Austrian Otto Skorzeny was born June 12, 1908 in Vienna to a middle class family that faced hardships during the years of crisis following the First World War. The name Skorzeny makes it likely his ancestors were of Slav origin. When Otto was 18 years of age and began to study engineering at Vienna University he became familiar with the traditional fencing associations. The art of fencing would earn Skorzeny his nickname Scarface later on. In one of the many duels, he received the "Schmisse" in his face, the honorable scars that were fiercely sought after among students as they were signs of traits of character like self discipline and courage.
When World War Two erupted, Austria, being part of the German Empire was obliged to deliver soldiers after the AnschluŖ. Yearning for action, Skorzeny did not wait to be called up. The 31-year-old engineer immediately joined the Luftwaffe as a volunteer. As he was considered too old, he reported to the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler. After being transferred to the Waffen-SS Division Das Reich, Skorzeny would be part of the troops that invaded the Netherlands.
In quick succession, he took part in the invasion of France, the campaign on the Balkans, the advance into Romania and Bulgaria and subsequently the invasion of Russia in the summer of 1941. The Das Reich division operated everywhere in the frontlines during Operation Barbarossa. During the last massive offence in the winter of 1941, he was injured by shrapnel from a Katuscha or Stalin organ, the Soviet multiple rocket launcher. When he was transferred to Vienna in December, he did not only return with the Eisernes Kreuz Ė Iron Cross Ė but also with a serious head injury that would bother him for years to come.