Kidnap of Heinrich Kreipe
|Kidnap of Major General Kreipe|
|Part of the Mediterranean and Middle East theatre|
Major General Heinrich Kreipe
|Planned by||Special Operations Executive|
|Commanded by||Patrick Leigh Fermor|
|Date||6 February – 14 May 1944|
The kidnap of Heinrich Kreipe was a Second World War operation executed jointly by the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and the Cretan resistance. The operation was launched on 6 February 1944, when SOE agent Patrick Leigh Fermor landed in Crete with the intention of abducting notorious war criminal and commander of Fortress Crete, Friedrich-Wilhelm Müller. By the time of the arrival of the rest of the abduction team, led by William Stanley Moss, two months later Müller had been succeeded by Heinrich Kreipe, who was chosen as the new target.
On the night of 26 April, Kreipe's car was ambushed while en route from his residence to the Divisional H.Q. Kreipe was tied and forced into the back seat while Leigh Fermor and William Stanley Moss impersonated him and his driver respectively. Kreipe's notorious impatience at roadblocks enabled the car to successfully pass 22 checkpoints before being abandoned at the hamlet of Heliana. The abductors continued on foot, continuing to evade thousands of Axis soldiers sent to stop them, with the help of guides from the local resistance. On 14 May, the team was picked up by a British motorboat from the Rodakino beach and safely transported to British-held Egypt.
The success of the operation was put into question several months after its conclusion. The outcome came to be seen as a symbolic propaganda victory rather than a strategic one. The relatively harmless Kreipe was replaced by Müller who ordered a series of large-scale reprisals against the civilian population of the island known as the Holocaust of Kedros. The operation entered popular imagination through the biographical works of the several of its participants, most notably Moss's book Ill Met by Moonlight.
Greece entered the Second World War on the side of the Allies following an Italian invasion from Albania on 28 October 1940. Greece repulsed the initial Italian attack and a counter-attack in March 1941. Coming to the aid of its struggling ally, Nazi Germany launched an invasion of its own known as Operation Marita, which began on 6 April. While the bulk of the Greek Army was deployed on the Albanian front, German troops invaded from Bulgaria, creating a second front. Greece had already received a small expeditionary force of British, Australian and New Zealand forces in anticipation of the German attack, but no more help was sent afterward. The Greek army found itself outnumbered in its effort to defend against both Italian and German troops. As a result, the Metaxas defensive line did not receive adequate troop reinforcements and was quickly overrun by the Germans, who then outflanked the Greek forces at the Albanian front, forcing their surrender. British, Australian and New Zealand forces were likewise overwhelmed and forced to retreat, with the ultimate goal of evacuation. For several days, Allied troops contained the German advance at the Thermopylae position, allowing ships to be prepared to evacuate the units defending Greece. The German Army reached the capital, Athens, on 27 April and Greece's southern shore on 30 April, capturing 7,000 British, Australian and New Zealand personnel and ending the Battle of Greece with a decisive victory.
King George II and his government had left the Greek mainland for Crete five days earlier. The island was in turn attacked by Nazi forces on 20 May 1941. The Germans employed parachute forces in a massive airborne invasion and attacked the three main airfields of the island in Maleme, Rethymno and Heraklion. After seven days of fighting and tough resistance, Allied commanders decided that the cause was hopeless and ordered a withdrawal from Sfakia. During the night of 24 May, George II and his government were evacuated from Crete to Egypt. By 1 June 1941, the evacuation was complete and the island was under German occupation. With the conclusion of Operation Marita, Greece was subjected to a Triple Occupation by Germany, Italy and Bulgaria. Fortress Crete, as it was now called, was shared between Germany and Italy. The Germans occupied the western three prefectures of the island (the prefectures of Chania, Heraklion and Rethymno) with their headquarters in Chania, whilst the Italians occupied the easternmost prefecture of Lasithi.
It did not take long for the Cretan resistance to spring up. They assisted Allied soldiers stranded on the island evade capture and helped them escape to the British controlled Middle East. The escapees helped establish contact between the Special Operations Executive's (SOE) Cairo branch and Cretan resistance organisations. Supplied with wireless sets and augmented by SOE stay behind operatives, they began co-ordinating their actions with the Allied command. Following the Armistice of Cassibile, Angelico Carta, the commander of the Italian 51st Infantry Division stationed in east Crete, decided to side against the fascist Italian Social Republic. He contacted the SOE through the division's counter-intelligence officer, arranging that he and members of his staff sympathetic to the Allied cause be smuggled to Egypt along with the defence plans for the east of the island. After abandoning his car north-east of Neapoli as a diversion, Carta and his comrades set foot for south-west. Evading German patrols and observation planes he embarked a Motor Torpedo Boat at Soutsouro reaching Mersa Matruh the next afternoon, on 23 September 1943.
British officers had considered the idea of capturing a senior German officer as early as November 1942, when Xan Fielding proposed seizing Alexander Andrae and later, when Andrae was posted away, his successor Bruno Bräuer. None of these plans were carried out. Carta's successful escape to Egypt rekindled the idea of abducting the chief military commander of Crete. In 1943, Major Patrick Leigh Fermor and Captain William Stanley Moss hatched the plan in Cairo for the abduction of General Friedrich-Wilhelm Müller, then military governor of Crete and commander of the 22nd Air Landing Division. Müller had gained a reputation for brutality and was despised by the Cretan people, being personally responsible for mass executions, torture, razing of villages and conscripting civilians into labour units. The SOE planned to kidnap him while keeping the use of violence at a minimum and transport him to Egypt, thus giving a morale boost to the Cretans.
In late 1943, Fermor and Moss formed a squad with two Cretan resistance members, Georgios Tyrakis and Emmanouil Paterakis, who were to accompany them in their mission. After undergoing training in Palestine and facing numerous delays the team flew to the headquarters of the British 8th Army in Bari in January 1944. On 4 February, they were driven to Brindisi airport, where they boarded a bomber destined for Crete. Fermor was the only one be airdropped at the Katharo plateau, due to a sudden weather change that caused the area to be obscured by clouds. Fermor was greeted by Cretan resistance members and SOE captain A.M. Rendel, while the rest of the squad returned to Cairo. While hiding in a cave above the village of Tapais in the Lasithi mountains, Fermor reestablished old contacts learning that Müller had been replaced by major general Heinrich Kreipe on 1 March. While certainly not as infamous as Müller, Kreipe had been decorated with the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross for his role in the Siege of Leningrad and the fighting in the Kuban. The rest of the team attempted to parachute into Crete seven more times without success; after two months, on 4 April, they arrived by Motor Launch ML 842 at Tsoutsoura. They were met on the beach by Fermor and Rendel. Upon hearing about Müller's departure they reluctantly agreed to continue with their plan.
The team moved to a cave system in the mountains above the Kastamonitsa village, the hideout of a local rebel band. There the SOE team was augmented by a number of Cretans: Antonios and Grigorios Papaleonidas, Michail "Mikis" Akoumianakis and Grigorios Chnarakis. Mikis' house was conveniently located across the road from Kreipe's residence, the Villa Ariadne, in the village of Knossos. Fermor dressed up as a Cretan shepherd, received fake documents, and his mustache and eyebrows were darkened with burnt cork in preparation of his trip to Knossos. After traveling by bus with Mikis, he reconnoitered the area surrounding the villa. Surrounded by a triple wire barrier (one of which was rumoured to be electrified) and guarded by a sizeable garrison, it was deemed too dangerous to attempt a kidnapping directly. The decision was taken to seize Kreipe during one of his frequent trips from his residence to the divisional H.Q. in Ano Archanes, some 5 miles (8.0 km) away. Upon surveying the route, they discovered a T-junction where the road from Archanes joined the main road to Heraklion, forcing cars to slow down to almost a standstill, the location was subsequently named Point A. Pavlos Zografistos, the owner of a small vineyard cottage outside Skalani, some twenty minutes from the abduction point, agreed to collaborate, turning the building into an observation point. Owing to the heavy traffic on the main road, the operation had to be undertaken during nighttime.
Mikis supplied the team with two Feldgendarmerie corporal summer uniforms, complete with campaign badges, side arms and a traffic policeman's stick. Resistance member Elias Athanasakis set up a wire from a height overlooking the German H.Q., signalling whenever Kreipe left the building. Four more resistance members, Efstratios Saviolakis, Dimitrios Tzatzadakis "Tzatzas", Nikolaos Komis and Antonios Zoidakis, were recruited as guides. Shortly before the abduction was to take place, the team received a letter from a local commander of the pro-communist National Liberation Front (EAM), who threatened to betray them to the authorities if they did not vacate the area. The operation was postponed for several days as the general did not leave his residence.
On the night of 26 April 1944, Fermor and Moss received a signal that the general had got into his car. Changing into the German uniforms, they followed Saviolakis to Point A. Fermor and Moss hid in a ditch 1 yard (0.91 m) east of the road. Further to the west Zoidakis, the Papaleonidas brothers, Tyrakis and Komis lay in wait. At 9:30 p.m., Tzatzadakis flashed his torch three times signalling that Kreipe's car was approaching unescorted. Fermor and Moss blocked the road, and as the car came closer Moss waved his policeman's stick and shouted "Halt!". When the car came to a halt, Fermor smiled and requested that identity papers be shown. As Kreipe reached for his pocket, Fermor jacked the door open, shouting "Hands up!" while simultaneously pressing his automatic weapon against Kreipe's chest. The rest of the team sprung up and surrounded the car. A brief struggle ensued, which ended when Paterakis tied Kreipe and Moss struck the driver on the head with his cosh, knocking him unconscious. Moss took up the driver's seat and Fermor wore the general's hat impersonating him, with the general, Saviolakis, Tyrakis and Paterakis in the backseat, driving off to Heraklion. The rest cleared the spot of signs of struggle and also headed to Heraklion with the driver.
The car passed through 22 checkpoints in Heraklion, coming into the road to Rethymno and stopping outside a steep mountain track leading to Anogeia. Kreipe's penchant for being impatient at roadblocks and acting rudely to the people manning them had made him unpopular among his subordinates, ironically contributing to the success of his own kidnapping as the car sped through the check points without stopping. After the war, a member of Kreipe’s staff reported how, on hearing the news of the kidnap, an uneasy silence in the officers' mess in Heraklion was followed by – "Well gentlemen, I think this calls for champagne all round". Fermor drove to the hamlet of Heliana where he abandoned the car. To prevent reprisals, he left a note claiming that British special forces had conducted the operation without any local support, and scattered incriminating evidence such as British cigarette ends, an Agatha Christie book and a military beret. The team then ascended to Anogeia, where they rested for a few hours. Late in the afternoon of 27 April, a German reconnaissance plane dropped leaflets unto the village threatening reprisals if the general was not returned within three days. They soon departed for Mount Ida, where they were met by the band of Michael Xylouris and the SOE officers attached to them. The breakdown of their wireless station meant that all communication had to be conducted by runners, hindering the evacuation. The next day, the team was informed that the Cretans had resorted to killing Kreipe's driver as he was too stunned to walk at the necessary pace for the rebels to avoid capture. The team continued its ascent on Ida, where they stayed with the band of Georgios Petrakis.
As the team continued their journey through Ida's snow-covered slopes to the Amari Valley, Crete's garrison of over 30,000 men had been placed on alert and Axis troops began to assemble around the mountain range in an attempt to block their escape. After crossing the valley they reached the village of Agia Paraskevi. A report transmitted by the BBC had alerted the Germans that Kreipe had yet to leave the island. Rumors of a general uprising and an Allied invasion had prompted Bräuer to strengthen Chania's garrison and continue the security sweeps. Moreover Kreipe's aide-de-camp and guards were arrested on suspicion of complicity. The arrival of a runner enabled the team to request that a boat be sent to Saktouria on 2 May. The runner unexpectedly did not return the following day and the party was informed that Saktouria and other hotbeds of resistance had been blown up by German troops. Moss and Fermor set off to the Amari valley in search of a wireless station. On 5 May, they reached the village of Pantanassa where they were able to send and receive letters once again. A day later George Psychoundakis brought SOE agent Dick Barnes and a wireless set to the village. In the meantime, the rest of the party evaded a German patrol by relocating to Patsos, just two hours away from Pantanassa. It then became known that a George Jellicoe-led unit of the Special Boat Service (SBS) was to land at Limni beach on the 9th, in order to assist with the evacuation.
The two groups reunited at the hamlet of Karines and advanced to Fotinou and then Vilandredo. A torn girth on the mule Kreipe rode resulted in an accident that damaged his hand. Once a 200 man German column came to Argygoupoli just an hour's distance from Vilandredo, Dennis Ciclitira and a band of EAM-ELAS fighters assisted the team in their cat and mouse game with their pursuers. When the team reached Asi Gonia, a runner told them that a boat will pick them up at Rodakino beach on the night of 14 May. The Rodakiniot guerillas accompanied the team on their final trek. The team, Kreipe, two German prisoners of war and a sick Soviet defector boarded the SBS boats at 10:00 p.m., concluding their mission by landing at Mersa Matruh in Egypt.
Major Patrick Leigh Fermor was awarded the Distinguished Service Order, and Captain William Stanley Moss the Military Cross, "For [their] outstanding display of courage and audacity" during the operation. The awards were gazetted on 13 July 1944. The operation dealt a blow to the Axis morale on the island while simultaneously raising that of the local resistance, as the BBC and RAF praised the operation's success through radio transmission and leaflets respectively. However the wisdom behind the abduction came into question as Kreipe was hardly a Nazi zealot, and with the Normandy landings being already anticipated he had no reason not to be cooperative with his captors. Despite his position he possessed very little information and by the time of his capture Crete had lost what little strategic importance it had in the course of the war.
On 7 August 1944, Feldwebel Josef Olenhauer (known to the locals as Sifis) and five men from the German garrison based in Yeni Gave went up to the village of Anogeia in search of forced labour workers. The villagers had expected the round-up and most of the men had hid in the mountains to avoid being drafted. The infuriated Olenhauer ordered his men to round up whoever they encountered, be it women, children or old men and marched them towards Rethymno. Shortly after exiting the village the column was ambushed by ELAS guerrillas, who freed the hostages and detained Olehauer and two of his soldiers, while two others managed to escape. The prisoners were taken to Idi and later killed, when the Germans refused to exchange them for a large number of detainees from the Agia prison. Moss, who had by that time returned to Crete and was present in the area, decided to team up with Michael Xylouris' band to ambush an incoming punitive expedition consisting of an armoured vehicle and a truckload of soldiers. The Damasta sabotage resulted in the death of 30 Germans, 12 of whom were murdered after surrendering.
Müller, who had returned to his role of commander of Fortress Crete, had further strategic reasons for reprisals: to assist the German evacuation from much of the island to the stronghold of Chania, as well as desiring to punish Anogeia for being unpunished despite years of resistance. The inhabitants of Anogeia had been actively involved in, and given refuge to, the Cretan resistance for many years, had killed Olenhauer and the garrison from Yeni Gave, and had also provided shelter to the Kreipe abduction team. His order of the day to destroy Anogeia was specific and retrospective, confirming British fears of large-scale reprisals. The Holocaust of Kedros was a coordinated operation involving 2,000 Axis soldiers who targeted Anogeia and Damasta. 900 houses were burned, 50 civilians were shot and 3,500 became internally displaced. At Zarko 35 out of the 42 men inhabiting the village were shot for their alleged participation in the assassination of the publisher of the collaborationist newspaper Kritikos Kiryx (Cretan Herald). In the following days the operation expanded to other villages, men were executed, houses were looted and then burned or dynamited regardless of their involvement in resistance activities. The looted property was collected at Scholi Asomaton and transported by lorries to Rethymno. Harvest and livestock were confiscated for use by the German troops. Local resistance bands could do nothing but watch, being vastly outnumbered.
ORDER BY THE GERMAN GENERAL COMMANDER OF THE GARRISON OF CRETE – Because the town of Anogeia is the center of the English Intelligence on Crete, because the people of Anogeia committed the murder of the Sergeant Commander of the Yeni-Gave, as well as of the garrison under his orders, because the people of Anogeia carried out the sabotage of Damasta, because in Anogeia the guerrillas of the various groups of resistance take refuge and find protection and because it was through Anogeia that the kidnappers with General Von Kreipe passed using Anogeia as a transit camp, we order its COMPLETE DESTRUCTION and the execution of every male person of Anogeia who would happen to be within the village and around it within a distance of one kilometer.— CHANEA 13TH AUGUST 1944, THE GENERAL COMMANDER OF THE GARRISON OF CRETE, H. MULLER.
These events were portrayed in Moss's book Ill Met by Moonlight: The Abduction of General Kreipe. In 1957, the book was turned into the film starring Dirk Bogarde, David Oxley and Marius Goring. Leigh Fermor and Psychoundakis also recounted their experiences in the respective biographical works Abducting a General: The Kreipe Operation and SOE in Crete and The Cretan Runner: His Story of the German Occupation. In 1972, Kreipe and his kidnappers reunited on the set of the Greek TV show Avti Ein' I Zoi Sou (This is your Life) recollecting their experiences.
The story of the kidnap has entered popular culture, for example, being referred to in the V-Commandos board game created by Triton-Noir in Canada based on Histoire des commandos: Tome 2, 1944-1945 by Pierre Montagnon published in 2011.
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