Abducting a German General

May 1944. German occupied Crete, the Greek island in the southern Aegean. In 1941 soon after the Germans captured the island from the British, the Cretan resistance movement was established.

Consisting of bands of local civilians, guerrilla fighters, and villagers from the wild mountainous interior, they inflicted heavy losses on the German forces from the very beginning.

This is the background of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Abducting a General: The Kreipe Operation in Crete. Fermor was a member of the British Special Operation Executive (SOE) stationed in Egypt. Together with his colleague, Stanley Moss, they formulated a plan to capture the German General on Crete.

The purpose of the operation was to humiliate the Germans and boost the morale of members of the Cretan resistance. On the night of April 26 1944, Fermor and his colleagues intercepted the car carrying General Heinrich Kreipe, commander of the German forces then.

Fermor, dressed as the German General, and his British colleague-chauffeur, Moss, managed to get through 22 German checkpoints in a hair-raising prelude to an 18-day effort to spirit Kreipe away on ship bound for British controlled Egypt.

"A mood of riotous jubilation broke out in the car; once more we were all talking, laughing, gesticulating and finally singing at the tops of our voices, and offering each other cigarettes, including the general."

Fermor’s description of this 18-day trek with his band of Cretan resistance fighters was the most thrilling portion of the book. Together they moved from one concealed cave to another in the mountains of Crete—eating, reading, talking, resting, trying to sleep. It was during these days that I came to appreciate how much the Cretans meant to Fermor.

the flair [they had] for friendship, company, talk, fun and music; originality and inventiveness in conversation and an explosive vitality.

After several terrifying climbs and descents and no shortage of near misses, General Kriepe, (shown in center) along with his British captors, (Moss on left, Fermor on right) was finally was finally spirited away onto a British submarine bound for Cairo.

Was the capture of Kriepe of any military or strategic value? If so, it was negligible. And it was met with German reprisals that were not pretty. But as a pure adventure story, it was hard to beat.

In 1972, long after the War, Fermor met Kriepe once again under more peaceful conditions in Athens.


Stefanie said...

What a story!

Richard Katzev said...

You betcha, Marge. Patrick Leigh Fermor has written many fine books. This is one is not so widely known. A memorable travel writer, walking all over Europe and beyond. His books are published by the New York Review of Books. You might enjoy one of them, on an unlikely day, when you have nothing to read.

Linda said...

I've heard the name, but have not read any of Fermor's books. Yet.

It is an exciting story. But I imagine the German reprisals were brutal. Toward the end of the Shoah film, there is a segment on the roundup and deportation of the Cretan Jewish population, which was around May or June of 1944. It was a horrific time.

Richard Katzev said...

Linda: I know you have a lot of books on your to-be-read list. Add any one of Fermor's and I'm sure you'll enjoy it. Yes there were reprisals following the capture of Kreipe--a village was destroyed. But the deportation of the Cretan Jewish population was, to the best of my knowledge, not directly related to the capture. It was simply one of many German efforts to destroy the resistance on the Island before the allies landed.

cath said...

'A Time of Gifts' and 'Between the Woods and the Water' I've read long ago. Patrick Leigh Fermor was such an adventurous spirit, already as a young boy.. The story of 'Abducting a General' I didn't know. Even while not having any strategic value I do understand how the successful abduction did boost the morale of the resistance fighters.
I have his 'A Time to Keep Silence' still unread on my shelf. Not the outward but the inward journey that one is. It's on my 'hope to read this year' list.

Richard Katzev said...

Catherine: I'm glad you are so familiar with Fermor. Many have spoken of how charming he was, erudite, considerate, a delight to have known. I need to read more of his works and will this year--perhaps A Time to Keep Silence. Thank you for the suggestion.

Linda said...

Thank you, Richard and Cath for the recommendations - Fermor is now on my must read list.

Richard Katzev said...

Linda: I think you would like A Time to Keep Silence. Richard