From Abducting A General
by Patrick Leigh Fermor
Micky produced German uniforms for Billy and me – I can’t remember where from. They were their summer field grey. He had got some campaign ribbons and badges, lance corporal’s stripes and caps – all quite convincing enough for the short time they would be seen. He even had a traffic policeman’s stick with a red and white tin disc. We tried them on with our own Colt automatics on the webbing belts, with their Gott Mit Uns buckles, and with commando daggers as side-arms.
The two corporals stood in the middle of the road, facing the junction, Billy right and I left. In a few moments, a car was slowly turning the corner, with stiff coloured pennants on both mudguards. Billy waved his disc, and I moved my red torch to and fro, and shouted ‘Halt!’ The car came to a standstill, and we stepped right and left out of the beams of the headlights, which, in spite of being partly blacked out, were very bright, and walked slowly, each to his appointed door. The two flags were there, but perhaps only the driver was inside.
Through the open window I could discern the gold braid, and the Knight’s Cross, and a white face between. I saluted and said: ‘Papier, bitte schön.’ The General, with an officer-to-man smile, reached for his breast pocket, and I opened the door with a jerk. This was the cue for the rest of the party to break cover, and the inside of the car was flooded with light. I then shouted ‘Hände hoch!’ and with one hand thrust my automatic against the General’s chest – there was a gasp of surprise – flinging the other round his body, and pulling him out of the car. I felt a vigorous blow from his fist, and a moment later he was lashing out in the arms of Manoli, and, as there were no passengers, of Antoni P. and Grigori as well. After a brief struggle, and a storm of protest and imprecation in German, the General was securely bound, Manoli’s manacles were on his wrists, and he was being hoisted bodily into the back of the car. Manoli and George leapt in on either side, and Strati followed them. The doors were slammed shut, and gun barrels were sticking out of the windows. I picked up the General’s hat, which had come off in the struggle, jumped into the General’s empty seat, slammed the door, and put his hat on.
Billy was already calmly at the wheel, door shut and engine running. Half a second after I had opened the righthand door, Billy had wrenched open the left. The driver, alarmed at the sudden chaos, reached for the Luger on his belt. Billy struck him hard over the head with a ‘life preserver’, George pulled him out of the car, and Billy jumped in, glanced at the petrol gauge, checked the handbrake, and found the engine still turned on. George and Antoni Z. carried the driver, temporarily knocked out and bleeding, to the cover of the ditch. (When the two Antonis, Grigori and Niko set off with him – we were to meet on Mount Ida in two days – he was able to walk, but groggily.) Micky and Mitzo had rushed from their stations and suddenly, except for Elias, the whole party was there, leaning into the car, or already inside it. Micky was craning through a window, shaking his fist and passionately shouting, ‘Long live freedom!’ ‘Long live Greece!’ ‘Long live England!’ and, menacingly, at the General, ‘Down with Germany!’ I begged him to stop, moved by our captive’s look of alarm – there was already a daunting commando dagger at his throat.
A delirious excess of cheers, hugs, slaps on the back, shouts and laughter held us all in its grip for a few seconds. I suddenly noticed that the inside light was still on. Our very odd group was lit up like a magic lantern, so, as there was no visible switch, I hit it with my pistol-butt, and reassuring darkness hid us once more. Billy released the brake, and we drove off, exchanging farewells with the two parties remaining on foot. (When the others had left, Micky and Elias would hide their gear, clear up any give-away clues, dust over all signs of strife, then head for Herakleion, and, when the news broke, set helpful rumours flying.) All these doings, which need time to record, had only taken, from the time we signalled to the car, seventy seconds. Everyone had been perfect.
Less than a minute later, from the opposite direction, a convoy was bearing down on us. Two trucks – full of soldiers sitting with their rifles between their knees, some in steel helmets, some in field caps – rumbled past. Our voices sank to a sober whisper. We had only been just in time.
The General was still dazed. ‘Where is my hat?’ he kept asking. I had to tell him where.
In a few minutes we were driving through Knossos and, as we approached the Villa Ariadne, the two sentries presented arms. A third, warned by a fourth, raised the striped barrier. They must have been surprised when we drove on, but the sentries stamped back to stand-at-ease. I knelt on the seat, lent over the back, and said the words I had been rehearsing, as slowly and as earnestly as I could: ‘Herr General, I am a British Major. Beside me is a British Captain. The men beside you are Greek patriots. They are good men. I am in command of this unit, and you are an honourable prisoner of war. We are taking you away from Crete to Egypt. For you, the war is over. I’m sorry we had to be so rough. Do everything I say, and all will be well.’
This little speech had a strong effect. ‘Sind sie wirklich ein Britischer Major?’
‘Ja wirklich, Herr General. Sie haben gar nichts zü fürchten.’ He again bewailed the loss of his hat, and I promised to return it. ‘Danke, danke, Herr Major.’
He was still shaken, but improving.