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The story of how British commandos abducted a high-ranking Nazi general without bloodshed

Ian Harvey

The Nazis had prepared well enough to first conquer and then ruthlessly control the regions across the European continent, and the entire Nazi elite was trained over the years for the task.

One such commander was General Heinrich Kreipe, who during the Second World War was ambushed and kidnapped by personnel from the Special Operation Executive (SEO), a British military organisation that conducted secret operations all through the Second World War.

The nearly impossible mission was carried out by the SEO commandos in the small island of Crete in May 1944.

Billy Moss and Paddy Leigh Fermor in their stolen Wehrmacht uniforms

Billy Moss and Paddy Leigh Fermor in their stolen Wehrmacht uniforms Photo Credit

Kreipe was appointed the Commander of the 22nd Air Landing Division deployed in Crete on March 1, 1944, replacing another feared commander General Friedrich-Wilhelm Muller.

Muller had been appointed the German Commander in the Dodecanese and carried a reputation for merciless killings and brutality towards the local population.

The initial plan set out by the SEO officers Major Patrick Leigh and Captain Wilhelm Stanley Moss was to attempt the abduction of Muller; however, in early March when Muller was replaced by Kreipe the plan changed and the team decided to target Kreipe instead.

The team received support from the local resistance movement and managed to kidnap the General and successfully evade the Nazi search parties.

Locals played a vital role in setting the stage for the commandos to successfully execute the plan, they helped with liaison, preparing the local safety net, and intelligence gathering and above all helping the officers escape the island unscathed.

The plan to abduct the commander of 22nd Air Division General Muller in Crete was hatched in the Egyptian capital of Cairo.

General Freidrich-Wilhelm Muller had earned a brutal reputation on the island and the locals absolutely hated the man for his monstrosity.

Major Patrick Leigh Fermor wanted to design a plan that could be carried out without shedding a lot of blood and to abduct the General in broad daylight and transport him to Cairo.

Billy (left) and Paddy (right) with their prisoner, Gen. Heinrich Kreipe, on the run in the mountains of Crete in 1944, pursued by thousands of German troops

Billy (left) and Paddy (right) with their prisoner, Gen. Heinrich Kreipe, on the run in the mountains of Crete in 1944, pursued by thousands of German troops Photo Credit

Another aim was to make sure that the locals didn’t have to face the Nazi reprisals for the abduction; for that, the Nazis had to know post-abduction that the mission was carried out by the British and not by the locals.

When the team of British commandoes including Major Patrick Leigh Fermor, Captain William Stanley Moss along with Cretan agents of the organization Emmanouil Paterakis, and Georgios Tyrakis left Cairo on a plane for Crete, the weather was not on their side.

On February 4, 1944, when the team attempted to make the landing on the previously marked point the weather did not allow them. Only Patrick Leigh could make it to the landing point: the rest of the team had to get back for another appropriate time.

Major Patrick was later joined by a group of local resistance fighters and remained with them until the arrival of rest of his team members.

Moss and the others tried a few more times to land on the Island by an aircraft and eventually managed to set foot on Crete after two months when on April 4, 1944, a Motor Launch ML842 took them to the island.

Leigh Fermor was waiting to meet the group on the beach with the news that the target General had been replaced by another equally notorious General Kreipe.

The team thought their options through and considering what they had already done for the mission, decided to go ahead with the abduction plan and set to execute it.

The officers of SEO were aided by a number of local Cretans including Michail Akoumianakis ‘Mikis’, Antonios Papaleoni-das ‘Wallace beery’ and Grigorios Chnarakis. Mikis was considered the most important asset in the entire mission as his house was literally across the road from the luxurious Villa Ariadne in the Cretan village of Knossos, where Kreipe was living after his appointment. In the first leg of the plan, the team conducted detailed recon operation of the entire village.

Leigh Fermor took a number of tours on the local buses to go around the German headquarters to get the feel of the place and to locate any cracks in the security that they could exploit later on.

Fermor came to the conclusion that German headquarters were heavily guarded and practically impenetrable.

The plan B was to closely observe the comings and goings of the General to and from his office and to design an abduction plan.

After a few days of the General’s surveillance, the details of the abduction were finalized and all duties were assigned to the team members.

The plan was that the two British officers would dress as corporals of Feldgendarmerie (German Police), and carry out a routine check on General Kreipe’s vehicle on his way to the headquarters. After stopping the car, the officers would neutralize the driver and abduct General to the launching pad from where he could be transported to Egypt by sea.

Old enemies: Patrick Leigh Fermor, left, met Heinrich Kreipe, his former captive, at a reunion in Greece in 1972

Old enemies: Patrick Leigh Fermor, left, met Heinrich Kreipe, his former captive, at a reunion in Greece in 1972 Photo credit

The abduction went as planned; Fermor and Moss did manage to stop Kreipe’s vehicle and killed his driver.

Leigh Fermor and Moss drove Kreipe’s car for an hour and a half and crossed a number of check points successfully deceiving the military police.

Leigh went on to abandon the car while Moss carried Kreipe evading Nazi patrol personnel hunting for the lost General.

Despite the fact that there was no sudden reaction to the abduction by the German forces in the region, a few months later a massive onslaught on a number of villages ended up with many Cretans massacred by the Germans.

Here is another story from our war files: Audrey Hepburn and the Nazis: How wartime tyranny turned a Hollywood icon into a humanitarian.

German authorities clearly cited the anti-German activities and support to resistance elements by the people of these areas for the attacks and killings.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News