From Abducting A General
by Patrick Leigh Fermor
I put forward, to the powers in the SOE, the suggestion of kidnapping General Müller. He commanded the 22nd Bremen (‘Sebastopol’) Panzergrenadier Division based at Herakleion. It was the sort of action we all needed in Crete, I urged. The General was universally hated and feared – even more, perhaps, than General Bräuer in Canea (both were executed as war criminals in 1946) – for the appalling harshness of his rule: the dragooning of the population in labour-gangs for the aerodromes, the mass shootings of hostages, the reprisal destruction of villages and their populations, and the tortures and the executions of the Gestapo.
The moral damage to the German forces in Crete would be great; a severe blow to their self-confidence and prestige. It would have its effect on us, too: our correct, but uninspiring task – trying to restrain random action in preparation for the mass uprising we all hoped for – was an arduous, rather thankless one. Above all, it would have a tonic effect among the Cretans; our spirits, after reverses in the Viannos mountains at the time of the Italian armistice, were low; and one important guerrilla band – that of Manoli Bandouvas – was in temporary dissolution. The deed would be a triumph for the resistance movement which had kept the island so effectively and improbably united; and it would be a setback for the emissaries of the mainland left-wing government who – fortunately too late – were trying to spread the same discord in Crete as that which was already tearing the mainland apart.
The suggested action would be, above all, an Anglo-Cretan affair, a symbol and epitome of the bond which had been formed during the Battle of Crete in 1941 and the thirty months which had followed. It could be done, I urged, with stealth and timing in such a way that both bloodshed, and thus reprisals, would be avoided. (I had only a vague idea how.)
To my amazement, the idea was accepted.
There was no need to look for the first recruit. Manoli Paterakis, from Koustoyérako in Selino, in the far west, had been my guide for over a year. A goat-herd and ex-gendarme, he had fought fiercely against the parachutists during the Battle of Crete. A year or two older than me, tireless, unshakeable as granite, wiry as a Red Indian, a crack shot, and as fast over the mountains as the ibexes he often hunted, he was – and still is – the finest type of Cretan mountaineer (there will be many such in this account). Completely unselfish, he was in the mountains purely from patriotism, and his mixture of sense, conviviality, stoicism, irony and humour, linked with his other qualities, made him more valuable than ten ordinary mortals.
We had been companions on hundreds of marches and in many scrapes; we had even, last summer, made an abortive joint attempt to sink a German tanker with limpets in Herakleion harbour. Neither of us had meant to leave Crete with the Italians – Manoli had been present at all the recent doings at Italian GHQ – but rough weather had hastened the vessel’s departure, and, when we realised that anchor had been weighed, we were too far from shore to swim back in the dark. So, luckily, here he was in Cairo.
We planned to drop by parachute as near to Herakleion as possible; Sandy Rendel, warned by wireless, found an ideal place for it. But, after training in Palestine and many delays, it was not until early January, after a tremendous Eqyptian Christmas, that we flew to Tokra airfield, near Bengazi. Here, with a score of people about to be dropped to Tito’s partisans and the Greek mainland, we waited for days while rain hammered down on the tents; all in vain.
Finally we were flown to Italy, arriving for the first night of The Barber of Saville in bomb-shattered Bari, now the swarming near-HQ of the Eighth Army. It was nice to be in a mainland European town again, but the days of standing-by were hard to bear. But, at last, at half an hour’s notice, we were being driven south at breakneck speed through the conical villages of Apulia. A converted bomber waited on the runway at Brindisi, and we took off in dismal February twilight.
Soon we were alone in the pitch dark, except for the despatcher and the parachutes, four of them for us, the others for huge cylindrical containers. In these, and about our persons, were the gear for our operation: maps, pistols, bombs, commando daggers, coshes, kunckledusters, telescopic sights, silencers, a sheaf of Marlin sub-machine-guns, ammunition, wire-cutters, sewn-in files for prison bars, magnetic escape devices, signal flares, disguises, gags, chloroform, rope-ladders, gold sovereigns, stealthy footwear, Bangalore torpedoes, every type of explosive from gelignite and gun-cotton to deceptive mule droppings which, they said, could blow a tank to smithereens; all the things, indeed, on which espionage writers dwell at such fond length; also Benzedrine, field dressings, morphine, knockout drops and suicide pills to bite under duress, if captured in the wrong clothes. I hoped we would use none of them, especially the last.
Much later on, shouting through the noise of the engine, the despatcher roused us from the torpor which is oddly usual at such times. There was moonlight all round, and then the glittering crags of the White Mountains and Ida, and a rush of cold wind from the hole the despatcher had opened in the floor. ‘Spiti mas,’ Manoli said, looking down: ‘Home.’ But it wasn’t except for me.
The nightly circlings above the plateau were making the region too hot for us. Just as we were about to signal Cairo suggesting an alternative sea-borne rendezvous in the south, a message from them arrived proposing exactly this. (Billy and the others had left Italy for Cairo once more; finally, they headed for Mersa Matruh.) Helped by a sudden thick mist, Sandy and I shifted out just in time, scattering with plans to join up later on.
March went by, travelling about in snowy and windy weather, gathering information, renewing contact, and locating the whereabouts of old helpers that I would need.
One item of news, late in March, came as a shock: General Müller was suddenly replaced by Kreipe, a General from the Russian front. All the delays seemed, retrospectively, more bitter. But, I consoled myself, the moral effect of the commander’s capture would be just as great, whoever he might be. All I could learn was that he had commanded divisions on the Leningrad and Kuban sectors, and was decorated with the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross.
At last, at the beginning of April, Sandy, John Stanley – another old hand – and I, and a number of people for evacuation, were lying up in the mountainous, prohibited zone, above the south coast, not far from Soutsouro.