Key point: The Tehran Conference was one of the most important moments of World War II. Hitler wanted to end this in blood.
More of national interest:
In German, it was called Operation Rösselsprung, which translates to "Long Jump". Their aim was to kill or kidnap the "Big Three" leaders of the Allies – Soviet Prime Minister Josef Stalin, British Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill and American President Franklin D. Roosevelt – when they met in Tehran, Iran, in November 1943. The fact that the plan is unsuccessful is attributable to the work of intelligent intelligence, drunken disclosure and a little good luck.
Perhaps no operation has been more audacious or has greater consequences for the outcome of the war, if it had been successful than Long Jump. Former Soviet lieutenant general and KGB intelligence officer Vadim Kirpichenko said: “The first secret report that this act was being planned came from the Soviet intelligence officer Nikolai Kuznetsov, who learned about this during a conversation with SS-Sturmbannführer Ulrich von Ortel. Ortel was the head of the Copenhagen sabotage group, which was preparing the operation. While drunk, the high German counterintelligence officer let out that preparations were underway to assassinate the Big Three. Later, the Soviet Union and Britain discovered other facts, confirming that preparations had been made to assassinate Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt. "
Soviet Counter-Intelligence in Iran
The assassination was scheduled to take place in Tehran, the capital of Iran, after the three Allied leaders announced plans to meet there to define the final strategy of the war against Nazi Germany and its Axis allies. Stalin, whose nation was still suffering the impact of the German attack, also wanted to know how and when Britain and the United States would open a second front in Western Europe (Churchill was still dead from a direct attack on the continent, fearing this would lead to catastrophe). The important meeting, called Eureka, would be held at the Soviet embassy in Tehran between 28 November and 1 December 1943.
Iran was occupied by Soviet and British troops during the war and was the "southern route" for sending Lend-Lease materials from the United States to the USSR. Although Iran declared itself neutral on September 4, 1939, and despite the presence of allied troops in the country, it continued to pursue an openly pro-German policy.
“The USSR paid a lot of attention to intelligence in Iran,” said Kirpichenko, “and not just because the country played an important role in the Middle East during World War II. Your territory was used [by the Germans] for espionage and subversive activities against the USSR and for interrupting activities in the most important regions of the Soviet homeland. "
In Tehran, the occupying armies maintained strict security, establishing numerous checkpoints at which pedestrians, drivers and vehicle passengers were required to show documents. The heavily protected Soviet and British embassies were adjacent to each other within a walled park in the center of the city; the American embassy was a mile away.
With a German espionage network firmly established in Tehran (there were about 400 German agents in the city), the Soviets responded by stepping up their own intelligence operations there. The Soviet Foreign Intelligence Service in Iran, led by Ivan Agayants, was established. Its main mission was to expose spies and foreign organizations hostile to the interests of the USSR and to prevent possible acts of subversion and / or sabotage aimed at Soviet military and economic interests in Iran.
Kirpichenko noted: "Soviet and British intelligence officers knew the real situation in that country, which helped them to thwart the Nazi plans in due course, including those to assassinate the leaders of the three great powers."
Otto Skorzeny: the legendary command of Nazi Germany
The one chosen to plan and execute Operation Long Jump was none other than SS-Obersturmbannführer (Lieutenant Colonel) Otto Skorzeny, Germany's brain in bold, unconventional and audacious command operations. The tall (6 feet, 3 inches), imposing Skorzeny, was already famous (or infamous, from the Allies' point of view) for his bold rescue of the deposed Italian dictator Benito Mussolini in September 1943.
On July 25, 1943, the Great Fascist Council of Italy, suffering from the invasion of Sicily and fearing a subsequent destructive invasion of the continent, forced Mussolini to resign. He was then arrested.
Upon hearing this news, Hitler was determined to arrest those responsible for the overthrow of Mussolini, including the king, and to return Il Duce to power by force of arms. Other German divisions were ordered to move immediately from France and the Eastern Front to Italy. But King Victor Emmanuel III moved faster and appointed Marshal Pietro Badoglio as the new head of government. Badoglio declared Italy officially neutral, while at the same time he began to work secretly to effect an armistice with the Allies. Although Hitler long ago eclipsed Mussolini
as a powerful leader to be feared, he still felt it was important to help other Axis partners.
During the rescue planning phase, the names of six German special agents were introduced to Hitler as a possible leader of this expedition. One name that stood out was that of Otto Skorzeny, and Hitler personally selected him to rescue Mussolini.
From SS to Command
Otto Skorzeny was born into a middle class family in Vienna, Austria, on June 12, 1908. While attending the University of Vienna as an engineering student, he joined the fencing team and obtained the prominent duel scar on his cheek (known in German) ). as a Schmiss, by blow or blow), which was then a coveted mark of bravery among young Germans and Austrians.
In 1931, with Nazism gaining popularity in Europe, Skorzeny joined the Austrian Nazi Party and soon became a member of paramilitary SA, or Sturmabteilung, while working as a civil engineer.
After Germany invaded Poland in 1939, Skorzeny offered to serve in the German Air Force, but was rejected because of his age (he was 31). He then joined the SS and was accepted into Leibstandarte, Hitler's bodyguard regiment, as an official cadet.
In 1940, when Skorzeny was an SS-Untersturmführer (second lieutenant) at the Waffen-SS, his engineering skills gained notoriety when designing ramps to load tanks on ships. He also proved his courage under fire during combat in Holland, France and the Balkans, where he was decorated after capturing a large Yugoslavian force, after which he was promoted to Obersturmführer (first lieutenant).
Then Skorzeny saw combat with the 2nd Panzer SS Division (“Das Reich”) during the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. During the siege of Moscow that fall, he was in charge of a “technical section” whose mission was to apprehend important Communist Party buildings, including the headquarters of the NKVD (People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs), the Central Telegraph Office and other high-priority facilities before the Soviets could destroy them. But when German forces failed to capture Moscow, the mission was canceled.
In December 1942, Skorzeny, now a captain, was hit in the head by shrapnel from a Russian rocket. When he refused medical treatment, he was evacuated to the rear, awarded the Iron Cross for bravery and sent home to Vienna to recover. While there, he was intrigued by command operations and read all the published literature he could find on the subject. He then began to submit his ideas about unconventional warfare to the upper headquarters, which became interested in his thoughts.
His concepts soon arrived at the table of Ernst Kaltenbrunner, the new head of the Reichsicherheitshauptamt (or RSHA, the Reich Central Security Office, which was composed of the Security Police – Sicherheitspolizei or Sipo – and SD), who had replaced former chief Reinhard Heydrich, when he was murdered in Czechoslovakia, in June 1942. Skorzeny's ideas were then passed on to Brigadier-Soldier Walter Schellenberg, head of Amt VI, Ausland-SD (SSHA foreign intelligence service in the RSHA), who requested a meeting with Skorzeny. Schellenberg was so impressed by the officer and his ideas that he appointed Skorzeny commander of the newly created Waffen Sonderverband z.b.V. Friedenthal. Skorzeny's role was to train agents in espionage, sabotage operations and paramilitary techniques.
In the summer of 1943, Operation François became Sonderverband z.b.V. Friedenthal's first mission. The aim was to contact the dissident mountain tribes of Iran and encourage them to sabotage the Allied supply lines across Iran towards the Soviet Union. He found that the rebel tribes were not so eager to help the Germans, and the mission was abandoned.
Operation Oak: Mussolini's bold rescue
Although Skorzeny had not yet achieved great triumphs, Hitler decided to take a chance with him for Unternehmen Eiche, or Operation Oak, the rescue of Mussolini. After Mussolini's arrest, Il Duce's captors transferred him to the Pratica di Mare area, an air base southwest of Rome, where German agents soon located him. On July 27, 1943, Skorzeny and a crew of commandos were parachuting at the air base and releasing him, but the Junkers Ju-52 on which they were mounted was shot down; Skorzeny and his men could barely parachute safely and escape.
While new rescue plans were being made, Operation Avalanche landed British and American forces ashore in southern Italy on September 3.
The former dictator was continually moved from one hiding place to another, but the Germans soon discovered him in a village in La Maddalena, near Sardinia. Skorzeny managed to smuggle an Italian-speaking command to the island that confirmed that Mussolini was there. Skorzeny flew a Heinkel He-111 to take aerial photos of the site. The bomber was shot down by Allied fighters and fell into the sea, but Skorzeny and his men were rescued by an Italian warship.
Mussolini was transferred again, this time to the Campo Imperatore Hotel, atop the peak of Gran Sasso, in the Italian Apennine Mountains in central Italy, in central Italy, east of Rome – a location accessible only by cable car from the valley far below .
Captain Skorzeny flew over and photographed the area; he was formidable in the extreme, but he, General Kurt Student of the Luftwaffe (who had designed Germany's famous air and glider operations against Eban Emael's Belgian fortress and the British island of Crete), and Major Otto-Harald Mors, a battalion of commanding parachutists, came up with a viable plan. Skorzeny assembled a team of 107 commands that would be landed on gliders.
On September 12, 1943, Skorzeny and his 107 men silently descended on the top of the mountain in 12 gliders, caught Carabinieri's Italian guards by surprise without firing a single shot and took the former dictator on a Storch plane to Rome. The rest of the command team escaped the cable car. Skorzeny then flew Mussolini to meet Hitler. It was an incredibly blatant textbook example of the perfect command operation – an operation that brought Skorzeny fame, great promotion, Hitler's gratitude (not to mention Mussolini's) and the Iron Cross Knights' Cross.
German intelligence learns about the Tehran Conference
In mid-October 1943, after the Germans broke a coded message from the U.S. Navy, German intelligence discovered the date and location of the Tehran conference. It is not known exactly who first had the idea of murdering the Big Three during the conference (Kaltenbrunner cannot be dismissed), but the plan was approved by Hitler and Kaltenbrunner was told to carry it out. Because of Mussolini's recent rescue by Skorzeny, he was the logical choice to lead the mission.
On November 21, a German radio broadcast had announced that the Big Three would have a meeting in Tehran later in the month, and it was rumored that the Germans might try to kill the leaders. Luckily, among a group of Soviet guerrillas operating in the German-occupied Ukraine's Rovno forest, was the legendary Soviet intelligence officer Nikolai Kuznetsov, who spoke perfect German. Posing as first Wehrmacht lieutenant by the name of Paul Siebert, Kuznetsov penetrated German lines and became friends with SS-Sturmbannführer Ulrich von Ortel, who happened to be well versed in the Long Jump plot.
Kuznetsov / Siebert continued to serve drinks and the intoxicated Ortel continued to speak, telling Kuznetsov that he would soon leave for the Big Three meeting in Tehran, where: “We will eliminate Stalin and Churchill and turn the tide of war! We will kidnap Roosevelt to help our Führer reach an agreement with America. We are flying in several groups. People are already being trained at a special school in Copenhagen. Ortel even promised to introduce the spy to Skorzeny.
It was a blow of intelligence of massive proportions.
The Soviets thwart the assassination attempt
With Moscow and the Soviet legation in Tehran now alerted, the plan was allowed. The first German group, made up of six radio operators, fell by parachute in Qum. Soviet intelligence officer Gevork Vartanyan said after the war: “Our group was the first to locate the Nazi landing group – six radio operators – near the city of Qum, 60 kilometers from Tehran. We followed them to Tehran, where the Nazi camp station had prepared a village for their stay. They were traveling by camel and loaded with weapons.
Vartanyan noted that when the six men approached Tehran, a pre-arranged truck appeared and they loaded their equipment – radios, weapons and explosives – into it. They moved to a “safe house” in Tehran, installed their communication equipment, dressed in civilian clothes and disguised their appearance by dyeing their hair. But then things started to fall apart.
“While watching the group,” said Vartanyan, “we established that they had contacted Berlin by radio and recorded their communications. When we decrypted these radio messages, we found that the Germans were preparing to land a second group of subversives for a terrorist act – the murder or kidnapping of the Big Three. The second group was to be led by Skorzeny himself, who had previously visited Tehran to study the situation there. We were following all his movements until then.
As soon as Roosevelt and his party arrived in Tehran, General Dmitry Arkadiev, head of the NKVD's transport department, contacted Roosevelt's chief of security, Mike Reilly, and told him about the plan. The American ambassador to the Soviet Union, Averell Harriman, informed the president about the still incomplete details of the plot. Everyone agreed that going ahead with the meeting was risky, but that it should be done.
To reduce the danger for Roosevelt, who would have to drive the mile between the American Embassy and the Soviet Embassy, where meetings would be held, it was decided to allow FDR and his party to stay in guest rooms at the Soviet Embassy – where hosts had already liberally deployed secret listening devices to learn every word spoken by the president and his team.
Vartanyan said: “We arrested all members of the first group and forced them to make contact with enemy intelligence under our supervision. It was tempting to grab Skorzeny, but the Big Three had already reached Tehran and we couldn't afford to take the risks. We deliberately gave the radio operator the opportunity to report the failure of the mission, and the Germans decided not to send the main group under Skorzeny to Tehran. In this way, our group's success in locating the Nazi party and our subsequent actions thwarted an attempt to assassinate the Big Three. "
(In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that, to this day, counter histories have emerged that claimed that there was never a Nazi conspiracy to kill or kidnap the Big Three in Tehran. Some historians claim that the "conspiracy" was an imaginary one created by Stalin himself as a way to make Roosevelt stay in the "insect" rooms of the guests of the Soviet embassy, others who were high-ranking officers of Soviet intelligence at the time swear that the plot was real and that they wrote As in many respects of the former Soviet Union, the true facts can never be known.)
Skorzeny's latest command operations
The failure of Operation Long Jump did not diminish Skorzeny's reputation in the eyes of Nazi warlords, nor did it end covert command operations. In the spring of 1944, his unit, now renamed SS Jagdverbände 502, took on the task of kidnapping Yugoslavian party leader Josip Broz Tito, but the operation was compromised and canceled.
In mid-October 1944, Skorzeny received a new designation: Operation Panzerfaust (also known as Operation Mickey Mouse) – the kidnapping of Miklós Horthy Jr., the youngest son of Admiral Miklós Horthy, regent of the Kingdom of Hungary, who had previously supported the Nazis, but he had become disenchanted with them and announced his intention to remove his nation from its axis. Germany threatened to kill young Horthy if his father did not resign as regent. He did and was placed under house arrest in Bavaria; his son was imprisoned in the Dachau concentration camp until the end of the war.
Skorzeny is probably best known in the West for, in December 1944, employing about two dozen English-speaking Germans in American uniforms and driving American vehicles to penetrate American lines in an operation called Greif (“Griffin”) that spread panic and confusion during the Battle of the Bulge. At the end of the war, Skorzeny was involved in the German insurgency movement Werwölfe (Werewolf). He surrendered to the Americans on May 16, 1945, near Salzburg, Austria.
After the war, Skorzeny was accused by the Dachau Military Court of violating the 1907 Hague Convention in connection with his men who disguised themselves as Americans during Operation Greif. However, he was acquitted by the court when he learned that allied teams sometimes did the same things. He fled a detention complex in 1948 and, with the help of a network of friends and former SS officers, changed his identity and moved relatively freely across Europe, ending up in Spain, where he wrote a book about his exploits.
A heavy smoker, Skorzeny died of lung cancer in July 1975, his legacy as a brilliant, unorthodox commander, tactician and theorist tainted by the evil regime for which he worked.
But one question – if Operation Long Jump had been carried out successfully, what would the consequences be for world history? It remains another of the many imponderables of the war.
This Mason B. Webb article originally appeared in the War History Network.
Image: Marshal Stalin, President Roosevelt, Prime Minister Churchill (wearing a commodore's uniform) on the portico of the Russian Embassy in Tehran, Iran, 1943. US Army Air Force.