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Operation Mincemeat

Lawrence Bush
July 18, 2017

Ewen Montagu, a captain in British naval intelligence who played a critical role in Operation Mincemeat, a World War II military deception that misdirected Nazi forces away from the Allied invasion of Sicily in the summer of 1943, died at 84 on this date in 1985. It was Montagu who had the idea of having a British soldier’s corpse wash ashore on the southern coast of Spain planted with false evidence about plans to invade Sardinia, as opposed to Sicily. The Franco government shared copies of these false documents with German military intelligence, and Nazi forces were shifted, as a result, to Greece and Sardinia, while Sicily received no reinforcements. “This great deception involved an extraordinary cast of characters including Ian Fleming, who would go on to write the James Bond stories; a famous forensic pathologist; a beautiful secret service secretary; a submarine captain; three novelists; an irascible admiral who loved fly-fishing; and a dead Welsh tramp,” writes Ben Macintyre at the BBC History website. “. . . From a windowless basement beneath Whitehall, the hoax travelled from London to Scotland to Spain to Germany and ended up on Hitler’s desk.” Montagu would become a judge in post-war Britain, hold leadership positions in the British Jewish community, and write two books about Operation Mincemeat.

“First, they obtained a dead body from a London coroner . . . Then they set about creating an entirely new personality for the dead man, whom they designated William Martin, a major in the Royal marines. Using false identity cards, faked personal letters, receipts, bills, photographs and other ‘wallet litter,’ they gave the dead man a father, a fiancee and a backstory. But most crucially they chained to his wrist a briefcase containing official-looking documents, letters written from one general to another, which clearly indicated that the Allied armies massed in North Africa were aiming for Greece. . . . Operation Mincemeat fooled Hitler completely: German troops were deployed to the wrong place; thousands of British, Canadian and American lives were saved; Mussolini was deposed; and the course of World War II was changed.”--Ben Macintyre

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.