The Liberation of Allied Prisoners of War was the first combat operation undertaken by Steve Rogers as Captain America, who infiltrated a HYDRA weapons facility behind the German lines during World War II. He successfully liberated over a hundred Allied soldiers, becoming a war hero as a result.
After the assassination of Dr. Abraham Erskine at the hands of Heinz Kruger, the formula for the Super Soldier Serum was lost. Steve Rogers was now the only American super soldier, and it was believed he alone was not enough to help the Allies win World War II. Instead, his commanders decided he would tour the nation in a colorful costume as "Captain America" to promote War Bonds rather than be confined to a lab while scientists attempted to rediscover Erskine's formula.
The USO show was very successful in the USA. Because of his colorful costume, Rogers became known as the "Star Spangled Man", war movies with him as the main star were made, and even the comic books showing him punching Adolf Hitler were published.
In November 1943, while performing shows for active servicemen in Italy, Steve Rogers was met with derision from soldiers who had actually been through months of grueling combat. Rogers left the stage and had a talk with Peggy Carter, Colonel Chester Phillips' secretary. When Rogers learned from her that the combat unit of his friend Bucky Barnes, the 107th Infantry Regiment, was lost in battle against HYDRA, the Nazi division commanded by Johann Schmidt, the man who ordered Erskine's assassination, he asked Phillips to organize a rescue mission. However, Phillips refused, because he would lose more men than he would save. The weapons facility where Barnes' unit was imprisoned was located in Austria, halfway between Kitzbühel and Klagenfurt, dozens of miles behind the German lines.
Behind the Enemy Lines
Not satisfied with Colonel Chester Phillips' response, Steve Rogers decided to do something on his own. After a quick talk, Peggy Carter decided to help him. That night, they joined the industrialist Howard Stark, a man whom Phillips wouldn't dare to punish for disobeying his orders, and he flew them in his plane behind the German lines. In order to ensure his identity was masked, he also "borrowed" a helmet from one of the showgirls at the USO tour. While being briefed by Carter, including being given a transceiver that he is to use after ensuring the successful rescue of any POWs he finds, Stark made some comments about him and Carter having fondue afterward. When they approached the borderlines of no man's zone, the German air defense opened fire on the plane, and Rogers jumped out of the plane, parachuting himself to the ground.
Rogers infiltrated the fortress belonging to Johann Schmidt's HYDRA division, freeing dozens of captured soldiers. He ordered them to attack the guards at the gate while he searched for more prisoners. The former prisoners managed to acquire several Arnimhilation 99L Assault Weapons and kill a handful of guards. Dum Dum Dugan, Gabe Jones and James Montgomery Falsworth hijacked a HYDRA Mini Tank and destroyed the gate, allowing the prisoners to escape. Watching Rogers overpower several HYDRA soldiers single-handedly on security monitors, Schmidt believed his forces were outmatched and activated the base's self-destruct timer.
While searching, Rogers came across Arnim Zola's lab, where he discovered Bucky Barnes strapped to a table. Rogers freed him and saw a map with the location of other HYDRA bases throughout Europe, which he made a mental note of. While trying to escape, Rogers and Barnes come across Schmidt attempting to escape as well. During the confrontation, Schmidt revealed his 'face' to be a mask, removing it to display his true visage: red-colored and cranial. This was the appearance that earned him the nickname of "Red Skull".
While Rogers and Schmidt were beginning to scuffle, Zola, acting quickly, pulled a lever which withdrew the retractable drawbridge. This drew the fight to a quick close, and allowed Schmidt and Zola to escape, while Rogers and Barnes were trapped on a scaffold. While the fortress was beginning to explode around them, Barnes was able to climb across a beam to the other side. Unfortunately, it broke and fell shortly after he reached his destination. Rogers was forced to leap across the gap as the factory below exploded, engulfing him in flames. Fortunately, however, he was able to make the jump without being harmed.
Back at the base camp, Colonel Phillips, fearing the worst, began writing a letter indicating that Steve Rogers had died in the line of duty, and also made clear that he intended to hold Carter responsible for Rogers' death (mostly because he knows he can't actually punish Stark despite his also being involved due to his wealth and connections to the United States Government). However, he ultimately did not do so before noticing the camp entering a commotion and then discovering why: Rogers had returned to base with the freed soldiers, receiving a hero's welcome from the soldiers that had ridiculed him earlier. When Carter informs him of his late arrival, Rogers explained that his transceiver had been damaged in the fighting and thus couldn't call in an extraction. Rogers then was prepared to surrender himself to Colonel Phillips for disciplinary action but the latter declined, unwilling to punish a man who had saved the lives of so many soldiers.
Steve Rogers recruited Bucky Barnes, Dum Dum Dugan, Gabe Jones, Jim Morita, James Montgomery Falsworth, and Jacques Dernier into the Howling Commandos to attack the other known bases belonging to HYDRA.
Captain Rogers was to be presented with a Medal of Valor by Senator Brandt, though he ended up skipping the ceremony due to his debriefing the SSR about the locations of HYDRA's various bases, much to the Senator's embarrassment.
- According to Lorraine, Steve Rogers saved nearly four hundred men. However, according to the Captain America exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution, Rogers saved the lives of only 163 men.