Friday, January 28, 2005

The Man Who Never Was – the Story of Operation Mincemeat

Many years ago I borrowed from a friend, Ewen Montagu's The Man Who Never Was. The book told the amazing true story of "Operation Mincemeat" – of how "Major Martin," a man who had never existed, had hoaxed the Germans and turned the tide of the Second World War and in doing so, saved thousands of lives.

In an audacious intelligence operation, the allies planted false documents on a dead body and let it fall into German hands. Among the documents was a (fake) top-secret letter from Sir Archibald Nye, then Vice Chief of the Imperial General Staff in the War Office. The letter was addressed to the British commander in North Africa - General Sir Harold Alexander. It named Greece and Sardinia as the most likely places for an allied invasion.

The Germans moved their troops from Sicily to strengthen their positions in Sardinia, Corsica and Greece. Two months later, the Allies stormed and captured Sicily; the meagre German and Italian troops stationed there hardly offered any resistance. The operation – considered the greatest deception of modern military strategy – was a success.

Unfortunately, I could never get my hands on a copy of the book or read elsewhere the amazing planning and execution of Operation Mincemeat again.

Till I came across this H2G2 entry: Operation Mincemeat - The Man Who Never Was.

Like the book, this entry gives details of how the operation was planned and executed: How the idea was first mooted, how and why it was decided that the body would have to float ashore near Spain, and how an "appropriate" body was found. The entry also details how the fake dcocuments were prepared. The most interesting part of the entry (and of the book) is "The Making of Major Martin" – the building up a character for the man who would "deliver" the letter to the Germans. All the things planted on Major Martin successfully created an image of him as someone who was a responsible officer but a bit careless in his personal affairs. As a part of building up Major Martin, he was even provided with love-letters from his fiance Pam. He also carried on his person a photograph of Pam and two stubs of theatre tickets.

Once everything was ready, the body was dressed underwear up in the appropriate Royal Marine uniform. Major Martin then traveled on the HMS Seraph, a submarine to Spain and was placed into the water (after a sea burial service) near the beach of Huelva.

Things proceeded as planned. The body of Major Martin was found by some fishermen and the documents eventually found their way into German hands in May 1943. In the next two months Germany had moved its troops andoOn 10 July, 1943 Allied troops attacked and rapidly gained control of Sicily without the loss of many lives. The success of Operation Mincemeat helped the Allies gain control of Europe.

Read the amazing story of The Man Who Never Was.

1 comment:

Nandita said...

Very cool story!!! Completely exciting! May I borrow book?