WWII Aerial Warfare and Innovations

Operation Oak

Germany's Mussolini Rescue

Operation Oak
When Italy fell to the Allies in 1943, Italian dictator Mussolini was captured and imprisoned by the interim government. Adolf Hitler personally ordered that the German military raid the remote hotel high in the Italian Alps where Mussolini was being held. The mission was carried out by German paratroopers and Waffen-SS commandos. They landed and overwhelmed the guards. A Storch plane then landed on the 7,000-foot mountain top, took off again and Mussolini and Skorzeny were flown to safety.

Updated July 2024
Posted November 2023

WWII Operation Oak
Unternehmen Eiche / Operation Oak
September 12, 1943
One of the most famous missions this type of aircraft [] flew was Unternehmen Eiche ("Operation Oak") when on September 12, 1943 the German military raided a remote hotel high in the Italian Alps where Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was being held. Adolf Hitler personally ordered the mission, which was carried out by German paratroopers and Waffen-SS commandos.

When Italy fell to the Allies in 1943, Mussolini was captured and imprisoned by the interim government. Hitler immediately summoned SS Captain Otto Skorzeny and tasked him with finding and rescuing the former Italian dictator. Through extensive intelligence, Mussolini's location was eventually discovered. He was imprisoned at the Hotel Campo Imperatore hotel in the Italian Gran Sasso mountains. Initially, the plan was to use a paratrooper force in conjunction with the experimental Focke-Aghelis 223 helicopter. On the day of the raid, September 12, 1943, the helicopter broke down.

WWII Wikipedia Mussolini The only logical alternative was the trusty Storch.

German Fallschirmager paratroopers and SS troopers landed and overwhelmed the guards. The Storch then landed, finding a bit of flat ground on the 7,000-foot mountain top. Mussolini and Skorzeny boarded the Storch which, despite being heavily overloaded, took off again and flew them to safety at Pratica di Mare, Italy.

Two years later, a Storch, piloted by Hitler's personal pilot Heinz Baur, had also been waiting to fly the Fuhrer and Eva Braun out of Berlin to safety, but on April 30, 1945, they committed suicide in the Fuhrerbunker.

Gran Sasso Raid

WIKIPEDIAWorld War II Gran Sasso Raid
German Military Codename: Unternehmen Eiche (Operation Oak)
Was a successful operation on September 12, 1943 by German paratroopers and Waffen-SS commandos to rescue the deposed Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini from custody in the Gran Sasso d'Italia massif. The airborne operation was personally ordered by Adolf Hitler, approved by General Kurt Student and planned and executed by Major Harald Mors.

On the night between 24 and 25 July 1943, a few weeks after the Allied invasion of Sicily and bombing of Rome, the Grand Council of Fascism voted a motion of no confidence against prime minister Benito Mussolini. On the same day, King Victor Emmanuel III replaced him with Marshal Pietro Badoglio and had Mussolini arrested. This is commonly known as the Fall of the Fascist regime in Italy (or 25 Luglio in Italian); Badoglio's government at first continued the war on the Axis powers' side, but after Italian and German forces were defeated during the Allied invasion of Sicily (17 August), the Italian government began secret negotiations with the Allies to surrender. This resulted in the Armistice of Cassibile on 3 September, coinciding with the Allied invasion of mainland Italy.

Mussolini was arrested on the king's orders by the Carabinieri on 25 July just after he left the king's private residence, and he was initially brought to the Podgora Carabinieri Headquarters in Trastevere. In the afternoon he was transferred to the Carabinieri Cadet School in the vía Legnano, where he was held until 27 July. On 27 July, military police led by general Francesco Saverio Polito took Mussolini to Gaeta, boarded the ship Persefone and imprisoned Mussolini in an isolated house on the island of Ponza in the Tyrrhenian Sea from 12:00 on 28 July to 7 August. From 7-27 August, Mussolini was held in a private villa on La Maddalena.

From 28 August, he was kept at the Hotel Campo Imperatore, which was built on a remote and defendable mountain plateau 2,112 metres above sea level in the Gran Sasso d'Italia mountain range. A ski station was located next to the hotel, linked with a cable car. The hotel was one of originally three planned hotels (but the only one that was ever built) shaped in the letters 'D', 'V' and 'X', together 'DVX', the Latin word meaning "leader", from which Mussolini's Italian title il Duce was derived. The D-shaped Hotel Campo Imperatore constructed to celebrate Mussolini's rule served as his prison for several weeks.

The Raid
After the Italian government announced the Armistice of Cassibile and thereby its defection from the Axis to the Allies on 8 September, the German army launched Operation Achse and quickly occupied strategic points in northern and central Italy within days, effectively disarming hundreds of thousands of Italian soldiers who had nominally just switched sides. The Allied Italian military and political leaders including Marshal Badoglio and King Victor Emmanuel III fled to Allied-controlled territory in southern Italy.

On 12 September 1943, Skorzeny and 16 SS troopers joined the Fallschirmjager to rescue Mussolini in a high-risk glider mission. Ten DFS 230 gliders, each carrying nine soldiers and a pilot, towed by Henschel Hs 126 planes started between 13:05 and 13:10 from the Pratica di Mare Air Base, near Rome.

The leader of the airborne operation, Oberleutnant Georg Freiherr von Berlepsch, entered the first glider while Skorzeny and his SS troopers sat in the fourth and the fifth gliders. To gain height before crossing the close by Alban Hills, the leading three glider-towing plane units flew an additional loop. All of the following units considered that manoeuvre to be unnecessary and preferred not to endanger the given time of arrival at the target. That led to both of Skorzeny's units arriving first over the target.

Meanwhile, the valley station of the funicular railway leading to the Campo Imperatore was captured at 14:00 in a ground attack by two paratrooper companies, led by Major Harald Mors, the commander-in-chief of the whole raid, which cut all telephone lines. This ground attack caused the only two deaths of the operation, Italian forestry guard Pasqualino Vitocco, who was killed while attempting to warn the garrison of the approaching German troops, and carabiniere Giovanni Natale, who was killed while preparing to open fire on the attackers. Two more carabinieri were slightly wounded by a hand grenade. At 14:05, the airborne commandos landed their ten DFS 230 gliders on the mountain near the hotel. One crashed and caused injuries.

The Fallschirmjager and Skorzeny's special troopers overwhelmed Mussolini's captors, 200 well-equipped Carabinieri guards, without a single shot being fired. The Italian General Fernando Soleti had been forced to fly with Skorzeny on the raid, as a hostage; making himself known to the soldiers who guarded the hotel, Soleti ordered them not to shoot. Skorzeny attacked the radio operator and his equipment and stormed into the hotel, followed by his SS troopers and the paratroopers. Ten minutes after the beginning of the raid, Mussolini left the hotel, accompanied by the German soldiers. At 14:45, Mors accessed the hotel via the funicular railway and introduced himself to Mussolini.

Mussolini was then to be flown out by a Fieseler Fi 156 STOL plane that had arrived in the meantime. Although under the given circumstances the small plane was overloaded, Skorzeny insisted on accompanying Mussolini, which endangered the mission's success.

After an extremely dangerous but successful takeoff, they flew to Pratica di Mare. They then immediately continued to fly in a Heinkel He 111 to Vienna, where Mussolini stayed overnight at the Hotel Imperial. The next day he was flown to Munich, and on 14 September, he met Hitler at Fuhrer Headquarters, in Wolf's Lair, near Rastenburg.

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