History Box Nr. 1
"At times we almost ran, our route
taking us up and down steep gradients like a madman's switchblade and before long we were
feeling pretty exhausted...we were unfortunate to find no springs and streams in our
"Ill Met by Moonlight"
W. Stanley Moss describing the journey to
Rodakino from Vilandredo - not far from Velonado with General Kreipe a reluctant
participant - in his book, "Ill Met by Moonlight"
On the April 26th, 1944, the divisional commander of the Nazi regiments
based in Herakleion - one General Heinrich Kreipe
- was abducted by W.
Stanley Moss, Patrick Leigh Fermor,
Manolis Paterakis, Antonis Zoidakis among others. This was the propaganda story of the
war, capturing the hearts of millions at the time and - thanks to the publication of Moss'
diary of events 'Ill met by Moonlight
' - millions since. First published
in 1950 - and still available in a Cassell
reprint, the book was later
made into a film starring Dirk Bogarde as "Paddy" Leigh Fermor and directed by
the wonderful team of Powell and Pressburger.
Patrick Leigh Fermor was already an expert in offering generals
directions off the island! The year before the Kreipe abduction, he had managed to
spirit-away the leader of the Italian forces on Crete. General Carta
(pronounced with an Italian accent and not
as in Jimmy Carter!), had been
a willing party - the Italian forces having capitulated, he wanted
to escape the island - and so this new operation was to be a whole different kettle of
Kreipe had been abducted close to the Villa Ariadne
- erstwhile home of Arthur Evans at Knossos - just outside Herakleion, where he had been
living at the time. Now for the tricky part; Kreipe's abductors had to negotiate a dozen
or so check-points - with Leigh Fermor wearing the General's hat! - before they could get
their captive out of this sprawling city (nowadays Greece's fifth largest). There were to
be a number of "close shaves", before this small band of brave men managed
to escape Herakleion and with the General their prisoner, walked South-West across the
island to the beach at Rodakino (Koraka bay) - via Anoghia (Anoyia) and Psiloritis (Mount
Ida) - finally boarding a boat to Egypt on May the 15th, some 19 days after their journey
This is a truly wonderful story; full of tales of derring-do, but it was
not to be without its repercussions. The plan - conceived the previous year - had been to
abduct Kreipe's predecessor; the loathed General Muller
British Intelligence - The Special Operations Executive (SOE), based in Cairo - had
reported that Muller had left the island for the Dodecanese. The SOE had been wrong
Muller had replaced General Brauer as Festung Commander
" (Nazi command); in other words, he was now the top Nazi on the
island. Now based in Chania - merrily goosestepping around Venizelos
which he now occupied - Muller had been responsible for killing 100s of innocent Cretans
and sanctioning a policy which stated that for every Nazi soldier killed, 10 Cretans would
lose their lives. Kreipe filled the vacancy left by Muller's promotion. "One
General was as good a catch as any other
", was Moss' viewpoint. Can't say
that agree with that statement. All things being relative Kreipe had been a saint compared
to his predecessor. Now back in Herakleion - the Nazi HQ for this region was at Archanes -
Muller proceeded to do what he did best and what he did best was
The poster below, written in both German
and Greek, was an attempt by the British to distance any Cretan involvement in the capture
of General Kreipe, as they feared the reprisals that the Nazis were likely to carry out.
The text reads:
"General Heinrich Kreipe, was taken prisoner by British officers, without any assistance from the Cretans. General Kreipe is already safely away from Crete, held in security."
Ignoring allied claims that the Cretans had nothing to do with the
operation to abduct Kreipe (see picture
), Muller set-about
executing villagers and destroying villages such as Anoghia. The destruction of villages
such as Yerekari, Smiles, Vrises and Kerdaki, were also on Muller's "hit-list",
though some believe that the later destruction of villages in the Amari valley came too
late to be connected to this incident.
It's not for me to question the rights and wrongs of this operation, but
I shall! Was it all worth it?
Did the end justify the means?
Ample evidence was available at the time as to the atrocious lengths the
Nazis would go to - by way of reprisals - but the British had gone out of their way to
distance the Cretans from any involvement in the abduction.
This didn't stop General Muller in exacting revenge in any way he saw fit, saving his
worst atrocities for the people of Anoghia, as they had been, in his view: "...the
centre of English espionage in Crete
". Muller (in a leaflet to the people of
Anoghia), makes it quite clear that at least some of the cause of his wrath was due to the
Kreipe abduction: "...and since the abductors of General Kreipe passed
through Anoyia, using Anoyia as a stopping place when transporting him, we order its
razing to the ground and the execution of every male Anoyian who is found within the
village and an area of one kilometre around it
" (General Muller from "Crete:
The Battle and the Resistance
" (C:TBATR), by Antony Beevor, published by
Penguin). So why does Beevor - in an earlier chapter - say of the reprisals: "...this
is a canard
"; apparently contradicting his own quote from Muller?
For sheer propaganda purposes, the mission was a total success. Manoussos
(an important member of the Allied intelligence operation, based
in Chania): '"Everybody felt taller by 2 centimetres the next day...
(the day after the Kreipe abduction) ...out of 450,000 Cretans, 449,000 claimed to
have taken part in the Kreipe operation..."
, indicates the immense pride
aroused' (Beevor, C:TBATR).
Whilst I have my reservations at the rationale behind the abduction, the
operation was a success in exactly the area that it set-out to be, i.e. undermining Nazi
(and therefore boosting Allied) morale; and this should be taken into consideration by
those wholly against the operation. Also, both the Cretan and British participants were
extremely honourable men. Moss had to be controlled in his over-enthusiasm - he later
planned to abduct Muller in the same way, which would have been a somewhat madcap mission
- Sandy Rendel (a radio operator when his radios' weren't being given the same treatment
as my erstwhile mobile phone'!) and Leigh Fermor, all come-over as true British gents.
Both Moss' and Beevor's books are essential reading.
Adam Hopkins in his excellent book - "Crete, its Past
Present and People
" (sadly out of print) - in the chapter 'The Pity of War',
say's that the event "... raises questions, which few cared to face
clearly at the time...
", though he also points out - quite rightly - that to
show no resistance to the Nazis would have been untenable and most certainly against the
character of this island nation. "If there was to be a resistance at all, its
success would inevitably be measured in blood and flames. The Cretans have always known
If the book Ill Met by Moonlight
comes across as a
", it has to be remembered that this is a
publication taken directly from Moss' diary and whilst there would have been some serious
copy-editing, alterations and additions, it is still essentially just that: a diary of
events as seen by Moss and not
a misty-eyed reminiscence.