The Ariadne Objective: The Underground War to Rescue Crete from the Nazis
Published by Crown Publishing, 2013. Hardcover, 352 pages.
Release Date: November 12, 2013
I seldom start a review with an opinion, but The Ariadne Objective is simply the best history book I’ve read in over eighteen months. Before I explain that comment, let me summarize the book.
The Ariadne Objective recounts the story of the hidden war on Crete carried out by guerrilla fighters (known as andartes) and British Special Operations Executive officers. The book begins with establishing the background for the British officers; all had study of Greek and broad travels in common. Next the book moves into the early years of the German occupation of Crete. During this time, John Pendlebury, who previously served in the cover role as vice-consul, worked to establish a resistance network on Crete. One of his right-hand men, Manoli Bandouvas, would go on to play a critical role in Allied operations on Crete as an andartes leader. After Pendlebury’s death, an event with ramifications throughout the rest of the book, the main tale of the undercover operations switches to his replacements, Xan Fielding and Tom Dunbabin. Eventually, Patrick Leigh Fermor lands on Crete and joins Fielding and Dunbabin. Espionage and coordinating the andartes were the men’s main job, as acts of sabotage led to repercussions against the Cretans. That said, there were still successful sabotage operations discussed, such as destruction of harbor mines and fuel depots. Two of the most important missions covered were the the extraction of the Italian General Carta and the planned abduction of the German general in charge of the island. About half of the book is dedicated to planning and conducting these missions. For the latter mission, William Stanley Moss joins Leigh Fermor and plays a critical role in both the planning and actual mission.
Other officers detailed in the book include Nick Hammond who worked in conjunction with Pendlebury; Lieutenant Tavana, an anti-Nazi Italian officer on Crete who assisted Leigh Fermor, and his boos General Carta; Sandy Rendel, an SOE officer who later joined Leigh Fermor and Dunbabin on Crete; Cyril J. Fortune, a pilot who frequently dropped men and supplies onto the island; and Brian Coleman, a naval officer who routinely ferried men to and from Crete. Additional important Cretens covered included, Minoan Mike, Leigh Fermor’s “right hand man” and Manoli Paterakis, of Leigh Fermor’s “left hand man.”
Why was this the best history title I have read in over a year? The introductory material on the officers’ and andartes’ backgrounds firmly established them as common people, not mythical figures, while demonstrating their qualifications for their wartime roles. Many of the SOE officer’s outlandish plans were reminiscent of the plans Colonel Hogan devised on Hogan’s Heroes (one of my favorite reruns). And the plans actually worked! If that is unbelievable, on more than one occasion Leigh Fermor attended parties with Germans and was not once suspected of being British! Then many of the men’s off-duty antics, both in the mountains of Crete and on a long furlough in Cairo, reminded me of what Hawkeye and Trapper or Hawkeye and BJ did on M*A*S*H (another favorite)! I also liked how the book balanced mission planning with the actual missions; not all in war is battles. I enjoyed understanding the thought process and tactics, something I do not think many books go into on the level I desire. In all this appealed to both the historian in me and entertained me; the military operations are worthy of study while the social situations add unexpected humor.
I will note, I did receive my advanced reader copy via a Goodreads First Reads win. I thought I would enjoy The Ariadne Objective based on the summary; it far exceeded my expectations.
On another note, I originally planned to combine two reviews in this post. However, since both were over 600 words I decided to split the post in two. Next week, another Special Operations Executive history will be presented.
Lastly, Happy Veteran’s Day and Armistice Day to my readers. To all veterans, thank you for your service!