the night of July 9–10, 1943, one of the most important operations during World War II began. The invasion of Sicily or Operation Husky would lead to the loss of the first European territory controlled by the Axis and served as a basis for the future invasion of Italy, as well as a training ground for soldiers who, 11 months later, arrived on the beaches of Normandy. But Operation Husky owes its success to another, less well-known operation. Operation “Mincemeat” which was one of the most complex deception operations during the war. It was, in fact, a very big farce made by the Allies to deceive the target of invasion on the continent.
Invasion of Sicily
To ensure the success of the invasion of Sicily, the Allies knew that they had to trick the Germans somehow, so they set up Operation Mincemeat. The aim was to give the Germans false information about the target of the Anglo-American invasion of the continent so that they could focus their attention and resources in another direction. It was reported to the movement of divisions, the transmission of false radio messages, the recruitment of Greek interpreters, as well as the acquisition of Greek maps.
All these movements indicated that the Allies were planning an invasion through the Balkans. Added to this is Operation Mincemeat, an extraordinary farce of the Allies that gave the Germans the last piece of the puzzle that showed them that the attack would come from the Balkans.
Once the fight on the North African front was won, the Allies could attack either through Italy or the Balkans, to capture the Germans between the Soviet army in the East and the Allied forces in the West. Sicily represented a very important strategic point because its control meant the reopening of the Mediterranean for Allied ships and the acquisition of a base for invasion on the continent. The Germans were also aware of the importance of the island and were almost convinced that this would be the target of an Allied invasion. Even Churchill declared that anyone would be sure that Sicily would be the target of the invasion.
However, the Allies had to somehow try to trick the Germans. The massive concentration of resources for Operation Husky would be detected by the enemies, warning them that a major offensive was following. But if they could deceive them about the target of the attack, then the Germans would be forced to disperse their forces. A few months before the summer of 1943, an RAF officer, Charles Cholmondeley, of MI6, came up with a suggestion.
His suggestion was to throw away the body of a man attached to a defective parachute in France, along with a radio. The idea was for the Germans to believe that the Allies did not know that the radio station was captured and to pretend that they were Allied agents in order to obtain information. In their turn, the British were going to give them false information. However, the plan was not accepted, but the idea was subsequently taken over by the MI5 department dealing with double agents. Cholmondeley worked in this department, as did Ewen Montagu. They would be the ones who set up Operation Mincemeat.
According to historian Ben Macintyre, who wrote a book about this operation, Cholmondeley would have been inspired by a 1939 memo written by none other than Ian Fleming, who, after the war, would have been inspired by his career as a law enforcement officer. information to give birth to the character James Bond. For his part, Fleming would have been inspired by a police novel from the 1930s.
Montagu and Cholmondeley turned Cholmondeley’s idea into a functional plan, replacing the radio with documents. The idea of planting documents on a dead parachute body was abandoned because the Germans knew that the Allies would never send secret documents on a route crossing enemy territory. But the victim of a plane crash at sea seemed much more credible. It was thus possible to explain why the man had been dead for several days and how to carry secret documents. The body was to be left near the coast of Spain, an officially neutral country, but collaborating with the Germans. The British were confident that the Spanish authorities would check any bodies found and allow the Germans to examine the found objects.
The idea of planting fake documents to be found by the enemy was not new. The British used this tactic in World War I. It had also been successfully used a year earlier in North Africa. Before the battle of Alam Halfa, a corpse was placed in a machine apparently sent for reconnaissance, exploded on the mined land near a German division. The Germans found next to the corpse a map showing the non-existent mined lands of the British Army. They fell into the trap and Rommel sent his tanks on another route, to avoid the British mines, however, reaching the area where the sand was so soft that the tanks were blocked.
The man who never was
The British called on the services of a well-known pathologist, Sir Bernard Spilsbury, to see what kind of body they needed. Most preferably a man who appeared to have died at sea from hypothermia or drowning and then floated for several days. Then came the problem of finding a suitable corpse, secretly and preferably without giving explanations, for example, to the family of the deceased. Finally, a corpse was obtained from a London morgue, the body of a 34-year-old man from Wales named Glyndwr Michael. He had died from poisoning rats. In his case, the real cause of death could not be detected later.
Then followed the creation of an identity for the dead. From Glyndwr Michael, he became William Martin, a Marine officer, born in 1907. He was awarded the rank of Major, which meant he could have been tasked with delivering secret documents, but not so important as being known to the Germans. In order to make this fake character more credible, the agents created a fiancee for Martin by the name of Pam. They also placed love letters as well as photographs with her in his wallet.
There was also made a letter apparently sent by the deceased’s father, a letter from the family lawyer and one from a bank official asking Martin to pay a debt. Martin also received a cross, a medallion with St. Christopher, a pencil, a set of keys, a bus ticket, theater tickets, a note from a hotel payment, and a receipt from a store for the purchase of a shirt. According to the ticket and hotel notes, Martin had left London on April 24, and if his body were to be found on April 30, he would have concluded that he had left England a few days earlier and collapsed by plane in the Mediterranean.
At the same time as the false identity of the one who was going to deceive the Germans was created, the documents were also produced. It was insisted that the documents must come from the highest circles of the British military leadership in order not to suspect that the authors are misinformed. The main document was a personal letter from “Archie Nye” (Sir Archibald Nye, the second man in command of the Imperial General Staff) to “My Dear Alex” (General Sir Harold Alexander), commander of Army Group 18 in Algeria and Tunisia.
In order to not seem strange, the letter did not just talk about the problem of the European front. For example, “Nye” wrote about the (unwanted by the British) awarding of Purple Heart medals by Americans to British soldiers who were fighting with them, as well as the appointment of a new unit commander known as the Guards Brigade. Regarding Allied plans in the Mediterranean, the letter referred to Operation Husky as the invasion of Greece through Egypt and Libya by an army led by General Henry Maitland Wilson. Also mentioned was a second attack, Operation Brimstone, which was apparently targeted at Sicily.
A second letter from the briefcase was addressed by Admiral Louis Mountbatten to Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham, commander of the Mediterranean Fleet. In this letter, a joke about “sardines” was introduced, in the idea that the Germans will see here a reference to the planned invasion of Sardinia.
The Germans took the bait
On the morning of April 30, at 9.30, the corpse was found by a local fisherman and taken to Huelva. The information quickly reached the city’s Abwehr agent, Adolf Clauss. Three days later, the British attaché in Spain reported the discovery of the corpse, which was handed over to the British vice-consul for burial. The deputy consul also requested an autopsy, and the coroner determined that the man was still alive when he reached the water and died drowned. The British subsequently put Martin’s name on the list of victims that appeared in The Times on June 4, in case the Germans were planning to check.
Subsequently, messages were sent to the British Attaché of Spain regarding the papers Martin was carrying. It was ordered that the relevant documents be found as soon as possible and, if they were in the hands of the Spaniards, they would be recovered immediately, without giving the impression that it was something so important. The briefcase with the papers had arrived in the hands of the Spanish Navy, which handed it over to the General Staff. From there, they disappeared for a short time.
Major Karl-Erich Kuhlenthal, the most important Abwehr agent in Spain, was personally involved in locating the briefcase. Information about the mysterious briefcase came to Abwehr’s headquarters in Germany, and Wilhelm Canaris, the head of the organization, asked Kuhlenthal to intervene personally and persuade the Spaniards to give him the documents. Eventually, a Spanish officer gave the documents to the Germans. Carefully unpacking the envelopes, so that later the English would not realize that they had been opened, the Germans copied the documents and sent them to Berlin.
On May 13, the documents were returned to the British, with assurances from the Spaniards that nothing was missing. British specialists analyzed the envelopes and were able to confirm that they had been opened. Immediately afterward a message was sent to Churchill, who was then in the U.S.: “Mincemeat Swallowed Whole, The Germans had fallen into the trap.”
Convinced of the veracity of the documents, the Germans sent soldiers to Greece, Sardinia, and Corsica to regain their defensive capacity there. For the command of the Greek army was brought the renowned general Erwin Rommel, who had caused quite a lot of trouble to the Allies on the North African front. Three tank divisions were moved to Greece, one from France, another from the Eastern Front (thus reducing the attack force against the Russians in Kursk). However, the Germans did not withdraw all the soldiers from Sicily, but their defense capabilities were substantially reduced.
The surprise came on the night of July 9–10, when the Allies invaded the island. Despite the most recent maneuvers of the Allies, the Germans remained convinced that the main attack would come through Sardinia or Greece and did not delay the front of Sicily until it was too late.
The success of Operation Mincemeat made the Germans no longer trust the valuable documents they later found, even when the discovery was not an Allied maneuver. We must acknowledge how imperative this operation has been to the successful Allied invasion of Sicily and therefore it’s importance towards the Allied victory of World War II.