That’s Clifton Webb in The Man Who Never Was up there. He’s getting a body prepped to be dropped off by submarine near Huelva, Spain in one of WW II’s deception operations. The movie was based on a book with the same name by Ewen Montagu, that revealed how the British tricked the Germans into believing that the Allies were going to attack in Greece and Sardinia and that operations in Sicily were going to be a diversion.
Saturday, July 24, 2010

Operation Mincemeat

One thing that Montagu did not do, and that he did not do until his dying day, was reveal the identity of the man who was dropped off and buried in Spain. Ben Macintyre in Operation Mincemeat corrects deficiency and provides more details about the people involved in the operation, the opoeration itself, and the aftermath, both in terms of the success of Husky, the invasion of Sicily, and of their postwar lives.

Macintyre identifies Major William Martin, the supposed identity of the man who was washed up on the Spanish beach, as Glyndwr Michael*, a Welsh ne’er-do-well, who committed suicide by rat poison. His body was used by British Intelligence to masquerade as a downed airman who was carrying high level correspondence between members of the Allied commanders. Supposedly neutral Spain leaned in favor of the Axis, and it was hoped that the Spanish would pass on the false information to the Germans. The Germans would then allocate forces away from Sicily, and hundreds, if not thousands, of lives would be saved.

It’s probably not much of an exaggeration to say that Sicily marked a turning point in the war. It provided a launching pad for the invasion of Italy, and helped to drive Mussolini out of power. Italy would eventually surrender, though there would be tough fighting with the German troops who remained in Italy.

One thing that Macintyre brings out is the extent of the incompetence of the Abwehr, German military intelligence, and the extent to which there was resistance, or discontent, within the Abwehr. The agent in Spain, for example, was incompetent, and the man in Germany who passed on the information was opposed to the Nazis, and would die in the aftermath of the Stauffenberg bomb plot.

Next up, I’ll be doing drama. I plan on starting with Menander, and then I’ll be doing either a play about St. Therese of Lisieux, Nietzsche is My Brother, or the York mystery plays. Those will be followed by more English drama, with a possible side trip back to Moliere.

* According to the Wikipedia article on Mincemeat, another body may have been used. However, it should be noted that Macintyre is working from official douments, and that he provides a citation that identifies the body as Glyndwr Michael.