Otto Skorzeny was a commando and military instructor for the German armed forces during World War II.
Early on in the war, he fought on the Eastern front and was wounded; while recovering, he was assigned a staff role and set about developing commando tactics. His first mission was in Iran, but Skorzeny gained notoriety for Operation Oak, where he rescued Italian dictator Benito Mussolini from imprisonment in a ski resort in the mountains.
He also successfully kidnapped the son of Hungarian leader Miklós Horthy in an effort to coerce Horthy to capitulate. Perhaps most famously, Skorzeny masterminded Operation Greif, during the Battle of the Bulge, where he led English-speaking German soldiers, dressed in Allied uniforms and armed with Allied weaponry, behind American lines in an attempt to incite disorder and confusion.
After the war, Skorzeny was acquitted at his trial for war crimes and went on to serve in various advisory, intelligence, and special forces roles for the Egyptian and Argentinian governments, as well as for Israel's Mossad. On July 5, 1975, Skorzeny died due to multiple tumors in his spine.
Battle vs. Aldo Raine (by El Alamein)
The night was especially cloudy as the 5-man German patrol walked down the dirt path, their rifles slung over their shoulders. Behind them loomed an imposing castle, a faint yellow glow poking through some windows despite the blackout lights in use. Inside sat Benito Mussolini, a tired, feeble husk of the imposing caricature he had constructed for himself. But though Mussolini was long since broken, especially now that Hitler had been killed in that theater in France, he still had an army at his command. The war was lost, but there was still hope for Il Duce. Luckily for him, he was under the care of the legendary Otto Skorzeny.
Skorzeny stood at one of the towers, cloaked in darkness. He was small before the backdrop of the castle tower and the expansive nighttime landscape, yet this imposing figure exuded confidence nonetheless. The shadows deepened off the scar that ran down the side of his face—a token from his fencing days. But his mind was far from the past as his watchful eyes scanned the treeline on the rocky paths leading down the mountain. There was tension hanging thick in the air. He could sense that shift—almost like a change in the air pressure—right before death struck.
The sentries down below descended slowly into the forest, following a sudden whistling sound. Eyes adjusting to the darkness, they strained to look for the source of this noise. A leering face suddenly lunged forward from the undergrowth, followed by the point of a bayonet. The first sentry managed to cry out once—a gurgling choke that bubbled up from his gut and out through his blood-soaked teeth—but this was swiftly interrupted by a gunshot. The struggle was over in moments. A few staccato barks echoed sharply into the air, the lingering hiss of the gun's report drifting up in the wind. The work was sloppy, but it was work well done by the Basterds as they gazed up at the castle above. Skorzeny would have heard it in an instant, too, if it had not been for the near-simultaneous eruption of anti-aircraft fire from down at the base of the mountain. Following the tracer rounds and puffs of flak up into the night sky now pierced by searchlights, he stared at the rolling wave of incoming Flying Fortresses and their escorts. The white beams of the searchlights lingering over the exposed bellies of the B17s, painting the targets wistfully, as if they were reaching up in a fruitless effort to pull the offending planes down through sheer power of will. Sporadic small-arms fire emerged from down in the mountain trails below.
The Allies were advancing.
Lieutenant Aldo Raine sat hunched on the balls of his feet, watching proudly as his men paused to scalp the guards they had killed. He squinted as he looked up at the magnificent light show playing out in the air above. Sliding his massive bowie knife back into its sheath, he stood up and clasped his hands together. Life was good. His Basterds were on the hunt, and he was one step closer to his long-anticipated victory. Mussolini somehow inspired even more disdain and hatred, Raine decided. At least Hitler remained defiant up until the end, despicable as he was. Mussolini just cowered behind whoever could present the biggest shield. Today, though, thought Raine, I'm 'boutta knock down whatever shield that sum'bitch's got. He looked over at his Basterds, who had finished their grisly work and were looking at him expectantly. Nodding curtly, he motioned with his hand and they were on the move once more.
Up above, Skorzeny ducked back down and hurried through the tower into the castle. His brow furrowed, his mind racing even as he took the steps down three at a time. He had to get Mussolini to the basement for the time being. That was crucial. After that, and no less important, he had to mobilize the defenses. He recognized this was a battle he could not win. But that didn't mean it had to be a battle he would lose, either.
Tracer rounds carved glowing, linear paths through the night air as machine guns on both sides rattled away. The German defenders sprang into action, the lights inside the castle windows abruptly switching off and the sweeping white beams of searchlights flooding out onto the advancing Allied troops. Those tiny figures caught in the harsh glare of the searchlights bolted, fleeing their impassionate, scrutinizing gazes and the punishing judgment that would closely follow.
Aldo paused in the shadow of the castle with his Basterds and made a quick head count. Several of his men were dressed in German uniforms, carrying MP40s and Karabiner rifles. He was planning on a combination of stealth and brute force. Contradictory though it might seem, that was his specialty. Move fast, move quietly, and then hit the enemy as hard as you can—with something so trivial as noise level being decidedly secondary at that point in the operation.
"All right, we've gone over this, so I see no point in repeating it," Aldo whispered. "Let's go, let's move, and let's get the damn job done. This is our big chance."
A team of four, dressed in German uniforms, broke off and probed down the slope of the mountain. The treeline stood at the edge of a little concrete sidewalk. Brandishing hacksaws and submachine guns, the Basterds swept the area until they came across some grates covering the castle's sewage lines. The commando leader set to work with his hacksaw, gritting his teeth and tossing aside the grate bars as they broke off. An unpleasant odor drifted out and met the Basterds as they prepared to enter the tunnel. The squad leader gave a sympathetic look back to his squadmates before turning to proceed. "Let's get fuckin' dirty," he quipped, darting forward. With the forest as the only witness—one likely distracted by the furious firefight raging overhead—the Basterds crept into the darkness of the sewer, swallowed up by the foreboding vastness of its interior.
Another team approached the base of the castle with explosive charges. "Make sure you get clear before that thing blows," the Basterd laying the explosives warned his squadmates, giving one a knowing look. "Let's try to avoid any more earlobe incidents next time, if you know what I mean." There was a brief chuckle that swept across the group, but then they sprinted back several dozen meters and hit the deck. Their engineer quickly joined them, having readied the charges, before twisting the plunger on the detonator. The blast was loud and shook the wall. Those nearby would certainly be alerted to the breach, but for those farther away the explosion would simply blend in as another ambient sound in the ongoing battle.
Meanwhile, Aldo and his men were busy scaling the castle wall with ropes and grappling hooks. They pulled themselves up to the second-floor windows, which were defended by iron bars and the darkness enforced within. One of his Basterds gave the bars a tentative tug with his hands.
"Yeah, that's on there tight," he grunted. Still clinging to his rope, Aldo extended a hand and reached out for one of his squadmates to hand him a crowbar. "Let's see if we can't loosen it, then," came his terse reply. Time was of the essence. The Allies would clearly take the castle, but the Basterds would have to get in well in advance of the main body of troops if they wanted to get their hands on Mussolini.
* * *
Inside, Otto Skorzeny paced before his team of commandos while Il Duce sat, slumping over in a chair. The Italian dictator's face drooped as he spilled out over his seat, completely defeated. Skorzeny's eyes brimmed with a fighting spirit, however, as he briefly prepped his troops. For the very immediate present, they were safe in a central room on the third floor, which protected them from any perimeter breaches.
"We're going to try to get our target out through the tunnel in the basement," Skorzeny said. "Should that site prove to be compromised, we double back and parachute down from the rooftop. For that reason, we need to hold on to as much of the castle as possible in the event we need to double back." He turned to Mussolini. "Sir, you are to be with my person at all times, for your safety. This is critical. You are not to leave my sight." The dictator gave a hopeless gesture of acquiescence and stood up halfheartedly. Skorzeny seemed not to notice.
"You all know your positions," Skorzeny said. "Let the army troops handle as much of the fighting as possible. We're officially in operation."
With his silenced submachine gun leveled at his hip, Skorzeny brushed the door aside and stepped out into the hallway. The sharp reports of rifle fire echoed from the bedrooms lining the hall as guards took potshots at the oncoming attackers. Some of his commandos sprinted to the upper floors, aiming to secure the roof, while others bounded down to the basement, ahead of their target. Every minute they could maneuver freely was a minute closer to escorting Mussolini to safety.
* * *
Emerging from the sewers into the basement and considerably wet, the first Basterd infiltration team scanned the room. It was mostly filled with food supplies and munitions. It was empty for the time being. Gesturing silently, the Basterds swept the room, taking in their surroundings. Their group’s plan was probably the most straightforward of the three infiltration teams: use the cover of their uniforms—and the squad leader’s relative fluency in German—to move freely throughout the castle.
Suddenly, a beam of light slashed its way down into the basement as a door opened from above. Two German privates came trotting down the steps and immediately got to work picking up a case of munitions when they noticed the Basterds huddled in the room. There was a brief moment of silence before one of the privates spoke up.
“What the hell are you doing down here? Help us with this shit, it’s heavy!”
“We have a breach in the sewers. There are Allied commandos coming in this way! Get your ass over with us!” the Basterd squad leader spat back. The privates hesitated, but as the Basterds forcefully gestured they relented, unshouldering their rifles and peering cautiously into the darkness of the basement.
“I don’t see anyth—”
The momentary disconnect proved fatal—the Basterds opened fire with their MP40s, riddling the two German troops through the midsection and sending them crashing painfully to the ground. Groaning feebly, the wounded men gripped their shattered torsos and looked up with unfocused eyes as the Basterds stepped over them.
The squad leader motioned for his men to hold back as he went up the staircase to the door that led into the castle. He peeked out, hesitated, and then motioned for them to proceed. "Let's see how far we can get just walking through," he whispered. "Look like you're in a hurry."
The Basterds clambered up the stairs and jogged through a crowd of enemy soldiers racing to and fro, shouting orders and moving into defensive positions. A group of Germans moved an MG42 onto a tripod facing out a window, setting up lengthy ammo belts. Gathering their bearings as they kept on the move, the Basterds noted a staircase leading up, but the squad leader kept moving and burst into a room where he stumbled upon a group of officers next to a radio operator. Startled, both groups froze momentarily.
"What the hell is your problem? Don't you have your orders?" barked a captain, in German. The Basterds milled in the doorway, blank-faced. Taken aback, the captain turned to look at his fellow soldiers to give an order when he was cut down by a burst of automatic fire. "Yeah, I don't speak German," one of the Basterds started to joke, but he was cut off by a rifle bullet to the neck from one of the other officers. He staggered back and slammed hard into the wall, blood spurting from the wound, while his squadmates dove for cover behind furniture. The German officers did the same while the radio operator frantically started issuing reports while ducking as best he could.
* * *
Skorzeny's first team reached the basement and stumbled upon the dying soldiers. The squad leader directed his men to search the room while he tried to coax information from the mortally wounded troops. They came back with grave expressions. "The extraction point is compromised," one of the commandos reported. "The enemy has occupied the sewer lines. We have to go back."
* * *
Skorzeny and a group of four commandos moved quickly down the stairs. The four commandos took the lead, and Skorzeny took up the rear directly behind Il Duce. This was partially for Mussolini’s safety, but it was also because Skorzeny had decided he couldn’t trust his target to cooperate particularly effectively in a high-stress situation. Keeping Mussolini immediately in front of him was the best way for Skorzeny to guarantee maximum control over a tricky situation.
As they descended down to the first floor and made their way to the basement, the other commando team emerged and shook their heads. “We have infiltrators on the first floor—this isn’t safe,” the squad leader told Skorzeny. “We need to get up to the roof as quickly as we can.”
At that moment, however, a loud firefight erupted in one of the adjoining rooms. Several errant rounds burst through the door, sending wooden splinters flying. The room full of soldiers ducked but most of them went back to the windows, firing down at the attacking Allied troops. Skorzeny’s expression darkened as he spotted three soldiers in German uniform burst out and spill into the castle entrance. They instantly set eyes on Mussolini and raised their MP40s. Acting quickly, Skorzeny threw the target to the ground and covered him with his body. The automatic fire went high, but they were pinned.
The commandos returned fire, jumping for cover behind the staircase. One of Mussolini’s guards took a bullet right in the center of his torso and crashed down hard, landing in a sitting position with his chin pressed down against his chest. Skorzeny fired haphazardly with his pistol in the general direction of the Basterds as he hauled Mussolini to his feet and started to push the man up the stairs.
“Sir—sir! You have to help me here,” grunted Skorzeny. Mussolini seemed in a sluggish daze, only halfheartedly scrambling up each step as the expert commando hauled him.
* * *
Meanwhile, a couple of stories above, Aldo Raine and his squad prowled about, having successfully infiltrated undetected and made their way up a series of staircases. Stalking down the hallway, their movements generally masked by the muffled sounds of the battle raging below and outside, the Basterds moved to occupy the floor and probe the remainder of the castle for Mussolini if need be.
Raine pushed open a set of double doors and emptied his Luger into the body of a startled sniper who jerked upright and spun around, his wide-eyed look of shock permanently etched on his face before he slid sideways to the ground. The Basterds walked past the body and swept aside the plates and cutlery on a table at the center of the room. Aldo lookekd up, making eye contact with his two sergeants. "I'm setting up camp here. I want you two to take some men and clear this floor. Then go up and secure the roof. We don't want our target getting out with any fancy tricks."
The two Basterds nodded and swiftly departed, gathering their squads in the hallway outside of Raine's makeshift HQ. The first squad darted up the steps to the top of the castle while the second swept the rooms, knocking doors open with the barrels of their MP40s and frantically raising them, ready to fire.
Two soldiers in American uniforms ambled up the steps to Raine's floor and froze when they saw the Basterds at work. One of the Basterds glanced over and waved to the soldiers.
"Say, Mac, what's the scoop?" one of the soldiers asked.
"Get over here Johnny, I've got something you need to take a look at," called the other.
One of the Basterd sergeants motioned for one of his squad members to go and talk with the two soldiers while his squad kept moving down the hallway.
"What's going on?" asked the Basterd. "Are you guys already in the perimeter of the castle?"
Down the hall, a brief burst of automatic fire from MP40s cut short a harsh shout of surprise. "Well what the hell are you guys doing up here?" repeated the Basterd, looking one of the soldiers right in the eyes. Then they slid up and he noticed the single bar painted on the helmet, before looking down at the sergeant stripes on the shoulder patch. "Wait—what the—"
"Say, Mac, what's the scoop?" repeated one of Skorzeny's commandos, the only English he knew, as he leveled his Thompson at the Basterd's gut and pulled the trigger. The surprised Basterd was thrown backward and down hard, dead before he hit the ground. The two Greifkommandos dragged his body into the corner before composing themselves and opening the door to Aldo Raine's room.
Raine looked up from the table where he had spread out a map and was conferring with another Basterd. "Fellas," he said, "we weren't expecting you, but damn if I ain't been this glad to see such a dirty face in my life."
The Greifkommandos exchanged glances and leveled their Thompsons, opening fire.
* * *
Skorzeny and his unit had left the Basterds on the ground floor tied up with the regular German troops. Mussolini was practically crawling on the floor at this point, completely enervated by the ordeal and beyond despair. Unwilling to let his target's defeatism infect his troops, however, Skorzeny hauled the Italian dictator up under his shoulders and half-carried, half-dragged him up the staircase to the rooftop, where their one-man gliders should have been deployed for a quick escape.
Instead, Skorzeny burst to the top to find five Basterds dispatching his commandos and throwing their bodies over the castle parapets. He let loose with a burst from his silenced submachine gun, sending the Basterds scurrying for cover. Directing his commandos in the stairway behind him, Skorzeny ducked back into the building for cover, keeping an eye on Mussolini.
The German commandos tossed a trio of stick grenades across the roof as they sprinted for cover behind the massive spotlights that hung stationary in the sky, left to dangle lifelessly by faithless crewmembers that had long since panicked and abandoned their posts. The grenades proved effective, killing two of the Basterds and disorienting the other three, who rolled about on the ground stunned.
* * *
On the floor below, Aldo Raine rolled for cover behind the body of the Basterd that the Greifkommandos had just killed. He hapharzardly fired with his pistol, but the shots went high as the Germans in American uniforms dropped their Thompsons and advanced, drawing their Walthers. Raine acted quickly, springing to his knees and drawing his massive Bowie knife, charging at the two surprised commandos. He tackled one, reaching his hands around the man's back and bringing the point of his knife under the base of the commando's neck as they landed hard.
The other commando, taken aback by the sudden maneuver, kicked Aldo hard in the ribs, seemingly forgetting he was holding a gun. The mistake proved to be fatal. Turning, Aldo stood, pulling the knife out of his first victim's body, and lunged right as the commando raised the Walther and fired. The pistol went off right next to Aldo's ear, deafening him, but Aldo's knife made its way right into the Greifkommando's stomach. The German's breathing went ragged and he choked as Aldo lowered him to the floor.
Squinting and making a face in frustration, Aldo gingerly reached up to his ear and turned to the door with his pistol drawn. "If you wanna do something, guess you gotta do it yourself," he groaned.
* * *
Skorzeny stormed out from the stairwell onto the rooftop and lifted one of the Basterds by his shirt collar. The survivors of the grenade attack simply stayed down on the ground, disoriented, unable to bring themselves to carry on the fight. Furious and at a loss for words, he merely shook his hapless victim before casting him down to the ground again and looking around for the one-man gliders. "There!" he shouted to his commandos, pointing to some dark shapes huddled under a tarp. "Get those things set up! We're leaving—now!"
He turned to collect Il Duce and bring him up to the exfiltration point. Mussolini slowly emerged, gaunt, his eyes sunken and glazed. Skorzeny's eyes widened in horror as he saw Aldo Raine loom out from the shadows with his pistol pointed at Mussolini's back.
Mussolini jerked forward right as Skorzeny moved forward, shoving Il Duce aside with a hard shoulder bump. Skorzeny felt a sharp bite in his upper arm, but kept moving as Mussolini fell behind him. He took a punch from Raine full on the face and stumbled, but caught the Basterd's fist in his hand with the second attempt.
Aldo Raine grunted as he locked eyes with Otto Skorzeny. He reached with his free hand down for his knife but Skorzeny pinned him up against the parapet, pushing as they struggled silently. The two men twisted and convulsed as they grappled. Raine leaned his neck forward and bit Skorzeny hard on the knuckle, drawing blood. Skorzeny instinctively let go of Raine's fist but countered with a headbutt that sent the Basterd crashing down hard and stunned Skorzeny himself.
After a few seconds of stillness on the roof—a stillness broken by the fading sounds of the dying battle as the Allied forces slowly overran the castle on the ground—Skorzeny stirred, reaching up and touching his head. He looked down at his shoulder, which still hurt, but hadn't bled. The bullet must have gone through Mussolini and bounced off of him. Coming to his senses, he turned to look at Mussolini, sprawled unceremoniously in a heap on the ground. Rushing over to his target's aide, Skorzeny probed the dictator's body but couldn't find the bullet wound through Il Duce's black clothes in the darkness. He ripped off Mussolini's black coat and found the blood pooling from his shoulder. Mussolini was conscious, but remained still, his breathing labored.
"Can you get up?" Skorzeny asked. "You have to," he muttered, not waiting for an answer that he knew likely wasn't forthcoming.
The commandos on the roof had, in the meantime, set up the one-man gliders and had them deployed at the edge of the parapet. "We're going to have to hang on tight here," Skorzeny told Mussolini, who allowed himself to be carried to his glider like a child.
Having completed the task, Skorzeny walked over to his own escape craft. Standing at the edge of the parapet, Skorzeny watched as his men cast off into the darkness on their gliders, aiming for the road past the treeline far below. He heard movement behind him and turned to see Aldo Raine standing up, registering what was about to happen.
"You're too late, I fear," Skorzeny taunted in English. "Goodbye, worthy adversary."
Aldo could do little but run forward fruitlessly as the last two gliders disappeared over the edge of the parapet and vanished, swallowed up in the night.
* * *
Hours later, Raine sat inside the castle over a cup of coffee with some Allied officers. "So, you saw Mussolini?" asked one of the Americans.
Raine sighed heavily and looked up over his cup, grimacing. "'Course I did," he said. "Saw him plain as day with my own eyes. Took off before I could get off a second shot. For a fat sack like him, his guards really got him moving."
"Well, it's not all lost," one of the Americans said. He handed Raine a crumpled and stained telegram. "We secured this in their comms room. "Mussolini's trying to make it to Switzerland. We've got some of your Basterds en route in some place called Dongo. We'll send you out there to rendezvous and possibly try to intercept him. He got away this time, but the noose is tightening."
Aldo shook his head and looked down into his coffee. "Yeah, I hope so," he said. "But he got away this time." WINNER: OTTO SKORZENY
Otto Skorzeny was the more skilled operator, who had performed a wider variety of missions in a wider variety of circumstances. He was better trained and more professional than Aldo, and consequently proved capable of keeping Mussolini safe long enough to delay his assassination and even extract Il Duce from the castle. The Basterds under Aldo were certainly brutal and bloodthirsty, but Skorzeny was a competent tactician and strategist and really operated on a level that went beyond the luck that facilitated Aldo's earlier success against Hitler.
Battle vs. Viktor Reznov (by Tybaltcapulet)