ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel
  • »
  • Education and Science»
  • History & Archaeology»
  • History of the Modern Era»
  • Twentieth Century History

HERITAGE - 20: UNLIKELY HERO, Suicidal Tramp Comes Up Trumps As A War Hero

Updated on January 5, 2017

"Pay attention at the back. This is serious business! 'Operation Mincemeat' is before you. Give it a butchers* will you?"

Newspaper spread that outlined the story behind the story... The Germans were confused in the end as well. They even ignored real plans captured after 'Operation Husky'
Newspaper spread that outlined the story behind the story... The Germans were confused in the end as well. They even ignored real plans captured after 'Operation Husky' | Source

The Lead-in

[First things first, before you tackle this highly sensitive document you must have signed the Official Secrets Act. If you have not already done so, please leave and notify Admin that you need a copy. Read and sign it, then return here forthwith, thankyou]

The notion of using a corpse as part of an intelligence ruse had already seen one inserted into a wrecked British Army scout car in August, 1942.

This was at Alam el Haifa, prior to the main battle of El Alamein, in Egypt. The vehicle was left in a German minefield near the then front line, close to positions occupied by Rommel's 90th Light Division (to the south of Qaret el Abd). A map case was left with the dead man showing fictitious British minefields. Rommel fell for the ruse and his tanks were bogged down in soft sand.

Dupers and the Duped... Erwin outfoxed

Montagu with Flt. Lt Charles Cholmondeley ('pronounced 'Chumley'  he would tell everyone) beside the van that took them and 'Major Martin'  to Scotland.
Montagu with Flt. Lt Charles Cholmondeley ('pronounced 'Chumley' he would tell everyone) beside the van that took them and 'Major Martin' to Scotland. | Source
Monty and Rommel, the desert fox outfoxed at el Alamein was withdrawn from North Africa by Hitler to avoid 'embarrassment' - he didn't want one of his top generals to be taken prisoner as von Paulus was at Stalingrad in January '43
Monty and Rommel, the desert fox outfoxed at el Alamein was withdrawn from North Africa by Hitler to avoid 'embarrassment' - he didn't want one of his top generals to be taken prisoner as von Paulus was at Stalingrad in January '43

'Major Martin'

A man's body was needed. To the point, he had to be deemed to have died out at sea from drowning and hypothermia; not only that, but he had to float ashore on a targeted Spanish beach with the tide.

Owing to the nature of the operation and level of secrecy, relatives could not be told for fear of idle chatter spreading and catching the ear of (as yet undetected) German agents.

The well-known pathologist Sir Bernard Spilsbury informed the instigators of the plan, Ewen Montagu, Lieutenant Commander (Lt Cdr, Navy) and Charles Cholmondeley, Flight Lieutenant (Flt Lt, RAF, 'pronounced Chumley'). that the state of the corpse was not critical. Because the Spaniards were generally Roman Catholic they were usually unwilling to perform post-mortems unless suspicious circumstances.dictated.

Originally a corpse was found after a naval disaster in the north of Scotland, but by the time sanction was obtained from the War Office for the use of a corpse in this operation, it had deteriorated too much for their purposes. A new one had to be found.

Bentley Purchase, the coroner of St Pancras District in Central London obtained a suitable 'candidate'. Glyndwr Michael, a thirty-four year old Welshman had come to London to escape a family tragedy, and in a state of despair had imbibed rat poison in a deserted warehouse near one of the main line stations. The nature of his death left few clues as to the exact nature of death. As the man's parents were both dead and no known relatives were available to identify Mr Michael, permission was not an obstacle.

So quick work was the order of the day. An identity was needed for the character they created for the dupe. He would be Captain, acting Major William Martin, ('Bill') of the Royal Marines, 'born' 1907 in Cardiff, Glamorgan. His status was 'subject to assignment to Combined Operations'. As a Royal Marine officer, Martin's responsibility was to the Admiralty. All official notification on his death would be Naval Intelligence related. Battledress would be worn by the corpse, as Naval uniform had to be tailor-made by Gieves of Savile Row (near Piccadilly). There would be questions if the tailors were asked to measure the corpse, more idle chatter, flapping ears everywhere. Being a Royal Marine on active service (Royal Marine ranks, as their US counter-parts were similar to those of the army) meant he was likely to be entrusted with top secret papers. He was not so highly ranked that he would have an Abwehr (German military intelligence, headed by the fated Admiral Canaris) profile and the name Martin was chosen because there were several officers by that name in the Royal Marines.

Lt Cdr Ewen Montagu - on his shoulders rested the responsibility for one of the greatest Allied gambles in WWII
Lt Cdr Ewen Montagu - on his shoulders rested the responsibility for one of the greatest Allied gambles in WWII | Source
Ben MacKintyre's book of the Ruse that might not have been but for...
Ben MacKintyre's book of the Ruse that might not have been but for... | Source

'Wallet Litter'

Major Martin needed a girlfriend to make him look more genuine. One was found, an MI5 clerk. She was given a name, 'Pam' (Pamela for the uninitiated). She wrote love letters pouring out her feelings for him. A bill for an engagement ring was provided as well as a snapshot of her drying herself on a beach somewhere. In keeping with his rank he would wear bespoke underwear.

There would be an overbearing letter written by his irate father, a letter from a family solicitor and a letter from his bank manager for the immediate repayment of an un-arranged overdraft of £79 (the price of the ring). A book of postage stamps, a silver cross and a St Christopher medallion, a pencil stub, keys, used bus ticket and theatre ticket stubs completed the 'image' for the young, upwardly mobile Captain of Marines.

Additionally there was a bill for four night's lodgings at the Naval and Military Club and a receipt from Gieves for a shirt, cash down. The fact that British officers never paid cash never occurred to the Germans. They were not to know that.

All documents were on authentic stationery, dates on the stubs and lodging bill showed Martin left London on April 24th, 1943. His body was washed ashore on the 30th after perhaps a few days in the water. The supposition would be he flew from England and his plane crashed at some time between the 24th and 30th.

More plausible, his military ID card with the picture of an officer who looked like Mr Michael was marked as a replacement for a lost one. His combined Operations badge had expired weeks earlier and not been renewed (more admin headaches for someone). A certain amount of slapdash was allowed in wartime (Nazi intelligence officer Walter Schellenberg was rumbled because his false papers were impeccably presented). Few British officers had the requisite full set of undamaged paperwork.

The Mediterranean Sea, a highly contented theatre of operations that guarded Hitler's 'soft underbelly'

The Mediterranean Sea and surrounding territories
The Mediterranean Sea and surrounding territories | Source
German radio intelligence network in the Mediterranean up to 1943
German radio intelligence network in the Mediterranean up to 1943 | Source

Major Martin's Cover

The main document carried in the briefcase was a letter from 'Archie Nye' (Lt General Sir Archibald Nye, vice-head of the Ibroach mperial General staff) to 'My Dear Alex' (General Sir Harold Alexander, Cdr 18th Army Group Algeria and Tunisia).

It was suggested after much drafting and re-drafting that Nye draw up the letter personally to cover salient points. The letter broached sensitive matters such as the unwanted award of a Purple Heart awarded by US forces to British servicemen attached to them; and the appointment of a new commander of the Guards Brigade (Household Division). This was to pinpoint the reason for the letter being entrusted to Martin as opposed to 'going through channels'.

On the point of Allied plans in the Mediterranean theatre of war the letter mentioned 'Operation Husky' as the invasion of mainland Greece by troops from Egypt and Libya. Another planned attack was raised. 'Operation Brimstone', the cover target being Sicily, implying that there would be landings on Sardinia as the only other feasible landing area for Alexander's forces. Nye added (to spice things up a bit) that 'we stand a very good chance of making the Germans think we are going for Sicily'. The letter was composed and written by Nye himself and addressed by Patricia Trehearne in Room 13 of the Admiralty.

There was in addition a letter of introduction from his commanding officer , Vice Admiral Louis Mountbatten (head of Combined Operations) to Admiral of the Fleet Sir Andrew Cunningham (C-in-C Mediterranean Fleet and Allied Naval Cdr Mediterranean). Martin was thus shown as an expert in amphibious war specialist on loan for the duration of the assault. There was a clumsy joke in the letter about 'sardines' which Montagu added for the Germans to see as an obtuse reference to an invasion of Sardinia.

The documents were inserted in a briefcase to make the ruse more obvious, previous experience being the 'mover' for this ploy. To warrant the documents being inserted into a briefcase 'Major Martin' carried two proof copies of the official pamphlet on combined operations written by author Hilary Saunders - at the time on Mountbatten's staff - and a letter from Mountbatten to General Eisenhower (by this time Senior Allied Commander Europe and Mediterranean), asking him to write a brief foreword for the US edition.It was also important that document and body were recovered together. 'Martin' had a leather covered chain such as used then by jewellery and bank couriers as security against being snatched. British military officers did not normally carry such chains, but then that was something else the Abwehr was unfamiliar with. As it was unlikely 'Martin' would keep the briefcase secured to his wrist for the duration of the long flight from Britain, the chain was in the end looped around the belt of his trench coat.

Preparing the 'bait'

'Major Martin' being prepared for his debut
'Major Martin' being prepared for his debut | Source
Major Martin's Royal Marine ID - part of the 'wallet litter'
Major Martin's Royal Marine ID - part of the 'wallet litter' | Source
The announcement in The Times that reported the deaths of Naval and R Marine officers - 'Major Martin is the last entry under 'Officers killed'.
The announcement in The Times that reported the deaths of Naval and R Marine officers - 'Major Martin is the last entry under 'Officers killed'. | Source
Patricia Davies, Major Martin's love interest 'Pam', writing the personal letter that was added to his wallet litter along with theatre ticket stubs etc
Patricia Davies, Major Martin's love interest 'Pam', writing the personal letter that was added to his wallet litter along with theatre ticket stubs etc | Source

'...Get the body back and give it another swim...'

Colonel Bevan was O/C wartime deception and obliged to explain the mission to the Prime Minister. Churchill was in his bedroom, smoking a cigar when Bevan was shown in. The PM showed a great deal of interest in the scheme. However when Bevan explained it could all go badly Chuchill shrugged off the dangers, saying,

'In that case we shall have to get the body back and give it another swim'.

'Major Martin' was attired in his Royal Marine battledress and overcoat before being put in a purpose-built steel canister dreamed up by Charles Fraser-Smith. After being filled with dry ice it was sealed. Dry ice breaks down into carbon dioxide to drive out oxygen and preserves a body without refrigeration.

Cholmondeley and Montagu accompanied the canister to where the submarine HMS 'Seraph' awaited its consignment at Holy Loch in western Scotland (still a base for RN submarines). Commanding officer William Jewell briefed his crew on the peculiar task ahead, telling the ratings only that the canister contained top secret meteorological equipment to be released off SW Spain.

On 19th April 'Seraph' left Scottish waters, reaching the assigned release point a mile offshore from Huelva eleven days later at around 4.30 am. British Intelligence was aware of an Abwehr agent in Huelva who was familiar with Spanish officials. Adolf Clauss, son of the German Consul operated under-cover as.an agricultural technician.

'Seraph' surfaced, the canister brought on deck. All but the officers were sent back below before First Lt. Scott briefed the others on the real nature of the mission, known hitherto only to him and Jewell. The canister was opened, 'Major Martin' had his Mae West (self-inflating life jacket) fitted and before the corpse was consigned to the deep Jewell read the 39th Psalm (not exactly according to orders!). Calculations estimated the current to wash the body ashore near Huelva, close to the Atlantic coast. A rubber dinghy was thrown off the submarine shortly after, on the way to Gibraltar, to give the impression 'Martin' could not find it in the dark. The canister itself was taken out to sea and riddled with bullets to sink it. When this failed it was rigged with plastic explosive for detonation (something else not in the book, Jewell only mentioned it in 1991). He signalled 'Mission complete' and stopped off at Gibraltar. The corpse was found five hours later by a local fisherman and taken ashore by Guardia Civil personnel.

The 'plant'

A relaxed Winston Churchill at his desk, cigar in hand: '...'We shall have to get the body back...' He was prepared to go the whole hog again if needed..
A relaxed Winston Churchill at his desk, cigar in hand: '...'We shall have to get the body back...' He was prepared to go the whole hog again if needed.. | Source
Huelva on the Atlantic coast of S W Spain. The Iberian peninsula - Portugal and Spain crawled with German spies,  who would unwittingly help the Allied cause in confounding their paymasters
Huelva on the Atlantic coast of S W Spain. The Iberian peninsula - Portugal and Spain crawled with German spies, who would unwittingly help the Allied cause in confounding their paymasters
Tipping 'Major Martin' off HMS 'Seraph' off Huelva - the ratings were sent back down to their stations and officers opened up the canister with the body. That done, it was left to the tide to do its 'work'
Tipping 'Major Martin' off HMS 'Seraph' off Huelva - the ratings were sent back down to their stations and officers opened up the canister with the body. That done, it was left to the tide to do its 'work' | Source
Curious locals gather around the body on the beach in neutral Spain - the magnet for the German Abwehr (Counter-intelligence)
Curious locals gather around the body on the beach in neutral Spain - the magnet for the German Abwehr (Counter-intelligence) | Source

'Mincemeat swallowed...'

The 'find' was reported to Clauss. A few days later the discovery was reported by the British Naval Attache in Spain and the committee was informed. The corpse was finally handed over to the British Vice Consul and 'Major Martin' interred in the cemetery of Nuesta Senora (Our Lady) in Huelva with full military honours on 2nd May.

The Vice Consul had previously arranged for pathologist Eduardo Del Torno to carry out a post-mortem examination of the body. Del Torno reported that the man had dropped alive into the sea and died from drowning, having been in the sea for over three days.

Montagu had 'Major Martin' included in the published list of British casualties, which was regularly inserted in The Times, for 4th June lest the Germans thought to check up on the fatality. The names of two other officers killed in plane crashes were mentioned in the same bulletin to give credence to the story. The same issue of The Times. carried a report of the loss of actor Leslie Howard, shot down by the Germans in the Bay of Biscay. To add weight to the ruse the Admiralty telegraphed the Naval Attache about the documents with 'Major Martin', to locate and recover them intact at all costs but not to alert the Spanish authorities as to their importance. The briefcase and its contents had been handed by the Spanish Navy to their own General staff and vanished from circulation at that point - unavailable even to the Abwehr.

However, as desired the senior Abwehr officer in Spain, Karl-Erich Kuehlenthal became very interested in seeing the papers. He stirred the most senior Spanish secret police officer, Colonel Jose Lopez, Baron Cerruti, to find the case and its contents. Word of the find reached Abwehr Chief Admiral Canaris in Germany and Kuehlenthal was urged to secure the documents from Spanish authorities. After processing the damp documents Abwehr chief Wilhelm Leissner was allowed to photograph them before they were returned to the British Naval Attache on May 13th, with an assurance that everything was in order. An examination by Naval Intelligence officers confirmed their having been opened. Additionally confirmation was made by Ultra (Bletchley Park) to Churchill - and further, to the US military, that

'Operation Mincemeat' has been swallowed, rod, line and sinker'.

Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda chief had read Montagu's bulletin in The Times and it emerged after hostilities that although he had his own misgivings about the veracity of the message said nothing. Hitler believed the ruse. He was at odds with Mussolini, who believed Sicily was the most likely target, and insisted Sardinia or Greece were feints.

Hitler authorised the movement of Naval and Military personnel and equipment to Greece from Sicily and the Eastern Front, reducing German strength in the Kursk area (a 'by-product' not foreseen by Montagu or Cholmondeley).


The film of the story behind the book about Operation Mincemeat, based on the book by Ben MacKintyre, about the use of Glyndwr Michael to 'persuade' the Germans to move their heavy military presence away from Sicily

The Man Who Never Was

Clearing the way for 'Husky'

Based on the story of 'Operation Mincemeat, the film 'The Man Who Never Was'
Based on the story of 'Operation Mincemeat, the film 'The Man Who Never Was' | Source
The revised Battle Plan for Operation Husky, the Allied invasion of Sicily from North Africa, the real target - the 'soft underbelly of Hitler's Europe'
The revised Battle Plan for Operation Husky, the Allied invasion of Sicily from North Africa, the real target - the 'soft underbelly of Hitler's Europe' | Source
General Montgomery ('Monty') goes over the planned invasion with General Patton - the pair were often at loggerheads, and through Patton's bull-headedness whole German divisions escaped across the Straits of Messina
General Montgomery ('Monty') goes over the planned invasion with General Patton - the pair were often at loggerheads, and through Patton's bull-headedness whole German divisions escaped across the Straits of Messina | Source

Operation Husky and aftermath...

Although on July 9th the Allies invaded Sicily the Germans were adamant this was the feint and kept their arrangements intact in Greece and on Sardinia. It was July 12th before they ordered paratroops into Sicily to hold back the British Army.

Ewen Montagu was given an OBE (Officer of The Order of the British Empire), and for his part in Operation Mincemeat Cholmondely was made MBE (Member of the Order...)

Later Developments

Subsequent discovery of British documents by the Germans were ignored, even though authentic, such as a set of plans for D-Day washed up on a Normandy shore in an abandoned landing craft. A complete set of charts for Operation Market Garden was discovered with the body of a dead officer in a crashed glider near Arnhem later in 1944. Their forces were deployed contrary to documentary evidence (which was as well, since the doomed operation could have turned into an even worse disaster - if that was possible).

*A 'butchers' in Cockney rhyming slang - see title, top of page - refers to 'a butcher's hook' = a look.

** The Commonwealth War Graves Commission added an inscription to the gravestone of 'Major Martin' to the effect that the corpse found in the sea was that of Glyndwr (pron. 'Glandower') Michael, used to foil German Intelligence.

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 23 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Serious business and yet I found myself laughing throughout. I was always that kid in the back of the room smirking at inappropriate times. :) Character defect of some sort.

      Anyway, that's my way of saying I thoroughly enjoyed this account.

      bill

    • alancaster149 profile image
      Author

      Alan Robert Lancaster 23 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      OK, Bill my lad, let's 'ave a butchers at one of your accounts of one of the Yank operations in the Pacific. Let's make it hard ('Aye, me 'earties, 'arrd!') and set it at Midway. Up to it? See how close I get to the top of the comments column.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 23 months ago from Queensland Australia

      What an interesting story Alan. I had never heard of this ruse before but the movie "The Man Who Never Was" rings a faint bell. This was a thrilling tale of British ingenuity and deception. Voted up.

    • alancaster149 profile image
      Author

      Alan Robert Lancaster 23 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Hello again John. It's one of them that stayed in the files for longer, like Ultra. After finishing off Hitler the Allies suddenly found the divisions in ideology and we didn't want the Russkies to know too much - did we? We couldn't tell them about Enigma, and we certainly couldn't let on about our ruses (too damned weird for their liking, too English!)

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 23 months ago from Victoria, Australia

      Such a clever notion - and it worked so well, too. An interesting article.

    • alancaster149 profile image
      Author

      Alan Robert Lancaster 23 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Hello Blossom, thought this would be up your street. It worked well because of the Germans' mind-set, although as I hinted Goebbels wasn't that hot on it and Mussolini seems to have had a better grasp of strategy than Hitler did (never got beyond corporal, and even then that was only because his predecessors were popped by British snipers. One got him between the legs and look how that turned out).

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 23 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Really enjoyed this hub. I read recently that this was originally a plot that Ian Fleming put to the Admiralty near the beginning of the war that was turned down as being too crazy for a chance if success.

      When he heard about it and that another officer took credit for it he was furious!

      Great hub

      Lawrence

    • alancaster149 profile image
      Author

      Alan Robert Lancaster 23 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Hello Lawrence. Nice to see you stop by. How's life in the shadow of Oz?

      Ian Fleming was involved in the March 1942 raid on St Nazaire to secure code books. He took the credit for that, so maybe he was keen on the kudos for 'Mincemeat', although there was no mention of him on Wikipedia in relation to this operation. Cholmondeley ('pronounced Chumley') had put the idea forward for 'Mincemeat' and it was Cdr Montagu who took the major kudos.

      I've just had an idea about Crete - New Zealanders played a large part in the evacuation there.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 23 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Alan.

      I thought it might have been Fleming "blowing his own trumpet" but wasn't sure.

      Crete would be interesting. We remember it here as the place where "Charlie Uppham" got his first VC! He's one of only three men ever to get the VC and bar (he got one in Crete and one in North Africa) that would be a great hub to do.

      Lawrence

    • alancaster149 profile image
      Author

      Alan Robert Lancaster 23 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Hello again Lawrence, I've got a title ready as well as the pages marked in a large book titled 'Chronicle of the Second World War'. The Kiwis were active later on in Italy at Monte Cassino, with high losses before the Poles were sent in to crack the German paratroopers. There's a page about that I did here as well. Take a look through the profile (it's not too far down).

      Should be done by next weekend. Some details need to be added from Wiki.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 23 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      I will take a look. I just did a hub about Americans in the RAF you might find interesting

    • alancaster149 profile image
      Author

      Alan Robert Lancaster 23 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Find the piece about Monte Cassino lower down after the story in STORYLINE - 5: SALERNO SALLY... There are pictures of Monte Cassino abbey before and after with a dvd link to Amazon. At the moment it's a sub-note but I'll add it to the HERITAGE series as a page in its own right.

      What's the title of your page on Americans in the RAF? (Reminds me of the James Garner character in the Great Escape, there's a piece on that in the Bushell (look for the picture of him in his 'cozzie' on the profile page).

    Click to Rate This Article