Tag Archives: Major General Heinrich Kreipe

Dennis Ciclitira has joined them and has a working radio

May 11th 1944

Things are looking up! Dennis Ciclitira has joined them and has a working radio set up the valley in Asi Gonia. And they hear from Ianni Katsias that the closest beaches – at Rodakino – has potential as a pick up point.
They spend the day and evening resting and recovering. They are all very tired and the General is clearly suffering. Billy Moss recorded, after the General fell off the mule the day before:

“General in great pain, saying: ‘I’ve had enough. Why don’t you shoot me and get done with it’.”

Paddy writes:

Rumours of a German descent on the region had prompted Stathi to conceal us in such a cramped and precarious eyrie the night before; next morning all seemed serene: we climbed up to a commodious and beautiful ledge of rock where the General was consoled for the agonies of the ascent by the coloured blankets and the cushions spread there under the leaves by my god-brother (Stathi) and Stavro (an old drinking companion of mine) and by the marvellous banquet of roast sucking pig and kalitsounias, – crescent shaped mizithracroquettes – and the wicker demi-john of magnificent old wine which was waiting. Stathi was a great bon viveur and a paragon of kindness and generosity as well as being Kapetanios of an armed band. His eager blue eyes kindled with delight to see us demolishing his feast. He hoped, (and so did we) that we could lie up here in luxury until we slipped off over the hill to the boat. There was a rushing stream hard by and sweet smelling herbs all round us and the trees were full of nightingales. We banqueted and slept and talked and sang. The sun set through the surrounding peaks and as we lolled exulting on the soft rugs under the moon and the stars, for ever plied with fresh marvels by the two brothers, who sped to and from the village like kindly djinns, this sudden change in our affairs seemed to all of us as magical as the sudden transportation to paradise for beggars in a Persian story.’

The General falls from his mule

10th May 1944

After a day resting in Photeinou the party continue to travel westward. They are heading to the Kato Poros gorge outside the village of Vilandredo.

Paddy writes: ‘A mishap occurred on this long night’s march: the girth of the General’s mule broke and sent his rider tumbling down a steep precipice. We chased after him; we thought at first that one of his shoulder blades was damaged; we arranged a sling and after a while the pain seemed to go. But his right arm remained in a sling for the rest of the journey. It was an anxious moment.

Outside the little village of Vilandredo we were met by kind and enthusiastic Stathi Loukakis and his brother, yet another Stavro.

He led us all, dog-tired and woe-begone, to a built up cave that clung to the mountainside like a martin’s nest. It was only to be reached by the clambering ascent of a steep ladder of roots and rocks – up which our disabled captive could only be hoisted by many hands and slow stages.’

Michael Powell was led to the cave in !951, and we finally tracked it down in 2015.

Our sun is rising

Chris White (C) with Charidimos Alevizakis (L) the nephew of Ianni Tsangarakis, Paddy’s greatest friend and guide. Charidimos had been a messenger for Paddy – and told us most emphatically that he and Paddy ‘were brothers.’

9th May 1944

After another day resting in Patsos the party head westward – reinforced by George Harokopos and George Pattakos, who supplies a mule for the General to ride on.

Paddy writes:

‘Our way westward over the plateau of Yious was our familiar east to west route over the narrowest part of western Crete. “Our sun is rising”, George had said as we set off at moonrise. It was a favourite saying in these nocturnal journeys. “Off we go,” Manoli said, “Anthropoi tou Skotous.” This phrase “men of Darkness!” was a cliché that often cropped up in German propaganda when referring to people like us, and we had eagerly adopted it. We were off, I hoped, on the last lap of our journey.’

‘Among the rocks and Arbutus clumps there was an ice-cold spring which was said to bestow the gift of immortality. We all lay on our faces and lapped up as much as we could hold. I told the General about the property of the water. He leant down from the saddle of his mule and asked urgently for a second mug.’
There destination for the night is the village of Fotinou – but they have to cross the main road from Rethymno to Spili without being spotted.

‘Men with guns whistled from the rocks and when we answered ran down to meet us and shepherd the party across the perilous highway. Others joined us out of the moonlight as we climbed into the conical hills where Fotinou is perched. Suddenly there was an alarm of a German patrol approaching directly ahead. Our party, by now quite large, fanned out along a ridge and lay waiting.’

‘Luckily it was only another contingent of our growing escort. There was relief and laughter. By the time we got to the grove of Scholari outside Fotinou, we were very numerous indeed. Most of the troop was composed of old Uncle Stavro Peros and his eighteen sons and their descendents with several members of the Tzangarakis and Alevizakis families as well. Andoni, the youngest of the Peros brothers had just contracted a dynastic match with the daughter of a family with whom the Peros tribe had been locked in discord for generations; so an atmosphere of concord and rejoicing reigned in the hills.’

In 1951 the film director Michael Powell, as part of his research for “Ill Met By Moonlight’, had visited the village, and photographed the Peros family.

In our early research trips we were able to meet Despina Peros, who had married Andoni Peros – the dynastic match – and whose olive grove they had stayed in. Despina was very proud of her association with the kidnap and that she had fed the group.

And on our first research trip in 2010 we met Charidimos Alevizakis, the nephew of Ianni Tsangarakis, Paddy’s greatest friend and guide. Charidimos had been a messenger for Paddy – and told us most emphatically that he and Paddy ‘were brothers.’

We might have been in a drawing room

8th May 1944

Tha main party stay resting outside Patsos. Billy writes about having a bathe in the tumbling stream nearby.
In the evening Paddy and Giorgos arrive from Genna and the group are reunited again.

Paddy writes: ‘The party, when I found them, were star-scattered about a tumble-down stone hut shaded by a clump of tall plane trees and a beetling rock with a waterfall and a deep pool. George Harocopos and his old father and his pretty little sister were looking after them in this Daphnis and Chloe décor.’

‘”Good morning, General. How are you?”
“Ah, Good morning, Major. We missed you.”
We might have been in a drawing room.’

The party are joined by another villager from Patsos – Giorgos Pattakos – who we were privileged to meet several times on our early research trips

‘All was going according to plan’

7th May 1944

Messages are beginning to bear fruit….and Paddy realises they will have to travel further westward. They still don’t have a plan on how to depart but they are now getting better links with Cairo via the radio set at Dryade and their brave messenger, George Psychoundakis. Paddy and George stay on in Genna a further night.

In the evening Manoli, Billy, the General and the main party travel further westward to the village of Patsos, where they stay in a sheepfold in a gorge by a tumbling stream.

Paddy writes: ‘On the night of the 7th, the party with the General moved by an easy night march to Patsos, which was only two or three hours away from me. They were being fed and guarded by George Harocopos and his family, (George, a thoughtful and well read boy, later to become a gifted journalist, was the son of a very poor, but very brave and kind family, all of whom had been great benefactors to the wandering British). All was going according to plan.’

But when we saw the branding mark, We only stole the ram, Sir

6th May 1944

Paddy and Giorgos remain based in Genna – messengers coming and going as they desperately try to arrange a safe beach to be picked up from. Giorgos Psychoundakis returns with Dick Barnes – known as Pavlos.

Paddy writes: ‘This reunion with Dick – like many occasions in occupied Crete when one wasn’t actually dodging the enemy – became the excuse for a mild blind. ‘Mr Pavlo and I set off to Yeni,’ writes George Psychoundakis in ‘The Cretan Runner’, “where we found Mr Mihali (me) and Uncle Yanni Katsias. We sat there till the evening and the sun set. Yanni took us to the east side of the village where they brought us some food and first rate wine and our Keph (well-being) was great. The four of us were soon singing. Mr Mihali sang a sheep-stealing couplet to the tune of Pentezali, which went:

Ah, Godbrother, the night was dark
For lamb and goat and dam, Sir,
But when we saw the branding mark,
We only stole the ram, Sir.

The ram – the head of the flock – meant the General.’

Billy, Manoli, the General and the rest of the kidnap team remain in the sheepfold above Gerakari.

‘This is very satisfactory news’

5th May 1944

Paddy and Giorgos remain in Genna, coordinating messengers. They are joined by Giorgos Harokopos and Giorgos Psychoundakis, who then heads back off to the wireless set run by Dick Barnes at Dryade with a message.

The main party in the evening leave Gomara and walk up the Amari valley via the village of Gourgouthi to their next hideout – a sheepfold above the village of Gerakari.

And in London Orme Sargent, the senior Foreign Office officer at Under Secretary level working to SOE, sends a memo to Harry Sporborg, deputy to Major-General Colin Gubbins, Head of SOE, expressing great approval of the coup. ’I have just heard of the success of an Allied Mission in Crete in capturing a high German officer. This is very satisfactory news and I hope it will be possible to get the German out to Cairo as I believe is intended.’

[1] National Archives HS 5/416

‘… if my companions are feeling half as uncomfortable as I do they must be feeling terrible’

4th May 1944

The main party are still hiding in the valley of Gomara. Billy Moss records in ‘Ill Met by Moonlight’:
“It rained all night long , and, as was inevitable, we are soaked to the skin. Around me I see a picture of human misery, and I know that if my companions are feeling half as uncomfortable as I do they must be feeling terrible.”
Spirits are lifted in the afternoon when messengers arrive from Sandy Rendel and Dick Barnes.

Meanwhile in Fourfouras Paddy and Giorgos leave the comforts of Giorgos’ family home and travel 14kms further up the valley to Pantanassa…..searching for the whereabouts of a working radio set.

Paddy writes:

“Among the cypresses of Pantanasa George and I ran into a hitch. The Hieronymakis family, we knew, were in touch with at least one of our wireless stations. By ill luck it was about the only village in the region where neither of us had ever been. The Hieronymakis knew all about us, we knew all about them, but we had never met and there was no one to vouch for us. The old men were adamant: ‘You say you are Mihali, Mihali who? And who are Siphi (Ralph Stockbridge) and Pavlo (Dick Barnes)? Never heard of them. Tk. Tk. Tk! Englishmen? but, boys, all the English left Crete three years ago …?’ The white whiskered faces turned to each other for corroboration, beetling brows were raised in puzzlement, blank glances exchanged. They went on calmly fingering their amber beads, politely offering coffee. It was no good raging up and down, gesticulating under the onions and paprika pods dangling from the beams: every attempt to break through was met by identical backward tilts of head with closed eyelids and the placidly dismissive tongue click of the Greek negative. They wouldn’t give an inch until they knew (as they say) what tobacco we smoked. We could, after all, be agents provocateurs.”

“This impressive but exasperating wall of security was only broken at last, after two precious hours of deadlock, by the entry of Uncle Stavro Zourbakis from Karines – a friend of us all. Everything dissolved at once. In greetings, recognition, laughter, Raki, a crackle of thorns and sizzling in the hearth and the immediate summoning and despatch of runners to the two sets in the North West.”

Paddy and George move on for the evening back down the valley to the village of Genna, where they were to stay for several days:

“The goat-fold of Zourbovasili lay in rolling biblical hills. There was a round threshing floor nearby, where George and I could sleep on brushwood with a great circular sweep of vision. This place was to become, during the next three days, the centre of all going and coming of messengers as plans changed and options elapsed. But now, after the scrum of the last few days it seemed preternaturally quiet in the brilliant moonlight. Ida towered east of us now, Kedros due south: The White Mountains, which had come nearer to us during the day, loomed shining in the west. How empty and still after our huddled mountain life, was this empty silver plateau! A perfect place to watch the moon moving across the sky and chain smoke through the night pondering on the fix we were in and how to get out of it. There was not a sound except a little owl in a wood close by and an occasional clank from Vassilis’ flock.”

the Telegraph reports ‘martial law’ being declared on Crete

3rd May 1944

Another day spent in their hideout in the valley of Gomara. They are still stuck and have no contact with Cairo, and no idea of when, where or how they will get off the island.

But they have a plan….in the evening the party decide to separate.

Billy, Manoli Paterakis, the General and the main kidnap group will stay in Gomara.

Paddy and Giorgos Tyrakis will travel in the evening up the Amari to Fourfouras, Giorgos’ home village, in search of a working radio station.

They still remain in the news in the UK – the Telegraph reports ‘martial law’ being declared on Crete.

Front page news

2nd May 1944

If only they knew!

Paddy, Billy, the rest of the kidnap team and the General spend another miserable day in the ditch, fearing capture…but it is getting quieter for them, as the German patrols are now searching further up the mountain.

Meanwhile in the UK ….they are front page news – in the Express, Telegraph, Guardian and Times!

In the evening they decide to move a kilometre or so westward – to the valley of Gomara.

Giorgos Pharangoulitakis describes it his memoir ‘Eagles of Mt Ida’: ‘We decided to shift towards the valley of Gomara, just west of Ayia Paraskevi, a part where they had searched every inch, and where we could take up a better defence posture. It was a steep rocky place with a hole like a sort of grotto under a cliff where we could hide for the night.’

In the end they spend the night and the following day under the branches of ‘a very large pear tree …it was like an eagles nest’.

‘the General realises that our capture would prove fatal for him’

1st May 1944

A long and dangerous day spent hiding in the ditch outside Agia Paraskevi. Probably the low point for all in the journey, and where they are most vulnerable to discovery by the German cordon – Moss records Kreipe’s realisation of his personal need for the success of the operation in order to ensure his own survival:

“I think the General realises that our capture would prove fatal for him.”

They can hear German patrols, sometimes as close as 50 metres, searching for them.

Paddy records that food is brought to them from Agia Paraskevi:

‘Antoni unpacked bread, cheese, onions, a dish of fried potatoes, some lamb and a napkin full of ‘kalitsounia!’ – crescent shaped fritters full of soft white cheese and chopped mint. Then a big bottle of mulberry raki came out and a handful of little tumblers. ‘This will warm you up,’ he said filling them: ‘White flannel vests all round.’ He splashed politely over to our guest with the first one, saying ‘stratege mou” (my General) then to the rest of us. They went down our throats like wonderful liquid flame. ‘And here,’ he said pulling out a gallon of dark amber wine, ‘red overcoats for all.’

What they don’t know is that in Cairo SOE have made a public announcement that Kreipe has been kidnapped and has already been taken off the island by submarine and is on his way to Cairo.

However they are still stuck, with no way of contacting Cairo and have no idea – as yet – of how they will get off the island.

The descent of Mt Ida

30th April 1944

The descent of Mt Ida has been exceptionally arduous in the dark so the day is spent recovering in Vorini Trypa, the large cave above Nithavris on the side of Mt. Ida.

That evening, in the rain and mist, they leave the cave and head further down the mountain into the bottom the Amari valley.

It is a difficult and very dangerous journey as the Germans are hunting for the General and are in all the villages immediately around them.

They first head west to the village of Kouroutes and then south until they stop and hide in a stream bed outside Agia Paraskevi.

Paddy records: Rain came swishing down: ‘Marvelous for the olives’, Manoli murmured. We waded through a stream and began to climb again. The rain turned to sleet. At last the village of Aya Paraskevi was only half an hour away. The Germans would have sentries out, perhaps patrols; better to stop there. We piled into a ditch mercifully overgrown with cistus, thyme and myrtle; protection from view, but not from the rain.

The ascent of Mount Ida in wind and snow

In the snow on top of Mount Ida

29th April 1944

The weather is deteriorating and the kidnap team need to walk over the side of Mt Ida and down into the Amari valley. It will be a long and arduous day and night.

At midday the party leave Petradolakkia and skirt the side of the Nidha plateau. They are heading for the mitato belonging to Roti, where they will rendezvous with Kapetan Petrakogiorgos and his andartes who will escort them over the side of the mountain. They climb up to the plateau of Akolyta and in rain, wind and snow they head over until they can see signal fires in the Amari telling them it is safe to descend. They shelter in the remains of a mitato before descending. After a long and arduous descent they are led to Vorini Trypa – North Hole – a large cave with tunnels and caverns heading off from the back of it. This cave has been used by the Resistance on several occasions before this visit, and is used by Dunbabin and George Psychoundakis in August 1944.

“Ach so, Herr Major.”

28th April 1944.

PLF and the kidnap team spend the day at Petrodolakkia with Xylouris and his andartes, where they take many photos. Tom Dunbabin has sent 3 members of his team from the Amari to the hideout, including Reg Everson and a wireless. The plan is to send a message to Cairo so that an evacuation date and beach can be identified, but the radio is broken. They are stuck. PLF sends off various messages, including one to Dick Barnes who has a radio station near Rethymno. The team are joined by Grigori Chnarakis, Nikos Komis and Andoni Papaleonidas, who have walked up from the kidnap point. They are meant to bring with them the General’s driver, Alfred Fenske, but he has been killed on the journey.
At Bletchley Park the codebreakers decode a German signal stating that Kreipe has been kidnapped.

PLF records the following incident:

‘A curious moment, dawn, streaming in the cave’s mouth, which framed the white crease of Mount Ida. We were all three lying smoking in silence, when the General, half to himself, slowly said:

“Vides ut alta stet nive candidum Soracte”

The opening line and a bit of one of the few odes of Horace I know by heart. I was in luck.

” … Nec jam sustineant onus” I went on
“silvae laborantes geluque
Flumina constiterint acuto”

And continued through the other stanzas to the end of the ode. After a few seconds silence, the General said: “Ach so, Herr Major.” For five minutes the war had evaporated without a trace.[i]

[i] William Stanley Moss recorded this mutual love of the Classics in ‘Ill Met by Moonlight.’

‘Paddy discovered that the General is a fair Greek scholar, and, much to the amusement of our Cretan colleagues, the two of them entertained each other by exchanging verses from Sophocles.’

PLF and George Tyrakis rendezvous with the team

27th April 1944.

PLF and George Tyrakis rendezvous with the General and the rest of the kidnap team north of Anogia. In the evening they begin the long trek up the slopes of Mt Ida to the Xylouris sheepfolds at Petrodolakkia. On the way they rest briefly in one of the many mitatos (cheese huts) in the area.

Third time lucky … the kidnap is on!

26th April 1944.

Third time lucky…..the Kreipe kidnap team leave the Zographistos farmhouse outside Skalani and walk to the kidnap spot and wait for the General to drive past. At 9 pm they stop the car and the kidnap begins. The General is handcuffed and hidden on the back seat of the car. They drive past the Villa Ariadne and through Heraklion, entering by the Agios Giorgos gate and leaving by the Chaniaporta. They drive on into the mountains, stopping at Yeni Gave, where Billy Moss, Manoli Paterakis, Stratis Saviolakis and the General leave the car, heading up a track for a hideout in a ravine north of Anogia. PLF and Georgos Tyrakis drive for a further 2 kms and dump the car at Campo Doxaro, at the start of a track leading to the Cheliana ravine and the sea. They take with them the pennants from the car and head to the village of Anogia.

An obituary to Billy Moss by Jack Smith-Hughes

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the extraction of General Kreipe from Crete, and this evening in the Travellers Club a dinner will be held to mark this event. Paddy grabs much of the attention, but as we know, this sort of operation is a team effort, as much to do with the bravery and hardiness of the Cretan Andartes as anything else. And of course the second-in-command, William Stanley Moss who was as cool as a cucumber acting as the new “general’s” driver.

Jack Smith-Hughes was a SOE officer who served in Crete and who knew Billy Moss very well. This short obituary was written by him and passed via Roderick Bailey to Billy’s daughter, Gabriella, and thence to me so that you all may read it on this special day. Roderick informed Gabriella that “the obituary by Jack Smith-Hughes comes from what was then called, Special Forces Club Magazine and Newsletter. To be even more precise, it was printed on page 25 of edition No.47 (Vol. VII, December 1965).”

If you can’t read the image above, download the pdf here.

75th anniversary of the kidnap of General Kreipe – watch 11th Day movie

The kidnap gang pose before the action (Courtesy of Estate of William Stanley Moss)

The kidnap gang pose before the action (Courtesy of Estate of William Stanley Moss)

On the evening of 26th April 1944, SOE officers, Patrick Leigh Fermor, and William “Billy” Stanley Moss, supported by the small but determined gang of Cretan Andartes, kidnapped German commander in Crete,Heinrich Kreipe, in an action that was on the one hand heroic and dashing, and on the other controversial for its impact and consequences.

Paddy Leigh Fermor and ‘Billy’ Moss (Courtesy of estate of William Stanley Moss)


As we remember this small event in that catastrophic global war, you may like to take the opportunity to watch the movie, 11th Day, which documents the key events in the struggle of the Cretan people and their allies against the German occupiers, from the invasion to the German retreat, including interviews with Paddy, and many of the characters made famous by the kidnap of General Kreipe.

Watch the full movie here before it is pulled from You Tube!

Holiday Planning? Crete, between the mountains and the sea

View from the village of Kapetaniana, Asterousia.

Thinking of going to wild and rugged Crete this year? It is the 75th anniversary of the Kreipe kidnap and there will be a lot going on. A nice little article here about one family and their efforts to create a unique holiday environment in Heraklion province.

By Michael Sweet.

First published in Neos Kosmos

On the Orthodox Feast of the Holy Cross, every September 14, the faithful from villages near Mount Kofinas climb its peak to observe an ancient rite. On the summit, three small trees – a species of white-beam – bear fruit at this time of year. The fruit, which looks like cherry-sized apples, is gathered, soaked in water, and blessed, before the priest shares the tiny ‘apples’ with the worshippers. They eat them not only as a holy Eucharist, but for their believed healing properties. Predating Christianity, this ritual dates back more than three thousand years, for here at this Minoan peak sanctuary, one of more than twenty across Crete, the echoes of deep history are carried in the wind.

What attracted the Minoans to settle at this sacred place is what brought the founder of Thalori Retreat – Marcos Skordalakis here: a spiritual energy which weaves its way through the peaks and passes, before sweeping down to the beaches that lie a dizzying thousand metres below.

The village of Kapetaniana, perched high on the western approach to Kofinas, is where Marcos began building (or rather rebuilding) Thalori in 2001. For six years the former restaurateur set about transforming a dozen ruined houses into some of the finest holiday accommodation available in Heraklion province. Combining rustic authenticity with contemporary comfort, Thalori opened in 2007 and today comprises 20 houses, a restaurant, and a working farm with riding stables.

“It was my dream to make a place that felt like a home, for my family and for my guests,” says Marcos, as we talk at one of the restaurant’s exterior tables and look out to the Libyan Sea. “I wanted it to be a place where guests could explore nature – all the special things the mountain and the sea has to offer.”

Below Thalori is the village of Agios Ioannis. Connected to Kapetaniana by an 8 km dirt road that spears downwards in a series of hair-raising bends, it’s a journey not for the faint-hearted. This is where Marcos keeps his boat, and it’s the set-off point for the remarkable cruises he offers along this wild shore. For adventurous types, in the summer he’ll even take you to your own beach (with cave) for the night, and pick you up the next day. [Read more]

Oral history – erasing Paddy and Billy

The kidnap gang pose before the action (Courtesy of Estate of William Stanley Moss)

The kidnap gang pose before the action (Courtesy of Estate of William Stanley Moss)

This review of M I Finley’s A World of Odysseus, discusses the hypothesis that oral heroic poetry is not a medium that preserves historical fact, mentioning specifically how the deeds of Paddy, “Billy” Moss, and the others who kidnapped General Kreipe were raised to the level of Cretan heroic oral history, but by 1953, all the names had been forgotten or deliberately erased (the relevant part is highlighted for your convenience).

by Bernard Knox

First published in the New York Review of Books

29 Jun 1979

It is now more than two decades since the Professor of Ancient History at Cambridge (who was then an ex-professor from Rutgers) published a book which in a limpid, hard-hitting prose and with a bare minimum of footnotes attempted to draw “a picture of a society, based on a close reading of the Iliad and Odyssey, supported by study of other societies….” This is how Professor Finley characterizes the book now, in the preface to a revised edition which makes only minor changes in the original text but adds two valuable and stimulating appendices, replying to criticism and bringing the argument up to date. He goes on to claim that “the social institutions and values make up a coherent system” which, however strange to us, is “neither an improbable nor an unfamiliar one in the experience of modern anthropology.” The fact that the later Greeks and the nineteenth-century scholars found it incomprehensible on its own terms he dismisses as “irrelevant” and adds that “it is equally beside the point that the narrative is a collection of fictions from beginning to end.”

The ideas here stated in uncompromising terms were implicit in the work from the start. And at the time of its first publication they were not greeted with enthusiasm by the world of Homeric and Bronze Age scholarship. Far from believing that “the narrative was a collection of fictions,” most scholars of the subject found in the Bronze Age remains excavated on the Homeric sites a confirmation of the historicity of the tale of Troy, at least in its main outlines, and went on to search the text of the poems for objects described that might match the objects discovered. Almost simultaneously with the publication of Finley’s book, the decipherment of the Linear B tablets by Ventris and Chadwick seemed to provide the definitive proof that the Homeric poems preserved historical facts of the thirteenth century BC. Here were clay tablets, inscribed in a form of Greek that bore striking resemblances to the Homeric literary dialect, which contained lists of chariots, corslets, and helmets and such Homeric names as Hektor, Achilleus, Aias, Pandaros, and Orestes. John Chadwick recently took a wry backward look at the euphoria of those early days:

The revelation of the Mycenaean archives fostered wild hopes that one day we might come across, let us say, the muster of ships at Aulis for the expedition against Troy or an operation order for the attack of the Seven against Thebes.1

Finley remained one of what he calls a “heretical minority”; and it soon became apparent that the decipherment of Linear B, far from confirming the thesis that the Homeric poems were a reflection of Mycenaean society, had in fact dealt that thesis a fatal blow. It is hard to think of Homer’s Agamemnon as living in the same world with that wanax of Pylos, whose scribes duly recorded that “Kokalos repaid the following quantity of olive oil to Eumedes: 648 liters; from Ipsewas 38 stirrup-jars.” The bureaucratic inventories of the Bronze Age palaces resemble the detailed records of the Near Eastern civilizations which preceded them and the intricate accounting of the later Ptolemaic papyri, but anything more alien to the mentality of illiterate freebooters such as Achilles and equally illiterate pirates such as Odysseus can hardly be imagined.

The tablets also demonstrated that the precise geographical description of Nestor’s kingdom at Pylos which is offered in Book II of the Iliad bears practically no relation to the Mycenaean facts; the conclusion, that the poet or poets knew little or nothing of western Greece, might already have been surmised from the confused and confusing Homeric descriptions of the hero’s homeland, Ithaca. And meanwhile, quite apart from the tablets, it was becoming steadily clearer to all but the most stubborn that there was very little in the archaeological record which would serve to connect the world of the poems with the Bronze Age.

Finley, in the preface to the new edition, contents himself with a very restrained, “I told you so”; he “cannot resist pointing out that proper concern for social institutions and social history had anticipated what philology and archaeology subsequently found.” In The Mycenaean World, John Chadwick heads his penultimate chapter “Homer the Pseudo-Historian” and concludes it with the sentence: “to look for historical fact in Homer is as vain as to scan the Mycenaean tablets in search of poetry; they belong to two different universes.”

Oral heroic poetry is not a medium that preserves historical fact—as Finley pointed out, with a reference to the Chanson de Roland, which made out of a Basque attack on Charlemagne’s rear-guard an assault by Muslim beys and pashas, all carefully identified by names which are “German, Byzantine, or made-up.” A modern example, from the Second World War and from Greece itself, strengthens his case and gives a fascinating glimpse of epic “history” in the making.

In 1953 the late Professor James Notopoulos was recording oral heroic song in the Sfakia district of western Crete, where illiterate oral bards were still to be found. He asked one of them, who had sung of his own war experience, if he knew a song about the capture of the German general and the bard proceeded to improvise one. The historical facts are well known and quite secure. In April 1944 two British officers, Major Patrick Leigh Fermor and Captain Stanley Moss, parachuted into Crete, made contact with Cretan guerrillas, and kidnapped the German commanding general of the island, one Karl Kreipe.

The general was living in the Villa Ariadne at Knossos, the house Evans had built for himself during the excavations. Every day, at the same time, the general was driven south from the Villa to the neighboring small town of Arkhanes, where his headquarters were located. He came home every night at eight o’clock for dinner. The two British officers, dressed in German uniforms, stopped the car on its way home to Knossos; the Cretan partisans overpowered the chauffeur and the general. The two officers then drove the car through the German roadblocks in Heraklion (the general silent with a knife at his throat) and left the car on the coast road to Rethymo. They then hiked through the mountains to the south coast, made rendezvous with a British submarine, and took General Kreipe to Alexandria and on to Middle East Headquarters in Cairo.

Here, in Notopoulos’s summary, is the heroic song the bard produced:

“An order comes from British and American headquarters in Cairo to capture General Kreipe, dead or alive; the motive is revenge for his cruelty to the Cretans. A Cretan partisan, Lefteris Tambakis (not one of the actual guerrilla band) appears before the English general (Fermor and Moss are combined into one and elevated in rank) and volunteers for the dangerous mission. The general reads the order and the hero accepts the mission for the honor of Cretan arms. The hero goes to Heraklion, where he hears that a beautiful Cretan girl is the secretary of General Kreipe.

“In disguise the partisan proceeds to her house and in her absence reads the [English] general’s order to her mother. When the girl returns he again reads the general’s order. Telling her the honor of Crete depends on her, he catalogues the German cruelties. If she would help in the mission, her name would become immortal in Cretan history. The girl consents and asks for three days time in which to perform her role. To achieve Cretan honor she sacrifices her woman’s honor with General Kreipe in the role of a spy. She gives the hero General Kreipe’s plans for the next day.

“Our hero then goes to Knossos to meet the guerrillas and the English general. ‘Yiassou general,’ he says. ‘I will perform the mission.’ The guerrillas go to Arkhanes to get a long car with which to blockade the road. Our hero, mounted on a horse by the side of the blockading car, awaits the car of Kaiseri (that is what the bard calls Kreipe). The English general orders the pistols to be ready. When Kreipe’s car slows down at the turn he is attacked by the guerrillas. Kreipe is stripped of his uniform (only his cap in the actual event) and begs for mercy for the sake of his children (a stock motif in Cretan poetry).

“After the capture the frantic Germans begin to hunt with dogs (airplanes in the actual event). The guerrillas start on the trek to Mount Ida and by stages the party reaches the district of Sfakia (the home of the singer and his audience; actually the general left the island southwest of Mount Ida). The guards have to protect the general from the mob of enraged Sfakians. Soon the British submarine arrives and takes the general to Egypt. Our bard concludes the poem with a traditional epilogue—that never before in the history of the world has such a deed been done. He then gives his name, his village, his service to his country.”2

So much for epic history. Nine years after the event the British protagonists have been reduced to one nameless general whose part in the operation is secondary and there can hardly be any doubt that if the song is still sung now the British element in the proceedings is practically nonexistent—if indeed it managed to survive at all through the years in which Britain, fighting to retain its hold on Cyprus, became the target of bitter hostility in Greece and especially among the excitable Cretans.

It took the Cretan oral tradition only nine years to promote to the leadership of the heroic enterprise a purely fictitious character of a different nationality. This is a sobering thought when one reflects that there is nothing to connect Agamemnon, Achilles, Priam, and Hector with the fire-blackened layer of thirteenth-century ruins known as Troy VII A (the archaeologists’ candidate for Homer’s city) except a heroic poem which cannot have been fixed in its present form by writing until the late eighth century, at least four illiterate centuries after the destruction.

Finley’s professional interest in the poems lies in their value as a source for knowledge of the Dark Ages (so-called because we know almost nothing about them) which intervene between the destruction of the Mycenaean palaces around 1200 BC and the beginning of a new literacy some time in the late eighth century. If the poems contain no memory of historical events of the Bronze Age and, furthermore, do not reflect the civilization, customs, social relationships, or even the material objects of the Bronze Age, what do they have to tell us? Finley’s answer was (and still is) that the poems preserve, with the anachronisms and misunderstandings inevitable in a fluid oral tradition, the social institutions and values of the early Dark Ages, the tenth and ninth centuries BC. “The choice,” as he poses the question in the new edition, “lies between that period and the poet’s own time, now that the ground beneath a supposed Mycenaean world of Odysseus has been removed by the Linear B tablets, assisted by continuous archaeological excavation and study.”

The “poet’s own time” he takes to be the mid-eighth century (a date with which few will quarrel) and makes the claim that the poems fail to reflect the known social conditions of that period. “The polis (city-state) form of political organization” was “widespread in the Hellenic world by then, at least in embryonic form. Yet neither poem has any trace of a polis in its political sense.” Further, the “Phoenician monopoly of trade” in the Odyssey is a reflection of “the period before 800 BC, for by that date the presence of Greek traders in the Levant is firmly attested.” Finley sees no reason to find in Homer’s picture of the sea-lords of Phaeacia a “reflection of the Greek western colonization movement contemporary with Homer,” as many have done: “Magical ships that powered themselves were not instruments of the westward colonization, nor did magic gardens await the migrants on arrival.”

The epic poets are the guardians, preservers, and renewers of a heroic tradition and though they often admit anachronistic details or misunderstand the use or nature of archaic objects, they maintain intact, so Finley insists, the social context in which the heroes can live their larger life. From that context he constructed a model, to use his own formula, “imperfect, incomplete, untidy, yet tying together the fundamentals of a political and social structure with an appropriate value system in a way that stands up to a comparative analysis.” The most striking and original feature of this presentation (organized in chapters headed: “Wealth and Labor”; “Household, Kin, and Community”; “Morals and Values”) is his discussion of the “institution of gift-exchange.”

No reader of the Odyssey can have failed to be amazed and puzzled by the central role gifts play in the social relationships of the characters. Telemachus at Sparta, a young provincial with very uncertain prospects visiting the splendid court of Menelaus and Helen, is offered a parting gift of horses. He declines, on the grounds that his native island is no place to graze horses, and asks for something else: “Give me something that can be stored up.” Menelaus is delighted with his frankness and gives him a bowl made of silver and gold. There are many such encounters in the Homeric poems and readers seeking some explanation of the generosity and especially of the unashamed claims made on it usually found themselves fobbed off with a discussion of Homeric hospitality and the guest-friend relationship. Finley put it firmly in a familiar anthropological context.

The word “gift” is not to be misconstrued. It may be stated as a flat rule of both primitive and archaic society that no one ever gave anything, whether goods or services or honors, without proper recompense, real or wishful, immediate or years away, to himself or to his kin. The act of giving was, therefore, in an essential sense always the first half of a reciprocal action, the other half of which was a counter-gift.

His persuasive analysis of the working of this form of exchange in the poems was widely accepted; those who objected that it reflected not a society but a “heroic ideal” are given short shrift in the new edition.

The system of gift-giving which Finley identified in the poems was already familiar to anthropologists and sociologists; Marcel Mauss in his Essai sur le don (1925) had analyzed its operation in a wide variety of societies ancient and modern (though not in ancient Greece, to which he made only some half-dozen tangential references in his footnotes). If, as Finley says, “the practice…’does not reflect a society’ but an ‘heroic ideal,’ we are driven to the conclusion that, by a most remarkable intuition, Homer was a predecessor of Marcel Mauss, except that he (or his tradition) invented an institution which nearly three thousand years later Mauss discovered to be a social reality.” Since, he goes on to say, “Tamil heroic poetry of South India reveals a comparable network of gift-giving…,” Homer is not the only “instinctive, premature Marcel Mauss.”

Finley’s arguments from the system’s internal coherence and its recorded existence in real societies are compelling but a lingering doubt may remain. Speaking of the belief in the historical reality of the Trojan War and the Catalogue of Ships firmly held by some scholars who reject his sociological model he asks: “In what respect do they differ from gift-giving in their inherent credibility?” A skeptic might answer: “Not at all. Both the Trojan War and the gift-giving system may be equally unhistorical.” If the epic Muse can forget the palaces, inventories, and geography of Mycenaean Greece, remember the chariots but not how they were used, and fabricate not only a war but the names and personalities of chieftains on both sides, how can we trust her to preserve intact the memory of an intricate social system long since obsolete? Finley’s case would be stronger if the comparative method, to which he so often appeals, could produce a parallel: an oral epic poem which, celebrating heroes of a bygone age, garbles time, place, and material objects but preserves, in recognizable form, a complex system of primitive social institutions.

There is one oral epic which goes far toward meeting these specifications, the Turkish Book of Dede Korkut. The full text has only recently been made available in an English version3 (which may be the reason why Finley, whose mastery of the enormous Homeric literature is demonstrated in his useful critical bibliography, does not seem to be aware of it). The text on which modern editions are based was written in the last quarter of the sixteenth century but there is in existence a summary of the poem which was written down before 1332 and the text contains numerous traces of original versions dating from the tenth century. The book recounts, in a mixture of prose and verse, the deeds of the Oghuz, a tribe which, over many centuries, migrated from lands which are now in the Kazakh, Uzbek, and Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republics to become the ancestors of the Seljuk and Ottoman Turks in western Asia Minor.

In their original home their raiding expeditions were aimed at their neighbors to the north, the shamanistic Kipchaks; the Oghuz were recently converted Muslims (though sometimes pre-Islamic customs remain embedded in the narrative). But the sixteenth-century version retains only occasional reminiscences of the Kipchaks and the geography of the Samarkand area; in it the Oghuz beys now live, hunt, and plunder in western Anatolia, a thousand miles to the west; their infidel enemies “worship a god made from wood” and have churches with monks in them—one of their strongholds is Trebizond, which remained in Byzantine hands until 1461.

The Oghuz nomadic beys are given a nonexistent history; at the same time, the known participation of their descendants in major historical events is utterly ignored. “No reference is made,” say the translators, “to the well-known involvement of the Oghuz in the affairs of the Ghazmanide Dynasty…nor is there any mention whatever of the successive stages by which the Seljuks, of Oghuz origin, conquered Iran and most of Anatolia…during the remainder of the eleventh century.” The action of the epic is, as the translators put it, “mainly fiction” but, as they go on to say, “so well do the legends reflect the pattern of early Oghuz life that they must also be considered documents of cultural and social history.”

One of the institutions of the Oghuz is a spectacular variation of the gift-giving system. Their king, Bayindir Khan, commands the allegiance of the beys, the heroes of the epic; they deliver the booty from their brigand raids to him. Periodically he invites them to sumptuous feasts, at which he “distributes the wealth of the Oghuz, usually in the form of gifts to the beys.” But occasionally the feast was a “plunder banquet.” On these occasions, at the high point of the feast, the Khan would take his wife by the hand and leave; the beys would then help themselves to any of his possessions they fancied. It was, in the story, his failure to invite the Outer Oghuz to a plunder banquet which caused a fratricidal war, the “Götterdämmerung” episode which concludes the saga.

In the years since its first appearance, Finley’s “model” has won wide acceptance; his reconstruction of a Dark Age society from the epic text has even, as he says in his preface, “been the acknowledged starting-point of studies by other historians of society and ideas”—among them J.M. Redfield’s Nature and Culture in the Iliad.4 But Homer is a subject on which no two people can be expected to agree entirely, and it may be objected, without impugning the validity of his main thesis, that Finley pushes too hard against the evidence in his claim that there is no trace in the Odyssey of the “polis in its political sense” and his denial that the wanderings of Odysseus are “a reflection of the Greek western colonization movement contemporary with Homer.”

On the first point he is of course right to rule out the imaginary city of the Phaeacians and also right to deny that the presentation of “walls, docks, temples, and a marketplace” can be treated as “Homer’s recognition of the…rise of the polis.” But the equally imaginary city of Troy in the Iliad does seem to prefigure some features of later social organization—in the procession of the women to the Temple of Athena in Book VI, the debate in the assembly in Book VII, above all in Hector’s devotion to Troy and its people, his sense of his duty to the community. Hector is unique in his loyalty to a larger social unit than the oikos, that extended household which, “together with its lands and goods,” was the basic nucleus of Homeric society.

As for the western wanderings, it is true that there is nothing in the poem “that resembles eighth-century Ischia or Cumae, Syracuse, Leontini or Megara Hyblaea.” There is not very much in Shakespeare’s Tempest which resembles early seventeenth-century Bermuda either, but no one can doubt that the play reflects an age of maritime exploration. The fantastic adventures of Odysseus contain several features which suggest that this part of the poem was originally the saga of a voyage to the East, the voyage of the Argonauts, in fact; why should it have been adapted for a western sea-tale except to please an audience interested, if not in the actual founding of colonies, at any rate in the voyages of exploration which must have preceded their foundation?

These are minor cavils. It is an unmixed pleasure to welcome this new edition of a book which has become a classic in its field, as indispensable to the professional as it is accessible to the general reader, and to look forward to Finley’s further riposte to the criticism which his spirited additions are sure to provoke.

Event: The Cretan Legacy

The kidnap gang pose before the action (Courtesy of Estate of William Stanley Moss)

The kidnap gang pose before the action (Courtesy of Estate of William Stanley Moss)

Our good friend, ex-Coldstream Guards officer, sometime Pilgrim, and author of In the Dolphin’s Wake and Like a Tramp, Like a Pilgrim, Harry Bucknall has been busy over the summer arranging a very special event be held at Waterstones Piccadilly on Wednesday 26th October at 7pm. The Cretan Legacy, a panel discussion, will examine the SOE abduction of General Heinrich Kreipe carried out by Paddy Leigh Fermor, Billy Moss and men of the Greek Andantes on Crete in 1943.

The panel, chaired by former Irish Guards Officer and SAS Squadron Commander, James Lowther-Pinkerton, will include Alan Ogden, SOE expert and author of Sons of Odysseus; Chris White, contributing author to Abducting a General; Rick Stroud, author of Kidnap in Crete and Dr Klaus Schmider, military historian, senior lecturer at the Dept of War Studies, RMA Sandhurst and Wehrmacht expert. With audience questions, the panel will discuss whether “this Hussar Stunt” – as Kreipe referred to his capture – was worth the undertaking in both the short and long term and assess its achievement, legacy and place in the annals of military history, endeavour and folklore.

No doubt there will be wine and a chance to chat to friends old and new so do come along if you can to Waterstones Piccadilly on Wednesday 26th October at 7pm. All you have to do is reserve a £5 ticket in store or by emailing Piccadilly@waterstones.com

Accounts of audacious abduction of Nazi General Heinrich Kreipe now in Greek

Coincidence always plays a special role, particularly in times of war. One example is the abduction of German General Heinrich Kreipe in occupied Crete in World War II by Patrick Leigh Fermor, Stanley Moss and their Cretan comrades: Kreipe had not been their initial target. Two chronicles of what is probably the most famous kidnapping of WWII are now available in Greek, the first Fermor’s own “Abducting a General” and the second Moss’s “Ill Met By Moonlight,” telling the tale of the fascinating adventure as experienced by the two protagonists (both by Metaixmio publications and translated by Myrsini Gana).

By Elias Maglinis

First published in Ekathemarini

Who was Fermor’s original target? The despised General Friedrich-Wilhelm Muller, commander of the Nazi forces in Iraklio and responsible for the massacres at Viannos. Yet even the idea of the abduction was a matter of coincidence: Following Italy’s capitulation to the Allies in September 1943, the Italian commanders on Crete, and particularly General Angelico Carta, became aware of the danger they were in. Carta asked for a private meeting with Fermor to discuss the terms of his surrender to the British and, more importantly, his escape from the Greek island.

Indeed, Fermor and Carta came to an agreement and, according to plan, the Italian general was spirited away by boat from a remote part of the island to North Africa, together with Fermor who briefly accompanied him. In Cairo, Fermor came up with the idea that they could orchestrate something similar with Muller – though this time without the occupier’s acquiescence. Fermor thought of the plan after the Allies had made it clear that they had no intention of landing on Crete; he believed the scheme would provide a much-needed boost to the Cretans’ morale and ridicule the Germans to boot.

Fermor presented his plan to his superiors, got the green light (though not without some reservations), formed his team and was promoted to the rank of major. After his return to Crete in early 1944, the scheme was put into action, but a chance occurrence nearly scuppered the entire operation: Muller was being transferred to Hania. Instead of calling the whole thing off, Fermor and Moss simply chose a different target: Muller’s replacement in Iraklio, Kreipe. No one knew much about the German general other than that he had just arrived from the Russian front.

Working with Cretan resistance fighters Manolis Paterakis, Giorgos Tyrakis, Stratis Saviolakis, Michalis Akoumianakis, Ilias Athanasakis, Antonis Zoidakis, Mitsos Tzatzas, Grigorios Chnarakis, Nikolaos Komis, Antonios Papaleonidas and Pavlos Zografistos, Fermor and Moss embarked on their ambitious, audacious plan. As Artemis Cooper writes in her comprehensive biography “Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure,” the two Britons were shocked by what they were about to do, excited and terrified at the same time.

The chronicle of the kidnapping reads like a novel, full of moments of uncertainty and unexpected humor, plenty of drama (such as the death of Kreipe’s driver) but also humanity (how Fermor and Kreipe developed what could almost be described as a friendship in the rugged conditions of Mount Psiloritis).

The abduction was carried out at Knossos on April 26, 1944. The team managed to reach the southern coast of Crete and escape to Egypt on May 14 after a monumental trek filled with danger, deprivation and bold achievements. German retribution was swift and brutal, and many today question the wisdom of the plan. After the war, however, Fermor was informed that when news of Kreipe’s abduction reached the German barracks in Iraklio, many a soldier popped open a beer and celebrated: Kreipe had not been a popular commander.

Ultramarathon on the kidnapping trail

Stanley Moss’s “Ill Met By Moonlight” brought fame to the achievements of the small band of resistance fighters. It became a best-seller in the UK and was made into a film in 1957, with Dirk Bogarde in the role of Fermor. More ethnographic than historical, the book is the romantic narrative of a man who experienced the events firsthand. The publication includes maps of the area and a wealth of photographic material.

Patrick Leigh Fermor’s “Abducting a General” tells the tale of those events through the eyes of the great British writer. The two friends had agreed that Moss, who kept a journal throughout the course of the operation, would be first to tell the tale, so Fermor didn’t write his book until 1965. It includes war reports Fermor sent from Crete, as well as a recent guide by Chris and Peter White with all the information needed to follow the abduction trail.

This chapter of World War II history remains so popular that the British company ECR Sport Limited this year is organizing an ultramarathon on Crete along the route, dubbed the KreipeRun 2016. On May 20 and 21, 250 runners will cover the same 154 kilometers as Fermor and his band in a maximum time of 30 hours.

The Kreipe kidnap from the Victor comic 1973

Victor coverIn 1973, the Victor comic, well-known to all boys of a certain age, published the story of the kidnap in their usual style. The British, brave and clever fighting against the odds. The Germans, cunning and morally bankrupt.

I have been able to obtain a copy of the Victor from October 6th 1973. Read and download the pdfs and enjoy! Page 1 and Page 2.

 

Reg Everson and his powdered egg breakfast for General Kreipe on Mount Ida

From time to time I plan to re-publish some of the best blog posts as we have over 700 posts on here and many get lost. This first re-post was inspired by my attendance last night at the presentation by Dr Roderick Bailey – Hazardous Operations: British SOE Agents in Nazi Occupied Greece – which was both informative and entertaining. The story of Reg Everson and powdered egg was first published on 10 June 2012 …

At Paddy’s funeral last year, I stayed afterwards for a drink with a small group at the hotel  which used to be the Dumbleton estate manor house, originally home to Joan’s family. A man from Wales introduced himself as Vince Tustin. I recognised the name as I had been in touch with Vince by email in the preceding weeks on the subject of his father-in-law who was in the SOE.

‘Reg Everson, my father-in-law, spent three years on Crete and much of that time he worked closely with Paddy as a radio operator.’ said Vince.

His wife then joined us and after a while she said ‘I asked my mum and dad why I was called Patricia. It was an unusual name for a girl in Wales at the time. And my dad told me I was named Patricia after his good friend Patrick Leigh Fermor. They had served together in Crete.’

Such was the impression that Paddy made on people. It is a lovely story in itself, and perhaps serves a reminder on this first anniversary of his death, that Paddy affected the lives of  many, in different ways, as a man as well as a writer.

Vince told me that in the 1950’s Reg was interviewed by a local reporter.

I am sure that Reg didn’t want it to sound as if he was alone [on Crete]. He was a quiet mild mannered gentleman, and was in the Royal Signals from 1931 to 1946 and like so many servicemen lied about his age to get in, he was only 15 when he enlisted. For the three years he was on Crete his wife didn’t hear from him. His commanding officer was the only contact she had. People in the village even thought Reg had left her!

It wasn’t until I wrote a piece in the local paper that people understood where he had been because he didn’t speak about it. In the newspaper cutting from the 50s Reg talks about his involvement in the kidnap of General Kreipe and how he cheered up the General by making him some powdered egg for breakfast on Mount Ida.

We have his forged Cretan papers here, also a leaflet that was dropped by the Germans. He was awarded the Military Medal and Africa Star among other medals. He was also presented with a solid silver medal for bravery from the Maharaja of India.

Reg Everson deployed to Crete with Xan Fielding, and Xan refers to this in his account of his time in Crete “Hide and Seek”.


In the newspaper interview Reg describes how he was summoned with his radio to Mount Ida to join the kidnap gang, but he had to wait for his heavy radio batteries to arrive so he made himself useful and he made breakfast for the General on Mount Ida …

“The General was pretty glum, but he perked-up a bit when I made him some breakfast with egg powder. Paddy Leigh Fermor and the others had to go on the run again with General Kreipe before my batteries arrived: so we couldn’t get the news [of the successful kidnap] back.”

Whilst we often hear the stories of the officers in SOE, we should not forget that they were supported by a large team including signallers such as Reg Everson who were especially brave. They risked being located by the Germans who were constantly trying to find the source of their signals to destroy the radios, and capture the highly skilled and valuable operators.

Time to get your running shoes on: time for the Kreipe Run!

Kreipe runI suppose it had to happen. An endurance run is being planned for 21-22 May 2016 which will follow the general line of the Kreipe kidnap route. I’m not entirely convinced by the choice of name for the event but it is as it is.

The race is not for the faint-hearted. A distance of 100 miles, with an elevation gain of 5,500 metres all to be completed within 30 hours. It would be great to hear from any of our intrepid readers who will be signing up for this inaugural event.

Find out more here.

 
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Leaving Kastamonitsa for the kidnap – Chris White talk 19 May

Some of the kidnap gang leaving Kastamonitsa April 1944

Some of the kidnap gang leaving Kastamonitsa April 1944

It is with great pleasure that I am able to release these images sent to me by Abducting a General co-editor, Chris White which show the locations photographed in April 1944 of the team leaving Kastamonitsa in preparation for the kidnap a few days later. Chris has sent me colour pictures taken by him on a recce to Crete just last week of the same locations for comparison.

Chris and his brother Peter are the experts on the kidnap and the route taken before, during and after the kidnap. They edited Paddy’s account which was published last year as Abducting a General: The Kreipe Operation and SOE in Crete, and have spent many months on the ground in Crete over recent years finding new information and making contact with the survivors from the time and the now aged offspring of those directly involved in the Kreipe kidnap and the resistance to the German occupation.

The brothers will be presenting their most up to date findings using newly discovered material from Paddy’s archive at the National Library of Scotland and the Liddell Hart Archive at the next PLF Society event to be held at the Hellenic Centre near Paddington on 19 May. Further details in this link. They make the whole thing come alive so if you want to find out more do please come along one and all. There is plenty of room at the venue.

Buy Abducting a General: The Kreipe Operation and SOE in Crete here.

My Meeting with the Byron of Our Times

colour posterA curious mix of over the top homage to Paddy; criticism of Billy Moss’ “stilted” writing style; accusation that the editors of Abducting a General produced a “short, blatantly padded book” with the “last 20 pages provid[ing] a detailed guide to the abduction route that few visitors to Crete, apart from fanatics, would willingly endure”; followed by self-promotion of the writer’s own books about Errol Flynn, John Huston, and Somerset Maugham. Something here for everyone to gnash their teeth over including a claim that Paddy had a Greek son: but all-in-all quite enjoyable!!!

By Jeffrey Myers

First published in Standpoint Jan/Feb 2015.

I met the handsome, charming and dashing Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor (1915-2011) in May 2002. He belongs with authors as men of action — Melville, Conrad, Hemingway, Malraux and Orwell — who did not go to university and learned their lessons from violent experience. Leigh Fermor, whose reputation is based on three impressive achievements in travel, war and literature, has enjoyed after death a well-deserved revival of interest in his life and work. In 1933-34, in his late teens and after expulsion from school, he spent a year walking south-east across Europe, passing through nine countries from Holland to Turkey. In his leisurely 1,700-mile ramble, rough when solitary and poor, hedonistic as guest and lover, he moved effortlessly between peasants and patricians. Though his journey did not equal the agonising treks of Henry Morton Stanley through Equatorial Africa or of Wilfred Thesiger across the Empty Quarter of Arabia, it was a considerable feat of social and cultural exploration.

In April 1942 Leigh Fermor landed in Crete by parachute and set out, with resourcefulness and courage, on his second and most famous Byronic adventure. He spoke modern Greek and joined a handful of British Special Operations Commandos sent into the mountains of the Nazi-occupied island to organise the resistance and unleash a guerrilla uprising. His men attacked airfields and blew up a fuel base. He also watched helplessly as the Nazis took revenge by destroying whole villages and massacring thousands of civilians. While on Crete, he fired a rifle he thought was unloaded and killed a Greek comrade, setting off a blood feud that was not settled for many decades.

Leigh Fermor’s greatest wartime achievement was the daring capture of a German general, Heinrich Kreipe, on April 26, 1944. Dressed in German uniforms, Leigh Fermor and his men set up a roadblock. As the car slowed down around a sharp curve, they poured out of the darkness and restrained the general, who shouted, swore and punched until he was handcuffed and shoved onto the floor of the vehicle. They then smuggled their prisoner through the main town, Heraklion, west along the coast and into the mountains.

The general turned out to be a cultured captive, well versed in the classics, and had many lively talks with Leigh Fermor before he was taken to Egypt and then to a POW camp in Calgary, Canada. A moment of true understanding came when Kreipe, gazing at the white hills, quoted Horace’s Ode (1.9) — “Vides ut alta stet nive candidum Soracte” (See, the snows of Mount Soracte glare against the sky) — and Leigh Fermor quoted the rest of the Latin poem from memory. In April 1972 they appeared congenially together in a Greek television programme. When asked if he’d been treated well, the general replied, “Ritterlich! Wie ein Ritter” (Chivalrously! Like a medieval knight).

Leigh Fermor’s bold exploit inspired a book, Ill Met By Moonlight (1950), by his comrade-in-arms William (Billy) Stanley Moss and a 1957 film of that name with Dirk Bogarde as Leigh Fermor. (The title comes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.) Moss — handsome, six years younger than Paddy and a veteran of the North African campaign — was educated at Charterhouse and spoke French and Russian but not Greek or German. He does not provide any historical or military background, bases his memoir on the diary he kept at the time and writes in a plain, often clichéd style. The first rather uneventful half — mostly marching, hiding and planning, with a few close calls — expresses admiration for the Greek partisans and leads up to the daring capture of the much older General Kreipe (born in 1895).

Leigh Fermor carries “an ivory-handled revolver and a silver dagger” and cuts a dashing figure. They had hoped to capture General Friedrich-Wilhelm Müller, a cruel “tyrant much loathed by the islanders” who was later hanged as a war criminal, but he was unexpectedly replaced by Kreipe. The capture takes place between the German headquarters and the general’s residence in the Villa Ariadne, built by Sir Arthur Evans during his excavations of the ancient Minoan palace of Knossos. After driving through Heraklion in the Opel, with Leigh Fermor wearing the general’s hat, they bluff their way through 22 German checkpoints — though one map shows only four checkpoints. (The gullible sentries, some suspected of complicity, were arrested and probably sent straight to the Russian front.) The commandos evade all the German patrols searching for Kreipe and, with many difficulties, bring him through the slopes of Mount Ida and down to the British ship on the south coast.

Kreipe — “a thick-set man . . . with thin lips, bull neck, blue eyes, and a fixed expression” — had come for a rest in Crete after two tough years on the Russian front. Concerned more for his dignity than for his life, he worries about the lost symbols of his rank and valour: his general’s hat and the Knight’s Cross of his Iron Cross. Though fairly stoical and cooperative, he complains about his minor injuries, poor food and lack of sleep. He and Leigh Fermor also exchange Greek verses from Sophocles, but do not establish a close connection. Though the commandos leave evidence suggesting only the British, not the Greeks, had captured the general, the Germans razed the nearest village and eventually killed 2,000 civilians.

Leigh Fermor’s version of the incident, Abducting A General (John Murray, £20), published last year, is a short, blatantly padded book. The foreword provides useful historical background. Only half the 189-page work contains the main text. Seventy pages reprint his hastily written intelligence notes sent from Crete to headquarters in Cairo. The most interesting dispatches describe his accidental  shooting of his close Cretan friend and his part in the executions, without trial, of Cretan traitors. (When I asked Sir Alec Kirkbride, the last surviving officer of T.E. Lawrence’s Arabian campaign if he had really killed a lot of lawless Arabs after the capture of Damascus in 1918, he casually replied, “Oh, not that many.”) The last 20 pages provide a detailed guide to the abduction route that few visitors to Crete, apart from fanatics, would willingly endure.

Leigh Fermor’s account has already appeared in his anthology Words of Mercury (2003) and been the basis of the two chapters on Crete in Artemis Cooper’s biography (2012). Based on memory rather than diaries and written in 1966, 22 years after the event, Abducting A General, like his earlier travel books, is filled with invented details. He gathered intelligence, carried out sabotage and prepared the Cretans to help the British recapture the island. His major difficulties were faulty radio transmitters, lack of transport, “rain, arrests, hide and seek with the Huns, lack of cash, flights at a moment’s notice, false alarms, wicked treks over the mountains, laden like a mule, fright among one’s collaborators, treachery, and friends getting shot”.

He is excited by the constant danger and, when disguised as a Cretan, by his close proximity to German soldiers. His book is more detailed than Moss’s about the history and geography of the island, more stylish and lyrical. He is devoted to his brave, loyal and sacrificial Cretan friends and comrades, whose language he speaks and whom he idealises: “we could not have lasted a day without the islanders’ passionate support: a sentiment which the terrible hardships of the occupation, the execution of the hostages, the razing and massacre of the villages, only strengthened.” But he ignores the conflicts between the Greek Communists and the pro-British partisans, which led to a civil war after the liberation of Greece. His hyperbolic and Homeric tributes to the Cretans — “their capacity to cross several mountain ranges at the same lightning speed on an empty stomach after swallowing enough raki and wine to lame other mortals for a week” — are excessive.

The main dangers of the abduction were the possibilities of stopping the wrong car, encountering other German vehicles and provoking savage reprisals. The identification and immediate escape in April 1944 was helped by Kreipe’s coloured metal pennants on the front fenders of his car. When seized, Kreipe lashed out with his fists, was manacled and had his legs tied. The whole episode took only 70 seconds. His badly injured driver, who could not keep up with the escaping partisans, had to be killed.

Since Leigh Fermor could also speak German, he writes more fully and positively than Moss about his relations with Kreipe, who bears up stoically under humiliating circumstances. The youngest son of the large family of a Lutheran pastor in Hanover, Kreipe was 48 years old and unmarried. He had a broad pale face, grey hair and jutting chin. A professional soldier, he had served in the army since 1914 and had recently won a Knight’s Cross on the Russian front. His moods during this ordeal ranged from cheerfulness to depression, and he sometimes slept under a blanket with Leigh Fermor and Moss, huddled together against the piercing mountain cold. Leigh Fermor writes in comradely fashion: “The General’s behaviour was most friendly and helpful throughout and he put up with the hardships of mountain travel and living rough with fortitude. Moss and I had the impression that he had lost his nerve a bit after the first contact with us. He certainly made no attempt to escape.” If he had broken his word, he would have been shot by the Cretans. On May 14, 1944, after 18 anxious days in the mountains, they all boarded the ship to Cairo. Spared the disastrous German defeats in Russia and in Greece, Kreipe remained in British custody until 1947.

The crucial military and moral question, which Moss ignores and Leigh Fermor answers with qualified affirmation, is whether the abduction of General Kreipe was worth the brutal German reprisals: whole villages destroyed and the massive slaughter of men, women and children in August 1944. The survivors rejoiced; the dead remained silent. But Leigh Fermor’s heroic exploit, still famous all over Greece, boosted morale during the dark days of the German occupation and gave a glimmer of hope for the final victory.

Leigh Fermor’s third major achievement was the travel books about his youthful journey that appeared decades later: A Time of Gifts (1977), Between the Woods and the Water (1986), and the unfinished and posthumously published The Broken Road (2013). A slow, procrastinating writer, blocked for much of his life by the weight of too much material, he resembled Penelope unwinding at night what she had woven by day. His wanderings abroad to write in Benedictine and Trappist monasteries, which he described in A Time to Keep Silence (1953), were also an escape from writing.

Fermor often indulges in unseemly displays of erudition. His learned digressions and serpentine style, his mannered mandarin, even baroque prose, which Lawrence Durrell called truffled and dense with plumage, were influenced by the work of Charles Doughty, T.E. Lawrence and Norman Douglas. This florid style clashes with his descriptions of colourful gypsies and cave-dwelling bandits — dressed in sheepskin jackets, high boots and billowing breeches, with daggers tucked into their belts and bandoleers charged with cartridges — rioting, feasting and firing their carbines into the air or, during a vendetta, into their enemies.

Fascinated by his achievements, I corresponded with Paddy (as everyone called him) while writing my biography of Errol Flynn. He had written the screenplay of one of Flynn’s best movies, The Roots of Heaven (1958), and been on the scene during the disastrous filming in French Equatorial Africa. He thought Hollywood screenwriting was a lark that enabled him to hang around and drink with colourful characters in an exotic setting. Flynn, Trevor Howard and Paddy were all drinking heavily, and there was some conflict when Paddy fell in love with the French singer Juliette Gréco, the co-star and mistress of his boss, the producer Darryl Zanuck. In a vivid letter of May 5, 2000, Paddy described the horrendous conditions — heat, disease, swarming insects and dangerous animals — while making the movie in the tropics. He got on well with the flamboyant Flynn, a kindred spirit, and gave a perceptive account of his character:

Errol seemed distinctly more intelligent than the run of actors. Full of original tangents, a great narrative gift, and a great sense of humour. He often referred to his learned father, a marine biologist at Belfast University. He loved reminiscing, largely about Hollywood. I asked him what the leading and most beautiful stars of the day were like. “Well, pretty good,” he said. “They’ve all got my scalp, I’m afraid.” There were lots of memories of his early days there, and his adventures. He was very funny about a yacht he shared with David Niven, and the girls they would take on trips. “We looked on them to supply the food. One pretty girl came on board with nothing but a loaf and a contraceptive device.” He took his acting seriously, and was absolutely adequate in his not very exacting role. He was on very good terms with all the other actors. His physical condition wasn’t too bad, troubled by hangovers now and then.

When I wrote again while working on my life of John Huston, who directed The Roots of Heaven, Paddy vividly recalled the savage Darwinian scene. Bangui, now in the Central African Republic, was the roughest and most primitive place of all:

The forests near Bangui were inhabited by very intelligent pygmies. We were “shooting” in the forest when the clouds broke and a large deluge of rain came down. Our procession of vehicles headed back to the ultra-modern hotel, like an up-ended mouth-organ on the banks of the Shari river, which was full of crocodiles. I got there with Errol and his girl, and we were astonished to find the whole of the ground floor a foot deep in termites, over which small bright green frogs from the Shari were leaping about in parabolas, while Juliette’s mongoose ran riot among them, killing and swallowing as many as he could, two legs sticking out of his mouth. A strange sight.

I also got in touch when writing my life of Somerset Maugham. Paddy was an Old Boy of Maugham’s alma mater, The King’s School,  Canterbury, and as a student had read Of Human Bondage. He was also a close friend of Maugham’s admirer and confidante Ann, the wife of Ian Fleming. After the war he had visited Maugham’s luxurious Villa Mauresque on Cap Ferrat. Since Paddy lived in Kardamyli, a remote village in the southern Peloponnese and my daughter was a Foreign Service officer in Athens, it was a perfect time to see him. So we rented a flat for three weeks, overlooking the sea and a few kilometres from Paddy’s village.

I rang him up from a local shop and he immediately invited me to come round for a talk. Since his house was hidden away and hard to find, he walked up to the main road and hailed me as I approached. Tall and straight, white-haired and sun-tanned, he was at 87 still a virile and impressive figure. He had designed his low, rambling, whitewashed, red-tiled home himself, and called it “a loose-limbed monastery and farmhouse with massive walls and cool rooms”. It had a shaded patio facing the Mediterranean, a flourishing garden, and a huge library filled with books in ancient and modern languages. He had created the setting he wanted and the life he wished to lead, travelled widely and wrote well, charmed everyone and seemed content.

Paddy wanted to correct Ann Fleming’s version of his embarrassing visit to Maugham, which she had exaggerated — with shattered drinking glasses and blood on the floor — to amuse Evelyn Waugh. Maugham had asked Ann to bring Paddy with her for dinner, and then (always generous to good-looking young authors) had invited him to stay on as his guest and write at the villa. Unnerved by Maugham’s severe expression and icy manner, Paddy drank far too much. Falling victim to the perverse tendency to talk about the very thing he was strictly forbidden to mention — Maugham’s debilitating speech defect — Paddy quoted the absurd belief that everyone in the College of Heralds had a stammer. That was bad enough. But noting that the day was the Feast of the Assumption, he mentioned Correggio’s painting of that subject in the Louvre and repeated a stammering friend’s bon mot: “That is a m-most un-un-w-warrantable as-assumption.”

Deeply offended, Maugham became even icier. Rising from the table and taking his leave, he rescinded his invitation by saying: “G-G-Goodbye. Y-Y-You will have left b-b-before I am up in the m-m-morning.” The wretched Paddy, who had not intended to wound his host, contrived to make matters even worse. Instead of waiting for the valet to pack his bag, he hastily threw his things together and caught a precious monogrammed sheet trimmed with Belgian lace in the zipper of his suitcase. He rushed down the stairs with the rest of the sheet trailing behind, frantically tore part of it off and escaped from the villa with shreds of fabric hanging out of his bag.

After our talk, Paddy signed some travel books I’d brought along. Specially buying another one, Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese (1958), in the village shop, he inscribed it, surrounding his words with a cloud and a sketch of birds flying around the title page. When he mentioned bees and my daughter used the unusual word for “buzz” — zouzounizo — which he hadn’t heard for years, he praised her fluency in Greek. After drinks in his house Paddy invited all of us to dinner at a simple restaurant, set on a promontory overlooking the glistening sea, which he’d bought for Lela, his former and now ancient cook. I noticed that the cook’s son Giorgos — who greeted us warmly in excellent English and recommended the best dishes — was tall, blond, blue-eyed and very un-Greek looking.

Paddy, who didn’t see well at night, asked me to drive him home in his battered old Peugeot, which had stiff gears, negligible brakes and holes in the rusted metal of the floor. As we went down a steep hill towards the sea, which had no barrier, I suddenly realised that the brakes didn’t work and had to swerve violently to avoid submersion. Paddy, who’d had many close calls, was jovial and unconcerned about the dangerous episode. My instinctive feeling that Giorgos was Paddy’s son was confirmed when my daughter returned to Athens and impressed her Greek friends, who knew the truth, by mentioning that she’d dined with a national hero.

Paddy was the Byron of our time. Both men had an idealised vision of Greece, were scholars and men of action, could endure harsh conditions, fought for Greek freedom, were recklessly courageous, liked to dress up and displayed a panache that impressed their Greek comrades. Paddy also reminded me of a Bedouin chief’s tribute to another famous warrior, T.E. Lawrence: “Tell them in England what I say. Of manhood, the man, in freedom free; a mind without equal; I can see no flaw in him.”

Elias Athanassakis – the car spotter – retells the story of Kreipe’s kidnap

My thanks to Nick Galousis who highlighted this You Tube video in which Elais Athanassakis, who passed away in 2002, tells the story of the build up to the kidnap and his part in it.

Paddy describes Elias in Abducting a General as “a very bright and enterprising young student working in our town organisation” and it was he who had to commit to memory all the details of the General’s car, even down to the size of the headlight slits, so as to ensure that the correct car was chosen on the busy road. He reconnoitered the route with Paddy and had the task of observing the road to signal back when the General was approaching and whether or not he was accompanied.

The video is in Greek which is great for those of us who speak Greek 🙂

More derring dos and don’ts from Paddy Leigh Fermor

With General Kreipe

Billy Moss (L) and Paddy (R) With General Kreipe

Justin Marozzi gives us a review of Abducting a General, by Patrick Leigh Fermor, and Kidnap in Crete, by Rick Stroud. An exhilarating account of Paddy’s hair-raising kidnapping of a Nazi general that was ultimately of dubious strategic value.

By Justin Marozzi.

First published in The Spectator, 4 October 2014.

Recent years have seen the slim but splendid Patrick Leigh Fermor oeuvre swell considerably. In 2008 came In Tearing Haste, an entertaining collection of letters to and from Deborah Devonshire, followed last year by The Broken Road, the posthumously sparkling and long-awaited completion of the ‘Great Trudge’ trilogy, which finally delivered the 18-year-old Paddy from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople. Now comes another volume, setting out in full for the first time one of the great moments in a life heavily laced with glamour and incident.

It takes some chutzpah to kidnap a German general — and serious presence of mind to get away with it. Paddy, the Special Operations Executive commander of a group of 11 Cretan andartes, or guerrilla fighters, together with his second-in-command Captain William Stanley Moss, had excessive stores of both. At 9.30 p.m. on the night of 26 April 1944, the Anglo-Cretan desperadoes intercepted the car carrying General Heinrich Kreipe, commander of the 22nd Luftlande Division.

Paddy then impersonated the general as the Moss-chauffeured car drove on through 22 German checkpoints, the hair-raising prelude to an 18-day Nazi manhunt described in exhilarating detail in both of these books. The moment one morning when the Englishman overheard the captured general reciting an ode by Horace is already famous. The autodidact and show-off couldn’t help jumping in and finishing the stanza:

The general’s blue eyes swivelled away from the mountain-top to mine, and when I’d finished, after a long silence, he said: ‘Ach so, Herr Major!’ It was very strange. ‘Ja, Herr General.’ As though, for a long moment, the war had ceased to exist. We had both drunk at the same fountains long before; and things were different between us for the rest of our time together.

After many terrifying moments, some shattering climbs and descents and no shortage of near misses, Kreipe was finally spirited away onto a British ship headed for Cairo and the swashbuckling operation was over.

If the immediate success of the kidnapping is in no doubt, what of the much more vexed question which haunted its mastermind for years: was it worth it? The point of it all had been to inflict a major blow on enemy morale. Extensive steps were taken to ensure there were no Cretan reprisals by making it appear an exclusively British mission — but to no avail. The Germans, 75,000 strong on Crete, already had a viciously enforced policy of reprisals on the island, taking 50 Cretan lives for every one of their own soldiers killed. General Friedrich-Wilhelm Müller, Kreipe’s predecessor and the original target of the operation, was nicknamed ‘The Butcher of Crete’ after committing a number of such atrocities.

With Kreipe kidnapped, Müller was sent back to Crete pour décourager les autres and on 13 August gave the order to raze the village of Anogia, long a centre of resistance. In a characteristically methodical operation that lasted from 13 August to 5 September, 117 people were killed and 940 houses destroyed, together with vineyards, cheese mills, wine presses and olive groves. Other villages in the Amari valley received the same treatment, with hundreds more civilians slaughtered.

Roderick Bailey, the SOE historian who has written the introduction to Paddy’s account, argues that the kidnapping operation had ‘no strategic or tactical value’. A senior British staff officer in Cairo had opposed it from the start, arguing that ‘the only contribution to the war effort would be a fillip to Cretan morale, but … the price would certainly be heavy in Cretan lives’. Kreipe himself called it a Husarestück, a Hussar stunt. More recently, Kimonas Zografakis, who sheltered the kidnappers, described Paddy as ‘neither a great Philhellene nor a new Lord Byron… he was a classic agent who served the interests of Britain’, causing ‘terrible suffering’. This last comment looks unduly harsh and certainly does not square with the lifelong friendships Paddy forged with his Cretan brothers-in-arms, nor with the deep affection most Greeks had for him.

Abducting a General, unlike Stanley Moss’s Ill Met by Moonlight, is the work of a mature man, anxious to pay proper tribute to the Cretans who were the backbone of the resistance and ran by far the greatest risks. His SOE reports, which run to 90 pages here, provide gripping cinematic portraits of Leigh Fermor the soldier.

Warrior, writer, lady-killer, Paddy was also a boulevardier who loved his threads. Page three finds him rhapsodising about his Cretan mountain shepherd disguise:

Breeches, high black boots, a twisted mulberry silk sash with an ivory-hilted dagger in a long silver scabbard, black shirt, blue embroidered waistcoat and tight black-fringed turban…

and that’s without mentioning the flamboyant moustache, homespun goat’s hair cloak, stick, bandolier and gun. Enough to frighten any Nazi general.

Click here to buy Abducting a General: The Kreipe Operation and SOE in Crete

Click here to buy Kidnap in Crete: The True Story of the Abduction of a Nazi General

Justin Marozzi’s latest book is Baghdad: City of Peace, City of Blood.

Hellraisers with deadly intent: the hard-living war heroes who captured a Nazi general

Patrick Leigh Fermor, left, met Heinrich Kreipe, his former captive, at a reunion in Greece in 1972 which included the famous Greek TV show

Patrick Leigh Fermor, left, met Heinrich Kreipe, his former captive, at a reunion in Greece in 1972 which included the famous Greek TV show

We are about to hit the season for new books about Paddy and associated book news and plugs here on the blog. There are two books about the Kreipe kidnap due out this autumn. Paddy’s own account Abducting a General: The Kreipe Operation and Soe in Crete will follow on 9 October, but first on the grid is Kidnap in Crete: The True Story of the Abduction of a Nazi General by Rick Stroud (Bloomsbury) which is published on Thursday 11 September. The introduction to this Telegraph article gives us a dramatic start: ‘Backed by local guerrillas, Patrick Leigh Fermor and William Stanley Moss led an audacious operation in wartime Crete that is celebrated in a new book’. I am sure we will be buying both! Some interesting new photographs to go with this article.

By Rick Stroud

First published in the Telegraph 7 September 2014

One evening, just before Christmas in 1943, three ex-public schoolboys sat naked in a steamy bathroom in Cairo discussing how to capture a German general from outside his headquarters on the island of Crete. They were agents of the Special Operations Executive (Force 133, Middle East).

In the hot bathwater was Xan Smiley, the son of a baronet, busy drawing maps in the condensation on the tiles. Perched on the edge of the bath were a handsome, name-dropping buccaneer, Patrick Leigh Fermor, known as Paddy, and a tall, “devilishly languid” young Coldstream Guards officer called William “Billy” Stanley Moss. Smiley was lecturing them on the mechanics of an armed ambush, about which he knew a great deal.

The bathroom was in a grand house that Moss had rented and christened Tara, after the ancient castle of the kings of Ireland. Tara came with a cook and several servants, including a butler called Abbas. At its centre was a vast ballroom, with floor-to-ceiling windows, two huge crystal chandeliers and a sprung parquet dance floor.

When Moss moved in with Pixie, his alsatian puppy, he began to look for kindred spirits to join him. He soon recruited a Polish refugee, the Countess Zofia Roza Maria Jadwiga Elzbieta Katarzyna Aniela Tarnowska, or Sophie, who Moss nicknamed “Kitten”. She arrived with a swimming costume, a uniform and two pet mongooses. Other Tara residents included two Force 133 agents operating in Albania: Lieutenant Colonel “Billy” McLean, a doyen of White’s club, and Xan Fielding, traveller, linguist and sometime bar-owner.

Smiley described the days spent at Tara as the happiest time of his life. “I loved it. I really loved it. We were all such good friends.”

Sophie remembered that whenever an agent left for the field, “there would be a big party and a car would call and those who were going to be parachuted into enemy territory left just like that, without a goodbye, without anything. We never allowed ourselves to be anxious. We believed that to be anxious was to accept the possibility of something dreadful happening to them.”

A few weeks after the bathroom conference, a German Junkers Ju 52 flew over the bright-blue Mediterranean towards Crete. On board was Major General Heinrich Kreipe, the newly appointed second in command of the island. The plane landed, Kreipe climbed from the aircraft and a soft breeze wafted the smell of thyme across the field. He was unaware that he had entered a trap that would soon spring shut, ruining his career, destroying his reputation and nearly costing him his life.

Meanwhile in Cairo, the New Year was seen in at Tara with high-octane revelry. The house was the hottest social spot in the city; its guests included diplomats, war correspondents and royalty.

Paddy on the roof of Tara in Cairo

Paddy on the roof of Tara in Cairo

Moss wrote in his diary about “the night we had the bullfight . . . the night we broke 19 windows”. The bullfight in the ballroom ended with a blazing sofa being hurled through a window and a Polish officer was encouraged to shoot out the lights. For their Christmas lunch, Leigh Fermor cooked turkey stuffed with Benzedrine tablets. Sophie remembered that, in Poland, they had made liqueurs by adding soft fruit to vodka. She tried to recreate this with prunes and raw alcohol. After 48 hours, someone tried the cocktail and collapsed. Sophie complained that he should have waited for three weeks before drinking it.

Early in January, Paddy Leigh Fermor got clearance to carry out his plan to kidnap a Nazi general; Billy was to be his second in command and they were joined by two Cretan guerrillas, Manolis Paterakis, Leigh Fermor’s right-hand man, and George Tyrakis. The equipment list read like something out of an adventure comic and included pistols, bombs, coshes, commando daggers, knuckle-dusters, knock-out drops and suicide pills.

Moss remembered sitting around a small red lacquer table at the Tara farewell party, faces lit by four tall candles, drinking and singing, as they waited to leave on the first leg of the adventure. Just before sunrise, Billy McLean appeared, a shy, nearly naked figure. He presented them with the complete works of Shakespeare and The Oxford Book of English Verse, which he thought had brought him luck in Albania; he hoped that the books would work the same magic for his friends.

When they flew over the rendezvous, Leigh Fermor jumped first, and was greeted by a party of guerrillas and an SOE agent, Sandy Rendel. Suddenly the weather closed in and clouds hid the ground, making it impossible to drop the others – they arrived by motor launch nearly two months later.

They were met on the beach by what Moss thought was a group of pantomime pirates. One, filthy, unshaven and dressed in rags, shook his hand, saying: “Hello Billy. You don’t know me. Paddy will be along in a minute.” It was Rendel. Leigh Fermor wore clothes that included a bolero, a maroon cummerbund that held an ivory-handled pistol and a dagger. He told Moss: “I like the locals to think of me as a sort o’ duke.”

The next fortnight was spent in planning and wild living. Moss found that “wine takes the place of one’s morning cup of tea and one often drinks a liberal quantity before brushing one’s teeth”.

The original target had been Lieutenant General Friedrich-Wilhelm Müller – “the Butcher of Crete” – but he had been transferred and his place taken by Kreipe. With the help of the Cretan underground intelligence, the kidnappers devised a plan to capture the general on his way home from his headquarters.

On the night of April 26 1944, Leigh Fermor and Moss, disguised as military policemen, flagged down the general’s car. As it stopped, the doors were torn open, 11 guerrillas leapt out of ditches along the sides of the road, and 90 seconds later, Kreipe was on his way towards Heraklion, handcuffed on the floor in the back of the Opel. Moss drove fast, bluffing the car through 22 German roadblocks, after which it was abandoned with a note saying that the abduction was a British commando initiative and that no Cretans were involved. Leigh Fermor hoped that this would stop any reprisals. Sometime that night, the guerrillas killed Kreipe’s driver.

It took nearly three weeks to get Kreipe to the rendezvous beach on the south coast. The kidnappers climbed Mount Ida, trudging above the snow line, over the summit and across some of the most rugged terrain in Europe. The general was dressed in the uniform he had put on for a quiet day at the office. Thousands of German soldiers surrounded the mountain, cutting off escape routes and access to the beaches. For several days, radio contact was lost with Cairo. When it was re-established, Leigh Fermor sent a signal that ended with the words “situation ugly”.

Sometimes the kidnap team passed within yards of enemy patrols, while in the distance they heard the thud of explosives as German engineers blew up villages. Throughout the journey, the kidnappers were led and protected by the guerrillas, who had risked their lives and those of their families to help the group escape. Kreipe was astonished at the loyalty and friendship shown towards the British. One guerrilla explained that “it is because the British are fighting for our freedom, while you Germans have deprived us of it in a barbarous way”.

Leigh Fermor and Moss developed a love-hate relationship with their captive. At one point, Kreipe looked at the snow-covered mountains and quoted from Horace; “Vides ut alta . . .” Leigh Fermor knew the ode and completed it, thinking that, for an instant, the war had ceased to exist and finding a strange bond with the general. Kreipe spent a lot of time complaining that he was not well, causing Moss to lose his temper and shout at him to be quiet. He later wrote in his diary: “I could have killed him.”

On May 14, they reached the only rendezvous beach not occupied by German patrols. Near midnight, they heard the noise of a motor launch, but when they tried to flash the recognition signal “Sugar Baker”, Leigh Fermor and Moss realised that they did not know the Morse for Baker. They were saved by Dennis Ciclitira, another SOE agent who had been ordered to return to Cairo. He appeared, grabbed the torch and, shouting “bloody fools”, flashed the code.

By midnight, Kreipe and his kidnappers were at sea, heading for Egypt and eating lobster sandwiches. The general told his captors: “It’s all very well, but this hussar stunt of yours has ruined my career.”

Back in Cairo, Leigh Fermor and Moss went straight to Tara, where they were given a hero’s welcome. News of the kidnap flashed around the world and quickly became a sensation. Newspapers carried pictures of the gneral, his arm in a sling, chatting to a group of senior British officers. Leigh Fermor was decorated with a Distinguished Service Order and Moss won a Military Cross. Kreipe was taken to London and interrogated. The interviewing officer described him as “rather unimportant and unimaginative”. He spent the rest of the war in Canada and was released in 1947.

In 1945, Moss married Sophie and, in 1950, published his account of the kidnap. Kreipe sued him for defamation of character, and won an injunction stopping the book’s publication in Germany. For the rest of his life, Leigh Fermor agonised over two things: the death of Kreipe’s driver and whether the “hussar stunt” had brought reprisals on to the heads of his friends, the heroic people of Crete.

Kidnap in Crete: The True Story of the Abduction of a Nazi General is available for pre-order or purchase. Click on the highlighted text.

Abducting a General: The Kreipe Operation and Soe in Crete is available for pre-order or purchase. Click on the highlighted text.