on 11 September 2010
The story of 'Operation Mincemeat' was first told in the 1953 book 'The Man Who Never Was' by Ewen Montagu, one of the Naval Intelligence officers who came up with the plan. Back then, however, much of the background information was still top secret, so Montagu had to leave out - or in some cases, even falsify - many of the details. Now that the files have been declassified, however, Ben Macintyre is able to tell the complete story.
And what a story - so incredible that it sounds like something out of a spy novel. Take a dead body, dress it in military uniform and plant fake papers on it to persuade the Germans that a forthcoming invasion will take place somewhere other than the actual target, then set it adrift so that it will wash up in neutral Spain as if it had been the victim of an air crash. The end result was that Allied casualties were far lighter than they might otherwise have been.
Even if you've already read 'The Man Who Never Was', you will learn much from this book - including the identity of the dead body who became Major William Martin, which Montagu was not allowed to reveal. Highly recommended.
on 27 September 2015
Excellent Excellent Excellent Excellent Excellent Excellent Excellent Excellent Excellent Excellent Excellent Excellent Excellent Excellent Excellent Excellent Excellent Excellent Excellent Excellent . , ? ! ' @
on 19 May 2015
As an 87-year old, who well remembers the successful invasion of Sicily, the first toe-hold for the Allies on Continental Europe during WWII, I can recommend this remarkable true story. Ben Macintyre is to be congratulated, for it is a Great Read.
on 23 July 2013
The depth of detail and quality of writing was Superb, it is a must read for those interested in the intelligence war during ww2.
It really makes you appreciate the work of the intelligence community,and it's difficult to imagine that it is a true story
on 22 November 2013
Really enjoyed this. Lots of fun shenanigans in WWII written well and enthusiastically. The best thing about this is the potted biographies of all the key players in this story. While the tale itself is fascinating, the author's diligence in ferreting out the true lives behind each of the individuals reflects a clear fascination with people and what drives them. It is this interest in humanity that makes the book so compelling and a narration that is properly three-dimensional; yes a tale of derring do but he shows just how potentially flawed it was, precisely because everyone involved had flaws just like the rest of us - it was their perseverance and commitment based on an underlying passion that stood them apart. An optimistic history lesson for all of us - follow our passions.
on 6 February 2010
During World War Two spying and intelligence played an important role.The British attached much importance to this aspect and spared no means in order to achieve substantial success.The purpose was dual:to surprise the Nazi enemy and to save the lives of as many combatants in battle as possible.
"Operation Mincemeat"was one of those deceptions which have eventually surprised the Nazis into believing that an invasion od the Allies would take place not in Sicily but in Greece.This great hoax was the brainchild of a Jewish barrister, Ewen Montagu,and a RAF officer who concocted a cocktail of deception involving a list of eccentric characters.Among them wasa famous forensic pathologist(whose style of life was bizzare),a gold-prospector,a submarine commander, three novelist and a tranvestite spymaster.
The whole deception plan started beneath Whitehall.Montagu was looking for a corpse of someone who was supposed to carry classified documents on his body.These papers were to be the proof that the Allies had invasion plans for Greece.But where do you look for a suitable corpse? Enter Sir Bernard Spilbury,a senior pathologist at the Home Office and pioneer of forensics.With the help of another colleague,Spilbury located the corpse of Welsh young man who was mentally deranged and poisoned himself.Thus,the whole procedure of arranging a forged identity of this man started.It was an arduous journey and all this was meant to build a plausible story for the Nazis.Another man working for the British intelligence designed the canister which would contain the corpse of the fictitious Major William Martin.Montagu and his RAF officer would then deliver the canister to a British submarine commander whose mission was to drop it in Spanish waters.Why Spain? Because there were many who were in love with the Nazi regime.It is a well-known fact that the British agreed to pay huge sums of money to the Spanish leader so that he would not join Hitler's forces.In addition, there were some very rich German families who were ardent supporters of the Nazis and many of them were engaged in the Great Game working for the Germans.These had good connections with the Spanish police and other authorities,therefore Spain would be an excallent place to drop the body.
On the morning of April 30th,1943,a sardine fisherman spotted the corpse of the British fictitious Major floating in the sea off the coast of Spain and set in motion a number of events that would change the course of the war.An autopsy performed by a Spanish doctor confirmed that the corpse "fell in the water while still alive,showed no evidence of bruising,and drowned through asphyxia caused by submersion"(p.205).The body was placed in a wooden coffin and returned to the care of the British vice consul.At this point the rumour about the body was already gaining speed and the Germans in Spain heard about the suitcase which was attached to the body and which contained the forged documents showing the Allies' intentions.This was when the whole process of convincing Berlin that the documents were genuine started.There were some ironies in the whole story:the British were drmined to give the Germans the suitcase.Another irony was that the poor Welsh chap got a funeral which was attended by many, while in his real life he was barely known.The Germans turned for help to one of their most trusted spies,a Spanish air force general officer who had various connections in the military.This was the turning point and nine days after arriving in Spain,the forged documents were in Berlin.Among them were letters addressed to General Alexander and Admiral Cunningham;another addressee was General Eisenhower.
The whole affair spared the lives of perhaps tens of thousands of combatants and of the 160000 soldiers who took part in the invasion of Sicily more than 153000 were still alive at the end.This was the result of the deception, logistics,strength,secrecy and surprise and all these were the result of the fertile imagination of a team of spies led by an English lawyer(whose brother, we are told,was a communist who spied for the Russians.These knew about this web of deception from its inception).
This book is written in a very dynamic style.The characters are extremely well depicted and there is action and intrigue on every page of it.The research invested in this book is excellent and it will definitely be enjoyed by any history buff and professional alike.Five cheers for this superb book!!!!!
This is by far one of the very best "contemporary" historical accounts I have read for ages. It flows seamlessly linking the characters and describing them in such an absolutely interesting way that you feel that you know them all personally. This is done simply with great skill. It takes great skill to keep you interested in characters now sadly long gone whose backgrounds and life style now seems so alien to our own. We owe much to those unsung heroes who never received the recognition they richly deserved. This book is a tribute to them. It rises above most books of its ilk by having been thoroughly and comprehensively researched. You never ever get the feeling that anything has either been missed out or made up. An excellent gripping read.
on 16 March 2013
Brilliant, thorough and entertaining. Well researched and pleasantly told. This story is one that a lot of people are aware of, but the gravity and importance isn't understood until you read this excellent book.
This is the story of 'The Man Who Never Was', of which a movie version was also made.
A scheme, one of many, which was designed to mislead the Germans into thinking that some major event of WW2 was not going to happen where or when it did; in this instance it was the invasion of Sicily. As the Allies could not then know which information or which of several sources they had used at the time would be believed, there were many such overlapping schemes. Some were simple and mono-faceted although others were multi-layered and quite complex in nature but it appears in retrospect that most if not all were believed. The intention of all these schemes was to cause the placement of German troops where they could do least harm to the Allies at the vital moment, reduce casualties and deaths on both sides and allow the greatest incursion possible into enemy territory, across the widest possible area in the shortest amount of time. Had these plans failed, the Germans may have succeeded in turning the course of the War back into their favour.
This book is not authored by anyone actually involved in the operation whereas one written by 'Ewen Montagu' was. There are further books written by lesser participants who relay a similar story but among several more. I had read the Montagu book many years ago when portions of the story were withheld and still subject to the Official Secrets Act. More of the details, but not necessarily all, have since been released under the 30-year Rule (although much delayed) and are presumably included here.
on 6 August 2012
Operation Mincemeat tells the true story of how the British deceived the Germans into believing that the massing of troops in the Mediterranean, and scheduled for an invasion of Sicily, were actually going to invade Sardinia and Greece. Billed as `the most successful wartime deception ever attempted', and undoubtedly saving many thousands of allies lives, Macintyre charts the operation from its initial conception through to when a film version of the story, The Man Who Never Was, was made post-war.
The ruse was relatively straightforward. Take a fresh corpse, dress it in the uniform of a British soldier, attach a briefcase containing supposed confidential correspondence, drop the body into the sea a few hundred metres from a Spanish beach, wait for the Spaniards to discover the body and the secret documents and for them to give copies to the Germans, and make a bit of a flap to appear as if most distressed at the unfolding events. It was an idea lifted by a future novelist, Ian Fleming, from a crime novel by Basil Thomson, The Milliner's Hat Mystery (1937). It was then developed by Charles Cholmondeley and Ewen Montagu, and approved for implementation by crime novelist, John Masterman. A key player in its unfolding was Alan Hillgarth, the naval attaché in Madrid, and another crime novelist. It seems that war gave some novelists the opportunity to use their imagination in creative ways and to live out their fantasies.
I picked up the book as an impulse buy, mainly because I'd enjoyed one of Macintyre's other books, Agent Zigzag. Macintyre is strong at providing a readable historical narrative, that does not get too bogged down in factual description, nor strays too close to seemingly like fiction. Operation Mincemeat does a good job at weaving together the biographies of several principal characters, and structuring the story so that it maintains interest. There is a little repetition in places, and sometimes the narrative does drift along some unnecessary sidelines, but generally the book does a good job explaining the unfolding of events and painting a picture of its main protagonists.