Otto Skorzeny (1908-1975) was one of the first members of the Austrian Nazi party in 1935 and a leading member of the Vienna Gymnastic Club, a Nazi front organisation which played a prominent role in the Anschluss. At the outbreak of war in 1939 Skorzeny was running his own engineering firm when he volunteered for the Luftwaffe but was rejected on the grounds of his age. He then joined the Das Reich Division of the Waffen SS as a technical expert. In 1943 he was given command of the newly formed “Oranienberg Special Purposes Regiment”. Skorzeny was offered the new SS unit because of his close relationship with the Austrian SS police leader and later SS General Ernst Kaltenbrunner, who had succeeded Reinhardt Heydrich as head of the Reich security office, the RHSA, following Heydrich’s assassination by Czech resistance fighters in May 1942.
On 12 September 1943 Skorzeny's special forces effected the release of Benito Mussolini from a mountaintop hotel in the Gran Sasso where he was being held prisoner by the new Italian government. Although Skorzeny planned the escape operation, his insistence on accompanying the raiding party under the command of Lieutenant Von Bernlepsch placed the whole mission in jeopardy; his size and weight almost prevented the light aircraft from taking off.
In July 1944 Martin Bormann, Hitler’s Deputy, personally handed Skorzeny an order signed by Hitler calling upon “all personnel, military and civil” to assist Skorzeny in any way, stating that he had been charged directly with secret and personal orders of the utmost importance. During the confusion following the 20 July plot against Hitler, Skorzeny became the effective C-in-C of all German Home Forces for 24 hours and played a crucial role in ensuring the failure of the plot. It has been alleged that it was Skorzeny himself who ordered the summary executions of Colonel Ludwig Beck, Claus von Stauffenberg, Olbricht, Merz von Quirnheim and Werner von Haeften, the leaders of the plot. Skorzeny denied these charges, but it is also worth noting that until his death he also denied playing any part in the activities of the Nazi party until late 1939 and then to have had as little as possible to do with the party during the war itself; after the defeat of the Third Reich he continually denied any involvement whatsoever with the postwar Nazi and neo-fascist movements denials which are at odds with the known facts.
In November 1944 Skorzeny was appointed head of the sabotage section of Dept. VI of the Reich Security Office and began training foreign intelligence agents and terrorists to continue the war behind the allied lines. These agents were mostly recruited from French, Italian, Belgian and Spanish fascist and extreme right-wing organisations such as the Milice and the “Mouvement Sociale Revolutionnaire”. Skorzeny’s final task of the war, he claimed, was to create the nucleus of a corps to defend Hitler’s alpine redoubt at the Eagle’s Nest in the Alto Adige on the Austro-Hungarian border. In fact his task was to co-ordinate the escape and evasion networks of leading Nazis. The stories of a fortified zone in the Austrian Alps were part of a disinformation exercise connived at by US intelligence chief Allan Dulles and elements of the Nazi party and Wehrmacht to provide the latter with an orderly breathing space to ensure the German political and social infrastructure remained intact as a “cordon sanitaire” against Bolshevism. SS Major-General Prince Maximilian von Hohenlohe who had been in contact with Dulles on Himmler’s orders since mid-1943 reported: “Dulles does not reject the basic idea and deeds of National Socialism” but he deplored its excesses. (Hohenlohe was later appointed to a top job in the Gehlen organisation and made an adviser to the US State Department.)
On 16 April 1945 Otto Skorzeny and Karl Radl, his adjutant, surrendered, in uniform, to a US command post where he was charged with having contravened the Geneva Convention (by having fought in enemy uniform during the Battle of the Bulge, November 1944). Interrogated personally by OSS General William Donovan – and apparently recruited by him into US intelligence – Skorzeny was eventually acquitted in 1947 on the strength of evidence given on his behalf by British military intelligence officer Captain Yeo-Thomas. Skorzeny then applied for “denazification”, but there were too many intelligence reports pertaining to him; one French intelligence officer described him as an “unregenerate bastard”.
In 1948 Skorzeny managed to escape from the allied “denazification” camp at Oberursal. He was assisted in his escape by the Nazi evasion networks he had been responsible for organising during the final stages of the war and with the connivance of the US Army's 66th counter-intelligence corps.
Skorzeny was recruited into Reinhardt Gehlen’s intelligence organisation, a creation of the newly formed CIA under Allan Dulles and Richard Helms, the then CIA Station Chief in Germany. He travelled extensively throughout Europe and Latin America on intelligence business for both Gehlen and the CIA. In 1950 he established his home base in Madrid where, under cover of an engineering and export-import business, he handled the financial affairs of the ‘Circle of Friends” (having reclaimed Nazi party funds from Eva Peron), coordinated the Nazi escape and evasion networks and built up an international intelligence gathering and mercenary recruitment agency. Skorzeny was also appointed security adviser to various right-wing governments in Latin America as well as Spain where he was employed in an advisory capacity by the Interior Ministry to assist the notorious Brigada Politico Social.
In 1953 Skorzeny was invited by CIA chief Allan Dulles, through his father-in-law Hjalmar Schacht, Hitler’s ex-financial consultant and president of the Reichsbank, to help reorganise the security services of the new Republic of Egypt under General Neguib and, later, Colonel Nasser. Skorzeny’s salary in this undertaking was subsidised by the CIA. It was because of his involvement with the events leading up to the Suez Crisis in 1956 that Skorzeny was refused entry into Britain, in spite of a strong intervention on his behalf by at least one senior SAS officer.
Canadian journalist Omar Anderson wrote the following in an article in the Montreal Star in 1960:
“Otto Skorzeny … has been a leading figure in Bonn’s negotiations for Bundeswehr bases in Spain … Aggrieved German diplomats in Madrid have complained to the Foreign Office here that Skorzeny enjoys something akin to celebrity status with the Spanish government. … Skorzeny himself credits his Madrid-acquired influence to my friends from Nuremberg, a reference to Skorzeny’s incarceration as a witness for the Nuremberg war crimes proceedings against German commercial trusts. On 31 August 1960, speaking at the Delkey Literary, Historical Debating Society at the Cliff Castle Hotel in the Republic of Ireland where he had bought a house the previous year, Skorzeny commented on the question of inferior races: “There should not be talk of inferior or superior races. It is clear, however, that some races are without proof of culture.”
In 1964, following the escape of a major Nazi war criminal, Zech Nenntwichs, new stories began to circulate concerning Skorzeny’s involvement in various Nazi escape and evasion networks such as Die Spinne and ODESSA.
In 1969 Skorzeny was appointed security adviser to the Colombian Ministry of the Interior. The request for his assistance was channelled through the German ambassador in Bogota, Ernst Ludwig von Ror. In 1972 the Bolivian businessman and security adviser Klaus Altmann, otherwise known as Klaus Barbie, named Otto Skorzeny as the chief of the Die Spinne network which Barbie claimed commanded the loyalty of 100,000 fascist sympathisers in 22 countries and which was funded by Nazi investments controlled by Skorzeny. (Altmann, or Barbie, was the Bolivian agent for an export-import agency registered in Augsburg and was also the manager of the landlocked Bolivian navy, Transmaritima Boliviana, registered in Panama and Hamburg, a company which was entirely run by German businessmen.) Also in 1972, Otto Skorzeny met various South African generals. One of his close friends and colleagues in South Africa was Lieutenant-General Friedrich Wilhelm von Mellethin, ex- Chief of Staff of 4 Panzer Army, a director of Trek Airways, an airline which specialises in police and security charter operations in South Africa. Later investigations into the “Rose of the Winds” conspiracy in Italy confirmed that in the summer of 1973 Skorzeny had attended a meeting of the conspirators in the home of the fascist doctor Gian Paolo Porta Cassucia. In September 1973 the Dublin Evening Express announced that Skorzeny was seriously ill in Spain with cancer of the nervous system. This report was taken up by the Washington Post, which identified him as being a major arms broker for Portugal and an agent of the massive Interarms company based in Virginia. Skorzeny, the paper alleged, had been trafficking in arms for many years to many sub-Saharan African countries. On 6 July 1975 Skorzeny died in Madrid to be followed on 21 November by Franco.