Major  Dennis John Ciclitira  2/4th Battalion Essex Regiment 1939-1940 & SOE

Ciclitira was born in Patras, Greece in 1918 & moved to the UK when his family emigrated.

The family settled in Westcliff-on-Sea, but Dennis was sent first to boarding school, then to Greece to learn the family business - dried fruit.

But as war loomed, he returned to the UK.

In 1939, he joined up into the 2/4th Essex Regiment & graduated as an officer in 1940.

He served 2 years with the South Staffords, then joined the Special Operations Executive (SOE).

SOE’s business was spying, sabotage & liaison with resistance groups in Occupied Europe.

In Oct 1942, Ciclitira moved to ‘Force 133’, the area of SOE with responsibility for the Mediterranean.

Based in Cairo, his role involved organising arms & supply drops for the resistance forces in Crete.


A year later in Dec 1943, he moved to Crete as Major Ciclitira - codename Dionysios - to command SOE actions in the west of the island.

It seems he adapted well to living in a cave in the mountains. Fellow SOE officer, Billy Moss described Ciclitira: “ He has grown an impressive beard, which he treats with the affection of a spinster for her favourite cat, and wears an elegant sort of musical comedy costume, complete with wine coloured cummerbund, turban and all the usual trimmings.”

On April 26th 1944, an SOE team led by Billy Moss & Patrick Leigh Fermor (PLF) carried out the audacious capture of a German General, Heinrich Kreipe, near his HQ just south of Heraklion. This became the subject of the 1957 film, 'Ill Met by Moonlight'.

For a week, they evaded German search parties, then met up with Ciclitira & a team of resistance fighters. Ciclitira had a radio & arranged for naval assistance to extract them & their captive.

On May 14th, the party reached Rodakino beach from where they were to be evacuated.

Darkness fell on the beach & the hour approached. Suddenly Moss & PLF realised neither knew enough morse code to signal the correct password to the incoming SBS rescue team.

They began to flash their torches desperately at the SBS rescue team. Fortunately, Ciclitira saw what was happening, muttered “Bloody fools!” before grabbing a torch & giving the right series of flashes. The team was successfully extracted, including Ciclitira.

Ciclitira returned to Crete in late 1944 to continue his work.

In early 1945, the situation had changed and the Germans began to evacuate their forces on Crete to the west of the island. They took with them a number of prisoners, who, it was feared, would be executed.

Contact was made with the Germans & a meeting was held between Ciclitira, Captain Anders Lassen of the SBS & the Germans, mediated by Bishop Xirouhakis of Chania.

The meeting dragged on & on & on. Finally, Lassen exasperatedly suggested holding a 'Germans vs Allies' football match, winner taking all, an idea which apparently greatly amused the Bishop.

After further negotiations, 36 German POWs were exchanged for the dozen captured Cretan resistance fighters.One of them, Konstantinos Mitsotakis, later became Prime Minister of Greece & had a son who is the current Greek PM.

On May 8th, Ciclitira was ordered to contact the German commanding officer, General Benthack, to discuss the surrender. For this, Ciclitira employed the services of Mitsotakis, who spoke German.

Wearing civilian suits, the 2 men visited General Benthack. It was quickly realised that, according to protocol, Benthack could only surrender to an officer of equal rank.

 Ciclitira said he would arrange this within minutes. Benthack asked how he could act so quickly. Ciclitira astounded the general by revealing that his own radio transmitter had been in the house next door to the German HQ, thus hidden from German radio detection units!

Unfortunately, despite his many exploits and his efforts, no medal was ever awarded to Ciclitira. In May 1946, however, he was mentioned in dispatches for his work in Crete.


After being demobbed, he returned to the UK.

His father, Demosthenes, had sadly died in 1943, so Dennis & his brother David set about reviving the family dried fruit importing business.  This they did, making it one of the leading UK importers of dried fruit.

And so the end of this story comes with the passing of Major Dennis Ciclitira on 9th June 2000.

Thanks to Pete Blanchard aka @RivetsAndPins on twitter for providing this fascinating account of a man whose exploits deserve to be known to a wider audience