An almost picaresque story about Royal Marine Major William Martin, who was lost at sea in an aircraft accident carrying important dispatches about future Allied plans in the Mediterranean. His body washed ashore in Spain and by nefarious means the dispatches were copied and forwarded to Abwehr, German intelligence.
Except that that major was no major and those dispatches were fake. It was all an elaborate plot cooked up by British Intelligence to deceive the enemy, and which disinformation Abwehr and Hitler himself swallowed whole, to the extent that the Germans moved a vitally significant portion of their forces from Sicily, where as Macintyre puts it anyone with an atlas knew the Allies would invade, to Greece and Sardinia, where the British hoped to fool the Germans into thinking they would. Operation Mincemeat was, to put it mildly, successful.
The British Eighth Army had expected some ten thousand casualties in the first week of the invasion; just one-seventh of that number were killed or wounded. The navy had anticipated the loss of up to three hundred ships in the first two days; barely a dozen were sunk…The Allies had expected it would take ninety days to conquer Sicily. The occupation was completed on August 17, thirty-eight days after the invasion began.
Further, Operation Mincemeat began a cascade of other events, Mussolini’s downfall, Italy’s surrender, the abandonment of the German siege of Kursk and pretty much the beginning of the end of the European war. Macintyre writes
The Third Reich never recovered from the failure of Operation Citadel, and from then until the end of the war, the German armies in the east would be on the defensive as the Red Army rolled, inexorably, toward Berlin.
The cast of characters has to be read to be believed. There’s the British Jewish nobleman (I didn’t even know there was such a thing), his unbelievable brother (I won’t spoil), the submarine driver with comprehensive powers of seduction (I’m thinking of the car with the doors that wouldn’t open), the crazy commando who kept refusing promotion and went on to be portrayed in film by James Garner, the undertaking brothers, one in the front lines and the other not but still part of the story, and so many more. But! One of the things I particularly love is that at least three (possibly four, I lost count) of the men engaged in kerflummoxing the Germans so completely were…writers.
A rollicking story, all the more exquisite because it’s all true. Don’t pick up this book until you’ve got a few days with nothing else to do because you won’t be able to put it down. Highly recommended.
See also A Presumption of Death by Jill Paton Walsh & Dorothy L. Sayers, the second of Walsh’s continuation of Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey series. Walsh uses the the story of Major Martin to inform her plot and the Official Secrets Act as a motive for murder. Also recommended.
Author and founder of Storyknife.org.