Ewen Montagu

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Ewen Montagu
Born Ewen Edward Samuel Montagu
(1901-03-19)19 March 1901
Died 19 July 1985(1985-07-19) (aged 84)
Nationality British
Occupation Naval intelligence officer
Known for Operation Mincemeat

Captain Ewen Edward Samuel Montagu, CBE, QC, DL, RNR (19 March 1901 – 19 July 1985) was a British judge, writer and Naval intelligence officer, from a prominent British Jewish family. He is well known for his leading role in Operation Mincemeat, a critical military deception operation which misdirected German forces' attention away from the Allied Invasion of Sicily in Operation Husky.

Life and career[edit]

Montagu was born in 1901, the second son of Louis Montagu, 2nd Baron Swaythling. He was educated at Westminster School before becoming a machine gun instructor during World War I at a United States Naval Air Station. After the war he studied at Trinity College, Cambridge and at Harvard University before he was called to the bar in 1924. One of his more celebrated cases as a junior barrister was the defence of Alma Rattenbury in 1935 against a charge of murdering her elderly husband at the Villa Madeira in Bournemouth.

World War II[edit]

Montagu enlisted in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve in 1938 so that he could help his country.[1] Because of his legal background he was reassigned to specialized study. From there he was assigned to the Royal Navy's Humberside headquarters at Hull as an assistant staff officer in intelligence.[2] Montagu served in the Naval Intelligence Division of the British Admiralty, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Commander RNVR. He was the Naval Representative on the XX Committee, which oversaw the running of double agents. While Commanding Officer of NID 17M, Squadron Leader Charles Cholmondely, RAFVR and he conceived Operation Mincemeat, a major deception plan against the Germans during the war.[3] Montagu got the idea of having a dead British soldier wash ashore with false information on the plans for the invasion of Sardinia, as opposed to Sicily, where the invasion really would occur. Carefully picking a location where he knew pro-Nazi islanders would loyally turn over the drowned man's rucksack, Montagu also manufactured an entire life history and even a living fiancée for the mythical young serviceman, whose body was that of British soldier who'd died of an illness.

The Germans were fooled completely; reading Enigma encrypts made it clear that the false battle plans went from the beach all the way to Hitler's headquarters. The invasion of Sicily was a success. Historian Trevor-roper called it the best deception in the history of military deception. For his role in Operation Mincemeat, he was appointed to the Military Division of the Order of the British Empire.

Other work[edit]

From 1945 to 1973 he held the position of Judge Advocate of the Fleet. He wrote The Man Who Never Was (1953), an account of Operation Mincemeat, which was made into a movie three years later. Montagu himself appeared in the film adaptation of The Man Who Never Was, playing an Air-Vice Marshal who had in real life disparaged his own character (played by Clifton Webb) in a briefing. Montagu also wrote Beyond Top Secret Ultra, which focused more on the information technology and espionage tactics used in World War II.

Montagu was president of the United Synagogue, 1954–62, and vice-president of the Anglo-Jewish Association.

Before the Courts Act of 1971 he was Chairman of the Quarter Sessions for the Middlesex area of Greater London[4] and Recorder (judge) in the County of Hampshire. He was appointed Deputy Lieutenant of the County of Southampton.


Montagu's youngest brother Ivor Montagu was a film maker and Communist who was apparently briefly a spy for the Soviet GRU during the Second World War – when, of course, the two brothers were technically on the same side.

Ewen Montagu married Iris, the daughter of the painter Solomon J. Solomon, in 1923. They had a son, Jeremy, who became a distinguished authority on musical instruments,[5] and a daughter, Jennifer, who became a distinguished art historian.


  1. ^ Smyth, Denis (2010). Deathly Deception: The Real Story of Operation Mincemeat. New York: Oxford Press. p. 25. 
  2. ^ Smyth, Denis (2010). Deathly Deception: The Real Story of Operation Mincemeat. New York: Oxford Press. 
  3. ^ "Jean Gerard Leigh". The Daily Telegraph. 5 April 2012. 
  4. ^ Whitaker's Almanack (1968) p.636
  5. ^ Macintyre, Ben, (2010) Operation Mincemeat: The True Spy Story that Changed the Course of World War II, preface


Additional reading[edit]