Operation Mincemeat – A Turning Point in WWII
The waterlogged body was taken by Spanish authorities to a location where they opened the attache case and found an official-looking military envelope from Lt. General Archibald Nye, vice-chief of the Imperial General Staff to Gen. Harold Alexander, senior British officer on Gen. Eisenhower’s staff in Tunisia. The case with its unopened content was offered to the local British vice-consul, Francis Haselden who declined it, suggesting that the handover go through official channels.
While Spain was a neutral country, much of its military were pro-German and the Nazis went to Colonel Jose Lopez Barron Cerruti, Spain’s most senior secret policeman and friend of the Germans, asking him to search for the briefcase.Barron had fought with the Blue Division, the Spanish volunteer unit sent to the Russian front to fight along Nazi troops. Once the briefcase was found, Barron and others opened the briefcase finding the military envelope. The envelope was maneuvered in such a way so it appeared unopened and reviewed the documents inside which revealed a secret Allied scheme to stage an invasion of Sardinia and Greece in the coming weeks. Arrangements were made to make all of the contents available to Nazi agents. Photographs were taken and immediately sent to Berlin. Believing Sicily was were an invasion would take place, General Alfred Jodl, head of the German supreme command operations staff proclaimed, “You can forget about Sicily. We now know it’s in Greece. ” Hitler and his High Command became convinced Greece was the target for an invasion and quickly ordered the transfer of Panzer tank divisions and other personnel to the Peloponnese in Greece.
When a hundred and sixty thousand Allied troops invaded Sicily on July 10, 1943, it became clear to the Germans that they had fallen victim to one of the most remarkable – and successful – deceptions in modern military history.
The men behind the audacious plan were two officers in Section 17M of the British Intelligence Service – a group so secret that barely 20 people even knew they existed. The two officers, who Churchill called “corkscrew minds,” were Charles Cholmondeley a RAF officer and Ewen Montagu, a Royal Navy intelligence officer.
Oddly this highly successful and innovative twosome could not have been more different. Cholmondeley was a dreamer seeking adventure. Montagu was an aristocratic, detail-oriente But together they were the perfect team and created an ingenious plan: Get a corpse, equip it with secret (but false and misleading) papers concerning the invasion and drop it off the coast of Spain where German spies would, they hoped, take the bait. The idea was approved by British intelligence officials and Winston Churchill who believed it might ring true to the Axis and help bring victory to the Allies.
Working with Cholmondeley and Montagu on this great deception was 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. Using fraud, imagination and seduction, Winston Churchill’s team of spies spun a web of deceit so elaborate and so convincing that they began to believe it themselves. From a windowless basement beneath Whitehall, the hoax travelled from London to Scotland to Spain to Germany and ended up on Hitler’s desk.
According to Ben Macintyre, author of ‘Agent Zigzag and Operation Mincemeat,’ the incredible plan was the one brilliant deception that turned the course of World War II, helped the Allies defeat Nazi Germany and saved the lives of some 40,000 Allied servicemen and women. Macintyre also wrote that Montagu and Cholmondeley had a specific target in mind for their elaborate deception: Adolf Clauss, part of the Abwehr (German military intelligence) who was active in the area and one of Germany’s most successful spies. He was known to be efficient, ruthless and extremely gullible – the perfect ‘sucker.’
The screenplay of the film stayed as close to the truth as was convenient, with the remainder being fiction. For example, the Irish spy in the film is a complete fabrication. Ewen Montagu declared that he was happy with the fictitious incidents which, although they did not happen, might have happened. During filming, Montagu has a cameo role, that of a Royal Air Force Air Vice-Marshal who has doubts about the feasibility of the proposed plan.