German plan to occupy the Vatican in September 1943?

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Sid Guttridge
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German plan to occupy the Vatican in September 1943?

Post by Sid Guttridge » 23 Nov 2018 15:08

It seems reasonably well established that Hitler asked Karl Friedrich Otto Wolf, the head of SS policing in Italy, to prepare such a plan in September 1943, because he believed the Pope had been an influential party to the overthrow of Mussolini.

Wolf apparently asked for six weeks to prepare it and for 2,000 W-SS men to carry it out. He was given a month.

Has anyone any hard sources or other information on this?

Did the operation have a code name?

Were elements of 1st SS Division (then Italy) to be used? If not, who?

How far did planning get before the operation was called off?

Etc., etc.....

Many thanks,

Sid.

casimiro
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Re: German plan to occupy the Vatican in September 1943?

Post by casimiro » 24 Nov 2018 17:36

With all due respect, it is not “reasonably well established” that Hitler in September 1943 directed Karl Wolff to prepare an operation to occupy the Vatican and seize Pope Pius XII. At best the evidence for such a directive is mixed. At worst, the evidence is weighted against the existence of such an order. Most professional historians of the Vatican during World War II dismiss the story.
There is no doubt that when Hitler learned of the removal of Mussolini from power in July 1943 he was outraged, and in a hysterical outburst threatened to go into the Vatican, which he assumed had been behind the actions of the Fascist Grand Council and the Italian king. At the time Goebbels recorded in his diary that he and Ribbentrop had quickly dissuaded Hitler from any action that would have a devastating impact on Catholic opinion around the world and especially in Germany. The Führer would have been no less outraged and suspicious of the Vatican when he learned in September of Italy’s decision to accept an armistice with the Allies and abandon Germany.
The very day the armistice was announced, German units began marching into Rome. If Hitler wanted the pope, his archives, and his treasures, why didn’t these units simply occupy the Vatican as they occupied the rest of Rome? Why was an entirely separate (and later) operation required? It is also curious that the Führer thought that Kappler, who had little relevant experience, was the best choice to direct such an important special operation. One might have expected Hitler to turn to someone like Otto Skorzeny, a Führer favorite, who demonstrated his ability to plan and implement an operation to snatch a high-value target by rescuing Mussolini from his place of detainment in the Apennine Mountains.
There is no documentary evidence of Hitler’s directive to Wolff or of any subsequent plans. Wolff himself is the primary source. The SS general revealed his alleged orders at his trial for war crimes and claimed that only his efforts to delay and impede implementation of Hitler’s intentions protected the Vatican and the pope. He explained the absence of documentary evidence by saying that the operation was too secret to commit anything to paper. Unfortunately, Wolff was, demonstrably, a serial liar who had an interest in ameliorating his unsavory (to say the least) wartime record by portraying himself as one of the good guys.
After the war, a handful of Nazi officials claimed to recall a plan to kidnap the pope, although curiously none were from inside the alleged operation. Some may have picked up rumors of Hitler’s outburst in July 1943 which never went beyond words. Others may have been victims of an active wartime disinformation campaign by British propaganda and covert warfare agencies which sought to influence Catholic opinion against Germany by spreading stories that the Nazis intended to seize the pope and carry him off to Germany.
No matter how secret the operation, certain German authorities—SS, police, military—would have had to have been informed for such an operation to move forward. No one who would have been involved in the plan ever stepped forward to confirm Wolff’s story. Herbert Kappler, the SS chief of police and security services in Rome who would have been central to any action, knew nothing about a plot against the pope. Wilhelm Hoettl, chief of Vatican affairs in the foreign intelligence department of SS Reich Main Security Office, always insisted that there was no plot to seize the pope and that he would have known if there was.
A book by Alvarez & Graham, “Nothing Sacred: Nazi Espionage Against the Vatican,” addresses the issue in detail.

Sid Guttridge
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Re: German plan to occupy the Vatican in September 1943?

Post by Sid Guttridge » 26 Nov 2018 13:35

Hi Casimiro,

I have been digging further and I think you are absolutely right.

There is no hard evidence of such a plan. The most that can be said is that there was likely some passing discussion amongst senior Germans in Italy in September 1943 about the merits or otherwise of occupying the Vatican City. As nothing, not even a documentary paper trail, came of it, one must presume that nothing resulted even in terms of firm planning.

Kurzmann's book suggests that men of the 8th W-SS Florian Geyer Division dressed in Italian uniforms would be used. As this was a second rate, cavalry division that never left the environs of the Eastern Front, it was never available and was unsuitable for special forces-like operations in a heavily built-up area. (Even the Pope's Noble Guard had given up its horses for this reason after 1870!) He further suggests that they would then be massacred by the Luftwaffe's Herman Goering Division to leave only Italian-uniformed bodies and no living evidence that they were Germans. It is all too silly, convoluted and improbable to be taken seriously, given the total vacuum of primary documentary evidence.

Thanks for your rational contribution.

Sid.

P.S. I have ordered Nothing Sacred: Nazi Espionage Against the Vatican.

casimiro
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Re: German plan to occupy the Vatican in September 1943?

Post by casimiro » 27 Nov 2018 03:22

Whatever the veracity of Karl Wolff's claims, the Vatican certain believed that it faced the prospect of a hostile incursion--if not an occupation--as the German forces entered Rome in September 1943. Allied diplomatic missions inside Vatican City burned their ciphers and confidential files. Papal personnel dispersed sensitive documents in the recesses of the Vatican Archive or in obscure closets and cabinets in the labyrinth papal palace. The pope's personal papers were hidden under the marble paving stones of the palace's corridors. Most dramatically, the pope's minuscule army, long accustomed to purely ceremonial duties, went on a war footing. The Swiss Guard put away their halberds and swords. On duty guardsmen now carried Mauser 98 rifles, ninety rounds of ammunition, bayonet, and gas mask. The Noble Guard, normally uniformed in the style of an early 19th century French cavalry regiment, exchanged their decorative sabers for Beretta pistols. The Palatine Guard embarked on a crash recruitment program, adding more than a thousand men to their strength, although officers were hard pressed to equip the intake.

Would the pope's soldiers have fought? As the Germans fought their way into Rome, the pope informed the commander of the Swiss Guard that he did not wish the Guard to resist any German attempt to enter the Vatican. Curiously, the commander did not inform his officers and men of this directive. It is clear from the memoirs of wartime halberdiers that they expected to fight and probably die. It is also interesting that after the German occupation of Rome the Swiss commander, despite the pope's directive, arranged with some difficulty to purchase submachine guns with ammo in Switzerland, a seemingly needless effort and expense if his men were to surrender at the first appearance of German troops. Apparently, the other units in the papal armed forces--Noble Guard, Palatine Guard, and Gendarmeria--did not receive a "do not resist" directive. In the case of the Palatines, on more than one occasion guardsmen exchanged fire with unidentified individuals or small groups attempting to enter various papal properties around Rome--but never Vatican City.

Sid Guttridge
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Posts: 6480
Joined: 12 Jun 2008 11:19

Re: German plan to occupy the Vatican in September 1943?

Post by Sid Guttridge » 27 Nov 2018 11:37

Hi Casimiro,

I see you have been reading The Pope's Soldiers.

If the Germans had ever moved against the Vatican it would have been with more specialist forces than Wolf reportedly claims.

Basically, any such operation that took place well behind the Axis front, be it in France in November 1942, Denmark in August 1943, or Hungary in March 1944, met very little resistance, largely because the defenders' leaders recognized their positions were pretty hopeless and that any loss of life was unlikely to return any benefits. I don't anticipate the various Vatican units would, in practice, have been required to put up significant resistance for similar reasons. Apart from anything else, even including obsolete, 80-year-old rifles and pistols, only about a quarter of them could be issued with fire arms, and many of these and their ammunition were of doubtful reliability. The Swiss Guard may have been reliable, but the gendarmeria was infiltrated by fascists, the Noble Guard was minuscule, even by Vatican standards, and the expanded Palatine Guard were more like night watchmen than soldiers.

Cheers,

Sid.

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