He was then taken into custody. Additional German divisions were ordered to move immediately from France and the Eastern Front to Italy.
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Badoglio declared Italy officially neutral while, at the same time, he began working secretly to effect an armistice with the Allies. Although Hitler had long ago eclipsed Mussolini as a powerful leader to be feared, he still felt it important to come to the aid of his fellow Axis partner. During the rescue-planning phase, the names of six German special agents were presented to Hitler as the possible leader of such an expedition. One name that stood out was that of Otto Skorzeny, and Hitler personally selected him to rescue Mussolini.
Otto Skorzeny was born into a middle-class family in Vienna, Austria, on June 12, While attending the University of Vienna as an engineering student, he joined the fencing team and obtained the prominent dueling scar on his cheek known in German as a Schmiss, for smite or hit which was then a coveted mark of bravery among German and Austrian youth. In , as Nazism was gaining popularity in Europe, Skorzeny joined the Austrian Nazi Party and soon became a member of the paramilitary SA, or Sturmabteilung, while working as a civil engineer. After Germany invaded Poland in , Skorzeny volunteered for service in the German Air Force but was rejected because of his age he was But when German forces failed to capture Moscow, the mission was canceled.
In December , Skorzeny, now a captain, was struck in the head by shrapnel from a Russian rocket. At first refusing medical treatment, he was evacuated to the rear, awarded the Iron Cross for bravery, and sent home to Vienna to recuperate. While there, he became intrigued by commando operations and read all the published literature he could find on the subject. He then began to submit his ideas on unconventional warfare to higher headquarters, which took an interest in his thoughts.
So impressed was Schellenberg with the officer and his ideas that he appointed Skorzeny commander of the newly created Waffen Sonderverband z. The objective was to make contact with dissident mountain tribes in Iran and encourage them to sabotage Allied supply lines through Iran heading to the Soviet Union. Although Skorzeny had not yet scored any major triumphs, Hitler decided to take a chance on him for Unternehmen Eiche, or Operation Oak, the rescue of Mussolini. On July 27, , Skorzeny and a team of commandos were flying in to parachute onto the airbase and free him, but the Junkers Ju in which they were riding was shot down; Skorzeny and his men were barely able to parachute to safety and escape.
While new plans for a rescue were being made, Operation Avalanche put British and American forces ashore in southern Italy on September 3. The ex-dictator was continually moved from one hiding place to another, but the Germans soon discovered him at a villa on La Maddalena, near Sardinia. Skorzeny was able to smuggle an Italian-speaking commando onto the island who confirmed that Mussolini was indeed there. Skorzeny then flew over in a Heinkel He to take aerial photos of the location. The bomber was shot down by Allied fighters and crashed into the sea, but Skorzeny and his men were rescued by an Italian warship.
Mussolini was again moved, this time to the Campo Imperatore Hotel at the top of the Gran Sasso peak in the rugged Italian Apennine mountains in central Italy east of Rome——a place accessible only by cable car from the valley far below.
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Skorzeny assembled a team of commandos who would be landed in gliders. On September 12, , Skorzeny and his men silently descended on the mountaintop in 12 gliders, took the Italian Carabinieri guards by surprise without firing a single shot, and whisked the ex-dictator away in a Storch airplane to Rome. The rest of the commando team escaped by cable car. Skorzeny then flew Mussolini to meet with Hitler. In mid-October , after the Germans broke a U. Navy coded message, German intelligence learned the date and place of the Tehran conference.
On November 21, a German radio broadcast had announced that the Big Three would hold a meeting in Tehran at the end of the month, and there were rumors that the Germans might attempt to kill the leaders. As luck would have it, among a group of Soviet guerrillas operating in the Rovno forest in the German-occupied Ukraine was the legendary Soviet intelligence officer Nikolai Kuznetsov, who spoke perfect German. We are flying in several groups. People are already being trained in a special school in Copenhagen.
With Moscow and the Soviet legation in Tehran now alerted, the plan was allowed to unfold. The first German group, consisting of six radio operators, was dropped by parachute at Qum. We followed them to Tehran, where the Nazi field station had readied a villa for their stay.
They were traveling by camel and were loaded with weapons. Vartanyan noted that as the six men approached Tehran, a pre-arranged truck appeared and they loaded their equipment——radios, weapons, and explosives——into it. But then things started to fall apart.
When we decrypted these radio messages, we learned that the Germans were preparing to land a second group of subversives for a terrorist act——the assassination or abduction of the Big Three. The second group was supposed to be led by Skorzeny himself, who had already visited Tehran to study the situation on the spot.
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We had been following all his movements even then. Nazi rule over the territories they captured from Russia was draconian. Erich Koch, Reich Commissar of occupied Ukraine stated that the 'lowliest German worker is a thousand times more valuable' than the entire population of the Ukraine. Starvation was widespread, with Soviet civilians forced to eat dogs - until the dog supply ran out and people were forced to turn to rats, crows and birch bark.
In the Ukrainian town of Kharkov, which was administered by the German army, , people died of starvation and disease. The German army, faced with an ever growing partisan threat, became increasingly comprehensive in their view about what constituted a partisan.
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One army document lists 1, partisans and their 'helpers', killed by the Germans in one action. And yet people still managed to survive. Inna Gavrilchenko tells how lucky she was to get a job in a slaughter house during the occupation of Kharkov. It gave her access to blood, which she smuggled out and cooked into a 'blood omelette'.
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In the spring of , he launched a two-pronged attack in what he believed would be his final offensive in the East. One set of troops headed towards Baku and it's rich oil resources, whilst a second group pushed towards Stalingrad and the Volga. After more than a year of bitter defeats, the Soviet army was exhausted and demoralised, but it started to employ a new tactic - the fighting retreat - which put a strain on German supply lines. Soviet soldiers were no longer instructed by their generals to stand their ground at all costs.
Instead they retreated - to avoid capture and continue fighting. The Germans moved swiftly forward, reaching the banks of the River Volga. The German soldiers of Army Group B had one last major task - to take the city of Stalingrad on the west bank of the Volga.
And so began the bitter and bloody battle. More than 1, tons of bombs were dropped on the city, but Stalin initially forbade any evacuation from the city, even of children. Soviet reinforcements had to cross the Volga from the east and many of them drowned under the weight of their clothing and weapons. The average life-expectancy of a Soviet private soldier during the battle of Stalingrad was just 24 hours. The infamous Penal Units - some of them including political prisoners - took part in suicidal missions as a way of atoning for their 'sins'. By the end of the siege, one million Soviet soldiers had died on the Stalingrad front.
The ferocity of the fighting at Stalingrad shocked the Germans, who were used to the relative ease of their Blitzkrieg tactics. Suddenly they were faced with hand-to-hand combat, often only yards away from the enemy. Soviet veteran Suren Mirzoyan remembers the blood lust of the time. I wanted only one thing - to kill. You know how it looks when you squeeze a tomato and juice comes out? Well, it looked like that when I stabbed them.
Blood everywhere. Every step in Stalingrad meant death. Death was in our pockets. Death was walking with us. As the battle raged, it was also time of terror for ethnic minorities on both sides of the dispute. In Germany, Hitler's 'final solution' reached it's horrific climax in extermination camps such as Auschwitz-Birkenau.