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The Nazi SS Commando Who Became A Mossad Agent
By Dr. Jeff Sanders

Otto "Scarface" Skorzeny was a legend in his own time.  As an SS Commando he was a fearless hero to his men.  To the British and Americans he was "the most dangerous man in Europe".  

Otto Skorzeny was an Austrian, but fanatically believed in the cause of Nazism for all "Germanic people".  He enlisted in the German army in 1940.  In 1941 he participated in the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941.  There he fought in numerous battles against the Russians.  Once, he was hit in the head with shrapnel from a Soviet Katyusha rocket.  He refused evacuation, and asked only for a bandage, some aspirin, and a sip of schnapps!  No one ever said he lacked toughness.

Skorzeny was evacuated anyway and spent time behind the lines creating new commando units to be used against the Allies.  He created a commando unit that was inserted into Iran in 1943.  The goal was to get Islamic groups to destroy Allied supply routes to the USSR!  Betcha didn't know Nazi paratroopers operated in Iran against the Russians and British, did ya?  They sure don't teach that in schools.

His "greatest success" was his personal rescue of the Fascist thug, Benito Mussolini.  The Italians had wisely overthrown Mussolini and had him in a mountain fortress called Gran Sasso.  There was a narrow little field in front of the fortress with a sheer drop.  Access was only by a cable car.  Skorzeny organized a group of paratroopers who flew in on two small airplanes that just barely landed on the slope.  They rushed the fortress, and without firing a shot they captured the "Duce", hustled him onto a plane with Skorzeny, flew off, and later presented him to Hitler.

Hitler was so impressed with Skorzeny that he put him in charge of "Operation Greif"--the plan to sneak English speaking Nazi soldiers (dressed in US Army uniforms) behind American lines and cause confusion.  The Germans also spread the rumor that they had an assassination team to take out General Eisenhower in Paris.  The rumors spooked the Americans terribly, but the plan caused very little damage and most of his troops were captured.  Many of those found in US uniforms were executed as spies.

Skorzeny was captured at the end of the war and was put on trial for war crimes, although the Allies could not prove their cases.  He escaped from a prison camp (with the help of Nazi soldiers dressed as American MPs), hid in Bavaria for over a year, finally making it to neutral Spain.  Over the next ten years or so, Skorzeny was part of the network that shuttled hundreds of Nazi war criminals out of Germany to South America.  

In 1952 Skorzeny was hired by the Egyptian government to train their army (many ex-Nazi officers and scientists were welcomed by the anti-Israeli Arab governments).  The former SS commando recruited and trained Arab "Palestinian" refugees to raid Israel from Gaza.  One of Skorzeny's students was PLO chief Yasser Arafat.

The Israelis wanted to kill him, but figured he might be more useful if they could "turn" him.  So, Mossad (the Israeli version of the CIA) recruited him to spy and assassinate for them!  Although Skorzeny never renounced Nazism, he actually worked for the Israelis throughout the 1960's!  On several occasions he went into Egypt and spied on their rocket industry (staffed by former Nazi scientists).  He personally killed the German rocket scientist Heinz Krug, and blew up five other scientists with a letter bomb!

At the same time he was doing this, Skorzeny also had a company in Spain that farmed out his skills in counter-insurgency, espionage, and sabotage to South Africa, Greece, and South American countries.  

Otto Skorzeny died of cancer on July 5, 1975.  He was cremated and his ashes sent to be buried in the family plot in Austria.  At the funeral were many former German soldiers giving the Nazi salute. . . and Mossad agents silently watching from a distance.  

Truth is often stranger than fiction!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017, 09:35 PM

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Colonel Rex Applegate
By Dr. Jeff Sanders

I love reading and writing about little known heroes who creatively did their job, and whose work had great impact.  Rex Applegate is one of the unsung American heroes of World War II.  He developed what would become the standard "close quarter combat" system for all our spies and special forces during that era.  

In the beginning stages of WW2 President Roosevelt saw it was necessary to get our nation on a war footing.  Before Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, Congress instituted the first peacetime draft in 1940.  In 1941 FDR and Congress created the Office of Strategic Services (the OSS); a precursor to the modern CIA.  Well, these spies who would be parachuted into enemy territory had to learn extremely effective hand to hand combat, knife fighting, and accurate pistol shooting.

Enter Colonel Rex Applegate.  The Colonel had already studied for years a rugged and effective system created by William E. Fairbairn, a British officer who had learned to fight with the British military police in Shanghai, China.  Fairbairn called his system "Defendu" a remarkable set of skills drawn heavily from Japanese jiu jitsu, western boxing and wrestling, and just good old fashioned dirty tricks.  Applegate actually worked with Fairbairn during WW2 to improve the system.  The great thing about Fairbairn and Applegate's systems is that, unlike most traditional Asian martial arts (Karate, Kung Fu, etc), one does not need to put on a gi (traditional costume for many Asian martial arts) and practice rather arcane or obsolete techniques for years until you are proficient.  

The spies needed to know deadly stuff to protect themselves and/or assassinate, and they needed it now.  Applegate taught them personally and turned out a whole army of OSS agents who worked very effectively behind German, Italian, and Japanese lines in World War II.  Applegate's knowledge and skills were so impressive that he was FDR's personal bodyguard for a while.  

If you want to know what his philosophy of fighting was, all of his books on hand to hand combat, knife fighting, and pistol shooting are still in print.  In fact, his 1943 Army manual, "Kill or Get Killed" is a classic among martial artists, law enforcement, and the military today.  In 1976, he revised the book and it became the official handbook of close quarter combat for the US Marine Corps.

Rex Applegate.  He never killed a single Nazi during the war.  But he sure taught a whole bunch of our spies how to do it.  

Thank you Rex.  

Saturday, December 31, 2016, 11:02 AM

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When the Americans, Germans, and French Fought Together Against the Nazis
By Dr. Jeff Sanders

They say it was the strangest battle of World War II.  On May 4, 1945, just days before the German surrender, SS troops abandoned the Castle Itter which had been holding a number of high level French VIPs: former prime ministers, high ranking generals, and even a French tennis star!  

As the SS guards left, the prisoners armed themselves with leftover weapons the guards left behind, and then dispatched runners to find American soldiers who would help them against any possible Nazi retaliation.  As it turned out, the 17th SS Panzergrenadier were in the area and were coming with orders to execute all prisoners.

One runner found an American unit, but they were unable to get to the castle because of stiff German resistance.  Another runner, however, made it to the town of Worgl where he met Wermacht Major Josef Gangl-- a German soldier who hated the Nazis.  He was using his handful of troops to protect the townspeople against roving gangs of SS.  Gangl knew that if the SS got to the castle they would slaughter the POWs.  What would he do?

Just then a recon unit under the command of Captain Jack Lee arrived with about 14 troops.  The German Major approached under a white flag and explained the situation to Captain Lee.  Lee quickly agreed to help the Germans protect the POWs from the SS.  So, Major Gangl led the way to the castle in his command car, with German and US troops (15 American, 10 German) behind him in their vehicles.  One lone American Sherman tank followed in the column.

They got to the castle where the Frenchmen (and their wives and mistresses) were overjoyed to see them (well, most of them. .  I bet they were not too sure about the Germans).  In probably the wierdest scene in World War II, American and German soldiers took up defensive positions with Frenchmen and a few other prisoners to await the attack. There was even one line SS trooper who joined the Allies!  He was a wounded soldiers and was recovering in the castle.  The French and other prisoners had been so kind in tending to his wounds, that they won him over.  He shouldered a weapon and joined the Allies!

Then the SS showed up.  Over 100 of them.  They attacked for hours and hours, but the hodgepodge force held them back.  Tragically, Major Gangl was killed by an SS sniper.  But just as the Americans, Germans, and French were almost out of bullets. . . 

Just as an SS trooper was taking aim to fire his panzerfaust rocket propelled grenade at the main gate . . . 

Just as the Nazis were ready to storm in and kill them all. . . 

American troops with their armor, assisted by Austrian resistance fighters, came running up the road to save the day.  The SS surrendered, the battle was over, the prisoners were free.

And it happened. . . just. . . like. . . that!

Monday, December 19, 2016, 09:51 PM

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Wojtek the Bear and the Polish II Corps
By Dr. Jeff Sanders

One of the weirdest and funniest and most touching stories to emerge from World War II is the story of Wojtek (pronounced "Voy-chek") the beer-guzzling, cigarette-smoking warrior-bear of the Polish II Corps that fought with the Allies in Italy.  Yes, that bear did all that and more!  (You know you are a real gang of tough guys when you have a pet bear that drinks beer and smokes unfiltered Marlboros!)

But before we get into that, ya gotta know about the odyssey of the Polish soldiers.  In 1939 the Nazis invaded Poland.  The Polish army had no place to retreat since the Soviet Union was attacking from the east.  Hundreds of thousands of Polish soldiers (and their families) were sent off to the Soviet gulags.  (Some 22,000 Polish army officers and other members of Poland's intelligentsia were later massacred by the Soviet secret police in the Katyn Forest Massacre in 1940. . . but that's another story.)

Some Polish troops escaped through Hungary and made their way to France and England to carry on the war against the Nazis.  On June 22, 1941 the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union and pretty soon Comrade Stalin figured he needed as many extra troops as he could get.  So, he started releasing Polish troops to form an army led by General Wladislaw Anders. 

The army trained under Soviet authority, but was eventually expelled from the USSR in 1943 to go fight with the British Army in Italy.  Some 50,000 troops (and their families) first journeyed to Iran where they were transferred to British command.

While in Iran, the soldiers found an orphaned bear cub for sale (a hunter had killed it's mother).  The orphaned Poles and the orphaned bear instantly bonded.  They bought him, and in order to get him on a troop ship also enrolled him in their army, gave him a serial number and rank (Private) and a name ("Wojtek Perski"-- Wojtek the Persian!). The cub went with them to Palestine, then to Egypt, and finally to Italy.

There the Polish II Corps swung into action, fighting ferociously against stubborn Nazi resistance.  They defeated the Germans at Monte Casino, Ancona, Bologna, and in the final offensive at the foot of the Alps in March-April of 1945.  By the end of 1945 the Polish Army in Italy had grown to 100,000 troops!  Their increase in numbers came from Poles who had been conscripted in the German Army, as well as Poles escaping the Soviets and Nazi-occupied lands.

And what about Wojtek?  The Polish troops trained him to wrestle, salute (he was a hit whenever visiting generals would show up), drink beer and smoke and eat cigarettes!  But Wojtek was a soldier like the rest.  The Poles rigged an ammo carrier on his back, so that during battle he would actually carry artillery shells up to his fellow soldiers on the front lines!

Wojtek (means "joyful warrior"in Polish) survived the war unscathed.  He was honorably discharged from the army as a corporal (no lie!), and lived out the rest of his years at the Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland where many of his old soldier friends would visit him and swap stories.  

The Poles won, the Nazis lost, and the bear retired.

I love happy endings.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016, 08:41 PM

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The Brazilians Against the Nazis?
By Dr. Jeff Sanders

Yep.  Another forgotten story of World War II is that Brazil sent it's tiny little army, navy, and air force to help us in the fight against Nazism.  The United States had been pressuring Brazil to join the Allies.  Brazil at first was hesitant since their own government was a military dictatorship, and they were happy to trade with both sides.  The United States wanted the Brazilian navy to help guard troop convoys as they crossed the Atlantic, and we also wanted some air bases in South America.  

Brazil struck a deal with the US: in exchange for companies opening up iron ore operations in Brazil, the South American nation would sever relations with Germany and Italy.  Brazil cut off trade with the Axis powers on January 28, 1942, and right after that German and Italian subs in the South Atlantic began sinking Brazilian ships.  The Brazilian people were incensed and clamored for a declaration of war-- which they got on August 22, 1942.

The Brazilian Navy immediately went into action; their frigates and subs guarded Allied merchant and troop ships and chasing down enemy subs.  By the end of the war, the little Brazilian fleet had sunk 12 enemy submarines (1 Italian, 11 German)!  Pretty good shooting.

In July of 1944 the 1st Brazilian Division arrived in Italy to take their place with the Allies next to British, French, American, Polish, Indian, South African, and Czechoslovakian troops!  (Talk about a diverse group. . . )

The Brazilians arrived without weapons, but were soon completely equipped by the US with American rifles, tanks, and artillery.  A month later, they were in action against the Nazis.  The Brazilians fought with great skill and courage in over a dozen fierce battles in Italy.  In the last weeks of the war, as they were punching through German lines near thd Alps, they captured the entire German 148th Division, elements of the 90th Panzergrenadier, and the entire Italian 1st Bersagliere Division!  Not bad, eh?

Their fighter squadron was attached to the US 350th Fighter Group.  Their pilots flew the rugged P-47 Thunderbolt fighter plane.  In the eight months they fought the Germans, the Brazilian Air Force flew 445 missions, blew up 1,304 tanks and armored vehicles, 25 bridges, and 31 ammunition depots.  Way to go Brazilians.  

The "Brazilian Expeditionary Force" only numbered 25,700 fighting men, but they showed up, fought hard, lost 948 of their own, and helped us in defeating the savage empire of Hitler and Mussolini.  

Small, but mighty.

Thank you Brazil!


Tuesday, December 13, 2016, 10:39 PM

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Past Posts

Colonel Rex Applegate
When the Americans, Germans, and French Fought Together Against the Nazis
Wojtek the Bear and the Polish II Corps
The Brazilians Against the Nazis?
Philippe Kieffer
The Goumier
Hacksaw Ridge: "We Are Fighting Satan"
When the British Fought Their Allies the French
The Fighting Free French

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