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Lock, Stock, and History

Operation Mincemeat and the Man Who Never Was

In 1943, in the midst of World War II, the body of a man washed up on the shores of Spain with a mysterious briefcase chained to his arm.  After an examination of the corpse the coroner determined that the man had died of hypothermia and drowning.  However what was more interesting was the man’s identity, and the contents of his briefcase.  The man was identified as Major William Martin of the British Royal Marines and inside his briefcase contained top secret plans detailing an Allied invasion of German occupied Greece.  At the time Spain was ruled by Francisco Franco, a fascist dictator who was sympathetic to the Third Reich even though Spain was officially neutral.  The information was passed on to German agents.

The Germans determined the information to be real and credible.  After all they intercepted several Allied messages which suggested such an invasion was in the works.  Furthermore German spies who had infiltrated the British Government had confirmed that an invasion of Greece would occur.  The German military reacted by redeploying several units for the defense of Greece.  They even sent their best military commander, Gen. Erwin Rommel, to command the defense.  The Germans waited, waited, and waited for the imminent invasion, an invasion that would never come.  In the meantime, two armies led by Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery and Gen. George S. Patton landed in Sicily, badly mauling the German and Italian Army while spearheading a greater invasion of Italy.

Like all Allied operations the invasion of Sicily was an intricate work of deception and trickery.  The Allies were masters of deceit, at one point causing the German Army to chase phantom armies in the desert and the German Air Force to drop bombs into the empty sea.  However the plot to misdirect German forces away from Sicily, called “Operation Mincemeat” would involve one of the strangest forms of trickery in military history.

To fool the Germans, the Allies started by broadcasting false messages suggesting an invasion of Greece.  The Germans took this information at face value and considered it legitimate.  After all there were German spies all over Britain who confirmed that an invasion of Greece was imminent.  What the Germans didn’t know was that the British secret service were masters at rooting out spies.  Most German spies had been captured and convince to become double agents paid to report bogus information to their former masters.  More importantly, the corpse of Major William Martin was a fabrication that really takes the cake when it comes to fabrications.

Major William Martin was a person concocted to make the evidence of an invasion of Greece irrefutable.  With the help of pathologist Sir Bernard Spilsbury, a team was able to fabricate the corpse of man who appeared to have died by drowning and hypothermia.  This included soaking the corpse in cold water for several days and pumping its lungs full of seawater.  The corpse was of a homeless Welshman named Glyndwyr Michael who had died eating rat poison, but the corpse was remade into the persona of Major William Martin.  This included the creation of a number of fine details including,

  • A fake ID
  • Fake funeral arrangements and a death inquiry conducted by the Admiralty
  • A picture of his fiancee named Pam, who was actually an MI5 secretary named Nancy Jean Leslie.
  • A wedding ring and jewelers receipt.
  • A letter from his father.
  • A letter from his bank manager saying that he had overdrawn his account.
  • Various pocket items such as  a book of stamps, a silver cross and a St Christopher’s medallion, a pencil stub, keys, a used twopenny bus ticket, ticket stubs from a London theatre, a bill for four nights’ lodging at the Naval and Military Club, and a receipt from Gieves & Hawkes for a new shirt.

The body of Major William Martin was taken to the coast of Spain by submarine.  Once there is was cast into the sea along with a rubber dingy and wreckage, to make it seem as though he had died in a shipwreck.  The tide washed the corpse inland where it was discovered by a local fisherman.  The local coroner only took a superficial glance at the corpse and the information was passed on to German agents.

Taken altogether, the evidence seemed to confirm from a German standpoint that an invasion of Greece would occur.  The documents were deemed as authentic, and the German Army set up their defenses accordingly.  By the time the deception was realized, it was too late.

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