The Gran Sasso Raid | Rescuing Benito Mussolini (1943)

The Gran Sasso Raid | Rescuing Benito Mussolini (1943)


During late nineteen-forty-two and early nineteen-forty-three,
the fortunes began to turn for Nazi Germany, and there seemed little they could do to turn
the tide. Italy, an ally of Nazi Germany, saw the Italian
Fascist Grand Council and the Italian King dismiss and arrest Benito Mussolini, Italy’s
dictator. Hitler wanted Mussolini rescued, as it was
of vital importance that Italy not switch sides to the allied powers. What followed was one of the most daring special
operations of the second world war: the rescue…. of Benito Mussolini. -intro- Mussolini arrested Hitler saw use of the special German commando,
the so-called Brandenburgers, as crucial in embarking on secret operations and bolstering
the German morale. Otto Skorzeny would be the man to lead these
commandos during the most dangerous operations of World War 2. Skorzeny was a tall, scar-faced Austrian and
in nineteen-forty-three he was made commander-in-chief of German commandos. He ended up occupying himself with studying
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 when, in July, word got out that the Italian Fascist Grand Council
had removed Benito Mussolini from power and King Victor Emmanuel the Third subsequently
replaced him with Marshal Pietro Badoglio. When this happened, Skorzeny had never met
Hitler nor heard about his secret Wolf Lair in East Prussia. He received a phone call and was flown in
and once he arrived, Hitler selected him from a group of officers with a task of the utmost
importance that will “have a tremendous effect upon the course of the war”. Skorzeny left, under the command of Paratroop
General Karl Student. Both men landed in rome on the twenty-seventh
of July, making their way to the headquarters of Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, German
Commander-in-chief of Italy. The Italians had assured Kesselring that Mussolini
was in Rome, however Badoglio, without the Germans knowing, moved him off to the island
of Ponza. 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. Skorzeny spent weeks investigating and reviewing
intelligence, after which he pinned Mussolini’s location down to a small island in the Tyrrhenian
Sea of the Italian West Coast. Just as he started planning the operation,
the Italian government moved Mussolini to Maddalena, to the north-east of Sardinia. Mussolini on the Move Skorzeny used the Abwehr agents and contacts
in Italy in order to confirm Mussolini’s 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. During a reconnaissance mission, Skorzeny
and his pilot were shot down by the British Royal Air Force. Ironically, 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 Maddalena,
disguised as German sailors and tasked Lieutenant Warger with finding the exact whereabouts
of Mussolini. Warger got lucky when he asked around and
a local vegetable trader took him to the Villa Weber, where they waited outside and, surrounded
by guards, saw Mussolini. The vegetable trader was paid a handsome reward
and Skorzeny made new plans: a full-scale special unit assault. On the twenty-eight of August they would storm
the Villa, but one day before, in the vicinity of Mussolini’s whereabouts, a civilian seaplane
with Red Cross markings took off and flew east. When Warger made his rounds the next day,
he discovered Mussolini had been moved, upon which he quickly contacted Skorzeny, who canceled
the operation at the last moment. 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 a reason. The Germans concluded it could only be because
of the fact that Mussolini was moved there. By this time, Skorzeny had gathered a team
of competent subordinates, such as Warger, and a decent network of Italian informers
employed by the Sicherheitsdienst and the Abwehr. A hotel, high up on the Campo Imperatore plateau
was the place 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, confirming that it was under military control
and off-limits to outsiders. It was enough to confirm Mussolini was there. In order to rescue Mussolini, 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 his senior officers had extreme doubts,
Hitler, who could appreciate a daring plan and determination, approved the plan. The Gran Sasso Raid On the twelfth of september nineteen-forty-three,
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 and when
Skorzeny and his team were up in the air and glanced out, he 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. Fortunately, he managed to, and the gliders
crash-landed as close to the hotel as possible. The paratroopers rushed towards the hotel
entering and bolting up the stairs, as General Soleti ordered the two-hundred Carabeneries
that guarded Mussolini to hold fire. Mussolini was quickly found, and placed in
a small Storch observation aircraft that had landed. The plane was overloaded, as it had Skorzeny,
Mussolini and the Pilot in it. The Pilot, Captain Gerlach, at first refused
to take off with this much weight. Skorzeny forced him to fly and the plane took
off over the edge of the cliff, plummeting in the ravine below. Gerlach, fortunately an able pilot, managed
to stabilize it and fly to Rome. From Rome, Mussolini flew to the Wolf’s
Lair, where Hitler welcomed him. 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. 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 and what
is secret mission or spy that you would like to know more about, and perhaps see a video
of? Let me know your thoughts in the comments. If you enjoyed the video, consider subscribing
to this channel. See you next time!

7 thoughts on “The Gran Sasso Raid | Rescuing Benito Mussolini (1943)

  1. I’ve always thought this was such an interesting topic, but I’ve never really sat down and learned about it. Thanks for making this video!

  2. Ah yes, Mussolini, the annoying little brother the Axis was forced to bring along cos their mum told them too. Another great video man! Hits home since my home region was under Italian control until 1943. Never knew about this raid though.

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