Otto Skorzeny - Man, Myth, and Legend

Otto Skorzeny - Man, Myth, and Legend

One of the most intriguing figures in World War Two and Cold War history, he was dubbed by the Allies as “the most dangerous man in Europe.” An Austrian by birth, Skorzeny’s childhood in Vienna was marked by severe economic struggle - so much so that he recalls his first taste of butter at the age of 15. He attained his distinctive facial scars from the 10th of his 14 sabre duels as a member of the Markomannia fraternity. He gained a diploma as an engineer and worked as part owner of a building firm before entering the fray of WW2.

Skorzeny in 1944

Skorzeny in 1944

What transpires next has inspired James Bond stories and influenced modern covert military operations. Denied entry to the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) due to his 6ft 4in height, he was transferred to a Waffen SS Special Forces unit. After fighting on the Eastern Front and attaining an Iron Cross for bravery in battle, his wounds would hold him in Berlin while he recovered.

Skorzeny was then ordered to form the Friedenthal Battalion, where he proceeded to recruit and train an elite commando unit in covert operations and intelligence gathering. He would go on to lead several prominent operations, including: Operation Oak for the airborne liberation of Benito Mussolini from a fortified remote mountaintop, Operation Panzerfaust to maintain Germany’s control of Hungary, and Operation Greif to infiltrate American lines in the Battle of the Bulge. On raids, he was known for ordering his troops not to fire unless Skorzeny himself did - and he very rarely did. He later stated that his goal was always to avoid bloodshed on either side.

Skorzeny in the early 1950s (left) and in Sept 1943 (right)

Skorzeny in the early 1950s (left) and in Sept 1943 (right)

In May of 1945, although easily able to escape to Spain via his connections, Skorzeny surrendered to the Allies near Salzburg in order to ensure that he and his men were given fair trials to clear their names. He was tried at a Dachau war crimes tribunal in 1947, and was acquitted of all charges after testimony in his favor by French and British officers. After being held for an additional year awaiting the final decision of a denazification court, Skorzeny decided he had had enough of prison life and escaped under mysterious circumstances in 1948. He was eventually declared denazified in absentia in 1952.

Post-war, his passport shows extensive travel throughout South America, Ireland, Western Europe, the Middle East, and Northern Africa. His activities indicate involvement in groups ranging from the CIA, Mossad, and CIC to Die Spinne, the Gehlen Org and the infamous underground ODESSA.

Skorzeny’s activities and associations from 1948 until his death in 1975 have remained a constant source of speculation and mystery. Throughout this period, he ran an engineering firm based in Madrid, which many claim was simply a cover for continued covert operations throughout the Cold War.

Now, I’m taking a deep dive into the life, psyche, and motivations of this enigmatic figure. Combining years of international travel and research with interviews of Skorzeny’s immediate family and professional contacts, I hope to unravel the mystery of Skorzeny’s web, and ultimately, his human history.

Have a tip? I can be reached at: alexandra@curistorian.com or on Telegram @curistorian

Alexandra is an investigative historian specializing in 20th century ideological history. She analyzes and writes about the resurgence of these ideologies in modern political and cultural movements.

Find Alexandra on Instagram, Twitter, and Telegram @curistorian