June 12th In German History: The Birth of Otto Skorzeny

Otto Skorzeny portait.jpg
Otto Skorzeny.

The Second World War had no shortage of skilled soldiers and daring exploits. One man, however, rises above the others. Otto Skorzeny led several commando operations during the Second World War ranging from daring rescues to covert infiltration. His efforts aided the German war effort greatly, making him perhaps the single most significant soldier of the war.

Skorzeny was born on June 12th, 1908, in Vienna. In addition to his native German, he spoke French and was proficient in English, skills which would prove useful in his military career. While at University he received a scar an his cheek from a fencing accident. Soon after, he joined the Austrian Nazi Party in 1931. However, he would save the President of Austria, Wilhelm Miklas, from being shot by Nazis during the Anschluss in 1938. He joined the SS in 1939 and fought on the Eastern Front. In 1942 he received the Iron Cross after he was wounded by shrapnel. While recuperating, he formulated doctrine for commando operations and was assigned to head a school which would instruct soldiers in sabotage and other types of unconventional warfare. In 1943 he was appointed commander of Waffen Sonderverband z.b.V. Friedenthal, an SS commando unit. His first mission, an attempt to create a partisan movement in Iran, was a failure. However, his second mission would be a resounding success. Following the Allied Invasion of Sicily, the Grand Council of Fascism deposed Benito Mussolini and the King of Italy had him arrested. Otto Skorzeny and 16 other SS soldiers were assigned as part of a task force meant to rescue Mussolini from a ski resort in the Appinine Mountains. Although Skorzeny was not the leader of the operation, it would be his unit, packed into gliders, that would arrive first at the target. Skorzeny was able to get Mussolini’s 200 guards to surrender without a shot and they escaped in an overcrowded plane. Thanks to Heinrich Himmler’s propaganda efforts, Skorzeny received most of the credit for the operation. In 1944, Skorzeny ran an operation to capture the son of Hungarian dictator Mikolos Horthy, who was negotiating a surrender with the Soviets. The mission was a success and its forced Horthy to resign, allowing the Germans to install a puppet government. His last famous mission was carried out during the Battle of the Bulge. Operation Fall Grief was the mission to infiltrate Allied lines and prevent bridges over the Meuse River from being destroyed. English-speaking troops using captured jeeps and uniforms were meant to carry out the operation under Skorzeny’s direction. Although the infiltration was initially successful, the limited amount of captured equipment alone led to the capture of many of the operatives and the overall failure of the operation. As a result of the operation, Dwight D. Eisenhower initiated a manhunt for Skorzeny, putting up wanted posters in Allied territory. After the war, he was tried for war crimes for ordering his men to wear captured uniforms. However, he was acquitted in 1947 as the men took their uniforms off before entering combat. In 1948, he escaped from prison while awaiting a denazification trial. He first moved to Spain, and in 1952 became an advisor to Egyptian dictator Muhammad Naguib. He continued to engage in political activity, being one of the co founders of a Spanish neo-Nazi group. In 1975, he died of lung cancer.

Otto Skorzeny has become somewhat famous for his various exploits during World War II. However he should not be idolized. He was a member of the SS and never at any point renounced Nazism. While he himself did not take part in the Holocaust or engage in the killing of civilians during battle, he was a high-ranking member of an organization that did both. He should be remembered both for his military success and his moral failings as to only remember the first would be to forget the evil he was accomplice to and to only remember the second would do injustice to his accomplishments, which were objectively impressive.

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