Skorzeny was an officer of the much feared Waffen-SS, and was wounded on the Eastern Front. Whilst he was recuperating he studied unconventional methods of warfare and soon became a supporter of special forces operating behind enemy lines. He was put in charge of training such units and was placed in charge of several operations on all fronts, earning himself many decorations for his actions, including the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves.
Gran Sasso raid
The action he is arguably most famous for was the airborne liberation of the fascist Italian dictator Mussolini from his mountain prison. Skorzeny along with six German Air Force and Army special agents were selected to lead an airborne operation to rescue the imprisoned Benito Mussolini. Numerous attempts had been made to retrieve Mussolini, but were unsuccessful, as the Italians had been moving the ousted leader around to avoid detection. Skorzeny took many pictures of each of the locations that they thought he was being held in, giving him a better view to plan, eventually tracking Mussolini to the Gran Sasso mountain, which was only accessible via a single cable car! Skorzeny’s team launched a high-risk glider mission and succeeded in rescuing Mussolini without firing a shot.
The Battle of the Bulge featured a German unit, known as Einheit Stielau, that operated under Operation Greif, in which English speaking German infantry wearing captured allied uniforms and vehicles planned to sow discord and confusion amongst the allied ranks. The idea came from Adolf Hitler himself and Skorsveny was given command. The unit was not as successful as the Germans wanted, as a lack of captured vehicles and uniforms were in short supply, and the main objective of capturing the Meuse Bridges, behind the Allied lines, failed.
The commando unit, Einheit Stielau, had been assembled from soldiers who could speak great English, and were even sent into POW camps to learn the language better. They were given short courses in radio skills and demolition. They even studied U.S and British military insignia. The scale of effort went into the unit was impressive, and all because of Skorzeny’s intellect and ideas.
When the war ended he escaped military prison in disguise and worked with the underground Nazi movement for years. He then switched career by training international mercenaries in the 1970s.
Warlord Games currently sends out a miniature of Otto Skorzeny free when you buy the Armies of Germany army book directly from us.
Here is an excellently painted version by friend of Warlord Claudia Zuminich.