The central figure in developing and leading Germany’s commandos during World War II was Otto Skorzeny. He will be forever known for his leadership of the German team that rescued Mussolini from Italian imprisonment in 1943. However, he also was instrumental in many of Germany’s most pivotal events during the war. He writes about his adventures in Skorzeny’s Special Missions: The Memoirs of Hitler’s Most Daring Commando. (The book was originally published in 1957 and now republished for the first time in the United States.)
I am always a little wary of memoirs (especially ones that do not have other sources to support the person’s claims) because it sometimes hard to verify whether the author is telling the truth. Some of Skorzeny’s claims must be viewed with some skepticism, but I think the vast majority of this book can be taken on its face. He meticulously explains the planning for the Mussolini rescue and how there was doubt on the mission’s success all the way until his men secured Mussolini. According to Skorzeny, he halfway expected to not survive the mission.
The book’s strength centers around the main operations that Skorzeny planned and led. Not only was he instrumental in the success of freeing Mussolini, but he also stopped Hungarian regent Admiral Horthy from signing a peace treaty with Stalin. This operation was especially difficult because of the short time for planning and the risks involved if he failed (the German Eastern Front would have been severely compromised with Hungary out of the war).
His most controversial operation was during the Battle of the Bulge when men from his unit (dressed as American soldiers) infiltrated American lines and caused great confusion for the Allies. During the operation, one of Skorzeny’s comrades was captured and claimed the operation was to assassinate Eisenhower – this caused Eisenhower’s bodyguards to refuse to allow him from leaving his headquarters for several days during the battle.
Skorzeny also touches on some other special operation projects that the German leadership did not pursue. These included sabotaging the Suez Canal, sending manned V-1 rockets as suicide bombers against the Allies, and supporting more missions to the Middle East to foment rebellion or disrupt the Allied flow of oil.
Unfortunately, the book does not cover Skorzeny’s life after his release from Allied imprisonment after the war. He does not describe his deep involvement in ODESSA – the operation to smuggle Nazi war criminals out of Europe to South America (he escaped to South America after being freed). He took his involvement to the grave.
Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review purposes. This free copy in no way influenced my review.