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.”
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.
I 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.
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!
*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.