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July Meeting

The Man Who Never Was.


At its July meeting the Club welcomed a talk by Kevin Patience on Operation Mincemeat:

 Following success in the North African campaign in 1942 Winston Churchill wanted to use the same Allied forces to attack Europe's soft underbelly. Sicily was the obvious choice since control of the island would open the Mediterranean Sea to Allied shipping and allow the invasion of continental Europe through Italy. Sicily was heavily fortified with German armour so the Allies launched a broad deception operation to mislead the Germans into thinking the Balkans were the real objective. The Allies set up headquarters in Cairo for the fictional Twelfth Army and fake military manoeuvres were conducted in Syria to deceive observers. False communications about troop movements were generated while the Allied command post in Tunis, the true headquarters of the Sicily invasion, reduced radio traffic by using landlines.

 Naval Intelligence and MI6 were tasked to conceive a variety of deception methods and one suggestion proposed by Lieutenant Commander Ian Flemming was to plant misleading papers on a corpse that would be found by the enemy. Operation Mincemeat was given the go-ahead and the coroner for the Northern District of London identified a suitable body. It was a young man who died from eating bread contaminated with rat poison. With great attention to detail false personal documents, letters, photographs and military clothing were produced. In April 1943 the body of Major William Martin Royal Marines, complete with a briefcase containing misleading classified documents chained to his waist, was placed in the sea off the port of Huelva in southern Spain by the submarine HMS Seraph.

 The body was retrieved by local fishermen and taken to the local mortuary. It was transferred to Madrid where it was intercepted by German spies who covertly photographed the documents from the briefcase. The German command determined that the misleading documents were genuine and military resources in Sicily were reduced enabling the Allied invasion to succeed. Operation Mincemeat was one of the best kept secrets of WW2 until 1996 when files were released in the National Archives. Only then was the identity of the corpse made public - Glyndwr Michael, a Welsh homeless man.

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