What was Operation Mincemeat?

It sounds like a mission doomed for disaster, but it was actually one of the most successful wartime deceptions ever executed.

What was Operation Mincemeat? (public domain)

Masterminded by Charles Cholmondeley of MI5 and Ewen Montagu of British naval intelligence in 1943, its objective was to help convince the Germans that the Allies planned to attack Greece instead of the real target, Sicily, and therefore prevent them from sending extra troops there.

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To do this, British intelligence obtained the dead body of a Welsh vagrant and created a whole new identity for him.

Using false identity cards, fake documents, photographs and receipts they turned him into the late Major William Martin of the Royal Marines. They then chained to his wrist a briefcase containing documents and letters which indicated the Allies in North Africa were planning to invade Greece and dropped the body off the Spanish coast.

Just as they had hoped the body was recovered by the Spanish and the information in the briefcase passed on to the Germans who were completely fooled.

They failed to reinforce Sicily, diverted troops to Greece, including tanks from the eastern front and even after the Allies had landed in Sicily initially thought it was a diversion.

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Thousands of allied lives were saved as a result. The story of Operation Mincemeat was later made into a film – The Man Who Never Was – and if you think the whole story has a whiff of James Bond about it you wouldn’t be far wrong. The scheme was probably first thought up by another member of British naval intelligence – one Ian Fleming.

Answered by one of our Q&A experts, Julian Humphrys. For more fascinating questions by Julian.