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Ill Met By Moonlight

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This section is related to the abduction of Generalmajor Heinrich Kreipe in a bold stroke dreamed up by William Stanley Moss and Patrick (Paddy) Leigh-Fermor.  The plan could only have succeeded with the help they received from the islanders themselves.

Original plan was not to take Kreipe

Start of the story

The original plan

After the kidnap

POW camp

Constantinos Tatarakis

Flt. Sgt Joe Bradley

Photos of the motor launch used to take off Kreipe

I will not attempt to go into a lot of detail, or a day by day diary, for those who are interested in reading further, get the short book written by W. Stanley Moss, "Ill met by Moonlight".  It's easily available in the bookshops.  The film was shown again on English TV during the Christmas period, 2001.  It's an old black & white film, with some deviation for 'dramatic effect', but most of the elements of the book are in the film.  These can be bought through Amazon using the links below.

Ill Met by Moonlight


While the book mentioned above is the normal source people read, there is a short and very good account in Patrick Leigh-Fermor's book "Words of Mercury".  In this 'Paddy' has a 'personal report of the Kreipe Operation written at the request of the Imperial War Museum, 1969.'  The book has many short articles by Leigh-Fermor and is well worth reading.
The original plan was not to capture Kreipe at all.  In September 1943 the Italians surrendered to the Allies and the Germans on Crete wanted the 32,000 Italians of the Siena Division on the island to hand over their arms and ammunition to them before they left the island.  General Carta commanding the Division had other ideas, and contacted Leigh-Fermor and allowed many of the weapons to go to the resistance fighters.  The British agents on Crete were worried that the Resistance leaders on the island might take the Italian collapse as a signal of Allied victory, and so rise up in open armed resistance on the island, the British did not believe that the islanders were in a position to win and tried to dissuade the leaders of the various groups.  Unfortunately Kapetan Manoli Bandouvas was not to be stopped and on the 11 September they wiped out two small German garrisons and those sent to restore control.  General Muller who was then in command of the German forces on Crete ordered reprisals which resulted in many villages being razed to the ground and some 500 Cretans being killed.  Leigh-Fermor and Tom Dunbabin felt they had to get General Carta off the island to Egypt, and away from Muller.  In attempting to get him on the boat sent to collect him, Leigh-Fermor failed to get back to the beach and also ended up in Egypt.  This gave him time to consider what he would do when he got back to the island.  The result of this consideration was a plan to kidnap Muller.  In Tom Dunbabin's report of 23 Sep '43 (HS 5/723 in the PRO) he had written under the heading 'Suggested Operations'; "1. Operation MULLER.  It should be easy to kidnap MULLER.  One of our agents is on good terms with his chauffeur, and he might be abducted on the road.  Alternatively, it sounds easy to break into the Villa Ariadne with a strength of about 20.  This operation, if carried out, should be synchronized with operation BRAUER."

Leigh-Fermor (Paddy) parachuted back on to the island on the 5th February 1944, his own report (HS 5/728 in the PRO) says he 'dropped into Crete on Feb 4 on Kathero Plateau'.  Cloud prevented Bill Moss and two Cretans, George and Manoli, from also dropping.  They did not arrive until 4 April.  Tom Dunbabin in his report HS 5/723 for Dec '43 - Jan '44 had advised against him coming by air; "The dropping season is definitely off until Spring, so far as I am concerned.  The weather is foul, and all our dropping areas are under snow.  I strongly advise Paddy to come by sea.  NIDA is quite out of the question, being under deep snow."


Paddy has also written some excellent travel books recounting his travels through Greece before the war.  The book on the left also has a very good section on the kidnap escapade.
The story starts on April 4, 1944, Moss and others arriving by motor launch off the south coast of Crete, to be met by Paddy and Sandy Rendell as well as a number of the Cretan resistance.  They then moved off inland carrying their equipment on mules.  Moss, in his book, describes Leigh-Fermor; 'He wore a smart moustache, kept his hair neatly under control, and his fancy dress included a finely embroidered Cretan bolero, a long, wine-coloured cummerbund (into which were thrust an ivory-handled revolver and a silver dagger), a pair of corduroy riding-breeches, and tall black boots.'  By the 7th April they had moved to the village of Kastamonitsa, S.E. of Heraklion where they met their chief agent in Heraklion, 'Micky' Akoumianakis who had a house in Knossos, next door to the Villa Ariadne which was used by Kreipe as his sleeping quarters.  From now until the 26th April the group would move between a number of villages and cave hideouts, being fed and looked after by the people on the island.  Moss describes a wonderful Easter celebration in true Cretan style with grilled lamb, Raki, and good local hospitality. 
But they were not there to eat and drink, they had a General to kidnap.  They knew they could not do this by attacking the living quarters of the General, there were too many guards.  The plan was to stop him on the road, and capture him and his car, but this would require 'Micky' to source some form of German uniforms, and they would also need to study the Generals movements, and be able to recognise his car in the dark.  The following is a direct extract from the book to outline the plan they had come up with for the kidnap;
This is perhaps the best moment in the story to tell the reader of our original plan of action.  In my diary I did not write down our plans for fear that we ourselves or the diary might fall into enemy hands, and for this same reason I never used place names or map-references or the names of our agents, but these I have now included.

The plan was such;

General Karl Kreipe Commander of the 22nd Panzer Grenadier Division, traveled twice daily from the Villa Ariadne at Knossos to his headquarters at Ano Arkhanais.  His average working hours were from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 4 p.m. to 8 or 8.30 p.m.  Occasionally he remained at his headquarters until late at night, but this was rather accounted for by his penchant for bridge than for reasons of overtime work.  The best and most obvious moment at which to attempt an abduction was during his last journey home, because by that time it was fairly dark - sunset being at 7:45 - and, in addition, the guard at the Villa Ariadne, imagining that the General had stayed at his headquarters for dinner or a game of cards, would not become immediately suspicious of his absence.  These facts were based on information supplied by Micky and Elias.

During their reconnaissance Paddy and Micky had discovered what they considered to be an ideal spot for the ambush.  This was a T-junction where the Arkhanais road meets the Houdetsi-Heraklion road, and here any car traveling towards Knossos would inevitably have to slow down almost to a standstill.  Two sides of the road at this point are highly banked, and all three sides are bordered by ditches which are deep enough to afford concealment.

The system of the electric bell, suggested by Elias was an essential part of the plans machinery.  Both he and Micky were to position themselves on a hillock about three hundred metres up the road towards Arkhanais, with a view to keeping a look-out for the General's car.  A length of wire was to be unrolled from their position to ours at the T-junction, a bell or buzzer being placed at the end.  Thus when they recognized the General's car they were to ring the bell so as to warn us of its approach.  In addition we thought it advisable to detail somebody to the specific job of 'buzzer man', who would listen for the signal and at the crucial moment flash a torch at Paddy and me, who would be standing by in a ditch.

In the guise of German police corporals, equipped with red lamps and traffic signals, Paddy and I were going to stand in the centre of the road as the car approached and signal it to stop.  We would then walk towards it, Paddy on the left side and myself on the right, and make certain that the General was inside; then, on a given word, we would rip open the doors, Paddy hauling out the General while I dealt with the chauffeur.  Elias had told us that the General usually sat in the front seat of the car beside the chauffeur, so we felt safe in basing our plan of action on this supposition.  However, we still had to reckon on the possibility of there being additional passengers in the car, and as provision against this eventuality we detailed specific members of our band to wait in the ditches until the car's headlamps had passed them, and then, at the moment that Paddy and I opened the doors, to rush to the car and deal with anyone who might be sitting in the back seat.  Thus Paddy, backed by Manoli, would go for the General, Andoni Zoidakis and Nikos Komis for whoever was sitting behind him, Wallace Beery and Grigori for any occupant of the other back seat, and myself, with George behind me, for the chauffeur.

The role of the andartes [local resistance band  JDillon] was that they should take up a triangular defensive position about fifty yards from every flank of the T-junction and, if the occasion arose, hold up any traffic which might come along the road during the few critical moments of the ambush.

Once the occupants of the car had been dealt with, paddy and Manoli were to bundle the General into the back seat, while I was to take charge of the steering-wheel and prevent the car from running away (because the road was on a slight incline).  All occupants of the car, excepting the General, would then be taken away on foot by Grigori, Wallace Beery, Nikos and Andoni, and they would make a two-day cross-country trek to a rendezvous with us on Mount Ida.  Manoli, George and the guide Yannie were to sit in the back of the car and keep the General covered, while Paddy, wearing the General's hat, would sit in front beside me and take upon himself the imposing cloak of a brass-hat.

We would then drive off along the main road, past the Villa Ariadne, and on to the market square in the centre of Heraklion.  Once there, we would branch westward along the coastal road.  We would drive as far as a point due north of the mountain village of Anoyia, whereupon the General, Manoli, Yannie and myself would leave the car and start marching southward towards the foothills of Mount Ida.  Paddy and George, in the meantime, would drive the car a further two or three kilometers and ditch it at a point where the road made a tangent with the coast.  This, we hoped, might give the Germans the impression that we had gone straight from the car to a waiting submarine.  Paddy would leave our letter and some articles of British equipment in the car.

The next day we were to join forces again outside Anoyia, and from there we would continue together to the rendezvous on Ida.  We knew that there was a fellow-agent with a wireless set somewhere on the mountain, and once we had contacted him we hoped that there would be nothing more left to do than to send a message to Cairo, march over Ida to the coast, and there await Brian Coleman's motor-launch.

Such was our plan, arrived at after hours of discussion and argument, and, in its final state, bearing almost no resemblance to the action as we had originally envisaged it.  Even so things hardly went as we expected - which was inevitable enough - and a host of major and minor complications arose to confuse us; but of them the diary now continues to tell.

That was the plan, and some of it held, although timescales lengthened after the capture of the General.  There were a number of false alarms while they waited for the General's car, which arrived about an hour late at 21:30.  The kidnap itself went to plan, the car was a new Opel with full tanks, and off they went.  On the way they had to go through a total of 22 control points, Paddy pretending to be the General, and Moss driving on through.  They relied heavily on the sentries recognizing the General's pennant on the front of the car, as their ability to speak German was limited to a couple of words!  They then left the car as planned, and tried to make it look to the Germans as though it was an all British capture by leaving the note etc.  They did not want the German's to take action against the local population as a result of the kidnap.
Moss describes Kreipe as; 'a thick-set man, and his face possesses most of the regular Teutonic features - thin lips, bull neck, blue eyes, and a fixed expression.  His skin is fair, almost delicate; and his hair, cut guardsman-fashion, is slightly grey at the temples.  I should say that he is between forty-five and fifty years of age.'
By the 29th they had met the group who had gone with the chauffeur, but without admitting it, Moss believed they had killed him.  In Paddy's article in Words of Mercury he says that one of those who had been with the driver explained what had happened; "Antoni leant forwards urgently, put one hand on the branching ivory hilt of his silver-scabbarded dagger and, with the side of his other hand, made a violent slash through the air. 'By surprise. In one second.'......The turn things had taken was deeply upsetting.  I had planned that there should be no bloodshed on the operation, and that the driver, Corporal Funze, would leave with the rest of the party.  It was shattering news..."

 It took some time from here on, traveling over the mountains, and trying to get messages out.  By the 10th May they had met Dennis Ciclitiras who could get a message out on his wireless.  Eventually, on the night of the 14th they got away on their motor-launch, arriving at Mersa Matruh around midnight on the 15th May.

Paddy ends the article in 'Words of Mercury' with a nice touch, the General starts to quote from Horace and it is picked up by Paddy, a classics scholar; "I was in luck.  It is the opening line of one of the few odes of Horace I know by heart.  I went on reciting where he had broken off. ....... The General's blue eyes swivelled away from the mountain-top to mine - and when I'd finished, after a long silence, he said: 'Ach so, Herr Major!' It was very strange.  'Ja, Herr General.'  As though, for a long moment, the war had ceased to exist.  We had both drunk at the same fountains long before; and things were different between us for the rest of our time together."


The following two photos were sent to me by Tim Todd who, together with a group of enthusiasts, is trying to accurately recreate the route taken by those who captured Kreipe.  These two shots show the motor launch used in the take-off from the island.  The first shot was taken at Tobruk in March 1943, the second is from September 1943.  The group have a website that others might be interested in

The image below, also from Tim, is where they believe the rendezvous point was, using Google earth.

Kreipe ended up back in the UK in a POW camp near Bridgend in Wales.  There is a site which deals exclusively with this Special Camp 11 that you might like to look at.  
I have been contacted by Paulette Massens from Australia.  Her family come from the village of Yerakari in the Amari Valley on Crete, her grandfather was one of those who were executed in August 1944 after the capture of General Kreipe.  Paulette's mother is 70 now, and remembers the general staying a night at their family home sometime before his capture.  Her grandfather was Constantinos Tatarakis. 
I have been contacted by Democratis Demetrios Tsagarakis, the son of Demetrios Tsagarakis nicknamed 'Mitsos'.  (See also a separate page with notes of a visit to Crete by his nephew Tasso).  His father was a member of the 'Badouvas' resistance group pictured on page 64 of the book 'Ill met by moonlight' by W. Moss.  [This will vary according to your edition, my copy does not have this photo.  J Dillon]
Demo wrote; "My father is in that picture. During the trip over the central and western mountains of Crete, members of the group came to our village of Gonies, Meleviziou near Anogia. They went to the house of Thomas Nathenas, my mother and other ladies from the village took food to them. I was 8 0r 9 at the time I remember the burning of Anogia and other villages as a result of the kidnapping of Kreipe.
I have many photos and video of the places along the escape route and Interviews with George Psichoundakis (The Cretan Runner), Billionis from the Village of Gonies and others.

The picture above shows Demo's father, fifth from the left in the back row, in one of the 'Andartes' groups.

To get a feel for the journey, the help of the local Cretans, and an idea of village life at that time, do get the book, 'Ill met by Moonlight".  It's quite short, and will not take long to read, but well worth it.
I have been contacted by Paul Middleton, nephew of Flt. Sgt. Joe Bradley MM, DFC (Greek) who was shot down over Crete and subsequently recruited into SOE as a radio operator.  He is mentioned in the book 'The Cretan Runner'.  In a footnote by Patrick Leigh-Fermor "Flight-Sergeant Jo Bradley, D.F.M., M.M., from Blaenau Ffestiniog, Merioneth.  A charming man, who sang beautifully in Welsh, to the delight of the Cretans.  When my operator Manoli was captured, and later executed, he became my operator till he was evacuated by M.T.B. next year.  After he and his comrade had baled out SE of Herakleion, they were hidden and led to safety by Grigori Khnarakis of Thrapsano." 

There is a reference to him in Tom Dunbabin's report to Egypt, he says that Sgt. J Bradley RAF has done a very good job of work and he recommends him and others for recognition; "I wish also to recommend Gregorios Khnaros for the bravery and coolness which he showed in rescuing the survivors of the Halifax which crashed on 5th September '42." I believe this is the crash from which Jo Bradley escaped and is also the Grigori in the paragraph above..