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.