The Rescue of Mussolini, an Act Worth Remembering
Mussolini the Italian dictator was rescued from a mountain resort where he was held by a dare devil operation
An Impossible Rescue
A friend of mine over a glass of beer with me at The United Service Club mentioned that the bravery of the German Para brigades was legendary. He cited the example of Crete and the rescue of Benito Mussolini the Italian dictator.
The Imprisonment of Mussolini
Mussolini was a Fascist who had come to power by the ballot. He was initially very popular, but a megalomaniac streak saw him align with Hitler and lead Italy into an unwelcome war against the allies. Mussolini rapidly lost popularity and the Italian King and government looking for a way out of the war decided that Mussolini must go. Thus in July 1943 Mussolini after a meeting with the king was deposed and imprisoned. The Italians were wary that Hitler may make some attempt to rescue him so they continuously shifted him from place to place to thwart any attempt by the Germans to rescue him.
Adolf Hitler was aware that Italy may soon make peace with the allies and would also turn Mussolini over to them. He thus felt it his moral duty to rescue him. The Germans by their intelligence network learned that Mussolini was held in the Abruzzo region of Central Italy in a ski resort at Hotel Campo Imperato. This was a formidable place to hold the famous prisoner and the only approach was through a cable car.
The Plan and Rescue
At the same time Hitler called for volunteers from the Army and the Air force. Out of 6 volunteers he selected a man named Major Skorzeny, who was a paratrooper and a dare devil. Hitler met him on 29 July 1943 and directed him to rescue Mussoloni.Skorzeny made plans to rescue the Italian dictator. He tracked the movements of Il Duce for two months before deciding that the time had come to mount the rescue mission. On 13 September 1943 Skorzeny led a glider assault force of hand picked German commandos. The gliders landed in the hotel ground and it was a tribute to the skill of the pilots that they could perform this difficult feat.
The master stroke was to carry an Italian police official with them who emerged from the glider shouting ‘don’t shoot’ and sowed confusion in the Italian guards. It was a daring operation the like of which is seldom seen. Mussolini was rescued and by another plane spirited away to Germany.
Skorzeny survived the war and died in 1975 in Spain, where he had received protection from General Franco. Mussolini of course did not survive the war and met an ignoble end in 1945. The curtain finally came down on the Second World War, but the feat of Major Skorzeny needs to be remembered as a feat of bravery and courage that will be difficult to surpass.Sometimes I wonder why Hollywood made no famous movie on this episode. Is it because it would have glorified a defeated opponent ?
References Hitler's Raid to Save Mussolini: The Most Infamous Commando Operation of World War II
Greg Annussek Da Capo Pres Paperback August 2006