BENITO MUSSOLINI PRESENTATION WATCH TO OTTO SKORZENY
An incredible find, one of three timepieces personally given to German SS commando Otto Skorzeny by Benito Mussolini in thanks for Skorzeny's daring rescue of the dictator from captivity and likely certain death at the hands of his fellow Italians. The gold-cased watch, certainly cherished by the daring commando, remained his most valued possession until he offered to trade it for a chance to escape his American captors, related in a never-before-told story set forth below. The watch is an 18k gold cased 1930s-style twin register Chronographe Suisse. The north-south configuration of the registers, or small dials, indicates that the movement is likely a Venus 171 Calibre as opposed to the Landeron and Valjoux movements used in the majority of Chronographe Suisse watches of this kind in the 1930s and 1940s. The watch bears a black dial face with gold indices and Roman numerals at the hours, and bears the writing: 'Chronographe Suisse' and 'Antimagnetique', with 'Swiss Made' appearing at the bottom of the dial. There is a sweep-second hand, in addition to the hands for hours and minutes. A polycarbonate crystal, somewhat scratched, is fitted to the watch. The watch also has two buttons for its 'stopwatch' functions. The reverse is engraved with the letter 'M.', a facsimile of the first letter in Mussolini's signature. Engraved beneath the initials is: '12 – 9 – 1943 – XXI' indicating the date of Skorzeny's brilliant raid at Gran Sasso, September 12, 1943, as well as the year of Mussolini's 'reign', 1943 being his twenty-first year in power. Three hallmarks also appear on the reverse, including an 18k gold purity stamp, the 'Helvetia' woman's head indicating Swiss manufacture, and the number '132' within an anvil-shaped outline. A new leather band is fitted to the watch, which was functional until about five years ago and likely only needs a minor cleaning and oiling. The watch band requires special pins, one of which is loose and should be replaced.
The watch was obtained by American Army Counterintelligence Corps (CIC) Special Agent, First Lt. Robert E. O'Neil, Service No. 0-2000179, assigned at the time to Region V, Regensburg. In an incredible and very revealing video made by O'Neil's son in 1984 (included in the sale), Lt. O'Neil, who would pass a year later, describes how he obtained the watch. He relates how he traveled to Regensburg from Italy at war's end, sent to 'get close to various Nazi leaders...' He relates that Skorzeny had been captured by men attached to his unit and brought to a prison camp at Regensburg. An undercover C.I.C. agent was placed in confinement with Skorzeny who was trying to escape and flee to South America. Presumably, the undercover agent convinced Skorzeny that he (the agent) would soon be released and could assist Skorzeny, and Skorzeny in turn gave him the three timepieces given to him by Mussolini - this watch, an elegant Wintex wristwatch, and a ruby-encrusted pocket watch, all to be used as proof to others that the agent was working directly with Skorzeny.
According to O'Neil, the agent went to visit Skorzeny's wife, no doubt displaying the timepieces, and she in turn provided information on various potential escape routes. Shortly thereafter, the mission was halted, probably in part because of sufficient information provided by Skorzeny's wife and others. O'Neil states that shortly after the case 'blew up', Skorzeny's 'jewels' and other personal possessions (including the Wintex watch) were returned to him - everything except 'the watch' offered here. O'Neil's video concludes with the old veteran warning his son: 'They'll probably come looking for them...You're not going to publish this...' Of Skorzeny, O'Neil graciously commented: 'He was a fine, intelligent operative...an extremely capable guy...' The entire video may be viewed at: https://youtu.be/sQW4NmZy6Eg.
The watch was displayed at a prominent Pennsylvania militaria show in 2011. At that time, the owner of one of the other watches given to Skorzeny's commandos wrote: 'We now know that [O'Neil's son] has the STOPwatch, similar but more sophisticated than a wristwatch. And yes he does have the one and only STOPwatch that Skorzeny was given. Still missing, perhaps forever, is the 18k gold WRISTwatch and the ruby-encrusted pocketwatch given only to Skorzeny. We know now that [O'Neil's] father has the real stopwatch which as is stated above, came from his father...gold STOPwatches were given to the officers in the Gran Sasso rescue of Sept. 12, 1943. They were engraved on the back identical and were also Chronographe Suisse. I have one of these. There are only 6 given out, from our research...'
In Skorzeny's memoirs: 'My Commando Operations' (Atglen, Pa.: Schiffer Publishing, 1995) Skorzeny states: 'Every officer received a gold stop watch. To me the Duce sent the wristwatch [the Wintex watch, described below], and the stop watch [offered here], together with a gold pocket watch whose 'M' consisted of rubies and which bore the date 12.9.43. It was stolen from me by the Americans in 1943...'
Included in the lot is a copy of Skorzeny's memoirs; a 'zip drive' and compact disc bearing the ten minute recording of O'Neil describing how he came to obtain the watch; a notarized letter of provenance from O'Neil's son setting forth basic facts concerning his father and the history of the watch, and a color copy of Lt. O'Neil's military identification card.
Interestingly, in 2011 this auction house obtained a very large grouping of documents and relics belonging to the estate of Ilse Finckenstein Skorzeny, Skorzeny's second wife at the time of his death in 1975. The second Skorzeny/Mussolini watch, an 18k gold Wintex with an engraving identical to the watch offered here, was part of that estate. It was sold by us at auction in 2013. This watch, mentioned above, was returned to Skorzeny and remained in his possession. It is pictured in a photo during Skorzeny's interrogation by U.S. Army C.I.C. officers, probably while he was being held in Regensburg. A complete description and images of that watch may be viewed at https://www.alexautographs.com/auction-lot/the-watch-given-to-otto-skorzeny-by-benito-mussol_3366D7BE83/.
This is a superlative, historic relic, the finest obtainable from 'The Most Dangerous Man in the Europe'