On 25 July 1943, a few weeks after the Allied invasion of Sicily and bombing of Rome, the Italian Grand Council of Fascism voted to depose Mussolini and replaced him with Marshal Pietro Badoglio. Mussolini was subsequently arrested on King Victor Emmanuel’s orders.
After his arrest, Mussolini was transported around Italy by his captors. Intercepting a coded Italian radio message, Otto Skorzeny used his own reconnaissance to determine that Mussolini was being imprisoned at Campo Imperatore Hotel, a ski resort at Campo Imperatore, an alpine meadow at the Gran Sasso massif, high in the Apennine Mountains. On 12 September 1943, Skorzeny joined the team—led by Major Harald Mors—to rescue Mussolini in a high-risk glider mission.
Mussolini leaving the Hotel
The operation on the ground at Campo Imperatore was led by Lieutenant Count Otto von Berlepsch, planned by Major Harald Mors and under orders from General Kurt Student, all Fallschirmjäger (German Air Force Paratroopers) officers. According to Otto Skorzeny’s Memoir, he commanded this mission and was on the ground while rescuing Mussolini.
The commandos crashed their nine DFS 230 gliders into the nearby mountains, then overwhelmed Mussolini’s guards without a single shot being fired. The carabinieri guarding Mussolini were ordered to not put up any resistance by an Italian general, Fernando Soleti, that the Germans had brought along on the raid. Skorzeny attacked the radio operator and his equipment, and formally greeted Mussolini with “Duce, the Führer has sent me to set you free!” to which Mussolini replied “I knew that my friend would not forsake me!” Mussolini was first flown from Campo Imperatore in a Luftwaffe Fieseler Fi 156C-3/Trop Storch STOL liaison aircraft, Werknummer (serial number) 1268, initially flown in by Captain Walter Gerlach, then taking off with Mussolini and Skorzeny (even though the weight of an extra passenger almost caused the tiny plane to crash) to the military airport of Pratica di Mare (near Rome) then embarked in an Heinkel He 111 on to Vienna, where Mussolini stayed overnight at the Hotel Imperial and was given a hero’s welcome. The Storch involved in rescuing Mussolini bore the radio code letters, or Stammkennzeichen, of “SJ + LL” in motion picture coverage of the rescue (font Wikipedia).