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Operation Mincemeat: The True Spy Story that…

Operation Mincemeat: The True Spy Story that Changed the Course of World… (2010)

by Ben Macintyre

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1,310739,155 (3.87)162

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Macintyre, Ben (2010). Operation Mincemeat. London: Bloomsbury. 2010. ISBN 9781408808542. Pagine 337. 12,65 $

Non ho molto da aggiungere rispetto a quello che ho detto di questo libro nella recensione al romanzo Sweet Tooth di Ian McEwan. Per vostra comodità riporto l’estratto saliente.

[La] ricostruzione che Ben Macintyre fa di Operation Mincemeat, una vicenda di spionaggio culminata nel 1943. Ma lasciamo raccontare a Tom/Ian e poi commentiamo:

[L]et me tell you my favourite spy story. MI5 had a hand in it, as well as Six. 1943. The struggle was starker and more consequential than it is now. In April that year the decomposing body of an officer of the Royal Marines washed up on the coast of Andalucia. Attached to the dead man’s wrist by a chain was a briefcase containing documents referring to plans for the invasion of southern Europe through Greece and Sardinia. The local authorities contacted the British attaché, who at first seemed to take little interest in the corpse or its luggage. Then he appeared to change his mind and worked frantically to get both returned. Too late. The Spanish were neutral in the war, but generally more favourable to the Nazi cause. The German intelligence community was on to the matter, the documents in the briefcase found their way to Berlin. German High Command studied the contents of the briefcase, learned of the Allies’ intentions and altered their defences accordingly. But as you probably know from The Man Who Never Was, the body and the plans were fake, a plant devised by British intelligence. The officer was actually a Welsh tramp, retrieved from a morgue and, with thorough attention to detail, dressed up in a fictional identity, complete with love letters and tickets to a London show. The Allied invasion of southern Europe came through the more obvious route, Sicily, which was poorly defended. At least some of Hitler’s divisions were guarding the wrong portals.
Operation Mincemeat was one of scores of wartime deception exercises, but my theory is that what produced its particular brilliance and success was the manner of its inception. The original idea came from a novel published in 1937 called The Milliner’s Hat Mystery. The young naval commander who spotted the episode would one day be a famous novelist himself. He was Ian Fleming, and he included the idea along with other ruses in a memo which appeared before a secret committee chaired by an Oxford don, who wrote detective novels. Providing an identity, a background and a plausible life to a cadaver was done with novelistic flair. The naval attaché who orchestrated the reception of the drowned officer in Spain was also a novelist. Who says that poetry makes nothing happen? Mincemeat succeeded because invention, the imagination, drove the intelligence. [4636-4647]

Ecco nelle sue tappe principali la sequenza di intervento romanzesco/azione di spionaggio ricostruita da McEwan (e da Macintyre, che McEwan non può citare senza commettere un anacronismo, dal momento che la sua “definitiva” ricostruzione storica è stata pubblicata nel 2010):

Sir Basil Home Thomson, agente segreto britannico, ufficiale di polizia, direttore di carcere, amministratore coloniale della Nuova Guinea e scrittore, pubblica nel 1937 un romanzo, della serie dell’Ispettore Richardson, in cui a un morto viene erroneamente attribuita una diversa identità, sulla base delle carte e dei documenti falsi trovati (ma in precedenza impiantati) sul cadavere.
Il romanzo non ha alcun successo, ma viene letto da un giovane ufficiale della marina inglese che amava la serie: Ian Fleming, il futuro “padre” di James Bond.
Allo scoppio della guerra, Fleming manda ai suoi superiori un memo riservato in cui suggerisce 51 azioni di controinformazione per ingannare i servizi segreti tedeschi.
Il suggerimento n. 28 è il seguente:
A suggestion (not a very nice one). The following suggestion is used in a book by Basil Thomson: a corpse dressed as an airman, with dispatches in his pockets, could be dropped on the coast, supposedly from a parachute that had failed. I understand there is no difficulty in obtaining corpses at the Naval Hospital, but, of course, it would have to be a fresh one.
L’azione viene realizzata nel 1943, in forma leggermente diversa, e ha successo.
Nel 1950, Duff Cooper, diplomatico britannico che aveva occupato posti di responsabilità durante la guerra, pubblica un romanzo di spionaggio, Operation Heartbreak; al centro della trama, un cadavere galleggiante sulle coste spagnole con documenti tesi a ingannare i tedeschi.
Benché Cooper abbia probabilmente inventato autonomamente la trama, i servizi inglesi decidono di correre ai ripari e autorizzano Ewen Montagu, che aveva guidato l’operazione Mincemeat, a raccontarne i tratti principali in The Man Who Never Was (il testo citato da Tom/Ian a Serena).
Dopo l’apertura degli archivi del controspionaggio per prescrizione dei termini, Ben Macintyre ricostruisce Operation Mincemeat.

Sul libro in sé ho ben poco da aggiungere: è documentato e di piacevole lettura, anche se a tratti fin troppo dettagliato.

* * *

Ho anche messo in serbo alcune annotazioni, che mettono in luce soprattutto l’umorismo e i giochi di parole di Mecintyre (riferimenti alle posizioni all’edizione Kindle.

[…] the rare ability to read an interlocutor’s mind – the mark of the good lawyer, and the good liar. [468]

The sardines joke smelled fishy. [2063]

[…] otherwise entirely sensible people could be persuaded to believe, passionately, what they already wanted to believe. All it required was a few, carefully forged documents, and some profoundly wishful thinking on the part of the reader. The Sacambaya trip formed the basis for Hillgarth’s fifth and most successful novel, The Black Mountain, published in 1933 to acclaim from, among others, Graham Greene. [2426]

‘By singleness of purpose, by steadfastness of conduct, by tenacity and endurance – such as we have so far displayed – by this and only this can we discharge our duty to the future of the world and to the destiny of man.’ [4056]

[…] as he always did when under pressure, he simultaneously covered his back and passed the buck […] [4089: perfetto, il ritratto di un burocrate in una riga]

[…] at loggerheads […] [4856: un'espressione inglese che non conoscevo e che significa, più o meno, "ai ferri corti"]

‘Mincemeat swallowed rod, line and sinker.’ [5016: il telegramma inviato a Churchill per comunicargli il successo dell'operazione]

[…] ‘‘chairborne’’ instead of ‘‘airborne’’. [5706: espressione aeronautica riferita agli imboscati in ufficio]. ( )
  Boris.Limpopo | Apr 29, 2019 |
Brilliant research telling the well-known story of the WW2 "Man who never was" in much greater detail than previously, showing how the story was painstakingly built, fed through Spanish hands into the German spy machine and ultimately to Hitler's desk. Also explained is the substantial disinformation which was desseminated through multiple channels to bolster the core deceit that Sicily wasn't the allies' primary target. The author has also researched German files to prove who saw the false intelligence and promoted it. ( )
  edwardsgt | Sep 23, 2018 |
I first became interested in Mincemeat after watching "The Man Who Never Was" as a teenager. I found it fascinating and have read several books on Mincemeat since. This is by far the best in my opinion. Very thorough and well researched with wonderful references and illustrations. Highly recommend. ( )
  KatiaMDavis | Dec 19, 2017 |
Very good read with surprising character bits I don't usually expect in a WWII history book. Luckily, I've learned that's what you can expect from Macintyre each and every time.

Recommended book but highly recommended author I've liked since his bio of Adam Worth. ( )
  SESchend | Sep 6, 2017 |
Ben Macintyre’s “Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory” is a spellbinding account of one of the more remarkable feats of wartime deception.

At a critical moment in World War II, British Intelligence devises Operation Mincemeat, a plot whereby the corpse of a poor Welshman is ingeniously reincarnated as the dead (and fictional) Major William Martin, equipped with top secret (albeit false and misleading) papers and correspondence detailing a planned Allied invasion of Greece and Sardinia (when in fact an invasion of Sicily has been planned). The body is deposited off the coast of Spain with the hope that the Germans take the bait. If the ruse is successful, Axis forces will deploy their troops to defend according to Martin’s bogus papers, allowing the Allies to push through Sicily with little resistance.

Thoroughly researched and very well-written, Macintyre has crafted a classic World War II narrative. The many characters are vividly brought to life with personality traits, mannerisms, and their backstories in proper detail. Nuances of the complex Operation Mincemeat are clearly explained and contextualized within its broad scope; and the implications and consequences of operation itself are appropriately placed within the overall war effort and eventual Allied success in World War II. ( )
  ghr4 | Oct 29, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 72 (next | show all)
The story of Major William Martin is the subject of the British journalist Ben Macintyre’s brilliant and almost absurdly entertaining “Operation Mincemeat”. The cast of characters involved in Mincemeat, as the caper was called, was extraordinary, and Macintyre tells their stories with gusto.
A terrific book with exceptional photographs of everybody, including the corpse. Students of the second world war have been familiar with Mincemeat for many years, but Macintyre offers a mass of new detail, and enchanting pen portraits of the British, Spanish and German participants. His book is a rollicking read for all those who enjoy a spy story so fanciful that Ian Fleming — himself an officer in Montagu’s wartime department — would never have dared to invent it.
The complexities and the consequences of the story that Macintyre tells in Operation Mincemeat are compelling — a tribute to his impressive abilities as a sleuth (ones that we’ve witnessed in his previous books) and to his capacities as a writer. He has the instincts of a novelist rather than an historian when it comes to elision, exposition, narration and pace, and his depiction of character is vividly alive to nuance and idiosyncrasy.
added by Shortride | editThe Times, William Boyd (Jan 16, 2010)
James Buchan says the story of 'the man who never was' deserves its latest incarnation...
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'Who in war will not have his laugh amid the skulls?'

Winston Churchill, Closing the Ring

Kate & Melita


Magnus & Lucie
First words
[Preface] In the early hours of July 10, 1943, British and North American troops stormed ashore on the coast of Sicily in the first assault against Hitler's "Fortress Europe."
[Chapter 1] Jose Antonio Rey Maria had no intention of making history when he rowed out into the Atlantic from the coast of Andalusia in southwest Spain on April 30, 1943.
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Near the end of WWII, two British naval officers came up with a brilliant and slightly mad scheme to mislead the Nazi armies about where the Allies would attack southern Europe. To carry out the plan, they would have to rely on the most unlikely of secret agents: a dead one. Ben Macintyre's dazzling, critically acclaimed bestseller chronicles the extraordinary story of what happened after British officials planted this dead body - outfillted in a British military uniform with a briefcase containing false intelligence documents - in Nazi territory, and how this secret mission fooled Hitler into changing military positioning, paving the way for the Allies to overtake the Nazis. (978-0-307-45328-0)
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Dead men tell no tales,

but this one carried secrets

to help win the war.


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From the acclaimed author of "Agent Zigzag" comes an extraordinary account of the most successful deception--and certainly the strangest--ever carried out in World War II, one that changed the prospects for an Allied victory. The purpose of the plan--code named Operation Mincemeat--was to deceive the Nazis into thinking that Allied forces were planning to attack southern Europe by way of Greece or Sardinia, rather than Sicily, as the Nazis had assumed, and the Allies ultimately chose.… (more)

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