Gran Sasso by Gary Parkins

Gran Sasso  

By Gary Parkins


In 1943, Mussolini is deposed and taken to a secret location. But in London, Winston Churchill is troubled. With Mussolini gone, there is nothing to stop Italy's Communists from forming a Bolshevik government in the north. It is an unbeatable nightmare scenario. The stakes could not be higher. If they lose Southern Europe to Stalin, the Allies would lose the war in Europe. Churchill attempts a desperate gamble. The only thing that can head off the Communists' takeover is to put Mussolini back in power, but naturally, Churchill cannot be seen to arrange such a thing.

Could Churchill's agents persuade Hitler's forces to rescue Mussolini without tipping their hand? Churchill sends in his top Italian SOE agent, Major George Huntington on a secret mission to Rome to spread the rumour that Churchill wants Mussolini found and put on trial in London for war crimes. Hitler is enraged and this news and sends his top SS Commando, Captain Otto Skorzeny to Italy to find Mussolini and put him back in power.

The fate of the future now sits on the shoulders of two men: Huntingdon and Skorzeny, opposing bishops in a game of secret international chess that culminates in a daring, near-impossible glider-raid on a ski-ing hotel in the Gran Sasso, highest peak in the Apennine Mountains.


I enjoyed Gran Sasso immensely. I had no expectations before I started reading this book other than I knew what the ending would be. Mussolini’s brutal death in 1945 was celebrated widely in the Allied nations as evidence of the war’s imminent conclusion. The author’s description of the key players on a stage set to change the world forever, the secret meetings, the subterfuge, the machinations and duplicity of those involved give compelling credibility to the story that Churchill was in fact, instrumental in orchestrating Mussolini’s escape. Historical facts cannot lie. The truth is that Churchill met Mussolini only once in 1927, first at his offices in Palazzo Chigi, and then at a reception at the British Embassy. Drawing on accurate research of high-ranking German officers, senior members of the Italian and British governments, the author's use of intelligent storytelling to convince the reader that it was Churchill’s plan all along to get the Germans to rescue Mussolini and put him back in power.

We do not meet Il Duce until Chapter 2 when, as a shadow of his former self, he is summoned to a council meeting to receive the news that the Italian high command and King Victor Emmanuel III intend to remove him from power and place him under house arrest.

“Unshaven, unkempt, pale. He felt tired as a beaten-down dog and sick to boot.”

We almost feel sorry for him. This degree of poignancy is just one of the layers which the reader unravels as the plan to re-instate him is formulated and the strategy consolidated. On another level is the relationship between Major George (Giorgio) Huntington and two loyal Italian partisans. Dominica, his girlfriend and her brother Marco whose courage and bravery eventually take their toll. In a conversation between Giorgio and Marco, the reader is made aware of the sacrifices and fortitude of those who sought to fight fascism. Preserving family values and traditions was of the utmost importance in Italian society.

“We’ve all had to live life on the edge under the strain of war,” says Marco. “It's people like you, like us who take the risks, hoping for a better future. Nothing comes easy in life. There is always a price to pay.”


 Why I recommend this book

The book would benefit from some formatting and proofreading  For example, the font changes from page 1 onwards and each chapter should really start on a new page. Front and back matter is missing, which is a shame as the elements that make up the front matter introduce the reader to the body of the document such as copyright, dedication, foreword, acknowledgments, imprint, author bio etc. I also felt the beginning of chapter 1 could do with a re-write to make it more impactful. However, I can forgive the author for all these rookie errors because it really is a good read!

Thought-provoking and plausible. The author presents a really interesting and yes, controversial theory.  There are historical notes at the end of the book, so I guess it is up to the reader whether to believe the story or not. The rise and fall of dictators, throughout history, has always captured our fascination, our revulsion. They have a toxic mix of charisma, magnetism and yet the power to instill fear, terror and intimidate. The author cleverly catches the atmosphere of the time in several ways. The inevitable feeling of desperation by the Germans that things are going against them, the level of disinterest in Mussolini by the Italians and the techniques of propaganda employed to sustain public support.

An anxious Heinrich Himmler arrives at The Wolf’s Lair for a meeting with Hitler to propose a plan to rescue Mussolini.    

“Alone, Himmler suddenly felt nervous and vulnerable. Coming here to attend a conference was one thing. Coming here to put a suggestion to Hitler when the war wasn’t going so well was another. Like all senior Nazi leaders, he hated going when there was nothing but bad news, knowing he would be lambasted during one of Hitler’s rants. He could feel his pulse racing and his face flushed despite the coolness of the room.”  

Mussolini is constantly watched and moved so it is vital that intelligence as to his exact location is accurate. As the situation worsens, Hitler’s generals and advisers are under extreme pressure to make sure the plan works. The führer orders his staff to identify the best commando leaders in the German armed forces and have them report to him immediately. One of these officers was Capt. Otto Skorzeny. The penalty for failure is death so this atmosphere of fear, intrigue and conspiracy, excellently portrayed by the author exists in the German camp as high-ranking officials jostle to seek favour and praise from Hitler. Not just to bask in their own personal glory if the mission is a success but rather, to stay alive.

The successful raid to rescue Mussolini on the Gran Sasso was carried out without a shot being fired or anyone killed. However, the exact details of the killing of Mussolini and his mistress remain a mystery. It was an undignified end for the man who had ruled Italy for over twenty years. Days after the execution of Il Duce, Hitler shot himself and had his body burned in petrol.

I would love to see a film/screen adaption made of Gran Sasso. The Guardian recently published an article entitled ‘Battle Fatigue – will British cinema’s second world war obsession ever end?’ as two more war films are about to hit our screens. Our obsession with the war continues. There were perpetrators and victims on both sides so there will always be a conflicting truth, a different perspective.  Whether Churchill instigated the plan to rescue Mussolini or he rejected it, whether British intelligence was responsible for killing Mussolini, perhaps we will never know. Gran Sasso offers a theory and is testament to the fact that the balance of peace is a fragile thing.



Gary Parkins was born in North London and served in the Parachute regiment in the 1970s. As a member of the Western Front Association, he visits the battlefields of Western Europe every year. After he left the British army, he worked as Security Operations Manager for Harrods of London up until his retirement.



Independently published (Aug. 2021)  

Paperback available on Amazon £7.99



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