View Full Version : Operation Mincemeat - WWII, 1943

06-20-2004, 11:24 AM
Operation Mincemeat

When the campaign in North Africa was drawing to a successful close, the Allies'
next strategic target was painfully obvious to anyone who could read a map.
"Everyone but a bloody fool would know it's Sicily," said Winston Churchill.
Sitting in the middle of the choke point of the Mediterranean, Sicily was the
shortest route from North Africa to Adolf Hitler's Europe. It was also the base
from which the Luftwaffe had pounded Malta for many months, as well as any
convoy that tried to reach the beleaguered island. Sicily had to be taken, but
its rough terrain favored the defender. Any attack against a well-entrenched
force would be very costly, or might even fail. If the enemy only could be
misled as to where the Allies intended to strike next, the attacking force might
encounter something less than a fully manned defense. But how were the German
general staff and intelligence service to be duped on such a grand scale?

The solution to that problem came from two relatively junior British officers:
Lt. Cmdr. Ewen Montagu, a reservist who represented naval intelligence on the
interservice XX Committee (XX for double cross), and Squadron Leader Sir
Archibald Cholmondley, Montagu's Air Ministry counterpart. It was Cholmondley
who first suggested planting false Allied documents on a dead body and letting
it fall into German hands. The XX Committee was initially skeptical of the
bizarre plan, but in the end Montagu made it work.

Before the war Montagu had been a successful barrister, and after the war he
would become judge advocate of the fleet and one of England's greatest jurists.
In the early months of 1943 he used his lawyer skills to blend an intricate and
massive hoax into one of the most phenomenally successful deception operations
in the history of modern warfare.

The basic stratagem was simple enough; making it believable was another thing
entirely. In the first place, the massive buildup required for the Sicily
invasion (Operation Husky) would be impossible to conceal. And then there were
the consequences of failure. If the German high command saw through the ruse,
they might easily read the evidence in reverse as conclusive proof the Allies
were going for Sicily. Looking back on the operation, Montagu noted that
convincing the Allied chiefs it would work was more difficult than convincing
their German counterparts it was for real.

It was a complex undertaking. First there was the problem of how to deliver a
body to the Germans. The plotters originally considered something involving a
partially opened parachute. They quickly abandoned that scheme for a number of
reasons. For one thing, an Allied agent or air crewman would not be carrying the
sort of high-level documents necessary to make the whole thing believable. The
body could not be passed off as an Allied courier either, because couriers were
not allowed to fly over enemy-held territory. Finally, there was the problem
that even the most cursory autopsy would detect that the body had been dead long
before it hit the ground. A body floating in the sea, on the other hand, could
easily be expected to have been dead for several days before its recovery. A
delivery from the sea would also eliminate the problem with transporting
allegedly high-level documents over enemy territory.

With that, Montagu's team decided their body would be an Allied courier who had
died in a plane crash at sea and whose corpse had washed ashore. For the actual
means of delivery, they favored a submarine because it could deposit the body
closer in without being detected as could a ship or a flying boat. Spain was
selected as the point of delivery because of the efficient Abwehr (German
military intelligence) network in place there, and the confidence Allied
intelligence had in the Spanish government's willingness to cooperate with the

Then came the problem of finding a body. There was no shortage of dead bodies in
wartime London, of course, but the difficulty was finding one of the right age,
appearance and cause of death. Their search had to be very low-key to avoid
arousing gossip. Securing permission to use a body from the next of kin with
little or no explanation would also be a bit ticklish. Montagu's team was almost
ready to give up on the whole thing when they learned about a man in his early
30s who had just died of pneumonia. The cause of death was just about right, and
the fluid in the body's lungs might help reinforce the notion that it had been
floating at sea for several days. Montagu quickly consulted Sir Bernard
Spillsbury, a noted pathologist, for verification. To Montagu's relief, he
learned there would be very little difference between the fluid already in the
body's lungs and what could be expected to accumulate there from several days of
floating in a Mae West in rough seas. Spillsbury said, "You have nothing to fear
from a Spanish post-mortem; to detect that this young man had not died after an
aircraft had been lost at sea would require a pathologist of my experience--and
there aren't any in Spain."

Montagu then very discreetly contacted the dead man's family. He assured them
the body was needed for a worthy cause and that it would eventually receive a
proper burial, although under another name. The family consented on the
condition that the corpse's true identity never be divulged. Since the operation
now appeared to be a viable one, it needed a code name. In a streak of typically
macabre British humor, Montagu selected "Mincemeat."

Next came the problem of building an identity for their courier. At first
Montagu's team wanted to make him an army officer. But the army's system of
communications routing made it impossible to head off a casualty report before
it got into official channels, and the report of the death of a nonexistent
officer was bound to cause unwanted gossip. They could not put their courier in
the navy, either, because naval officers did not wear battle dress at that time,
and getting a dead body measured for a tailor-made uniform was out of the
question. So the corpse joined the Royal Marines. The main problem with that
cover was that the man who previously inhabited the body had been in poor health
for a long time before his death, and it showed. When one of the team's
superiors raised the point, Montagu responded, "He doesn't have to look like an
officer--only like a staff officer."

There was still an element of risk in the whole thing. The Royal Marines were,
even in wartime, a small and closely knit service where everyone knew everyone
else. So the corpse became Captain (acting Major) William Martin, because that
was one of the most common names on the Navy List. When the death of a Major
Martin was listed in the newspapers--a necessary follow-through because the
Abwehr was sure to check--the dead man might easily be mistaken for any of the
other William Martins.

Once they had a name and a service, Montagu's team then had to go through the
painstaking process of building a believable identity for Major Martin and
turning him into a real person. The plotters provided their phantom major with a
fiancée, complete with a picture and love letters, all of which were supplied by
secretaries in Montagu's office. As a bit of corroborating detail for a genuine
personality, the team decided to make Major Martin somewhat on the careless side
in the management of his personal affairs. Hence they produced some overdue
bills and a stern letter from the Major's father. They also assembled a
collection of keys, matches, coins, theater ticket stubs and all the other junk
that accumulates in a man's pockets. The dates on the ticket stubs, bills and
letters were all carefully coordinated to present an interlocking picture of
Major Martin's activities in the days just prior to his departure from England.
Finally, the team found a living person whose appearance was reasonably similar
to the dead man's to pose for an official I.D. card photo. To reinforce the
careless side of Martin's personality, Montagu supplied him with a replacement
I.D. card, issued "in lieu of No. 09650 lost." The serial number of the supposed
original was that of Montagu's own naval I.D. card.

Lying in cold storage, Major Martin was almost ready to go to war. The only
things he needed now were the false documents that were the purpose of the
entire operation. With the impossibility of concealing the massive buildup for
the Husky invasion, the XX Committee decided they would have to try to convince
the Germans that those preparations were actually part of an elaborate cover for
an attack on another target. They felt they had the best chance of making them
believe the Allies would go for Sardinia first and then use that island to mount
a follow-up attack against Sicily from two directions. They also decided to
indicate a second major Allied thrust at Greece and the Balkans. In a beautiful
bit of logic the plotters reasoned that Hitler would not be able to resist the
temptation to believe Churchill was behind such a strategy as part of his "soft
underbelly" theory--and also as a way of vindicating himself for the Gallipoli
debacle of World War I.

Rather than attempting something as clumsy as feeding the Germans a bogus
operations plan, the plotters decided on the more subtle approach of using an
unofficial personal letter between two top-ranking officers. The letter would
only talk around what they wanted the Germans to believe, but it had to be done
in such a way that no one could fail to interpret the meaning. For the key false
letter, Montagu got General Sir Archibald Nye, vice chief of the Imperial
General Staff, to write to General Sir Harold Alexander, the British commander
in North Africa under American General Dwight D. Eisenhower. In the letter, Nye
explained to Alexander why Eisenhower's request for a cover operation centered
on the eastern Greek islands was being denied. That cover was already assigned
to the operation scheduled to be launched from Egypt by Field Marshal Sir Henry
Wilson, the commander in chief in the Middle East. Eisenhower, therefore, would
have to make do with Sicily as a cover for his own operation.

The phony letter did two things. It suggested two operations would be launched
in the Mediterranean (one in the east and one in the west). It also clearly
identified Sicily as the cover for the true target in the west. That only left
Sardinia in the west, and strongly suggested the Greek mainland and the Balkans
for the target in the east.

To corroborate the letter from Nye, Major Martin also carried a second letter
from Lord Louis Mountbatten, chief of Combined Operations, to Admiral Andrew
Cunningham, British naval commander in the Mediterranean. That letter
established the purpose for Martin's trip; he was an expert on landing craft on
loan from Mountbatten's staff for the planning of the Mediterranean operations.
By way of introducing Martin, Mountbatten noted he had been right about the
Dieppe raid when most of the Combined Operations staff had been wrong. Since
this was the first admission by the British that Dieppe had been something less
than a success, it gave the entire ruse an additional shot of credibility. The
Mountbatten letter also contained a side comment about sardines being rationed
in England. It was a crude joke by British standards, but Montagu correctly
guessed the Germans would not be able to resist that piece of bait either.

Major Martin left England for the last time on April 19, 1943. He traveled in a
special canister packed with dry ice aboard the submarine HMS Seraph, commanded
by Lt. Cmdr. (later Admiral) N.A. Jewell. Several days out, the operation almost
ended in disaster when Seraph was mistakenly attacked by RAF aircraft while on
the surface. Just before dawn on the 30th, Seraph surfaced about a mile off the
Spanish coast near Huelva. After crewmen brought the canister up on deck, Jewell
sent them back down into the boat, leaving only the officers topside. Up to that
point only Jewell knew what the canister contained. He quickly briefed his
officers, and then they prepared the body for launch. They blew up the major's
Mae West and made sure the briefcase was securely attached to its chain. Then
Jewell said a short prayer from the Navy Burial Service, and they slipped Major
Martin over the side. The wash from the submarine's screws pushed the body
toward shore. A few hours later a fishing boat picked up the dead marine and
brought him into port. The local Abwehr agent did the rest.

After some delay and diplomatic shuffling, the Spanish government eventually
returned Martin's briefcase, apparently unopened. Once the documents returned to
London, however, microscopic examination of the paper revealed they had indeed
been opened, and presumably photocopied. The body, meanwhile, received a quick
post-mortem that confirmed Spillsbury's predictions. Major Martin was buried a
few days later in Huelva with full military honors, surrounded by floral
tributes from his heartbroken fiancée and family. Back in London, the June 4
edition of The Times noted Martin's death in the casualty lists. The Abwehr, of
course, took note of all this.

The German intelligence services bought Mincemeat whole. "The authenticity of
the captured documents is beyond doubt," they reported. The German general staff
bought it, too. When it finally got to Hitler, he played his part perfectly. On
May 12, 1943, he issued an order summarizing his estimate of the situation in
the Mediterranean. The order concluded, "Measures regarding Sardinia and the
Peloponnese take precedence over everything else." Hitler ordered the
strengthening of fortifications on Sardinia and Corsica, and he sent an
additional Waffen SS brigade to Sardinia. He sent his favorite commander, Field
Marshal Erwin Rommel, to Athens to form an army group. He sent one panzer
division to Greece all the way from France. Perhaps most damaging to the German
situation, he ordered two additional panzer divisions to prepare to move to
Greece from Russia--at the same time the Germans were getting ready for
history's greatest tank showdown at Kursk.

When the Allies stormed ashore on Sicily they caught the German and Italian
defenders almost completely flatfooted. On July 7, 1943, only two days before
the start of the landings, the war diary of the German high command did not even
have an entry for the western end of the Mediterranean. The Allies assaulted the
southern tip of Sicily, but the bulk of the island's defenses were oriented
along the north coast, facing Sardinia. Many of the Italian divisions in Sicily
folded immediately. The Germans, under Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, put up a
determined resistance and conducted a classic withdrawal to Messina. By August
17, however, General George S. Patton's Seventh and Field Marshal Bernard
Montgomery's Eighth armies had taken the island. Operation Mincemeat had been an
unqualified success.

Over the last 40 years there has been a great deal of speculation as to who "the
man who never was" really was; but Ewen Montagu stuck to his end of the
agreement with the family. Writing in 1977, Montagu did go so far as to say: "He
was a bit of a ne'er-do-well, and...the only worthwhile thing that he ever did
he did after his death."

This article was written by David T. Zabecki and originally published in World
War II Magazine in November 1995.

06-20-2004, 01:03 PM
Always have the awesome posts mate, very good reading.
Great job, cheers :D

06-20-2004, 10:44 PM
It's amazing how the two strategically most important deception operations were carried out by the British XX Committee. They must have been a most amazing bunch of people.

08-30-2004, 09:49 AM
Major Martin left England for the last time on April 19, 1943. He traveled in a special canister packed with dry ice aboard the submarine HMS Seraph, commanded by Lt. Cmdr. (later Admiral) N.A. Jewell.

Captain Bill Jewell, has died aged 90 at August 18 2004. RIP

Submariner whose secret wartime missions included The Man Who Never Was

Dan van der Vat
Friday August 27, 2004
The Guardian

As wartime commander of the submarine HMS Seraph, Captain Bill Jewell, who has died aged 90, carried out missions not only stranger than fiction but also so secret that even now many details have yet to emerge. The most macabre was Operation Mincemeat, one of the most successful disinformation exercises of the war, which deceived the Germans about allied intentions to invade Italy in 1943. It became the subject of several books, and a 1956 film, The Man Who Never Was.
As part of the ruse, a still-unidentified corpse was taken from a Strathclyde mortuary, dressed as a Royal Marine officer and given a briefcase stuffed with dummy secret papers chained to his wrist.
The body, in a metal container, was loaded aboard the Seraph, which sailed to the Gulf of Cadiz, off the small Spanish coastal town of Huelva. The crew had no idea of the purpose of the mission for many years afterwards. Jewell, then a lieutenant, had the container hauled out at dead of night, and ordered everyone else below, saying he was about to release a new meteorological device. He then conducted an impromptu burial service and slipped "Major Martin" overboard.
The body floated ashore on the tide, and a few days later was buried at Huelva cemetery with full military honours by the neutral Spanish authorities. Through the British diplomatic missions in Spain, a wreath was sent by the dead man's notional girlfriend. The briefcase was formally handed over, apparently undisturbed.
Evidence that the Spanish fascist government had copied the papers and passed them to the Germans emerged soon afterwards. Fortifications on the Nazi-occupied French island of Corsica were built up, while German troops were sent to reinforce neighbouring Italian Sardinia. Field-Marshal Rommel was sent to Greece to inspect its defences, and two German armoured divisions in mid-battle on the Russian front were put on standby for transfer to the Balkans.
But Sicily was the real objective. Thanks largely to Seraph's deception, Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily by nine allied divisions, achieved surprise, went well and was followed by the assault on southern Italy.
Jewell was born in the Seychelles, where his father was in the Colonial Service. He joined the navy from Oundle school, Northamptonshire, and volunteered for submarines in 1936, qualifying for command in 1941. Seraph was launched that Octoberand Jewell was its first commander. He led his first patrol in the north Atlantic in July 1942, when the boat was mistakenly identified as German and fired upon by the RAF. Assigned to the Mediterranean, Seraph was involved in preparing for Operation Torch, the allied invasion of north Africa in November 1942.
Jewell was ordered to transport the American General Mark Clark to Algeria for negotiations with French commanders, whom the allies wanted to win over. Clark's staff were put ashore in rubber boats, and Seraph hid out at sea for the day. By evening, the weather had turned rough and Jewell extricated the Americans, whose presence had been discovered, by risking his boat in shallow and choppy coastal waters. The party was delivered safely to Gibraltar six days later.
Seraph's next assignment was Operation Kingpin, to fetch the French General Henri Giraud from Vichy France, where he was in hiding after escaping from German internment. He was thought to be the only man who could deliver French north African forces to the allies. Unfortunately, Giraud shared with General de Gaulle a hearty dislike of the British, and pettily refused to be rescued by them.
So, in a unique charade, HMS Seraph became USS Seraph under the spurious command of a United States navy officer, and solemnly flew the Stars and *****es for the rendezvous with Giraud's dinghy. The 40-man British crew entered into the spirit of things by farcically pretending to be American sailors.
For these unusual missions, and his more orthodox successes against enemy shipping, Jewell was awarded the MBE and the DSC, as well as French and American decorations. At the end of the war, it was discovered that he had broken his neck in two places in a fall in 1941. But he served on in other submarines, rising to captain in command of a submarine flotilla.
He worked on the staff of Lord Mountbatten, First Sea Lord and then Chief of Defence Staff, before retiring from the navy in 1963 to join a Brimingham brewery company and become life president of the Submarine Old Comrades Association.
His wife Rosemary, whom he married in 1944, died in 1996. Their two sons and one daughter survive him.
· Norman Limbury Auchinleck 'Bill' Jewell, naval officer, born October 24 1913; died August 18 2004