Kidnapping a General | Crete and Patrick Leigh Fermor
I have just returned from our weeklong tour in Crete, following in the footsteps of SOE agents Patrick Leigh Fermor and Billy Moss in their daring 1944 mission to kidnap the island’s German commander, General Kreipe.
The tour was a great success, with a fantastic mixture of an exciting narrative, fabulous food and wine, and a stunning backdrop of sun-soaked beaches, snow-capped mountains and green, fertile valleys.
We were ably led by Oxford academic Dr Rod Bailey — SOE expert, and friend of both the Moss and Leigh Fermor families — who told the story brilliantly as we followed the kidnap route, enjoying both lavish Cretan hospitality and wonderful Special Access along the way.
After we attended an introductory lecture and welcome dinner, our first full day was spent examining the 1941 German invasion of Crete. We travelled to Maleme, whose airfield was the centre of the battle, and visited the German cemetery — resting place of the majority of the 4,500 Germans killed in Crete — and the Tavroniti bridge, whose capture by the Germans was of vital tactical significance. In the afternoon, we visited Chania’s excellent maritime museum and the moving CWGC cemetery at Souda Bay, where 1500 Allied soldiers are buried or commemorated.
The remainder of the tour focused on the events of the kidnap itself, starting with a visit to the remote hideout used by the abduction party in the days leading up to the event. We then visited Kreipe’s headquarters; the monument standing at the abduction point; and in one of the tour’s many highlights, we had a private visit to the Villa Ariadne — home of Genral Kreipe and before him, the archaeologists Sir Arthur Evans and John Pendlebury.
Over the next few days, we ventured into the foothills of Mount Ida to visit the remote Fanourios hideout, where the abduction party rested and took the majority of surviving photos, and the stunning Nidha plateau, crossed on foot by the kidnappers before their treacherous traverse of Mount Ida itself. Both of these locations were still topped with winter snow and marvellously evocative.
We then spent a day in the Amari valley, with visits to the Arkadi Monastery — a historic focus of Cretan resistance — and the villages of Nithavri, Fourfouras and Genna, which provided shelter for the abduction party as they made their way to the evacuation beach. Our last day was, in many ways, the most special of all. We made the journey to the village of Patsos, location of a well-hidden mitato (cheese hut) that provided shelter to the party for two nights. It was here that it seemed we were greeted by the whole village, who welcomed us with a generosity and warmth I have seldom experienced. There were speeches, a tree planting, a presentation, and finally a fabulous lunch, attended by, amongst others, the descendants of many who had helped the kidnappers. Much raki was consumed and a great time had by all.
Finally, we walked to the evacuation point at Peristeres Beach, and in the warm glow of a Spring Cretan sun, dipped out toes in the Libyan Sea, much as Patrick Leigh Fermor must have done in May 1944, in the minutes before the Motor Launch spirited them away to Egypt...
We will be running the tour again in the future so if you are interested, please contact us and register your interest.