Operation Mincemeat Part Two

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June 15, 2022
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Operation Mincemeat Part Two

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Four Months Earlier: January 14, 1943 – The Casablanca Conference

“Hope is a good thing. Maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
– The Shawshank Redemption

At the Anfa Hotel in Casablanca, representatives of the Allied forces, including Winston Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt, would meet in secret to strategize. Now that they had taken control of Northern Africa, how would they proceed to Europe? Casablanca had been chosen as their meeting place by President Roosevelt, citing the "great weather and lack of mosquitos."

At this historic meeting, the attendees would lay out their policy of "Unconditional Surrender." No mercy was to be given in their next attack. They were determined to deliver a stunning blow to the Germans that would bring the beginning of the end of this war. Roosevelt said they would need “design, purpose and an unconquerable will” in order to pull this off.

They would somehow need to draw German forces away from the Eastern Front to increase their supply shipments to the Soviet Union, and they would need to find the best entry point from northern Africa to southern Europe.

It was decided that the most advantageous next step would be to cross the Mediterranean Sea at Sicily. As Winston Churchill put it, "Everyone but a bloody fool would know it's Sicily.” Sicily provided a perfect launch pad for an invasion of Italy: it would allow for Allied shipping, and it would split the defenses of the Axis powers in southern Europe. The challenge, however, was the terrain. Because of its mountains, Sicily would be much better suited for a defender rather than an attacker. They would need to draw Germany’s attention away if they were to take the island.

But how can one get an army to leave its most necessary base undefended?

If Sicily was the target, then some incredible misdirection would have to take place to get the Axis cleared away from the area. Something so subtle that it wouldn’t seem too good to be true, and so intricately woven that it seemed undeniably real.

Britain had just the men for the job.

In an idea stolen from a mystery novel, Ewin Montagu and Charles Cholmondeley would put “Operation Mincemeat" into play. They would find the perfect corpse, then plant fake documents on the body that described a fake plan to attack somewhere other than Sicily.

The plan was a long shot, by any standard. It would involve a lot of planning, and a lot more luck. Even if they found the perfect body, they would have to write up the perfect documents. Then they would need to get the body into the perfect hands and hope that they found the false documents; then hopefully the ones discovering the body would believe the information. Then hopefully the information would make it back to Hitler. Then hopefully Hitler would move his army away from Sicily… Hopefully.

January 28th, 1943 – The Man Who Never Was

One would think that finding a body to use for this operation in the middle of a war would be the easy part. However, this first and most necessary task would prove to be difficult. The body would need to look as if it had died at sea, so any bullet holes or major wounds would be an automatic disqualification. This operation would also have to be such a well-kept secret that very few people could be aware of what was happening, so the deceased person could not be well-known. Many of the fallen soldiers had families that would not allow for the military to use their deceased husband or father as bait. Finally, the body couldn’t have been dead for too long, so it wouldn’t have decomposed.

On January 28th, 1943, the unsuspecting “Welsh tramp,” Glyndwr Michael, who died from rat poison ingestion, would take center stage as the hero of this operation. His body was lean, which allowed him to be a believable officer (someone ranked high enough to be allowed to carry such important documents) and obviously not an active field soldier. Michael didn’t have any known family, he had only died a week or so before they discovered him, and the amount of poison that he ingested was so minute, it would be hard to detect by anyone performing an autopsy. In a miraculous fashion, they found the perfect body.

The name of William Martin was chosen for the newly discovered body. “William” was common enough, and “Martin” was a prominent last name in the Royal Navy. He would be best suited as a Royal Navy Captain because then all correspondence about the body, once in Spain, would go straight through Cholmondeley and Montagu. Not to mention the fact that Royal Marines wore battle dress uniforms, which were easily obtainable and came in standard sizes. Finally, Captain (Acting Major) was a low enough rank that the opposition may not know who he was, but high enough to allow him to carry war strategy correspondence to the Allies.

Day and night, Montagu and Cholmondeley would obsess over every detail of this real-life, fictional character. As a good character in any story must have a love interest, they decided her name would be Pam. They would be recently engaged, and he would still have the crinkled receipt for the engagement ring in his possession. He would have a picture of Pam (really an MI5 clerk named Jean Wesley) and a couple of love letters from her stashed away in his wallet for easy access. His dad was decided to be a pompous jerk, so there would be an abrasive letter from him on the body as well.

Next, Major Martin’s personality would begin to emerge. He would be a little reckless, so he would have some unpaid bills and a late notice from the bank in his wallet. His Navy ID card would be newly issued, showing that he had lost his previous one. (This was primarily because they would have to make a new card for him and it would be too difficult to make a new card look several years old). He would be Catholic. This would benefit the conspirators because Spain was a predominantly Catholic country, so they didn't typically conduct post mortem examinations unless the cause of death was of great importance. Martin would carry a silver cross and a St. Christopher’s medallion to ensure them of his faith. Cigarettes, stamps, matches, keys, a pencil and a receipt for a new shirt would also be included for good measure. Captain Martin also would carry ticket stubs from a London Theatre and a bill for a few nights at a popular London Hotel in late April.

In a final gesture, Cholmondeley and Montagu attempted to perform a Weekend at Bernie’s-style photo shoot, but with no success. They could not make the corpse look as if it were not…well, a corpse. Instead, they found another MI5 officer who resembled the Welsh tramp to graciously accept posing as Captain William Martin in this newly issued photo.

They would even go so far as to wear his uniform around for weeks and consistently rub the ID card on their pants to make everything look a little more used. The details were in place, and William Martin was ready for his moment.

The briefcase was the most important part of this plan of deception. This needed to be perfect. Not too obvious as to give away the actual plan, but clear enough as to have the Germans take the bait.

A letter from Lieutenant Archibald Nye to General Harold Alexander would be the focal point. It would include all the information of the upcoming plan to attack the Balkans. To not look so obvious, a “clumsy” joke was made about sardines, which they had hoped the Germans would take as a hint that they would attack Sardinia. Hitler, as an egomaniac, would probably see this and believe himself to be clever in decoding the mystery joke. One of the most important details was the plan of a feint attack on Sicily. This detail allowed for an attack to take place on Sicily, while having Germany and Italy believe it was all a part of a larger plan. Hopefully, by the time the Axis powers would realize that Sicily was the primary target, it would be too late.

Finally, a single black eyelash was placed within the envelope. If the envelope was extracted, the eyelash would be gone. Then the Brits would know that the bait was taken once (and if) they received the briefcase back.

April 30, 1943 – Sticky Fingers

Now time became their enemy. The body would rapidly decompose, ruining the effect, but it couldn’t be frozen, because that would be easily detectable by the ones who would find him. Even kept at 39 degrees Fahrenheit, they only had three months before it would be too late. They had to move quickly.

They thought of simulating a plane crash in the ocean to explain why this body was washing up on shore, but that was dismissed as too risky. Instead, the delivery method that was chosen was the HMS Seraph, a submarine.

The staff of the ship could not be aware of the operation taking place, and were informed they were delivering meteorological equipment. The body was packed in a container marked “Handle with Care - Optical Instruments” with twenty pounds of dry ice to deplete the container of oxygen and keep the body preserved.

At 4:30 am, the Seraph would surface off the coast of Spain. A handful of men would prepare the case for disposal with explosives and Psalm 39 was read as the body was cast into the sea. Five hours later, José Antonio Rey María would discover a mysterious body floating not too far from his boat.

Encrypted messages were then sent out looking for Captain Martin and his briefcase. These encrypted messages were ones that the Brits knew the Germans had the code for. Hopefully, Germany would be listening.

Francis Haselden waited patiently in Spain for the call. He had to ensure that briefcase did not go directly back to Britain, and in the case of an autopsy, make sure they didn’t dig too deep—hence their lunch at Haselden’s request.

If the documents made it to Madrid, they hoped the Spaniards would crack and hand the documents over to the Germans. Germany was on the hunt and would stop at nothing to get their hands on this briefcase before the Brits.

Britain would receive the briefcase and its contents back shortly afterward, all contents were accounted for…except for one black eyelash. The bait had been taken.

To reassure Germany that their plan was successful, Britain sent one last encrypted message stating that they had the briefcase back in their possession, untampered with.

Sicily was taken on the 17th of August and Hitler would be on his back foot for the rest of the war. On May 7, 1945, Admiral Donitz (Hitler’s successor) agreed to unconditional surrender.

The war had been won.