Born in Austria, Otto Skorzeny was brought up in a middle-class Viennese family. Foreign languages were one of his passions, and he spoke perfect French and passable English, besides his native German. Another passion of young Skorzeny was fencing. He was known as an excellent fencer and participated in 15 duels. One of them left him with a big scar on his cheek, something he was very proud of.
The political turmoil of the 1930s was an excellent opportunity for a young and charismatic man like Skorzeny. He joined the Nazi Party and was involved in Anschluss of Austria. He saved the life of Austrian President Wilhelm Miklas when a group of Nazis tried to kill him.
After the invasion of Poland, Skorzeny tried to join Luftwaffe, but was rejected because he was too tall (1.92 m, 6 ft 4 in) and too old (31 years) for pilot training. Instead, he joined the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler as an officer-cadet. LSSAH was an SS regiment tasked with the protection of Adolph Hitler.
Scorzeny was part of Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union. He was wounded in 1942 and after recovering was given a staff position in Berlin. He used the time to develop his idea of commando warfare deep behind the enemy lines and trying to sell the concept to German High Command. The plan worked and he was given the command of a newly created special forces unit Waffen Sonderverband z.b.V. Friedenthal.
Their first mission came soon after. Operation François was aimed at sabotaging Allied supply routes to Soviets through Iran by using Qashqai people, who were in conflict with the Tehran government. Scokzeny sent his men on a parachute insertion in Iranian mountains, but the support of the native population was deemed insufficient, and the operation was canceled.
Skorzeny redeemed himself and his unit in Operation Eiche (“Oak”). The raid on the Gran Sasso, as it was also known, was an operation to rescue Benito Mussolini from his imprisonment, after his fall from power in Italy. It was a complete success and earned Skorzeny Hitler’s admiration.
After that, he was tasked with Operation Long Jump, a plan to assassinate Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill, and Franklin Roosevelt during the Tehran conference. The operation was discovered by the Soviets and Skorzeny was forced to abort.
His next mission was the attempted capture of Yugoslav partisan leader, Josip Broz Tito. His location near the town of Drvar was discovered, and Sonderverband z.b.V. Friedenthal (renamed to SS-Jäger-Bataillon 502) was to parachute in the area and kill or capture him. During the preparation for the mission, Skorzeny visited Zagreb and discovered that the mission was compromised by Germany’s Croat allies. He proposed the operation to be canceled, but he was overruled. Just like he predicted, the operation was a disaster and a majority of German forces involved were destroyed. Tito easily escaped Drvar and continued his struggle against Germans.
In 1944, rumors that Mikos Horty, Hungarian dictator was secretly negotiating with the Allies and was making plans to sign a separate peace reached Berlin and Hitler sent Skorzeny to Operation Panzerfaust. Its aim was to kidnap Hungarian leader’s son, Mikos Norty Jr. and blackmail him into stepping down from his position in favor of Ferenc Szálasi, who was loyal to Hitler. The success of this operation led to Skorzeny being promoted to Obersturmbannführer (equivalent to lieutenant colonel).
As a part of the German offensive in what would become known as the Battle of the Bulge, Otto Skorzeny devised Operation Greiff, a plan to infiltrate a group of commandos and capture two crucial bridges essential for the success of German assault. The attack failed and many of his commandos were caught and shot for breaching the laws of war by using enemy uniforms. Skorzeny spent the rest of the was commanding troops as acting General-Major. He was captured in May 1945 by the Americans.
It took almost two years before Skorzeny was brought to trial. He was acquitted of charges but remained in custody until 1948, when he escaped and after hiding in Bavaria for 18 months fled to Spain. In 1952 he started working as an advisor for the Egyptian army, helping to train them for war with Israel. Among others, he trained Yasser Arafat, the future Palestinian leader.
Skorzeny spent some time in Argentina, advising Juan Perón and acting as a bodyguard for his wife, Evita Peron. In 1970 he was diagnosed with cancer and underwent a surgery that left him paralyzed from the waist down. In just six months, he regained the control of his legs and started walking again. Otto Skorzeny died from lung cancer in 1975.