Why did I choose to write this; long forgotten reports of missiles in Egypt and the way the press didn’t seem to take it very seriously at the time. It is time for a closer look. The title is a bit tongue in cheek, perhaps the kind of thing Piers “it’s all about me” Morgan would use.
First a sordid confession; I actually read a comment. Said comment recommended a book by Ronen Bergman called Rise and Kill First about Israel’s targeted assassinations. Mr Bergman was no longer on the Israeli establishment’s list of favourite people after publishing this book, if he ever was that is. A small part of the book concerned the subject of this article. I had vague memories of this from the sixties but it was overtaken by so many other things at the time it was stuffed down the memory hole. The biggest surprise is Hollywood didn’t make a movie about it.
On the morning of July 21 1962, Israel’s worst nightmare became reality. Egyptian newspapers reported the successful test launch of four surface to surface missiles. Two of the Al-Zafer (Victor) model and two of the Al-Qaher (Conqueror) model. Two days later ten of each type, bearing the Egyptian flag, were paraded through Cairo. President Nasser reviewed the parade and declared that Egypt was now capable of hitting any point South of Beirut.
The following day an Egyptian radio station broadcast in Hebrew that these missiles are intended to open the gates of freedom for the Arabs, to retake the homeland that was stolen from them by imperialists and Zionists.
A few weeks later and it was disclosed that a team of German scientists had played a major part in developing these weapons of mass destruction. Former German Nazis are now helping Nasser in his genocidal projects was the message from the Israeli press. In fact the German rocket scientists had been working at Peenemünde during World War II and had not been spirited off to the USA, instead being left to languish in Germany’s own half hearted rocket programs.
The worst of it was that the Israeli Intelligence services had only learnt of the existence of Egypt’s missile program a few days before the launch; they had been caught with their trousers down.
After a frantic start to find out about the missile program the Israelis found someone in the Zurich office of EgyptAir who would allow the Mossad to open and photograph mailbags twice a week. It didn’t take long for them to discover who was behind the rockets.
Dr. Eugen Sänger and Wolfgang Pilz had initiated the project. Both had been involved at Peenemünde and in 1954 they started work at the Research Institute of Jet Propulsion Physics in Stuttgart. Sänger was the boss and Pilz plus Dr Paul Goercke and Dr Heinz Krug were the heads of departments.
This group of men were not impressed with Germany’s commitment to their work and approached the Egyptians in 1959 offering to develop long range surface to surface missiles. Nasser jumped at the chance and a General Khalil created a unit apart from the Egyptian Army for these German scientists who arrived in Egypt in April 1960.
In late 1961 the Germans relocated to Egypt along with something like 35 other Germans who would work alongside them. The Egyptians built the required facilities and luxurious living quarters for the expats to go along with their large salaries. Heinz Krug remained in Germany where he built a company called Intra Commercial that was used as a front for the project in Egypt.
The Israelis realised fairly quickly that the rocket guidance systems were nowhere near ready for use. In fact the rockets used in the much heralded test launch had much larger fins than those paraded before the world. The inference being that the test launch used unguided missiles and those in the parade were supposed to be guided.
Without German help the Egyptians had no hope of building a functional guidance system. Israel’s solution was to somehow kidnap or eliminate the German scientists to ensure there would be no guidance system.
One of the documents copied in the Egypt Air office in Zurich indicated that the Egyptians were planning to build 900 missiles. A panic stricken Israeli Intelligence Service panicked a bit more. The guidance system could only be created by the Germans so the objective was to remove the Germans from the project one way or another. The first to be on the receiving end was Krug who was in Munich. He was kidnapped, taken to Marseilles and placed on a El Al plane to Israel. From his interrogation, not always pleasant, the Israelis learned the organisation of the project.
The initial attempt to remove the Germans was the use of letter bombs. These have never been very successful at eliminating the right people and again, it failed.
The end result of the letter bombs was that the Egyptians hired former SS man Hermann Adolf Vallentin as security officer. The next target was Kleinwächter but Vallentin had already reasoned he would be the next target and had put extra security in place. The attempted abduction went very pear shaped causing much embarrassment to Israel because it took pace in Germany.
The next step was intimidation and threatening letters. Again it didn’t work out and one Mossad operative was arrested in Switzerland, extradited to Germany and sentenced to prison. Vallentin attended the trial accompanied by a smug grin and a bulge where he carried his pistol.
Having failed to intimidate the Germans, Israel decided a bit of fake news might work. Lurid stories were leaked to the press; the Germans were going to produce atom bombs and lasers to put on the rockets; these were still out and out Nazis determined to complete the Final Solution and so on. This did not work either and work on the missiles continued. Although the top scientists had worked at Peenemünde, they weren’t die hard Nazis, they were mostly interested in the money.
The major achievement of all this subterfuge was to weaken the Israeli PM, David Ben-Gurion. He sacked Isser Harel who was the boss of Mossad. The new boss once more tried a letter bomb to Cairo, it only succeeded in injuring a postal worker.
Israel then resorted to even more breaking into embassies and factories where work was being carried out. The next decision was to try and plant someone on the inside of the project. Vallentin was seen as a major obstacle and much thought was given to dealing with him.
The solution they found is as fantastical as they come. Otto Skorzeny was to be their saviour. Otto was one of the Führer’s favourites and a shameless self publicist. It was he who had spirited Mussolini away from his mountain top prison when Fascist Italy collapsed. He had been a member of the SS, his enthusiasm for the Nazi cause has been debated. While he had obviously been up to much that was not good, my opinion is that his major interest was in his own career. Allied Intelligence had christened him “the most dangerous man in Europe” even though he had never been convicted of war crimes.
Otto, along with his famous scar and his wife, Countess Ilse von Finckenstein, had escaped to live in Franco’s Spain. He had profitable commercial interests with right wing regimes around the world and also had contact with the German scientists in Egypt. He had also been Vallentin’s superior officer. The Israelis, via intermediaries, contacted Skorzeny’s wife. It is only to be expected that Ilse had her finger in many pies as well. She sold titles of nobility, had ties with Vatican Intelligence and dealt in arms as well. For those of a more salubrious nature, the Skorzenys had an open marriage. It is alleged that the Israeli contact who first met her took advantage of this but he stated that there are things gentlemen do not speak about. So he did bonk her then.
After getting to know the Countess, she was introduced to someone from “the Israeli Defence Ministry”. After the abduction, trial and execution of Adolf Eichmann, people like Skorzeny lived in fear of getting the same treatment. The Israelis were in a position to offer him “a life without fear”.
On this basis they started meeting Otto himself. The Israeli was emotionally reluctant to meet such an infamous Nazi but the Egyptian missiles overcame his reluctance. Skorzeny had a price for his cooperation. He wanted
- a valid Austrian passport
- lifetime immunity from prosecution signed by the Israeli PM (at that time Eshkol)
- remove from Simon Wiesenthal’s list of wanted Nazis
These demands caused uproar in the Israeli Intelligence establishment. However they held their noses and eventually agreed. The one person who didn’t agree was Simon Wiesenthal. He refused point blank to remove Skorzeny’s name from his list. Otto was told that his name would remain on Wiesenthal’s list but even though disappointed he agreed to cooperate.
Firstly Skorzeny contacted his friends among the German scientists in Egypt saying he was going to build a new Germany (that is to say a 4th Reich) and they would be required to supply details of their missile research so it could be used by the new Germany. He then called Vallentin to Madrid to acquaint how with the details of the new 4th Reich plan. He also introduced an “MI6” man, in reality an Israeli, who was interested in what was going on in Egypt. Vallentin would not play ball until Skorzeny reminded him that there was a promotion for him at the end of the war that had not been made. Vallentin was being promoted to the general staff. This worthless promotion did the trick.
Now that Israelis knew everything, they crumbled the missile project from the inside. A combination of threats and better offers derailed the project. Using Franz Josef Strauss, the engineers were offered excellent and well rewarded jobs in West Germany. This left the Egyptians up that famous creek without a paddle.
Starting with a massive shock when they first saw the missiles to a wanted Nazi extracting them from the mire, they ought to have made a film about this, maybe they did.
Ronen Bergman’s book contains a whole chapter devoted to this episode, this article only scratches the surface.
© well_chuffed 2019
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