Books, History Class, Uncategorized, World War 2

Spies and Subterfuge: Ben Macintyre’s OPERATION MINCEMEAT

spy guy craig whitehead
Image courtesy of Craig Whitehead,

I’ve always believed in the importance of being honest with my husband. However, when it came to James Bond movies, honesty got me more than I bargained for.

My husband and I usually enjoy the same types of books and movies, so my dislike of the tuxedo-clad super spy took him by surprise.

“Well, which Bond movies have you seen?” he asked. I listed them, and he nodded, looking relieved. “Ooooh, you’ve seen the worst ones.”

His solution?

We watched ALL 25 OF THEM. (This count includes the “unofficial” Bond movie starring Sean Connery, Never Say Never Again.) 

There were a few bumps in the road. For instance ‘someone’ kept falling asleep at the end of Moonraker, so we had to repeat that final space fight over and over…and over. But, while I didn’t run out to buy any action figures when we finished, I had to admit that the franchise includes some entertaining movies. The hubby might even get me to watch most of them (not Moonraker!) again with minimal coercion.

do still have a hard time taking the stories seriously when they include things like inflatable gondolas, invisible cars, and Mary Goodnight serving in ‘Intelligence’ – it’s all just a bit far-fetched.

Then again, true spy stories of the past are nearly as improbable.


Ben Macintyre’s Operation Mincemeat details a bit of World War 2 espionage worthy of a Bond film. (Fitting, as one of the plan’s originators was Bond’s creator, Ian Fleming.)

In 1943 the Allies had defeated Rommel’s Afrika Korps in North Africa, but the Axis still controlled Europe. The Allies already had plans for the “D-Day” invasions of France, but they needed more troops, time and materiel. They would not be ready for another year.

In the meantime, British and American leaders decided to target the island of Sicily. Taking Sicily would give the Allies free run of the Mediterranean and a stepping-stone into Italy.

Unfortunately, Sicily was an obvious target.

It fell to British Intellegence to convince the Axis that the Allied troops massed opposite Sicily weren’t actually going to invade the island, but were heading for Greece and Sardinia instead.

If they could manage this, the Germans would reinforce the wrong places, leaving Sicily vulnerable. If they failed, Sicily could be built up into a stronghold that would shatter the British and American invaders.

No pressure.

The job fell to RAF flight lieutenant Charles Christopher Cholmondeley (pronounced Chumly) who worked for MI5, and acting Lt. Cmd. Ewen Montagu, a former barrister working in Special Intelligence.

They planned to deliver sensitive documents “accidentally” via the drowned body of Major William Martin, floated ashore near the Spanish home of a well-known German spy.

The trick was, Major William Martin didn’t exist, nor did the sensitive documents.

Cholmondeley and Montagu needed to acquire a suitable body, create a history for him, generate documents for him to carry, and then find a way to transport him to the Spanish coast without the Axis powers discovering the plan…all while keeping him ‘fresh’ enough to be convincing as a recent crash victim.

This plan, Operation Mincemeat, required an eclectic team of medical men, drivers, scientists, spies and submariners. Macintyre’s sketches of the real-life characters are fascinating.

Of course, even the most elaborate deception might not make it past the suspicious eyes of the German Abwehr officers. Macintyre introduces the major players on the German side, and how greed and eagerness to produce results may have colored their acceptance of “Major Martin’s” intelligence. One name that caught my eye was Lt. Col. Alexis Baron von Roenne. Von Roenne was Hitler’s top Intelligence analyst. He was also a Christian and anti-Nazi conspirator. Von Roenne passed along the Mincemeat papers, vouching for their authenticity, though he likely realized that they were fakes.*

As I don’t want to give away the entire story to those who might be interested in the book, I’ll close by saying that Macintyre’s research and detail are excellent, and his prose generally easy to read. If you enjoy a good spy story (even one with no inflating gondolas) Operation Mincemeat is an interesting look at the ins and outs of espionage, and a unique slice of history. **

Many thanks for visiting!

spies David Sinclare
Image courtesy of David Sinclair,

*I did a little extra research into Alexis von Roenne. He not only (likely) helped conceal Operation Mincemeat, but consistently changed numbers of Allied troops in his reports. His false reports helped Allied Intelligence as they prepared for the Normandy landings, bolstering Hitler’s belief that the landings would be at Pas de Calais. In the end, von Roenne was arrested, tried and killed, not for his actual subterfuge, but for being friends with the conspirators who attempted to assassinate Hitler. When given a chance to defend himself at his sham of a trial, he “simply declared that Nazi race policies were inconsistent with Christian values.” (Macintyre pg. 235)

**Ewen Montagu also published his account of this story, The Man Who Never Was, in 1953. It was made into a film in 1956, in which Montagu played an air vice marshal, with another actor playing him. 





18 thoughts on “Spies and Subterfuge: Ben Macintyre’s OPERATION MINCEMEAT”

    1. I’m glad I gave the films another chance 😉 Yeah, it’s never the same when a new writer takes on an existing character. (My daughter is now reading some ‘new’ Nancy Drew books- what????!)

      Liked by 1 person

  1. What a cool story! I’ve heard the instance of James Bond scuba diving to a beach, taking off the wet suit with a tuxedo on underneath, and going to work undercover is also based on a true story. Flemming apparently had a heck of a life!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This sounds just fascinating and may be a book I need to add to my WWII books. The name Roenne rings a bell, too. (I applaud your over and above for watching the spaceflight again and again!) Love this blog!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! It was a good read – my poor bookshelves are groaning, but I couldn’t resist! (And uf…that space flight! At least I got some writing done during the third or fourth round 😉 )


  3. Hi Anne – I’ve heard about this true story Operation Mincemeat – but had forgotten a lot of the details …fascinating. Some of the Bond things I enjoy – others I’ll be entertained by them – cheers Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m not familiar with the Operation Mincemeat. I do love James Bond movies but only with Sean Connery. Spy books and movies nowadays are too unrealistic, I like books by John LeCarre. I just finished Legacies of Spies and now rereading The Spy Who Came In From The Cold which I read years ago.

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  5. I’ve watched almost all of the James Bond movies. My fave is still Sean Connery. Started watching his five Bond films in the theatre when I was only a child. Back in the old days growing up in HK, I could get into any theatre and watched any film; nobody checked your ID. Thanks for another interesting and informative post, Anne! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. A most enlightening read! You know my feelings on James Bond…not to mention I was raised on those films. 😉 Bo will warn you that reading the original books is not an easy task. Oh! If you search for The Dom on YouTube, you’ll find a unique breakdown of Goldfinger the book vs. the film. Pretty interesting!

    But I have to agree on John LeCarre. Dense, but gripping. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is one of his best known books. It was also a miniseries with Sir Alex Guinness and a movie with Gary Oldman. Highly recommend the lot. 🙂 xxxxxxxxxxxxxx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ooh, I’ve heard of that story! and OOOh, our library actually has the book and the series… I really need a self-cleaning house so I can read all of these great book recommendations 🙂 Actually, Bo is what got the whole conversation going, with his posts ranking all of the Bond films. So I guess I can blame- ahem, I mean thank-him for a new appreciation of them 😉 I think he gave the hubby a few of the books in print too. xxxxxxxxxxx back atcha 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, the books are…meh. I’ve not read, but I’ve heard enough that I don’t see myself cracking their spines any time soon. If nothing else, try the miniseries of TINKER TAILOR. Alec Guinness is heartbreaking and amazing. His spy character looks like an old frump…well, he is…but he’s also BRILLIANT, and that’s his super power, unlike Bond, who is kinda smart when he’s not drinking, but gets by more with his body. Ahem. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

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