Ken Beaton: The art of setting the hook
Seventy-five years ago on Monday why did the Allies create a successful invasion? Deception. Have your enemy believe you’ll invade at their weakest location. Attack where your enemy doesn’t expect to get attacked.
Is this a new idea? No, but in order for a deception to hook your enemy, the deception must have every detail carefully planned.
Days after World War II began, the Royal Navy’s Rear Admiral John Godfrey was the director of naval intelligence. The admiral’s personal assistant was Lieutenant Commander Ian Fleming. Does the name Ian Fleming sound familiar? No, OK does the name Bond, James Bond spark your memory of eye candy females in teeny bikinis?
Admiral Godfrey circulated the Trout memo which compared deceiving your enemy in war to fly fishing. Historian Ben Macintyre suspected the Trout memo was written by Lt. Commander Fleming. No. 28 in the memo was, the idea to plant misleading papers on a corpse for the enemy to discover.
With the success of the North African Campaign in late 1942 Allied planners had several options for their next invasion. Their first option was Sicily. Control of Sicily would open the Mediterranean Sea for Allied shipping and invading Europe through Italy. Their second option was to invade Greece and the Balkans trapping Hitler’s troops between the Russians on the east and American and British invaders on the west.
Before Operation Husky could begin on July 9/10, 1943, Operation Mincemeat had to be set in motion. The Trout Memo’s No. 28 was tweaked for Operation Mincemeat.
Royal Air Force flight lieutenant Charles Cholmondeley, Royal Naval representative, Ewen Montagu and MI6 representative Major Frank Foley planned Operation Mincemeat with an experienced pathologist, Sir Bernard Spilsbury. Sir Spilsbury knew the Spaniards were Roman Catholics who avoided post-mortem examinations. He told Cholmondeley and Montagu,
If a post mortem examination was made by someone who had formed the preconceived idea the death was probably due to drowning there was little likelihood the difference between this liquid, in lungs that had started to decompose, and sea water would be noticed.
Cholmondeley and Montagu worked with Bentley Purchase, the coroner for London’s Northern District, to obtain an unclaimed fresh corpse. On January 28, 1943 Purchase called Montagu about a suitable corpse. Glyndwr Michael was a tramp who ate rat poison that contained phosphorus and died. The corpse could be stored in Purchase’s mortuary refrigerator at 39 degrees Fahrenheit for three months, but no longer.
Montagu selected the code name, Mincemeat. Cholmondeley’s Trojan Horse plan was approved. Glyndwr Michael became Captain (Acting Major) William Martin with the Royal Marines assigned to Combined Operation Headquarters. Martin’s wallet, pocket litter, which contained a picture of Pam, his fiancée. (It was a picture of a MI5 clerk, Jean Leslie). His pocket litter contained two love letters from Pam with a receipt for a diamond engagement ring from a Bond Street jewelry shop for 53 pounds sterling. London Theatre tickets and various receipts were placed in his pocket litter. The receipts accounted for his activities in London from April 18 to 24, 1943.
Cholmondeley and Montagu searched for a male who looked similar to “Major Martin.” MI5’s Captain Ronnie Reed agreed to have his picture taken for “Major Martin.” The next three weeks were spent rubbing Martin’s IDs to hide the newness. Cholmondeley wore the major’s uniform for several weeks to give the uniform a used sheen. Every detail was achieved, including donated used underwear for the major.
They suggested Lieutenant General Sir Archibald Nye write a letter to General Sir Harold Alexander, commander of 18th Army Group in Algeria to be placed in the briefcase.
“We have recent information that the Bosche, (Germans) have been reinforcing and strengthening their defenses in Greece and Crete and C.I.G.S (Chief of the Imperial General Staff) felt that our forces for the assault were insufficient. It was agreed by the Chiefs of Staff that the 5th Division should be reinforced by one Brigade Group for the assault on the beach south of CAPE ARAXOS and that a similar reinforcement should be made for the 56th division at KALAMATA.”
All the Allied “documents” were placed in a briefcase with a leather covered chain similar to the chains used by bank and jewelry couriers attached to the major’s wrist. The final decision was where to release the body. After consulting with a Naval Hydrographer regarding tides and currents, Huelva, Spain was selected. Another reason for selecting Huelva was Adolf Clauss, the son of the German Consul, who was an active agent for Germany. The Royal Navy’s submarine, HNS Seraph slipped Major Martin into the Atlantic on April 30, 1943 at 4:15 a.m.
By May 14, 1943 an intercepted Ultra message warned of an invasion of the Balkans. Major Martin’s briefcase confirmed Hitler’s suspicions. He informed Mussolini Corsica, Greece and Sardinia must be defended “at all costs.”
By the end of June, German troops on Sardinia had doubled to 10,000 with fighter aircraft. The Greek islands received torpedo boats from Sicily. The one German division in Greece was joined by seven more divisions. Divisions in the Balkans’ Eastern Front went from 10 to 18. General Erwin Rommel arriving in Salonika to prepare the defenses.
Operation Husky began the night of July 9/10, 1943 with the U.S. 82nd Airborne and the British First Airborne Divisions jumping in the early hours of July 10. During the 39-day battle to liberate Sicily, the American, British, Canadian and Free French troop losses were much lower than anticipated due to Hitler’s ego falling for Operation Mincemeat hook, line, sinker, rod and reel!