One of the strangest tales of World War II, and it’s all true

AN ASTONISHING STORY OF DECEPTION IN WORLD WAR II

I don’t remember many of the books I read back then, nearly 70 years ago, but I vividly remember The Man Who Never Was. And that despite that fact that I missed the Hollywood film released a couple of years later that was based on Montagu’s book. Now, in the 21st century, when most of the secret files of intelligence operations in World War II have been declassified, much more information is available about Montagu’s operation. And Ben MacIntyre corrects the errors and misleading information in the earlier account and stitches all the facts together into a thrilling update on what the British called Operation Mincemeat.

OPERATION MINCEMEAT: HOW A DEAD MAN AND A BIZARRE PLAN FOOLED THE NAZIS AND ASSURED ALLIED VICTORY BY BEN MACINTYRE (2010) 434 PAGES ★★★★★

Examining the corpse used to fool the Nazis in the 2022 film, “Operation Mincemeat.” Image: Task & Purpose

HOW THE ALLIES ASSURED VICTORY IN WORLD WAR II

Ben MacIntyre’s book is even more astonishing than Montagu’s. He tells the tale at greater length, in much greater depth, and with all the warts and official secrets revealed in the telling. Never have I seen more convincing evidence that truth is, truly, stranger than fiction. MacIntyre’s Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured Allied Victory is nothing short of a revelation. It’s one of the very best of a torrent of books based on the gradual opening of the files of the British Secret Intelligence Service beginning in the 1970s.

CORRECTING THE RECORD ON OPERATION MINCEMEAT

In his book, MacIntyre contradicts the convenient untruths and obfuscations of Montagu’s own account. For example:

  • The dead body washed onto the Spanish shore to launch the plot was that of a mentally unbalanced, poverty-stricken, substance-abusing Welshman who probably committed suicide. He was not, as Montagu had asserted, a middle-class Scotsman who died an honorable death in a hospital. And the Welshman’s family was never asked for permission to use his body.
  • The famous English pathologist who assured Montagu and Cholmondeley that no one would discover the true cause of death of the man now rechristened “Major William Martin” was clearly mistaken.

OTHER CONFOUNDING REVELATIONS

MacIntyre also turned up a host of surprising facts about the Germans’ reaction to the deception.

  • The “German spy” sent to England to investigate the bona fides of “Major Martin” was a figment of the Nazis’ imagination. British intelligence had captured, turned, or executed every single Abwehr agent infiltrated into Britain — a fact that was still a secret when Montagu wrote his book in the early 1950s.
  • The Abwehr officer in Berlin who was the ultimate authority on the authenticity of the documents and was Hitler’s favorite intelligence analyst was easily able to detect the phoniness of “Martin’s” papers. But he chose to reassure Hitler because he was a dedicated anti-Nazi and was prepared to do anything to help the Allies win the war. (He was later executed in the wake of the failed von Stauffenberg assassination plot.)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

FOR FURTHER READING

I’ve reviewed three other excellent books about World War II espionage and special operations by Ben MacIntyre:

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