Born in Vienna in 1908, Otto Skorzeny joined the Austrian Nazi party in the early 1930s. At the outbreak of WW2 he was initially involved in fighting on the Eastern Front, taking part in the German invasions of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. By April 1943, he had been made head of German special forces, in charge of a unit of elite SS commandos. When Hitler's ally Benito Mussolini was overthrown and imprisoned in Italy, Skorzeny was chosen by Hitler to lead the rescue mission. Skorzeny and his men descended in gliders upon the remote Italian mountain-top hotel where Mussolini was held captive, overwhelming the Italian guards with the surprise attack and freeing the deposed dictator. With this success, Skorzeny further enhanced his reputation with Hitler and was promoted to major. He gained international renown when Mussolini was paraded in front of the media with Skorzeny at his side. Winston Churchill even described the mission as "one of great daring".Share
He became the Nazis' go-to man for such operations. Another occurred in 1944 when Skorzeny and his men captured the son of the Hungarian regent, Admiral Horthy. Securing Miklós Horthy Jr after a brief fire fight, Skorzeny's team then rolled him up in a carpet and put him on a plane to Berlin. Skorzeny's last major mission in WW2 was during the Ardennes offensive (more commonly known as the Battle of the Bulge), in December 1944. Skorzeny commanded Operation Greif, where English-speaking Germans dressed in American uniforms used disguised tanks to get behind Allied lines. The plan caused confusion and panic among the Allies.
Rumours spread that Skorzeny's men were planning to assassinate General Eisenhower, with the increased security leaving Eisenhower temporarily confined to his Versailles headquarters during Christmas week. Ten days after Hitler took his own life in May 1945, Skorzeny surrendered to the Americans. At Dachau in 1947 he stood trial for war crimes, but the case collapsed and Skorzeny was acquitted. Skorzeny still had to answer charges from other countries and remained held as a prisoner of war. Typically, he escaped - with the help of former SS comrades. He ended up in Madrid and set up an import/export agency. Although much of its business was legitimate, this was said to have been a front for Skorzeny's involvement in organising the escape of wanted Nazis from Europe to South America. Indisputably, Skorzeny made many trips to Argentina, where he met Argentine dictator Juan Perón and even became a bodyguard to Perón's wife Eva, reportedly foiling an attempt on her life.
Skorzeny travelled from Madrid to Ireland in June 1957, where he had been invited to Portmarnock Country Club hotel in County Dublin. Kim Bielenberg reflects on the welcome Skorzeny received at the reception held in his honour. Skorzeny's residency issue was a matter of considerable debate "He was feted by the Dublin social glitterati, including a young politician, Charles Haughey, who was later to become Ireland's most controversial prime minister."
"According to the Evening Press account, 'the ballroom was packed with representatives of various societies, professional men and, of course, several TDs [parliamentary representatives]'," the journalist said. Bielenberg believes this warm welcome may have encouraged him to buy Martinstown House, a 160 acre farm and mansion in the Curragh, County Kildare, in 1959 and assesses the impression Skorzeny created with the locals.
"He could be seen driving across the Curragh in a white Mercedes and would visit the local post office for groceries.
"Reggie Darling, a local historian, told me he remembered coming across Skorzeny on the Curragh.
"He recalled him as a big man who stood out because of the scar across his face (which was the result of a duelling contest as a student), but that he wasn't particularly friendly and he didn't really mix with local people," he said. (Read more.)