A Lieutenant-Colonel in the Waffen SS, he was the Fuehrer's favorite commando, Germany's master of unconventional warfare, the go-to-guy in stuff like sabotage, fighting behind the lines in enemy uniforms, and assassination. (Hitler affectionately called him "Long Jumper," after Operation Long Jump, Skorzeny's aborted 1943 operation to kill Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt in one fell swoop.)
He was a noted fencer, and had fifteen "personal combats." (Read that: duels.) That's a schmiss on the left side of his face, a dueling scar. The German propaganda machine promoted him as "the most dangerous man in Europe."
Just prior to the Battle of the Bulge, 23 of Skorzeny's men were captured behind American lines; they told the story (still unknown if true) that Skorzeny himself had infiltrated with them, and was going to personally assassinate General Dwight D. Eisenhower. The future U.S, President, not amused at spending Christmas 1944 in security related isolation, ordered an all-out manhunt for Skorzeny, complete with wanted posters. Didn't find him, obviously, but 18 of the 23 captured SS men were shot for wearing Allied uniforms.
In July of 1943, Skorzeny was personally tapped by Adolf Hitler to liberate Mussolini, who had been overthrown and imprisoned by a new pro-Allies Italian government. It's a complicated story worthy of a movie with Il Duce being frequently moved about to thwart rescue, but the bottom line is, Skorzeny snatched him from a mountaintop fortress and delivered him to Hitler in Berlin. Photo above shows Skorzeny and Mussolini shortly after the rescue. (Skorzeny in the middle, with binoculars, Mussolini the little runt in the black coat.)
Otto Skorzeny, who nearly always had a cigarette in his hand, died of lung cancer in Madrid on July 5, 1975. His ashes are in the Skorzeny family plot in Vienna.
Words to live by: “My knowledge of pain, learned with the sabre, taught me not to be afraid. And just as in dueling where you must concentrate on your enemy's cheek, so, too, in war. You cannot waste time on feinting and sidestepping. You must decide on your target and go in.”
Afterword: US Army Lieutenant-Colonel Anthony Herbert, no slouch himself, (a Ranger and the most decorated American soldier in the Korean War) was CO of the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Vietnam. In his memoirs, he wrote that -- in the late 60s -- he learned that Otto Skorzeny was running a commando school near Alicante, Spain. Herbert was still active duty Army at the time and got the official OK to go to Spain and enroll in Skorzeny's school. "Wanted to see if the old Kraut was teaching anything I didn't know," he said.
There was. Herbert said Skorzeny had perfected a way to blow up buildings without the use of explosives -- using only the dust in the air. (Grain silos go up that way sometimes.) Wouldn't be surprised if they're teaching it at Fort Bragg now.