Operation Long Jump: The Nazi Assassination Attempt on the Big Three
In German it was called Operation Rösselsprung, which translates to “Long Jump.” Its goal was to kill or kidnap the Allies’ “Big Three” leaders––Soviet Premier Josef Stalin, British Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill, and American President Franklin D. Roosevelt—when they met in Tehran, Iran, in November 1943. That the plan did not succeed is attributable to smart intelligence work, a drunken disclosure, and a bit of good luck.
Perhaps no operation was more audacious or had greater consequences to the war’s outcome if it had succeeded 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 Soviet intelligence officer Nikolai Kuznetsov, who learnt about it during a conversation with SS-Sturmbannführer Ulrich von Ortel. Ortel was the chief of the sabotage group in Copenhagen, which was preparing the operation. While drunk, the senior German counterintelligence officer blurted 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 Counterintelligence 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 hammer out the final strategy for the war against Nazi Germany and its Axis allies. Stalin, whose nation was then still bearing the brunt of the German onslaught, also wanted to know how and when Britain and the United States would open a second front in Western Europe (Churchill was still dead set against a direct assault on the continent, fearing it would lead to catastrophe). The momentous meeting, dubbed Eureka, would be held at the Soviet embassy in Tehran between November 28 and December 1, 1943.
Iran was occupied by Soviet and British troops during the war and it was the “southern route” for Lend-Lease materials being shipped from the United States to the USSR. Although Iran had 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 close attention to intelligence in Iran,” said Kirpichenko, “and not only because the country played a major role in the Middle East during World War II. Its territory was used [by the Germans] for espionage and subversive activities against the USSR, and for disrupting activities in the most important regions of the Soviet homeland.”
In Tehran, the occupation armies maintained tight security, establishing numerous checkpoints at which pedestrians and vehicle drivers and passengers were required to show documents. The heavily guarded Soviet and British embassies were adjacent to each other inside a walled park in the center of town; the American embassy was a mile away.
With a German spy network firmly established in Tehran (there were an estimated 400 German agents in the city), the Soviets countered by beefing up their own intelligence operations there. The Soviet Foreign Intelligence Service in Iran was established, headed by Ivan Agayants. Its main mission was to expose foreign spies and organizations that were hostile toward the USSR’s interests 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 frustrate Nazi plans in due time, including those to assassinate the leaders of the three great powers.”
Chosen to plan and carry out Operation Long Jump was none other than SS-Obersturmbannführer (lieutenant colonel) Otto Skorzeny, Germany’s mastermind of daring, unconventional, and audacious commando 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 deposed Italian dictator Benito Mussolini in September 1943.
On July 25, 1943, Italy’s Fascist Grand Council, reeling from the invasion of Sicily and fearing a subsequent destructive invasion of the mainland, forced Mussolini to resign. He was then taken into custody.
Upon hearing this news, Hitler was determined to arrest those responsible for Mussolini’s ouster, including the king, and return Il Duce to power by force of arms. Additional German divisions were ordered to move immediately from France and the Eastern Front to Italy. But King Victor Emmanuel III moved faster and named Marshal Pietro Badoglio the new head of government. Badoglio declared Italy officially neutral while, at the same time, he began working secretly to effect an armistice with the Allies. Although Hitler had long ago eclipsed Mussolini as a powerful leader to be feared, he still felt it important to come to the aid of his fellow Axis partner.
During the rescue-planning phase, the names of six German special agents were presented to Hitler as the possible leader of such an expedition. One name that stood out was that of Otto Skorzeny, and Hitler personally selected him to rescue Mussolini.
From SS to Commando
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 dueling scar on his cheek (known in German as a Schmiss, for smite or hit) which was then a coveted mark of bravery among German and Austrian youth.