Operation Mincemeat: The True Spy Story That Changed The Course Of World War Ii
- Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
- Publication Date:
- 06 September 2010
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Ben McIntyre's book is packed with fascinating stories about WWII spycraft, including important, never-before-released details about the real "man who never was." I wonder if spycraft will ever be so romantic again? After reading this book, I don't find it surprising that so many real-life spies were also successful novelists.
It's a rare gem when history is unfolded for us in such a detailed and thrilling form. In 1943, Ewan Montagu of the British Naval Intelligence and Charles Cholmondeley of MI5 came together in collaboration of a complex plan of deception. The plan that was ultimately approved was to take a suitable corpse, dress it in a suitable military uniform, place certain well-planned personal items, attach to it a chained briefcase containing fake official documents and personal letters, and then drop it the ocean close to Huelva in Spain, where German agents and sympathizers were known to work. The objective? To deceive Hitler and his army that the Allies were going to use Sicily as a cover, but that they were going to attack Greece and Sardinia instead. If the plan was successful, Hitler would move his troops away from Sicily, thus leaving this underbelly of Italy vulnerable to the British armada and air attacks. Sicily was identified as being the pivotal point at which a successful Allied attack could destroy Germany's hold over Italy. Secret agents and double agents were seemingly living cheek by jowl in Spain, and both Great Britain and Germany built an impressive network of spies in Spain. What makes this a fascinating read is the attention to the cast of characters that had any part at all in this particular secret operation, both on the British side as well as on the German side. The personalities of all characters, their background before, during and after the war, and the parts they played, both in the development, and the witting and unwitting execution of Operation Mincemeat are carefully detailed. And this includes the life of the person who took the central spotlight in this play - the corpse, who never in his living days thought he'd be serving his country in such a dramatic fashion.The unfolding of Operation Mincemeat once the corpse was released into the water was a non-stop thrill. There were so many opportunities for the plan to go pear-shaped but the way in which the British spymasters manipulated their network was sheer genius and eventually led to the successful invasion of Sicily, wrenching away Germany's control and the toppling of Mussolini. There is a reference to a similar outline of a plan to use a corpse by Ian Fleming, and indeed it could have given the duo the idea, but credit must be given to both Cholmondeley and Montagu for crafting and thinking of all angles to this plan and then being instrumental in executing it so successfully.
I think that this scores on so many levels. As a pure non fiction thriller, this reads excitingly and with perhaps some drop in pace in the third quarter, it still does well, from a well researched operational analysis this also does well and for a ripping, good read this is brilliant as well. The archival research really does show and the author has done a good job of describing character, motivation and situational relevance. Very moving in places and made me think persistently both during and after reading. Recommended for just about anyone with any sort of interest in the human condition, pathology, the Role of the Spanish in the Second world war, psychology, military history or anyone who just wants to be entertained. Very good, indeed
I am fascinated with the deception campaigns and espionage that went on in WW2. As a freshman in high school, my first research paper was on this topic, and the more I read the more I wanted to learn. I read Ewen Montague's book The Man Who Never Was at least three times while I was in high school, and I've read it at least twice more since then. The story in short: British command needs to divert Nazi attention from a planned invasion of Sicily. The plan is formed -- suppose the Nazi sympathisers in Spain found the body of a British officer with authentic-looking plans for a DIFFERENT invasion. They give those plans (or photographed copies of those plans) to the Germans, and the real invasion goes off without a hitch. Simple, right? Montague's book tells the tale of the plan, and a lot of the behind the scenes details. Macintyre's new book goes even further behind the scenes. Who knew that British Intelligence was full of budding spy novelists (including Ian "James Bond" Fleming himself). Who knew that Montague's own brother was a Soviet agent? Macintyre was given access to ALL of Montague's personal papers from that time period -- including papers that Montague was allowed to take with him when he retired; papers that really should have been classified Top Secret. Macintyre's work shows the problems as well as the successes. He goes into great detail with mini-biographies of all the major players involved in Operation Mincemeat, including the Spanish and German officers who swallowed the tale hook, line, and sinker. Even if you've read all about Operation Mincemeat, you will learn something when you read this book. It is outstanding, from the writing style to the scholarship and research involved.
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