Also known as the Gran Sasso raid, Operation Oak was the German operation to free Benito Mussolini.
In the summer of 1943, the Allies captured Sicily and invaded Italy. The Italian government then deposed dictator Mussolini. Mussolini was arrested and taken throughout Italy, and was eventually taken into an old hotel high in the Apennine Mountains called the Gran Sasso.
Adolf Hitler greatly feared that the Italian government switch sides to the Allies, which would tilt the war even further in the Allies’ favor and severely weaken Axis defenses in Southern Europe. He therefore ordered an operation to rescue Mussolini, assigning the task to one of Germany’s most skilled paratroopers, Otto Skorzeny.
Skorzeny and his men tracked Mussolini’s movements throughout Italy, which proved difficult as the Italian authorities went to great lengths to conceal his whereabouts as much as possible. However, Skorzeny was able to intercept a radio communication that revealed Mussolini’s location. In September of 1943, Skorzeny led German paratroopers to the Gran Sasso Hotel and captured him.
Mussolini was then named the head of the new Italian Social Republic, which essentially referred to the German-controlled Italian puppet government in all German-held Italian territory. The Italian Campaign would later drag on throughout the war, and proved to be very bloody but also greatly overlooked in contrast to the Western and Eastern fronts.