Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Operation Mincemeat

Title: Operation Mincemeat

Author: Ben Macintyre

Number of pages: 416

Started: 11 August 2010

Finished: 17 August 2010

Opening words:

"In the early hours of 10 July 1943, British, Commonwealth and American troops stormed ashore on the coast of Sicily in the first assault against Hitler’s “Fortress Europe”. With hindsight, the invasion of the Italian island was a triumph, a pivotal moment in the war, and a vital stepping stone on the way to victory in Europe."

Plot summary:

One April morning in 1943, a sardine fisherman spotted the corpse of a British soldier floating in the sea off the coast of Spain and set in train a course of events that would change the course of the Second World War. Operation Mincemeat was the most successful wartime deception ever attempted, and certainly the strangest. It hoodwinked the Nazi espionage chiefs, sent German troops hurtling in the wrong direction, and saved thousands of lives by deploying a secret agent who was different, in one crucial respect, from any spy before or since: he was dead. His mission: to convince the Germans that instead of attacking Sicily, the Allied armies planned to invade Greece. The brainchild of an eccentric RAF officer and a brilliant Jewish barrister, the great hoax involved an extraordinary cast of characters including a famous forensic pathologist, a gold-prospector, an inventor, a beautiful secret service secretary, a submarine captain, three novelists, a transvestite English spymaster, an irascible admiral who loved fly-fishing, and a dead Welsh tramp. Using fraud, imagination and seduction, Churchill's team of spies spun a web of deceit so elaborate and so convincing that they began to believe it themselves. The deception started in a windowless basement beneath Whitehall. It travelled from London to Scotland to Spain to Germany. And it ended up on Hitler's desk. Ben Macintyre, bestselling author of "Agent Zigzag", weaves together private documents, photographs, memories, letters and diaries, as well as newly released material from the intelligence files of MI5 and Naval Intelligence, to tell for the first time the full story of Operation Mincemeat.

What I thought:

I wanted to read this book because I saw a TV programme a while ago about this World War 2 hoax carried out by the Allies on the Axis powers. I found the idea of such a hoax, sanctioned at the highest level, fascinating.

This was a well written and interesting account of what took place. It was very readable and didn’t assume that you knew all the terminology, but equally didn’t patronise. I found some of the information in the book fascinating. For instance, apparently there were no German agents operating in Britain during the war. They were all caught and dealt with. That in itself was interesting enough. However, the Germans believed there was a network operating here because the British ran hundreds of fictitious German agents that they used to feed (false) intelligence back.

The hoax that this book unfolds was a really fascinating account of a major deception that helped to shape the outcome of the war. I really liked that people were able to come up with such elaborate plots and if they could persuade the right people, they could put it into action.

This story has been told in other ways primarily under the title of The Man Who Never Was, but this was a more extensive account than any of those previously because a number of parts of the story could not be revealed until relatively recently.

It’s possibly a bit more of a book for men, but I thought it was a book that showed British ingenuity under pressure at its best.

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