Otto Skorzeny as Bond villain

September 20, 2018

No doubt about it, Skorzeny was a rogue – if a swashbuckling, flamboyant one. Among the first to grasp this villainous potential was Ian Fleming in Moonraker, which pitches James Bond against the evil Sir Hugo Drax. Drax, apparently a wealthy British industrialist, is in reality a former commander of one of Skorzeny’s Jagdverbände companies who is bent upon the destruction of his wartime enemy, Great Britain.

Ian FlemingFleming: Drawing on fact   

Elements in the plot and the character of Drax invite close comparison with Skorzeny himself:

  • By the mid-Fifties, when Moonraker was published, Skorzeny, too, had become a wealthy businessman, although one living in Spain rather than Britain.
  • During the last months of the war, Drax is hideously scarred down the face while carrying out a last-ditch act of sabotage as leader of a terrorist Werwolf unit (an organisation with which Skorzeny certainly had involvement). Skorzeny’s nickname was ‘Scarface’, on account of the duelling scars which disfigured the left side of his face.
  • Like Skorzeny, Drax is charismatic if a little loud-mouthed and ostentatious. He’s also a chain-smoker.
  • Drax’s chosen weapon of mass destruction is a gyroscopically enhanced V-2 rocket with which he plans to vaporise London. This might be dismissed as standard Nazi-bogeyman fare – bearing in mind the German missiles that had rained down on London only a few years previously – were it not for an interesting parallel. Skorzeny was prime-mover in a project that really had sought to overcome the wild inaccuracy of the Third Reich’s rocketry. In his case it was the V-1 (“Buzzbomb”) that he set about modifying, and his solution was to place a suicide pilot within it. Hanna Reitsch, Nazi Germany’s most famous test pilot, successfully flew a prototype.
Piloted V-1

Occupying British forces inspect a manned version of the V-1, known as the Reichenberg – a project pioneered by Skorzeny in 1944

Drax’s past is hardly an authentic reconstruction of historical events; parts of it nevertheless ring true. Real name Graf Hugo von der Drache, Drax is purportedly a former Brandenburger special forces commando who joins Skorzeny’s SS organisation not long after it is set up in 1943. Precisely the course taken by a number of Brandenburgers (among them, Nazi war hero Adrian von Fölkersam, later Skorzeny’s number 2), who volunteered for service in the SS commando unit after finding their specialised sabotage and linguistic skills increasingly redundant on the crumbling Eastern Front.

Later Drax, dressed and armed as an American, claims to have led a jeep commando unit attached to Panzerbrigade 150 – which created havoc behind American lines in the opening stages of Hitler’s last offensive, the Ardennes campaign of December 1944. Exactly so. The jeep escapade – an astonishing piece of psychological warfare – was far and away the most successful part of Skorzeny’s ‘false flag’ operation, Greif, which featured captured American tanks and armoured vehicles as well as the aforementioned jeeps.

Fleming is on shakier ground when – the Ardennes offensive having collapsed – he has Drache/Drax join forces with ‘Hitlerjugend Werewolves’ (led by his future henchman Willy Krebs) and go to ground in the Ardennes forest as a terrorist stay-behind operation. Heinrich Himmler, titular head of the SS, did indeed create an organisation called SS-Werwolf and Skorzeny’s commando force undeniably had dealings with it. But it was a fractious relationship, riven by jealousy and bad faith.

Himmler dreamed of a lavishly funded terrorist network made up of Nazi fanatics (mostly Sipo – state security police – although Hitler Youth provided some of the cannon-fodder) who were exclusively loyal to himself. By autumn 1944, when he first unveiled his gruesome foster-child, the precarious state of the Third Reich precluded such grand plans. Instead, the embryonic organisation was obliged to rely on Skorzeny’s generosity for training and matériel. While Skorzeny, as a commander of Waffen-SS units, was compelled (by fealty to Himmler as Reichsführer-SS) to collude with the scheme, covertly he and his senior colleagues did everything they could to strangle a parasitic rival they regarded as inferior to their own organisation in military professionalism, leadership, resources and experience.

skorzeny-after-surrender-austria-5-45.png

Otto Skorzeny after his capture in the Austrian Alps, May 1945

In this, they were largely successful. Werwolf had but one high-profile accomplishment to its name: the murder of the American-nominated mayor of Aachen, Franz Oppenhof, on March 25 1945. By the end of the war Werwolf was little more than a generic term for partisan resistance: its would-be leader, Skorzeny himself; its participants, the most diehard elements of his former commando Jagdverbände; its locale, the Austrian Alps – hundreds of miles from the Belgian forest of Fleming’s imagination.

What then of the real villain? For sure, Otto Skorzeny possessed some of the vital ingredients of a Bond Baddie, notably a tendency towards megalomaniac delusion and dreams of world domination. In the early Fifties he confided to an American friend in Madrid that ‘it was his destiny some day to be President of Germany’.[1] How much this was said in jest, under the influence of his favourite malt whisky, is hard to discern. But his schemes over the next few years – the creation of a neo-Nazi secret army in Spain and subversive political activities in the fledgling Federal German republic – do little to dissuade us of the sincerity of his self-belief.

As for war crimes, Skorzeny was never convicted of any – although there was certainly blood on his hands. For a short time he sponsored, at Himmler’s behest, a death-squad in wartime Denmark that cold-bloodedly gunned down members of the resistance. Likewise, the summary executions of several members of the Austrian underground at the end of the war were very likely carried out on Skorzeny’s orders – although nothing has ever been proved. But the atrocities he was actually accused of, during a US-instigated war-crimes trial, were not his responsibility. Skorzeny made his post-war reputation grimmer than it need have been by pandering to a political creed that was unrepentantly Nazi. In the absence of hard fact he was accused of all sorts of nefarious activities, many of which were contradictory. And, indeed, untrue.

In real life, ‘The Most Dangerous Man in Europe’ – as Skorzeny soon became known – lacked the monstrous chiaroscuro of a Bond villain, but he certainly had some of the makings of one.

[1] ‘Otto Skorzeny was Rolf Steinbauer’, Federal Bureau of Investigation Report, 9 January 1951, O.S. CIA name file. His confidant was Edgar Smith.

Stuart Smith is the author of Otto Skorzeny – The Devil’s Disciple, published by Bloomsbury/Osprey in the week of September 16, 2018. Price: £20 (hardback).


The Epica Awards: Whatever happened to the 30-second ad?

December 7, 2012

EpicaYou don’t have to look far for this year’s Big Theme in the Epica creative advertising awards. After 25 years as a Eurocentric awards scheme, with a nod now and then to the wider EMEA hinterland, Epica finally went global, welcoming entries from the dynamic emerging markets of Brazil, Argentina, India and China – not to mention the biggest creative challenger of the lot, the USA.

A recalibration of award winners – agencies, networks and countries – was only to be expected. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that three out of the top four awards – the Epica d’Or or grand prix –  went to countries that had never before won a grand prix.

What didn’t change was the judging principle. Epica is unique in representing the choice not of the creative community itself but of experienced journalists drawn from trade magazines in over 24 countries. I would not wish to give the impression that their judgement has been skewed by an influx of jurors from the new world, because that would be entirely untrue. The panel remains, for now at least, what it has always been: essentially European. The new challenge is the enlarged scope of their perspective.

Enough of the preamble. Who got the big prize? That’s normally taken to mean the film Epica d’Or. And the answer is: a total outsider from Denmark. When I say ‘total’, I mean total: the campaign was produced not by an agency, but by the in-house communications team of coach operator Midttrafik. Simply stated, the problem with coach travel is it appeals to the head, not the heart. It offers a no-nonsense, value-for-money alternative to other modes of transport, but “cool” it is not. The creative solution proferred by Midttrafik is a piece of burlesque called “The Bus” that humorously highlights coach travel’s unglamorous practicalities: comfy seats, panoramic views, acres of space, 24/7 availability, special bus lanes, and experienced, reliable drivers who take the strain. See the film a couple of times and you too will be saying, “Ja, still cool,” and “Yeah. Din es ‘street'” with a Danish accent. Watch out for the young guy on an orange motocross bike: his expression is a treat.

While the campaign creatives may be amateurs, direction and production are slickly professional. Step forward Marc Wilkins/RARE and M2Film respectively, who managed to make the whole thing on a budget – I’m told – of only €200,000. “The Bus” also took top prize – as it must do to qualify for the Epica d’Or, a gold – in the transport & tourism category.

Runner-up for the top prize – and also winner of the corporate image category – was Marcel Publicis’s epic “Cartier Odyssey”. Filmed with icy majesty, it is a lapidary hommage to the life of Louis Cartier on the occasion of his 165th birthday (165th? Don’t ask why – we’re talking high fashion here) which deploys the watchmaker and jeweller’s iconic panther as its leitmotif. Beautiful – and yet there is a chilly emptiness at its heart. What exactly is the point of this 3 minute 30 second historical travelogue, supposedly made for the cinema?

For my money a good overall winner would have been “Follow the Frog”, devised by the Rainforest Alliance and Los Angeles agency Wander. But it was scored in the public interest category, which by definition excludes it from consideration for the top film or print prizes. The Rainforest logo is a kind of kite mark, reassuring consumers that the product in question has signed up to a prescribed set of environmental standards. The campaign – long enough for cinema but meant for viral –  needs little other explanation. As you will see:

Long, isn’t it? Indeed, if there is a general criticism of this year’s film crop – which is considerably better than last year’s – it is encapsulated in the word “overblown” – too long, too self-indulgent and too reliant upon humour. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about from Canal+ and BETC, “The Bear” – which won the direction and cinematography category and was a runner-up in media:

It’s a mini-film in its own right, which is all very well if you’re the next Ridley Scott with designs on Hollywood. But whatever happened to the discipline of the 30-second spot? Well, it’s here, in this Aldi/McCann Manchester offering (actually 20 seconds long). Not new, I know – but as a seam of inspiration it’s seemingly inexhaustible. It won gold in the confectionery & snacks category:

Print winners: what can I say without a despairing note in my voice? It’s a fading format, with one or two redemptive examples of excellence. The overall winner this year – a first from Finland – was McDonald’s “Large Coffee”, devised by DDB Helsinki:

McDonald's

It’s probably better as a candidate for the outdoor prize, but no matter. That went to the Microloan Foundation’s “Pennies for Life”, devised by DLKW Lowe. Think wishing-well meets poster in an innovative digital format and you’re half-way there. Microloan is a charity that supports women in Africa setting up their own business. The idea is that you contribute virtual spare pennies via your smart phone, and watch the digitally-generated poster image take shape as the coffers swell:

Microloan

While on the subject of outdoor, one of the cleanest examples of the genre was “Stop Trying”, a gold winner in the household category devised by Herezie (a French agency) for Vapona. Not desperately original, but classic: strong, simple colourful imagery is complemented with unmistakable branding in the bottom right-hand corner. Brownie points to Herezie for pulling it off in a difficult, low-interest category:Flyswatter

And finally…

  • Germany once again topped the rankings, with a total of 66 awards, including 9 gold winners.
  • Britain moved up from fourth to second, at the expense of France and Sweden, which were third and fourth respectively. It won 56 awards but an unsurpassed 13 golds.
  • Top agencies were Jung von Matt Hamburg, with 16 awards (including two golds), followed by last year’s winner Forsman & Bodenfors, Gothenburg, which captured 10 awards and two golds.
  • Most successful network was DDB, with one Grand Prix and 8 golds. Next in line were Leo Burnett and Publicis Worldwide.
  • More on the awards here.

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