“Operation Mincemeat” by Ben Macintyre is the recounting of a mission carried out toward the end of the war to fool the Nazis into thinking the allied invasion of southern Europe would take place in an entirely different location.
It started with a memo written by the director of Naval intelligence, a man whose personal assistant was none other than Ian Fleming of James Bond fame. The memo contained various ideas (some outlandish) to plant false information, lead submarines off course, and generally just mess with their heads. The memo was largely forgotten until an Allied plane went down in the ocean off Spain’s coast with a secretary carrying sensitive documents related to the Allied invasion of French North Africa. The fear was that Spaniards friendly to the Nazis would recover the body, and therefore have access to the documents.
Fortunately that didn’t happen, but it did remind an intelligence officer named Charles Cholmondeley of that memo. Like Fleming, Cholmondeley had a flair for unconventional ideas. This particular one was to take an already dead body, load it with false documents, and set it adrift off the coast of Spain in the hopes that it would find its way to a Nazi sympathizer within the Spanish Government.
The Nazis knew an invasion was being planned, but not the particulars. So in order to be able to prepare airfields and ships without alerting the Axis powers to the actual site, the Allies set up a false staging area, and then created documents supporting this false area and date. The thinking was that with this planted information, Hitler would send all his troops to the decoy, leaving the actual invasion site vastly undermanned and outnumbered, thus ensuring a much needed victory for the Allies.
There were a lot of obstacles to accomplishing this. First, a body that was fresh enough and in good enough condition to be believable as a victim of a plane crash that also could be a convincing double for an actual officer had to be found.
Second, a convincing background had to be created for this fake officer, on the chance the Nazis looked into him. Third, the weather and tide conditions had to be right so the body would actually make it to shore to be found.
Finally, they needed the body to find its way into the hands of the right official (the whole thing was almost derailed when the Spanish government wasn’t as shady as the Brits had assumed).
Macintyre really delves into the background of the main players and all the things that went into making this whole plot come together.
Even if you’re not a World War II buff, it’s a really fascinating tale of spycraft, peppered with anecdotes of other intelligence operations. Macintyre can get a little repetitive in his storytelling, but ultimately builds the suspense so well that you want to keep on reading.
Courtney Busse-Jones is a petroleum geologist and proud member of the Tulsa Hash House Harriers who likes to bake, read and also works as a research assistant for The Frontier.