Abducting a General: The Kreipe Operation and SOE in Crete, by Patrick Leigh Fermor, John Murray, London, 2014, $32
Abducting a General is British Special Operations Executive (SOE) veteran Leigh Fermor’s long-awaited account of the 1944 kidnapping in Crete of Heinrich Kreipe, commander of the German 22nd Air Landing Division. Fermor and his second in command, Billy Moss, initially agreed Moss would write the story, an account published in 1950 as Ill Met by Moonlight and adapted into a 1957 film of the same name starring Dirk Bogarde as Fermor and David Oxley as Moss.
Soon after Moss’ death in 1965, Fermor was asked to contribute a 5,000-word chapter on the operation to Purnell’s History of the Second World War. He submitted a 30,000-word manuscript, a heavily edited version of which appeared in a volume of the series under the title “How to Steal a General.” Abducting a General centers on Fermor’s original manuscript and includes his wartime reports and a tourist guide to the mission route. Fermor’s memoir is both a history of and justification for the operation he conceived, planned and executed while a major in the SOE. The details are well known, but his firsthand account is brisk and absorbing, narrating the mission from the intelligence-gathering stages to a nearly foiled ambush, to the team’s hair-raising escape and extraction by Special Boat Section commandos.
In the end Fermor comes across as a gentleman-adventurer from a bygone era, as devil-may-care with the lives of others as with his own.