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What was Operation Mincemeat?

What was Operation Mincemeat?


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During World War II, British intelligence officers managed to pull off one of the most successful wartime deceptions ever achieved: Operation Mincemeat. In April 1943, a decomposing corpse was discovered floating off the coast of Huelva, in southern Spain. Personal documents identified him as Major William Martin of Britain’s Royal Marines, and he had a black attaché case chained to his wrist. When Nazi intelligence learned of the downed officer’s briefcase (as well as concerted efforts made by the British to retrieve the case), they did all they could to gain access. Though Spain was officially neutral in the conflict, much of its military was pro-German, and the Nazis were able to find an officer in Madrid to help them. In addition to other personal effects and official-looking documents, they found a letter from military authorities in London to a senior British officer in Tunisia, indicating that Allied armies were preparing to cross the Mediterranean from their positions in North Africa and attack German-held Greece and Sardinia.

This intelligence coup for the Nazi spy network allowed Adolf Hitler to transfer German troops from France to Greece ahead of what was believed to be a massive enemy invasion. The only problem? It was all a hoax. The “drowned” man was actually a Welsh tramp whose body was obtained in a London morgue by British intelligence officers Charles Cholmondeley and Ewen Montagu, the brains behind Operation Mincemeat. After creating an elaborate fake identity and backstory for “William Martin,” Cholmondeley and Montagu got Charles Fraser-Smith (thought to be the model for Q in the James Bond novels, written by former British naval intelligence officer Ian Fleming) to design a special container to preserve the body during its time in the water. One of England’s leading racecar drivers transported the container to a Royal Navy submarine, which dropped it off the Spanish coast. Once the Spanish recovered the body, British authorities began their frantic attempts to recover the case, counting on the fact that their efforts would convince the Nazis of the documents’ validity. As a result of the false intelligence carried by “William Martin,” the Nazis were caught unawares when 160,000 Allied troops invaded Sicily on July 10, 1943. In addition to saving thousands of Allied soldiers’ lives, Operation Mincemeat helped further Italian leader Benito Mussolini’s downfall and turn the tide of the war towards an Allied victory in Europe.


What the Vice-Consul was not told was that there had also been found, chained to the body through the belt of its trench-coat, a locked leather briefcase. Now Spain, as a technically neutral country, had a clear duty to return this case unopened to the British Embassy in Madrid and when after urgent representations by the Naval Attaché it was duly delivered to him nearly a fortnight later, it showed no sign of having been tampered with. Subsequent events, however, proved that in fact it had, and that within a week of its first discovery translations of the two principal letters it contained were being studied with some care by the German Intelligence Service in Berlin.

The first of these letters, addressed to General Sir Harold Alexander, in Tunisia, was signed by the Vice-Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Sir Archibald Nye. The second was from Vice-Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, Chief of Combined Operations in London, to Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham, Commander-in-Chief Mediterranean. Both letters were genuine it was only the information they contained that was not – for, read together, they made it clear that the Allies were planning two simultaneous attacks on Europe, one through Sardinia and the other through southern Greece, to cover which they intended to try to deceive the enemy into thinking that the real target for their attack was Sicily.

Since Sicily was indeed the target, this was a perfect double-bluff and, thanks to the ingenuity with which it was planned and the meticulous care with which it was carried out, it worked superbly. Those responsible for it in London had counted on the strong pro-Axis sympathies of Franco’s Spain to ensure that the planted documents found their way into German hands, and on German efficiency to do the rest. As a result, the Allied invasion of Sicily on 10 July – just ten weeks after the finding of ‘Major Martin’s’ body – caught the Germans utterly unprepared, with the defence forces that had been intended for the island diverted at the last moment to Corsica, Sardinia and the Balkans. Even after the invasion was in full swing, the German High Command insisted on looking upon it as a feint and as late as 23 July we find the Führer himself – always notoriously slow to change his mind once an idea had become fixed in it – appointing his most trusted general, Erwin Rommel, to the defence of Greece.

Such, briefly and baldly, is the story of ‘Operation Mincemeat’ – as the scheme was named, with a nice sense of the macabre, by its principal begetters, planners and executors, a team led by Lieutenant-Commander Ewen Montagu RNVR. A decade later Mr Montagu – no longer a lieutenant- commander but Judge Advocate of the Fleet – was to write the true story of the operation in a book which he called The Man Who Never Was and it is that book which occupies the second half of the present volume.

It was an apt and admirable title, which was very wisely retained for the most successful film that followed but it was also in one sense something of a misnomer. ‘Major Martin’, to be sure, never existed. His name, like the whole persona with which he was brilliantly and imaginatively endowed – by means of keys, photographs, an invitation to a nightclub, theatre-ticket stubs, a tailor’s bill (paid, somewhat improbably), letters from father and fiancée, a bank and a solicitor – was an invention of Lt-Cdr Montagu’s.

But the body which was slipped from the Seraph that spring night – that, surely, was real enough. And if it was not William Martin’s, whose was it? Who was this man, obscure and nondescript as he must have been, whose single moment of glory occurred after his death, and whose dead body achieved more than most men achieve in their lives? Speculation continues to this day. In 1996 previously secret papers became available in which it was suggested that the body was actually that of a Welsh tramp named Glyndwr Michael, who had died in January 1943 after drinking rat poison. Some doubts, however, still persisted: what if the Spaniards had carried out a post mortem and found traces of the poison? Such a discovery would have rendered the entire operation useless would those who planned it really have taken such a risk? The book, The Secrets of HMS Dasher by John and Noreen Steele, claims that when that ship – an aircraft carrier – blew up in mysterious circumstances in the Clyde in 1943 with the loss of 379 lives, the number of recovered bodies officially listed was greater than that of those buried by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission they believe that ‘Major Martin’ was one of the former, possibly that of Sub-Lieutenant John McFarlane, whose father’s request for his son’s body for private burial was refused. In support of this theory they point out that according to Admiral Norman Jewell, who as a young lieutenant had commanded the Seraph, he had received last-minute orders to sail to Holy Loch, only eight miles from where Dasher went down.

At the time of writing, the most recent evidence to have come to light takes the form of a letter to the Daily Telegraph published on 13 August 2002. In it Mr Ivor Leverton, proprietor of a well-known firm of undertakers, tells of how some sixty years ago he had been instructed by the St Pancras coroner – secretly, and at 1 a.m. – to transfer a corpse from the local mortuary to that of Hackney. He adds that the body measured six foot four inches. But was it ‘Major Martin’? Would a body so unusually tall have been selected for such a mission? All these questions remain unanswered but let me quote Mr Montagu:

“At last, when we had begun to feel that it would have either to be a ‘Burke and Hare’ after all or we would have to extend our enquiries so widely as to risk suspicion of our motives turning into gossip, we heard of someone who had just died from pneumonia after exposure: pathologically speaking, it looked as if he might answer our requirements. We made feverish enquiries into his past and about his relatives we were soon satisfied that these would not talk or pass on such information as we could give them. But there was still the crucial question: could we get permission to use the body without saying what we proposed to do with it and why? All we could possibly tell anyone was that we could guarantee that the purpose would be a really worthwhile one, as anything that was done would be with approval on the highest level, and that the remains would eventually receive proper burial, though under a false name. Permission, for which our indebtedness is great, was obtained on condition that I should never let it be known whose corpse it was.”

Nor did he and, as we have seen, historians have been speculating ever since. Even if we discount the rat poison and accept the facts as he gives them – as surely we must – we are still no nearer to the truth. Welsh tramps can easily die of ‘pneumonia after exposure’ so can young naval officers after disasters such as that suffered by the Dasher so – given the right circumstances – can almost anybody. When Mr Montagu died in July 1985 he took the secret with him and I for one am very glad that he did.

Extracted from The Man Who Never Was by Ewen Montagu


Operation Mincemeat – How the Allies Tricked Hitler to open the gates of Sicily

World War II was fought on battlefields across the globe, with staggering numbers of casualties amassing on all sides. But under the cloak of darkness, shadowy secret services controlled some of the most important outcomes of the war. As large-scale operations like amphibious landings became the game-changing element of this conflict, the use of intelligence proved to be vital. Cyphered messages were cracked on a daily basis and the game became more and more complex. In order to confuse the enemy, the Allies sometimes reached for the most incredible ideas.

One of the less known, but extremely important endeavors of the war was Operation Mincemeat. In the wake of the Allied landings in Sicily, which lead to the capitulation of Fascist Italy in 1943, the British secret service offered its support by initiating Operation Barkley.

While the landings in Sicily were codenamed Operation Husky, Operation Barkley was the intelligence operation which would convince the Germans that the landings were going to take place in Crete and Sardinia, rather than in Sicily. Sicily, of course, was the obvious choice in words of Winston Churchill himself: “Everyone but a bloody fool would know that it’s Sicily.”

So it became a primary objective of the MI5 to somehow dissuade the Germans that the Allied attack would come at the obvious point. German military intelligence, the Abwehr, was often suspicious of planted information ― so suspicious that when they examined a crashed aircraft which contained real documents in 1942, they dismissed the account as false. The documents contained information on General Eisenhower’s visit to the Gibraltar that was scheduled for November, 4th, 1942 and it was pure luck that the data didn’t leak. The Spanish authorities eventually returned the bodies to Britain, with documents still in the envelope.

German military intelligence, the Abwehr, was often suspicious of planted information ― so suspicious that when they examined a crashed aircraft which contained real documents in 1942, they dismissed the account as false. The documents contained information on General Eisenhower’s visit to the Gibraltar that was scheduled for November, 4th, 1942 and it was pure luck that the data didn’t leak. The Spanish authorities eventually returned the bodies to Britain, with documents still in the envelope.

Inspired by this fortunate event, the Allies came up with a plan of delivering a dead body off the coast of Spain. Spain, under the fascist dictator, Francisco Franco, and despite its nominal military neutrality, was more than eager to share intelligence data with the Germans.

Montagu and Cholmondeley.

As part of Operation Barkley, Operation Mincemeat was in effect. Under the guidance of First Lieutenant Charles Cholmondeley and Lieutenant Commander Ewen Montagu, the idea was developed in the chambers of the Twenty Committee, which was the codename of the British counter-intelligence service. It was later confirmed that the author of the James Bond novels, Ian Flemming, was also part of this operation, as a counter-intelligence agent.

With the help of an expert pathologist, they went through a selection of corpses, since the imaginary officer that would be washed ashore needed to seem as realistic as possible. They needed a body of a man that would appear to have died from drowning or hypothermia, as the plan was to create a plane crash scenario that happened over the sea. However, finding a usable body seemed almost impossible, as indiscreet inquiries would cause talk, and it was impossible to tell a dead man’s next of kin what the body was wanted for.

Dwelling in the morgues of England, the two operatives in charge found a body of a 34-year old Welshman called Glyndwr Michael. The man was an alcoholic who had lost both of his parents. His death was attributed to rat poisoning, and it was determined that he had taken his own life. The body of Glyndwr Michael served as a basis of the plot. A false identity was constructed. He was given the name William Martins, a Major in the Royal Marines.

The rank, the name, and the military branch all fitted nicely into a profile of a man who was high-ranking enough to be trusted with documents, but low enough to be completely unknown to the enemy. “Major Martin” was very common in the British Army, as there were several men with the same name and rank as the fictional officer. Since the Navy uniforms were tailored, Montagu and Cholmondeley decided to go with the Royal Marines, for it was easier to procure a simple battledress, than to risk employing a tailor into the top secret mission. A piece of clever planning was certainly the fact that the alleged Major Martin was a Roman-Catholic from Wales. It was hoped that Spain, a predominantly Catholic country, would respect the dead by avoiding an autopsy.

“Major Martin” was even given a fiancee called Pam. Her picture was planted into his pocket. “Pam” was actually an MI5 clerk named Nancy Jean Leslie. Two love letters were also attached to the corpse.

The body was placed in a steel canister with dry ice to stop decomposition. It was then loaded on a submarine, fitted with a life jacket and laid in the water in the early morning of the 30th of April, 1943. The submarine captain read a passage from the Psalm 39. He did this on his own initiative there were no orders to honor the body in this way.

A picture of the fictitious girlfriend “Pam” of Major Bill Martin. In reality this picture is that of a member of the MI5 clerical staff, Nancy Jean Leslie.

As was predicted, the body was found the same day, by a fisherman near the town of Huelva. The body was then reported to the German consulate and the documents were seized. Since “Major Martin” wore a silver crucifix and a St. Christopher’s plaque, he was immediately recognized as Catholic by the Spanish authorities. Thus, a mere examination was conducted, which concluded that the cause of death was drowning and that the body had been at sea for three or five days. Since the Spanish pathologist confirmed the authenticity of the corpse, there was no further inquiry about whether or not the documents on the body were planted.

ID card of Major Martin. By Ewen Montagu Team – Montagu, E.: The Man Who Never Was, London 1953.

The documents were very convincing. They mentioned a variety of common topics, such as medal recommendations and the changing of commanding officers for existing units. They also stated very clearly that the invasion was going to take place predominantly in Crete, with a secondary invasion on the island of Sardinia. The report also mentioned that the Allies wanted to convince the Germans that the landings were to be carried out in Sicily, so they would leave Crete and Sardinia unguarded. This was the crowning success ― convincing the enemy to abandon the most logical position in a pursuit of the alternative options by saying: “Even we aren’t stupid enough to land in Sicily!”

British Troops on the shores of Sicily, 10th of July, 1943.

Operation Husky was a success. Looking back, it was obvious that the Germans had been duped. The long-term success of Operation Mincemeat was reflected later during Operations Overlord and Market Garden, when some captured documents which were genuine were immediately dismissed as plants.


This Day in History 1943: Operation Mincemeat

A while ago I wrote about a 1917 saddle bag with bogus British battle plans that “fell” off a horse near the Turkish front lines. It was deception, which had a decisive influence.

Despite similarity, we’re led to believe that it did not inspire missions that had a huge impact in WWII. Instead, WWII missions are said to have been inspired by real life instead of an earlier deception operation.

On September 25, 1942 a British plane crashed on the coast of Spain. There were no survivors one fatality in particular that worried Allied commanders was a courier who carried sensitive documents about invasion plans for North Africa, called Operation Torch.

Allegedly those documents didn’t leak yet it was this incident that inspired Allied intelligence to attempt an intentional leak.

They set about staging a series of ruses and incidents (Operation Barclay) designed to get the Germans to take fake documents that would disorient them during coming southern Europe invasion plans for the summer of 1943 called Operation Husky.

Therefore on this day — April 19th — in 1943 the HMS Seraph submarine set sail for the coast of Spain to release a long-dead corpse of a London homeless man (preserved in a steel canister of dry ice, after starvation had led him to eat rat bait). He was dressed as a British major and “pushed” out to sea.

Like the WWI saddle bag ploy, this decoy carried fake papers (including love letters, bank statements and receipts) as well as a briefcase filled with maps of Greece. I’ve found no evidence of poetry.

Because Nazis were so embedded and influential within Spain’s fascist government, especially in small southwestern cities like Huelva near Morocco, they were easily pulled into fake papers on a British corpse.

A fisherman dragged the body to Spanish authorities, a German spy quickly was summoned and was so excited he ran straight to Berlin.

Mincemeat swallowed rod, line and sinker.

The Allies then saw far fewer German resources during invasion of Sicily, moving more quickly and with fewer losses than anticipated, while the duped Nazis sat ready for action in Greece. Hitler even pulled troops off actual battles further weakening them just to sit and wait in the wrong spot. With Rommel easily routed by November 1942, the simple decoy operation sent Nazi command into disarray. Axis forces began to rapidly collapse such that Italy was invaded in July and quickly defeated by September 1943.

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Glyndwr Michael

The agent used in Operation Mincemeat was worlds away from the charming and sophisticated agent popular culture often likes to depict – he was a semi-literate tramp from Aberbargoed, Wales. This agent’s name was Glyndwr Michael. Whats more is that Michael was already dead when he successfully carried out his mission.

Michael’s personal history is one of sadness and tragedy. His father committed suicide when he was just fifteen years old and his mother died sixteen years later. He was left penniless, homeless, and depressed. Shortly after the death of his mother, Michael moved to London in search of work and money. This move ultimately turned out to be fruitless and he had no other option but to live on the streets. It was not long until his unconscious body was found lying in an abandoned warehouse near Kings-Cross. He was on deaths door after ingesting rat poison that contained phosphorus. He died two days later in hospital. Many believe he took his fathers course of action and consumed the poison to purposefully kill himself. However, it has also been said that his death was an accident and that the poison had been smeared onto pieces of bread to attract and kill rats, and Michael, desperate for food, ate the bread.

It is at this point that Glyndwr Michael’s life takes a turn to the extraordinary. The government had been looking for a dead body to be used in a mission that would be used to deceive Hitler himself. ‘Operation Mincemeat’ involved giving the Germans ‘top secret’ documents that detailed an imminent invasion of Greece and Sardinia by Allied soldiers. The documents were to be attached to the apparent dead body of a British pilot that would be found washed up on the shores of Punta Umbria, Spain.


Operation Mincemeat and the Man Who Never Was

One frustrating problem facing the planners of Operation Husky was the fact that Sicily, sitting like a stepping stone between North Africa and the Italian mainland, was just too obvious a target. “Anybody but a damn fool would know it was Sicily,” British Prime Minister Winston Churchill observed.

Lieutenant Commander Ewen Montagu, an attorney turned British Naval Intelligence officer, thought he had the solution. “Why shouldn’t we get a body, disguise it as a staff officer, and give him really high-level papers which will show clearly that we are going to attack somewhere else?” Montagu pondered.

Thus was born Operation Mincemeat and Captain (Acting Major) William Martin, Royal Marines, now known as “the man who never was.”

As Montagu later wrote, his plan called for letting the corpse of a high-level courier, apparently drowned at sea after a plane crash, wash ashore in ostensibly neutral Spain where German agents were known to operate.

Working on the advice of a pathologist, Montagu said he located a victim of pneumonia the fluid left in the body’s lungs could be mistaken for sea water. The victim’s family agreed to allow the use of the body for “special medical purposes” on the condition that his true identity was never revealed.

With the corpse preserved in dry ice, Montagu’s XX (Double Cross) Committee in London built Major Martin’s identity. He was dressed in a Royal Marine uniform that was pre-torn and pre-soaked in sea water. Letters from a fiancée, a disapproving father, theater ticket stubs, and bank overdraft statements added to his personality.

Photographing a Corpse

Martin’s identity papers provided the first stumbling block. “I defy anyone to take a photograph of someone who is dead and make it look as he could conceivably be alive,” Montagu wrote after the war. Chance provided the solution: at a meeting, Montagu met a man “who might have been the twin brother of the corpse.”

Strapped to Major Martin’s waist was a courier’s briefcase containing papers hinting at an Allied invasion in Greece and Sardinia. The two made believable targets from there Allied troops could push north through the Balkans to threaten the German southern flank in Russia.

On April 30, 1943, sailors aboard the submarine HMS Seraph lowered Major Martin’s body into the ocean a few miles off the Spanish coastal city of Huelva. Less than two hours later, the body was discovered by a fisherman who took it ashore.

Days later, British Embassy staff retrieved Martin’s briefcase from the Huelva coroner. Microscopic examination showed the case had been opened and its papers examined. Two weeks later, German Admiral Karl Doenitz wrote in his diary: “The genuineness of the captured documents is above suspicion.”

More importantly, the papers convinced Adolf Hitler. Despite the concerns of his generals in Italy, Hitler ordered troops rushed from France, Russia and Sicily to reinforce Corsica, Sardinia, Greece and the Balkans.

The Debate Begins

The body of “Major Martin” was buried in Huelva with full honors. Montagu never revealed his real identity.

Martin’s true name remained a mystery until 1996 when amateur historian Roger Morgan deduced the major was, in fact, Glyndwr Michael, a homeless Welshman who died after ingesting rat poison.

However, in 2003 a documentary on the sinking of the HMS Dasher, a British aircraft carrier that sank mysteriously during WWII, claimed Major Martin was actually John Melville, a Dasher crewman who drowned during the sinking.

Seven years later, historian Denis Smyth, author of Deathly Deception: The Real Story of Operation Mincemeat, cited a formerly top secret memo written by Montagu identifying the corpse as the Welshman Glyndwr Michael.

That, however, did not put the matter to rest. John Steele, author of The Secrets of HMS Dasher, published in 2002, insisted Michael would not have passed muster as a Marine because he was an alcoholic.

“I’ve received a comprehensive report from a top dental expert regarding the teeth of Glyndwr Michael, what he would expect to find,” Steele told the London Telegraph in 2010. “There is no comparison whatsoever between the body of an alcoholic tramp and that of a Royal Marine.”

Nevertheless, the official stance of the British Defense Ministry and the Royal Navy remains that Major Martin was, in fact, Glyndwr Michael. With all probability, the “Man Who Never Was” will never really be known.


3. She is the only survivor of her class

Of the first six frigates, the Constitution is the only survivor. Sister ship USS Constellation was thought to have been converted to a sloop and preserved in Baltimore, but later research determined the Navy had scrapped the original vessel. The frigates USS Chesapeake and USS President were captured by the British. USS United States was captured by the Confederates, but eventually scuttled and scrapped.

USS Congress was scrapped in 1834.


Operation Mincemeat: The True Spy Story That Changed the Course of World War II

One April morning in 1943, a sardine fisherman spotted the corpse of a British soldier floating in the sea off the coast of Spain and set in train a course of events that would change the course of the Second World War. Operation Mincemeat was the most successful wartime deception ever attempted, and certainly the strangest. It hoodwinked the Nazi espionage chiefs, sent German troops hurtling in the wrong direction, and saved thousands of lives by deploying a secret agent who was different, in one crucial respect, from any spy before or since: he was dead. His mission: to convince the Germans that instead of attacking Sicily, the Allied armies planned to invade Greece. The brainchild of an eccentric RAF officer and a brilliant Jewish barrister, the great hoax involved an extraordinary cast of characters including a famous forensic pathologist, a gold-prospector, an inventor, a beautiful secret service secretary, a submarine captain, three novelists, a transvestite English spymaster, an irascible admiral who loved fly-fishing, and a dead Welsh tramp. Using fraud, imagination and seduction, Churchill's team of spies spun a web of deceit so elaborate and so convincing that they began to believe it themselves. The deception started in a windowless basement beneath Whitehall. It travelled from London to Scotland to Spain to Germany. And it ended up on Hitler's desk. Ben Macintyre, bestselling author of "Agent Zigzag", weaves together private documents, photographs, memories, letters and diaries, as well as newly released material from the intelligence files of MI5 and Naval Intelligence, to tell for the first time the full story of Operation Mincemeat.

Chapter One
The Sardine Spotter

José Antonio Rey María had no intention of making history when he rowed out into the Atlantic from the coast of Andalusia in southwest Spain on April 30, 1943. He was merely looking for sardines.

José was proud of his reputation as the best fish spotter in Punta Umbria. On a clear day, he could pick out the telltale iridescent flash of sardines several fathoms deep. When he saw a shoal, José would mark the place with a buoy and then signal to Pepe Cordero and the other fishermen in the larger boat, La Calina, to row over swiftly with the horseshoe net.

But the weather today was bad for fish spotting. The sky was overcast, and an onshore wind ruffled the water's surface. The fishermen of Punta Umbria had set out before dawn, but so far they had caught only anchovies and a few bream. Rowing Ana, his little skiff, in a wide arc, José scanned the water again, the rising sun warming his back. On the shore, he could see the little cluster of fishing huts beneath the dunes on Playa del Portil, his home. Beyond that, past the estuary where the rivers Odiel and Tinto flowed into the sea, lay the port of Huelva.

The war, now in its fourth year, had hardly touched this part of Spain. Sometimes José would come across strange flotsam in the water- fragments of charred wood, pools of oil, and other debris that told of battles somewhere out at sea. Earlier that morning, he had heard gunfire in the distance, and a loud explosion. Pepe said that the war was ruining the fishing business, as no one had any money, and he might have to sell La Calina and Ana. It was rumoured that the captains of some of the larger fishing boats spied for the Germans or the British. But in most ways the hard lives of the fishermen continued as they had always done.

José had been born on the beach, in a hut made from driftwood, twenty- three years earlier. He had never traveled beyond Huelva. He had never been to school or learned to read and write. But no one in Punta Umbria was better at spotting fish.

It was midmorning when José noticed a "lump" above the surface of the water. At first he thought it must be a dead porpoise, but as he rowed closer the shape grew clearer, and then unmistakable. It was a body, floating, facedown, buoyed by a yellow life jacket, the lower part of the torso invisible. The figure seemed to be dressed in uniform.

As he reached over the gunwale to grab the body, José caught a gust of putrefaction and found himself looking into the face of a man, or, rather, what had been the face of a man. The chin was entirely covered in green mold, while the upper part of the face was dark, as if tanned by the sun. José wondered if the dead man had been burned in some accident at sea. The skin on the nose and chin had begun to rot away.

José waved and shouted to the other fishermen. As La Calina drew alongside, Pepe and the crew clustered to the gunwale. José called for them to throw down a rope and haul the body aboard, but "no-one wanted to touch it." Annoyed, José realized he would have to bring it ashore himself. Seizing a handful of sodden uniform, he hauled the corpse onto the stern, and with the legs still trailing in the water, he rowed back to shore, trying not to breathe in the smell.

On the part of the beach called La Bota-the boot-José and Pepe dragged the body up to the dunes. A black briefcase, attached to the man by a chain, trailed in the sand behind them. They laid out the corpse in the shade of a pine tree. Children streamed out of the huts and gathered around the gruesome spectacle. The man was tall, at least six feet, dressed in a khaki tunic and trench coat, with large army boots. Seventeen-year-old Obdulia Serrano spotted a small silver chain with a cross around his neck. The dead man must have been a Roman Catholic.

Obdulia was sent to summon the officer from the defense unit guarding this part of the coast. A dozen men of Spain's Seventy-second Infantry Regiment had been marching up and down the beach earlier that morning, as they did, rather pointlessly, most mornings, and the soldiers were now taking a siesta under the trees. The officer ordered two of his men to stand guard over the body, in case someone tried to go through the dead man's pockets, and trudged off up the beach to find his commanding officer.

The scent of the wild rosemary and jacaranda growing in the dunes could not mask the stench of decomposition. Flies buzzed around the body. The soldiers moved upwind. Somebody went to fetch a donkey to carry the body to the village of Punta Umbria four miles away. From there, it could be taken by boat across the estuary to Huelva. The children dispersed.

José Antonio Rey María, perfectly unaware of the events he had just set in motion, pushed his little boat back into the sea and resumed his search for sardines.

Two months earlier, in a tiny, tobacco-stained basement room beneath the Admiralty building in Whitehall, two men had sat puzzling over a conundrum of their own devising: how to create a person from nothing, a man who had never been. The younger man was tall and thin, with thick spectacles and an elaborate air-force mustache, which he twiddled in rapt concentration. The other, elegant and languid, was dressed in naval uniform and sucked on a curved pipe that fizzed and crackled evilly. The stuffy underground cavern lacked windows, natural light, and ventilation. The walls were covered in large maps and the ceiling stained a greasy nicotine yellow. It had once been a wine cellar. Now it was home to a section of the British Secret Service made up of four intelligence officers, seven secretaries and typists, six typewriters, a bank of locked filing cabinets, a dozen ashtrays, and two scrambler telephones. Section 17M was so secret that barely twenty people outside the room even knew of its existence.

Room 13 of the Admiralty was a clearinghouse of secrets, lies, and whispers. Every day the most lethal and valuable intelligence-decoded messages, deception plans, enemy troop movements, coded spy reports, and other mysteries-poured into this little basement room, where they were analyzed, assessed, and dispatched to distant parts of the world, the armor and ammunition of a secret war.

The two officers-Pipe and Mustache-were also responsible for running agents and double agents, espionage and counterespionage, intelligence, fakery, and fraud: they passed lies to the enemy that were false and damaging, as well as information that was true but harmless they ran willing spies, reluctant spies pressed into service, and spies who did not exist at all. Now, with the war at its height, they set about creating a spy who was different from all the others and all that had come before: a secret agent who was not only fictional but dead.

The defining feature of this spy would be his falsity. He was a pure figment of imagination, a weapon in a war far removed from the traditional battle of bombs and bullets. At its most visible, war is fought with leadership, courage, tactics, and brute force this is the conventional war of attack and counterattack, lines on a map, numbers and luck. This war is usually painted in black, white, and blood red, with winners, losers, and casualties: the good, the bad, and the dead. Alongside that conflict is another, less visible species of war, played out in shades of gray, a battle of deception, seduction, and bad faith, of tricks and mirrors, in which the truth is protected, as Churchill put it, by a "bodyguard of lies." The combatants in this war of the imagination were seldom what they seemed to be, for the covert world, in which fiction and reality are sometimes enemies and sometimes allies, attracts minds that are subtle, supple, and often extremely strange.

The man lying in the dunes at Punta Umbria was a fraud. The lies he carried would fly from London to Madrid to Berlin, traveling from a freezing Scottish loch to the shores of Sicily, from fiction to reality, and from Room 13 of the Admiralty all the way to Hitler's desk.

From the Hardcover edition.

"A nearly flawless true-life picaresque…zeroes in on one of the few times in war history when excessive literary imagination, instead of hobbling a clandestine enterprise, worked beyond its authors’ wildest dream….Almost inedibly rich with literary truffles—doppelgangers, obsession, transgression, self-fashioning….It is hard to overstate how cinematic this story really was."


Operation Mincemeat – How the Allies Tricked Hitler to open the gates of Sicily

World War II was fought on battlefields across the globe, with staggering numbers of casualties amassing on all sides. But under the cloak of darkness, shadowy secret services controlled some of the most important outcomes of the war. As large-scale operations like amphibious landings became the game-changing element of this conflict, the use of intelligence proved to be vital. Cyphered messages were cracked on a daily basis and the game became more and more complex. In order to confuse the enemy, the Allies sometimes reached for the most incredible ideas.

One of the less known, but extremely important endeavors of the war was Operation Mincemeat. In the wake of the Allied landings in Sicily, which lead to the capitulation of Fascist Italy in 1943, the British secret service offered its support by initiating Operation Barkley.

While the landings in Sicily were codenamed Operation Husky, Operation Barkley was the intelligence operation which would convince the Germans that the landings were going to take place in Crete and Sardinia, rather than in Sicily. Sicily, of course, was the obvious choice in words of Winston Churchill himself: “Everyone but a bloody fool would know that it’s Sicily.”

So it became a primary objective of the MI5 to somehow dissuade the Germans that the Allied attack would come at the obvious point. German military intelligence, the Abwehr, was often suspicious of planted information ― so suspicious that when they examined a crashed aircraft which contained real documents in 1942, they dismissed the account as false. The documents contained information on General Eisenhower’s visit to the Gibraltar that was scheduled for November, 4th, 1942 and it was pure luck that the data didn’t leak. The Spanish authorities eventually returned the bodies to Britain, with documents still in the envelope.

German military intelligence, the Abwehr, was often suspicious of planted information ― so suspicious that when they examined a crashed aircraft which contained real documents in 1942, they dismissed the account as false. The documents contained information on General Eisenhower’s visit to the Gibraltar that was scheduled for November, 4th, 1942 and it was pure luck that the data didn’t leak. The Spanish authorities eventually returned the bodies to Britain, with documents still in the envelope.

Inspired by this fortunate event, the Allies came up with a plan of delivering a dead body off the coast of Spain. Spain, under the fascist dictator, Francisco Franco, and despite its nominal military neutrality, was more than eager to share intelligence data with the Germans.

Montagu and Cholmondeley.

As part of Operation Barkley, Operation Mincemeat was in effect. Under the guidance of First Lieutenant Charles Cholmondeley and Lieutenant Commander Ewen Montagu, the idea was developed in the chambers of the Twenty Committee, which was the codename of the British counter-intelligence service. It was later confirmed that the author of the James Bond novels, Ian Flemming, was also part of this operation, as a counter-intelligence agent.

With the help of an expert pathologist, they went through a selection of corpses, since the imaginary officer that would be washed ashore needed to seem as realistic as possible. They needed a body of a man that would appear to have died from drowning or hypothermia, as the plan was to create a plane crash scenario that happened over the sea. However, finding a usable body seemed almost impossible, as indiscreet inquiries would cause talk, and it was impossible to tell a dead man’s next of kin what the body was wanted for.

Dwelling in the morgues of England, the two operatives in charge found a body of a 34-year old Welshman called Glyndwr Michael. The man was an alcoholic who had lost both of his parents. His death was attributed to rat poisoning, and it was determined that he had taken his own life. The body of Glyndwr Michael served as a basis of the plot. A false identity was constructed. He was given the name William Martins, a Major in the Royal Marines.

The rank, the name, and the military branch all fitted nicely into a profile of a man who was high-ranking enough to be trusted with documents, but low enough to be completely unknown to the enemy. “Major Martin” was very common in the British Army, as there were several men with the same name and rank as the fictional officer. Since the Navy uniforms were tailored, Montagu and Cholmondeley decided to go with the Royal Marines, for it was easier to procure a simple battledress, than to risk employing a tailor into the top secret mission. A piece of clever planning was certainly the fact that the alleged Major Martin was a Roman-Catholic from Wales. It was hoped that Spain, a predominantly Catholic country, would respect the dead by avoiding an autopsy.

“Major Martin” was even given a fiancee called Pam. Her picture was planted into his pocket. “Pam” was actually an MI5 clerk named Nancy Jean Leslie. Two love letters were also attached to the corpse.

The body was placed in a steel canister with dry ice to stop decomposition. It was then loaded on a submarine, fitted with a life jacket and laid in the water in the early morning of the 30th of April, 1943. The submarine captain read a passage from the Psalm 39. He did this on his own initiative there were no orders to honor the body in this way.

A picture of the fictitious girlfriend “Pam” of Major Bill Martin. In reality this picture is that of a member of the MI5 clerical staff, Nancy Jean Leslie.

As was predicted, the body was found the same day, by a fisherman near the town of Huelva. The body was then reported to the German consulate and the documents were seized. Since “Major Martin” wore a silver crucifix and a St. Christopher’s plaque, he was immediately recognized as Catholic by the Spanish authorities. Thus, a mere examination was conducted, which concluded that the cause of death was drowning and that the body had been at sea for three or five days. Since the Spanish pathologist confirmed the authenticity of the corpse, there was no further inquiry about whether or not the documents on the body were planted.

ID card of Major Martin. By Ewen Montagu Team – Montagu, E.: The Man Who Never Was, London 1953.

The documents were very convincing. They mentioned a variety of common topics, such as medal recommendations and the changing of commanding officers for existing units. They also stated very clearly that the invasion was going to take place predominantly in Crete, with a secondary invasion on the island of Sardinia. The report also mentioned that the Allies wanted to convince the Germans that the landings were to be carried out in Sicily, so they would leave Crete and Sardinia unguarded. This was the crowning success ― convincing the enemy to abandon the most logical position in a pursuit of the alternative options by saying: “Even we aren’t stupid enough to land in Sicily!”

British Troops on the shores of Sicily, 10th of July, 1943.

Operation Husky was a success. Looking back, it was obvious that the Germans had been duped. The long-term success of Operation Mincemeat was reflected later during Operations Overlord and Market Garden, when some captured documents which were genuine were immediately dismissed as plants.


In popular culture [ edit | edit source ]

An episode of The Goon Show was entitled "The Man who Never Was" and was set during the Second World War, referred to a microfilm in the uniform of someone dressed up as a naval officer (though this was about a secret weapon.) ⎪] Operation Mincemeat inspired a similar plan in Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson, in Red Rabbit by Tom Clancy, in Body of Lies by David Ignatius, in the film version of You Only Live Twice, in the Dorothy Sayers / Jill Paton Walsh novel A Presumption of Death, and in the science fiction series Space: Above and Beyond and the Star Trek: Deep Space 9 episode "In the Pale Moonlight". A play of the same name, written by Adrian Jackson and Farhana Sheikh, was first staged by Cardboard Citizens in 2001 in the old Hartley's Jam factory in Southwark. It was staged once again as a site-specific, promenade performance in Cordy House, Shoreditch, in June–July 2009. Cardboard Citizens deals with issues surrounding homelessness, and the play examined identity, together with Major Martin's quest to find out who he was. In 2008 Simon Corble launched his play, also called Operation: Mincemeat with a script-in-hand run performed by the Found Theatre Company. ⎫] This play saw its world premiere in the 2010 Adelaide Fringe Festival, performed by the Adelaide University Fringe Club to critical acclaim. ⎬] In his book, The Double Agents, W. E. B. Griffin depicts Operation Mincemeat. Fictional characters are blended with Ian Fleming, the actors David Niven and Peter Ustinov, and other historical figures as members of Montagu's "committee" to plan and execute Operation Mincemeat.


Watch the video: Hacksaw Ridge 2016 - The siege begins 1080p (June 2022).


Comments:

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