5 Failed Missions Of Otto Skorzeny – Hitler’s Favorite SS Commando

Skorzeny in Pomerania visiting the 500th SS Parachute Battalion, February 1945. Bundesarchiv - CC BY-SA 3.0 de
Skorzeny in Pomerania visiting the 500th SS Parachute Battalion, February 1945. Bundesarchiv - CC BY-SA 3.0 de

Otto Skorzeny was a well-known commando and special forces operative who was dubbed “The Most Dangerous Man in Europe” during World War II. Before the war, he was a civil engineer and a member of the Austrian Nazi Party. He had a scar on his left cheek from a fencing duel and was therefore called Scarface. Skorzeny enlisted as a member of Hitler’s bodyguard unit after he failed to pass as a pilot of the Luftwaffe. In the first years of the war, he was “chasing the war” since his unit wasn’t in the vanguard of the German army.

Whenever he would arrive at the front, the battle had already been won. In 1941, during operation Barbarossa, or the Russian campaign, he saw real combat and was wounded by shrapnel. He continued fighting not heeding the injury, and he was later decorated for his actions. After this injury, he was transferred to Berlin where he became a member of the SS Foreign intelligence service.

A while ago War History Online published an article about the successful and daring missions of Hitler’s top commando, Otto Skorzeny (link). After summing up his victories, we have decided to post some of his less successful actions. Some of these missions were canceled, and other proved to be impossible even for Scarface.

1. Operation Francois

Francois was the code-name for the first commando operation under the strategic planning of Otto Skorzeny. It was conducted in the summer of 1943, by the members of the elite 502 Jagdverbande, the German paratrooper unit. The plan was to organize the nomadic people of Qashqai, in the territory of today’s Iran into an armed guerrilla force which could serve the Nazi war effort.

Other than employing the tribesmen, the paratroopers were assigned to disrupt the supply lines between the Allies and the Soviets and to turn the local population against the Allied presence. The supply route became known as the Persian Corridor, and it was a vital lifeline for holding off the Soviets on the Eastern front. The Qashqai were already leading some unorganized skirmishes against the Anglo-Soviet peaceful occupation.

Soviet and British soldiers rendezvous near Qazvin.
Soviet and British soldiers rendezvous near Qazvin.

 

Skorzeny parachuted into Northern Iran packed with gold and explosives. His intention was to bribe the tribesmen elders and win their support for the mobilization of the entire people. The operation proved to be a failure, after which a fellow agent in the Middle East, Paul Ernst Fackenheim, made a remark that as soon as they were out of gold, the Persians sold them to the British.

2. Operation Long Jump

The Big Three, 1943
The Big Three, Tehran,1943.

After his short-lived mission in Persia, Skorzeny was once again on a well-known ground, assigned to track the preparations of the Tehran conference which took place on November 28th, 1943. When Hitler learned in mid-October, 1943, about the conference which was the first official meeting of the so-called big three (Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin), he immediately demanded a plan to assassinate or perhaps abduct his main enemies with a single blow.

The Soviet NKVD found out about the plot and identified the leader of the ring. He was a 19-year-old spy, Gevort Vartanian, who ran a Soviet spy group in Persia.

They located the German base of operations in Tehran and intercepted coded messages that were sent to a headquarters in Berlin. The decrypted messages stated that the Germans were preparing to send in the second group of subversive commandos to support Skorzeny. After learning that their mission had been compromised, the Germans had to pull back and abort the operation that could have changed the course of the Second World War.

3. Operation Knight’s Leap

Glider used in the Operation Knight's Leap
Glider used in the Operation Knight’s Leap. Bundesarchiv – CC BY-SA 3.0 de

In 1944, the Reich’s attention had shifted to the Balkans. The partisan movement was growing in the countries of occupied Yugoslavia, under the leadership of a charismatic Comintern agent, Josip Broz Tito. Tito had managed to create pockets of liberated territory during 1944. His headquarters was located in a cave in the Bosnian mountains. Hitler wanted to decapitate the Yugoslav resistance by capturing or killing its leader. The mission also included destroying the partisan headquarters and locating and killing the Allied military advisors.

The terrain was highly unapproachable, and Skorzeny decided on a combined glider-borne and airborne assault. The assault was supported by a mass offensive of the ground forces which was supposed to distract the resistance fighters while a small, highly-trained unit of paratroopers was to infiltrate the headquarters.

The operation eventually failed due to the unexpected resistance of the Yugoslav fighters who managed to hold off the ground offensive as well as the airborne assault long enough for Tito and his staff to make their escape. Also, this operation was a prime example of limited cooperation between the military secret service and the SS, since Skorzeny decided to withhold some vital information on Tito’s whereabouts to the Wehrmacht’s Intelligence service, the Abwehr.

4. Leonidas Squadron

The V-1 missile. Photo Credit.
The V-1 missile. Bundesarchiv – CC BY-SA 3.0 de

By 1945, with nearly all of the Third Reich’s resources depleted and its armies shattered all over Europe. Otto Skorzeny together with Hajo Hermann, the celebrated German bomber pilot, proposed a plan to Hitler which would utilize the use of suicide pilots, similar to the Japanese Kamikaze. It was called the Leonidas Squadron. At first, they wanted to use jet plains, Messerschmitt Me 328 packed with explosives, manned by a pilot who would fly into certain death.

The use of prototype jet planes whose control was yet to be mastered due to their high speed proved to be useless. Skorzeny turned to an another prototype design – V-1 flying bomb, converted to be navigated by a single pilot. The pilots purpose was to ram precisely into an enemy bomber or ground position.

The plan never came to fruition in this exact form, but some pilots from the Leonidas Squadron voluntarily flew suicide missions against the advancing Red Army on the Oder River.  At this point, the pilots were using any aircraft available, instead of the modified V-1 prototype.

5. Operation Werewolf

Goebbels awards a 16-year-old Hitler Youth, Wili Hubner, 1945
Goebbels greets a 16-year-old Hitler Youth, Willi Hubner, 1945. Bundesarchiv – CC BY-SA 3.0 de

Werewolf is the name of a Nazi project developed during the war, which involved the use of organized guerrilla warfare in case of foreign occupation. Commando No.1 in Nazi Germany was assigned to oversee the development of the operation in the last months of the war. Joseph Goebbels inflated the story of an already operational partisan movement which was to be put into action as soon as the Allies and the Soviets reached Berlin.

It was, in fact, a desperate propaganda fairy tale designed to scare the invading forces and to raise the morale of German citizens. The resistance movement was mostly composed of Hitler Youth members who were being trained in guerrilla tactics months before the end of the war.

Skorzeny saw the lack of potential of the operation and soon redirected the small force of fanatics to aid the escaping Nazi high officials. The Werewolf committed a series of terrorist acts in the months after the end of the war, but it’s hard to distinguish their actions from those of individuals acting alone. The group was never officially disbanded. The Soviet NKVD dealt with the problem harshly, accusing and killing roughly 5,000 boys, aged 15 to 17, for suspected Werewolf activity.

Epilogue

Otto Skorzeny as an Allied POW
Otto Skorzeny as an Allied POW.

After the war Skorzeny was imprisoned as a POW by the Americans, and awaited his trial. In 1947, he was prosecuted for war crimes since his methods violated many conventions of war.  Two ex-SS officers dressed in American uniforms helped Skorzeny escape from prison.

In the post-war period, he was a Nazi supporter who carried out numerous attempts to smuggle accused war criminals to countries that would offer them asylum. It is believed that Otto Skorzeny was an agent of secret organizations ODESSA (Organization of Former SS Members) and Der Spinne Group. Both of these clandestine organizations were mostly preoccupied with smuggling  Nazis to South America so that they could avoid trial and possibly death.

Like thousands of other former Nazis, Skorzeny was declared entnazifiziert (no longer a Nazi) in absentia in 1952 by a West German government arbitration board, which now meant he could travel from Spain into other Western countries, on a special Nansen passport for stateless persons with which he visited Ireland in 1957 and 1958.

Skorzeny lived in Spain most of his post-war life, where he founded a Neo-Nazi group called CEDADE (Spanish Circle of Friends of Europe). He also ran a mercenary security company called The Paladin Group, which was actually a cover for a far-right organization of the same name.

He died in Madrid, in 1975, of lung cancer. His well-established connections enabled him to spend his life without being sentenced or persecuted for his Nazi past, which he never regretted. He helped numerous Nazi officials escape justice and continued to fight for the Nazi cause even after the defeat.