Operation Eiche (German for 'Oak'), the rescue of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini by German paratroopers led by Major Otto-Harald Mors and Waffen-SS commandos in September 1943, during World War II. The airborne operation was personally ordered by Adolf Hitler, planned by Major Harald Mors and approved by General Kurt Student….
Mussolini was being transported around Italy by his captors, (first in Ponza, the in La Maddalena, both small islands in Tyrrhenian sea) whilst Otto Skorzeny, selected personally by Hitler and Ernst Kaltenbrunner to carry out the mission, was tracking him.
Intercepting a coded Italian radio message, Skorzeny used the reconnaissance provided by the agents and informants of SS-Obersturmbannführer Herbert Kappler to determine that Mussolini was being imprisoned at Campo Imperatore Hotel, a ski resort at Campo Imperatore in Italy's Gran Sasso, high in the Apennine Mountains. On 12 September 1943, Skorzeny joined the team of Fallschirmjäger to rescue Mussolini in a high-risk glider mission. The commandos landed their DFS 230 gliders onto the mountain, only one crashed causing some minor injuries to the passengers. The Fallschirmjäger and Skorzeny's special troopers then overwhelmed Mussolini's captors (200 well-equipped Carabinieri guards) without a single shot being fired. This was also due to the fact that Carabinieri-General Ferdinando (Fernando) Soleti, who flew in with Skorzeny, told them to stand down or be executed for treason. Skorzeny attacked the radio operator and his equipment, then he 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 Hauptmann Heinrich Gerlach (1912—1993), 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 operation on the ground at Campo Imperatore was in fact led by First Lieutenant Baron Georg Freiherr von Berlepsch, commanded by Major Otto-Harald Mors and under orders from General Kurt Student, all Fallschirmjäger (German Air Force Paratroopers) officers; but Skorzeny stewarded the Italian leader first into Rome and eventually into Berlin, right in front of the cameras. After a pro-SS propaganda coup at the behest of SS Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler and propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, Skorzeny and his Special Forces (SS-Sonderverband z. b. V. "Friedenthal") of the Waffen-SS were granted the majority of the credit for the operation…. Otto Skorzeny… received a promotion to Sturmbannführer, the award of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross and fame that led to his "most dangerous man in Europe" image. Winston Churchill himself described the mission as "one of great daring."