Generaloberst Kurt Arthur Benno Student (Luftwaffe)...CONTINUED...

Decorations & Awards:

Rescue of Benito Mussolini

After the Italian government surrendered on 8 September 1943, Benito Mussolini was arrested by the new government and imprisoned in the Hotel Albergo-Rifugio atop the virtually inaccessible 2,112-meter-high Campo Imperatore plateau of the Gran Sasso Mountain. Once SS-Hauptsturmführer Otto Skorzeny discovered his whereabouts, Student's XI. Fliegerkorps, based in Frascati, planned a daring rescue mission-codenamed Operation "Eiche" (Oak)-utilizing the Fallschirmjäger-Lehr Battalion and aided by Skorzeny's SS commando unit. On 12 September 1943, eight DFS 230 gliders (12 were originally planned) carrying the 1st Company of the Fallschirmjäger-Lehr Battalion commanded by Oberleutnant Georg Freiherr von Berlepsch and accompanied by Skorzeny, landed on the plateau in front of the hotel catching the Italian guards completely by surprise. At the same time, the rest of the battalion commanded by Major Otto-Harald Mors seized the lower cable car station in the valley below. After freeing Mussolini and disarming the Italian guards, Skorzeny hustled "Il Duce" into a Fiesler Storch piloted by Hauptmann Heinrich Gerlach who managed to get the dangerously overloaded aircraft airborne after only 200-yard takeoff run across the plateau. In the wake of the spectacular rescue mission, Skorzeny, Gerlach and Leutnant Elimar Meyer (Skorzeny's glider pilot) were awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross while Student received the 305th award of the Oakleaves. Note: Major Mors, Oberleutnant Freiherr von Berlepsch and Hauptmann Gerhard Langguth all received the German Cross in Gold on 1 November 1943. At least three glider pilots also received the German Cross in Gold during the same award ceremony conducted by General Student.

Benito Mussolini poses with his rescuers and his erstwhile Italian guards in front of the Hotel Albergo-Rifugio on the Gran Sasso, 12 September 1943. SS-Hauptsturmführer Otto Skorzeny (wearing Luftwaffe tropical uniform) stands towering over Mussolini on the far left.

Find out more about the German invasion of Crete and the kidnap at: