Kuznetsov/Siebert kept pouring the drinks and the inebriated Ortel kept talking, telling Kuznetsov that he would soon depart for the meeting of the Big Three in Tehran, where, “We will eliminate Stalin and Churchill and turn the tide of the war! We will abduct Roosevelt to help our Führer to come to terms with America. We are flying in several groups. People are already being trained in a special school in Copenhagen.” Ortel even promised to introduce the spy to Skorzeny.
It was an intelligence coup of massive proportions.
The Soviets Thwart the Assassination Attempt
With Moscow and the Soviet legation in Tehran now alerted, the plan was allowed to unfold. The first German group, consisting of six radio operators, was dropped by parachute at Qum. Soviet intelligence officer Gevork Vartanyan said after the war, “Our group was the first to locate the Nazi landing party––six radio operators––near the town of Qum, 60 kilometers from Tehran. We followed them to Tehran, where the Nazi field station had readied a villa for their stay. They were traveling by camel and were loaded with weapons.”
Vartanyan noted that as the six men approached Tehran, a pre-arranged truck appeared and they loaded their equipment––radios, weapons, and explosives––into it. They moved into a “safe house” in Tehran, set up their communications equipment, changed into civilian clothes, and disguised their appearance by dyeing their hair. But then things started to fall apart.
“While we were 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 learned that the Germans were preparing to land a second group of subversives for a terrorist act––the assassination or abduction of the Big Three. The second group was supposed to be led by Skorzeny himself, who had already visited Tehran to study the situation on the spot. We had been following all his movements even then.”
Once Roosevelt and his party had arrived in Tehran, General Dmitry Arkadiev, head of the NKVD department of transportation, contacted Roosevelt’s chief of security, Mike Reilly, and told him of the plot. The American ambassador to the Soviet Union, Averell Harriman, then briefed the president on the still-sketchy details of the plot. All agreed that going ahead with the meeting was risky but that it should be done.
To reduce the danger to Roosevelt, who would have to travel by car the mile between the American embassy and the Soviet embassy, where the meetings would be held, it was decided to allow FDR and his party to stay in guest quarters at the Soviet embassy––where the hosts had already liberally planted secret listening devices to learn every word spoken by the president and his team.
Vartanyan said, “We arrested all the members of the first group and forced them to make contact with enemy intelligence under our supervision. It was tempting to seize Skorzeny himself, but the Big Three had already arrived in Tehran and we could not afford the risk. We deliberately gave a radio operator an opportunity to report the failure of the mission, and the Germans decided against sending the main group under Skorzeny to Tehran. In this way, the success of our group in locating the Nazi advance 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, counterstories have appeared that have claimed there never was a Nazi plot to kill or kidnap the Big Three in Tehran. Some historians contend that the “plot” was an imaginary one hatched by Stalin himself as a way to get Roosevelt to stay in the “bugged” guest quarters on the grounds of the Soviet embassy. Others who were high-ranking officers in Soviet intelligence at the time swear the plot was real and have written books on the subject. As with many aspects of the labyrinthine former Soviet Union, the true facts may never be known.)
Skorzeny’s Last Commando Operations
The failure of Operation Long Jump did not diminish Skorzeny’s reputation in the eyes of the Nazi warlords, nor put an end to covert commando operations. In the spring of 1944, his unit, now renamed SS Jagdverbände 502, undertook a mission to abduct the Yugoslav partisan leader Josip Broz Tito, but the operation was compromised and called off.
In mid-October 1944, Skorzeny was given a new assignment: 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 earlier supported the Nazis but had become disenchanted with them and announced his intention to withdraw his nation from the Axis. Germany threatened to kill the younger Horthy if his father did not resign as regent. He did so and was placed under house arrest in Bavaria; his son was imprisoned at 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 war’s end, Skorzeny was involved in Germany’s Werwölfe (Werewolf) insurgency movement. He surrendered to the Americans on May 16, 1945, near Salzburg, Austria.
After the war, Skorzeny was charged by the Dachau Military Tribunal with breaching the 1907 Hague Convention in connection with his men masquerading as Americans during Operation Greif. He was, however, acquitted by the tribunal when it was learned that Allied teams sometimes did the same things. He fled from a detention compound in 1948 and, with help of a network of friends and former SS officers, changed his identity and moved relatively freely throughout Europe, eventually 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 tarnished by the evil regime for which he worked.
But one wonders––had Operation Long Jump been successfully carried out, what would have been the consequences for world history? It remains another of the war’s many imponderables.
Originally Published in 2018.
This article by Mason B. Webb originally appeared on the Warfare History Network.