Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory

Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory

by Ben Macintyre


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“Pure catnip to fans of World War II thrillers and a lot of fun for everyone else.”—Joseph Kanon, Washington Post Book World
“Thrilling . . . What makes Operation Mincemeat so winning, in addition to Mr. Macintyre’s meticulous research and the layers of his historcal understanding, is his elegant, jaunty, and very British high style.”—Dwight Garner, New York Times
“Reads like something by Ian Fleming.”—Entertainment Weekly
Near the end of World War II, two British naval officers came up with a brilliant and slightly mad scheme to mislead the Nazi armies about where the Allies would attack southern europe. To carry out the plan, they would have to rely on the most unlikely of secret agents: a dead man.
Ben Macintyre’s dazzling, critically acclaimed bestseller chronicles the extraordinary story of what happened after British officials planted this dead body—outfitted in a British military uniform with a briefcase containing false intelligence documents—in Nazi territory, and how this secret mission fooled Hitler into changing military positioning, paving the way for the Allies to overtake the Nazis.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307453280
Publisher: Crown/Archetype
Publication date: 04/05/2011
Pages: 432
Sales rank: 129,041
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Ben Macintyre is a writer-at-large for The Times (U.K.) and the bestselling author of The Spy and the Traitor, A Spy Among Friends, Double Cross, Agent Zigzag, and Rogue Heroes, among other books. Macintyre has also written and presented BBC documentaries of his work.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Sardine Spotter

José Antonio Rey María had no intention of making history when he rowed out into the Atlantic from the coast of Andalusia in southwest Spain on April 30, 1943. He was merely looking for sardines.

José was proud of his reputation as the best fish spotter in Punta Umbria. On a clear day, he could pick out the telltale iridescent flash of sardines several fathoms deep. When he saw a shoal, José would mark the place with a buoy and then signal to Pepe Cordero and the other fishermen in the larger boat, La Calina, to row over swiftly with the horseshoe net.

But the weather today was bad for fish spotting. The sky was overcast, and an onshore wind ruffled the water's surface. The fishermen of Punta Umbria had set out before dawn, but so far they had caught only anchovies and a few bream. Rowing Ana, his little skiff, in a wide arc, José scanned the water again, the rising sun warming his back. On the shore, he could see the little cluster of fishing huts beneath the dunes on Playa del Portil, his home. Beyond that, past the estuary where the rivers Odiel and Tinto flowed into the sea, lay the port of Huelva.

The war, now in its fourth year, had hardly touched this part of Spain. Sometimes José would come across strange flotsam in the water- fragments of charred wood, pools of oil, and other debris that told of battles somewhere out at sea. Earlier that morning, he had heard gunfire in the distance, and a loud explosion. Pepe said that the war was ruining the fishing business, as no one had any money, and he might have to sell La Calina and Ana. It was rumoured that the captains of some of the larger fishing boats spied for the Germans or the British. But in most ways the hard lives of the fishermen continued as they had always done.

José had been born on the beach, in a hut made from driftwood, twenty- three years earlier. He had never traveled beyond Huelva. He had never been to school or learned to read and write. But no one in Punta Umbria was better at spotting fish.

It was midmorning when José noticed a "lump" above the surface of the water. At first he thought it must be a dead porpoise, but as he rowed closer the shape grew clearer, and then unmistakable. It was a body, floating, facedown, buoyed by a yellow life jacket, the lower part of the torso invisible. The figure seemed to be dressed in uniform.

As he reached over the gunwale to grab the body, José caught a gust of putrefaction and found himself looking into the face of a man, or, rather, what had been the face of a man. The chin was entirely covered in green mold, while the upper part of the face was dark, as if tanned by the sun. José wondered if the dead man had been burned in some accident at sea. The skin on the nose and chin had begun to rot away.

José waved and shouted to the other fishermen. As La Calina drew alongside, Pepe and the crew clustered to the gunwale. José called for them to throw down a rope and haul the body aboard, but "no-one wanted to touch it." Annoyed, José realized he would have to bring it ashore himself. Seizing a handful of sodden uniform, he hauled the corpse onto the stern, and with the legs still trailing in the water, he rowed back to shore, trying not to breathe in the smell.

On the part of the beach called La Bota-the boot-José and Pepe dragged the body up to the dunes. A black briefcase, attached to the man by a chain, trailed in the sand behind them. They laid out the corpse in the shade of a pine tree. Children streamed out of the huts and gathered around the gruesome spectacle. The man was tall, at least six feet, dressed in a khaki tunic and trench coat, with large army boots. Seventeen-year-old Obdulia Serrano spotted a small silver chain with a cross around his neck. The dead man must have been a Roman Catholic.

Obdulia was sent to summon the officer from the defense unit guarding this part of the coast. A dozen men of Spain's Seventy-second Infantry Regiment had been marching up and down the beach earlier that morning, as they did, rather pointlessly, most mornings, and the soldiers were now taking a siesta under the trees. The officer ordered two of his men to stand guard over the body, in case someone tried to go through the dead man's pockets, and trudged off up the beach to find his commanding officer.

The scent of the wild rosemary and jacaranda growing in the dunes could not mask the stench of decomposition. Flies buzzed around the body. The soldiers moved upwind. Somebody went to fetch a donkey to carry the body to the village of Punta Umbria four miles away. From there, it could be taken by boat across the estuary to Huelva. The children dispersed.

José Antonio Rey María, perfectly unaware of the events he had just set in motion, pushed his little boat back into the sea and resumed his search for sardines.

Two months earlier, in a tiny, tobacco-stained basement room beneath the Admiralty building in Whitehall, two men had sat puzzling over a conundrum of their own devising: how to create a person from nothing, a man who had never been. The younger man was tall and thin, with thick spectacles and an elaborate air-force mustache, which he twiddled in rapt concentration. The other, elegant and languid, was dressed in naval uniform and sucked on a curved pipe that fizzed and crackled evilly. The stuffy underground cavern lacked windows, natural light, and ventilation. The walls were covered in large maps and the ceiling stained a greasy nicotine yellow. It had once been a wine cellar. Now it was home to a section of the British Secret Service made up of four intelligence officers, seven secretaries and typists, six typewriters, a bank of locked filing cabinets, a dozen ashtrays, and two scrambler telephones. Section 17M was so secret that barely twenty people outside the room even knew of its existence.

Room 13 of the Admiralty was a clearinghouse of secrets, lies, and whispers. Every day the most lethal and valuable intelligence-decoded messages, deception plans, enemy troop movements, coded spy reports, and other mysteries-poured into this little basement room, where they were analyzed, assessed, and dispatched to distant parts of the world, the armor and ammunition of a secret war.

The two officers-Pipe and Mustache-were also responsible for running agents and double agents, espionage and counterespionage, intelligence, fakery, and fraud: they passed lies to the enemy that were false and damaging, as well as information that was true but harmless; they ran willing spies, reluctant spies pressed into service, and spies who did not exist at all. Now, with the war at its height, they set about creating a spy who was different from all the others and all that had come before: a secret agent who was not only fictional but dead.

The defining feature of this spy would be his falsity. He was a pure figment of imagination, a weapon in a war far removed from the traditional battle of bombs and bullets. At its most visible, war is fought with leadership, courage, tactics, and brute force; this is the conventional war of attack and counterattack, lines on a map, numbers and luck. This war is usually painted in black, white, and blood red, with winners, losers, and casualties: the good, the bad, and the dead. Alongside that conflict is another, less visible species of war, played out in shades of gray, a battle of deception, seduction, and bad faith, of tricks and mirrors, in which the truth is protected, as Churchill put it, by a "bodyguard of lies." The combatants in this war of the imagination were seldom what they seemed to be, for the covert world, in which fiction and reality are sometimes enemies and sometimes allies, attracts minds that are subtle, supple, and often extremely strange.

The man lying in the dunes at Punta Umbria was a fraud. The lies he carried would fly from London to Madrid to Berlin, traveling from a freezing Scottish loch to the shores of Sicily, from fiction to reality, and from Room 13 of the Admiralty all the way to Hitler's desk.

Table of Contents

Preface 11

Chapter 1 The Sardine Spotter 15

Chapter 2 Corkscrew Minds 21

Chapter 3 Room 13 39

Chapter 4 Target Sicily 59

Chapter 5 The Man Who Was 78

Chapter 6 A Novel Approach 97

Chapter 7 Pam 117

Chapter 8 The Butterfly Collector 145

Chapter 9 My Dear Alex 172

Chapter 10 Table-Tennis Traitor 199

Chapter 11 Gold Prospector 218

Chapter 12 The Spy Who Baked Cakes 241

Chapter 13 Mincemeat Sets Sail 257

Chapter 14 Bill's Farewell 282

Chapter 15 Dulce et Decorum 323

Chapter 16 Spanish Trails 344

Chapter 17 Kühlenthal's Coup 364

Chapter 18 Mincemeat Digested 384

Chapter 19 Hitler Loses Sleep 408

Chapter 20 Seraph and Husky 430

Chapter 21 A Nice Cup of Tea 451

Chapter 22 Hook, Line, and Sinker 465

Chapter 23 Mincemeat Revealed 483

Chapter 24 Aftermath 502

Appendix 529

Acknowledgments 538

Notes 541

Select Bibliography 631

Picture Index 637

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Operation Mincemeat 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 132 reviews.
sscMA More than 1 year ago
You can't make this stuff up, and this book about a plan to fool the Nazis into believing the Allies would attack Greece instead of Sicily, was more gripping than well-written murder mysteries, and all the more so for being true. Mr. Macintryre clearly loves his subject, an ingenious deception plot employed during WWII by the Allies, and his enthusiasm is deliciously contagious. It almost seems inappropriate to have enjoyed this story as much as I did, dealing as it does with life and death issues on an enormous scale. Some of the real life characters who played roles in Operation Mincemeat are fascinating, and fleshed out very well, such as the German intelligence officer who, because of his Jewish ancestry, was overly anxious to please his superiors and was only too happy to believe the incredible. Others I would have liked to hear more about, especially the man whose creative spark was the genesis of the project, Chomedeley.
MysteryMoose More than 1 year ago
I had seen brief mentions of this in other histories, but not really any information. When I saw this book, I hoped it would give details - and it does. The top secret, almost unknown intelligence group's variety tricks and misinformation operations reads almost like a spy thriller that can be found on the Best Sellers List. The photos included are helpful to follow the story. That this story is true makes it all more exciting. The planning, the problems and the mistakes that almost destroyed the operation kept me on the edge of my seat, even though I knew it succeeded. A fast read, it was hard to put down. Highly recommended for history buffs and spy thriller readers alike.
scdoane More than 1 year ago
As a boy I read "The Man Who Never Was" and was fascinated. What a pleasure it was to read, nearly 60 years later, the full account.
tallchick More than 1 year ago
This book was wonderful. It had the read of the best fiction and unfolded at a satisfactory pace, while still giving all the factual background information. I couldn't put it down, and I didn't mind what I might have been missing. 
Gutshot More than 1 year ago
I don't understand the low ratings some have given this book. I for one found it hard to stop reading and found the material utterly fascinating.
ReadWriteGC More than 1 year ago
"Operation Mincemeat" reads like a well written thriller. While extremely entertaining, it is also very enlightening. The story of "The Man Who Never Was" has been written before, but what we find out in Ben Macintyre's account is the rest of the story. The 1953 version written by one of the protagonists, Ewen Montaggu, was an expurgated version approved by the British Secret Services. It was an instant best-seller and the subsequent Hollywood film was a major hit. By serendipitous circumstances Macintyre came across information that opened up this incredible story. What is most interesting in this account is the way Macintyre weaves the stories of the other key players together. Each character has a compelling story individually; put together they provide a fascinating account of one of the Second World War's most successful espionage operations. If you have an interest in the Second World War or espionage this is a must-read book. You will have trouble putting it down until you read the last word.
superbellman More than 1 year ago
Operation mincemeat is the cover name for a scheme developed by British intelligence agency to deceive Hitler into believing that the Allied forces main attack plan was not Sicily ,but Greece and Sardinia. Knowledge of this ploy comes from records of one of the British Intelligence operators which was just recently found. The story is presented with meticulous detail, describing aspects of the intelligence agency operations that I had no idea existed. The problem I had with the book, may be more of my level of knowledge and interest in world war two activities, than the book but I had difficulty staying with it about half way through because of the in depth analysis and detail. I would definitely recommend this book to war enthusiasts who could appreciate the fine level of analysis and detail.
peggy groark More than 1 year ago
reads like a novel. fastidiously researched.
SKYKING0714 More than 1 year ago
After all these years the whole story of The Man Who Never Was. I read of this story as a young man and now as an old man. A wonderful story that seems more Hollywood then fact. Interesting how someone who died with so little dignity did so much for the wars outcome. A nice read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Way too many details, to the point of a boring read. Probably could have shaved 150 pages out of this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It's amazing that it worked and helped turn the tide of WWII, a little slow at times, but still a good read.
Karl Witsman More than 1 year ago
Ben MacIntyre takes real world events and weaves them into a great story. Based on this, I bought a few more of his books. Great read that keeps you interested.
AshRyan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A fascinating book about how intelligence (in both senses of the word) is more important than brute force, even in war.It's about the same real-life events as the 1956 movie "The Man Who Never Was". However, the movie is based on an earlier book which altered some of the facts under the Official Secrets Act. This new book is a more accurate and complete account.
cameling on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It's a rare gem when history is unfolded for us in such a detailed and thrilling form. In 1943, Ewan Montagu of the British Naval Intelligence and Charles Cholmondeley of MI5 came together in collaboration of a complex plan of deception. The plan that was ultimately approved was to take a suitable corpse, dress it in a suitable military uniform, place certain well-planned personal items, attach to it a chained briefcase containing fake official documents and personal letters, and then drop it the ocean close to Huelva in Spain, where German agents and sympathizers were known to work. The objective? To deceive Hitler and his army that the Allies were going to use Sicily as a cover, but that they were going to attack Greece and Sardinia instead. If the plan was successful, Hitler would move his troops away from Sicily, thus leaving this underbelly of Italy vulnerable to the British armada and air attacks. Sicily was identified as being the pivotal point at which a successful Allied attack could destroy Germany's hold over Italy. Secret agents and double agents were seemingly living cheek by jowl in Spain, and both Great Britain and Germany built an impressive network of spies in Spain. What makes this a fascinating read is the attention to the cast of characters that had any part at all in this particular secret operation, both on the British side as well as on the German side. The personalities of all characters, their background before, during and after the war, and the parts they played, both in the development, and the witting and unwitting execution of Operation Mincemeat are carefully detailed. And this includes the life of the person who took the central spotlight in this play - the corpse, who never in his living days thought he'd be serving his country in such a dramatic fashion.The unfolding of Operation Mincemeat once the corpse was released into the water was a non-stop thrill. There were so many opportunities for the plan to go pear-shaped but the way in which the British spymasters manipulated their network was sheer genius and eventually led to the successful invasion of Sicily, wrenching away Germany's control and the toppling of Mussolini. There is a reference to a similar outline of a plan to use a corpse by Ian Fleming, and indeed it could have given the duo the idea, but credit must be given to both Cholmondeley and Montagu for crafting and thinking of all angles to this plan and then being instrumental in executing it so successfully.
NewsieQ on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a first: I actually read a World-War II spy story. When no less than Malcolm Gladwell called it ¿almost absurdly entertaining,¿ I quickly ordered it online and began reading it the day it arrived in the mail. What an amazing book! The subtitle, How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory, says it all. What was most amazing was the author¿s ability to write sketches that bring characters alive for readers ¿ and there were more true ¿characters¿ in Operation Mincemeat than in any other book I¿ve read. They give new meaning to the phrase ¿English eccentrics.¿ Operation Mincemeat is a book that it¿s best to read without going in knowing too much about the story ¿ so I¿ll let you discover the details yourself. What I will say is that Ben MacIntyre is a wonderful writer and a dogged, thorough researcher. I found him such a good writer that I plan to get more of his books and put them at the top of my ¿to-be-read¿ pile. One of the reasons I don¿t generally read ¿war stories¿ is that I prefer not to wade through page after page of violent images. I didn¿t have to worry about that with Operation Mincemeat. Although the ¿Allied victory¿ referred to in the subtitle was most certainly a bloody battle with many casualties, that¿s not what Operation Mincemeat is about. It¿s about the behind-the-scenes guys and gals who pulled off a deception on a grand scale, the aftermath, and what happened to the principals after the war. Fascinating history and a winning formula!
claude_lambert on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It is a fascinating counter-intelligence real story. You got to see the movie: it has not aged at all: "The man who never was," with Clifton Web. 1956. The British wanted to deter the attention of the Germans from Sicily. They decided to use a corpse transporting letters that would indicate the invasion will take place in Greece. The movie is fascinating: how does one find a suitable corpse? All corpses, says one of the spies, belong to somebody. Then they have to find a place where the corpse will be found by German spies. They also have to invent for the corpse a suitable life: this goes from what kind of shirts he wears, to his bank account, to his girlfriend. The subject makes the movie very unusual, so does the personality of Clifton Webb, a delightful British actor, who plays the main role. An actor who died too young, Stephen Boyd, plays the spy for the Germans who is verifying the tale of the man who never was. He has a smile that will chill your bones.
SherylHendrix on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A wonderfully well-documented account of the undercover operation that helped make possible the successful invasion of Sicily, the surrender of Italy, and ultimately victory in the European theatre during World War II.
Oreillynsf on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Macintyre spins a great truthful yarn, really making this story and the people behind it come to life. I will say, though, that another pass through the editing machine might have been useful. The author is clearly fascinated by the characters and events of this amazing story -- sometimes I thought the long, tangential background on some of the main people in the book was overdone. But mostly it was genuinely fascinating, and kept me on the edge of my seat. This writer has a gift for manufacturing tension. I thank him for an amazing journey into the past.
wolffamily on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Fun, non-fiction book that describes the British intelligence office (M5). Very well written. - Greg
ThorneStaff on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A wonderfully well-documented account of the undercover operation that helped make possible the successful invasion of Sicily, the surrender of Italy, and ultimately victory in the European theatre during World War II.
iBeth on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ben McIntyre's book is packed with fascinating stories about WWII spycraft, including important, never-before-released details about the real "man who never was." I wonder if spycraft will ever be so romantic again? After reading this book, I don't find it surprising that so many real-life spies were also successful novelists.
jasonlf on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A consistently entertaining and enlightening book about "Operation Mincemeat," the British World War II deception that planted a dead body with forged papers claiming (contrary to reality) that the Anglo-US forces were going to invade Greece, not Sicily. In large part due to this deception, the Germans reinforced Greece over Sicily -- contributing to the success of the first Allied attack into Western Europe.The book is exhaustive but not exhausting, tracing every aspect from the initial idea, the complications associated with locating a suitable body, what to put in the pockets to make it look genuine (theater tickets from what was meant to be his last night in London), how to insert it in the water (by submarine, but faking a plane accident), where to leave it (cost of Spain, so it would fall into German-sympathetic hands), how to reinforce the deception, etc. The amount of work that went into it on the British side is extraordinary, for example going through dozens of drafts of the forged letters to get them just right.What is also extraordinary is how despite, or in some cases even because of, all this work how much of it was done carelessly and ended up succeeding through a combination of luck, German ineptitude, and possibly even fifth columnists in key positions on the German side. From the sound of it more than one hundred people were in on the deception which, from my experience, is about ninety more people than can be counted on to keep a secret. Most surprisingly, the body lay in a London morgue for two months before being delivered off the water ¿ although the outside was well preserved, the inner organs were all in an advanced state of decay. Fortunately, the main German spy in Spain was an incompetent self promoter and the head of intelligence in Germany was an anti-Nazi who appeared to be delivering false information to Hitler on purpose (or in this case, not looking hard to figure out if the documents were forged).The story of ¿Operation Mincemeat¿ could easily be told in half the length of this book. The other half is a series of digressions and deep dives into every aspect of the story. Some of them are fascinating, like the descriptions of Franco¿s ostensibly neutral Spain and the warring cultures and sympathies of different parts of their military and intelligence communities. Others are more routine and probably not worth having shared, like the submarine captain falling in love with a beautiful woman. That said, the writing is past-paced, the story consistently interesting, and it illuminates a wide variety of other aspects of the role of intelligence in World War II.
abdoujaparov on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Operation Mincemeat is the true account of a deception operation of that name during WWII. A body and a briefcase were released onto the Spanish coast to help persuade Germany that the impending invasion by the Allies would take place in Greece and Sardinia, and not the obvious target of SicilyThe first account of Mincemeat was related in the 1950s in The Man Who Never Was by Ewan Montagu, one of the agents who conceived of and carried out the plan. Due to some of the story still being secret (the Ultra intercepts of Bletchley Park, for example), some embarrassing to the establishment (the complicity of the British diplomatic corps in Spain, a neutral country), and some of the participants wanting to remain in the shadows, Montagu's book was necessarily incomplete or misleading.Macintyre's book fills in the gaps admirably. He names the major players, and fleshes them out with backgrounds. He explains how the Allies knew of the success of the operation (intercepts and a huge double agent network run by the infamous Agent Garbo). He corrects the self-serving impression of Montagu's book that Montagu was responsible for the plan in its entirety - the body-in-the-water idea was a chestnut of spy fiction by the time it was implemented for real, and the implementation was in fact the work of several people.Most controversially, Macintyre names The Man Who Never Was. Montagu claimed that he was allowed to use the corpse by the grieving mother on the condition that he never revealed his name, a "pact" that Montagu stood by until his death. In reality, the corpse was one Glyndwr Michael, a mentally ill Welshman whose father had committed suicide and who had drifted to London when his mother died, where he too committed suicide - swallowing rat poison. Montagu ascertained that Michael had no living parents, but made no attempt to contact his living siblings. He simply obtained the body illegally with the connivance of the coroner.Macintyre's book is no tour-de-force. It's a competent retelling of a thrilling and amazing story, fleshed out with some interesting background on both the players and the invasion plans. Where the author really shines, I feel, is the obvious sympathy he has with Michael. He points out that while Michael was obviously able to do far more good for the world after his death than he was during his life, he was never given an opportunity during his life. The book contains a touching photograph of "Major William Martin"'s grave, with the recent addition carved into it - the name of Glyndwr Michael, the man who never was, who can now take the credit, over 60 years after his death, for helping to change the course of the war.
otterpopmusic on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A most ripping yarn. Enjoyed the role of the submariners. Had trouble keeping track of all the eccentric characters and their colorful backstories. Looking forward to a movie version.
antiquary on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have lo The Man Who Never Was for many years so I was delighted to have this fuller retelling of the story of how a dead man with false plans was planted on the Germans. I mildly regret the popular tone "the sun was warm on his back " etc. but I believe it is basically reliable.