The Damasta sabotage (Greek: Το σαμποτάζ της Δαμάστας) was an attack by Cretan resistance fighters led by British Special Operations Executive officer Captain Bill Stanley Moss MC against German occupation forces in World War II. The attack occurred on 8 August 1944 near the village of Damasta (Greek: Δαμάστα) and was aimed to prevent the Germans from assaulting the village of Anogeia.
On 7 August 1944, Feldwebel Josef Olenhauer (known to the locals as "Sifis", the Greek diminutive for his name, quite widespread in Crete) and ten men of the German garrison based in Yeni Gave (Greek: Γενί-Γκαβέ, present day Drosia - Greek: Δροσιά) went up to the village of Anogeia in search of concentration camp labourers. Olenhauer ordered his men to round up selected males in order to force them to march towards Rethymno. The villagers refused to come and so in retaliation, fifty hostages were taken. On leaving, the Germans were surrounded by local ELAS andartes, who attacked the detachment, freeing the hostages and killing all the Germans. Despite the success of the move, the villagers of Anogeia feared that reprisals from the Germans were imminent and therefore took to the mountains joining the local resistance.
On the following day, August 8, a resistance group commanded by the British Special Operations Executive officer Captain Bill Stanley Moss MC consisting of eight Cretans from Anogeia organized into EOK (Kefalogiannis, Stavrakakis, Sbokos, Spithouris, Skoulas and Kontokalos) and six escaped Russian POW soldiers, marched to the main road connecting Rethymno and Heraklion. Moss had previously created a small strike force of escaped Russian prisoners of war working with the andartes, planning to attack enemy transport on the Heraklion-Rethymno road. However in the light of events in Anogeia, he instead set out to waylay the inevitable response before the German troops left their transport and deployed, so that Anogeia might be saved.
He chose an ambush site by a bridge in the Damastos location, one kilometer west of the village of Damasta and mined it with Hawkins grenades, preparing for the German reaction. After destroying various passing vehicles, among which was a lorry carrying military mail to Chania, the German force on its way to target Anogeia finally appeared. It consisted of a truck of infantrymen backed up by an armoured car. Moss and his group attacked the German troops. Moss crawled up to the back of the armoured car and dropped a grenade into the hatch. In total 35 Germans and 10 Italians were killed, as well as one Russian partisan, and 12 Axis prisoners taken in the clash that followed. Cretan partisan Manolis Spithouris (Ntampakomanolis) was seriously wounded in the abdomen. Nevertheless, he was rescued in "extremely brave action" by Kostas Kephaloyannis (Kountokostas) and treated by fellow andartes, as well as Moss and Georgios Tyrakis, managing to survive. Moss argued on his return to Cairo that Kephaloyannis should be decorated for his action.
The expediency of the ambush in Damasta has been strongly disputed. General Müller had replaced General Bruno Bräuer, as commander of Fortress Crete on 1 July 1944. Bräuer had not to instigated reprisals because of the Kidnap of General Kreipe as no one had been killed and the result of the abduction had been a loss of face for the Germans rather than of personnel. This contrasted with General Müller and the almost instant execution of 50 Cretans after the SBS raid in May/June 1942 and the destruction of Viannos by Müller in September 1943 in reprisal for andartes’s attacks in the Kato Simi area.
Whilst Moss had hoped that the ambush might have saved Anogeia, Müller, now the German commander in Crete, had further strategic reasons for reprisals and terror across Crete in order to assist the German planned evacuation from much of the island to Chania as well as not wishing to let Anogia go unpunished for years of resistance. Anogeia dwellers had been actively involved in, and given refuge to, the resistance for many years, had killed the Sergeant Commander Olenhauer and the garrison from Yeni-Gave and had also provided shelter to the abductors of General Heinrich Kreipe. His order of the day to destroy Anogeia was specific and retrospective. His Order reads:-
“ORDER BY THE GERMAN GENERAL COMMANDER OF THE GARRISON OF CRETE – “Because the town of Anogia is the centre of the English Intelligence on Crete, because the people of Anogia committed the murder of the Sergeant Commander of the Yeni-Gave, as well as of the garrison under his orders, because the people of Anogia carried out the sabotage of Damasta, because in Anogia the guerrillas of the various groups of resistance take refuge and find protection and because it was through Anogia that the kidnappers with General Von Kreipe passed using Anogia as a transit camp, we order its COMPLETE DESTRUCTION and the execution of every male person of Anogia who would happen to be within the village and around it within a distance of one kilometre” CHANEA 13TH AUGUST 1944, THE GENERAL COMMANDER OF THE GARRISON OF CRETE, H. MULLER.
Thus, Müller ordered that Anogeia should be razed to the ground and every male inhabitant found in the village executed. As a result, about 50 residents of Anogeia were shot, the village was systematically pillaged and eventually destroyed.
On August 21, the Germans executed 30 men from the village of Damasta after accusing them as accomplices for not having given warning about the ambush and swept their village away.
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