...Dismantling the Skorzeny Myth in the Gran Sasso Raid, from Pen and Sword
Title: Freeing Mussolini
Author: Oscar Gonzalez Lopez
Publisher: Pen and Sword Books
A recent release from Pen & Sword came at an ideal time for me. Just a few weeks earlier my wife and I had been on our first holiday to Italy and during our trip we made a visit to the Campo Imperatore, the hotel on the Gran Sasso where the German Paratroopers had landed back in September 1943 and 'rescued' Mussolini. Now they have released this book explaining the detail of this famous operation and busting the myth of just how much of a part was played by the SS officer, Otto Skorzeny.
The author explains the short period leading up to the operation itself and the preparations of the Luftwaffe paratroopers, the Falschirmjager, who were to carry out the mission. In addition to the ten gliders, towed by Henschel HS 126 tow planes, there was also a significant ground force which took part, moving to the cable car which provided access to the hotel from the valley below. It makes clear that Skorzeny wasn't involved in the planning or command of the mission, though he had been involved in tracking Mussolini's location to the Campo Imperatore itself. The rescue was accomplished without a shot being fired, apart from one accidentally fired from within one of the gliders when it landed. Famously, a Fiesler Storch was landed at the hotel and although overloaded was able to take off with the pilot, Mussolini and Skorzeny. An audacious plan, successfully carried out with minimal casualties. Mussolini was taken on to Berlin where the German propaganda machine, backed by Himmler, publicised the role of Otto Skorzeny and the SS.
The book gives credit to the troops who actually completed the rescue. It is also well illustrated throughout with photos that show the site at the time, with gliders on the ground close to the hotel, and even a plan showing where the gliders actually landed, along with their planned landing arrangement, which didn't quite work out. Also photos of many of the paratroopers who took part. In a couple of the photos there are spots clearly recognisable to the visitor today, not just in relation to the hotel itself, but also the old cable car (there is a modern one now built adjacent to the old one). An excellent account of this most daring raid from WW2, one which even Churchill admired, and as a recent visitor to the Gran Sasso, one well worth reading.
Thanks to Pen and Sword for my copy.