Sunday, February 21, 2016

Operation Mincemeat: a masterstroke of intelligence and deception

Operation Mincemeat: How A Dead Man And A Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis And Assured An Allied Victory
By Ben Macintyre
Published in the U.S. by Broadway Paperbacks, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc.

In 1943, two British naval officers devised an improbable plan to fool Adolph Hitler and the Nazis, a plan so bold and audacious that it could never get approved, let alone pulled off.

Except the plan was approved by Winston Churchill and General Dwight Eisenhower and, against all odds, it succeeded beyond the wildest expectations of many. It's widely believed that the implementation of this ingenious plan succeeded in altering the course of World War Two.  

The true story of how the British and Americans deceived the Germans is told in Ben Macintyre's thrilling book, "Operation Mincemeat" (an earlier book about the events, The Man Who Never Was, was published in 1954 and it quickly became a best seller; a movie of the same name was released in 1956).

The plan was to create a fake identity of a purported British airman and arrange for the body to wash ashore in neutral Spain. The dead body would contain official documents confirming Allied plans to launch a surprise attack on Greece, when the actual attack would take place in Sicily. If the Germans believed that an attack on Greece was imminent, it would strength its resources in that area and leave southern Italy relatively exposed. At this point in the war, the Axis powers held an iron grip on Europe; the Allies needed a weakly-defended entry point in which to launch an assault, which would aid them in eventually liberating Europe.

For the plan to work, an extraordinary degree of luck and good fortune had to play into the Allied hands. In Spain, the Nazis had a vast network of spies and informants working in that country, and many of these agents needed to believe the ruse and pass false information up the chain of command. The opportunities for error were enormous. It's interesting to note the various forms of communication that were employed in fabricating this ingenious hoax - including letters, memos, diaries, newspapers, and good old-fashioned rumour and gossip.

Macintyre describes the lives, backgrounds and motivations of all participants with a superb sense of pacing and detail. At times, Operation Mincemeat reads like a thriller with sudden plot twists and mounting suspense. No detail is overlooked, from the intricate planning and choosing of a body to creating a fake identity and transporting the body to the coast of Spain. It's no accident that Ian Fleming (creator of the James Bond series) and Alan Hillgarth (an adventure novelist)  were among the officers who took part in the ploy.

Here, Macintyre sums up how a single, simple idea took shape and wound up changing the course of history:
"Amateur, unpublished novelists, the framers of Operation Mincemeat, dreamed up the most unlikely concatenation of events, rendered them believable, and sent them off to war, changing reality throughout lateral thinking and proving that it is possible to win a battle fought in the mind, from behind a desk, and from beyond the grave."
"OperationMincemeat" is an incredible story about an incredible chapter in the history of World War Two, and I give it two thumbs up.