During the early stages of December 1944’s Battle of the Bulge, Adolf Hitler dispatched commando leader Otto Skorzeny—already famous for his September 1943 rescue of Benito Mussolini—on a secret mission to wreak havoc on Allied communications and morale. As part of “Operation Greif,” Skorzeny disguised a small collection of English-speaking Germans in captured American uniforms, provided them with forged U.S. Army documents and sent them on an undercover mission behind enemy lines. In a matter of days, the sham soldiers had successfully directed tank and convoy traffic down the wrong roads, destroyed ammunition dumps, switched road signs and destroyed telephone lines—all right under the Allies’ noses.
While Skorzeny’s commandos failed to achieve any significant military objectives, their hijinks were successful in inciting confusion and panic within the American ranks. As word of the phony troops spread, American soldiers set up checkpoints along major roads and began quizzing their fellow G.I.s on baseball and pop culture in the hope of outing the impostors. The security stops only heightened the chaos. Many Allied troops were briefly arrested or detained, and operations briefly ground to a halt. When a few of the Germans were captured in the dragnet, they kept up the ruse by claiming a commando team was en route to Paris to murder General Dwight D. Eisenhower. As a result, the Allied commander was briefly kept under house arrest to protect him from would-be assassins. Skorzeny’s remaining commandos finally withdrew from behind enemy lines in late December after the Nazi offensive stalled, but the Allies’ would continue their frantic search for German impostors for several more months.
Not playing fair. Is war fair?