During World War II, in
the spring of 1943, Maj. William Martin was with Britain's Royal
Marines for a short period of time. I can't tell you about his
background because his family and Lt. Comdr. Ewen Montagu are the
only ones who knew his background. And they weren't talking.
What I can tell you is that Martin may have single-handedly
changed the course of history. All he did was change the outcome of
an important battle by throwing the Germans off their plans. Yet
this was the only mission that this war hero served.
During his one mission, Martin convinced the Germans that the
Allies' plans to attack at Sicily were fake. The result is that
Germany pulled back on their defense at Sicily and reassigned those
troops to Greece to fight a battle that didn't even exist. In the
process, this plan saved the lives of many Allied soldiers.
But the most interesting thing about his story is the fact that
he carried out his mission after he died!
How is that possible?
I'm glad you asked. You see, Montagu came up with a brilliant, if
not morbid, plan. They would dress a deceased body to make him look
like a British officer, put "evidence" on him to throw off the
German army and then throw him overboard into the Atlantic Ocean.
The papers that he carried with him would indicate that the Allies
were planning to attack Sardinia and Greece, not Sicily.
Then they would pack his body in dry ice to keep it from
deteriorating before throwing him into the ocean, where his body
would wash ashore onto the coast of Spain and be discovered by a
Spaniard. The Spaniard would then turn the "evidence" over to the
German army. The Germans, thinking that the major's plane must have
crashed into the Atlantic Ocean, would then act on the fake
[to top of second column]
For this plan to be effective, every element of the plan would
have to work perfectly, and it did!
The evidence planted on Martin's body included a fake letter from
his father, as well as a fake letter from his nonexistent fiancee,
stubs of theater tickets and a letter from his bank. Also included
was his identification card, a photograph and a letter that
contained the fake invasion plans, signed by military officials.
The operation, known by the code name of "Operation Mincemeat,"
was so successful that it fooled everyone who reviewed the fake
evidence, going all the way up the chain of command to Hitler. In
fact, Hitler personally sent Field Marshall Erwin Rommel to Greece
to defend against an attack that never happened. The 1st Panzer
Division traveled all the way across Europe to Greece, reducing
their number of troops in other locations, and the Axis forces were
moved from southern Sicily (where the real battle was being fought)
to northern Sicily.
There's one more thing that you should know about Martin: His
real name wasn't William Martin -- it's just the name that the
British gave him -- and he never served in the military when he was
alive. Once Montagu contacted his family, they agreed to this plan
only on the condition that his real name not be used, in order to
protect his identity.
Every element of the plan involving the so-called Maj. William
Martin worked to perfection, and afterward Winston Churchill
received a telegram from his chief of staff with just three words on
"Mincemeat swallowed whole."
Paul Niemann may be reached at
Copyright Paul Niemann 2008