In the film Lawrence of Arabia (1962), a firm believer in the British Empire grudgingly compliments the decidedly anti-Colonial Lawrence on his military performance in capturing a previously impregnable Turkish port; it “doesn’t matter what his motives were; it was a brilliant bit of soldiering.”
This phrase perfectly encapsulates the soldierly view of SS Special Forces leader Otto Skorzeny, although his motives were much more detestable than Lawrence’s – the former wanting to help the Arabs build their own government free of British control. By contrast, Skorzeny never gave up the Nazi dream, aiding in the escape of several SS men from Germany into Spain, and attempting to establish a “Fourth Reich” in Latin America.
But Skorzeny was a legend in the annals of “special operations,” and soldiers, then and now, still admire his military skill.
Skorzeny’s military reputation was based on his rescue of imprisoned fascist leader Benito Mussolini from a mountain prison in 1943. With fifty men using hang gliders Skorzeny seized the prison without firing a shot, rescued and took Mussolini back to an ecstatic Hitler.
This rescue overshadowed Skorzeny’s despicable tactics such as his major role in capturing and torturing the German military plotters who tried to assassinate Hitler.
Skorzeny returned to commando work in 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge, where he directed a group wearing American military uniforms to go behind the lines and cause confusion and panic in the ranks. Because of this Eisenhower was briefly put in protective isolation.
For this action, the captured Skorzeny was tried at Dachau for violating the Geneva Convention by using American uniforms. Thanks to the testimony of a British commando who said his unit used enemy uniforms as well, and hence, was a legitimate tactic, Skorzeny was acquitted of the charges and put in an internment camp, where he escaped in 1948.
Skorzeny resurfaced in Franco’s Spain, where he may have aided in the escape of Nazis into South America. By 1952, he was a military adviser to the anti-Israel Egyptian leader Mohammed Naguib and oversaw the training of the Egyptian army in commando tactics. Thanks to his planning, Egypt staged several successful commando raids into Israel in the mid-50s (one of the raiders was Yasser Arafat).
He next reappeared in Argentina as a bodyguard for Nazi-friendly President Juan Peron and his wife Eva Peron.
Amazingly, while seeking to establish a “Fourth Reich” in Latin America, the Mossad recruited him because of his inside knowledge about escaped Nazis. Skorzeny agreed to work for the Mossad and turned on his former employers. He compiled a list for Mossad of German scientists along with their Egyptian addresses. Skorzeny also performed wet work for the Mossad when he assassinated Heinz Krug, a German rocket scientist who worked for Egypt and killed 5 Egyptian scientists with a letter bomb mailed to them.
Skorzeny’s motives for working with the Mossad are unclear, although he may have aided them to ensure they wouldn’t assassinate him. Nevertheless, Skorzeny remained a committed Nazi, setting up Die Spinne, which translated, was “The Spider,” that helped 600 SS men escape into Spain.
Even in death, Skorzeny’s Nazism was evident. When he died in Madrid in 975, as per his wishes, his coffin was draped with the Nazi flag.