussolini would hold fire – the last thing
the Germans wanted was an all-out firefight with the Italians. As Skorzeny and his team were up in the air
and glanced out, they noticed two gliders had vanished. Considering there were several more, it shouldn’t
have been a problem, had it not been for the fact that the advance troops and the guide
of the entire party were in them. Skorzeny now had to direct the glider towards
the location from memory. Perhaps romanticized, perhaps not, it is said
he slashed the canvas separating the paratrooper cabin from the pilot and shouted instructions
to the pilot. He managed to guide the remaining gliders
towards the Abruzzo mountains. As they approached the plateau, it turned
out the ground wasn’t level, but steeply sloped. Student had warned Skorzeny to under no circumstances
order a crash landing if this turned out to be the case…. And as such, completely against Student’s
wishes, the gliders crash-landed as close to the hotel as possible. The paratroopers rushed towards the hotel
entrance and bolted up the stairs, facing many surprised Carabinieri guards. Here’s where General Soleti came into action. He ordered the two-hundred Carabeneries that
guarded Mussolini to hold fire. Immediately, the Germans deactivated the wireless
transmitter before a signal could be sent to other Italian troops. Not a shot had been fired yet. Mussolini was quickly located on the first
floor. The plan was to move him into a small Storch
plane that was specifically designated to bring the men back to Rome. Now, this Fiesler Storch light aircraft was
damaged while landing on the plateau – and the only other plane was a Fiesler Storch
observation aircraft that had yet to land… Skorzeny communicated to the pilot that he
was to land, and take Mussolini and him back to safety. The observation aircraft with pilot Captain
Gerlach managed to land without suffering much damage and Mussolini and Skorzeny now
made ready to take off. But, this light plane was overloaded with
the 3 men in it, squashed together. At first, Captain Gerlach even refused to
take off with this much weight. Skorzeny forced him to fly. Reluctantly, Gerlach took off over the edge
of the cliff, whereupon the plane plummeted in the ravine below. Gerlach, fortunately an able pilot, somehow
managed to stabilize it and fly away. When they reached Rome, Mussolini and Skorzeny
boarded a Heinkel He 111 and flew to the Wolf’s Lair in East Prussia, where Hitler welcomed
them. Skorzeny became famous within Germany, and
his daring raid boosted the morale of the battered German nation. He was used in propaganda posters, radio broadcasts
and papers. He was the only man to be presented the Knight’s
Cross on the same day he won it. What was more important was that Mussolini
set up a fascist state in northern Italy afterward, and held the southern front. The bloody war in Italy continued, under the
command of Marshal Kesselring. Among the German high command, Skorzeny became
known as the daring trouble-shooter. His next mission would not be until May nineteen-forty-four,
as Yugoslavia became a destabilizing factor for Nazi Germany. But that mission, Operation Rösselsprung,
is a story for another time. Thank you for watching this video. If you enjoyed it, there’s an entire playlist
about the second World War on screen! I would also like to thank all my Patrons
for their generous support. If you enjoy House of History and want to
support my work consider checking me on Patreon. For just 1$ a month you will gain access to
the exclusive Patreon series. Don’t forget to subscribe. Are there more historical events or people
you would like to know more about? Let me know your thoughts in a comment! See you next time!

14 thoughts on “Hitler’s Secret Mission to Free Benito Mussolini | The Gran Sasso Raid (WW2)

  1. u.s. marines, an elite force. Just like the SAS and the British Commandos. They are not even close. They never have been.

  2. What an amazing story. It is definitely one of the most interesting tales from WWII and a favorite of mine. I am surprised it hasn't been made into a movie. Anyways, great work! Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *