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Operation Mincemeat [Kindle Edition]

Ben Macintyre
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (458 customer reviews)

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Book Description


Ben Macintyre’s Agent Zigzag was hailed as “rollicking, spellbinding” (New York Times), “wildly improbable but entirely true” (Entertainment Weekly), and, quite simply, “the best book ever written” (Boston Globe). In his new book, Operation Mincemeat, he tells an extraordinary story that will delight his legions of fans.

In 1943, from a windowless basement office in London, two brilliant intelligence officers conceived a plan that was both simple and complicated— Operation Mincemeat. The purpose? To deceive the Nazis into thinking that Allied forces were planning to attack southern Europe by way of Greece or Sardinia, rather than Sicily, as the Nazis had assumed, and the Allies ultimately chose.
Charles Cholmondeley of MI5 and the British naval intelligence officer Ewen Montagu could not have been more different. Cholmondeley was a dreamer seeking adventure. Montagu was an aristocratic, detail-oriented barrister. But together they were the perfect team and created an ingenious plan: Get a corpse, equip it with secret (but false and misleading) papers concerning the invasion, then drop it off the coast of Spain where German spies would, they hoped, take the bait. The idea was approved by British intelligence officials, including Ian Fleming (creator of James Bond). Winston Churchill believed it might ring true to the Axis and help bring victory to the Allies.

Filled with spies, double agents, rogues, fearless heroes, and one very important corpse, the story of Operation Mincemeat reads like an international thriller.

Unveiling never-before-released material, Ben Macintyre brings the reader right into the minds of intelligence officers, their moles and spies, and the German Abwehr agents who suffered the “twin frailties of wishfulness and yesmanship.” He weaves together the eccentric personalities of Cholmondeley and Montagu and their near-impossible feats into a riveting adventure that not only saved thousands of lives but paved the way for a pivotal battle in Sicily and, ultimately, Allied success in the war.

Editorial Reviews Review

Amazon Exclusive Essay: When Spycraft Is Not Crafty Enough by Ben Macintyre
Click on Thumbnail to Enlarge

Soon after Operation Mincemeat was launched, Britain’s spymasters realized they had made a glaring mistake. They tried to correct it and, in the process, made it much worse.

In Chapter Seven of Operation Mincemeat, I identified various "hostages to fortune" left by the planners of the deception--most importantly, the fake, dated letter from Bill Martin’s "father," handwritten on the writing paper of a Welsh Hotel.

"The plot would never have stood up to scrutiny if German spies in Britain had made even the most cursory checks on it," I wrote. "A glance at the hotel register for the Black Lion Hotel would have showed that no J. C. Martin had stayed there on the night of April 13."

Two weeks after Operation Mincemeat was published, I received a telephone call at The Times, of the sort that non-fiction writers both welcome--and dread.

"I happen to have the hotel register for the Black Lion," said the Welsh voice on the other end. "And if you look at the page for April, 1943, you will clearly see the name J. C. Martin."

I was flabbergasted, and my respect for the planners of Operation Mincemeat rose another notch. They had thought of everything: they had even dispatched someone to Mold, in North Wales, to stay at the hotel and pose as the fictional father of a fictional officer, simply to ensure that the hotel register looked correct if anyone came snooping afterwards. That was true spycraft.

When the caller sent me a photograph of the page from the register, I studied it carefully. The handwriting was that of Charles Cholmondeley, the originator and co-creator of Operation Mincemeat. The false address given for "J. C. Martin" was Scotts House, Eynsham, in Oxfordshire (now a daycare center).

The faked letter in Major Martin’s pocket clearly indicated that "Father" had been staying at the hotel for some time ("the only alternative to imposing myself once more on your aunt"). The register indicated that he had arrived at the hotel on April 9th, and checked out on the 20th, in time for the fake meeting with his son in London.

So far, so convincing.

But closer examination revealed something very odd. The name and signature of J. C. Martin did not appear in the correct date sequence, but was added in the space at the bottom of the page. It was clearly an afterthought, written in sometime afterwards. To even the most casual investigator this would have set off loud alarm bells: so far from covering up the mistake, Cholmondeley had compounded it, by drawing attention to the fact that there was something distinctly out of the ordinary about John Martin and his sojourn at the Black Lion.

One can speculate about what must have happened. As Mincemeat got underway, the planners began to realize that it was working far more effectively that they had dared to hope. They began to wonder and worry about possible loose ends. The coroner, Bentley Purchase, was contacted again and quizzed over whether, if the Germans exhumed the body and carried out another post mortem, they would be able tell that Martin had died of poisoning, rather than drowning. (He was confident they would not.)

They also, I suspect, took another look at the letters, and sent Cholmondeley to Mold. The result was not a cover-up, but a giveaway. A register without the name J.C.Martin would merely have presented a mystery; a register with the name so obviously added in was patently a botched attempt to deceive.

In the end, it did not matter. There is no evidence that the Germans ever carried out any checking of the Bill Martin backstory. Had they attempted to do so, this would almost certainly have been picked up by British intelligence since the entire German espionage system in the U.K. was effectively controlled by MI5. Once the lie was embedded in German strategic thinking, no effort was made to disprove it.

Still, it is sobering thought, that if a single German agent had traveled to Mold and examined the register of the Black Lion, he would surely have spotted the obvious addition of “J.C.Martin”, recognized there was something fishy going on, and warned the Germans before the invasion of Sicily. The island might then have been reinforced, and countless lives might have been lost with incalculable consequences. That single register entry could have changed the course of World War II.

One of the great pleasures of writing about this period, is the way that history never stands still. The register of the Black Lion is only one of many fragments that have appeared, since the book was published, to enlarge and complete the story of Operation Mincemeat.

The moral for spy-craftsmen? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And if it cannot be fixed without giving the game away, don’t touch it.

Questions for Ben Macintyre on Operation Mincemeat

Q: What inspired you to write about this little-known story from World War II?
A: I first came across the story while researching my last book, Agent Zigzag, about the British criminal and double agent Eddie Chapman. One of his case officers, Ewen Montagu, was the mastermind behind Operation Mincemeat. The more I dug, the more information emerged about this true story, for so long shrouded in myth and mystery.

Q: Was it difficult to make contact with Ewen Montagu’s family, and were they helpful in your research?
A: The members of the Montagu family were easy to find and hugely helpful; indeed, this book could not have been written without them. After the war, Ewen Montagu retained most of the official papers relating to Operation Mincemeat. After he died, they were put in a wooden trunk, and almost forgotten. In 2007, the family gave me full access to the papers, including the official records, but also memos, letters, photographs, and a 200-page memoir written by Montagu himself.

Q: What was the most interesting/surprising detail that you uncovered as you were gathering information for Operation Mincemeat?
A: The most extraordinary aspect of Operation Mincemeat, to my mind, is the way that the organizers approached this elaborate, many-layered deception operation as if they were writing a novel, imagining a version of reality and then luring the truth towards it. Indeed, the talents required for espionage and fiction-writing are not so very different. At the center of the plot was the fictional figure of William Martin: he was equipped with not only false papers but an entirely false personality and past, including a fiancée, complete with love letters.

Q: There are a number of fascinating figures in Operation Mincemeat. Which person were you most intrigued by, and why?
A: I was particularly fascinated by Charles Cholmondeley, the RAF officer seconded to MI5 who first dreamed up the plan to use a dead body to plant false information on the Germans. Cholmondeley had a long, waxed, air-force mustache, a shy personality, and a very strange mind, but he was a genius at deception work, and the unsung hero of Operation Mincemeat. Unlike other participants, he was modest about the achievement, never told anyone what he had done during the war, and ended up selling lawn mowers in a small town in rural England.

Q: Where did you conduct most of your research, and did you encounter any difficulties or roadblocks along the way?
A: This book took me to Spain, France, and the U.S., but most of the research was conducted in British archives and interviewing survivors from that time. Despite Britain’s draconian Official Secrecy Act, rather than hindering or obstructing my research, MI5 and MI6 (the security service and secret intelligence service) were extraordinarily helpful. Perhaps the main impediment was time: the events described in the book are now on the furthest tip of living memory, most of the participants are now dead, and in some ways the research was a race to capture the memories of the living before they, too, are gone.

Q: In the book, you hint that Ewen Montagu (playing Bill) and Jean Leslie (playing Pam) may have taken their roles as "lovers" too seriously. What is your belief about their relationship?
A: Whether the imagined courtship between "Bill" and "Pam" was ever more than merely flirtatious banter is unknown, and likely to remain that way. Certainly Ewen was “smitten” with Jean (her word), and they both played along with their allotted roles. Wartime Britain was filled with fear and danger, but for those in the spying game, it was also a time of great excitement and romance. If the imagined love affair overlapped with reality, that would fit with the story, in which the framers invented a deception so real they began to believe it themselves.

Q: Did you have the opportunity to visit the gravestone of Glyndwr Michael/Major William Martin in Huelva? How do you think his family would have felt if they had known the unexpected and important role their son played in the outcome of World War II?
A: I did visit the grave in Huelva: it is a most atmospheric and tranquil place, looking down over the port and the shoreline where the body of "William Martin" was found in 1943. Glyndwr Michael’s family was a troubled one, crushed by poverty and with a history of mental illness. I think they would have been astonished and delighted in equal measure that Glyndwr played such a crucial role in history, albeit posthumously, and through no choice of his own.

From Publishers Weekly

London Times writer-at-large Macintyre (Agent Zigzag) offers a solid and entertaining updating of WWII's best-known human intelligence operation. In 1943, British intelligence conceived a spectacular con trick to draw German attention away from the Allies' obvious next objective, Sicily. The bait was a briefcase full of carefully forged documents attached to the wrist of Major William Martin, Royal Marines—a fictitious identity given to a body floated ashore in neutral Spain. Making the deception plausible was the task given to two highly unconventional officers: Lt. Comdr. Ewen Montagu and Squadron Leader Charles Cholmondeley. Macintyre recounts their adventures and misadventures with panache. The body was that of a derelict. Its costuming included the underwear of a deceased Oxford don. An attractive secretary provided the photo of an imaginary fiancée. The carefully constructed documents setting up the bogus operation against Greece and Sardinia convinced even Hitler himself. The Sicily landings were achieved as almost a complete surprise. And the man who never was entered the history and folklore of WWII. Photos. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • File Size: 5609 KB
  • Print Length: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; Reprint edition (April 26, 2010)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0036S49QE
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
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  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #56,564 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
210 of 223 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Rollicking Good Read! April 4, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This book is a great read, and a lot of fun into the bargain. This is the story of a little-known British anti-Nazi espionage plan to divert attention from D-Day in Sicily. There has been brief mention of this tale in several books concerning the British spy systems during WWII, But never before have all of the actual real-life details been revealed. If you enjoy reading of the derring-do exploits of some during war time, this is the book for you. If you are interested in the history of WWII, this is the book for you, if you enjoy spy stories- this will suit you to a "T".

The tale begins inauspiciously enough with the combination of a poor Welsh laborer and aristocratic MI5 officers, it proceeds through a poor Spanish fisherman and the halls of power in Germany to Hitler's desk! The results of all of this chicanery are astonishing, resulting in a triumph for the Allied forces that leads to a successful invasion of Italy.

This tale encompasses stolen bodies, massive cover-ups by the British government, a veritable warren of European spies, and a submarine. The book is well written and consuming, the type of book that one reads in 1 day, because one can not bear to put it down until all plot twists are revealed. The review copy did not have many illustrations, but I would imagine that the final book itself will be well-provided with images of the protagonists, doesn't matter- the book grips you with vivid descriptions and thumbnail sketches of it's own.

For all WWII buffs, lovers of European history, spy thriller fans and many others, this is the book for you. Hugely recommended !
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67 of 70 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterwork of historical storytelling April 1, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Having read numerous spy novels over the years, I am proud to say that "Operation Mincemeat" is far better than the vast majority. It is riveting, insightful, exciting, and incredibly difficult to put down. The author demonstrates intimate knowledge of his subject matter with exhaustive research and shares his enthusiasm with wit and style. I want to particularly acknowledge the vivid characterizations throughout the book, each of which brings to life a real-life persona, even those with only passing relevance to the story, in a way that adds to the excitement and drama of this successful wartime operation.

The author assumes at the start that most readers have heard of "Operation Mincemeat" and know the basics. However, not being an World War II enthusiast of any sort, I knew nothing of this story prior to picking up this book. Setting aside any apprehension, I dove straight in, and I don't regret a moment of the time spent soaking up all of the vivid details. I can safely say that even war history novices with no prior knowledge of this bold World War II intelligence operation will never be lost or confused. This is remarkable non-fiction storytelling at its finest, and I would not hesitate to recommend this title to everyone.
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93 of 100 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tasty Mincemeat April 2, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I came across this story in the 1950s as a schoolboy reading "The Man who Never Was" and seeing the movie. I didn't think there was much more to tell until I read this book, where a combination of new facts (like the Enigma machine) and Ben Macintyre's easy style made me happy to read it again.

In 1943 the Allies were victorious in Africa, driving Rommel's Afrika Corps back to Italy. The next step was to invade some part of Europe, and "Operation Husky" was to take the fight to Italy. The Allies deluded the Nazis into thinking that the main attack on Sicily was just a diversion, and that the attack would fall on Greece and Corsica. Troops and weapons would be stationed in other places than Sicily, so the invasion would meet less resistance.

The plan was outrageous, and the central figure was a dead man. The British made the Germans believe that this was a courier whose plane had crashed off the Southern Atlantic coast of Spain. Spain was ostensibly neutral, but there was a strong Nazi diplomatic presence and many Nazi sympathizers in Spain's bureaucracy. The Spanish officials, it was hoped, would let the Germans copy letters in the dead man's briefcase, and forward their finding to Berlin.

The story moves from London to Wales (where the dead man came from), to Scotland where he was placed on a submarine which released the body off the Spanish coast. As the story unfolds, Ben Macintyre describes the scene and is particularly good at portraying the major characters. It would be very easy to slip into stereotypical Allied and Nazi personalities, but Macintyre shows that the cast comprises a part-Jewish German officer and an English racing car driver, and you soon get the feeling that you know these people.
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72 of 83 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good read, not great May 26, 2010
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I read an occasional spy book for their entertainment value. This one came highly recommended. I enjoyed it, but I did not find it nearly as great as many of the other reviewers.
It is the true story of a spy caper that is credited with diverting Hitler's attention away from the Allies invading Sicily in 1943. It is the same incident that was dramatized in an earlier book called "The Man Who Never Was," which was also turned into a movie back in the 50's. The author presents some new details these 50 years on that were suppressed in the original due to security considerations at the time.
There are certainly some interesting characters involved, including some of the leading lights of the British MI5 & MI6 operation. Ian Fleming makes a brief, but pivotal appearance, as do the real life inspirations for his "M" and "Q" characters in the James Bond novels. Kim Philby and Winston Churchill also make cameo appearances.

The gist of the spy story is the British secret service dropped a dead body off the coast of Spain rigged with phony letters designed to put the German army off the scent of the upcoming invasion of Sicily. The fact that this crackpot scheme worked certainly makes a good story. As in all books of this type, the British triumph, so there's not much in the way of suspense. There was a great deal of spycraft necessary to make this work that is elaborated in great detail, and there is certainly a lot of spying going on.

One of the more interesting ideas mentioned in the book was that the gambit's success may have hinged on the willingness on the head of the German intelligence effort, someone named von Renne, to swallow this "fish" story, not because he believed the story, but because he figured it for a plant.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 6 days ago by Eugene Cowart
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Very interesting WWII story.
Published 8 days ago by oversixty
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Good story.
Published 10 days ago by Joeairport
4.0 out of 5 stars excellent read
A great deal of background material that I was unaware of.
The post war material is also very interesting. BRAVO!
Published 28 days ago by R T FREY
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting topic and if true, a turning point in ...
Interesting topic and if true, a turning point in WWII. The detail of the operation to try and avoid suspicion makes this a non-fiction thriller.
Published 1 month ago by Naglerrich
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 1 month ago by Christopher Swanson
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling
This is the best kind of non fiction - packed with facts but also a compelling read. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Published 1 month ago by Allison Fluitt
5.0 out of 5 stars I was happy to find the complete version
I read the abridged version many years ago in high school. It was titled, "The Man Who Never Was". I was happy to find the complete version. Read more
Published 1 month ago by crs
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
It gave me a lot of interesting relating stores. For example, the hero's brother was a Soviet spy...
Published 2 months ago by arnold yeung
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Really interesting account of the way the German's were deceived by the British in the Second World War.
Published 2 months ago by Tauponz
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More About the Author

BEN MACINTYRE is writer-at-large and associate editor of the Times of London. He is the author of Agent Zigzag, The Man Who Would Be King, The Englishman's Daughter, The Napoleon of Crime, and Forgotten Fatherland. He lives in London with his wife, the novelist Kate Muir, and their three children.

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Only $1 difference between hard cover and kindle price. What a joke. I'll get a hard copy.
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