The inaccessibility of Hotel Campo Imperatore, a ski resort complex high up in the Gran Sasso mountains, made it an ideal spot for placing the Italian Fascist leader Benito Mussolini under house arrest in August, 1943. But even the remote location didn’t deter the SS from carrying out a daring mission to rescue the imprisoned dictator.
A few weeks earlier, Mussolini had been ousted from power and swiftly arrested after a no-confidence motion was passed because of Italy’s mounting losses in World War II. His exact location was unknown as he was shifted from place to place, all the while under arrest. An operation codenamed Eiche (“Oak”) was put in motion by Adolf Hitler, who was keen to find his friend and ally and restore him to power.
After launching searches all over Italy, the SS, with the help of decoded messages, finally identified Hotel Campo Imperatore as the place where Mussolini was being held temporarily. Aerial reconnaissance helped Otto Skorzeny and German officer Major Otto-Harald Mors spot a space behind the hotel where troops could land.
On the afternoon of September 12, 1943, a group of commandos in 12 gliders crash-landed in front of the hotel and stormed the building with the help of Italian general Fernando Soleti whose presence confused the Italian police. Skorzeny ran up the stairs to Mussolini’s room (220) and announced, “Duce, the Führer has sent me to set you free!” Mussolini replied, “I knew my friend would not forsake me.” He was then flown to Vienna, and later to Munich where he was reunited with his family.
This mission captured the attention of people from all over the continent, including from the then British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill, who called it “one of great daring.”
At the hotel, Il Duce’s room has been preserved as it was during his forced occupancy—the furniture, bed, and even the mattress, and has become a tourist draw in its own right. The basement bar also has a collection of photos and a tribute to Il Duce.