|Part of Operation Barclay|
|Operational scope||Tactical deception|
|Planned by||Ewen Montagu, Charles Cholmondeley|
|Executed by||Military Intelligence, Section 5 (MI5)
(from HMS Seraph)
Operation Mincemeat was a successful British disinformation plan during the Second World War. As part of Operation Barclay, the widespread deception intended to cover the invasion of Italy from North Africa, Mincemeat helped to convince the German high command that the Allies planned to invade Greece and Sardinia in 1943 instead of Sicily, the actual objective. This was accomplished by persuading the Germans that they had, by accident, intercepted "top secret" documents giving details of Allied war plans. The documents were attached to a corpse deliberately left to wash up on a beach in Punta Umbría in Spain. The success of the planting of false documents was confirmed through Ultra decrypts of German messages.
A similar story was used as a plot device by Duff Cooper in his 1950 novel Operation Heartbreak. The true story was revealed in 1953, in Ewen Montagu's book The Man Who Never Was. A film of the same name was made in 1956.
- 1 Background
- 2 The plan
- 3 Execution
- 4 "Mincemeat swallowed rod, line and sinker"
- 5 Impact on later operations
- 6 The Man Who Never Was
- 7 The identity of Major Martin
- 8 In popular culture
- 9 See also
- 10 Explanatory notes
- 11 Citations
- 12 Further reading
- 13 External links
In September 1942, a PBY Catalina, flying from England to Gibraltar, crashed off Cadiz. All aboard were killed, including Paymaster-Lt. James Hadden Turner, a courier carrying top secret documents, and a French agent. Turner's documents included a letter from General Mark Clark, the American Deputy Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, to General Noel Mason-MacFarlane, British Governor and Commander in Chief of Gibraltar, informing him that General Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander, would arrive in Gibraltar on the eve of the "target date" of "4 November". Turner's body washed up on the beach near Tarifa and was recovered by the Spanish authorities. When the body was returned to the British, the letter was still on it, and technicians determined that the letter had not been opened. The Germans had the means to read the letter without opening the envelope, but if they did, they apparently decided the letter was "planted" and the information was bogus, so they ignored it. This near catastrophe, which had seriously jeopardised the operation, sparked the idea for Operation Mincemeat.
In late 1942, Operation Torch, the invasion of French North Africa, was imminent; victory in that campaign was expected. Following the Casablanca Conference in January 1943, Allied planners decided to continue the offensive in the Mediterranean, Middle East and African theatres.
From North Africa, attacks could be made either into Italy or through the Balkans, trapping the German forces there between the Western Allies and the Soviets. Control of Sicily would open the Mediterranean to Allied shipping and allow the invasion of continental Europe, making Sicily an obvious strategic objective. German planners saw this as well; Winston Churchill commented: "Everyone but a bloody fool would know that it's Sicily [next]."
The massive Allied buildup of resources for the invasion (code-named Operation Husky), would be detected. The Germans would know that some large attack was coming. However, if the Allies could deceive the Germans about the location of this attack, the Germans might disperse or divert some significant part of their forces, which would help the invasion succeed. This had already been practised by the British in the fighting in North Africa; they had established a competent system for deception of the enemy, able to give the appearance of fake formations and to feed misinformation through double agents and diplomatic rumour.
Several months previously, Flight Lieutenant Charles Cholmondeley RAF of Section B1(a) of MI5, suggested dropping a dead man attached to a malfunctioning parachute in France with a radio set for the Germans to find. The idea was for the Germans to think that the Allies did not know the set was captured, and pretend to be friendly agents operating it, thus allowing the Allies to feed them misinformation. This was dismissed as unworkable; however the idea was subsequently taken up by the Twenty Committee (from the Roman numeral XX "double cross"), the small inter-service, inter-departmental intelligence team in charge of double agents. Cholmondeley was on the Twenty Committee, as was Lieutenant Commander Ewen Montagu, a Royal Navy intelligence officer.
Montagu and Cholmondeley developed Cholmondeley's idea into a workable plan, using documents instead of a radio. The Committee thought of planting the documents on a body with a defective parachute. However, the Germans knew that it was Allied policy never to send sensitive documents over enemy territory, so they decided to make the man a victim of a plane crash at sea. That would explain how the man would be several days dead and how he could be carrying secret documents. The body would drift ashore in Spain, whose nominally neutral government was known to cooperate with the Abwehr (German intelligence). The British were sure that the Spanish authorities would allow German agents to examine anything found. Montagu gave the operation the code name of Mincemeat, just restored to the list of available names after its use for another successful mission.
The deliberate planting of fake documents on the enemy was not new. Known as the "Haversack Ruse", it had been practised by the British and others in World War I. A broadly similar idea of planting false documents on a body that had apparently drowned at sea was originally proposed in the Trout memo of 1939, issued in the name Admiral John Godfrey but widely believed to have been written by Godrey's assistant, Ian Fleming. Also, in August 1942 in North Africa, before the Battle of Alam el Halfa a corpse was placed in a blown-up scout car, in a minefield facing the German 90th Light Division just south of Qaret el Abd. With the corpse was a map showing the locations of non-existent British minefields. The Germans fell for the ruse, and Rommel's panzers were routed to areas of soft sand where they were bogged down.[notes 1]
Major William Martin, Royal Marines
With the help of renowned pathologist Sir Bernard Spilsbury, Montagu and his team determined what kind of body they needed: a man who appeared to have died at sea by hypothermia and drowning, and then floated ashore after several days. 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. Spilsbury also reassured the team that the state of the corpse would not be that important because "Spaniards, as Roman Catholics, were averse to post-mortems and did not hold them unless the cause of death was of great importance." Under quiet pressure, Bentley Purchase, coroner of St. Pancras District in London, obtained the body of a 34-year-old Welsh man named Glyndwr Michael, on the condition that the man's real identity would never be revealed. The man had died after taking in rat poison which contained phosphorus. After being ingested, the phosphide reacts with hydrochloric acid in the human stomach, generating phosphine, a highly toxic gas. Coroner Purchase explained, "This dose was not sufficient to kill him outright, and its only effect was so to impair the functioning of the liver that he died a little time afterwards," leaving few clues to the cause of death. Montagu later claimed that Michael had died from pneumonia, and that his family had been contacted and permission obtained, but none of this was true. The man's parents were already dead and no known relatives were found.
The next step was creating a "legend" – a synthetic identity for the dead man. He became "Captain (Acting Major) William 'Bill' Martin, Royal Marines", born 1907, in Cardiff, Wales, and assigned to Headquarters, Combined Operations. As a Royal Marine, Major Martin came under Admiralty authority, and it would be easy to ensure that all official inquiries and messages about his death would be routed to the Naval Intelligence Division. The Army's arrangements were different and much harder to control. Also, he could wear battledress rather than a naval uniform (uniforms were tailor-made by Gieves of Savile Row, and they could not have Gieves' tailor measure a corpse). The rank of acting major made him senior enough to be entrusted with sensitive documents, but not so prominent that anyone would expect to know him. The name "Martin" was chosen because there were several Martins of about that rank in the Royal Marines.
To build up the legend, they provided a fiancée named "Pam". Major Martin carried a snapshot of "Pam", actually a clerk in MI5 named Nancy Jean Leslie and later known as Jean Gerard Leigh (20 November 1923 – 3 April 2012), two love letters, and a jeweller's bill, dated 19 April 1943, from the exclusive shop of S. J. Phillips Ltd. at 113 New Bond Street, for a diamond engagement ring costing £53, 10s 6d – a ring that would cost £2,100 today. The ring was described on the invoice as being a single diamond ring, small diamond shoulders with an engraving to Pam from WM 14.4.43. The author of the love letters was reportedly Hester Leggett, the head of Leslie's department at MI5, and not Paddy Bennett, later Lady Ridsdale, the only woman working in Room 39 under the command of Admiral John Henry Godfrey. Ian Fleming also worked in Room 39; he later modelled the characters of Miss Moneypenny and M on Bennett and Admiral Godfrey, respectively. In keeping with his rank, items of good quality woollen underwear (which, at the time, was extremely difficult to obtain due to rationing) owned by the late Herbert Fisher, the Warden of New College, Oxford, were used to make the appearance of the body more believable.
He also had a pompous letter from his father, a letter from the family solicitor, and a letter from Ernest Whitley Jones, joint general manager of Lloyds Bank, demanding payment of an overdraft of £79 19s 2d (£79.96). There were a book of stamps, a silver cross and a St. Christopher's medallion, a pencil stub, keys, a used twopenny bus ticket, ticket stubs from a London theatre, a bill for four nights' lodging at the Naval and Military Club, and a receipt from Gieves for a new shirt (this last was an error: it was for cash, and officers never paid cash at Gieves; but the Germans did not catch it). All these documents were on authentic stationery or billheads. The dates of the ticket stubs and lodging bill indicated that Major Martin had left London on 24 April. If his body washed ashore on 30 April, presumably after several days at sea, then he must have flown from Britain and crashed at sea.
To make the major even more believable, Montagu and his team decided to suggest that he was a bit careless. His ID card (featuring a photograph of an intelligence officer who closely resembled Glyndwr Michael) was marked as a replacement for one that had been lost, and his pass to Combined Operations HQ had expired a few weeks before his departure and not been renewed. This last touch carried an element of risk, as the Abwehr might be suspicious of a careless man having been entrusted with sensitive documents. In fact this was probably one of the keys for success[according to whom?] – after the war, Nazi intelligence chief Walter Schellenberg was quickly found out because his (false) papers were perfect, and the soldier who checked them was suspicious. Almost nobody during and after the war (because of its conditions) had full, perfect, undamaged papers.
The deceptive documents
While the cover identity was created by Montagu and his team, the false documents were also being created. Montagu and his team insisted that these must be at the very highest level, so that there would be no question of the supposed senders being misinformed. The main document was a personal letter from "Archie Nye" (Lieutenant General Sir Archibald Nye, Vice Chief of the Imperial General Staff) to "My dear Alex" (General Sir Harold Alexander, commander of 18th Army Group in Algeria and Tunisia). After much drafting and redrafting as it was passed between all those concerned, it was finally suggested that Nye should draw up the letter himself to cover the required points. The letter covered several "sensitive" subjects, such as the (unwanted) award of Purple Heart medals by US forces to British servicemen serving with them, and the appointment of a new commander of the Guards Brigade. This explained its being hand-carried rather than sent through regular channels. On the specific topic of Allied plans in the Mediterranean, the letter referred to Operation Husky as the invasion of Greece by troops from Egypt and Libya under General Henry Maitland Wilson (Commander-in-Chief, Middle East). Two assault beaches and some of the assigned troops were named. (Husky was actually the invasion of Sicily.) The letter also mentioned a second planned attack, Operation Brimstone, for which the cover target was Sicily. This implied that Alexander's forces in Tunisia would invade Sardinia, that being the only other plausible target. Nye added that "we stand a very good chance of making [the Germans] think we will go for Sicily--it is an obvious objective and one about which [they] must be nervous." The letter was composed and written by Sir Archibald himself, and addressed by Patricia Trehearne (later Davies) in Room 13 of the Admiralty.
There was also a letter of introduction for Major Martin from his putative commanding officer, Vice-Admiral Louis Mountbatten (Chief of Combined Operations) to Admiral of the Fleet Sir Andrew Cunningham (Commander-in-Chief Mediterranean Fleet and Allied naval commander in the Mediterranean). In this Martin was portrayed as an amphibious warfare expert on loan until "the assault is over". This letter included a clumsy joke about "sardines", which Montagu inserted in the hope that the Germans would see it as a reference to a planned invasion of Sardinia.
As the Germans (and their Spanish friends) had apparently missed the letter in Paymaster-Lt. Turner's pocket compounded by a possible "Roman Catholic prejudice against tampering with corpses", Montagu's team decided to put the documents in a briefcase that could not be overlooked. To justify carrying documents in a briefcase, Major Martin was given two proof copies of the official pamphlet on Combined Operations written by the author Hilary Saunders (then on Mountbatten's staff), and a letter from Mountbatten to Eisenhower (now the senior Allied commander in Europe and the Mediterranean), asking him to write a brief foreword for the pamphlet's US edition.
It was also necessary to ensure that the body and the briefcase with the documents would be recovered together. The team first thought of having the handle clutched in the corpse's hand, held in place by rigor mortis, but the rigor would probably wear off and the briefcase would drift away. The team therefore equipped Major Martin with a leather-covered chain, such as was used by bank and jewellery couriers to secure their cases against snatching. The chain unobtrusively runs down a sleeve to the case. British officer couriers did not use such chains, but the Germans might not know that, nor be certain that a real "Major Martin" would not use one for this special job and there was no alternative. It seemed unlikely that the major would keep the bag secured to his wrist during the long flight from Britain, so the chain was looped around the belt of his trench coat.
Colonel Johnnie Bevan, in overall command of wartime deception, was charged with explaining the operation to the Prime Minister. On 15 April 1943, he was ushered into Winston Churchill's bedroom, where he found the Prime Minister in bed smoking a cigar. Churchill showed considerable interest in the plan, and Bevan felt it necessary to point out that the operation could go very badly. The Prime Minister responded in a characteristically pithy manner: "In that case, we shall have to get the body back and give it another swim."
Major Martin, in his Royal Marines battledress and coat, was placed in a steel canister designed by Charles Fraser-Smith. The canister was filled with dry ice and sealed up. When the dry ice sublimated, it filled the canister with carbon dioxide and drove out any oxygen, thus preserving the body without refrigeration. Cholmondeley and Montagu delivered it to Holy Loch, Scotland, where it was taken on board the British submarine HMS Seraph. Aston Martin works driver St. John "Jock" Horsfall was selected to drive the delivery vehicle (Horsfall's own modified 1937 Fordson van) both due to his ability to drive fast (to keep the body as fresh as possible) and his reputation for being tight-lipped. Seraph's commander, Lt. Bill Jewell, and crew had previous special operations experience. Jewell told his men that the canister contained a top secret meteorological device to be deployed near Spain.
On 19 April, Seraph set sail; she arrived at a point about a mile off the coast of Spain, near the town of Huelva, on 30 April. The British knew that there was an Abwehr agent in Huelva who was friendly with the Spanish officials there. He was Adolf Clauss, the son of the German consul, and operated under the cover of an agriculture technician.
At 04:30 on 30 April, Seraph surfaced. Jewell had the canister brought up on deck, then sent all his crew below except the officers. The first lieutenant (second-in-command), Lt. David Scott, was on the bridge. The other officers were then briefed on the details of the secret operation which only Jewell and Scott knew until that time. They opened the canister, fitted "Major Martin" with a life jacket, and attached his briefcase with the papers. Jewell read Psalm 39, although the burial service was not specified in the orders; the body was then gently pushed into the sea where the tide would bring it ashore. Half a mile to the south, a rubber dinghy was thrown overboard to provide additional 'evidence' of a crash. The canister was taken further out to sea and riddled with machine gun fire so that it would sink. Because of the air trapped in the insulation, this effort failed, and the canister was eventually rigged with plastic explosives to destroy it (this was not part of the plan, and Jewell did not mention it until 1991). Jewell afterwards sent the message to the Admiralty "MINCEMEAT completed", and continued on to Gibraltar. The body was found at around 09:30 by a local sardine fisherman, José Antonio Rey Maria, and was taken to Huelva by local military and law enforcement officials.
"Mincemeat swallowed rod, line and sinker"
When the body was found, it was reported to Clauss in Huelva. Three days later, the British Naval Attaché in Spain reported the body's discovery, and the Committee was notified. The body was handed over to the British Vice-Consul, F. K. Hazeldene, and "Major Martin" was buried in the San Marcos section of Nuestra Señora cemetery in Huelva, with full military honours on 2 May.
The vice-consul arranged for a pathologist, Eduardo Del Torno, to perform a post-mortem examination. Del Torno reported that the man had fallen into the sea while still alive and had no bruises, death was due to drowning, and the body had been in the sea between three and five days. A more comprehensive examination was not made, in part through the encouragement of the local British representative and because the pathologist took him for a Roman Catholic. Martin wore a silver crucifix and had a St. Christopher plaque in his wallet and his identity tags were marked 'RC'.[discuss]
Montagu had Major Martin included in the published list of British casualties which appeared in The Times on 4 June, in case the Germans checked up there. By coincidence, the names of two other officers who had died when their plane was lost at sea were also published that day, giving credence to the Major Martin story. The issue of The Times that recorded Major William Martin's "demise" was also the same that announced that of film star Leslie Howard, shot down by Luftwaffe aircraft in the Bay of Biscay. To further the ruse, the Admiralty sent several messages to the naval attaché about the papers that Major Martin had been carrying. The attaché was urgently directed to locate the papers, and, if they were in Spanish hands, to recover them at all costs, but also to avoid alerting the Spanish to their importance. The briefcase and papers had been taken up by the Spanish Navy, which had turned over the documents to the Alto Estado Mayor, the Supreme General Staff. From there, they apparently disappeared, and even the Gestapo could not locate them.
As was hoped, Karl-Erich Kühlenthal, the Germans' most senior Abwehr agent in Spain, took a keen interest in finding the papers. He stirred up so much attention among the Spanish that Colonel José López Barrón Cerruti, Spain's most senior secret policeman and a keen fascist, took up the search for the briefcase. Word of the find reached Abwehr headquarters in Germany. Wilhelm Canaris, the head of the Abwehr, was asked by Kühlenthal to personally intervene and persuade the Spanish to surrender the documents. Lieutenant-Colonel Ramón Pardo Suárez located the documents and arranged to make them available to the Germans. The Spanish removed the still-damp paper by tightly winding it around a probe into a cylindrical shape, and then pulling it out between the envelope flap, still closed by a wax seal, and the envelope body. Pardo took the dried contents to the German Embassy and gave Wilhelm Leissner, the Abwehr chief in Madrid, one hour to make copies. The embassy immediately radioed the text to Berlin, with the paper copies of the photos following a few days later.
The documents were re-inserted into their original envelopes, reversing the process by which they were removed, and returned to the British attaché by the Chief of Staff of the Spanish Navy on 13 May, with the assurance that "everything was there". When the papers were examined after their return, the British analysed the documents and confirmed they had been opened. Further confirmation from Ultra prompted a message to Churchill, then in the United States: "Mincemeat swallowed rod, line and sinker."
The effort Montagu and his team made to build up Martin's identity paid off. The Germans noted and accepted all the personal details. They noted the date on the ticket stubs, and deduced that Martin must have been flying from Britain to Gibraltar. Ironically, their report gave a wrong date (27 April instead of 22 April), and they concluded that the crash had occurred on 28 April, even though the medical evidence "showed" that Martin had been dead in the water for several days by 30 April. But the Germans missed the contradiction, cancelling their own error.
Joseph Goebbels, Nazi minister of propaganda and fluent in English, read the London Times every day. He had doubts about the information, which he noted in his private diary, but did not express them openly. Adolf Hitler was convinced of the veracity of the bogus documents, which reinforced his own concerns for the region. He disagreed with Benito Mussolini, who believed Sicily would be the most likely invasion point, and insisted that any attack against Sicily would be a feint.
German defensive efforts were substantially redirected: reinforcements were sent to Greece, Sardinia and Corsica instead of Sicily. British commando activities had also been carried out in Greece. The renowned general Erwin Rommel was sent to Greece to assume overall command. A group of "R boats" (German minesweepers and minelayers) was transferred from Sicily, and three additional minefields were laid off the Greek coast. Three panzer divisions were moved to Greece – one from France, and two from the Eastern Front. The latter was perhaps the most critical move – reducing German combat strength in the Kursk salient (influencing events on the Eastern Front was apparently neither intended nor foreseen by the British originators of the plan, who were preoccupied with their own part of the war). The Italian navy was also positioned in the general regional area of and around Greek waters, in preparatory advance to the defence of the anticipated upcoming Allied invasion of Greece.
On 9 July, the Allies invaded Sicily in Operation Husky. The Germans remained convinced for two more weeks that the main attacks would be in Sardinia and Greece, and kept forces there and out of action until it was too late. Only on 12 July did they order the 3rd Regiment of the 1st Fallschirmjäger Division to parachute into Sicily ahead of the advancing British 8th Army.
Ewen Montagu was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his part in Operation Mincemeat. Charles Cholmondeley was made a Member of the Order (MBE) for masterminding the plan.
Impact on later operations
The success of Operation Mincemeat caused the Germans to disregard later genuine document finds. Examples include:
- Two days after the D-Day landings, the Germans discovered an abandoned landing craft washed up on the Vire estuary in Normandy, containing top secret documents detailing future military targets in the region. Hitler, believing this was a deception similar to Operation Mincemeat, ignored the documents, having already been convinced by numerous deceptions that the main invasion was still to come through the Pas de Calais.
- During Operation Market-Garden, the drive into the Netherlands in September 1944, a complete operations order with maps and graphics for the airborne phase of the invasion, which was not supposed to be brought with the invading troops, was inadvertently left behind on a transport glider. The operations order fell into German hands, but the Germans, convinced that this was another attempt at Mincemeat-style deception, actually deployed their forces contrary to the information before them.
The Man Who Never Was
Duff Cooper was a diplomat who had held several top level posts during the war. In 1950, he published a spy novel, Operation Heartbreak. The key plot device was floating a corpse into Spain with false documents to deceive the Germans. Cooper had come up with the idea on his own, but naturally, many of those concerned with Mincemeat (including Germans and Spaniards) became concerned and started talking. The 'flap' attracted the attention of the British press and wild rumours began to circulate. At this point, the British security services decided that the best response was to publish the story of Mincemeat, which would not compromise any other secrets. Ewen Montagu took a weekend off from his busy legal practice and wrote the book The Man Who Never Was. It was an immediate best-seller and was made into a movie of the same name two years later. The movie added some fictitious elements for drama, such as a German agent in London verifying the background of "Major Martin", with Montagu and his colleagues one step ahead of him.
In 1977, Montagu published a second book, Beyond Top Secret ULTRA, in which he recounted his secret war work. It could not be revealed earlier, as it involved both Ultra and the Double Cross System. In chapter 13, he gives a short version of the Mincemeat story, including some details not in The Man Who Never Was.
The identity of Major Martin
The identity card of "Major Martin" used a photo of MI5 Officer Ronnie Reed. Reed was also the case officer for Eddie Chapman. According to Montagu, Ronnie Reed "might have been the twin brother of the corpse". But the body of the man known as Major Martin was buried in the "Nuestra Señora de la Soledad" cemetery in Huelva. As Mincemeat became legend, the question persisted about the identity of the person buried there.
In 1996, Roger Morgan, an amateur historian from London, uncovered evidence that "Martin" was in reality Glyndwr Michael, a Welsh alcoholic vagrant, allegedly from Aberbargoed, whose name is mentioned on the War Memorial of that village and who died of ingesting rat poison, although how this happened is unknown.[notes 2] Ben McIntyre confirmed in his book, titled Operation Mincemeat, that the dead man was Glyndwr Michael. He was found on 26 January 1943 in an abandoned warehouse near King's Cross Station in London and was taken to St Pancras Hospital suffering from "acute chemical poisoning." It is thought that rat poison, known as 'Battle's Vermin Killer' was used. This was a paste that was laced with highly toxic white phosphorus. The assumption was made that Michael had intended to take his own life. His own father had committed suicide when Michael was 15 years old. His mother died in 1940 and Michael was alone in the world, slowly falling into a deeply depressive state. He drifted, as many did, towards London, and was utterly destitute and homeless, his life gradually falling apart.
It is also possible that the poisoning was accidental due to a starving Michael having been so hungry that he ate scraps of bread coated with poison to kill rats. Phosphoric poisoning is a horrific way to die, usually taking three days, as the phosphorus reacts with the stomach's own hydrochloric acid to create phosphine gas. Death is due to the breakdown of the central nervous system, jaundice, coma, kidney, liver and heart failure. It took Michael two days to die. He was able to inform his nurses who he was and what he had eaten. He died on 28 January 1943, and when his body reached the hospital's mortuary, district coroner Bentley Purchase informed Ewen Montagu that he had found the ideal candidate for his project. McIntyre reported that the corpse was kept refrigerated in the mortuary until the mission was ready.
In 1996 The Daily Telegraph published a story based on information released by the Public Record Office and identified the corpse as Glyndwr Michael. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission in January 1998 added an inscription to the gravestone of "Major Martin" in the Catholic cemetery of Huelva that reads, "Glyndwr Michael served as Major William Martin." The historian Christopher Andrew reaches the same conclusion as to the identity of "Major Martin" in the authorised history of the Security Service, The Defence of the Realm.
HMS Dasher connection
In The Secrets of HMS Dasher, authors John and Noreen Steele suggest a different identity for the body. On 27 March 1943, there was an explosion on HMS Dasher (a United States-built escort carrier), which was then in the Firth of Clyde, which they ascribe to an accidental torpedoing by a British submarine. Dasher sank, and 379 men were killed. The British authorities tried to keep the story quiet, rather than upsetting the public over alleged defective American shipbuilding. The dead were originally buried in an unmarked mass grave. The Steeles claim that the Mincemeat body was John "Jack" Melville, 37, one of the dead sailors. They assert that Michael's corpse was acquired in January 1943, and would have suffered excessive decomposition by 30 April, even if refrigerated. They claim that freezing was not an option, as it would have produced observable changes to the body, which contradicts Montagu's account. (Montagu mentions having to thaw the body's feet so that boots could be put on it.)
According to the Steeles, HMS Seraph was berthed at Blyth, Northumberland, but she was moved all the way around Scotland to Holy Loch, a major submarine base on the west coast and much further from London, just before Montagu delivered the canister. The Steeles argue that this makes no sense unless the body originally designated to be "Major Martin" had decomposed and become unusable, and that a "fresh" body from the Dasher disaster had to be substituted. They say Montagu brought the canister from London, but it was empty.
On 8 October 2004, a memorial service was held in Melville's honour aboard the current HMS Dasher, a patrol boat, in which Melville's role as "Major Martin" was officially recognised by the Royal Navy. At the service, Lt. Cmdr. Mark Hill, CO of the naval squadron in Cyprus, said:
"In his incarnation as Major Martin, John Melville’s memory lives on in the film, "The Man Who Never Was". But we are gathered here today to remember John Melville as a man who most certainly was".
The Dasher theory, however, has been denied by the Naval Historical Branch, which responded to a Freedom of Information request (D/NHB/25/56 of 22 January 2010) as follows:
"As far as both the Royal Navy and the Ministry of Defence are concerned, the body used in Operation Mincemeat was that of Glyndwr Michael as described in the files now in The National Archive at Kew. With regard to the memorial service held on board the current HMS DASHER in October 2004, it should be stressed that, despite media emphasis on a possible 'Man Who Never Was' connection, this was a perfectly proper memorial for those lost in the previous ship of that name. It had been cleared through both HQ British Force Cyprus and the Permanent Joint Head Quarters at Northwood. The statements... as accurately reported in The Scotsman, arose through information that they had been given locally, and which they believed in good faith. Unfortunately, the statements had not been referred to this office for an opinion."
In popular culture
Operation Mincemeat inspired a similar plan in:
- Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson.
- Red Rabbit by Tom Clancy
- Body of Lies by David Ignatius
- The film version of You Only Live Twice
- The Dorothy Sayers / Jill Paton Walsh novel A Presumption of Death
- The science fiction series Space: Above and Beyond
- The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "In the Pale Moonlight".
- "Sirius" (factual novel) by Jonathan Crown claims that the Allies found out about its success because of the dog in the title planted by their spies.
- The film North by Northwest, where Cary Grant is mistaken for a fictitious agent.
An episode of The Goon Show was entitled "The Man who Never Was" and was set during the Second World War, and referred to a microfilm in the uniform of someone dressed up as a naval officer (though this was about a secret weapon).
A play of the same name (Operation Mincemeat), 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 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 the operation.
- Although the use of the corpse was disputed in some accounts, Smith gives a more detailed account on how Freddie de Guingand concocted the deception. However, there is still some question whether the map actually affected Rommel's decisions.
- Morgan found Michael's name in the Public Record Office in Kew, west London.
- Gladwell, Malcolm, Pandora's Briefcase, The New Yorker, 10 May 2010, reprised 26 July 2015 by Henry Finder in a New Yorker newsletter
- Smyth, Denis (2010) Deathly Deception: The Real Story of Operation Mincemeat. Oxford University Press at Googlebooks. Retrieved 5 August 2013.
- Morgan, Roger (May 1988). "Operation MINCEMEAT". After the Battle: 4.
- Cholmondeley is pronounced (/ˈtʃʌmli/ Chum-li)
- Not Sir Archibald Cholmondeley as in The About.com account of Operation Mincemeat by Robert W. Martin.
- "Operation Mincemeat – The Man Who Never Was in BBC's h2g2". Retrieved 2006-12-01.
- Anthony Cave Brown (1976). Bodyguard of Lies. Bantam Books. p. 311. ISBN 0553013114.
- Macintyre 2010, p. 40.
- Smith, Capt. Kevin D. (July–August 2002). "Coming Into its Own: The Contribution of Intelligence at the Battle of Alam Halfa". Military Review: 74–77.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Operation Mincemeat.|
- Excerpts from the official Top Secret Ultra report on Operation Mincement PsyWar.Org, 3 January 2010.
- The dead tramp who won World War II Daily Mail 15 January 2010.
- "Major Martin's" Grave in Spain
- The Age article – The Man Who Never Was
- Captain Bill Jewell obituary
- Mincemeat and the Imaginary Man – Damn Interesting article
- Spanish language article
- "The Man Who Never Was" movie at the Internet Movie Database*
- BBC article on Operation Mincemeat
- "Operation Mincemeat" 2010 Walker George Films Documentary for the BBC*