Rescuing Mussolini: Gran Sasso 1943
ISBN: 978 1 84603 462 6
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 5 May 2010
Although Italy had not been the perfect strategic partner for Germany militarily as Adolf Hitler envisioned prior to the start of the European War, Benito Mussolini remained the only true friend of Hitler's beyond the German border. That was why when Mussolini was betrayed by his own government in 1943, Hitler was determined to rescue Mussolini before his captors turned him over to the Allies. While this order was important in the theater of international politics of 1943, the planning and execution of this operation was also a major dramatic production on the political stage within Germany, a showdown between the German Air Force Luftwaffe and the Nazi para-military Schutzstaffel ("SS") organization. Although Luftwaffe personnel planned and played the major part in successfully executing the airborne rescue mission, the SS received much of the glory for the eventual success, thus further heightening the inter-service rivalry at a time when Germany critically needed every bit of cooperation to turn back the tide.
Robert Forczyk's Rescuing Mussolini: Gran Sasso 1943 presented the events of this rescue in an extremely readable manner while not sacrificing on detail. The intelligence gathering and operations planning were discussed in depth, while the actual rescue was told in a clear play-by-play manner. Illustrations greatly assisted in the telling of the story, constructing visuals of the landing locations of the gliders and the path German troops had taken to enter the building. Forczyk took great lengths to stress the incompetence of SS man Otto Skorzeny. This was not limited to the amateurish and perhaps even comedic performance during the mission; the author also made sure to mention his less-than-spectacular career prior to becoming a commando and his largely unsuccessful track record in later in the war. While I wonder if Forczyk had unfairly highlighted all of Skorzeny's failures and played down his few successes, this was a welcome change, as many earlier accounts of this rescue were told by German sources, which were skewed by propaganda that over-emphasized the role that the SS played in the mission. Skorzeny was given much more credit than he had deserved, and Forczyk made his attempt to remove some of it.
Even though the raid ended in a rather anti-climatic manner and the successful rescue did not significantly change the outcome of the war, Forczyk still did a good job in telling this rescue in an entertaining fashion. The information he had compiled from sources ranging from the United States National Archives to previously published books made this book a good resource about this high-profile rescue operation.
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