The story of the abduction of General Kreipe still fascinates today. Better known for its protagonists and almost Bold-like flair, it is the story of more than a handful of soldiers: it is a story of fearless defiance of a whole population rallying behind a brave few to deliver a demoralising blow to the enemy through an operation that remains testament to the boundless ambition of the human spirit.

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[Map of the abduction – © The Estate of William Stanley Moss]

 

The Plan

After the fall of Crete in 1941 under Operation Mercury, the first mainly airborne invasion in military history (involving 14,000 German paratroopers), and the subsequent evacuation of Allied forces, British agents of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) began to build up covertly in Crete. Taking to the mountainous inland and with the help of local resistance teams (the Andartes), SOE quickly established a network of hideouts and radio stations through which to coordinate and execute sabotage operations against occupying Nazi forces.

By 1943, SOE agents and supplies were moving regularly between Crete and Allied headquarters in Cairo, Egypt. It was in the winter of that year that Major Patrick Leigh Fermor and Captain William Stanley Moss conceived the plan of the abduction of the German commanding officer in Crete, the brutal “Butcher of Crete”, General Friedrich-Wilhelm Muller.

The idea was simple enough, at least on paper: the duo would parachute into Crete along with Georgios Tyrakis and Emmanuel Paterakis, a pair of Cretan SOE agents, link up with the Andartes and abduct General Muller, whisking him off to Cairo. Information yielded by his interrogation would be invaluable to the Allied effort as would the significant morale boost and embarrassment to Nazi military prestige. The operation soon received the green light.

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[© The Estate of William Stanley Moss]

When General Muller was unexpectedly succeeded on 15 February 1944, it was decided that the operation still goes ahead. New target, his replacement: Generalmajor Heinrich Kreipe, commander 22nd Air Landing Infantry Division.

 

The Kidnap

On the night of 26 April 1944, and after a number of false starts, the team takes ambush positions near the village of Archanes. Disguised as military policemen, they stop the General’s car on its way from divisional headquarters to the General’s residence at Villa Ariadne. A surprised Kreipe gets crammed into the back seat and held at gunpoint. Moss takes over as driver and Fermor sits on the passenger seat wearing the General’s hat.

Against all expectations, the team heads straight for the busiest city on the island, Heraklion. The streets are busy with enemy troops on leave, Kreipe’s own men, which at some point pour out of a cinema in front of the General’s hijacked car. The team hold their nerve. They drive on. Shouting petulantly at armed sentries, they bluff their way through 22 German roadblocks unchallenged.

Wishing to throw off the enemy, the team abandon the car half-way between Heraklion and Rethymno. A note is left behind for the Germans to discover claiming British paternity for the operation thus absolving Cretans of all participation, in hope that reprisals will be spared, and head for the mountains. First stop, the resistance stronghold of Anogia. The team receive a typically cold shoulder reserved for enemy patrols. They are still in their German military police uniforms. Once their identity is ascertained and news of the abduction spread through the village, rapturous joy explodes through the village. The General commander of the garrison of Crete is in the hands of the resistance.

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[The abduction team crosses Mt Ida with Kreipe – © The Estate of William Stanley Moss]

The subsequent hunt for the abductors by the enemy through the rough terrain of inland Crete lasts for almost 20 days. The abductors, aided by the Andartes and local population and intricately intimate with their surroundings, move exclusively by night. The pursuers, gaining in numbers and eager to reverse the embarrassment of the abduction, quickly develop along the south of the island cutting off one by one all but the longest escape routes through the southern coast. A nerve-racking game of cut and mouse unfolds. In one instance the abduction team passes straight through a German patrol sweeping up a mountain slope a mere metres away from where the team were descending.

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[A dejected Kreipe surrounded by his abductors – © The Estate of William Stanley Moss]

On the night of 14 May 1944, redemption at last: after a 100-mile adventure through the Cretan wilderness, the party are successfully picked up from Peristeres Beach in Rodakino and transported to Cairo.

 

The Aftermath

The war was over for General Kreipe. The operation once conceived in a Cairo fishing club had come to a successful end.

For the local population of Crete, no immediate reprisals came. It was until later, in August 1944, that the full wrath of the Nazi occupying force came down on Crete. Anogia, Gerakari, Ano Meros, Drygies as well as a number of other villages in the Amari region (some of them not linked to the abduction operation) were burned to the ground under the orders {*} of General Muller who was back in command of the German garrison in Crete. The brutality was typical of Muller as was the cynicism, military documents from the time later revealing the true incentive for the raids: an effort to intimidate the fierce local population ahead of a massive evacuation of German forces from Rethymno and Heraklion west to the stronghold of Chania. The tide was turning against the Nazi war machine.

 


 

 

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All historical photography © The Estate of William Stanley Moss. All other rights reserved © ECR Sport