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Kidnapping of Generalmajor Heinrich Kreipe

Page Created
May 7th, 2023
Last Updated
May 7th, 2023
Great Britain
Special Forces
Special Operations Executive
February 4th, 1944 – May 14th, 1944
  • Kidnapping of Generalmajor Karl Heinrich Georg Ferdinand Kreipe
Operational Area

Archanes, Crete, Greece.

Unit Force
  • Special Operations Executive
Opposing Forces
  • 22. Infanterie-Division (Luftlande)

The German commander of the 22. Infanterie-Division (Luftlande) and military governor of Crete, Generalmajor Friedrich-Wilhelm Müller, was infamous for his brutality and earned the moniker “the Butcher of Crete.” In an effort to not only eliminate him but also strike terror into the hearts of Germans everywhere, the British developed a plan.

Major Patrick Leigh Fermor and Captain William Stanley Moss devised a strategy to kidnap General Müller while he was at the Club de Chasse in Cairo in 1943. With the help of two members of the Cretan resistance, George Tirakis and Manoli Paterakis, they planned to infiltrate the island, join forces with other resistance fighters, abduct the general, and safely leave the island without any bloodshed. To prevent reprisals against the local Cretans, they intended to make it appear as a solely British operation.

The stage was set for the operation to begin on February 4, 1944, as the four men left Cairo en route to Crete to parachute onto the island and commence their mission. However, due to inclement weather, only Major Fermor was able to jump over the drop zone, while the rest of the team made a dozen failed attempts before deciding to attempt a sea landing. Finally, on April 4, the team arrived on the island, but they soon discovered that the target had changed, with General Müller being replaced by General Heinrich Kreipe. Despite this setback, the team proceeded with the abduction of General Kreipe.

Major Fermor disguised himself as a shepherd and conducted reconnaissance on the general’s daily routine before finalizing the plan to capture him. On the night of April 26, the team set up a mock checkpoint, with Fermor and Moss dressed as German Military Police. When the general’s car approached, Fermor and Paterakis grabbed him, while Moss struck the driver with a baton and Tirakis helped pull him from the car. After moving General Kreipe to the back seat, Fermor and Moss took their places in the front seat, impersonating the general and his driver.

The team successfully passed through twenty-two other checkpoints as they made their escape. After an hour and a half, Moss, the two Cretan members of the team, and General Kreipe left the car with Fermor to abandon. Fermor left the car on a beach on the north side of the island, along with documents indicating that the kidnapping had been carried out by British Commandos and that the general had already been removed from the island. A note expressing regret at leaving behind such a beautiful car was also left behind.

After the successful abduction of General Kreipe, the group met up with Fermor and began their journey to the southern side of the island, where they planned to be extracted back to Egypt. However, the Germans issued a proclamation the next day, threatening reprisals if General Kreipe was not returned within three days. German troops scoured the island and planes searched from the air, but the group managed to evade them.

The team trekked across Mount Ida, with Fermor and Kreipe reciting poetry along the way. Despite the Germans’ best efforts, the group made it to the southern coast and was rescued by a British Motor Launch on May 14, 1944. They returned to Egypt, where General Kreipe was interrogated before being transferred to a POW camp in Canada.

Patrick Leigh Fermor and William Stanley Moss (top row, second and third from left) with ­other members of the group that abducted the German general Heinrich Kreipe, Crete, April 1944. (Estate of William Stanley Moss/Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor Archive/National Library of Scotland)