In December 1944 Adolf Hitler sent his favorite and most daring commander, Maj. Otto Skorzeny, on secret mission deep within Allied territory. Skorzeny was accompanied by 500 men from the 150th Panzer Brigade. They were wearing American and British uniforms, all of them spoke English and many of them had spent time in Britain or the United States. They also had control of twenty Sherman tanks and thirty trucks. Their mission was to spread rumors, change signposts, and generally spread panic among the troops. Their mission coincided with the German counteroffensive that became The Battle of the Bulge, so not only would the Allies have to deal with armed Germans attacking them from the front, but also worry that the man next to him might be a Nazi in disguise.
Once it was known the German battalion was behind the lines, the word traveled fast – trust no one. Soon a rumor was started saying that the main mission of Operation Greif was to assassinate Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, and panic set in. Ike’s movements were restricted and was constantly surrounded by a cadre of bodyguards. The soldiers also spent an inordinate amount of time checking up on each other, the GIs questioned everyone, right up to Gen. Omar Bradley. Questions that could only be answered by a “real” American. Who plays center field for the Yankees? Who is Mickey Mouse’s wife? What is the capital of Illinois? General Bradley was detained for answering Springfield for the last question; the soldier who stopped him insisted it was Chicago. Another general was arrested because he said the Chicago Cubs played in the American League.
The “Greifers,” as they came to be known, had undergone months of training in order to properly act like American soldiers, but many were captured after inadvertently tripping up. One entire Jeep of undercover agents was captured at a gas station when the driver asked for “Petrol, please” instead of asking for “gas.” Another German officer was captured because his forged identification card was too good. All American servicemen carried an ID card that said “Not a Pass – For Indentification Only.” The German forger had spelled “identification” correctly on the fake card, and ended up costing the captured officer his life.
For all of the problems caused by the members of Operation Greif, they were unable to stop the Americans. As the bulge was pushed back, the Greifers fled to Germany with the rest of their retreating comrades. Hitler awarded Otto Skorzeny the Iron Cross for his efforts in leading the operation.