on 19 December 2001
This book, written by one of the protagonists, concerns the utterly audacious plot by the British to kidnap the German General commanding German forces occupying Crete.
Here is the inside story of one of the greatest adventure stories of the Second World War. Secret landings, contacting the Cretan "andarte", creating a team and researching the movements of their target...It's all here.
Days of "monotony and sweat and thirst and sickening fear...." It's all here. Told with great pace and skill this tells the story of
an exploit that even the Germans admitted to
Read it and be reminded of the great buccaneers
of history. But read it because it is not only a great tale it is also told with an edge of humour.
on 18 August 2008
I've read `Ill met by moonlight' many times before - indeed, I possess a first edition - but this Folio edition was purchased as a present for me and very good it is, too.
There is a forward by MRD Foot, plus an afterword by Paddy Leigh Fermor, neither of which appeared in the previous editions, but the prologue and epilogue by Iain Moncreiffe, which were always present, are a delight. The extract from Fermor's letter to him, beautifully written from wartime Crete - "My island home, where the minotaurs roam" is the last word in self-deprecation.
And the story? Well, everybody who's got the slightest drop of red blood in his veins, knows the story - two wartime adventurers, Bill Stanley-Moss and Paddy Leigh Fermor who, as part of SOE's Force 133 were infiltrated into the German occupied island of Crete with but one objective - to kidnap General Kreipe, the commander of the Sevastopol Division and take him to the allies in Cairo. How they achieved this with a handful of Cretan andartes (resistance fighters) is thrilling stuff indeed, which resulted in Fermor being awarded an immediate DSO and Moss, an MC.
Not read it? Read it. Read it before? Read it again - you'll be reminded of the days when Britain was quite rightly referred to as `Great'.
on 7 January 2000
This is the tale of the abduction of General Kriep from Crete in 1944. W Stanley Moss was intrumental in this kidnap. Luckily, he kept a diary of events. What an interesting read this makes! The narrative is broken up from time to time with brief explanatory notes. These are needed to help make sense of the events as they unfold. Altogether I liked this book for its lively style, and for the way the author describes the characters involved, most of whom seem a bit larger than life. I also found the symbiotic wartime relationship between the British and the Cretans to be facinating.
on 12 October 2006
Courage, mes enfants! We've travelled this road before. But if there are any raw recruits in the ranks, let me reassure them from the outset that once the title's been tackled (a clumsy Shakespearean reference), we're over the worst of it. Because the rest of the book is a rollicking read from start to finish, dealing as it does with the true story of the kidnap during WWII of the German General Kreipe by a group of Cretan partisans under the leadership of two British commandos, William Stanley Moss, our narrator, and Patrick Leigh-Fermor, who is widely believed to have been the blueprint upon which Ian Fleming based his James Bond character.
Ill Met By Moonlight is better known as a film in which the young Dirk Bogarde defeats the Wehrmacht with a withering glance which predates Roger Moore's raised eyebrow by ten years or more. By way of contrast, though W. Stanley Moss and Paddy Leigh-Fermor are tough as old boots and utterly fearless. Even so they leave us with the distinct impression that they bring to their particular field of irregular martial endeavour the benefits of a liberal education - which makes a very pleasant change from reading about SAS hooligans, the sum total of whose emotions might be tattooed in their entirety (all eight letters of them!) on the knuckles of each hand. Similarly, there is in Moonlight a sort of bubbly undercurrent which suggests that, though these two young men are at present totally immersed in WWII, this is not what they are really and truly about. What they really want to be doing is getting on with their lives and doing whatever it is that young men want to be doing. (Nowadays they'd be taking a year out and bumming around Oz perhaps.)
There are, be it noted, some absolutely mind-boggling statistics attached to this tale of German deviltry and British derring-do. In the film version one of the characters comes by water, the other by air; whereas in real life the one who comes by air has to make as many as fourteen sorties before encountering weather conditions suitable to a parachute jump. Then, with General Kreipe their prisoner at last, our heroes drive unscathed, albeit at a fair lick, through as many as 37 German checkpoints assisted by just two words of German, authoritatively spoken. (`General Wagen!' is the password that is repeatedly proclaimed thus.) And, finally, with the sounds of battle raging all around them, there is just one killing in the entire story: that of the General's driver, unwisely left to the undisciplined attentions of the partisans - with whom our boys are very far from being pleased when they get to hear of it.
General Kreipe's capture may well have saved the man's life. Because his superior officer, General Mueller, was sentenced to death and shot when hostilities ceased. There is, too, a very moving part of the story where the General expresses his regret that his capture bodes ill for his extended family for whom, risen above his station in life, he has been the breadwinner. And there is humour not less than crazy when the BBC World Service boasts about the kidnapping on air, blithely broadcasting the fact that our heroes will presently be leaving the island, which quite naturally results in re-doubled efforts to capture them on the part of their German pursuers - and when, with Moss and Leigh-Fermor, needing just two letters of Morse code with which to signal a British submarine and so effect their escape, they find they know only one of those letters between them, which necessitates their having to hang about on the beach until another party of Allied interlopers just happens to turn up and makes good the deficit.
So in a kind of a way Ill Met By Moonlight is reminiscent of the Peter Cook/Dudley Moore sketch that begins: `The war's going badly, Carruthers - what we need is a futile gesture!' Yet, in another sense it's more unsettling than that. Because a moment's reflection on the contrasting fates of Generals Kreipe and Mueller would tend to suggest that the real purpose of this madcap mission (the hidden agenda, as it were) is not to deprive General Kreipe of his freedom (welcome bonus though this may well have been), but rather is it to goad the Germans into visiting stern reprisals upon the populace which will so alienate the islanders that they will not hesitate to throw themselves with renewed vigour into guerrilla activity in support of the Allied war effort.
`C'est la guerre, mes enfants! And it is only the thought of this highly probable (and horrendous) hidden agenda that prevents me from adding: `Et c'est magnifique!' So permit me instead to praise to high heaven two heroes without parallel and (title excepted) a thoroughly rewarding read.