BOOK REVIEW News Weekly
Extraordinary operation by Special Ops
, May 9, 2015
KIDNAP IN CRETE:
The True Story of the Abduction of a Nazi General
by Rick Stroud
Hardcover: 280 pages
Reviewed by Michael E. Daniel
One Saturday afternoon as a teenager, I was enthralled by an old black-and-white movie called Ill Met by Moonlight, which told the amazing yet true story of the kidnap of Wehrmacht General Heinrich Kreipe in 1944.
Although there have been a couple of accounts of this operation published, Rick Stroud, who has written books about other aspects of World War II, retells this dramatic story for a new generation of readers.
The study begins by describing the German invasion and occupation of Crete. German forces overpowered both British and Australian troops, and local forces. The Cretan people vigorously resisted the German invasion and occupation. Having been invaded numerous times in their history, the Cretans had developed an ethos of resistance, which motivated them to oppose the Germans. Furthermore, the geography of the island, with its mountainous terrain, enabled them to conduct covert operations. Crete’s remote beaches also proved advantageous in evacuating personnel.
The Cretans soon learnt that killing German troops and committing acts of sabotage resulted in civilians being killed and villages destroyed. However, the Cretans were instrumental in assisting British and Australian soldiers who had evaded or escaped from captivity in hiding and leaving the island. Recognising Crete’s potential, the Special Operations Executive (SOE) sent agents, and trained some local Cretans who had left the island in espionage strategies before returning them to Crete. Agents such as these, as well as other Cretans, played a seminal role in supplying vital intelligence to the British, particularly in relation to the movements of vessels supplying Rommel’s Afrika Korps in North Africa.
The operation described in this book was inspired by the successful evacuation of Italian General Angelico Carta in 1943. Following Italy’s withdrawal from the war, General Carta was concerned about his fate and that of other Italians. Having made contact with allied agents, he was evacuated from Crete. SOE agents then began planning the kidnapping and extraction of the brutal General Friedrich-Wilhelm Müller, the second-in-command.
Major Patrick Leigh Fermor parachuted into Crete on 4 February 1944. The other members of the team – Captain William Stanley Moss, and two Cretan SOE agents – were unable to parachute, and arrived two months later by motor launch. In the meantime, Müller had been replaced by General Kreipe, a veteran of the Russian front.
A key member of the team was the Cretan Micky Akoumakis, who lived opposite Kreipe’s residence, the Villa Ariadne, who observed Kreipe’s movements closely. The decision was made to proceed with the kidnapping. After observing Kreipe’s movements, the team determined that the kidnap was best conducted on a stretch of open road in the evening when the General was returning to his residence to a late dinner after playing bridge.
On 26 April, having obtained German uniforms, and pretending to be a road block to check ID, two members of the kidnap team, supported by others hiding in a ditch, stopped and seized the car. The driver was dragged from the vehicle – he was subsequently killed by a Cretan member of the team – and his place taken by one of those wearing a German uniform. With others hiding near the General’s feet and pointing a weapon at him to ensure his compliance, the vehicle proceeded across the island. German troops and further checkpoints allowed the vehicle to proceed, believing the General’s trip to be a routine one.
Eventually, the vehicle was abandoned, with a note explaining to the Germans that the kidnap operation was a British operation, and Cretans should therefore not be held responsibility for it. The team proceeded on foot, and it is at this point in the operation that the situation became challenging. Proceeding slowly through mountainous terrain, towards a rendezvous with a motor launch on a beach at another part of the island, the team not only had to manage a General suffering from injuries, and essentially unfit for the strenuous physical exertion required, but also evade German patrols looking for him.
Having almost reached the beach intended for the rendezvous, they had to take the General over mountainous terrain to another beach as the Germans were actively watching the preferred beach. Kreipe was finally evacuated on 14 May by motor launch, and was taken first to Egypt for interrogation, before being held captive in Calgary, Canada, and Wales. He was released in 1947.
Although the operation was carefully planned, and those who led and participated in it used their initiative adroitly, one is left wondering what the kidnapping achieved. With the Nazis in retreat on all fronts, and the next allied invasion planned for France, capturing the second-in-command in Crete served little purpose, particularly as the German troops were so stretched that the Wehrmacht was not in a position to relieve the troops on Crete.
With the passing of those involved in the operation, the book introduces this fascinating exploit and offers fresh perspectives of it to a new generation of readers. However, one almost has to watch or rewatch – as I did – Ill Met by Moonlight to gain a sense of how the topography of Crete facilitated the operation.
Michael E. Daniel is a Melbourne-based writer.