The Abduction of General Kreipe in Crete in 1944

As members of the UK Crete Veterans and Friends Society gather in Crete to commemorate the 64th anniversary of the Battle of Crete, a small group of modern-day British adventurers prepare to remember and mark another significant event in the history of Crete and the Special Operations Executive (S.O.E.), the abduction of the German General Kreipe, commander of Crete during World War 2.

The abduction of General Kreipe

On 4 April 1944, William (Billy) Stanley Moss, accompanied by Cretans including Manolis Paterakis and George Tyrakis, were secretly landed at night on the south coast of Crete near Tsoutsouros. They were met by Patrick (Paddy) Leigh Fermor, who had parachuted into Crete two months beforehand.

The S.O.E. band had come together to pull off an audacious operation that was later to be described as one of the most daring exploits of WW 2, to capture the German Commander General Kreipe and to spirit him off the island to Cairo. The event was later immortalised in the book ‘Ill Met By Moonlight’ by Billy Moss.

General Kreipe (PHOTO) was abducted on 26th April as he was being driven from his office in Ano Archanes to his residence at Villa Ariadne, the former home of Sir Arthur Evans, just outside of Heraklion. Kreipe was bundled into the back of his car which was then driven off by Billy Moss with Paddy Leigh Fermor posing as the General at his side.

william moss, general kreipe and patrick lee fermor
William Moss, General Kreipe and Patrick Lee Fermor

After passing through 22 road blocks and driving for several hours, Moss and some of the Cretans left the car and set off with Kreipe, on foot, towards the mountain village of Anogia. Paddy and another Cretan took Kreipe’s car a little further on and left it in circumstances that might suggest to the German authorities that the party had left Crete by submarine from a nearby beach.

the abduction party with general kreipe
General Kreipe is standing second from the left in this photograph, together with the team of the resistance fighters

The plan to fool the Germans failed to work and there then followed an 18 day game of high- stake cat and mouse with the group being hunted by thousands of occupying German troops before Kreipe was eventually taken off the island’s south coast on the night of 14 th May. Both Leigh Fermor and Moss were awarded immediate DSOs.

BBC: Patrick Leigh Fermor: Crossing Europe and kidnapping a German general

Following the route of the captured General Kreipe in 2005

The modern adventurers intend to retrace the journey from the point at which the abduction took place, to the beach from which the abduction party left near Rodakino. They too will drive the leg from abduction point to Drosia where Moss and Kreipe started their walk. They will then trek up to Anogia, a village that was later raised to the ground for its part in aiding the abduction, where they hope to meet Mayor Xylouris. On their walk, the group intend to follow the original route as far as is possible, crossing Mount Psiloritis at its peak of 2456 meters, and hoping to find and sleep in the cave hideouts that were used originally.

Asked why they were undertaking this mountainous traverse after all these years Alun Davies, who planned the trip said that “we are doing this to celebrate the courage and daring of a small band of British SOE agents and Cretan resistance fighters, and also just for the adventure of it.”

Their walk is believed to be the first thorough recreation of the original walk. Determining the precise route has been a difficult, if not impossible, task but was recently greatly assisted by help from Paddy Leigh Fermor himself who has given both advice and his original war-time maps to the enterprise.

Alun Davies, will carry a special memento on the walk with him, a whistle that was used by Joe Bradley, Paddy Leigh Fermor’s wireless operator. He was a Welshman form Blaenau Ffestiniog who endeared himself to the Cretans by singing to them in Welsh. The party will also carry as a letter of introduction, in Greek, from Paddy Leigh Fermor.

The group arrives in Crete on 21 st May and will attend the Battle of Crete Memorial service the Commonwealth War Grave cemetery at Souda Bay , Chania that evening. Some 35 or more UK veterans of the Battle of Crete are expected to be at the ceremony together with a large number of family and friends.

The following morning the group will start their walk. They will not have the problem of dodging occupying forces and hope to complete their walk in about six days rather than the 18 it took the original party. In the course of the trek they hope to meet a number of surviving local Cretans who, at great risk to themselves and their communities, assisted the abduction party, and to pay their respects at local memorials. The group also hope to be able to visit Villa Ariadne

The party includes:

  • Richard Cowper of the Financial Times, who dug Alun out of an avalanche in Turkey last spring
  • John Elis-Roberts a mountain guide from Blaenau Ffestiniog who remembers the Bradley family who came from the same town
  • Chris Paul and Julien Sweeting, both lawyers from London

They are supported by Tim Todd , a lover of Crete and an expert in the events of World War 2 in Crete.

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